U.S. Generals Worry About Rising Russian and Chinese Influence in Africa, Documents Show

The Trump administration and the Pentagon have repeatedly warned that China and Russia are expanding their influence across Africa, where the two longtime American adversaries “interfere with U.S. military operations and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests,” national security adviser John Bolton said last December.

That view was echoed by the former head of U.S. Africa Command, Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who left the job last month, and his replacement, Stephen Townsend, both of whom testified publicly before Congress earlier this year. But the two generals went further in written responses to Congress obtained by The Intercept via the Freedom of Information Act, describing an Africa ever more likely to fall under the sway of Beijing and Moscow — with Russia exerting influence in as many as 10 different African countries and China likely to open more bases across the continent.

Beijing and Moscow have steadily increased their economic ties across Africa and, with them, their diplomatic sway. Trade between China and Africa has risen from $765 million to more than $170 billion in the last 40 years, and 39 of 54 African nations have now signed on to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative – a trillion-dollar plan to link infrastructure and trade via a vast new network of roads, rail lines, ports, and pipelines across Eurasia, the Middle East, and Africa. Russia’s trade with Africa increased from $5.7 billion in 2009 to $17.4 billion in 2017, and the country has been aggressively promoting nuclear infrastructure and technology partnerships as well as oil and gas investments there.

Both nations have also aimed to increase their cultural influence. The number of Chinese-government-sponsored Confucius Institutes in Africa, which promote Chinese language and culture, have risen from zero in 2004 to 48 last year, according to data compiled by Development Reimagined, a Beijing-based international consulting firm. AFRICOM documents note that these centers are located in 20 different African countries. The Russian equivalent, Russkiy Mir Foundation, a nongovernmental and nonprofit organization, is active in nine African countries, according to AFRICOM.

Russia and China have also been forging stronger military ties with African nations through arms sales, security agreements, and military training programs. Russian private military companies are active in 15 African nations, according to AFRICOM.

Last month, Beijing hosted the first China-Africa Peace and Security Forum, which brought together nearly 100 security officials from 50 African countries and the African Union, including 15 defense ministers and chiefs of general staff, according to China’s Ministry of Defense. While that gathering was underway, the Russian news agency Tass announced that roughly 35 African leaders had confirmed their attendance at the first Russia-Africa Summit – co-chaired by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi — set to be held in Russia’s Black Sea resort city of Sochi in October.

In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Waldhauser mostly focused on Russia’s increasing inroads in Central African Republic and, to a lesser extent, Algeria, Libya, and Sudan. But in his written responses, Waldhauser mentioned six other nations that were also involved with Russia or susceptible to its influence including Angola, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, and Tunisia. Russia is leveraging or seeking to leverage military aid in return for mining rights and energy partnerships, according to Waldhauser. “To thwart Russian exploitative efforts, USAFRICOM continues to work with a host of partners to be the military partner of choice in Africa,” he wrote.

In the Central African Republic, “Russia has bolstered its influence with increased military cooperation including donations of arms, with which it has gained access to markets and mineral extraction rights,” Waldhauser explained in his public testimony. “With minimal investment, Russia leverages private military contractors, such as the Wagner Group.” He noted that the president of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, had recently installed “a Russian civilian as his National Security Advisor. The President also promised the armed forces would be deployed nationwide to return peace to the country by forces likely trained, equipped, and in some cases, accompanied by Russian military contractors. Russia’s ability to import harsh security practices, in a region already marred by threats to security, while systematically extracting minerals, is concerning.”

Asked to privately explain these “harsh security practices,” Waldhauser mentioned reports of Russian contractor cooperation with militias and acquiescence to their human rights violations; the abuse of local security force trainees as well as civilians “who approach Russian mining interests”; and the possibility of involvement in the deaths of Russian journalists who were murdered in the Central African Republic while investigating the activities of Russian military contractors.

In his public testimony, Townsend ranked China just below Russia as a threat to U.S. primacy in Africa but said he expected the People’s Republic to eclipse Russia. “I think that they are after access and influence to our detriment,” the new AFRICOM commander said of China. Behind the scenes, Townsend also badmouthed China’s efforts on multiple fronts, including arms sales, and explained that the U.S. needed to emphasize the shoddy nature of Chinese military technology to African countries. “China has provided Nigeria with armed unmanned aerial systems … but the poor quality of the platforms has contributed to infrequent use,” he wrote. “Low cost and short delivery timelines entice African partners to purchase Chinese equipment, but purchases frequently do not address the underlying military need. We need to tell this story to a greater extent.”

In his written remarks, Waldhauser explained that current Chinese efforts in Africa were unlikely to inhibit U.S. military access and operations in the near term but warned that “China could gain that capability within the next decade.” While China only opened its first overseas military base, located six miles from the U.S. military’s Camp Lemonnier in the Horn-of-Africa nation of Djibouti in 2017, Waldhauser mentioned more Chinese facilities on the horizon. “China is actively working with African partners to open new bases in several locations across the continent,” he wrote.  “By working with other [African] nations … we may be able to ensure that when China or Russia do gain military access to ports, bases, or airspace, that they are unable to take full advantage of that access to threaten U.S. freedom of maneuver in and around Africa.”

In response to perceived threats from its great power rivals, AFRICOM has launched a five-year campaign plan designed, in part, to counter the “increased presence” of China and Russia on the continent. The command is also strengthening alliances in order to “deter Chinese and Russian malign action,” Waldhauser wrote in March. In his written answers, Townsend also referenced “Russia’s malign influence in Africa” and took aim at China, noting that “[t]he Chinese have successfully promoted their false narrative that their assistance comes with no strings attached.”

While Waldhauser and Townsend painted Russian and Chinese motives as “malign” and America’s as virtuous, some experts take a different view. “It’s hard to make the case that any of the great powers truly have Africa’s best interest at heart. America’s behavior simply cannot be categorized as altruistic because its overly militarized post-9/11 foreign policy actually correlates to an increase of violence on the continent rather than deterrence,” Temi Ibirogba, a program and research associate with the Africa Program at the Center for International Policy, told The Intercept. “American officials like Nagy,” referring to the assistant secretary of state of African affairs, “and Waldhauser seem to have the false perception that American foreign policy is loved and welcomed by Africans, but it’s really the Chinese who are winning there at the moment.”

In his public testimony before the Senate in February, Waldhauser noted that the National Defense Strategy has outlined the importance of limiting “the harmful influence of non-African powers on the continent.” Ibirogba agreed. “Waldhauser’s claim that non-African powers have a harmful influence in Africa is true — and the U.S. is one of those powers,” she said.

At the same time that U.S. military efforts in Africa have soared, as The Intercept has previously reported, key indicators of security and stability on the continent have plummeted. “Overall, militant Islamist group activity in Africa has doubled since 2012,” according to the Defense Department’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies. There are now roughly 24 “active militant Islamist groups” operating on the continent, up from just five in 2010; 13 African countries face attacks from these groups — a 160 percent increase over that same time span; and the number of “violent events” across the continent has jumped 960 percent, from 288 in 2009 to 3,050 in 2018.

The post U.S. Generals Worry About Rising Russian and Chinese Influence in Africa, Documents Show appeared first on The Intercept.

The Sharpest Lens on the Arab World Belongs to the Arab Women Reporting There

In late 2010, Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, and Zahra Hankir started a Google Doc titled “Mideast Reporters.” Bouazizi’s self-immolation, an act of protest against police corruption, would become the catalyst for anti-government protests across the Middle East and North Africa. Hankir, then a reporter at Bloomberg News, wanted to keep track of the journalists documenting that pivotal moment in the region’s history.

As the years wore on, some of the region’s dictators fell from power, while others maintained their ironclad rule, setting the stage for protracted regional wars that took an enormous human toll and had global reverberations. Hankir, meanwhile, continued to add to her list of journalists covering the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring, and she began to notice a pattern.

“Soon I observed that not only were there more men than women reporting on the region for international media, but most of the reporters were Western,” writes Hankir in the introduction to “Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting From the Arab World,” which the Lebanese British journalist edited. “The gap came as no surprise to me, but to see it in such plain form was a shock nonetheless.”


The U.S. cover of “Our Women on the Ground.”

Image: Courtesy Penguin Random House

The result is the anthology, published this week, which features contributions from 19 “sahafiyat,” or women reporters, who have reported from across the Arab states of the Gulf, the Levant, and North Africa. Their diverse personal and professional experiences bring much-needed nuance to coverage of a region whose trajectory has, for decades, largely been shaped by U.S. foreign policy, and whose stories reach the general public through the filters of Western media gatekeepers.

The sahafiyat, Hankir writes, “intrepidly crush stereotypes” in the age of Donald Trump, the rise of the far-right across Europe, and ISIS. This framing does not do justice to the trailblazing journalists. To say that Arab, Middle Eastern, and North African women are disrupting stereotypes is as cliche as those stereotypes themselves: These women ought to be appreciated for their impressive accomplishments without couching it within Western assumptions about them as docile and subservient. The essayists, in fact, seem unperturbed by how the West may see them and appear beholden only to the communities they come from and whose complexities they seek to explore.

To say that Arab, Middle Eastern, and North African women are disrupting stereotypes is as cliche as those stereotypes themselves.

The contributors to the anthology hail from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – where a shared linguistic heritage brings people together despite cultural and religious differences. In their essays, the women — some of whom report on the societies in which they were born and raised, while others are daughters of the diaspora — reflect on a wide range of challenges. Their careers have put them in the crosshairs of patriarchy and sexual harassment. Some have confronted a lack of media independence, and others have paid dearly in their personal lives as a result of their work. They grapple with the morality of packaging the misery of some of the world’s most vulnerable people for public consumption, and they wonder whether they’ve done the subjects of their reporting justice. The common thread across their vastly different experiences is the authenticity and knowledge that come with their personal ties to the region.

“Unlike many of the foreign correspondents covering Syria who had never been to the country before the war,” writes Zeina Karam, a Lebanese journalist with the Associated Press, “I had been visiting Syria ever since I was a little girl.”

In an essay on her coverage of the Iraq war, Palestinian Canadian journalist Jane Arraf ponders whether her Arabness contributed to the strength of her reporting on U.S. troops who spoke virtually no Arabic and lacked basic cultural awareness. “Would it have been equally painful to watch the train wreck unfold had I not been Arab?” she writes. “I think the tragic miscalculations of the war would have been. But I might not have been as conscious of the depth of misunderstanding as worlds collided.”

