Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Where's Charlie

Waiting for Godot is so 20th century.  Where is Charlie is the 21st century version.

 

#Where’sCharley?

Where’s Charley
© By Tom Karlson
smashed glass
screams, detonations
darkness
16 dead journalists

not Paris
not 2015
this is Yugoslavia 1999
no Muslims
no jihadists
it is NATO
a missile attack
on Serbian TV
where is Charlie

it is July 2011
that Zionist Christian Islamaphobe is working
Norway
at nightfall 77 dead
teenagers
Charlie not here

Honduras, Columbia
40 executed journalists in a generation
no Charlie

January 2015
2 thugs at work
12 dead
jihad is war
jihad is terror
2 million march
here is Charlie

and now
Charlie is gone
no motive no issue
just mad men
to be hunted down
never an attack on god and country
an attack on one weekly magazine

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and non-sequiter


THE ABSURD TIMES





Illustration:  From the CIA?  Heard of Boko Harem?  They now fly the ISIS flag, a group the U.S. started to get rid of Assad in Syria (we used to call them "noble Rebels").   [The Absurd Times sees no connection between Boko Harem and the Ayatollah.]

          There is no sane way to begin discussing this.  In fact, we give up.  How's that? We did mention that we suspected there was more to be told, and some of that is now told, below.

          One positive development is that the drone strikes in Yemen have stopped or slowed down.  One major reason is that the U.S. does not know what the fuck to do about it anymore and getting the hell out is not, nor has it ever, been an option that occurs to the powers that be in Washington and other centers of Government Contracts. 

          See, if we help the Houthi's, we help Iran (we say) and that would hurt Israel (they say).  But if we help al-Qaeda, well, they (we say) did 9/11 so that's out.  After all, that's why we 'did" Iraq, right? 

          But the great social reformer (we call him) of Saudi Arabia (who has presided over more beheadings than ISIS) died so we morn with him or for him.  



FRIDAY, JANUARY 23, 2015

Hailed as U.S. Counterterrorism Model in Middle East, Yemen Teeters on the Brink of Collapse

