Saudi Arabia

Global execution stats: good news, bad news

The latest annual Amnesty International report on global use of the death penalty actually has some heartening news. For the first time since 2006, the United States did not make the top five executioners in 2016—falling to seventh, behind Egypt. The 20 executions in the US constituted the lowest number in the country since 1991. Most executions last year took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan—in that order. And after three years in a row of global executions surging, they appear to have dropped off in 2016. Not including data from China, Amnesty counts 1,032 executions throughout the world in 2016—more than 600 fewer than in 2015.

Families of 9-11 victims sue Saudi Arabia

More than 850 family members of victims of the 9-11 attacks filed a lawsuit (PDF) March 20 against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, alleging that the Saudi state provided support to al-Qaeda in multiple ways. First, it alleges that Saudi Arabian charities ran terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, working hand-in-hand with Osama bin Laden. The suit also claims that the Saudi government directly aided al-Qaeda by providing passports and transportation across the globe. Finally, the suit contends that certain Saudi officials worked with the hijackers in the US for the 18 months leading up to the attacks. The suit seeks unspecified damages, with the primary motive to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the attacks.

Saudis behind Somali refugee massacre: reports

More than 40 people, including women and children, were killed when an Apache helicopter fired on a boat carrying Somali refugees in the Red Sea off war-torn Yemen March 17. A coast guard officer in the Hodeidah area, controlled by Houthi rebel forces, told Reuters the refugees, carrying UNHCR documents, were on their way from Yemen to Sudan when they were attacked near the Bab al-Mandeb strait. The rebel-controlled Saba news agency accused the Saudi-led coalition of being behind the attack. The coalition immediately released a statement denying responsibility. While the International Organization for Migration said 42 bodies have been recovered, the death toll may be much higher. The UNHCR said 140 passengers were believed to have been aboard the vessel. 

Trump restores CIA authority for drone strikes

President Donald Trump has given the CIA "secret new authority" to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists, the Wall Street Journal reported March 13, citing US officials. This is said to depart from the Obama administration policy of a "cooperative approach" to drone strikes, in which the CIA used surveillance drones to locate suspected terrorists and the Pentagon then conducted the actual strike. The drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in May 2016 in Pakistan was named as an example of that "hybrid approach." The report asserts that the Obama administration had the Pentagon carry out the strikes "to promote transparency and accountability." The CIA, operating under covert authority, wasn't required to report its drone strikes. The Pentagon, in most cases, was required to do so.

Saudi Arabia: seven years for tweeting

Saudi Arabia's Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) in Riyadh on Jan. 23 handed down a seven-year sentence as well as numerous other punitive measures for a Twitter post the court deemed insulting to the ruling al-Saud family. The SCC, which was established in 2008 to try cases linked to terrorist activity, concluded that the defendant had a connection with two terror groups and was producing online materials that threatened the country's security. Human Rights Watch, which has been calling for the abolition of the SCC since 2012, has previously commented on the court being increasingly used to silence peaceful dissentershuman rights activists, attorneys and opposition clerics.

Obama's final year: a CounterVortex scorecard

Our last annotated assessment of Barack Obama's moves in dismantling, continuing and escalating (he has done all three) the oppressive apparatus of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) must inevitably be viewed in light of the current countdown to the death of democracy and the imminent despotism of Donald Trump. The fact that the transition is happening at all is a final contradiction of Obama's legacy. He is fully cooperating in it, even as his own intelligence agencies document how the election was tainted. Following official findings that Russia meddled in the elections, the White House has slapped new sanctions on Russia—deporting 35 Russian officials suspected of being intelligence operatives and shutting down two Russian facilities in New York and Maryland, both suspected of being used for intelligence-related purposes. The latest bizarre revelation—that Russian intelligence can blackmail Trump with information about his "perverted sexual acts" involving prostitutes at a Moscow hotel—broke just hours before Obama delivered his Farewell Address in Chicago. The speech was surreally optimistic in light of the actual situation in the country, and contained  only a few veiled swipes at Trump. The best of them was this: "If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves."

Saudi air-strikes kill over 90 at Yemen prison

Air-strikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition killed at least 90 prisoners and injured dozens more in the Zaydiyah district of the Red Sea port city of Hudaydah, Yemen on Oct. 29. The prison housed up to 84 prisoners and was bombed for hours, resulting in the collapse of the building. The bombing occurred hours after a peace agreement between Yemeni rebels of the Houthi movement and Saudi Arabia failed. Before the airstrikes began on Saturday, Saleh Al Samad, the head of Yemen's Supreme Political Council, accused the coalition of committing human rights abuses in Yemen. The bombings were part of a series of strikes that occurred throughout the day, resulting in a multitude of deaths and injuries. The death toll continues to rise as first responders clear out the area. Ironically, many of those who were detained at the Houthi-controlled prison were actually opponents of the rebels. The coalition has yet to make a comment on the bombing.

Yemen and Syria: fearful symmetry

Russia used its veto power on the UN Security Council Oct. 8 to kill a French-backed resolution demanding an immediate end to air-strikes on besieged Aleppo. Venezuela, shamefully (but not surprisingly), also voted against it. This was the fifth time Russia has used its veto to kill a UN resolution on Syria since the war began more than five years ago. (Reuters) The aerial terror remains unrelenting. On Oct. 13, a Russian or Assad regime air-strike (it matters little which) killed at at least 15 at a marketplace in rebel-held eastern Aleppo. (Rudaw) Secretary of State John Kerry has called for an investigation of possible war crimes by Russia and the Assad regime.

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