In Other News
Swiss voters on Sept. 25 approved a new surveillance law allowing their national intelligence services broad powers to spy on "terrorist" suspects and cyber criminals, as well as to cooperate with foreign intelligence agencies. While the right to privacy is traditionally considered very important in Switzerland, the new law will allow security agents to tap phones and computer networks. This marks a drastic change from previous surveillance capabilities, under which intelligence agencies relied solely on information from public sources and other authorities. Some left-wing groups have protested, saying the new legislation violates citizens' rights and will undermine Switzerland's neutrality. Amnesty International said the law would lead to "disproportionate" levels of surveillance and was harmful to "freedom of expression." Despite opposition, the new law garnered 65% of the vote.
Resdients of the Bosnian Serb Republic voted in a referendum Sept. 25 to maintain Jan. 9 as a national holiday in defiance of a court ruling. The date remembers Jan. 9, 1992, when ethnic Serbs declared their own state within Bosnia and triggered a brutal conflict in which it is estimated 100,000 people lost their lives. The Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina had banned the referendum, and had originally ruled that the date should be changed because it discriminated against Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats. Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik, who had set the date for the vote, said he was proud of the peaceful manner in which the referendum passed.
Colombia's long civil war came to an official end Sept. 26 as President Juan Manuel Santos met with FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri AKA "Timochenko" to sign a formal peace pact at Cartagena's convention center. The ceremony, with dignitaries and attendees all clad in white, was witnessed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and 15 Latin American heads of state. A place of honor was held by Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz, whose country has hosted the peace dialogue with the FARC over the past two years. On Oct. 2, the deal will go before Colombia's voters in a national plebiscite. but Timochenko has publicly stated that even if the accord is not ratified by voters, there will be no return to war. Santos is more equivocal, telling reporters in the prelude to the ceremony: "If 'No' wins, we will return to what we had at the start of this government six years ago. We return to armed conflict. That would be a catastrophe for the country."
Following a trial lasting seven years and four months, a court in Peru's Amazonas region on Sept. 22 absolved 52 indigenous leaders in charges related to the 2009 Bagua massacre. Initially, charges were brought against 53, but one defendant died over the course of the proceedings. The Penal Chamber of Bagua district found insufficient evidence that the accused indigenous protesters had handled firearms at the scene of the massace, in which at least 32 lost their lives. The defendants faced charges in the deaths of 12 police officers at the scene. The violence began when National Police troops attacked protesters blocking the road at Devil's Curve on June 5, 2009—yet no police officer or commander has served time for the massacre. The incident came amid indigenous protests over changes to Peru's land tenture system pushed through in preparation for the Free Trade Agreement with Washington and aimed at opening the rainforest to oil exploitation.
Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, the campesina grandmother in Peru's Cajamarca region who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for defense of her lands from the Yanacocha mining company, survived an attack that took place on her property the morning of Sept. 18. "She has fainted!" are the last words heard in a video recorded by Yanacocha security personnel. The video indicates between 15 and 20 helmeted security guards entered Acuña's property, and began uprooting a 200-square-meter field planted with potatoes and yucca. When Acuña and her husband, Jaime Chaupe, began shouting and throwing rocks, they were set upon by security guards, sustaining blows to the body and head. Yanacocha claims the family is illegally occupying the field, and issued a statement saying the company was "peacefully exercizing its rights" in the incident.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at New York's Trump Tower on Sept. 25, and pledged that if he is elected, the United States will "recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel." The quote is from a statement issued by the Trump campaign, as reporters were barred from the closed-door meeting. Bibi also met separately with Hillary Clinton that day, but it is the meeting with Trump—the one closed to the media—that is getting the media attention, due to his exploitation of the Jerusalem question. (Reuters, AP, Sept. 25)
US President Barack Obama on Sept. 23 vetoed a bill that would have allowed 9-11 victims and their families to sue Saudi Arabia, citing concerns that it would open US diplomats and servicemen to suit abroad. Congress overwhelmingly approved the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) earlier this year, with support from both parties for the bill that would allow federal suits against foreign nations determined to have had a hand in terror acts. In rejecting the law, Obama stated:
We really do get tired of having to say that we called it. We really do. When it was jointly announced by the US and Russia two weeks ago, we said the Syria "ceasefire" would actually mean an escalation. But even we didn't anticipate it would be this bad. The Assad regime and its Russian partners have launched more than 150 air-strikes on eastern Aleppo and surrounding towns just over the past 24 hours, leaving at least 100 dead. Far worse is sure to follow, as a water-pumping station supplying rebel-held districts of the city was hit. Rebels are accused of shutting down another station that supplies regime-held western areas of the city in retaliation. In any event, a staggering 2 million residents are without water, and the UN is warning of "catastrophic outbreaks of waterborne diseases." Ongoing bombardment prevents repair crews from reaching the stricken plants. UNICEF deputy director Justin Forsyth told the BBC: "Aleppo is slowly dying, and the world is watching, and the water is being cut off and bombed—it's just the latest act of inhumanity." (Zaman Al Wasl, BBC News, The Telegraph, Sept. 24; Al Jazeera, Sept. 23)
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Sept. 12 urged the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to end its pattern of expelling and detaining migrants contrary to international standards. Numerous central and eastern European countries have recently closed their borders to fight the influx of migrants, and many migrant families have found themselves either trapped in Macedonian transit centers or forced into neighboring countries. Zeid strongly denounced the treatment of such families, stressing that all migrants deserve not only adequate living requirements but also opportunity for employment and education. Zeid also expressed concern over the country's Asylum Law (PDF), which significantly hinders the ability for migrants to be granted legal asylum upon request. Reportedly, 600 migrants have sought legal asylum in Macedonia since 2015, yet only five have actually succeeded. Zeid called on Macedonia and neighboring countries to address the ongoing suffering and mistreatment of all migrant families and abide by international law.
