No One Will Be Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Oslo Accords

On September 13, 1993, Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization signed the Oslo Accords on the lawn of the White House. Following some nudging from U.S. President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chair Yasser Arafat shook hands, thrilling the 3,000 assembled potentates.

The New York Times marked the occasion with a banner A1 headline, and the accompanying story by Thomas Friedman described Oslo as an “agreement between Jews and Palestinians to end their conflict” — “a triumph of hope over history.” The Times devoted its whole front page to the accord; another article referred to it as a “Day of Glory.” The Washington Post’s lead story was headlined “Ritual End To Decades Of Conflict.” Within a year Rabin, Arafat, and then-Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres would win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Meanwhile, critics of the agreement, formally called a “Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements,” were completely drowned out in the euphoria.

The late Edward Said, the most articulate champion of the Palestinian cause in the United States, immediately called Oslo “an instrument of Palestinian surrender.” Said quoted Israeli novelist Amos Oz as saying it was “the second-biggest victory in the history of Zionism,” after the establishment of Israel in 1948. Few would herald Said in the moment, but his criticisms have been more than borne out.

Oslo merely required Israel to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and pull back troops from parts of the occupied territories that Israel was happy to cede to soon-to-be formed Palestinian security forces. Managing civil affairs in densely populated Palestinian cities that Israel had no interest in keeping was a headache anyway.

Negotiations on everything important — “Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with other neighbors” — were left to a “five year transitional period,” with no incentives for Israel to concede anything, including statehood, to the Palestinians. This “interim stage” purportedly leading to Palestinian self-government, Said wrote, “may be the final one.”

Who was right? Who was wrong? The answer is obvious from the silence this week of Oslo’s proponents — on the 25th anniversary of the accord. There are no op-eds from former State Department officials congratulating themselves on their hard work and diligence. Bill Clinton has not taken to Twitter to reminisce about that hallowed day.

They all realize, of course, that it would be ridiculous if they did. Today there is no Palestinian state, no peace — and no sign there ever will be either. Since Oslo, about 10,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel, several thousand of them women and children, and more than 1,500 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians. The West Bank and Gaza have been politically severed from each other, even as the number of Israeli settlers has grown from about 250,000 in 1993 to 600,000 today. And the Israeli government and populace have grown more and more extreme, to the point that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who once was seen as occupying the far-right of the political spectrum, now is part of the sensible center.

“It’s not that the PA has turned into a monster, I think it was born a monster.”

Worst of all from the perspective of Palestinians, 25 years after Oslo they do not have legitimate political representation. Said predicted in 1993 that the PLO would “become Israel’s enforcer, an unhappy prospect for most Palestinians.” This is exactly what has come to pass: The Palestinian Authority, set up after Oslo as the supposedly interim self-governing body for Palestinians, is largely a corrupt agent of the Israeli government.

This is no surprise to Palestinians. “It’s not that the PA has turned into a monster, I think it was born a monster,” Yara Hawari, a young activist and a policy fellow at the Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka, told The Intercept this summer. “I don’t think it was ever going to be anything else just because of the way that it was set up: What it was supposed to do was maintain and manage the situation and assist it.”

“It’s classic Fanon if you think about it,” Hawari said. “It’s like, Let’s create this class of people that are going to maintain the security of the oppressed or the natives, so that we don’t have to do it.”

The illusion in the U.S. since Oslo has been that the situation is a struggle between Israelis and Palestinians. In fact, it is largely a conflict between Palestinians on the one hand, and Israel, the U.S., and the Palestinian Authority on the other.

BAQUAR, JORDAN: Fatah militiamen rest under a tent close to the Jordan river in Jordan 04 November 1969. After Israeli army started a lightning war in Syria, Sinan and Jordan in June 1967 the problem of Palestinian refugees increased without precedent in the Arab countries around Israel. Des militants du Fatah se reposent sous une tente prFs de la rive jordanienne du Jourdain le 04 novembre 1969. A la suite de la guerre-Tclair lancTe par l'armTe israTlienne en Syrie, dans le Sinan et en Jordanie en juin 1967, le problFme des rTfugiTs palestiniens a pris une ampleur sans prTcTdent dans les pays arabes entourant Isradl. (Photo credit should read AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Fatah militiamen rest under a tent near the Jordan River in Jordan on Nov. 4, 1969.

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

To understand how this came to pass requires a look back at Palestinian and Israeli history.

The PLO was founded in Cairo in 1964, with the goal of “the liberation of Palestine” — i.e., the elimination of Israel. Then in 1967, Israel attacked its Arab neighbors and seized huge amounts of territory: the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza (from Egypt), the West Bank (from Jordan), and the Golan Heights (from Syria). Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt as part of the Camp David Accords in 1978, but its continued possession of the West Bank and Gaza meant that it was ruling directly over millions of Palestinians.

The PLO conceived of itself as a government in exile, with its main headquarters as of 1970 in Jordan. However, conflict with Jordan’s King Hussein led the PLO’s various factions to relocate to Lebanon over the next several years. Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon then forced the PLO to again pull up stakes and move to Tunis, the capital of Tunisia.

During the 1970s, the PLO’s goals moderated. According to a 1977 State Department memo, Arafat strenuously argued to a U.S. diplomat that the PLO had already reached “tacit acceptance of [a] two-state solution” — that is, a solution to the conflict in which Israel would withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank, and they would become the territory for a new Palestinian state. Two resolutions calling for a two-state solution were introduced in the U.N. Security Council during this period; the U.S. vetoed both.

However, the PLO steadily weakened during the 1980s after its relocation to Tunis. Part of it was simply distance: It’s almost 1,500 miles from Tunis to Jerusalem, about as far as it is from New York City to Lubbock, Texas. Part of it was the PLO’s deep flaws: Noam Chomsky has described how “the corruption of the PLO has just infuriated Palestinians in the Territories. … Back in 1988 or so, and when you went into, say, the old city of Nablus, or villages, and talked to organizers or activists, their hatred and contempt of the PLO was just extraordinary.” Part of it was the First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising that began in 1987 and was led not by the PLO’s far-away, aging men, but mostly women who actually lived in Palestine and, for the first time, didn’t wait for guidance from their exiled leaders.

Then most damagingly, Arafat foolishly backed Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War, in 1991. This angered the PLO’s patrons in other petrostates, which cut off funding. The PLO was now near collapse — leading Israeli military intelligence to advise Yitzhak Rabin that this made them the perfect partner for “peace.”

This is why the Oslo Accords were signed: Everyone significant got something they wanted. Israel got the chance to kick the legs out from under the surprisingly successful intifada and subcontract much of the occupation to PLO elites. The PLO and Arafat got the opportunity to become players again just as their power had been slipping away. And the U.S. was able to stabilize the situation for a client state — plus get a beautiful White House photo op.

Of course, regular, powerless Palestinians got something too. Danny Rubinstein, an analyst for the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz, described it as “autonomy,” but “autonomy as in a POW camp, where the prisoners are ‘autonomous’ to cook their meals without interference and to organize cultural events.”

For most Palestinians living in the occupied territories, the arrangement set up under the Oslo Accords is all they’ve ever known. More residents of the West Bank and Gaza were born after 1993 than before. In Gaza, nearly 40 percent of the population is under 14 years old.

Unsurprisingly, the Palestinian Authority’s legitimacy has been increasingly challenged, mostly by young Palestinians who see it as an additional layer to their oppression — on top of the Israeli occupation to which the PA is inexorably tied.