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Yemen is facing political collapse following the mass resignations of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, his prime minister and entire cabinet. Thursday’s exodus came just hours after Shia Houthi rebels stormed the presidential compound in the capital city of Sana’a. Hadi said he could not continue in office after Houthis allegedly broke a peace deal to retreat from key positions in return for increased political power. The Houthis appear to have major backing from longtime former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011. The Obama administration had praised the Yemeni government as being a model for "successful" counterterrorism partnerships, but on Thursday the United States announced it was pulling more staff out of its embassy in Yemen. Some experts warn the developments in Yemen could result in civil war and help al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) gain more power. Meanwhile, Oxfam is warning more than half of Yemen’s population needs aid, and a humanitarian crisis of extreme proportions is at risk of unfolding in the country if instability continues. We are joined by Iona Craig, a journalist who was based in Sana’a for four years as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin in Yemen, which is teetering on the brink of collapse after the U.S.-backed president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, his prime minister and entire cabinet resigned on Thursday. The exodus came just 24 hours after Shia Houthi rebels stormed the presidential compound in the capital city of Sana’a. Hadi said he could not continue ruling after Houthis allegedly broke a peace deal to retreat from key positions in return for increased political power. The Houthis appear to have major backing from longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the ousted leader who was forced from office in a popular uprising in 2011.
AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration had praised the Yemeni government as being a model for "successful" counterterrorism partnerships, but on Thursday the U.S. announced it was pulling more staff out of its embassy in Yemen. Some experts warn the developments in Yemen could result in civil war and help al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula gain more power. Meanwhile, Oxfam is warning more than half of Yemen’s population needs aid, and a humanitarian crisis of extreme proportions is at risk of unfolding in the country if instability continues. Ten million Yemenis do not have enough to eat, including 850,000 acutely malnourished children.
For more, we go to London, where we’re joined by Iona Craig. She’s a journalist who was based in Sana’a, Yemen, for four years as the Yemen correspondent for The Timesof London, was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2014.
Iona, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what has taken place.
IONA CRAIG: I think what we’ve seen in the last few days is pretty unprecedented in terms of Yemen, and I think what’s happened now with Hadi handing in his resignation, the prime minister and the cabinet, is really probably the smartest thing they could have done. They were backed into a corner by the Houthis, and quite literally, the Houthis had surrounded Hadi’s house. They obviously couldn’t and hadn’t taken them on militarily, in a fight that they were unlikely to be able to win. And so this was the only way for them to turn around to the Houthis and say, "No, this is enough."
And now we have the prospect of an emergency meeting of the Parliament on Sunday, when Hadi’s resignation will be put forward. Now, they have the option to reject that resignation, which means that Hadi would still be president after that, unless he then hands his resignation in again within three months. So it may actually be that Hadi stays and manages to survive all of this.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Iona, given the constant turbulence within the country, what’s the impact on some of the regional powers—obviously, Iran and the United States and Saudi Arabia?
IONA CRAIG: Well, really, you know, the reason why the international community has been promoting and supporting Hadi is because, for them, there wasn’t another option. They’ve been backing this transition deal from the beginning. It was created initially as Ali Abdullah Saleh signed the deal at the end of 2011 in order to step down, this deal called the GCC deal. But it really originated—and it’s an open secret in Sana’a—from the American Embassy. And the reason we know that is that the politicians in Yemen that first saw it could tell that it was translated from English. So, that transition deal is what the international community have been backing. And that transition deal is really what has brought this to this place today, because it never truly addressed the underlying problems in Yemen. It was all about reshuffling power in order to concentrate on the security issues within Yemen, without actually making the changes that Yemenis have been demanding. So, issues like the Houthis, who were a marginalized group and persecuted under Ali Abdullah Saleh, the issue of southern secession, they were never truly addressed throughout this period. And now this has come to a head now with the Houthis taking their own action to get what they want. So the international community is partly responsible for the situation that Yemen is now in. But, of course, their focus still remains on the security issues in Yemen.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to comments President Obama made last summer when he announced additional U.S. military support to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In response to a question, President Obama invoked U.S. policy in Yemen as a possible model for Iraq and Syria. This is part of what he said.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You look at a country like Yemen, a very impoverished country and one that has its own sectarian or ethnic divisions, there’s—we do have a committed partner in President Hadi and his government, and we have been able to help to develop their capacities without putting large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground, at the same time as we’ve got enough CT, or counterterrorism, capabilities that we’re able to go after folks that might try to hit our embassy or might be trying to export terrorism into Europe or the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama over the summer. Your response, Iona Craig?
IONA CRAIG: Well, I think this really kind of goes back to what I just mentioned. The international focus has always been about security in Yemen. So, even when Ali Abdullah Saleh was in power, they backed him because they could work with him and, you know, to carry out the operations that they wanted, to use drone strikes in Yemen. And there was no plan B. There was no "What will we do if Ali Abdullah Saleh is not there?" And similarly, then, with Hadi. They knew Hadi had been vice president under Ali Abdullah Saleh. It was someone they knew they could work with. They built on the partnership. And again, now, there is—there is no plan B. So if Hadi goes, this leaves them in a position—you know, in a really bad position of who now are they dealing with.
As for the issue of the Yemen model, clearly now that’s something of a joke, really. The Yemen model has all but collapsed. The fighting against al-Qaeda on the ground has actually been done now by the Houthis, but it’s actually made the issue and the problem of al-Qaeda worse in Yemen, anyway. The violence being carried out by al-Qaeda has increased hugely since the Houthis took Sana’a in September. But, you know—and again, looking at those Oxfam figures, the underlying problems in Yemen, you have—now those figures have gone to 16 million people in need of humanitarian aid. The last figures that came out said 14.7 million, out of a population of 25. So, whilst the international community focuses on the security issues, you’ve got an economy that’s collapsing, you’ve got a rising humanitarian crisis and political issues that haven’t been dealt with. So, this kind of short-term thinking about the security situation in Yemen is really never going to get to the bottom of the political problems, the economic problems and the humanitarian issues that all feed into this in the end.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned one of the other underlying problems being an ongoing secessionist movement. Most Americans here have short memories. They forget that it wasn’t long ago when there was a separate Marxist state, the Democratic Republic of Yemen, in a huge portion of what is now Yemen. Could you talk about that secessionist movement in its current form?
IONA CRAIG: Yes, the Southern Movement, or al-Hirak al-Janoubi, as it’s known in Yemen, has been around for many years now, technically since 2007. But North and South Yemen, we unified in 1990, and then there was a brief civil war in 1994, and the south was very much crushed in that. But this call for secession has been increasing rapidly over the last few years, particularly obviously since 2011. But the international community again has failed to really engage with the southerners. And they particularly reached out to the U.K., actually, because obviously the British previously had control of Aden, the southern city, for many years. And they reached out to the international community. And really, the international community didn’t—hasn’t engaged with them, mainly because they feel that if they engage with the south, then it’s recognizing their calls for secession, and they don’t want Yemen to break up, because they think it will impact the security situation. So, in that void, it’s actually Iran that a lot of the time in the south has stepped in and has engaged with the southerners, because nobody else will. And they have increasingly been engaging with them and supporting them.
But we’ve also got a situation now in the south over the last 24 hours, since everything’s happened in Sana’a, where they are now taking action. There have been big protests in the south today. They have said—you know, put out a message saying they will refuse to take orders now from Sana’a because of what’s happening with the Houthis. And it now appears that the Houthis are in charge. But, you know, there’s a lot of politicking going on in Aden right now. So you’ve got President Hadi with his supporters and his militiamen and gunmen on the streets. You’ve also got the Houthis, supported by Ali Abdullah Saleh, been trying to make gains in Aden, as well. So, it’s going to come to a head in the south, and that looks like it’s going to happen sooner rather than later now, because of what’s happening in Sana’a.
AMY GOODMAN: Will Saleh return as president?
IONA CRAIG: Ali Abdullah Saleh?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
IONA CRAIG: I think that’s very unlikely, but I think the chances of Ahmed Ali, his son, returning as president are possible. I think that’s distinctly possible. It may not happen in the next week, but when it comes the time of presidential elections—goodness knows when that will happen now—but I think there is a possibility that Ahmed Ali, his son, could rule Yemen. And right now, you know, for some Yemenis, they would throw up their hands and say, you know, security, some form of stability, some form of governance is better than nothing. They’re in a pretty dire situation right now with an economy that’s collapsing and this humanitarian crisis going on at the same time. And people most of the time just want stability so they can carry on with their lives.
AMY GOODMAN: Iona Craig, we want to thank you very much for being with us. She’s speaking to us from London, but she lived for four years in Sana’a, in the capital of Yemen, reporting for The Times of London, winner of the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 23, 2015

Remembering Saudi’s King Abdullah: "He Was Not a Benevolent Dictator, He Was a Dictator"