Working Under Pressure

The sahafiyat work across different mediums, some of them for local news organizations that publish in Arabic, and others for international outlets that cater to an English-speaking audience. The tracks are different but equally important: The women producing journalism in and for their home countries often find themselves battling the patriarchy, while those writing for Western audiences play a critical role in improving public understanding of an oversimplified region.

Lina Attalah, an Egyptian journalist who co-founded the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013, finds herself at the intersection of both of those roles. Her work in English made her “an extension of the object of the typical Western gaze,” she writes, “albeit an exciting extension because of the irregularities I presented: I was an Arab woman whose activism was visible to the public, against the odds of the prevalent conservatism and patriarchy associated with the region. Speaking and writing invitations on the back of my gender started rolling in one after another. You may even consider this essay to be one of them.”

Two young women are harassed by group of men on Qasr el Nil bridge, where the Nile boats offer a cheap outing for Egyptians. The bridge leads to Tahrir square and the downtown area where young people hang out.

Two young women are harassed by a group of men on Qasr el Nil bridge, in Cairo, Egypt, in January 2015.

Photo: Eman Helal; Courtesy Penguin Random House

Egyptian photojournalist Eman Helal, meanwhile, recounts facing deep misogyny and sexism within her newsroom, where her male colleagues made fun of her work on a project documenting sexual harassment in the streets of Egypt. Zaina Erhaim, a Syrian journalist, found that, despite the promise of freedom that came with her country’s 2011 uprising, she was pressured to conform her style of dress to the expectations of “strange, armed men” while working as a journalist in rebel-held regions. The result was constant self-censorship, even after she fled Syria and found refuge in Europe. “Over the past four years, I have barely had ten articles published, even though I have written eighty pages of outlines and notes saved in a file on my laptop entitled ‘Can’t Be Published,’” she writes.

“I have written eighty pages of outlines and notes saved in a file on my laptop entitled ‘Can’t Be Published,’” she writes.

The countries from which the women reported are among some of the worst countries for press freedom in the world, according to the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index; Sudan, for example, ranks 175 out of the 180 countries on the index. Sudanese journalist Shamael Elnoor writes about working at Al Shorooq, Sudan’s national broadcaster, and being pressured to report on unrest in the country in the light most favorable to the ruling party. “Our youth were being shot dead by the ruling militia, and the police were calling them ‘vandals and criminals,’” she recalls. “As an editor and producer at the channel, I was instructed to repeat those expressions and inject them into my news reports, with no regard to ethics.” She eventually quit that job, but she continued to be critical of the regime in her reporting, leading to a massive, coordinated harassment campaign — encouraged by an imam who was supportive of ISIS in Sudan — in which she was labeled an infidel.

It is the apparent fate of reporters in the Middle East and North Africa to find themselves constantly covering conflict, from Yemen to Palestine, and from Libya to Iraq. “In hindsight, it seems so facile to see Iraqi women only through the prism of their war-ravaged lives, but how else do you report a story where pain is etched on the face of every woman you interview?” reflects Hannah Allam, an NPR reporter who was McClatchy’s Baghdad bureau chief during the Iraq War. The stories she didn’t get to report, about how “witty or sweet or vulnerable Iraqi women could be,” Allam writes, were “written in my heart if not my notebook, and the ones that I recall more easily than any I published under a Baghdad dateline.”

Amira al-Sharif, a Yemeni photojournalist, has made it to her life’s work to tell those seldom-told stories. “Western photographers tend to be drawn to the carnage,” she writes about the war that has gripped her country since 2015, “but I have continued to seek out the other part of Yemen that is full of life, love, and hope.”


Saadiya Eissa Soliman Abdullah has an early dinner with her children at the Detwah Lagoon in Socotra, Yemen, on May 30, 2014.

Photo: Amira Al-Sharif; Courtesy Penguin Random House

Bylines and Identities

Like Hankir, I, too, began to keep tabs on the Mideast reporting corps in the wake of the Arab Spring, paying particular attention to coverage of Syria — the country where my parents were born and from which their families were exiled decades ago. I kept a mental list of Arab writers covering the revolution-turned-war; they became my personal heroes as I set out on a career path toward journalism.

There was Raja Abdulrahim, a Syrian American who reported from inside the country for the Los Angeles Times before moving to the Wall Street Journal. And Alia Malek, another Syrian American who reported discreetly from Damascus and documented her own family’s history in a compelling memoir. There was also the Lebanese Australian Rania Abouzeid, who last year published a masterful, character-driven book based on her years of reporting from Syria’s rebel-held territory. Although not a journalist, Lina Sergie Attar, who initially wrote under the pseudonym Amal Hanano, is in my mind one of the defining writers of the Syrian conflict; her essays, published in the New York Times, Foreign Policy, Politico, and elsewhere, capture the deep pain of the Syrian experience, of watching our home country unravel from afar and being helpless to stop it.

Seven of the journalists who contributed to Hankir’s anthology spent some portion of the last eight years covering Syria; three of them are of Syrian descent. Their reflections on the evolution of their relationships with Syria felt deeply familiar to me, and their exploration of the links between the personal and the professional are likely to resonate with all journalists whose work intersects with their personal identities.


Nour Malas in 2019.

Photo: Courtesy Penguin Random House

“Syria: never the country I called home, but certainly my homeland,” writes Nour Malas, a Wall Street Journal reporter. “I would untangle the many shades of this identity at the very moment the country was coming undone.”

Like Malas, I always knew I was from Syria, but I never felt fully Syrian. I was, after all, born and raised in the United States and barred from visiting Syria due to decades of entrenched political repression. It was the protests of 2011 that led me down the path of exploring my relationship to the country of my parents’ birth. I suddenly found myself bonding with people through our shared cultural heritage. I straddled the line between activist and aspiring journalist, using Facebook, Twitter, and Skype to forge connections with young Syrian protesters and media activists, many of whom eventually joined the exodus out of Syria.

As a student, I wrote a handful of articles about Syria for niche publications like Syria Deeply and The Majalla. As my journalistic career developed, my interest in Syria persisted, but it became clouded by fears that my personal connection to the country would be seen as a liability — not a plus.

My interest in Syria persisted, but it became clouded by fears that my personal connection to the country would be seen as a liability — not a plus.

This is a feeling Malas reflects on in her essay: “I was so aware—even paranoid—of my personal connection to the story that I strained to project unreasonable neutrality, sometimes to the point of pretending I had no sympathy for any tragedy, on any side.”

Empathy is a key journalistic trait, particularly crucial where reporters are interacting with deeply vulnerable populations. It is, of course, possible to develop empathy without a personal connection to a story, but there is little that can come close to the feeling of being invested in adequately portraying the story of one’s homeland.

I think often of the ways my familial background helped me forge relationships with Syrian strangers. Whether it was the Syrian refugees in Chicago who let me into their homes when I was a graduate student of journalism, or the Syrian women in Turkey who shared their experiences with me when I was on assignment for The Intercept, I have no doubt that my Syrian identity — and the fact that I spoke in Arabic in the same dialect as they did — opened those reporting doors for me.

Which brings me to a more difficult question: Who benefits from these stories we tell? Who benefits when we use our proximity to the story to produce content for the Western gaze? Natacha Yazbeck reflects on this ethical conundrum: “I get thanked a lot for my dedication to the little Alis,” Yazbeck writes, remembering a young boy who was the sole survivor in his family of a massacre in Syria. “It is useful when you can talk to them in their own tongue, because it’s like you are one of them. It’s our capital in English, our brand. Our raseed in Arabic. Our capital. We force our own names over little Ali’s and call it a byline.”

The post The Sharpest Lens on the Arab World Belongs to the Arab Women Reporting There appeared first on The Intercept.

The Tragic Story of Jimmy Aldaoud, Deported From the Streets of Detroit to His Death in Iraq

Before he was deported, Jimmy Aldaoud had never stepped foot in Iraq. Born in Greece to Iraqi refugee parents, he immigrated to the United States with his family via a refugee resettlement program 40 years ago, when he was just 15 months old. He considered himself American and knew hardly anything of Iraqi society. Still, on the afternoon of June 4, he found himself wandering the arrivals terminal of Al Najaf International Airport, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, with around $50, some insulin for his diabetes, and the clothes on his back.

Aldaoud was used to getting by with little. For most of his adult life, he had experienced homelessness, working odd jobs, and stealing loose change from cars as he grappled with mental illness. But that was in the relative comfort of his hometown — for decades, he rarely strayed more than a few miles from his parents’ house in Hazel Park, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. He had no idea how to survive in Iraq, and he was unprepared to make a run at it; he hadn’t known his deportation would come so soon, and officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement wouldn’t let him call his family before they sent him off.

Aldaoud spoke no Arabic, had no known family in Iraq, and nobody knew he was there. Disembarking in Najaf, he was “scared,” “confused,” and acting panicked, according to an Iraqi immigration officer he encountered.

Jimmy Aldaoud’s story was intended to raise alarms about the possible human toll of ICE’s actions. Now, it’s a testament to it.

And 63 days later — this past Tuesday — he was dead.

For weeks before his death, The Intercept had been digging into Aldaoud’s story. He was one of a number of people who have been deported as a result of an ongoing ICE crackdown on Iraqi communities — a crackdown advocates say has recklessly placed deportees in danger. His mental illness, his lack of language skills and connections, and his struggle with diabetes — the likely cause of his untimely passing — made Aldaoud especially vulnerable. His story was intended to raise alarms about the possible human toll of ICE’s actions. Now, it’s a testament to it.

“He died alone,” said Mary Bolis, one of Aldaoud’s three sisters. “It’s unfair.”

For two years, the Trump administration has been trying to deport Iraqis with longstanding removal orders.

From the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 until recently, the Iraqi government — citing logistical, political, and humanitarian concerns — largely refused to repatriate its deportable nationals. Under President Barack Obama, ICE and the State Department tried on several occasions to convince Baghdad to cooperate in the deportation process, but to no avail. Shortly after taking office, the Trump administration ramped up the pressure.