With portraits of late leader Yasser Arafat and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hanging on the wall, a Palestinian woman, left waits in a line, not seen, in front of a cash machine to check if her salary had been deposited, in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Monday, Dec. 4, 2006. After Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January and took over the government, Western powers cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority because of the party's refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence. The result has meant thousands of Palestinian civil servants have not received their salaries for months. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

Portraits of Yasser Arafat and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hang on a wall, in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Dec. 4, 2006.

Photo: Muhammed Muheisen/AP

The last Palestinian legislative elections were held in 2006, with the encouragement of the George W. Bush administration. Hamas, the more radical Islamist organization based in Gaza, won — not necessarily because Palestinians supported all their policies, but because of their reputation for being less corrupt than Fatah, the remnants of the PLO. Hillary Clinton, then a senator from New York, was stunned by Bush’s naiveté. “I do not think we should have pushed for an election in the Palestinian territories,” she said. “And if we were going to push for an election, then we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.”

The Bush administration clearly came around to Clinton’s perspective in the election’s aftermath. With Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice taking the lead, the administration attempted to organize a coup in which Fatah would overthrow the elected government. In response, Hamas seized control of Gaza, while Fatah retained power in the West Bank, a stalemate that remains in place to this day.

Meanwhile, Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas continues to serve as president of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas, who was first elected in 2005 after Arafat’s death, should have faced another election when his term ended in 2009.  Instead he has stayed in office indefinitely.

Recent years have seen greater and greater tensions between Palestinians, mostly the young, and their leadership. In 2017, protests erupted after the prominent Palestinian activist Bassel Al-Araj was killed by Israeli forces after being detained a year earlier by Palestinian security forces. The PA brutally repressed the demonstrations. Abbas said at the time, “Our security cooperation with Israel is functioning well.”

Al-Araj’s death sparked widespread condemnation of the PA, with demonstrators in the street calling him a martyr not just of the occupation, a common refrain, but also of the “security coordination.”

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK - MARCH 12: Security forces intervene to protesters as they gather to protest against Palestinian court's trial on Basil al Arac, who was killed during Israeli soldiers' raid at his home, and his five friends in front of the Ramallah Minor Court in Ramallah, West Bank on March 12, 2017. Basil al Arac and his friends are judged for possession of unregistered firearm. (Photo by Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Security forces clash with protesters outside the Ramallah Minor Court in Ramallah, West Bank, on March 12, 2017, after Palestinian activist Bassel Al-Araj was killed.

Photo: Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Then, last June, Palestinians once again took to the streets to protest a set of sanctions that the Palestinian Authority had imposed on Gaza, including slashing the salaries of government employees there and forcing a third into early retirement.

In Ramallah, hundreds of protesters were met with tear gas and stun grenades from a wide array of security officers in uniform and riot gear. The Palestinian Authority, which had forbidden the protest before it started, ordered it shut down. More than 40 people were arrested, and many were beaten and injured. In subsequent smaller demonstrations, security forces sometimes outnumbered protesters 10 to one.

“Many feel, Why would we criticize the PA when we can criticize Israel? But that’s just not a very nuanced understanding of what occupation means.”

Several people who were in Ramallah when the June protest was met with violence later told The Intercept that they originally thought the Israeli army had entered the city before realizing the security officers were “our own guys,” as one protester put it. Others said the display of force was reminiscent of that of Arab regimes in Syria and Egypt, and quietly warned about the Palestinian Authority’s descent into authoritarianism.

“People, even people high up, were very, very pissed off with the way that it was handled because it made the PA look like a very repressive body,” said Hawari, the activist. “Which it is.”

“Many feel, Why would we criticize the PA when we can criticize Israel?” said Hawari. “People will say that’s very divisive, and the main problem is the occupation, and we need to focus on the enemy. But that’s just not a very nuanced understanding of what occupation means.”

“Of course that’s not to say the main reason isn’t the occupation,” she added, “but the PA is a huge barrier in the way of liberation.”

If anger at the Palestinian Authority’s leadership is most noticeable among young Palestinians, members of older generations who experienced the occupation pre-Oslo feel deep resentment as well.

Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club and a close friend of imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, spent 13 years in an Israeli prison for his political work. He was released as part of the Oslo process, along with other Palestinian political activists.

“We agreed and signed with the Israelis that these procedures should lead to the end of the occupation, and to create a new state beside Israel, living together in peace and cooperation,” he said, without masking his sarcasm, during an interview in Ramallah over the summer.

“You can keep saying that you represent the interest of the people,” he told The Intercept, “but your behavior is saying different things.” He compared the power and wealth enjoyed by Palestinian leaders to that of the authoritarian monarchs of the Persian Gulf. “If we could make real democracy happen in our life, we will win the battle with the occupation,” he added. “But if we don’t succeed to be a real democratic community, it’s a sign that we will not be a free Palestine.”

If the Palestinian Authority needs to die in order for Palestinians to pursue their liberation, the Trump administration may just have inadvertently brought its demise a step closer. Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department shut down the PLO’s mission in Washington, D.C., accusing the Palestinian body of refusing to engage with the U.S. and not having “taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” The Palestinian Authority called the move “a declaration of war on efforts to bring peace to our country and the region.”

For now — and for the foreseeable future — Edward Said’s warning about Oslo appears hauntingly accurate. For the Palestinians to “throw themselves on the tender mercies of the U.S.,” he wrote, “is almost certainly to suffer the fate the U.S. has meted out to rebellious or ‘terrorist’ peoples it has had to deal with in the Third World after they have promised not to resist the U.S. any more.”

Top photo: PLO Chair Yasser Arafat, right, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as U.S. President Bill Clinton stands between them, after the signing of the Israeli-PLO peace accord at the White House on Sept. 13, 1993.

The post No One Will Be Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Oslo Accords appeared first on The Intercept.

Here’s Mike Pompeo’s Memo Justifying U.S. Assistance to Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s War in Yemen

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified that the coalition of Persian Gulf monarchies waging a war in Yemen was taking sufficient steps to protect civilians. The declaration by Pompeo — which flew in the face of years of criticisms of the coalition’s conduct in the war by international bodies and human rights groups — allowed the U.S. to continue refueling coalition jets,

Pompeo’s vetting of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates was required by a bipartisan amendment to the annual defense spending bill signed into law last month by President Donald Trump. Pompeo made the announcement of his certification in a statement, saying that the two Gulf countries were “undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians.”

In a separate seven-page memo sent to Congress and obtained by The Intercept, Pompeo further justified the decision, citing U.S. training of the Saudi Royal Air Force and the formation of the Joint Incidents Assessment Team in 2016.

“Pompeo’s description of doing everything possible is wrong.”

“Pompeo’s description of doing everything possible is wrong,” Larry Lewis, the State Department’s former senior civilian harm advisor, told the Intercept. Lewis, who was pushed out last year during Rex Tillerson’s tenure as secretary of state, previously gave trainings to Saudi pilots and assisted in the formation of the assessment team.

Humanitarian groups pilloried the decision, which came less than a month after a bomb from a coalition jet killed dozens of children in a school bus in northern Yemen. The aid group Oxfam reported that August was the deadliest month of the more than 3-year war. “This administration is doubling down on its failed policy of literally fueling the world’s largest humanitarian crisis,” said Scott Paul, Oxfam America’s humanitarian policy lead.

On Wednesday, local reports indicated that fighting and airstrikes had intensified in the vicinity of Hodeidah, Yemen’s largest port and a vital entry point for aid — and a target of UAE-led attacks.

In addition to billions in weapons sales and logistical support, including intelligence assistance, the aerial refueling of coalition jets — which began shortly after the Saudi-led war in March 2015 — is seen as the most concrete embodiment of the U.S.’s daily involvement in the war.

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The full Pompeo memo to Congress, published here for the first time, conveys the breadth of justifications the Trump administration employs in its support of the Gulf coalition.