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King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia has died at the age of 90. Abdullah was one of the world’s most powerful men and a key U.S. ally in the region, controlling a fifth of the known global petroleum reserves. In a statement, President Obama praised Abdullah "as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond." Many analysts accused Abdullah of turning the uprising in Syria into a proxy war with Iran. In 2010, WikiLeaks published U.S. diplomatic cables which identified Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups. Abdullah also sent tanks to help squash pro-democracy uprisings in neighboring Bahrain. Saudi Arabia recently came under criticism for its treatment of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes to be carried out at a rate of 50 per week for charges including insulting Islam. Abdullah’s half-brother, Crown Prince Salman, has now assumed the throne. We are joined by Toby Jones, director of Middle Eastern studies at Rutgers University and the author of "Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia."
Image Credit: Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in U.S.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Saudi Arabia.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, well, in Saudi Arabia, the funeral for the Saudi king, Abdullah, has begun. He died on Thursday at the age of 90. His brother Salman will now become king of the oil-rich monarchy. The White House announced Vice President Joe Biden would travel to Saudi Arabia to offer condolences. King Abdullah was one of the closest U.S. allies in the region. In a statement, President Obama praised him, saying, quote, "As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions. One of those convictions was his steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond."
AMY GOODMAN: While President Obama described Abdullah as a force of stability in the Middle East, analysts, many, accused Abdullah of turning the uprising in Syria into a proxy war with Iran. In 2010, WikiLeaks published U.S. diplomatic cables which identified Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups. King Abdullah also sent tanks to help squash pro-democracy uprisings in neighboring Bahrain. Saudi Arabia recently came under criticism for its treatment of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes to be carried out at a rate of 50 per week for charges including insulting Islam. He runs a political blog—or did, until he was imprisoned.
For more on the future on King Abdullah and the future of Saudi Arabia, we’re joined via Democracy Now! video stream by Toby Jones, associate professor of history and director of Middle East studies at Rutgers University. He’s also the author of Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia, previously the International Crisis Group’s political analyst of the Persian Gulf.
Toby Jones, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about the death of King Abdullah.
TOBY JONES: Well, Abdullah’s death of course marks a transition. It’s getting a lot of attention. I think, as you pointed out in the lead up here, you know, his record is not quite as positive or rosy as a lot of people are reflecting upon this morning. He came to power formally in 2005, celebrated as a potential reformer, as somebody who would modernize and lead the kingdom forward. But it turns out he’s largely failed on every one of those measures. He has turned the clock back in terms of inciting sectarianism at home and supporting the forces of radicalism abroad. Or, if we want to read this in some slightly more benign way, he’s at least not cracked down on the domestic forces at home that have sought to incite things like sectarianism. He burned bridges with Iraq. He saw the Arab Spring, the uprising in Syria, as an opportunity to challenge both Iran and Assad’s power there, knowing full well what the possibilities of blowback and the rise of a kind of new regional terrorism might be. They supported instability in Yemen. They’ve crushed pro-democracy forces in Bahrain. Look, Abdullah is somebody who was well liked in the West. He might have been admired by a large section of Saudi society. But his record is one that’s consistent with his predecessors: It’s at odds with democracy, with human rights and with all of the things that we’re supposed to value.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And about that last point, Professor Jones, what is the state of human rights and democracy in the Saudi kingdom?
TOBY JONES: Well, it’s as bad as it’s ever been. You know, I mean, you mentioned Badawi, in the lead up here, being sentenced to a long prison term and, of course, now subject to flogging publicly, a thousand lashes. I mean, this might seem outlandish, but this is sort of common practice in Saudi Arabia. Its prisons are full of political prisoners—they have been for quite a long time—including Islamists, suspected terrorists, as well as liberals and others who champion the cause of reform and human rights. There’s been a steady string of arrests and detentions over the last few years. We pay attention now because of the crude, kind of terrible nature of what’s involved in public beheadings and this kind of Medieval punishment of lashing people for speaking their minds, but this has been going on in Saudi Arabia for quite a long time.
I mean, it’s worth remembering that in 2002, 2003, Abdullah, when he was crown prince—although not formally the king, was nevertheless still in a position of political primacy—became a darling of the reform lobby and kind of the—what we might call the moderate political wing of Saudi Arabia’s domestic political society. He was seen as a reformer. He was embraced by a broad cross-section of folks who believed that Saudi Arabia, following 9/11, following the decade of the 1990s in which there was a kind of brutal politics and crackdown on dissent, that he was going to be the person who spearheaded a period of liberal opening. And it turns out that he turned against all of his domestic allies. When he saw opportunities to crush and push back against those who might challenge Saudi political primacy, he did so. And he did so as crudely as any of his predecessors did. He was not a benevolent dictator. He was a dictator.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the man who will succeed him, King Salman? There is some information, or is it rumors, that he has dementia?
TOBY JONES: Well, I mean, look, a lot of people claim to have insight into the internal politics of the royal family. And I would caution against saying that we know too much. I mean, Salman is not a young man. I mean, he’s at least 79, if not older than that. So he’s been in a—you know, he’s been around for quite a long time. Who knows how long his reign will be? If he is suffering from health issues, you know, the royal family is not going to let us know too much about that. There has been speculation that he’s suffering from dementia. And it’s likely that his reign will be a short one and that there are powers behind the throne that will make sure that the interests of the royal family will be protected, much like Abdullah and his predecessor, Fahd. The family protects itself. There is an arrangement likely in place in which the king is the first amongst equals; nobody can act too radically or too out of step with the interests of the family more broadly.
So Salman’s reign will be probably very consistent and similar to that of Abdullah’s. He’ll be a figurehead. He will likely wield some kind of influence, as will those who are closest to him, as will his successor, the, like, current crown prince, who is probably about a decade younger, Muqrin. But the reality here—and I think one of the things we get caught up in is we get caught up in the politics of succession in Saudi Arabia, and will there be a changing of the guard that leads to some fundamental transformation. The odds are very low that that’s going to happen. The royal family’s interests are in protecting themselves first, their privilege second, and making sure that there are limited challenges to their authority. They’re very good at this, and they have been for over half a century.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the role of the Saudi family or the Saudi elite in the continuing financing of jihadists around the world?
TOBY JONES: Well, I mean, Saudi Arabia is of course a wellhead for a certain kind of ideological thinking and production. There’s a lot of talk about Wahhabism and the similarities between what is the official orthodoxy of the Islamic—of the Saudi state and groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS and others. And I think those ideological connections matter. There are certainly—there are certainly operators on the ground. There is support within Saudi mosques for precisely these kinds of networks. The Saudi state is in a much more difficult—and the royal family, a much more difficult—position. They view—I think we have to be careful here. I think they view the regional political landscape through the lens of kind of good, old-fashioned geopolitics. I mean, they see Iran as a rival. They see Assad as a pawn in all of that game. And they understand that they have a kind of limited playbook, that there are kind of natural alliances with which they can—which they can forge mutual interests and cooperation. And the Islamists happen to be among those. But I don’t think the royal family is necessarily an ideological actor in the same way that some of the preachers and clerics in Saudi Arabia are. But they reach out because they have to, to these networks. They’re dealt a certain hand, and they play the game in the way that they best can.
But this is a dangerous proposition—it was that way in Afghanistan in the 1980s, it was that way in Iraq after 2003—where the Saudis forge alliances, or they at least allow those that are sort of on the margins of the government to fund and support networks that are also simultaneously dangerous to the regime itself. That’s why they’re building a big fence on their border with Iraq. On the one hand, they’d like to see ISIS do damage in Syria, but they don’t want to see it come home. But, look, over the long term, this is an unsustainable, untenable proposition. The Saudis are eventually going to have to deal. They’re going to have to reckon with the blowback from Syria and Iraq. They’d like to postpone it as long as possible, but it’s likely inevitable.
AMY GOODMAN: And the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, Toby Jones?
TOBY JONES: Well, this is a long-standing and complicated one. It’s often framed, as Obama mentioned or as others will likely remark today, that it’s framed through the lens of security and stability. And that certainly matters from the perspective of both Saudi and American policymakers. If we peel back the layers of what this means, though, it’s not always clear. It’s not as though the Saudis have any power to really shape the region or defend their interests militarily. They’re largely dependent on the United States for security assurances. The U.S. has happily projected its military power into the Persian Gulf since at least the early 1970s, if not earlier than that.
I mean, I think what this really comes down to is that the Saudis are the world’s most important oil producer. They have been for quite a long time. For that reason, they’ve been in the American political orbit since at least the late 1930s. And the oil functions in important ways. It functions because it’s the American—Americans see it as important to the global economy, to our own domestic political economic health. And we see Saudi Arabia as an important player in that respect. But oil wealth also does a lot of other things. It gets recycled to the American economy, especially with the purchase of weapons. And these all become entangled with Saudi Arabia. Our relationship is not just about providing security for oil. It’s about maintaining a certain kind of strategic and economic relationship that profits both sides.
AMY GOODMAN: Toby Jones, we want to thank you for being with us, associate professor of history and director of Middle East studies at Rutgers University, author of Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia.
This is Democracy Now! 