It started with the travel ban. In January 2017, a week after his inauguration, President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring nationals from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. Iraq was among the seven, but team Trump quickly offered Iraqi officials an out: If they agreed to begin accepting deportees, the administration would lift the travel sanctions. That March, after a federal court struck down the first iteration of the Muslim ban, Trump signed a new one, this time with Iraq removed from the list. Then, in April, ICE successfully removed eight Iraqi-born U.S. residents and made plans to sweep up swaths of the roughly 1,400 more eligible for deportation.

In the runup to the crackdown on deportable Iraqis, Aldaoud was locked up — serving a short stint in Michigan’s Oakland County Jail for giving false information to a police officer, according to ICE records. While he was incarcerated, ICE placed a detainer on him, letting the jail know that agents planned to pick him up upon release. On the morning of June 8, 2017, ICE agents transferred Aldaoud to the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown. Three days later, the raids began.

Protesters rally outside the federal court just before a hearing to consider a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Iraqi nationals facing deportation, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Protesters rally outside the federal court in Detroit on June 21, 2017, before a hearing to consider a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Iraqi nationals facing deportation.

Photo: Rebecca Cook/Reuters

That summer, ICE rounded up around 350 Iraqi immigrants in homes and businesses across the country. Michigan was the center of the action: In metro Detroit, ICE initially picked up 114 people — most of whom, like Aldaoud, were men who came to the United States as refugees decades ago but, before gaining citizenship, committed crimes that rendered them deportable.

In the summer of 2017, ICE rounded up around 350 Iraqi immigrants in homes and businesses across the country.

The Michigan detainees, including Aldaoud, were also mostly Chaldean: part of a historically persecuted Christian sect from Iraq affiliated with the Catholic Church. Since the U.S. invasion, the rise of the Islamic State, and the spread of rogue militias in Iraq, as many as 80 percent of Christians have fled the country or were killed. It’s a reality that Congress and the State Department acknowledged when they declared a “genocide” in Iraq. It’s also one that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence — for whom Chaldeans voted in large numbers in 2016 — have talked up as a pillar of their administration’s Iraq policy.

Thus, in addition to fearing the banishment of their loved ones, many members of Michigan’s Chaldean community were convinced that deportation would result in their torture or murder. As soon as ICE launched the raids, Chaldean community leaders recruited the help of large legal nonprofits, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, to sue to prevent the impending deportations — teeing up what was to become a long and hard-fought legal battle. Meanwhile, Aldaoud and 350 others like him sat in ICE detention.

According to his sisters, Aldaoud was a joy to grow up with. “He was amazing. His teachers would love him and want more of him in their classroom,” said Nagham Shamoon, his older sister. But he and their father — who suffered from alcoholism, according to the sisters — would constantly butt heads, and Aldaoud’s life took a turn for the worse when their dad threw him out of the house at the age of 16.

After getting kicked out, Aldaoud dropped out of high school and turned to drugs, according to his sisters, which began a cycle of homelessness and incarceration that would define his life for the next 25 years. In his late teens, he also started to show signs of mental illness; although it appears that he was never officially diagnosed, his sisters say that doctors told them that he fit the profile of someone experiencing bipolar schizoaffective disorder.

Getting thrown out of the house also affected Aldaoud’s immigration status. Shortly after he moved out, his mother, father, and older sister began the process of becoming U.S. citizens (his two younger sisters were born in the United States). But Aldaoud kept the “legal permanent resident” status to which all refugees resettled to the U.S. are entitled and which, under U.S. immigration law, can be revoked if one is convicted of any of a long list of crimes.

Even when they weren’t living together, Aldaoud and his father continued to fight well into Aldaoud’s 20s. The confrontations would sometimes turn physical, and Aldaoud’s dad, now deceased, would often call the cops on him. Once in 1998, then again in 2004, Aldaoud landed assault convictions. They were the first of many infractions — including obstructing a police officer, breaking and entering, larceny, marijuana possession, and disorderly conduct — that ICE would use to justify his removal.


A family photo of Aldaoud in his teens.

Photo: Courtesy of Mary Bolis

Aldaoud’s sisters say there’s no way he would have intentionally hurt anyone: “He’d never hurt a fly — to this day would never hurt a fly,” Mary, two years his junior, told The Intercept before he died. Still, with his precarious immigration status, his convictions rendered him deportable. In 2005, he tried to head off deportation by applying for asylum. “Ive been in the United States my whole life (besides when I was one year old),” he wrote in his application. He claimed to fear “strangers over there attacking me for being an American.” But in November of that year, a judge ordered him removed from the country.

For the next 12 years, Aldaoud continued to live his life in Michigan. He was known by patrol officers to be homeless and suffering from addiction. According to police reports, he sometimes squatted in abandoned houses, and he spent most of his waking hours near the intersection of 8 Mile and John R Roads in Hazel Park, just a 3-minute drive from his parents’ home. Every few months he would get caught stealing change from unlocked cars.

He was jailed frequently, which caused him a lot of stress. Incident reports filed by corrections officers indicate that, while in county jail, Aldaoud would eat as much candy as he could get his hands on in an effort to irritate his diabetes and trigger hospitalization. He knew that, after he was sent to the hospital, jail officials would likely release him into the care of his mother. He loved and depended on his mother. In a brief call with The Intercept a month before he died, Aldaoud said that life became much harder for him when she passed away in 2015.

In July 2017, as Aldaoud approached his eighth week in ICE detention, a federal judge in Detroit issued a decision on the ACLU’s lawsuit. The ruling barred the government from deporting most eligible Iraqis until they had a chance to argue their individual cases for fear-based relief in immigration court — a huge win for Iraqi communities.

But the battle was far from over. Government lawyers promptly filed challenges, so it was unclear how much time Iraqis had to get in front of a judge before ICE would be allowed to resume its crackdown. And with a nationwide backlog of more than 1 million cases, it can take years to get a date in immigration court.

Furthermore, ICE refused to release those Iraqis it had detained while the courts were processing their claims. It wasn’t until November 2018— nearly a year and a half after the initial raids — that a judge ordered ICE to release the final 110 Iraqis it was holding in detention, including Aldaoud.

Again, however, victory was short-lived. On the same day the federal judge had set as a deadline for ICE to release detained Iraqis, the government’s legal challenges came to fruition, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the district court’s orders. ACLU lawyers petitioned the appellate court to rehear the case, but they were denied. On April 9, 2019, ICE became free to continue its operations on Iraqis with deportation orders, regardless of whether or not they’d had a chance to argue for protections in immigration court.

Like many of the other Iraqis, he was applying for protection based on the U.S.’s status as a signatory to the Convention Against Torture.

By the time the Sixth Circuit let ICE off its leash, about 240 of the Iraqis whom the agency had detained had successfully reopened their cases, according to Margo Schlanger, a law professor at the University of Michigan on the team counsel for the ACLU’s case; Aldaoud was one of them. Christopher Schaedig, a Michigan-based civil litigation attorney, volunteered to represent Aldaoud pro bono, and he managed to secure a May 2018 hearing in immigration court. Aldaoud had a winnable case, Schaedig told The Intercept. Like many of the other Iraqis, he was applying for protection based on the U.S.’s status as a signatory to the Convention Against Torture, and Schaedig had expert testimony lined up that would attest to the persecution of Christians in Iraq.

But on the day of the hearing, the judge had to postpone proceedings after the Department of Justice lawyer trying the case realized he had prosecuted one of Aldaoud’s old criminal charges and had to recuse himself. Aldaoud became agitated, according to Schaedig and Aldaoud’s sisters. Despite the postponement having nothing to do with Schaedig’s work, Aldaoud fired him in open court and decided to proceed without representation.

It was a move Schaedig and Aldaoud’s sisters attributed to Aldaoud’s mental health troubles — and it wasn’t the first time he had pulled it. During the criminal trial for a home invasion charge in 2012, Aldaoud fired his court-appointed attorney and declared that he wished to represent himself. The court struggled with the question of whether he was competent enough, and the ordeal went all the way to the Michigan Court of Appeals, which ultimately tossed his conviction because a judge didn’t adequately explain to Aldaoud the risks of acting as one’s own lawyer.

While Aldaoud lucked out in criminal court, immigration court wasn’t nearly as amenable to his impulsiveness — not least because one isn’t legally guaranteed counsel in immigration proceedings. Without Schaedig’s representation, he lost his case for protection. He was released from ICE detention with all the other Iraqis in December 2018 with a GPS tracker, which he immediately removed, and  by late May, ICE agents had arrested him again on the street.

While going through customs in Najaf Airport, Aldaoud — anxious and on the verge of breakdown — encountered an immigration officer who spoke some English. The officer asked for his passport, but Aldaoud didn’t have one. He asked Aldaoud if he spoke any Arabic; Aldaoud said that he didn’t. He asked about family or friends in the area, to which Aldaoud responded that all he had were his sisters back in the United States. So the officer, Ahmed Alboshweb, let him use his phone.

He tried calling his youngest sister, Rita Bolis, but she wouldn’t pick up. At 7:09 a.m. Michigan time, he left her a voice memo over the messaging service WhatsApp: “Rita!” he exclaimed. “I’m in Iraq! … Please, Rita, just answer the phone when you wake up.”

“Rita! I’m in Iraq! … Please, Rita, just answer the phone when you wake up.”

He then tried calling Mary, who answered. Mary spent the rest of the day on the phone trying to figure out why her brother was deported without her and her sisters knowing — and, more importantly, how to get him settled in safely.

That Aldaoud was in Najaf in southern Iraq, instead of Baghdad to where most U.S. deportees have been flown, was of particular concern. According to Daniel Smith, an Iraq-based human rights researcher, Najaf is a Shia stronghold in a country where mostly Shia militias have, for years and with the government’s acquiescence, persecuted ethnic and religious minorities.

It’s not as it there’s an open “pogrom” of Christians or outsiders in the south, Smith said, “but if someone does want to victimize you in some way, you’re not necessarily protected from it.” He added that it was “crazy” and “irresponsible” for ICE to send Aldaoud to Najaf.