Pompeo referenced not just to the ongoing fight with Iranian-supported Houthi rebel forces and their ballistic missile arsenal, but also the drive to counter Al Qaeda and Islamic State activity in the country’s south. (The Houthis and Al Qaeda have at times fought one another in Yemen.) The refueling amendment included several carveouts for specific missions, including support for operations against both Al Qaeda and ISIS in the country — though such carveouts will not be necessary with Pompeo’s broader certification.

“Saudi Arabia and the UAE are strong counterterrorism partners.”

“Saudi Arabia and the UAE are strong counterterrorism partners,” says the memo, citing the expulsion of Al Qaeda’s affiliate from the Yemeni port city of Mukalla in May 2016, cutting off “a significant source of revenue of the terrorist group.”

Last month, the Associated Press reported that the retreat of fighters with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from Mukalla and other areas came largely without fighting and was greased with cash and permission to take weapons and other equipment. “Hundreds more [Al Qaeda fighters] were recruited to join the coalition itself,” reported the AP.

Pompeo cited these developments as part of a trend toward a Gulf coalition victory. “The Administration believes that the support that the United States provides to Saudi Arabia and the UAE is helping defeat ISIS-Y and AQAP and counter Iran’s malign activities,” he wrote.

Reliable data on the refueling has proven elusive, but the bulk of fuel has not gone to the Saudis, but to the Emiratis, who in turn have been the U.S.’s principal partner against extremist groups.

As laid out in the memo, the rationale for refueling and the larger support package is buttressed by such long standing counter-terror operations — efforts in Yemen that enjoy far wider support among even staunch Congressional critics of the campaign to bomb Houthi rebels into submission. Though Pompeo cited the UAE’s efforts in the south, he ignored reports that Yemenis have been tortured in UAE-backed prisons there.

In a statement endorsing Pompeo’s certification, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the Saudis and UAE “are making every effort to reduce the risk of civilian casualties.”

The memorandum also includes a curious entry that the two gulf coalition leaders are “complying with applicable U.S. laws governing the sale and transfer of arms, including the Arms Export Control Act, with rare exception.” It is unclear exactly what those exceptions to the law that restricts U.S. arms sales to rights violators are — though the coalition has supported a wide array of partner forces on the ground, including some that have reportedly gained access to American-manufactured weapons.

Pompeo noted that “recently civilian casualty incidents indicate insufficient implementation of reforms and targeting practices.” The memo also asserted that “investigations have not yielded accountability measures,” but explained that statement only by alluding to additional information contained in a classified supplement to his memo.

The secretary of state lauded the U.S.’s Gulf partners for what he called their restraint in UAE-led operations around Hodeidah. Pompeo said the coalition had incorporated a no-strike list and had received training on “air-to-ground targeting processes.” American no-strike lists were first shared — and flouted — under the Obama administration.

Both the Houthis and the coalition have been accused of acts in Yemen that may amount to war crimes. According to the United Nations, the majority of civilian casualties in Yemen since March 2015 have been caused by the Gulf coalition, whose members are shielded by its structure from being identified as responsible for specific strikes. Pompeo further told Congress that the administration assessed “that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are taking measures to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.”

Top photo: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a press conference on the campus of Stanford University on July 24, 2018, in Stanford, Calif.

The post Here’s Mike Pompeo’s Memo Justifying U.S. Assistance to Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s War in Yemen appeared first on The Intercept.

The U.S. Goes to War Against the ICC to Cover Up Alleged War Crimes in Afghanistan

The United States has never been a friend of the International Criminal Court. While relations between the U.S. and the ICC have fluctuated over the course of different administrations, the American government has steadfastly refused to take the step that 124 other states have of ratifying the Rome Statute and thus becoming a member of the international legal body. The ICC’s mandate to investigate war crimes has thus been hampered by the unwillingness of the world’s sole superpower to commit to the organization.

Recent statements from the Trump administration suggest that the United States is now preparing to go to war against the ICC itself, motivated largely by an effort to silence investigations into alleged American war crimes committed in Afghanistan, as well as alleged crimes committed by Israel during the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip. In a speech at a D.C. event held by the Federalist Society on Monday, Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton denounced the ICC as “illegitimate” and expressed his intentions toward the institution in no uncertain terms. “We will not cooperate with the ICC,” Bolton said. “We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

In addition to this death wish against the court, Bolton said that the United States would retaliate against any ICC investigations into U.S. activities by sanctioning the travel and finances of ICC officials, even threatening to prosecute them in American courts.

The 2016 ICC report makes allegations of serious crimes committed by the U.S., including “torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape.”

Because it involves U.S. officials themselves, at the center of the campaign against the ICC is a 2016 report by ICC prosecutors that deals in part with the war in Afghanistan. That report alleges the commission of widespread crimes by the Taliban and Afghan government forces. But the report also makes allegations of serious crimes committed by U.S. military forces and the CIA, including “torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape.”

The crimes in question appear to have been related to detention programs run in Afghanistan during the early years of the U.S. occupation. While the report does not name the individuals responsible nor their victims, it indicates that there are dozens of cases in which torture, cruel treatment, and sexual assault were committed by American soldiers and CIA officers in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2004.

The report also states that the alleged crimes “were not the abuses of a few isolated individuals,” adding that “there is a reasonable basis to believe these alleged crimes were committed in furtherance of a policy or policies aimed at eliciting information through the use of interrogation techniques involving cruel or violent methods which would support U.S. objectives in the conflict in Afghanistan.”

Given longstanding U.S. refusals to cooperate with ICC investigations, it’s unlikely that the 2016 document — a preliminary report from the prosecutor’s office — would have succeeded in bringing U.S. officials to trial at the Hague. Bolton’s campaign thus seems intended on solidifying the fact that the United States is free of international norms on human rights conduct, with those who even investigate its actions subject to threat.

That the ICC investigation reaches back to the George W. Bush era, when Bolton served as United Nations ambassador, is fitting. In the years after the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States began to come under withering scrutiny for its detention policies in those countries. In addition to high-profile cases of torture at prison sites like Abu Ghraib, the CIA and U.S. military have been accused of brutalizing and even murdering prisoners held in their custody at detention facilities like Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan.

To date, Passaro, a civilian, is the only person to have been held legally accountable for torture and murder carried out under the CIA detention program.

Civilian contractors working for the CIA have also engaged in the murder of Afghan detainees, including David Passaro, who beat to death an Afghan man named Abdul Wali who had turned himself in to authorities after being accused of involvement in a militant attack. Passaro was later sentenced to eight and a half years in jail by an American court. Following his release, he briefly returned to the public eye in media interviews justifying his involvement in the murder.

To date, Passaro, a civilian, is the only person to have been held legally accountable for torture and murder carried out under the CIA detention program, in Afghanistan or elsewhere. This despite a landmark 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee that documented, in excruciating detail, widespread evidence of torture and other abuses carried out by CIA officials.

The unwillingness or inability of U.S. courts to seriously investigate war crimes carried out by American citizens is part of why the ICC mandate in Afghanistan has been viewed as an important effort to bring a minimum level of accountability over the conflict. This past November, the court announced that it planned to move forward with investigations stemming from its 2016 report.

In a statement responding to Bolton’s threats, the ICC said that “the ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its work undeterred, in accordance with those principles and the overarching idea of the rule of law.”

Given its longstanding intransigence toward the ICC, it was unlikely that the United States would ever have cooperated with its investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan, even under a less bellicose administration. But the Trump administration’s threats to target specific ICC officials over their war crimes investigations enters a new realm of hostility against international law. The consequences could be a further degradation of already shaky international norms surrounding human rights in conflict zones.