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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Yemen, et al., WTF?


THE ABSURD TIMES


Illustration: one of the key issues behind all this crap.

          
Heard from Yemen lately?  One of the best reporters from Yemen has been Iona Craig who gives a good idea of what is going on in Yemen.  She told us that the was so much to say and so little time, which leads us to believe that there is much more going on than even hinted at in the interview, below.



            Essentially, a Shia group (that hate the U.S.) wants to take over the government (which loved the U.S.) which helped attack Al Qaeda (which hates the U.S.). The Houthi (or however you spell it) is the Shia faction and it does not consider itself connected with Al Qaeda (which is Whabbi Sunni, which is sort of like Southern Baptist of the Jimmie Swaggert type.  Kinda.



            Anyway, all of this, I.S. or ISIS, Al Quada in wherever, basically gets its justification from Israel, although it is pretty far off the target.  Hezbolla, the Army of God, is Shia and helping the Alowite Assad in Syria against ISIS which we once called "noble rebels", now re-branded as evil so we are training other noble rebels is Saudi Arabia, which is also Wahabbi Sunni but which Bin Laden (remember him? He's the one we helped get set up to evict the Soviet Union from Afghanistan where Canadians are now being shot at) got angry at because they let us on their soil.  Bin Laden's other enemy was Saddam Hussein.  We now have 3,200 official troops back in Iraq and more to come.  We are also bombing lots of places.   



            OK, so the spelling is strange.  The main question is when did any U.S. military intervention in the Mid-East help anyone, either the west or the people in the attacked countries?  Who, besides a few oil company billionaires benefited at all from ANY of this interference? 



            Well, we can see how things are going in Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon (the last two affected by refugees), or anyplace else.   In Syria things are not going well for anyone either.  



            Remember all the fuss in France and the roundup in Belgium and other places?  That is attributed to Anwar Al Alwaki (who we learn was only a mid-level figure in the organization, see Scahill, below).  The west certainly is making great strides.  No?



            Well, time for a couple interviews:


         TUESDAY, JANUARY 20, 2015

A Coup in Yemen? Jeremy Scahill & Iona Craig on Rebel Offensive to Seize Power, Saudi Role & AQAP

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As the world focuses on the threat posed by al-Qaeda in Yemen, the Yemeni government is on the verge of collapse. A dispute between Shia Houthi rebels and the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi has sparked the capital Sana’a’s worst violence in months. Houthi fighters have reportedly entered Yemen’s presidential palace in a possible coup attempt. This comes days after fighters abducted the president’s chief of staff. As the government fights the Houthis, it also wages a U.S.-backed offensive against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), whose insurgency has only grown deadlier by the year. The latest unrest comes days after AQAP took responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. Will the Yemeni government be overthrown in a coup? We are joined by two guests: Iona Craig, a journalist who has reported from Yemen for years and until recently was its last accredited foreign reporter; and Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of the The Intercept and the reporter who broke the story that AQAP took credit for the Charlie Hebdo killings. Scahill reported from Yemen extensively for his book and documentary film, "Dirty Wars."