Belkis Wille, a senior Iraq researcher at Human Rights Watch, added that Aldaoud’s deportation to Najaf — and to Iraq in general — was especially dangerous considering that he was never given the identification documents needed to navigate the country. This has been an issue for all deportees from the U.S.; as Human Rights Watch has documented, there are checkpoints in virtually every neighborhood in Iraq. Without a way to prove one’s identity — and no family support or language skills to get out of a tight situation — deportees are highly vulnerable to arrest or detention.

It was “crazy” and “irresponsible” for ICE to send Aldaoud to Najaf.

And detention very often leads to torture, said Smith, which is “a routine tool of interrogation” and “doesn’t have to come from a place of hostility in Iraq.” (ICE did not respond to The Intercept’s repeated questions regarding why Aldaoud was sent to Najaf and why the agency isn’t ensuring that Iraqis are able to procure identity documents before their deportation.)

With these dangers in mind, a ragtag group quickly mobilized to ensure Aldaoud’s safety. His sisters contacted ACLU lawyers, who got in touch with a Baghdad-based lawyer from Heartland Alliance, an anti-poverty nonprofit, who then booked a hotel for Aldaoud in Najaf. Moved by Aldaoud’s story, Alboshweb, the immigration officer, was also eager to help, he told The Intercept in an interview in mid-July. “Don’t worry, I’m with you. I’m security man. Don’t worry,” he said he told him. He gave him some food and a cigarette and helped him check into his hotel room.

Heartland Alliance also contacted Samir Kada, a Michigan Chaldean who had to leave his wife and eight kids behind when he was deported in November 2018. Unlike most other deportees, Kada has family connections in Baghdad, and he had been able to obtain identity documents for himself a few weeks prior to Aldaoud’s arrival. He quickly gathered a paid crew to pose as Aldaoud’s family and procured a fake ID to get him past checkpoints. Two days after Aldaoud’s arrival, Kada drove to Najaf to pick him up and bring him safely to Baghdad.

As in Michigan, Aldaoud was effectively homeless in Baghdad, and he was constantly distraught. According to his sisters, he would often say that he would rather live in jail in the United States than on the streets in Iraq. “It wasn’t home for him,” said Mary. During a brief the call with The Intercept, Aldaoud said he spent his days “staring at the wall.”

Though he would call his sisters often, Aldaoud relied heavily on Kada, his only real support in Iraq. He would sometimes stay at Kada’s apartment, and Kada would often run errands for him. The most important of those errands involved replenishing Aldaoud’s insulin supply — though Kada said he questioned the quality of the insulin he was able to obtain in Iraq.

Last weekend, Kada flew to Egypt to take care of a medical emergency of his own: He needed surgery for a stomach condition. Soon after he left, Aldaoud fell violently ill. Aldaoud called Mary, who got in touch with Kada, and they tried to convince him to go the hospital. He refused several times, according to his sisters. He was scared; while he vomited, he cried out for his mother.

On Monday, Aldaoud finally agreed to seek help, so Kada organized a ride to take Aldaoud to the hospital. In the hospital, doctors gave Aldaoud an IV and shots, according to Kada and Aldaoud’s sisters, and after a few hours, they discharged him, and he went to stay in Kada’s apartment. The next morning, Kada, still in Egypt, sent someone to check on him. He was on the floor, dead.

“He was scared and alone,” said Mary.

“They just picked up a random homeless person from Detroit and threw him in Iraq. They took advantage of his mental state.”

It was presumably Aldaoud’s diabetes that killed him. But to his sisters and the advocates supporting him, the obvious culprit was ICE.

His deportation “just shows a basic disregard for human life and human dignity,” said Miriam Aukerman, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Michigan.

“They just picked up a random homeless person from Detroit and threw him in Iraq,” Mary said. “They took advantage of his mental state,” added Rita. “They didn’t give him that phone call — they scared him onto that plane.”

The sisters are now trying to ensure that their brother gets a proper burial. Members of Congress are attempting to facilitate transportation so they can bury him next to his mother in Michigan.

“Hopefully he’s at peace,” said Mary. “With his mom.”

In a lengthy statement, ICE officials in Detroit emphasized that Aldaoud’s case “underwent an exhaustive judicial review before the courts ultimately affirmed he had no legal basis to remain in the U.S.” They emphasized his “extensive criminal history involving no less than twenty convictions,” and that he “absconded from ICE’s non-custodial supervision program.” They asserted that, when he was deported, “he was supplied with a full complement of medicine to ensure continuity of care.” At no point in the statement did they express regrets at his death or condolences for his family.

ICE has deported at least 16 people to Iraq since the injunctions were lifted back in April, according to Schlanger of the University of Michigan. And officials are reportedly planning to deport more — they continue to refer to the presence of deportable Iraqis in the United States as a “public safety threat.”

In an effort to head off further deportations, a bipartisan group of representatives — led by Democrat Andy Levin and Republican John Moolenaar, both of Michigan — have introduced legislation that would grant Iraqis two years of “deferred removal” status, which the lawmakers reason would be enough time for them to have their cases heard in immigration court. But the bill, introduced in May, hasn’t yet made any progress, leaving more than 1,000 vulnerable Iraqis in a state of uncertainty.

“Jimmy Aldaoud … should have never been sent to Iraq,” Levin said in a statement Wednesday. “My Republican colleagues and I have repeatedly called on the executive branch to cease deportation of such vulnerable people. Now, someone has died. We cannot wait one more day for action.”

“We knew he would not survive if deported,” said Aukerman of Aldaoud’s case. “What we don’t know is how many more people ICE will send to their deaths.”

The post The Tragic Story of Jimmy Aldaoud, Deported From the Streets of Detroit to His Death in Iraq appeared first on The Intercept.

What a Protest in Hong Kong Looks Like When Pro-Democracy Marchers Lose Their Fear of the Police

Hong Kong’s not-yet-named protest movement began with mass demonstrations in June against a proposed change to the city’s extradition law, which would have given China more power to crack down on dissent in the autonomous region. Residents of the city, having just commemorated the thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, took to the streets in their millions to stop the extradition bill from becoming law.

Five years after the failure of the peaceful pro-democracy protests known as the Umbrella movement, a huge swathe of Hong Kong’s citizens were determined to stop the central government in Beijing from further eroding the “one country, two systems” promise it made in 1997. That’s when the former British colony was returned to China on the understanding that it would be permitted to run its own affairs in a democratic fashion.

One of the leaders of the Tiananmen protests, Chaohua Wang, pointed out last week in the London Review of Books that attempts to quell the latest protests by force have backfired dramatically, swelling support for the movement and encouraging protesters, many of them very young, to pick up rocks in self-defense. When protesters blocked the city’s legislature on June 12, to prevent local lawmakers from voting to approve the extradition bill, the riot police enraged the public by firing tear gas, bean bags, and rubber bullets. On July 1 — the date Hong Kong’s sovereignty was transferred from Britain to China in 1997 — emboldened protesters broke through the glass wall surrounding the legislature building and even scrawled the defiant message on its walls: “Hong Kong is not China.”

Three weeks later, when the police failed to intervene as suspected members of local triad gangs beat protesters, images of the attack spread on social networks and fed the outrage. As the protesters have begun to fight back, they have adopted the Hong Kong actor Bruce Lee’s motto: “Water can flow or it can crush. Be water my friend.”

This week, the video journalist Raul Gallego Abellan captured remarkable scenes of what the protest movement looks like now. On Sunday, he was filming after a march in the city’s Tseung Kwan O district, when a group of protesters hurled eggs and fragments of bricks torn from the pavement at the local police station.

Gallego Abellan says that the willingness of some protesters to fight back in the face of police violence is a marked contrast to the “extremely well-behaved, peaceful” Umbrella movement of 2014, when students occupied public spaces and streets outside regional government offices for 79 days.

“This time there are no leaders. Just anonymous people, groups of friends, civil society and an army of volunteers organizing everything: medics, food and drinks, all kind of anti-riot protective gear, volunteers to drive protesters late at night,” Gallego Abellan writes from Hong Kong. “People leave money in the machines that sell subway tickets for those that can’t pay, volunteers bring clothes so people can change after the demonstration and not be identified as protestors. There’s even a group of mothers that help those youth involved in the protest that need any kind of assistance.”

“Usually the forefront of the movement and those in the front line are university students even some high school students that can’t hide their youth, even under all the protective gear,” he adds. “But as with the Umbrella movement, the majority of Hong Kongers support the protesters and join in.”

While he found older people among the protesters, Gallego Abellan says that he has seen evidence that many of the teenage protesters are just learning to fight. “The majority of those confronting the police, trying to resist their charges or even attacking police stations, are young people more used to studying or playing with their phones or computers,” he reports. “Despite all the protective gear — the masks, the balaclavas, the dark outfits — they can’t hide their inexperience in violence or the art of fighting with the police.”

“Lots of them, it’s obvious, don’t know how to throw stones, and they even have a very nerdy look despite the protective gear. But it looks like they are learning fast.”

More evidence of the youth of the protesters can be glimpsed in the partially covered faces and voices of three members of the movement who gave a news conference on Tuesday, as seen in video posted online by The South China Morning Post.

The protesters, who have used social networks and encrypted messaging apps like Telegram to organize their decentralized, leaderless movement, are also being creative, Gallego Abellan says, in their efforts to “resist or protect themselves from the surveillance security apparatus” of the authorities. On the streets, he notes, many of them not only use masks but also cover their eyes with goggles or sunglasses “to avoid facial recognition programs.”

In addition to the existential concern for their unique way of life, and the threat of China revoking their “one country, two systems” status, Gallego Abellan observes, “the pressure of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world and the prospect of that not becoming better in the future because of China’s intervention in Hong Kong has also increased the frustration and anger.” The city is now so expensive for young people, the historian of modern China Hans van de Ven said on a “Talking Politics” podcast last month, that many young people can’t even afford one of the city’s notorious “coffin apartments,” which are subdivided into units of 15 square feet, just big enough to fit a single bed inside.

With more protests already planned for every weekend in August and on into September, and calls to “liberate Hong Kong” being scrawled on the walls of government buildings, the pro-democracy movement looks set to continue.

“My experience as a journalist covering civil unrest and revolutions in so many countries,” Gallego Abellan says, “is that when people lose their fear of tear gas and confront the riot police and are out in the streets in huge numbers, the riot police can’t do much.”

Although the protesters are “very aware of the consequences of getting detained, like spending long years in prison,” he adds, “Hong Kongers are losing their fear.”