“The ICC is not stepping in just for the sake of how Bolton put it, just to undermine U.S. sovereignty. This is really nonsense. They are stepping in because we failed — the United States failed to uphold the rule of law,” said Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, in a television segment on Democracy Now! Tuesday morning about Bolton’s comments. “This is the same Trump administration that has an abysmal record of human rights here in the United States and is trying to encourage other countries to follow its pattern.”

Top photo: National security adviser John Bolton speaks at a Federalist Society luncheon at the Mayflower Hotel on Sept. 10, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

The post The U.S. Goes to War Against the ICC to Cover Up Alleged War Crimes in Afghanistan appeared first on The Intercept.

U.S. Military’s Worst-Case Scenario: Large Parts of Africa Seized by ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram

What keeps U.S. Africa Command chief Gen. Thomas Waldhauser up at night? That remains unknown, but the analysts under his command are worried about terrorist organizations like the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram combining forces and destabilizing large swaths of the African continent.

Planning documents issued in October 2017 and classified by Waldhauser detail the worst-case scenarios imagined by the command. The forecasts, which are an update to AFRICOM’s Theater Campaign Plan and were obtained by The Intercept via a Freedom of Information Act request, center around potential gains by terrorist organizations in the north and west of the continent, specifically Libya, the Sahel, and the Lake Chad basin. They offer a nightmare vision of a destabilized, crisis-ridden region that could – if the worst happens — fall increasingly under the control of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Haram.

North and West Africa have seen intense U.S. military engagement over the last decade. America has, as The Intercept reported earlier this year, conducted approximately 550 drone strikes in Libya since 2011 — more than in Somalia, Yemen, or Pakistan. In July, Politico disclosed that for at least five years, Green Berets, Navy SEALs, and other commandos — operating under a little-understood budgetary authority known as Section 127e — have been involved in reconnaissance and “direct action” combat raids with local forces in Cameroon, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Tunisia. Between 2015 and 2017, there were also at least 10 previously unreported attacks on American troops in West Africa, the New York Times revealed in March. Last October, four U.S. troops were killed in an ISIS ambush in Niger. Two months later, Green Berets fighting alongside local forces in that same country reportedly killed 11 ISIS militants.

The disclosure comes as Waldhauser has submitted a proposal, in response to the Trump administration’s strategy to increasingly focus on threats from China and Russia, to drastically cut the number of U.S. commandos on the continent and shutter several bases, according to a recent report by the New York Times. AFRICOM did not respond to requests to interview Waldhauser.

The AFRICOM documents imagine a future in which the Islamic State consolidates control over eastern Libya – a region destabilized by a 2011 NATO military intervention that overthrew autocrat Muammar Gaddafi. ISIS, in this scenario, would dominate major cities and develop close ties with local militias and “tribal elements.” According to the files, ISIS could then use oil revenues to finance a wide-ranging terror campaign. “ISIS and their associated branches might then begin to plan and conduct large scale, high-impact attacks against Western targets in North Africa and Europe,” according to the files.

Experts say that the scenarios are generally plausible, but lack sophistication. There is little evidence to suggest that much time or effort was expended in scripting the nightmare forecasts. Key aspects — like probable safeguards that would likely keep such dire projections from coming to pass — go unmentioned. One former U.S. intelligence analyst, who asked not to be named for fear of jeopardizing relationships with current officials, described a scenario involving Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa as “ludicrous” due to its utter improbability. Additional checks on militants, like vigilante groups and local self-defense forces, would, he said, almost certainly prevent that worst-case scenario from coming to pass.

AFRICOM’s worries include a potential alliance between ISIS and Ansar al-Sharia-Benghazi, or ASB, whose members reportedly took part in the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012. Such a merger, the command warns, would provide the Islamic State with sophisticated supply networks and a large contingent of experienced, well-armed fighters. The combination of ASB’s local power and ISIS’s “aggressive tactics” could allow the group to expel the Libyan National Army, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, from Benghazi.

Just to the south, in the countries of the Sahel region, AFRICOM’s nightmare scenario involves the union of ISIS and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, rival terror groups that have previously competed with each other. The plans express a fear that “AQIM and ISIS operatives team up to plot attacks against U.S., Western, and local authorities in a bid to demonstrate the impact of the merger.” Such a wave of violence, the documents warn, would allow the hybrid terrorist organization to make inroads in Algeria, Mali, and Tunisia, “unifying extremists across the region.” This, in turn, would allow for the ability to launch large-scale assaults on United Nations peacekeepers as well as kidnapping and “assassination operations” against Westerners in the region.

“Within five years, the groups will reestablish control over Northern Malian territory as far south as Timbuktu and will maintain close and cooperative relations with Malian rebel groups as they provide effective governance over captured territory,” according to AFRICOM’s worst-case projection.

Commander of US forces in Africa (AFRICOM) General Tom Waldhauser attends a press conference after a security meeting with the National Reconciliation Government in the Libyan capital Tripoli on May 31, 2018. (Photo by STRINGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

Commander of U.S. forces in Africa Gen. Tom Waldhauser attends a press conference after a security meeting with the National Reconciliation Government in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on May 31, 2018.

Photo: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Under the terms of Waldhauser’s reported proposal to slash the number of U.S. commandos operating in Africa by 25 percent over 18 months, and by 50 percent over three years, troop cuts would fall heavily on Central and West Africa, beginning with countries like Cameroon and Niger. This region is precisely where AFRICOM, in its 2017 planning documents, envisioned what appears to be its most dire scenario.

If regional counterterrorism efforts fail and Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa receive sufficient funding, AFRICOM warned, the groups would begin exerting territorial dominion over much of northeastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin — including de facto control over portions of Cameroon and Niger. “Within two years, BH and ISIS-WA could become a destination of destructive global jihad, receiving regional and global foreign fighters for training and indoctrination,” the planning documents cautioned.

AFRICOM did not respond to questions from The Intercept regarding the proposed plans to withdraw seven of the the eight elite counterterrorism units operating in Africa and close military outposts in Tunisia, Cameroon, Libya, and Kenya, nor how that might affect U.S. military efforts with respect to the command’s worst-case scenarios. But the number of terrorist groups and terror attacks have risen alongside increasing deployments to U.S. commandos. In the wake of the deadly 2017 attack in Niger, one expert told The Intercept that the “larger U.S. military presence has, at a minimum, served as a recruiting tool for the growing number of terrorist groups operating in West Africa.”

“No decision has been officially made regarding U.S. counterterrorism forces operating in Africa,” Maj. Sheryll Klinkel said by email. “The optimization effort does not mean that we are going to walk away from counterterrorism but that efforts must be ‘right-sized’ to align with current security priorities outlined in the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy.”

Even if AFRICOM’s nightmare scenarios don’t come to pass, the command sees ample trouble on the horizon. “Over the next five years, Africa will remain ripe for political instability, conflict, and other events that will require humanitarian assistance,” the documents warn. “The continent of Africa will remain volatile, unpredictable, and characterized by conflict and unrest for the foreseeable future.”

Top image: The main image in this illustration, a photo from February 2018, shows an aerial view of the outskirts of Maroua, Far-North Region, Cameroon, where a conflict between the Nigerian Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram and the Cameroonian army has taken place since 2014.

The post U.S. Military’s Worst-Case Scenario: Large Parts of Africa Seized by ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram appeared first on The Intercept.