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AARON MATÉ: We begin in Yemen, where the capital Sana’a is seeing its worst violence in months. Intense clashes between government forces and Shia Houthi rebels have sowed chaos and raised fears of a coup. The latest round of fighting broke out this weekend when the Houthis kidnapped the chief of staff to President Abdu Hadi. The Houthis are protesting the text of a new draft constitution that would divide Yemen into six federal regions. Talks for the charter began under a peace deal reached in September after Houthis mobilized large protests and captured most of Sana’a by force. They were supposed to withdraw in the months since, but have only expanded their hold.
Now the country faces political collapse. On Monday, new gun battles erupted as Houthi fighters surrounded the prime minister’s residence and the presidential palace. The attack came despite a second ceasefire between the two sides. The capital appears calm for now, but tensions are high.
AMY GOODMAN: The Houthis’ rise has further upended Yemen’s fragile political order. As the government fights the Houthis, it also wages a U.S.-backed offensive against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP. Despite the long-running U.S. drone war, the al-Qaeda insurgency has only grown deadlier each year. The Houthis themselves have also fought al-Qaeda at the same time as they now take on the Yemeni government. The Houthis appear to have major backing from longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the ousted leader who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011. The latest unrest also comes days after al-Qaeda in Yemen took responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.
For more, we’re joined by two guests. Iona Craig is with us, a journalist who was based in Sana’a for four years as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London. She was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2014. The government has cracked down on local and foreign journalists, and at one point last year Iona Craig was the country’s last accredited foreign reporter. She’s joining us now, though, from London.
And we’re joined by Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of the TheIntercept.org. Just days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Jeremy broke the story that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula had taken credit. He cited a confidential al-Qaeda source in Yemen. Days later, AQAP put out an official statement confirming it took responsibility.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Iona Craig, let’s begin with you. Just tell us what is happening right now in Yemen and who the Houthi militants are.
IONA CRAIG: What’s happening now is it’s really political posturing on behalf of the Houthis. They’re trying to get leverage to get this draft constitution changed, which they don’t agree with. So they’ve kidnapped the presidential aide, the chief of staff, in order to get that leverage. And then the fighting that we saw in the last 24 hours was also part of that. So the negotiations at the moment are going on for the release of Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, the chief of staff, in exchange for changing the draft constitution.
But the issue with the Houthis, the Houthis were first formed as a movement in 2004. They then fought the government in six wars between 2004 and 2010. But they then became part of the Arab Spring. They put down their weapons. They joined the protests. They joined the sit-ins, particularly in Sana’a, and became part of that peaceful movement. But the transition that followed that was backed by the international community—and actually instigated by the U.S. in the first place—did not go their way. So when the national dialogue was concluded in January last year and the decision was made about federalism and to divide the country into six regions, the Houthis weren’t happy about that. And that was when they started taking territory. So they were pushing from their stronghold, if you like, in Sa’dah up in the north, which is up by the Saudi border, and they started pushing south toward Sana’a.
This was also then an opportunity for Ali Abdullah Saleh to join in, because the Houthis’ main enemy is Islah, which is Yemen’s equivalent to the Muslim Brotherhood, who had gained a lot of power after the Arab Spring and a lot of political power. So they had a joint enemy. So, between the support of Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis, they were able to take that ground, they were able to beat the Islahi-supported tribes, and eventually got to Sana’a in September. And in the space of four days of fighting, the minister of interior then ordered the troops to stand down, and they took control of the city.
AARON MATÉ: When you say the Houthis are engaging in political posturing, do you mean then that they’re not trying to carry out a coup, despite all this fighting in the capital?
IONA CRAIG: I think it’s really hard to determine whether that’s the case or not. In September, they had the opportunity to do that. They could have kicked President Hadi out at that point, but they didn’t, which makes me think that they probably won’t do that now. It depends how far they’re pushed. If they don’t get their way with the constitution, then they may indeed do that. But I think the Houthis have so far stopped short of actually taking physical power. Again, they could have put their own people up as ministers when the new government was formed at the end of last year, but they chose not to do so, because it means that then they are not held responsible for when the government collapses and things go wrong, where they’re taking this silent control by trying to manipulate the government, take control inside ministries, without actually having their own men in power.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, how does what’s going on in Yemen right now, a place you also have spent time in and reported from, relate to what happened in France and AQAP, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, taking responsibility for theCharlie Hebdo attack?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you know, one of the things that’s interesting, just to add to what—you know, to Iona’s analysis, which I think is really spot-on, is that the Houthis have been a really interesting political football of sorts in the U.S. policy in Yemen. They have also been bombed repeatedly by the Saudis, you know, Saudi Arabia waging a not-so-secret war, bombing the Houthis. In the WikiLeaks cables, you see that when Ali Abdullah Saleh was in charge, officially in power in Yemen, he would consistently say to the United States, "We have to do something about the Houthis, because they’re being backed by Iran." And actually, to the credit of U.S. diplomats, they said, "Well, you know, we don’t exactly think that that’s true." And what was happening is that Ali Abdullah Saleh was a master manipulator of the United States, and he was looking for any way he could to justify getting more military assistance, more money to bolster his own forces that were supposedly fighting al-Qaeda, to actually use them to shore up his own power base. So, when the well was sort of dry, started to dry up with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula at points, he would then sort of appeal to the United States and say, "Hey, we have these Iranian agents in the form of the Houthis inside of Yemen." And so, what we’re seeing right now is that Ali Abdullah Saleh, who actually himself is a Zaydi Shiite and has roots in that region, has now flipped sides and, as Iona said, is sort of the not-so-hidden hand behind some of the power grab efforts of the Houthis.