The post What a Protest in Hong Kong Looks Like When Pro-Democracy Marchers Lose Their Fear of the Police appeared first on The Intercept.

India Moves to Strip Kashmir of Autonomy, Potentially Setting Up Conflict in Disputed Territory

Early Monday morning, the Indian government announced a change to its constitution, revoking the autonomy of the disputed northern state of Jammu and Kashmir and potentially setting the stage for a major new conflict. The change opens the door to a situation similar to Chinese policy in Tibet and Xinjiang and Israeli policy in the West Bank, allowing the Indian government to move huge numbers of settlers into Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority region, thereby forcibly transforming its demographics.

The decision to revoke the statute, Article 370, comes amid an unexpected crackdown by the Indian government on the Indian-controlled half of the province, over which neighboring Pakistan also lays claim. Over the last several days, prominent Kashmiri political leaders and activists — including many seen as supportive of Indian government rule — have been detained or placed under house arrest. Thousands of Indian soldiers and paramilitaries have been deployed to the region, adding to the whopping 600,000 already stationed in a place widely referred to as the most militarized region on earth.

The abrupt escalation caused widespread alarm. In addition to the military deployments and arrests, a curfew has been imposed on civilian movements. Internet and mobile phone access for Kashmiris has been completely cut off. Tourists have been ordered out of the state, and the Indian government has alleged the existence of terror threats against religious pilgrims, who are in the province to visit the famous Amarnath shrine complex. Taken together, the moves seem to be a clear preparation for possible violence.

“The government would not have taken all these steps if they didn’t have a big plan in the works.”

“The recent deployments of troops and security measures have sown a lot of fear and panic among people in Kashmir,” said Mohamad Junaid, an assistant professor of anthropology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and an expert on political movements in Kashmir. “The government would not have taken all these steps if they didn’t have a big plan in the works.”

During a recent visit from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to the United States, Donald Trump offered to mediate the Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan, which has its roots in the 1947 British partition of the Indian subcontinent. Kashmir’s territorial status has been unclear ever since, and its neighboring countries have fought three major wars to claim or hold the territory. India has promised the Kashmiris who live under its control autonomy in exchange for accepting its rule, but that autonomy has slowly been whittled away, giving rise to an armed separatist movement — and culminating now in the revocation of Article 370.

Trump claimed that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the one to propose U.S. mediation of the conflict, a claim that Indian officials responded to with irate denials. The Indian government has long resisted the international community’s attempt to become involved in the dispute. Trump’s offer seems to have helped precipitate the military escalation now under way, which appears aimed at ending Kashmir’s remaining autonomy within India.

The revocation of Article 370 was an expected result of the recent crackdown. Modi has repeatedly promised to take such a step despite the likely backlash from Kashmiris, most of whom either nurse separatist sentiments or wish to maintain autonomy from the rest of India. A particular clause of that law, known as article 35A, gives the Kashmiri government the ability to determine who is a permanent resident of the state. The revocation of both 370 and 35A opens the door to India’s population of 1.2 billion to begin moving into Kashmir en masse, a development likely to dangerously escalate a conflict that is at its core over territorial control.

“For Kashmiris, it was the last thing they were holding onto before a complete and utter ethnic cleansing could take place,” wrote Hafsa Kanjwal, an assistant professor of South Asian history at Lafayette College, in a Facebook post about the revocation of article 35A. “But this has changed now. The worst nightmare that Kashmiris could have imagined in their already existing nightmare can take place now. Indians can buy property and land in Kashmir, and drive out the local population.”

In addition to further strife for long-suffering Kashmiris, there is another looming threat: a possible war between India and Pakistan. In tandem with military deployments, there has been increased shelling on the India-Pakistan border in recent days, and the Indian Air Force has also been placed on alert.

The two nuclear powers nearly went to war this past February, after a rare suicide bombing in Kashmir blamed on Pakistani-backed militants killed dozens of Indian soldiers near the town of Pulwama. Weeks of tit-for-tat attacks between India and Pakistan ensued, raising the real possibility of a full-blown war between the two countries. An outbreak of violence on the border could take them down that road once more.

“The Indian government may be planning to revoke article 35A of the constitution, but it also may be preparing for an incursion into the Pakistani-controlled side of Kashmir,” said Junaid on Sunday night, hours before India announced the constitutional change. “The possibility of militarily ‘taking back’ the rest of Kashmir has repeatedly been raised by Modi and in published BJP manifestos. They would like to keep any conflict at a conventional level, but one can only imagine what might happen if Pakistan begins to lose significant territory.”

In recent months, there have been signs of serious political shifts in South Asia that might also suggest why India is escalating in Kashmir now. The United States is currently on the verge of concluding a peace deal in Afghanistan that will likely see the Taliban return to power on some level. Pakistan has been playing a key role in these talks and is likely to benefit from such an outcome. India, meanwhile, has invested heavily in Afghan parties who are likely to lose power in the agreement.

“There was a time before Modi when there might have been some pushback from Indian liberals over these types of policies in Kashmir.”

All this also occurs against a backdrop of a slowing economy and rising nationalism within India. Taking a hard line on Kashmir offers Modi a chance to burnish his populist credentials. Modi’s May reelection was widely seen as representing a definitive shift in Indian politics toward the religious right, a portentous change in a country that has long taken pride in its secular democratic tradition.

“There was a time before Modi when there might have been some pushback from Indian liberals over these types of policies in Kashmir. That space has shrunk in recent years,” said Kanjwal. “Now even those Indians who were adamant about Kashmir being a part of India, but might have been willing to discuss some level of autonomy or express concern for human rights, are at risk of being branded as ‘anti-nationals’ under the current right-wing nationalist regime.”

The revocation of article 35A, Kanjwal said, will almost certainly lead to a new and worse period of violence in the troubled province.

“People are likely to come out into the streets regardless of the curfew, and they will undoubtedly be met with bullets from the Indian military,” she said. “It is very, very scary what could happen.”

The post India Moves to Strip Kashmir of Autonomy, Potentially Setting Up Conflict in Disputed Territory appeared first on The Intercept.

Violence Has Spiked in Africa Since the Military Founded AFRICOM, Pentagon Study Finds

Since U.S. Africa Command began operations in 2008, the number of U.S. military personnel on the African continent has jumped 170 percent, from 2,600 to 7,000. The number of military missions, activities, programs, and exercises there has risen 1,900 percent, from 172 to 3,500. Drone strikes have soared and the number of commandos deployed has increased exponentially along with the size and scope of AFRICOM’s constellation of bases.

The U.S. military has recently conducted 36 named operations and activities in Africa, more than any other region of the world, including the Greater Middle East. Troops scattered across Africa regularly advise, train, and partner with local forces; gather intelligence; conduct surveillance; and carry out airstrikes and ground raids focused on “countering violent extremists on the African continent.”

AFRICOM “disrupts and neutralizes transnational threats” in order to “promote regional security, stability and prosperity,” according to its mission statement. But since AFRICOM began, key indicators of security and stability in Africa have plummeted according to the Defense Department’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a Pentagon research institution. “Overall, militant Islamist group activity in Africa has doubled since 2012,” according to a recent analysis by the Africa Center.

There are now roughly 24 “active militant Islamist groups” operating on the continent, up from just five in 2010, the analysis found. Today, 13 African countries face attacks from these groups — a 160 percent increase over that same time span. In fact, the number of “violent events” across the continent has jumped 960 percent, from 288 in 2009 to 3,050 in 2018, according to the Africa Center’s analysis.

While a variety of factors have likely contributed to the rise in violence, some experts say that the overlap between the command’s existence and growing unrest is not a coincidence.

“The sharp increase in terrorist incidents in Africa underscores the fact that the Pentagon’s overly militarized approach to the problem has been a dismal failure,” said William Hartung, the director of the arms and security project at the Center for International Policy. “If anything, attempting to eradicate terrorism by force may be exacerbating the problem, provoking a terrorist backlash and serving as a recruiting tool for extremist groups.”

A Somali woman walks in an internally displaced people (IDP) camp as hundreds of people recently fled from southern Somalia US's airstrikes against al Shebab, in Baidoa, autonomous South West State of Somalia, on December 18, 2018. - The US military said on December 17, 2018, it has killed 62 militants from the jihadist Shabaab movement in six air strikes in Somalia. The air attacks, in a coastal region south of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, were the deadliest in the country since November last year when the US said it had killed 100 militants. (Photo by Mohamed ABDIWAHAB / AFP) (Photo credit should read MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/Getty Images)

A Somali woman walks in a camp for internally displaced people on Dec. 18, 2018, as hundreds of people fled from southern Somalia while the U.S. conducted airstrikes against the Shabab.

Photo: Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images

Take Somalia, for example. Over the last decade, AFRICOM has conducted hundreds of airstrikes and commando missions there and claims an enemy body count of approximately 800 terrorists, primarily members of the Shabab, a militant group. The number of U.S. air attacks has skyrocketed of late, jumping from 14 under President Barack Obama in 2016 to 47 under the Trump administration last year. Yet the Pentagon’s own analysis found that violent episodes involving the Shabab represent roughly 50 percent of all militant Islamist group activity in Africa and that this “rate has remained consistent over the past decade.”

In October 2017, members of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, or ISGS, ambushed American troops near the border of the Sahelian states of Mali and Niger, killing four U.S. soldiers and wounding two others. Just after the attack, AFRICOM claimed the troops were providing “advice and assistance” to local partners, but it was later revealed that American commandos operating alongside a Nigerian force had — until poor weather intervened — hoped to link up with another contingent of U.S. special operators trying to kill or capture Islamic State leader Doundoun Cheffou.

Despite these and several other long-running U.S. military efforts in the region, militant groups in the Sahel have grown more active and their attacks more frequent, according to the Africa Center. In fact, “violent episodes” linked to groups associated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, and ISGS increased from 192 in 2017 to 464 last year. At the same time, fatalities linked to these groups more than doubled, from 529 to 1,112.

This is especially significant in light of a 2000 report prepared under the auspices of the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, which examined the “African security environment.” While noting the existence of “internal separatist or rebel movements” in “weak states,” as well as militias and “warlord armies,” it made no mention of Islamic extremism or major transnational terror threats. Now the Africa Center counts 24 “active militant Islamist groups” on the continent while other official tallies have, in recent years, put the figure at nearly 50 terrorist organizations and “illicit groups” of all types.