A Day After Trump Pledges $1 Billion in Aid, Egypt Sentences American Citizen to Prison in Protest Crackdown

Despite appeals for his release from the Trump administration, an Egyptian criminal court sentenced U.S. citizen Moustafa Kassem to 15 years in prison on September 8. The sentencing, which human rights advocates said is part of a crackdown on political dissent, crushed his family’s hopes to see their ailing relative freed, and disappointed advocates who hoped the White House could sway the government of Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Kassem, who suffers from diabetes, has already served five years in pretrial detention and is now set to spend another 10 years in an Egyptian jail cell, barring a presidential pardon, early release, or deportation to the United States.

“We were so saddened to hear this news. We did not expect it. He did nothing to deserve that verdict.”

“We were so saddened to hear this news. We did not expect it,” Eman Kassem, Moustafa Kassem’s sister, told The Intercept. “He did nothing to deserve that verdict.”

Egyptian prosecutors alleged Moustafa Kassem, an Egyptian-American tried alongside over 700 people, joined the summer 2013 protests at Cairo’s Rabaa Square. The protests came shortly after a military coup that deposed Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi and installed el-Sisi in power.

Prosecutors presented no specific evidence that the 53-year-old Moustafa Kassem was at the square that day.

“This is a devastating day for the rule of law,” said Mohamed Soltan, a human rights advocate who himself is a former prisoner in Egypt. “It shows that the judicial system in Egypt is utterly politicized.”

The White House referred requests for comment on Moustafa Kassem’s conviction to the State Department. A State Department spokesperson said in a statement, “We are deeply concerned by the conviction and sentencing of US citizen Moustafa Kassem. Mr. Kassem’s case has been raised repeatedly with the Egyptian government, and we remain in communication with Mr. Kassem and his attorney about the case. The Department of State takes seriously its responsibilities to assist U.S. citizens abroad; we will continue providing appropriate consular services.”

The conviction came just a day after the U.S. announced that it was slating a billion dollars of military aid for Egypt and about two months after nearly $200 million in U.S. aid was released after being frozen over human rights concerns.

Moustafa Kassem’s brother-in-law, who witnessed his arrest in Cairo, told The Intercept that Moustafa encountered into a military checkpoint near Rabaa Square after running an errand on the afternoon of August 14, 2013, the day Egyptian forces raided the protest camp at Rabaa and killed at least 817 people.

Moustafa Kassem argued with an Egyptian soldier after the officer blocked him and his brother-in-law from walking up a street to get their car. The soldier threw Moustafa Kassem on the ground after he pulled out his U.S. passport, and other soldiers began to beat him before he was put in handcuffs, the brother-in-law said.

Moustafa Kassem’s conviction — in the same case that saw 75 people sentenced to death and hundreds more sentenced to jail time over alleged participation in the Rabaa protests — is the latest episode of a deteriorating human rights situation since the 2013 military coup. El-Sisi has presided over a vicious crackdown on students, Islamist opponents, activists, and journalists as part of a campaign that rights advocates said is aimed at wiping out any dissent to his rule.

The human rights situation had prompted rhetorical concern from the U.S. government, even as the Trump administration moved to shore up ties to Egypt. Vice President Mike Pence had raised Moustafa Kassem’s imprisonment directly with el-Sisi during a trip to Cairo in January, remarking to reporters that he told the Egyptian leader the U.S. would like to see Moustafa Kassem back with his family. But Pence’s requests went unheeded with no consequence — and was followed by U.S. decisions to send billions in military aid to Egypt.

In July, the U.S. State Department decided to release $195 million in military aid to Egypt that had been on hold because of human rights concerns. Then, on September 7, the State Department announced that it is giving Egypt $1 billion in military aid for the 2018 budget year.

The State Department also decided to send an additional $195 million in military aid from 2017 funds that had been withheld by Congress because of human rights concerns. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo overrode the congressional block with a waiver.

“You just gave President Sisi a few hundred million dollars, and he gave you the middle finger.”

On September 8 — the same day a court handed down Moustafa Kassem’s conviction — the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, met with el-Sisi to observe joint U.S.-Egyptian military exercises and, in a statement, praised Egypt as “one of our most vital partners in the region.”

“You just gave President Sisi a few hundred million dollars, and he gave you the middle finger,” said Praveen Madhiraju, a U.S. lawyer representing Moustafa Kassem and head of the group Pretrial Rights International, remarking on his client’s conviction.

Egyptian authorities have detained an unknown number of other U.S. citizens, among them Amir Nagy, the founder of an school for young children; Nagy was charged, in May 2018, with belonging to a banned group.

Moustafa Kassem’s situation is particularly dire. He is a diabetic with a heart condition, and his lawyers say Egyptian authorities are denying him proper medical treatment. Now, Moustafa Kassem is refusing to eat in protest of his conviction, according to his sister.

“My brother said he will go on strike. No food, no drinks, for the unjust verdict,” said Eman Kassem. “We are so worried about him.”

Top photo: A photo of Moustafa Kassem before he was imprisoned.

The post A Day After Trump Pledges $1 Billion in Aid, Egypt Sentences American Citizen to Prison in Protest Crackdown appeared first on The Intercept.

A Day After Trump Pledges $1 Billion in Aid, Egypt Sentences American Citizen to Prison in Protest Crackdown

Despite appeals for his release from the Trump administration, an Egyptian criminal court sentenced U.S. citizen Moustafa Kassem to 15 years in prison on September 8. The sentencing, which human rights advocates said is part of a crackdown on political dissent, crushed his family’s hopes to see their ailing relative freed, and disappointed advocates who hoped the White House could sway the government of Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Kassem, who suffers from diabetes, has already served five years in pretrial detention and is now set to spend another 10 years in an Egyptian jail cell, barring a presidential pardon, early release, or deportation to the United States.

“We were so saddened to hear this news. We did not expect it. He did nothing to deserve that verdict.”

“We were so saddened to hear this news. We did not expect it,” Eman Kassem, Moustafa Kassem’s sister, told The Intercept. “He did nothing to deserve that verdict.”

Egyptian prosecutors alleged Moustafa Kassem, an Egyptian-American tried alongside over 700 people, joined the summer 2013 protests at Cairo’s Rabaa Square. The protests came shortly after a military coup that deposed Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi and installed el-Sisi in power.

Prosecutors presented no specific evidence that the 53-year-old Moustafa Kassem was at the square that day.

“This is a devastating day for the rule of law,” said Mohamed Soltan, a human rights advocate who himself is a former prisoner in Egypt. “It shows that the judicial system in Egypt is utterly politicized.”

The White House referred requests for comment on Moustafa Kassem’s conviction to the State Department. A State Department spokesperson said in a statement, “We are deeply concerned by the conviction and sentencing of US citizen Moustafa Kassem. Mr. Kassem’s case has been raised repeatedly with the Egyptian government, and we remain in communication with Mr. Kassem and his attorney about the case. The Department of State takes seriously its responsibilities to assist U.S. citizens abroad; we will continue providing appropriate consular services.”

The conviction came just a day after the U.S. announced that it was slating a billion dollars of military aid for Egypt and about two months after nearly $200 million in U.S. aid was released after being frozen over human rights concerns.

Moustafa Kassem’s brother-in-law, who witnessed his arrest in Cairo, told The Intercept that Moustafa encountered into a military checkpoint near Rabaa Square after running an errand on the afternoon of August 14, 2013, the day Egyptian forces raided the protest camp at Rabaa and killed at least 817 people.

Moustafa Kassem argued with an Egyptian soldier after the officer blocked him and his brother-in-law from walking up a street to get their car. The soldier threw Moustafa Kassem on the ground after he pulled out his U.S. passport, and other soldiers began to beat him before he was put in handcuffs, the brother-in-law said.