Afghanistan's government signed a peace agreement Sept. 22 with Hezb-e-Islami, the militant group of Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Representatives of the movement and Afghan officials signed the accord in a ceremony broadcast on live TV. The deal of course grants impunity to Hekmatyar, who is accused of countless atrocities. Hekmatyar was not present at the signing, which is intended to pave the way for him to return from hiding to Kabul. He must still personally sign the accord with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for it to come into force. Mohammad Amin Karim, head of the insurgent delegation, was present at the ceremony. He said: "This is not just a peace deal between Hezb-e-Islami and the government of Afghanistan, it is a beginning of a new era of peace all around the country." Another Hezb-e-Islami leader, Qarib-ur-Rehman Syed, assured the US State Department's Voice of America Afghanistan service: "Hezb-e-Islami considers itself a...party of the people... we apologize from those who were hurt." (Khaama Press, BBC News, Sept. 22)
Last month, some 30,000 followers of the Ahmadiyya Muslim movement gathered in London for their annual conference, dubbed the Jalsa Salana, and held a march repudiating ISIS and extemism. It is telling that the supposed paucity of media coverage is what is getting play in the "alternative" media, in gloating manner. AntiMedia's headline is "30,000 Muslims Just Slammed Terrorism — Media Silent." But of course the story links to an account from... the (mainstream) media! (In this case the Daily Mail.) Similarly Mic.com headlines: "Over 30,000 Muslims in the UK Marched Against ISIS — Of Course You Didn't Hear About It." Yet they apparenrly "heard about it" from their source, The Independent.
Ahmad Rahami, the suspect in last week's bombings in New York and New Jersey, was charged (PDF) in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York Sept. 20. The charges include: Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Bombing a Place of Public Use, Destruction of Property by Means of Fire or Explosive, and Use of a Destructive Device During and in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence. Rahami is also facing similar charges (PDF) in the US District Court for the District of New Jersey. The Sept. 17 bombings injured 29 in New York; no one was injured in the New Jersey attack. Rahami was arrested two days later after sustaining injuries during a shootout with police in in Linden, NJ. The suspect also faces charges of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer stemming from the shootout.
The latest fodder for "anti-war" propaganda—avidly jumped on, of course, by such predictable outlets as the (reliably reactionary) Counterpunch and (poorly named) Global Research—is the report of the British parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee finding that the 2011 military intervention in Libya relied on flawed intelligence and hastened the country's political collapse. The report blasts the UK's then-Prime Minister David Cameron, stating that his government "could not verify the actual threat to civilians posed by the Gaddafi regime; it selectively took elements of Muammar Gaddafi's rhetoric at face value; and it failed to identify the militant Islamist extremist element in the rebellion." (Al Jazeera, Sept. 14)
A new report compiled by California State University, San Bernardino finds a dramatic increase in hate crimes in 2015, particularly those targeting Muslims and Arab-Americans. The study compiled data from 20 states, representing over 53% of the national population. Overall hate crimes across the 20 states increased by about five percent. However, hate crimes against Muslims increased by 78%. The number of anti-Muslim hate crimes committed in these 20 states alone (196) is so high that even if no other hate crimes were reported in any other states, it would still signal the highest increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes since shortly after the 9-11 attacks in 2001. Hate crimes against Arab-Americans increased by over 200%, while attacks against transgender individuals increased about 40%, although the researchers warn this could be affected by improvements in data collection. The director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the university believes the rise may be caused in part by the political discourse in the country, and slight increases are noticed after a candidate makes incendiary comments about the Muslim population. Official statistics for 2015 from the FBI are due to be released in November.
This is about as sick as it gets. US air-strikes in Syria's Deir al-Zour governorate, aimed at ISIS positions, accidentally wiped out 62 Assad regime troops. The White House immediately issued a statement expressing "regret" for the "unintentional loss of life." Prompted by Russia, the UN Security Council has called an emergency meeting to discuss the incident. A US official even said "condolence payments" would be offered to the families of the slain troops. (BBC News, The Guardian, CNN's Barbara Starr via Twitter, Sept. 17)