Neither the Pentagon nor AFRICOM responded to The Intercept’s questions about the Africa Center’s analysis, the command’s effectiveness, and any role it may have played in the rising violence on the continent.

The post Violence Has Spiked in Africa Since the Military Founded AFRICOM, Pentagon Study Finds appeared first on The Intercept.

The Bolsonaro Government’s Aggressive Response Shows Why Our Reporting on the Secret Brazil Archive Is So Vital

When news emerged this week that the Federal Police had arrested four people accused of hacking the Telegram accounts of various Brazilian officials and providing some of that content to The Intercept, many of our readers asked: What effect will this have on the reporting that we have done and are continuing to do on this secret archive?

The answer, in one word: none.

The public interest in reporting this material has been obvious from the start: These documents revealed serious, systematic, and sustained improprieties and possible illegality by Brazil’s current Minister of Justice and Public Security Sergio Moro while he was a judge, as well as by the chief prosecutor of the Car Wash investigation Deltan Dallagnol and other members of that investigative task force. It was the Car Wash task force, which Moro presided over as a judge, whose prosecution of ex-President Lula da Silva resulted in his removal from the 2018 election, paving the way for the far-right Jair Bolsonaro to become president. The corruption exposed by our reporting was so serious, and so consequential, that even many of Moro’s most loyal supporters abandoned him and called for his resignation within a week of the publication of our initial stories.

As the revelations of corruption by Moro and Deltan grew — reported both by us and our journalistic partners in Brazil — those officials resorted to the tactics used by government officials everywhere when their improprieties are revealed in the press: They tried to distract attention away from their own misconduct by fixating on the actions of the source as well as the journalists who revealed their wrongdoing.

That is what Sergio Moro, exploiting his position as Bolsonaro’s minister of justice and public security, has been attempting to do for weeks. He and his defenders in Bolsonaro’s party constantly speak about the alleged crimes committed by our source and imply that the reporters and editors at The Intercept and other media outlets working with us are criminals and “accomplices” for the role we have played in exposing their corruption. Moro consistently refers to The Intercept’s reporters as “the allies of the hackers.”

And on July 27 Bolsonaro directly weighed in, with the scurrilous charge that Glenn Greenwald got married and adopted children in order to avoid deportation (his marriage occurred 14 years ago); and threatening Greenwald with imprisonment with the line, “he may take a cane here in Brazil.”

But despite their aggressive efforts, Moro and his defenders have been unable to obtain any evidence to support their insinuations that The Intercept did anything in this matter other than exercise our right to practice journalism, which is guaranteed and protected by the Brazilian Constitution.

At the end of last week, after Brazil’s Federal Police had announced the arrests, they released what they called the “confession” of the person they claim is the principal hacker who provided us with this material, Walter Delgatti Neto. After being interrogated for hours and allegedly “confessing” to the hacking, Delgatti Neto said in his official police statement that:

  • he never spoke to any Intercept reporter until he had already completed his hacking;
  • he never requested or received any payment from The Intercept (or any other party) for providing the documents;
  • he only spoke to The Intercept anonymously;
  • he never altered any of the chats he provided to us and does not believe that it would be technically possible to have altered the chats given how he downloaded them from Telegram; and
  • his claimed motive for obtaining and leaking these documents was inspired by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: to improve his country by exposing hidden corruption that the public had the right to know.

Because we have not only the right but the duty — under both the Constitution in Brazil and the code of ethics that governs our profession — to protect our sources, we have not and will not comment on the individuals accused by the Federal Police of having hacked into Telegram accounts and then provided information to our journalists.

But what we can confirm is that, as we have said emphatically from the beginning, the work we have done is classic public interest journalism: receiving authentic information that reveals serious wrongdoing by the country’s most powerful officials and then carefully and responsibly reporting it. Even the Federal Police’s account of what their suspect says aligns with what we have said from the start about our role.

When we published our first series of exposés on June 9, we included an editorial explaining the journalistic principles guiding our reporting of the archive and what our role was in obtaining it. We wrote:

Until now, the Car Wash prosecutors and Moro have carried out their work largely in secret, preventing the public from evaluating the validity of the accusations against them and the truth of their denials. That’s what makes this new archive so journalistically valuable: For the first time, the public will learn what these judges and prosecutors were saying and doing when they thought nobody was listening. …

The Intercept’s only role in obtaining these materials was to receive them from our source, who contacted us many weeks ago (long before the recently alleged hacking of Moro’s telephone) and informed us that they had already obtained the full set of materials and was eager to provide them to journalists.

When we received the archive, we asked ourselves two questions, the same two key questions journalists around the world ask when embarking on a story: 1) can we determine that this material is authentic? and 2) is it in the public interest to report it?

If the answer to those two questions is “yes” — as it was in this case — then we have not only the right but the duty to inform the public about it. That is what we have been doing since June 9 and will continue to do until all of the material in the public interest is reported. This is also why we opened our newsroom and archive to Brazilian journalistic partners, including the major newspaper Folha, the newsmagazine Veja, and others. 

We were able to authenticate this material using the same methods that at least six other journalistic outlets used to authenticate it, many of which were the same methods used to authenticate the Snowden archive before reporting on it. They include comparing the contents to non-public material to determine that it was genuine; consulting with sources whose non-public knowledge aligned with its contents; and confirming with legal specialists that the highly intricate, non-public legal material could have been created only by someone with in-depth, inside knowledge of the Car Wash investigations. We were also able to see in the chats the prosecutors’ past conversations with our own reporters, and we found that they were authentic. The other journalists who had access to the material did the same check and came to the same conclusion: The chats are real.

If history is any indication, the attempt by Moro and his defenders to encourage the public to fixate on the actions of the alleged source rather than the content of our journalistic revelations about his misconduct will fail spectacularly. Much of the most important journalism of the last several decades was made possible by sources who illegally obtained vital information and furnished it to journalists. What history remembers is what the reporting revealed, not the actions of the sources who helped reveal it.

In 1971, a former Pentagon official Daniel Ellsberg stole tens of thousands of pages of top-secret documents proving that the U.S. government was lying to the American people about the Vietnam War. He gave those stolen documents to the New York Times and then to the Washington Post, both of which reported them. What people remember are the lies revealed by those stolen documents. To the extent Ellsberg is discussed, he is widely regarded as a hero for enabling this official deceit to be exposed by journalists.

Throughout the war on terror waged by the U.S. and its allies since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the largest media outlets in the west — the New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC News, BBC, the Guardian — repeatedly received vital information from sources who risked prosecution to expose grave wrongdoing, such as torture, CIA black sites, and illegal domestic NSA spying. While a few authoritarian voices called for the imprisonment of the journalists who revealed those secrets, most regarded the reporting as vital and necessary, and all of those exposés received the top prizes of journalism, including the Pulitzer Prize.

The same was true of the reporting in 2013 and 2014 about the secret mass spying on the internet and entire populations around the world by the U.S. government and its allies — reporting that was enabled by documents unlawfully disseminated by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Dozens of media outlets around the world, including Globo in Brazil, were eager to use those illegally obtained documents to report on the secret spying by government officials because journalists understand that what matters is not the acts or motives of the source but the content of what the journalism reveals to the public.

And, of course, what history remembers most about that reporting are not the moral judgments by the U.S. government and its defenders about Edward Snowden’s actions. What matters — what history has recorded — is what the reporting revealed about the mass and indiscriminate invasions of privacy carried out in secret by security state agencies.

We have no doubt that Moro, Dallagnol, and their allies will continue to use the same tactics pioneered by Richard Nixon and his top aides against Daniel Ellsberg and other sources during the Pentagon Papers and Watergate scandals: namely, to focus public attention on the acts of those who revealed their corruption rather than on the corruption they themselves committed.

But we also have no doubt that these tactics will be no more successful in this case than they were in all these prior cases of crucial journalism over the last several decades. What matters to the public is what their most powerful leaders have done in secret. And that’s why a free press is so vital, so indispensable, to a healthy democracy: because only journalism that is independent of the government and unconstrained by corrupt officials can ensure that the public remains informed and aware of what their leaders are doing and that those officials are prevented from carrying out corrupt acts in secret.

Those are the principles on which The Intercept was founded in 2013. Those are the principles that have driven the reporting we have done from the inception of our news organization. And those are the principles that — with your help and support — will continue to drive our ongoing reporting on the Secret Brazil Archive.

The post The Bolsonaro Government’s Aggressive Response Shows Why Our Reporting on the Secret Brazil Archive Is So Vital appeared first on The Intercept.

A Syrian Mother’s Letter to Her Daughter, “For Sama” Shows War in an Unusually Intimate Light

For the majority of Western audiences, the region known as “the Middle East” is conceived as a vast swath of constant and inscrutable chaos. In this imagination, diverse conflicts, insurgencies, and civilian revolutions are flattened into a single horrorscape, represented by ubiquitous images of billowing smoke and colorless destruction. Violence, it would appear, is endemic to the region, as natural and inevitable as the endless, hostile desert.

This lack of historicity — and subsequent denial of responsibility — can be partly blamed on Western media that rewards sensationalist, reductionist headlines over nuance. Meanwhile, many residents of the region, including those living in conflict zones, are denied any semblance of free, accurate media coverage, with local mainstream outlets trafficking in government propaganda. In both scenarios, the voices of “ordinary” citizens are deplorably, and dangerously, absent.


“For Sama” theatrical release poster.

Image: Courtesy PBS Distribution

This dual shortfall is what filmmakers Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts sought to remedy in their new documentary “For Sama,” which opens this weekend in some cities, and which will air later on Frontline PBS. The film’s poster plays with stereotype: a woman stands against a backdrop of wrecked buildings and rubble. Her stoic face and dismal surroundings evoke routine associations of tragedy, yet the image contains an unexpected detail: An infant girl, fresh-faced and wide-eyed, gazes up from the carrier strapped to her mother’s chest. She is the eponymous Sama, al-Kateab’s firstborn, whose birth and early years frame a film that is once a maternal love letter and the story of a revolution. “Sama, I’ve made this film for you,” says al-Kateab in a voiceover. “I need you to understand what we were fighting for.”