Moustafa Kassem’s conviction — in the same case that saw 75 people sentenced to death and hundreds more sentenced to jail time over alleged participation in the Rabaa protests — is the latest episode of a deteriorating human rights situation since the 2013 military coup. El-Sisi has presided over a vicious crackdown on students, Islamist opponents, activists, and journalists as part of a campaign that rights advocates said is aimed at wiping out any dissent to his rule.

The human rights situation had prompted rhetorical concern from the U.S. government, even as the Trump administration moved to shore up ties to Egypt. Vice President Mike Pence had raised Moustafa Kassem’s imprisonment directly with el-Sisi during a trip to Cairo in January, remarking to reporters that he told the Egyptian leader the U.S. would like to see Moustafa Kassem back with his family. But Pence’s requests went unheeded with no consequence — and was followed by U.S. decisions to send billions in military aid to Egypt.

In July, the U.S. State Department decided to release $195 million in military aid to Egypt that had been on hold because of human rights concerns. Then, on September 7, the State Department announced that it is giving Egypt $1 billion in military aid for the 2018 budget year.

The State Department also decided to send an additional $195 million in military aid from 2017 funds that had been withheld by Congress because of human rights concerns. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo overrode the congressional block with a waiver.

“You just gave President Sisi a few hundred million dollars, and he gave you the middle finger.”

On September 8 — the same day a court handed down Moustafa Kassem’s conviction — the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, met with el-Sisi to observe joint U.S.-Egyptian military exercises and, in a statement, praised Egypt as “one of our most vital partners in the region.”

“You just gave President Sisi a few hundred million dollars, and he gave you the middle finger,” said Praveen Madhiraju, a U.S. lawyer representing Moustafa Kassem and head of the group Pretrial Rights International, remarking on his client’s conviction.

Egyptian authorities have detained an unknown number of other U.S. citizens, among them Amir Nagy, the founder of an school for young children; Nagy was charged, in May 2018, with belonging to a banned group.

Moustafa Kassem’s situation is particularly dire. He is a diabetic with a heart condition, and his lawyers say Egyptian authorities are denying him proper medical treatment. Now, Moustafa Kassem is refusing to eat in protest of his conviction, according to his sister.

“My brother said he will go on strike. No food, no drinks, for the unjust verdict,” said Eman Kassem. “We are so worried about him.”

Top photo: A photo of Moustafa Kassem before he was imprisoned.

The post A Day After Trump Pledges $1 Billion in Aid, Egypt Sentences American Citizen to Prison in Protest Crackdown appeared first on The Intercept.

A Day After Trump Pledges $1 Billion in Aid, Egypt Sentences American Citizen to Prison in Protest Crackdown

Despite appeals for his release from the Trump administration, an Egyptian criminal court sentenced U.S. citizen Moustafa Kassem to 15 years in prison on September 8. The sentencing, which human rights advocates said is part of a crackdown on political dissent, crushed his family’s hopes to see their ailing relative freed, and disappointed advocates who hoped the White House could sway the government of Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Kassem, who suffers from diabetes, has already served five years in pretrial detention and is now set to spend another 10 years in an Egyptian jail cell, barring a presidential pardon, early release, or deportation to the United States.

“We were so saddened to hear this news. We did not expect it. He did nothing to deserve that verdict.”

“We were so saddened to hear this news. We did not expect it,” Eman Kassem, Moustafa Kassem’s sister, told The Intercept. “He did nothing to deserve that verdict.”

Egyptian prosecutors alleged Moustafa Kassem, an Egyptian-American tried alongside over 700 people, joined the summer 2013 protests at Cairo’s Rabaa Square. The protests came shortly after a military coup that deposed Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi and installed el-Sisi in power.

Prosecutors presented no specific evidence that the 53-year-old Moustafa Kassem was at the square that day.

“This is a devastating day for the rule of law,” said Mohamed Soltan, a human rights advocate who himself is a former prisoner in Egypt. “It shows that the judicial system in Egypt is utterly politicized.”

The White House referred requests for comment on Moustafa Kassem’s conviction to the State Department. A State Department spokesperson said in a statement, “We are deeply concerned by the conviction and sentencing of US citizen Moustafa Kassem. Mr. Kassem’s case has been raised repeatedly with the Egyptian government, and we remain in communication with Mr. Kassem and his attorney about the case. The Department of State takes seriously its responsibilities to assist U.S. citizens abroad; we will continue providing appropriate consular services.”

The conviction came just a day after the U.S. announced that it was slating a billion dollars of military aid for Egypt and about two months after nearly $200 million in U.S. aid was released after being frozen over human rights concerns.

Moustafa Kassem’s brother-in-law, who witnessed his arrest in Cairo, told The Intercept that Moustafa encountered into a military checkpoint near Rabaa Square after running an errand on the afternoon of August 14, 2013, the day Egyptian forces raided the protest camp at Rabaa and killed at least 817 people.

Moustafa Kassem argued with an Egyptian soldier after the officer blocked him and his brother-in-law from walking up a street to get their car. The soldier threw Moustafa Kassem on the ground after he pulled out his U.S. passport, and other soldiers began to beat him before he was put in handcuffs, the brother-in-law said.

Moustafa Kassem’s conviction — in the same case that saw 75 people sentenced to death and hundreds more sentenced to jail time over alleged participation in the Rabaa protests — is the latest episode of a deteriorating human rights situation since the 2013 military coup. El-Sisi has presided over a vicious crackdown on students, Islamist opponents, activists, and journalists as part of a campaign that rights advocates said is aimed at wiping out any dissent to his rule.

The human rights situation had prompted rhetorical concern from the U.S. government, even as the Trump administration moved to shore up ties to Egypt. Vice President Mike Pence had raised Moustafa Kassem’s imprisonment directly with el-Sisi during a trip to Cairo in January, remarking to reporters that he told the Egyptian leader the U.S. would like to see Moustafa Kassem back with his family. But Pence’s requests went unheeded with no consequence — and was followed by U.S. decisions to send billions in military aid to Egypt.

In July, the U.S. State Department decided to release $195 million in military aid to Egypt that had been on hold because of human rights concerns. Then, on September 7, the State Department announced that it is giving Egypt $1 billion in military aid for the 2018 budget year.

The State Department also decided to send an additional $195 million in military aid from 2017 funds that had been withheld by Congress because of human rights concerns. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo overrode the congressional block with a waiver.

“You just gave President Sisi a few hundred million dollars, and he gave you the middle finger.”

On September 8 — the same day a court handed down Moustafa Kassem’s conviction — the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, met with el-Sisi to observe joint U.S.-Egyptian military exercises and, in a statement, praised Egypt as “one of our most vital partners in the region.”

“You just gave President Sisi a few hundred million dollars, and he gave you the middle finger,” said Praveen Madhiraju, a U.S. lawyer representing Moustafa Kassem and head of the group Pretrial Rights International, remarking on his client’s conviction.

Egyptian authorities have detained an unknown number of other U.S. citizens, among them Amir Nagy, the founder of an school for young children; Nagy was charged, in May 2018, with belonging to a banned group.

Moustafa Kassem’s situation is particularly dire. He is a diabetic with a heart condition, and his lawyers say Egyptian authorities are denying him proper medical treatment. Now, Moustafa Kassem is refusing to eat in protest of his conviction, according to his sister.

“My brother said he will go on strike. No food, no drinks, for the unjust verdict,” said Eman Kassem. “We are so worried about him.”

Top photo: A photo of Moustafa Kassem before he was imprisoned.

The post A Day After Trump Pledges $1 Billion in Aid, Egypt Sentences American Citizen to Prison in Protest Crackdown appeared first on The Intercept.