As it relates to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, of course, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is facing a situation in the world where they and al-Qaeda Central have sort of been eclipsed by the rise of the Islamic State, ISIS. And so, in this case, it seems like, at a minimum, there are ties between the Kouachi brothers, who conducted the massacre, and AQAP. It’s to AQAP’s benefit to maximize the way that that group portrays its involvement with Charlie Hebdo. But there are still very serious questions about whether or not, as AQAP says, they financed it and directed it, or that they simply provided some training to aspiring jihadists who went on then to conduct this very, very public, globally recognized massacre.
AARON MATÉ: Iona, Jeremy mentioned Saudi Arabia. That’s Yemen’s neighbor to the north. Can you expand more on their role in this current conflict? And also, do you agree that Saleh, the former leader, is playing a major role in the current unrest?
IONA CRAIG: Yes, I think it’s certainly clear that Saleh has played some role. It was clear to me, after the Houthis had taken over control of Sana’a in September, just walking around the city, talking to people, even talking to some of the men that were Houthis and other people around the city, that many of those plainclothes gunmen that you were seeing on the street, as Houthis, had actually been part of the Republican Guard before, which the Republican Guard was a unit under Ali Abdullah Saleh’s time and was commanded by his son, Ahmed Ali, so there was very much an overlap between the Houthis and what used to be the Republican Guard in the takeover of Sana’a in September and indeed in the continued control of the city since then.
Just to go back to the issue of the Saudis, the Saudis are sort of stuck in a situation now where, you know, obviously the Houthis are seen as very much as supported by Iran—how much support there is isn’t clear, but those are obviously their regional rivals. The Saudis, as Jeremy mentioned, were very much involved in bombing the Houthis. And we actually know from more recent reporting that there were cluster bombs that were fired on the Houthis during those wars, that came from America, that were sold to them by America to the Saudis. So, this slogan the Houthis have of "death to America" not only comes from a dislike of American foreign policy, but issues over that, where the Houthis have claimed that it’s American bombs that were hitting them in the past. But Saudi Arabia is now in the situation where the Houthis are effectively in charge of the government, although not physically, as I mentioned before, as Hadi is still there. So they’re reluctant to give any more economic aid to Yemen as a result, because the Houthis are in control, and they very much see them as supported by Iran. So that brings Yemen closer to the edge of economic collapse, which it’s now facing at the moment.
On the other side, you have who is taking on the Houthis, if the Saudis are looking at it from that perspective. And the only people who are physically and able—willing and able to take on the Houthis at the moment is al-Qaeda, which is also putting a lot of tribal groups in a difficult position. When the Houthis started taking further territory after Sana’a in September, there were areas where tribes didn’t want the Houthis coming into their territory, and they then found themselves, whether they liked it or not, on the same side as al-Qaeda, and possibly with the prospect of fighting alongside al-Qaeda, even if they didn’t agree with them ideologically, because they were the only ones that were standing up to the Houthis’ expansion, because the government was neither willing or able to do so.
AMY GOODMAN: Iona Craig, I wanted to ask you about the comments of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. He’s in London right now, and he was repeating the allegations that have repeatedly been uttered on Fox—now, though, four major apologies from Fox about what they’ve been saying—that whole areas of London—of, rather, Britain, are no-go zones. Being that you are in London right now, having reported in Yemen for years, can you talk about this controversy and the response of David Cameron and others in Britain? They also made the—Fox also made the allegations about France.
IONA CRAIG: I think, really, people here obviously feel incredibly insulted by that kind of very ignorant comment, or, you know, some people have just laughed it off as slightly ridiculous, as many people see those kind of comments. But yeah, I mean, I’ve spent time in Birmingham. I’m living at the moment in South London. You know, these are communities, multicultural communities, in both cities that are—that are certainly no-go areas for anybody in that respect. So, yes, I think it’s deeply insulting to the people of Birmingham particularly. And, you know, if—
AMY GOODMAN: Birmingham is the place—
IONA CRAIG: —that’s how we can—
AMY GOODMAN: Birmingham is the place where the so-called terrorism expert Steve Emerson said on Fox is completely Muslim. It’s majority Christian, actually. And then he was forced to apologize, Iona.
IONA CRAIG: Yeah, I think probably the crucial thing is that "so-called terrorism expert." You know, perhaps this is somebody who hasn’t spent much time from behind a—out from behind a desk for a while. Certainly, obviously, hasn’t visited Birmingham anyway.
AARON MATÉ: Well, Iona, back to Yemen, what do you see happening next?
IONA CRAIG: I think it’s really hard to predict right now. I think that the situation politically, obviously—you know, unless you have political stability, you can’t have security. You’ve got a very weak government. You’ve got a very weak president. You’ve effectively got a president now with a gun to his head from the Houthis, who are saying, "We want the draft constitution changed; otherwise, we’re going to keep control and hold onto the chief of staff."
You’ve got al-Qaeda, who have really changed their mode of operation since the Houthis took over in September, and have started targeting civilians as a result, civilians that they claim are Houthis. But before, al-Qaeda had never deliberately and gone out of their way to kill civilians in Yemen, and that changed after the Houthis took control in September. So they attacked a Houthi gathering in October with a suicide bomber. I was actually walking into the square when that suicide bomb went off in October. And twice since the beginning of this year, they have attacked civilians, and deliberately targeting civilians. So that’s really worrying for people in Yemen, obviously, that now civilians are seen as a legitimate target by al-Qaeda. They’ve claimed responsibility for over 150 attacks across Yemen since the Houthis took control.
So, you have this issue of instability both politically and security-wise, and the economy, as I already mentioned, on the brink of collapse, where the government has run out of money to even pay the civil service and the military. So, at the moment, really, it’s all in the hands of the Houthis. It’s up to them whether they start this fighting again in order to push what—and force the government into a corner and to take heed of their demands, or whether we now see a peaceful end to all of this. But it won’t really be an end. The Houthis still have the power in their hands at the moment, and President Hadi most certainly does not.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Iona, we want to thank you for being with us. Iona Craig, joining us from London, she was based in Sana’a for four years as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London, was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2014, left Yemen last month, joining us from London.
When we come back from break, we’ll be continuing with Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of The Intercept, about the so-called terrorism experts and the networks they’re on. We’ll play a clip of Jeremy taking on CNN on CNN. And also, what does it mean to protect sources, no matter who or where they are? Stay with us.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 20, 2015