It is this framing that sets “For Sama” apart from so many war documentaries. The majority of the film centers on the confined, harrowing life of al-Kateab’s young family during the siege of East Aleppo by Syrian government forces in 2016. She restricts herself to a limited cast of characters — a team of doctors and activists running a makeshift hospital, and one household from her neighborhood — thus forcing audiences into the cloistered, tense reality of the war’s daily, deadening grind.

This intimate approach was al-Kateab’s way of disrupting, and expanding, conventional coverage of her people. “I never felt represented in the news stories about Syria,” said al-Kateab in an interview with The Intercept. “There is no human sense in those reports. They talk about a ‘war’ and people think armies, front lines, tanks — but it’s not like that. This is not two equal sides fighting each other. It’s about people fighting for a better life, for freedom, and armies that want to destroy them.”

The narrative, character-driven scope of the film by no means precludes the political dimensions of Syria’s conflict. Al-Kateab became invested early on in the civilian uprisings against Syrian President Bashar Assad, and was led to journalism through her involvement in the streets. The film’s earliest scenes show 18-year-old al-Kateab as a young activist, riding the initial wave of euphoric hope that overtakes Aleppo University, where she was studying when the revolution began. She soon begins shooting amateur footage of protests and rallies — first on her phone, then on borrowed cameras, and eventually, her own.

The story soon turns from ebullient campus protests to the darkening, and increasingly violent, events of the regime’s backlash. When the rebel contingent is beaten back into East Aleppo, al-Kateab chooses to follow, alongside a small group of young freedom fighters and volunteer doctors. Amidst an escalating campaign of bombings by regime and Russian forces, the group erects a small, makeshift hospital, tending to the wounded under increasingly dire conditions.

“I don’t believe in sheltering people. These things are happening!”

The film is frequently excruciating to watch. Shots of falling mortars cut to scenes of pandemonium in the hospital, where doctors clamber over bloodstained floors, struggling to save the mangled victims that flood in minutes after each blast. Al-Kateab records it all in the frame of her hand-held camera, refusing to flinch from images far more horrific than most Western audiences are accustomed to seeing.

The filmmakers’ decision to include these more shocking scenes was a deliberate departure from the sanitizing distance they saw in most mainstream Western journalism. Al-Kateab and Watts have little patience for debates about the “appropriateness” of showing the more gruesome aspects of war. “I don’t believe in sheltering people,” said al-Kateab. “These things are happening! Giving people the option of ignoring it is wrong. Children are dying, hospitals are being bombed, and these horrors are going on still, in places like Idlib.”

Originally, al-Kateab set out to capture these scenes in an effort to create a body of evidence she hoped would one day help indict the regime. “I really didn’t feel we’d make it out of Aleppo alive,” she said, “so I thought, the least I can do is leave a record so one day, when Assad is brought to justice, there will be proof of all his crimes.” The resulting archive totaled over 500 hours of footage, ranging from personal, diary-like entries from al-Kateab’s makeshift bedroom and the regime’s campaign against civilians and hospitals to shots of post-shelling rescue operations undertaken beneath a still-rumbling sky.

Some of the most striking footage comes in the film’s quietest moments. In one, al-Kateab is cuddling with her newborn when the idyllic scene is disrupted by the sound of nearby shelling. She coos, “There’s lots of airstrikes today, right? But we haven’t been hit, yay!” In another scene, a shot of pink-cheeked Sama pans to the grey-blue body of a dead boy of roughly the same age.

“I am not just a woman,” al-Kateab said of these intimate scenes, “but this was one of the main ways I experienced the conflict — as a woman, as a mother. I see that baby boy, dead, and of course I’m thinking: That could be Sama. I could be the mother of a dead baby. I could die myself at any moment. I had to show that moment, that feeling.”


Waad, Hamza, and Sama al-Kateab look at graffiti they painted on a bombed-out building, protesting the forced exile of the civilian population in East Aleppo by the Syrian regime and their Russian and Iranian allies in Dec. 2016.

Still: Courtesy of PBS Distribution

The juxtaposition of tenderness and horror throughout the film shows the stakes of the Syrian conflict in their inescapably personal dimensions. This felt essential to al-Kateab and Watts, who both recognize the fatigue felt by many in the West over the issue of Syria. Watts hopes the film will render the “conflict” into more tangible, and human, terms. “People have a very vague attitude about Syria and about the Middle East in general — a sense that the wars are like natural disasters, just sweeping in with no context, no reason,” said Watts. “We want to change that.”

“People have a very vague attitude about Syria and about the Middle East in general — a sense that the wars are like natural disasters, just sweeping in with no context, no reason.”

Another primary “character” looms just beyond the frame of al-Kateab’s film: the international community, personified in the NGOs and rapporteurs who correspond with the hospital team from beyond Aleppo’s besieged borders. Al-Kateab’s husband, Hamza al-Kateab, is the point of contact for many of these conversations, conducting late-night media interviews and consultations with negotiators on his cellphone. In these interactions, too, the question of efficacy arises. “I spent hours and hours speaking to them — journalists, [World Health Organization], the U.N. — but I don’t know if it made a difference,” Hamza said in an interview with The Intercept. “It didn’t seem like the media reports were making any impact on policymakers. And NGOs seemed to have a very set idea of the ‘right’ way to ‘solve’ a conflict — they didn’t listen much to our wishes.”

Throughout the conflict, the hospital staff and activists had one primary request, which went unheeded, said Hamza: “Please, if you want to help, just get Assad out of power. After that, the Syrians will take care of Syria.” Instead, he said, the international community “negotiated with the regime. Meanwhile, the regime was slaughtering us.”

The greatest disappointment of all, say the al-Kateabs, was the forced evacuation of their city in 2016, which felt tantamount to defeat. “That pain was worse than anything we experienced the entire war,” said Waad al-Kateab. “Leaving our home, after fighting for it for so long broke our hearts. The U.N. negotiators said they were ‘saving Aleppo’ and yet they played right into the regime’s hands.”

The al-Kateabs are now living as refugees in the U.K. They say the warm reception of their film has given them a renewed sense of agency, and even hope. “What we didn’t expect was how many people would ask us, after watching the film, ‘What can we do?’” says Waad, her voice rising with excitement. In response, the al-Kateabs plan to launch awareness and advocacy campaigns about the Assad regime’s bombing of hospitals, and to address the plight of Syrian refugees.

“No one grows up dreaming of being a refugee,” said Hamza, who has been unable to practice as a doctor since leaving his country. Waad added, “We want people to understand that each refugee is an individual with a story. There are reasons these people are refugees — they are fleeing danger, and just want a better life for themselves and their families.” The al-Kateabs continue to call, openly and unequivocally, for the removal of the Assad regime, while nurturing hopes of returning one day. “It might not happen in five years, or 10 years, but we have to believe we will go back,” said Waad. Hamza agreed, “If Assad is allowed to win, if the world refuses to bring him to justice — we are living in a terrible world. We can’t let ourselves believe that’s true.”

“If I had one message, it would be this,” he added. “Don’t turn your back on Syria.”

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Brazilian Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Gave Secret Talk to Bankers and Took Money From a Company He Was Investigating

Private chats reveal the extent to which Deltan Dallagnol, coordinator of Brazil’s Car Wash anti-corruption task force, sought to personally profit from the fame generated by his high-profile work as a prosecutor, raising ethical questions and provoking disagreements with colleagues.

In March 2018, Dallagnol received more than $10,000 to give a speech to Neoway Tecnologia Integrada Assessoria e Negócios S.A., a big-data firm that was under investigation by Car Wash for potentially corrupt contracts with a state-controlled oil company.

Three months later, Dallagnol was the featured speaker at a secret, off-the-record event with the most influential banks and investors in Brazil, organized by investment firm XP Investimentos. It’s not clear if he was paid for the event, but his speaking agent, who works on commission, negotiated the agreement with XP. Invitees to the talk included at least three banks that had been investigated by Car Wash: Itaú, Santander, and Deutsche Bank. The investment firm engaged Dallagnol for two other speaking events — both were public and well paid.

In an apparent bid to convince Dallagnol to take on the off-the-record speaking gig, the XP representative told the prosecutor in the chats that Supreme Court Minister Luiz Fux had already participated in a similar off-the-record event “and nothing came out in the press,” adding that two other Supreme Court ministers had also been invited to give private talks. Fux did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment and the other two ministers, Alexandre de Moraes and Luís Roberto Barroso, denied participation in such events.

“Nothing came out in the press.”

The topic of the series of XP talks that Dallagnol and Fux participated in was the Car Wash investigation and the national elections that were scheduled to take place later that year. Invited guests included representatives from Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, Barclays, Merrill Lynch, Citibank, UBS, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, Natixis, Société Générale, Standard Chartered, State Street, Macquarie Capital, TD Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, Itaú, Bradesco, Santander, Verde Asset Management, and Nomura Holdings.

Dallagnol also brought with him Guilherme Donega, a Brazil-based consultant for the anti-corruption advocacy organization Transparency International. The group has close ties with the Car Wash task force and partnered with Dallagnol and colleagues on their New Measures Against Corruption initiative, a proposal for anti-corruption reforms.

In a statement, Transparency International said that Donega spoke about the New Measures initiative and was not paid for his participation. Responding to a question about the ethics of paid speaking engagements by prosecutors, the organization said that “activities of any kind — even private ones — that may compromise the integrity, fairness and impartiality necessary for the function they perform should be avoided.” The group added that, in uncertain situations, the relevant authorities should be consulted in advance.

Earlier this month, The Intercept revealed plans by Dallagnol and a colleague to open an agency to organize speaking events and courses. “Let’s organize congresses and events and make a profit, okay? It’s a good way to take advantage of our networking and visibility,” Dallagnol wrote in a chat to his wife last December.

To get around rules that restrict prosecutors from managing businesses, the prosecutors decided to bring in their wives to administer the agency. There is no evidence that the project ever got off the ground, but that did not stop the prosecutor from taking in a considerable profit: In a private chat, Dallagnol told his wife that he expected to make around $106,000 that year in after-tax revenue from speaking fees and book royalties.