A Day After Trump Pledges $1 Billion in Aid, Egypt Sentences American Citizen to Prison in Protest Crackdown

Despite appeals for his release from the Trump administration, an Egyptian criminal court sentenced U.S. citizen Moustafa Kassem to 15 years in prison on September 8. The sentencing, which human rights advocates said is part of a crackdown on political dissent, crushed his family’s hopes to see their ailing relative freed, and disappointed advocates who hoped the White House could sway the government of Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Kassem, who suffers from diabetes, has already served five years in pretrial detention and is now set to spend another 10 years in an Egyptian jail cell, barring a presidential pardon, early release, or deportation to the United States.

“We were so saddened to hear this news. We did not expect it. He did nothing to deserve that verdict.”

“We were so saddened to hear this news. We did not expect it,” Eman Kassem, Moustafa Kassem’s sister, told The Intercept. “He did nothing to deserve that verdict.”

Egyptian prosecutors alleged Moustafa Kassem, an Egyptian-American tried alongside over 700 people, joined the summer 2013 protests at Cairo’s Rabaa Square. The protests came shortly after a military coup that deposed Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi and installed el-Sisi in power.

Prosecutors presented no specific evidence that the 53-year-old Moustafa Kassem was at the square that day.

“This is a devastating day for the rule of law,” said Mohamed Soltan, a human rights advocate who himself is a former prisoner in Egypt. “It shows that the judicial system in Egypt is utterly politicized.”

The White House referred requests for comment on Moustafa Kassem’s conviction to the State Department. A State Department spokesperson said in a statement, “We are deeply concerned by the conviction and sentencing of US citizen Moustafa Kassem. Mr. Kassem’s case has been raised repeatedly with the Egyptian government, and we remain in communication with Mr. Kassem and his attorney about the case. The Department of State takes seriously its responsibilities to assist U.S. citizens abroad; we will continue providing appropriate consular services.”

The conviction came just a day after the U.S. announced that it was slating a billion dollars of military aid for Egypt and about two months after nearly $200 million in U.S. aid was released after being frozen over human rights concerns.

Moustafa Kassem’s brother-in-law, who witnessed his arrest in Cairo, told The Intercept that Moustafa encountered into a military checkpoint near Rabaa Square after running an errand on the afternoon of August 14, 2013, the day Egyptian forces raided the protest camp at Rabaa and killed at least 817 people.

Moustafa Kassem argued with an Egyptian soldier after the officer blocked him and his brother-in-law from walking up a street to get their car. The soldier threw Moustafa Kassem on the ground after he pulled out his U.S. passport, and other soldiers began to beat him before he was put in handcuffs, the brother-in-law said.

Moustafa Kassem’s conviction — in the same case that saw 75 people sentenced to death and hundreds more sentenced to jail time over alleged participation in the Rabaa protests — is the latest episode of a deteriorating human rights situation since the 2013 military coup. El-Sisi has presided over a vicious crackdown on students, Islamist opponents, activists, and journalists as part of a campaign that rights advocates said is aimed at wiping out any dissent to his rule.

The human rights situation had prompted rhetorical concern from the U.S. government, even as the Trump administration moved to shore up ties to Egypt. Vice President Mike Pence had raised Moustafa Kassem’s imprisonment directly with el-Sisi during a trip to Cairo in January, remarking to reporters that he told the Egyptian leader the U.S. would like to see Moustafa Kassem back with his family. But Pence’s requests went unheeded with no consequence — and was followed by U.S. decisions to send billions in military aid to Egypt.

In July, the U.S. State Department decided to release $195 million in military aid to Egypt that had been on hold because of human rights concerns. Then, on September 7, the State Department announced that it is giving Egypt $1 billion in military aid for the 2018 budget year.

The State Department also decided to send an additional $195 million in military aid from 2017 funds that had been withheld by Congress because of human rights concerns. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo overrode the congressional block with a waiver.

“You just gave President Sisi a few hundred million dollars, and he gave you the middle finger.”

On September 8 — the same day a court handed down Moustafa Kassem’s conviction — the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, met with el-Sisi to observe joint U.S.-Egyptian military exercises and, in a statement, praised Egypt as “one of our most vital partners in the region.”

“You just gave President Sisi a few hundred million dollars, and he gave you the middle finger,” said Praveen Madhiraju, a U.S. lawyer representing Moustafa Kassem and head of the group Pretrial Rights International, remarking on his client’s conviction.

Egyptian authorities have detained an unknown number of other U.S. citizens, among them Amir Nagy, the founder of an school for young children; Nagy was charged, in May 2018, with belonging to a banned group.

Moustafa Kassem’s situation is particularly dire. He is a diabetic with a heart condition, and his lawyers say Egyptian authorities are denying him proper medical treatment. Now, Moustafa Kassem is refusing to eat in protest of his conviction, according to his sister.

“My brother said he will go on strike. No food, no drinks, for the unjust verdict,” said Eman Kassem. “We are so worried about him.”

Top photo: A photo of Moustafa Kassem before he was imprisoned.

The post A Day After Trump Pledges $1 Billion in Aid, Egypt Sentences American Citizen to Prison in Protest Crackdown appeared first on The Intercept.

A Day After Trump Pledges $1 Billion in Aid, Egypt Sentences American Citizen to Prison in Protest Crackdown

Despite appeals for his release from the Trump administration, an Egyptian criminal court sentenced U.S. citizen Moustafa Kassem to 15 years in prison on September 8. The sentencing, which human rights advocates said is part of a crackdown on political dissent, crushed his family’s hopes to see their ailing relative freed, and disappointed advocates who hoped the White House could sway the government of Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Kassem, who suffers from diabetes, has already served five years in pretrial detention and is now set to spend another 10 years in an Egyptian jail cell, barring a presidential pardon, early release, or deportation to the United States.

“We were so saddened to hear this news. We did not expect it. He did nothing to deserve that verdict.”

“We were so saddened to hear this news. We did not expect it,” Eman Kassem, Moustafa Kassem’s sister, told The Intercept. “He did nothing to deserve that verdict.”

Egyptian prosecutors alleged Moustafa Kassem, an Egyptian-American tried alongside over 700 people, joined the summer 2013 protests at Cairo’s Rabaa Square. The protests came shortly after a military coup that deposed Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi and installed el-Sisi in power.

Prosecutors presented no specific evidence that the 53-year-old Moustafa Kassem was at the square that day.

“This is a devastating day for the rule of law,” said Mohamed Soltan, a human rights advocate who himself is a former prisoner in Egypt. “It shows that the judicial system in Egypt is utterly politicized.”

The White House referred requests for comment on Moustafa Kassem’s conviction to the State Department. A State Department spokesperson said in a statement, “We are deeply concerned by the conviction and sentencing of US citizen Moustafa Kassem. Mr. Kassem’s case has been raised repeatedly with the Egyptian government, and we remain in communication with Mr. Kassem and his attorney about the case. The Department of State takes seriously its responsibilities to assist U.S. citizens abroad; we will continue providing appropriate consular services.”

The conviction came just a day after the U.S. announced that it was slating a billion dollars of military aid for Egypt and about two months after nearly $200 million in U.S. aid was released after being frozen over human rights concerns.

Moustafa Kassem’s brother-in-law, who witnessed his arrest in Cairo, told The Intercept that Moustafa encountered into a military checkpoint near Rabaa Square after running an errand on the afternoon of August 14, 2013, the day Egyptian forces raided the protest camp at Rabaa and killed at least 817 people.

Moustafa Kassem argued with an Egyptian soldier after the officer blocked him and his brother-in-law from walking up a street to get their car. The soldier threw Moustafa Kassem on the ground after he pulled out his U.S. passport, and other soldiers began to beat him before he was put in handcuffs, the brother-in-law said.