As Fox News Apologizes, Jeremy Scahill on Fake "Terror Experts" & Challenges of Real War Reporting

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Fox News has apologized for broadcasting false information about Muslims in the wake of the Paris attacks. Last weekend, self-described terrorism expert Steve Emerson claimed on air that parts of Europe, including the entire English city of Birmingham, were totally Muslim areas where non-Muslims do not go. Emerson was forced to apologize, but the claim about so-called "no-go zones" was repeated by other Fox guests and anchors. On Saturday, according to a CNN Money tally, Fox News took time out of four broadcasts to apologize for reports on Muslims. Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of The Intercept, discusses the rise of so-called "terrorism experts" by Fox News and other major cable networks. In two recent interviews with CNN, Scahill has criticized the news giant and others for their use of "on-air analysts who also work in the private sector and make money on the idea that we should be afraid." He also responds to blistering criticism fromFBI chief James Comey of using an anonymous al-Qaeda source in reporting on the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and analyzes what al-Qaeda’s claim of responsibility will mean for the U.S. drone war in Yemen.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest—we continue with Jeremy Scahill. He’s the author ofBlackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, and his latest book is called Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. He broke the story that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, took credit for the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, based on an al-Qaeda source in Yemen. Days later, AQAP put out a statement of that very nature, but Jeremy broke it first. Jeremy, talk about the controversy—The Washington Post has written about it, you were on CNN talking about it—protecting what they call "terrorist sources," not naming the sources that leaked you that story before it was officially acknowledged.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, I actually, as a—you know, I’ve been a journalist for around 20 years, and I’m honestly a bit dumbfounded at the response from other journalists. I mean, a classic part of good journalism, responsible journalism, going many, many centuries back, is that you’re trying to provide people with information that is actionable, that they can use to make informed decisions on what to believe or positions to take on certain issues. And a key part of covering war is that you have to have journalists willing to go to the other side to speak with the people that you are told are the enemies and to get their perspective so that we can better understand the nature of this conflict. And so, just as I’ve gone to areas in Yemen that are controlled by al-Qaeda or areas in Somalia that are controlled by al-Shabab or areas in Afghanistan that are controlled by the Taliban, you know, we have an obligation to try to understand where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is coming from. And so, you know, the idea we should have a special standard that in certain cases we’re actually not journalists, but we are somehow militant nationalists who should not engage in responsible journalism because the U.S. government doesn’t like us talking to those individuals, to me, just flies in the face of just basic journalistic principles.
AARON MATÉ: Well, Jeremy, the director of the FBI, James Comey, he criticizedThe New York Times for anonymously quoting a source from al-Qaeda. And I presume he would criticize you, too, since you broke the story, the first person to reveal that AQAP had taken credit for the Charlie Hebdo massacre. And Comey said the use of the source was "mystifying and disgusting." And he added, to the Times, "I fear you have lost your way and urge you to reconsider allowing your newspaper to be used by those who have murdered so many and work every day to murder more." Your response?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, well, I mean, clearly, Director Comey doesn’t actually want us to have a truly free press. And let’s remember that this Justice Department is waging a war against whistleblowers that effectively amounts to a war against journalism. Look, I don’t believe, you know, in using anonymous sources widely, and I particularly think that newspapers and news organizations should not be giving senior U.S. officials anonymity so that they can project their propaganda on the world, which is largely why senior U.S. officials request anonymity. They want to be able to say things that secretly or privately benefit U.S. policy, and it’s not actually moving the story forward. A lot of disinformation gets pushed out that way. So I believe in a limited use of confidential sources.
In this case, we had a situation where we had something that was of tremendous news value on a breaking news story. The gunmen had declared that they were from al-Qaeda in Yemen. There was a lot of speculation going on. And so, I reached out to sources that I know are members of AQAP with access to the leadership of that organization to try to get an understanding of whether or not this was true. And it was not clear at the time that any official statement was forthcoming from AQAP. And if we were to identify our source, who is not authorized to speak, not just because they’re like a private spokesperson, but because AQAP has a very strict set of guidelines as to who speaks officially for the organization—also the source could potentially be in danger, which, to me, is the number one reason why you would grant anonymity to a confidential source whose information in the past has been verified as legitimate, if they’re life is going to be in danger.
So, I didn’t just decide this on my own to grant anonymity to someone from AQAP. Our general counsel at The Intercept reviewed this, our editor-in-chief, Betsy Reed, and two senior editors. We all discussed this issue and ultimately made a determination that granting anonymity in this case was a responsible thing to do.
AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday, Jeremy, you appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources, which is hosted by Brian Stelter.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Where I think it gets into really kind of fear-generating territory is when you have these so-called terror analysts on the air, many of whom also work for risk consultancy firms that benefit from the idea of making us afraid. I don’t think that CNN, MSNBC and Fox News do anywhere near a good enough job at revealing the potential conflicts of interest of some of the on-air analysts who also work in the private sector and make money off of the idea that we should be very afraid.