Dallagnol has previously said that most of the profits would be donated to a fund to help “civil servants working on anti-corruption operations such as Operation Car Wash,” but did not provide any details about how the fund would be administered. He would not confirm to The Intercept if that arrangement is still in effect.

The information about the Car Wash prosecutors’ speeches comes from an archive of documents and Telegram chat logs provided exclusively to The Intercept Brasil by an anonymous source. The Intercept released an editorial statement about the archive. Previous reporting from the archive has revealed a laundry list of unethical and likely illegal actions by the Car Wash prosecutors and Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who was previously the presiding judge in the case.

Dallagnol was investigated by the Public Ministry’s inspector general in 2017 for his paid speaking engagements, but was cleared of any wrongdoing. Private chats show that the National Association of Federal Prosecutors — which asked him to edit its public statement in his defense — spoke to the inspector general on Dallagnol’s behalf. The inspector general, in turn, guaranteed that he’d close the case. The inspector general’s office has opened a new investigation into Dallagnol’s activities in response to The Intercept’s reporting.

In Brazil, prosecutors are prohibited from operating a business, but the inspector general’s office found that the paid speeches constituted educational activities, which are permitted, mirroring a similar decision in 2016 that applied to judges.

The U.S. Justice Department and International Criminal Court, among other such entities, expressly prohibit payment from third parties for outside speaking or writing gigs related to one’s work in order to avoid conflicts of interest or the perception thereof.

The U.S. Justice Department also stipulates that “an official is prohibited from participating in any matter in which he has a financial interest.” In his first lecture for XP on the subject of “Ethics and Car Wash,” Dallagnol openly jokes about having stock in Petrobras and BTG Pactual, two companies at the center of the corruption probe he coordinates.

The prosecutors’ association and the Public Ministry office did not respond to requests for comment.

XP responded that it is “customary for financial institutions to hold exclusive meetings with authorities and institutional investors to promote debates and discussions pertinent to the domestic scenario. Payment of an honorarium, or the lack thereof, is agreed upon between the parties by contract.”

The speaking agency that represented Dallagnol said in a statement that it could not comment on arrangements surrounding the talks because they are private matters.

The Car Wash task force members were clearly aware of ethical concerns related to accepting money from financial firms and others, but were also tempted by the easy money, as Dallagnol’s conversation with fellow Car Wash prosecutor Roberson Pozzobon suggests:

All four prosecutors spoke at the event. The Car Wash task force provided its standard response to stories in this series: “The Lava Jato task force in Curitiba does not recognize the messages that have been attributed to its members in recent weeks. The material comes from cyber crime and cannot have its context and veracity confirmed. Prosecutors in the Operation Car Wash task force base their conduct on the law and ethics.”

The perceived impropriety of large speaking fees was central to Car Wash’s own successful argument to obtain a judicial warrant for ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s financial records. In his ruling granting the warrant, Moro wrote, “The illegality of these transfers cannot be concluded, but it must be acknowledged that these are large amounts for donations and lectures, which, in the context of Petrobras’s criminal scheme, raises doubts about the generosity of the companies mentioned and at least authorizes the deepening of investigations.”

In the case of Neoway, the big-data firm, Dallagnol and his colleagues had apparently forgotten that the firm had been cited in a deposition two years earlier, judging from chats examined by The Intercept. Dallagnol accepted payment for his speech, spoke about the importance of big-data tools in a promotion video for the company, and helped set up a meeting for colleagues to solicit the company to donate its technology to an initiative they were putting together. But the corruption case was still ongoing and, months later, the prosecutors’ work on the case, which had stagnated, resumed and Neoway’s name resurfaced.

“This is a problem for me,” Dallagnol wrote in a chat group with colleagues. “I want to talk to you guys on Monday to see what to do, I think it’s a case for me to recuse myself and I don’t know how much this affects everyone’s work,” Dallagnol wrote on July 21, 2018. Official documents provided by Dallagnol show that he did, in fact, recuse himself from the case and notify the Public Ministry’s inspector general, but only in June 2019, ten and a half months later (and just days before The Intercept began publishing private chats in which he participated).

When deciding which prosecutors would officially participate in the Neoway prosecution, one colleague suggested, “It’s better to leave out whoever had contact with neoway.” In the end only seven of the office’s 13 Car Wash prosecutors’ names appear on the relevant official documents; Dallagnol was not among them. In a statement to The Intercept, Neoway denied any impropriety in its contracts and said it was unaware that it had been cited in the investigation.

In an interview with The Intercept’s reporting partner, the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, Dallagnol said:

“I do not recognize the authenticity and integrity of these messages, but what I can say, and it is a fact, is that I participated in hundreds of message groups, just as I am included in more than 1,000 Car Wash cases. This fact does not make me know the content of each of these processes. If, by chance, I participated [in the group in which Neoway appeared], I certainly was not aware. If I had known I would not have done it, and, knowing it, I removed myself.”

Dallagnol refused to be interviewed by The Intercept.

The chat logs also revealed Dallagnol’s brainstorming about his budding career as a paid speaker. In a Microsoft Word document created in December 2015, apparently written as notes to himself, Dallagnol maps out his “next steps.” Under “topics for speeches,” he wrote, “I think where I can contribute today is compliance training and eventually business ethics, but I would need to study more ethics… complicated.”

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Donald Trump Praises Boris Johnson, Who Once Called Him “Unfit to Hold the Office of President of the United States”

“We’re respected all over the world,” Donald Trump told an audience of young Republican operatives in Washington on Tuesday. By way of example, he cited the votes of 92,153 members of the British Conservative Party who chose his ally Boris Johnson to be their party’s new leader — paving the way for the man who led the Brexit campaign to succeed Theresa May as prime minister.

“A really good man is going to be the prime minister of the U.K. now, Boris Johnson,” Trump said. “He’s tough and he’s smart. They’re saying, ‘Britain Trump.’ They call him, ‘Britain Trump.’ And people are saying that’s a good thing. They like me over there, that’s what they wanted. That’s what they need.”

Trump’s praise for Johnson suggests that no one in his inner circle has yet worked up the courage to show him the video of the former mayor of London denouncing Trump, during the 2016 campaign, as “clearly out of his mind.” In late 2015, when Trump first called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Johnson stood in front of a television camera to express his disgust.

“You can’t ban people going to the United States in that way, or indeed to any country,” Johnson, then London’s mayor, said two days after Trump’s December 7, 2015, campaign speech where he suggested closing America’s borders to Muslims.

Referring to Trump’s subsequent claim that his ban was justified because immigrants had made parts of London “no go zones” for non-Muslims, including police officers, Johnson went on to say that Trump was “betraying a quite stupefying ignorance that makes him frankly unfit to hold the office of president of the United States.”

“I would invite him to come and see the whole of London and take him round the city,” Johnson added, “except that I wouldn’t want to expose Londoners to any unnecessary risk of meeting Donald Trump.”

Johnson’s presumed ability to forge a closer relationship with Trump than his predecessor Theresa May is considered important for the pro-Brexit members of his party, who hope that a free-trade deal with the United States could help the U.K. offset some of the economic self-harm caused by withdrawing from the European Union.

During his campaign for the Conservative party leadership — a contest in which less than 0.3 percent of the British public had a vote — Johnson was careful to avoid antagonizing Trump. Notably, he refused to defend Britain’s ambassador in Washington, Kim Darroch, after the envoy’s private analysis of dysfunction in Trump’s White House was leaked to a pro-Brexit journalist. Johnson’s failure to stand up for the ambassador, who was being bullied by Trump on Twitter, triggered Darroch’s decision to resign.

During a recent BBC discussion of Trump’s fury at the ambassador, one of Johnson’s supporters, Dominic Raab, was asked why those leaked cables were so much worse than calling the American president stupefyingly ignorant.

More recently, Johnson was forced to reject Trump’s racist suggestion that four American members of Congress — women of color, who have criticized the president’s immigration policies — should be deported. While he refused to answer directly when asked in a debate if Trump’s tweets were racist, Johnson did reject their premise. “If you are the leader of a great, multi-racial, multi-cultural society, you simply cannot use that kind of language about sending people back to where they came from,” Johnson said. “That went out decades and decades ago and thank heavens for that.”

Once Johnson takes office, Trump might be disappointed to find that the new British leader, who was born in New York and spent part of his childhood in Brussels, is far more cosmopolitan than most of the English nationalists who voted for Brexit. Johnson, who tried to convince Trump to not abandon the Iran nuclear deal, even has family ties to the Muslim world. His paternal grandfather, born Osman Wilfred Kemal, was the son of an English woman, Winifred Johnson, and a Turkish journalist and politician, Ali Kemal.

When Johnson was asked during a debate with other candidates for the Conservative Party leadership about his naked appeals to the Islamophobia of some Brexit supporters, and the fact that he joked about the appearance of veiled women, he defended himself by referring to “my Muslim great-grandfather.”

Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that Trump’s claims about his broad popularity in the U.K. were also untrue, in two ways. First, no one in the U.K. — at least no one whose first language is English — refers to Johnson as “Britain Trump.” And, as the Guardian politics blogger Andrew Sparrow explained, while Johnson is often compared to Trump, “that is because they both have blond hair and say lots of things that are untrue.” Outside of far-right circles, Sparrow added, “the comparison is not generally viewed as a compliment.”

Trump’s frequent claim that he is loved by Britons is also demonstrably false. Polling on the eve of the president’s visit to London last month — which prompted tens of thousands of protesters to march against him for the second time in a year — showed that just 21 percent of the British public approves of him, while 67 percent dislike him. That poll result, which sharply contrasts with the high regard in which his predecessor Barack Obama is held, was projected onto the Tower of London during Trump’s visit by a group of anti-Brexit activists.

The American president is, however, relatively popular with one important sliver of the British electorate: the 160,000 fee-paying Conservative party activists who were entitled to vote for the governing party’s new leader, who will inherit the post of prime minister on Wednesday. Almost half of the Conservative members are over 65, 71 percent are male, and 97 percent are white.

According to polling published last month, 40 percent of Conservatives said that immigration by Muslims to the U.K. from its former colonies should be restricted, and 45 percent believe that “there are areas in Britain in which non-Muslims are not able to enter.”

Another recent poll of Conservative members showed that 56 percent of them said that that Islam is a threat to the British way of life, and 54 percent said that Trump would make a good prime minister of the U.K.

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