Daily Report

Afghanistan attacks 'may amount to war crimes'

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a special report Aug. 20 detailing human rights violations committed during attacks on Mirza Olang village (Sayyad district, Sari Pul province) earlier this month. During the three-day assault, Taliban and Islamic State fighters reportedly killed at least 36 people in the predominantly Shi'ite village. Those killed included both civilians and members of a pro-government militia who were unarmed prior to execution. While UNAMA verified the killings and the separation of women and children, it could not verify other claims of beheadings, abductions of women, or sexual assault. Further investigations are required to ascertain whether the attacks amounted to sectarian violence. According to the report, "These killings, corroborated by multiple credible sources, constitute violations of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes." The Taliban have rejected the claims and denied the involvement of IS fighters.

Afghanistan: troop surge or drone war?

President Trump was widely expected to announce a troop surge for Afghanistan n his Aug. 21 address from the Fort Myer military base in Arlington, Va.  Gen. John Nicholson, the top US military commander in Afghanistan, had been requesting another 4,000 troops, on top of the current 8,500. Instead, Trump's comments were heavy on get-tough rhetoric and light on actual specifics. "Our troops will fight to win," he said. "From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over the country, and stopping mass terror attacks against Americans before they emerge." In an admission that a surge might be in the works, despite his campaign-trial isolationism, he added: "My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts. But all my life, I've heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office." (BBC News, WP, Aug. 21)

Control of oil at issue in NAFTA re-negotiation

As "NAFTA 2.0" negotiations open, a provision that essentially locks in Canada's current levels of oil exports to the US is drawing opposition from unlikely allies across the Canadian political spectrum but winning staunch support in the "Oil Patch," as the country's petroleum industry is colloquially called.  The "proportionality clause" originally appeared in the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement of 1988 and became a major issue in that year's national election that returned Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to office. It was replicated six years later in the North American Free Trade Agreement—although Mexico won an exemption. The clause can be invoked if a government in Canada reduces US access to Canadian oil, natural gas, coal, electricity or refined petroleum products without a corresponding reduction in domestic access to those resources.

Reparations for destroyed Timbuktu shrines

The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Aug. 17 found (PDF) that a former Malian jihadist militant is liable for individual and collective reparations for overseeing the destruction of Muslim shrines in Timbuktu. Ahmad al-Faqi was found liable for 2.7 million euros in expenses. In its order, the ICC stressed the importance of cultural heritage:

Because of their purpose and symbolism, most cultural property and cultural heritage are unique and of sentimental value. As a result, they are not fungible or readily replaceable. The destruction of international cultural heritage thus "carries a message of terror and helplessness; it destroys part of humanity's shared memory and collective consciousness; and it renders humanity unable to transmit its values and knowledge to future generations". It is an irreplaceable loss that negates humanity.

The court noted that al-Mahdi is indigent and encouraged the Trust Funds for Victims to complement the reparations award and submit a draft implementation plan by next February.

Charlottesville and Barcelona: fearful symmetry

Trump's disparate reactions to the similar attacks in Charlottesville and Barcelona provide an obvious but inevitable study not only in double standards, but (worse) the president's actual embrace of racist terror. Whether opportunistically or not, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Barcelona attack, in which a motorist ploughed into pedestrians on Las Ramblas, a pedestrian thoroughfare packed with tourists, killing 13 and wounding scores. Just five days earlier, a neo-Nazi did the same thing to a crowd of antifa counter-protesters in Virginia, killing one and wounding  19. Mother Jones is among those to provide a sampling of the presidential statements and tweets in response to the two like attacks, just days apart. Regarding Charlottesville, Trump blamed "many sides" for the violence, and said there were "fine people" on the side that was flying the Nazi flag and committed an act of terror. He's also been waxing maudlin about the "beautiful" statues of Confederate generals now coming down around the country. This of course squanders all credibility to tweet that he "condemns the terror attack in Barcelona." But it gets much, much worse...

Rights violations seen in federal Mara crackdown

Civil rights organizations in New York are trying to determine if police and school officials on Long Island helped federal authorities detain students in the country without papers on the basis of dubious claims of ties to Central American gangs. The controversy comes days after President Trump's inflammatory speech before law enforcement officers in Long Island's Suffolk County on July 28. There was a major outcry over Trump's urging of police to be "rough" with suspects in the speech. This outrage nearly eclipsed media coverage of his pledge in the speech to "destroy" the MS-13 gang network, calling its members "animals."

Libya: videos capture summary executions

Forces loyal to the Libyan National Army (LNA), military arm of the country's unrecognized eastern government, appear to have executed captured fighters in Benghazi and desecrated corpses, Human Rights Watch charges. Video recordings posted online since January seem to show LNA fighters carrying out seven distinct unlawful executions of "extremists." The most recent video, which appeared on social media July 24, shows the apparent summary execution of 20 blindfolded men with their hands tied behind their backs in orange jumpsuits, whom the commander in charge accuses of "terrorism." The executioners appear to be members of a special forces unit headed by Mahmoud al-Werfalli.

Who is behind attack on White Helmets?

Seven volunteers of the White Helmets civil defense organization were killed on Aug. 12 by a gang that raided their headquarters in Sarmin, Idlib province, in northwest Syria. The victims were shot in the head. The attackers stole money, two mini-buses serving as ambulances, and equipment. The bodies were discovered soon after dawn by the next shift of volunteers arriving for duty. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it came amid tension in the area. Idlib province is currently being rocked by clashes between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, the Nusra Front offshoot aligned with al-Qaeda) and the rival Ahrar al-Sham. Sarmin is controlled by HTS, which has denounced the attack.

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