BRIAN STELTER: But you understand that is a pretty incendiary charge, that these people want us to be frightened inappropriately, for unnecessary reasons.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, look, I’ve spent a lot of years investigating how the war contracting industry works. You’ll have these retired generals come on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and they’ll talk about the danger of a terror group in a particular country. And they’re on the board of a huge weapons manufacturer or a defense company that is going to benefit from an extension of that war, an expansion of that war. Perhaps the biggest violator of this is General Barry McCaffrey, who has made a tremendous amount of money off of war contracting, and then he’s brought onto these networks.
AMY GOODMAN: That is Jeremy Scahill on CNN’s Reliable Sources, hosted by Brain Stelter. Jeremy, if you could take it by there. You were talking about General McCaffrey and others.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. I mean, look, we also know that soon after 9/11, the Pentagon expanded its use of a program where they would invite in former U.S. military brass who were serving as pundits on cable news, and they would basically give them talking points that amounted to propaganda, a backdoor way of the war machine being able to spread its message. And then these guys, without disclosing that they were part of these secret meetings, would go on cable networks and project, supposedly as independent analysts, the very policies that Rumsfeld and others at the Pentagon were trying to drive through to the American public. Almost all of these guys who are retired generals and retired brass that appear on these networks have their hand in the war industry to one degree or another. Many of them are making money off of working with risk consultancy firms, where they are going to big multinational corporations and offering them their services analyzing risk in countries around the world. If you remember Paul Bremer, who was put in charge of the occupation of Iraq, what he was doing prior to 9/11 was benefiting off of the notion that companies need to be afraid all around the world and that they need people like him to help them assess their risk and mitigate any kind of potential terrorist actions against these corporations. So, on the one hand, it’s the retired generals and other brass that are working in the war industry.
On the other hand, it’s people like Evan Kohlmann from Flashpoint Partners, who is on MSNBC, who is a total fraud and is constantly brought on as an expert. His so-called expert testimony has been used to put countless people away in prison on very dubious, thin terrorism charges. You have Samuel Laurent, who was on CNN for a couple of days—he’s been missing in action. We don’t know where he is. He doesn’t seem to be on CNN anymore. But Samuel Laurent, who is a French so-called terror expert, is widely viewed in France as a fraud, and people were up in arms when CNNput him on the air as a terrorism expert.
So, you know, part of what I think is the problem here is it’s—you know, CNN has actually really great international reporters, who have great experience on the ground. I have tremendous respect for many journalists, particularly in the international section, of CNN. But then they bring on these analysts who have a vested interest in revving up the fear engine, and they don’t disclose, in many cases, the built-in agenda of particularly some of these retired military people.
AARON MATÉ: Jeremy, as we wrap, I just want to ask you again about the story you broke about al-Qaeda in Yemen taking responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo massacre. What do you see is going on there with them coming forward to say that they financed the brothers, trained them? Because that would presumably invite an intensified U.S. drone war. And what questions or concerns do you have, going forward, in the aftermath of them taking credit?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, you know, this may be somewhat of a cynical read on this, but who really has benefited—the people that really have benefited most from the U.S. drone war in Yemen have not been ordinary Yemenis, have not been the people of the United States. The only real beneficiaries of that policy have been the manufacturers of drones and the missiles fired from the drones, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, because when the U.S. conducts a drone strike and they kill innocent civilians, AQAP can use that for propaganda purposes. In the limited cases where they actually have killed individuals from AQAP, then they’re celebrated as martyrs. So I think that part of what AQAP is doing is trying to goad the United States into once again escalating or intensifying its drone campaign inside of Yemen, because it elevates the stature of AQAP. Now, it could be that AQAP had limited involvement and that all of the facts about it are already on the table. My sense is that if AQAP did indeed direct this plot, that they’re going to produce photographic or video evidence to back that up. If they don’t do that, then I think that, you know, it’s likely that the truth is that they had some involvement but were not effectively running the show.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally—we have 20 seconds—what’s repeated on so many networks, that Anwar al-Awlaki, before he was killed in a U.S. drone strike, was behind this terror attack on Charlie Hebdo?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, look, I mean, they try to link Anwar al-Awlaki to every plot under the sun. The fact is that Anwar al-Awlaki’s writings and speeches clearly have inspired so-called lone-wolf terrorists. No doubt about that. Whether he was operationally in charge of this is actually kind of a joke. Anwar al-Awlaki was not even mid-level management in AQAP. They’re exploiting his legacy because of the power of nightmares. He speaks in English. He aims his message at a Western, English-speaking audience. So the United States has elevated his status within the organization. AQAP has a leadership structure. Anwar al-Awlaki was not a senior figure within AQAP.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, we want to thank you for being with us, co-founder of The Intercept, broke the story that AQAP took credit for the Charlie Hebdomassacre in Paris, based on an al-Qaeda source in Yemen. Days later, AQAP put out an official statement confirming it took responsibility. Jeremy’s latest book, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield; his Oscar-nominated film, Dirty Wars, as well. He is an award-winning journalist.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Guatemala for a remarkable verdict that has just come down around crimes against humanity. Stay with us.
[break]
AMY GOODMAN: Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra, "Spiritual," a song inspired by Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. And to see other choice picks of music inspired by or inspiring Dr. King, you can go todemocracynow.org. A big shout out to Ruth Haden, who is the widow of Charlie Haden, who has joined us today at our studios just to come by and say hi. This isDemocracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté.


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