Moustafa Kassem’s conviction — in the same case that saw 75 people sentenced to death and hundreds more sentenced to jail time over alleged participation in the Rabaa protests — is the latest episode of a deteriorating human rights situation since the 2013 military coup. El-Sisi has presided over a vicious crackdown on students, Islamist opponents, activists, and journalists as part of a campaign that rights advocates said is aimed at wiping out any dissent to his rule.

The human rights situation had prompted rhetorical concern from the U.S. government, even as the Trump administration moved to shore up ties to Egypt. Vice President Mike Pence had raised Moustafa Kassem’s imprisonment directly with el-Sisi during a trip to Cairo in January, remarking to reporters that he told the Egyptian leader the U.S. would like to see Moustafa Kassem back with his family. But Pence’s requests went unheeded with no consequence — and was followed by U.S. decisions to send billions in military aid to Egypt.

In July, the U.S. State Department decided to release $195 million in military aid to Egypt that had been on hold because of human rights concerns. Then, on September 7, the State Department announced that it is giving Egypt $1 billion in military aid for the 2018 budget year.

The State Department also decided to send an additional $195 million in military aid from 2017 funds that had been withheld by Congress because of human rights concerns. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo overrode the congressional block with a waiver.

“You just gave President Sisi a few hundred million dollars, and he gave you the middle finger.”

On September 8 — the same day a court handed down Moustafa Kassem’s conviction — the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, met with el-Sisi to observe joint U.S.-Egyptian military exercises and, in a statement, praised Egypt as “one of our most vital partners in the region.”

“You just gave President Sisi a few hundred million dollars, and he gave you the middle finger,” said Praveen Madhiraju, a U.S. lawyer representing Moustafa Kassem and head of the group Pretrial Rights International, remarking on his client’s conviction.

Egyptian authorities have detained an unknown number of other U.S. citizens, among them Amir Nagy, the founder of an school for young children; Nagy was charged, in May 2018, with belonging to a banned group.

Moustafa Kassem’s situation is particularly dire. He is a diabetic with a heart condition, and his lawyers say Egyptian authorities are denying him proper medical treatment. Now, Moustafa Kassem is refusing to eat in protest of his conviction, according to his sister.

“My brother said he will go on strike. No food, no drinks, for the unjust verdict,” said Eman Kassem. “We are so worried about him.”

Top photo: A photo of Moustafa Kassem before he was imprisoned.

The post A Day After Trump Pledges $1 Billion in Aid, Egypt Sentences American Citizen to Prison in Protest Crackdown appeared first on The Intercept.

A Day After Trump Pledges $1 Billion in Aid, Egypt Sentences American Citizen to Prison in Protest Crackdown

Despite appeals for his release from the Trump administration, an Egyptian criminal court sentenced U.S. citizen Moustafa Kassem to 15 years in prison on September 8. The sentencing, which human rights advocates said is part of a crackdown on political dissent, crushed his family’s hopes to see their ailing relative freed, and disappointed advocates who hoped the White House could sway the government of Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Kassem, who suffers from diabetes, has already served five years in pretrial detention and is now set to spend another 10 years in an Egyptian jail cell, barring a presidential pardon, early release, or deportation to the United States.

“We were so saddened to hear this news. We did not expect it. He did nothing to deserve that verdict.”

“We were so saddened to hear this news. We did not expect it,” Eman Kassem, Moustafa Kassem’s sister, told The Intercept. “He did nothing to deserve that verdict.”

Egyptian prosecutors alleged Moustafa Kassem, an Egyptian-American tried alongside over 700 people, joined the summer 2013 protests at Cairo’s Rabaa Square. The protests came shortly after a military coup that deposed Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi and installed el-Sisi in power.

Prosecutors presented no specific evidence that the 53-year-old Moustafa Kassem was at the square that day.

“This is a devastating day for the rule of law,” said Mohamed Soltan, a human rights advocate who himself is a former prisoner in Egypt. “It shows that the judicial system in Egypt is utterly politicized.”

The White House referred requests for comment on Moustafa Kassem’s conviction to the State Department. A State Department spokesperson said in a statement, “We are deeply concerned by the conviction and sentencing of US citizen Moustafa Kassem. Mr. Kassem’s case has been raised repeatedly with the Egyptian government, and we remain in communication with Mr. Kassem and his attorney about the case. The Department of State takes seriously its responsibilities to assist U.S. citizens abroad; we will continue providing appropriate consular services.”

The conviction came just a day after the U.S. announced that it was slating a billion dollars of military aid for Egypt and about two months after nearly $200 million in U.S. aid was released after being frozen over human rights concerns.

Moustafa Kassem’s brother-in-law, who witnessed his arrest in Cairo, told The Intercept that Moustafa encountered into a military checkpoint near Rabaa Square after running an errand on the afternoon of August 14, 2013, the day Egyptian forces raided the protest camp at Rabaa and killed at least 817 people.

Moustafa Kassem argued with an Egyptian soldier after the officer blocked him and his brother-in-law from walking up a street to get their car. The soldier threw Moustafa Kassem on the ground after he pulled out his U.S. passport, and other soldiers began to beat him before he was put in handcuffs, the brother-in-law said.

Moustafa Kassem’s conviction — in the same case that saw 75 people sentenced to death and hundreds more sentenced to jail time over alleged participation in the Rabaa protests — is the latest episode of a deteriorating human rights situation since the 2013 military coup. El-Sisi has presided over a vicious crackdown on students, Islamist opponents, activists, and journalists as part of a campaign that rights advocates said is aimed at wiping out any dissent to his rule.

The human rights situation had prompted rhetorical concern from the U.S. government, even as the Trump administration moved to shore up ties to Egypt. Vice President Mike Pence had raised Moustafa Kassem’s imprisonment directly with el-Sisi during a trip to Cairo in January, remarking to reporters that he told the Egyptian leader the U.S. would like to see Moustafa Kassem back with his family. But Pence’s requests went unheeded with no consequence — and was followed by U.S. decisions to send billions in military aid to Egypt.

In July, the U.S. State Department decided to release $195 million in military aid to Egypt that had been on hold because of human rights concerns. Then, on September 7, the State Department announced that it is giving Egypt $1 billion in military aid for the 2018 budget year.

The State Department also decided to send an additional $195 million in military aid from 2017 funds that had been withheld by Congress because of human rights concerns. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo overrode the congressional block with a waiver.

“You just gave President Sisi a few hundred million dollars, and he gave you the middle finger.”

On September 8 — the same day a court handed down Moustafa Kassem’s conviction — the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, met with el-Sisi to observe joint U.S.-Egyptian military exercises and, in a statement, praised Egypt as “one of our most vital partners in the region.”

“You just gave President Sisi a few hundred million dollars, and he gave you the middle finger,” said Praveen Madhiraju, a U.S. lawyer representing Moustafa Kassem and head of the group Pretrial Rights International, remarking on his client’s conviction.

Egyptian authorities have detained an unknown number of other U.S. citizens, among them Amir Nagy, the founder of an school for young children; Nagy was charged, in May 2018, with belonging to a banned group.

Moustafa Kassem’s situation is particularly dire. He is a diabetic with a heart condition, and his lawyers say Egyptian authorities are denying him proper medical treatment. Now, Moustafa Kassem is refusing to eat in protest of his conviction, according to his sister.

“My brother said he will go on strike. No food, no drinks, for the unjust verdict,” said Eman Kassem. “We are so worried about him.”

Top photo: A photo of Moustafa Kassem before he was imprisoned.

The post A Day After Trump Pledges $1 Billion in Aid, Egypt Sentences American Citizen to Prison in Protest Crackdown appeared first on The Intercept.