Upon his death, many are reviving the discredited claim that John McCain met with ISIS on his Syria trip in 2013. But some are settling for the less ambitious, and perhaps plausible, claim that he met with jihadists who were implicated in atrocities. E.g. the always annoying Ben Norton tweets: "John McCain was a staunch supporter of the CIA-backed, al-Qaeda-linked Salafi extremist opposition in Syria. In fact the late senator posed in a photo with a rebel who was involved in kidnapping 11 Lebanese Shia civilians." He links to a May 10, 2013 Reuters story which cites an undated article in Lebanon's Daily Star (apparently not translated into English) claiming that McCain was photographed in Syria with a rebel "implicated in" the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shi'ite pilgrims the previous year. The man in question was apparently one Mohammad Nour—"identified by two freed hostages as the chief spokesman and photographer for the Northern Storm brigade that kidnapped them."
Saudi rights advocates are warning of the possible imminent beheading of detained activist Israa al-Ghomgham, who has been provisionally sentenced to death by a Riyadh court. At an Aug. 6 hearing before the Specialized Criminal Court in the capital, the Public Prosecutor recommended the death penalty for six defendants, including Ghomgham and her husband, Moussa al-Hashem, who have been held for nearly three years on charges related to anti-government protests in the Shi'ite-majority eastern region of Qatif. The charges include "participating in protests," "incitement to protest," "chanting slogans hostile to the regime," "attempting to inflame public opinion," "filming protests and publishing on social media," and "providing moral support to rioters." The prosecutor called for their execution based on the Islamic law principle of ta'zir, in which the judge has discretion over the definition of what constitutes a crime. A judge is expected to either confirm or reverse the death penalty recommendation at Ghomgham's next hearing in October.
The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy
by Yassin al-Haj Saleh
Haymarket Books, Chicago 2017
This book is a necessary corrective to the dominant perception—left, right and center—that the opposition in Syria are all jihadists and dictator Bashar Assad the best bet for "stability." Long a left-wing dissident in Assad's Syria, Saleh is a veteran of the dictator's prisons. Here, he traces the origins of the Syrian revolution to agony caused by the regime's "economic liberalization" (socialist phrases aside), describes the initially unarmed opposition's popular-democratic nature, and discusses the struggle to keep the Free Syrian Army accountable to this grassroots base after it became clear a military dimension to the revolution was necessary. He makes the case that the Assad regime can be termed "fascist" even by the most rigorous definition and has been making good on its pledge to "burn the country" before ceding power. He also analyzes the emergence of "militant nihilism" in the form of ISIS and al-Qaeda (he rejects the word "terrorist" as propagandistic).
During last week's wave of coordinated ISIS attacks that left 250 dead in Syria's regime-held southern governorate of Suweida, the militants also went door-to-door in Druze villages, abducting several women and children. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights puts the number at 20 women and 16 children. The militants are believed to have escaped with them into their remaining strongholds in Syria's eastern desert. The attack wave—dubbed "Black Wednesday," for July 25, the bloodiest day—followed visits by Russian military delegations to Suweida, during which Druze elders and community leaders were urged to cooperate in the disarming of the populace. This was apparently aimed at suppressing the Rijal al-Karama (Men of Dignity), a Druze self-defense militia that had emerged over the past years of violence in Syria—independent from the regime, but neither explicitly aligned with the rebel opposiition. The ISIS assault came immediately after regime weapons seizures in Druze villages, leading to theories of regime complicity in the attacks. (YNet, Enab Baladi, Syria Call)
A group of independent UN human rights experts on July 26 called (PDF) upon Bahrain to put an end to rights violations and investigate events surrounding the "State of National Safety" declared in 2011. The experts warned against military courts exercising jurisdiction over civilians, and discrimination against women and the Shi'ite population. The report called for abolition of the death penalty, and a halt to the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners. While the "State of National Safety" officially ended after three months, the report noted an April 2017 amendment to the constitution granting military courts jurisdiction over civilians outside of a declared state of emergency.
Civilian deaths in Afghanistan have reached a new high at the mid-year point, according to a report (PDF) from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) issued July 16. Although there was a slight decrease in casualties (deaths and injuries) overall, there have been more fatalities than in previous years, with nearly 1,700 killed so far in 2018. Since UNAMA started documentation in 2009, almost 15,000 civilians have lost their lives to the armed conflict in Afghanistan. UNAMA also reports that deliberate attacks on civilians from anti-government elements are increasing at concerning rates.
As the Assad regime, backed by Russian air-strikes, opens its offensive on the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front in Daraa governorate—and towns start to fall to pro-regime forces, with thousands fleeing their homes in fear of reprisals—the Trump White House has issued a statement to the rebels, warning, "[Y]ou should not base your decisions on the assumption or expectation of a military intervention by us." This despite Washington's earlier warning to Assad and Putin that any violation of the so-called "de-escalation zones" would have "serious repercussions," including "firm and appropriate measures." (Reuters, Reuters, DW) Not surprisingly, this betrayal comes just as Trump reportedly told King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House that he is seeking a deal with Putin on terms for a withdrawal of remaining US forces from Syria. Reports indicate the deal will be on the agenda when Trump meets with Putin in Helsinki next month. (CNN)
The Assad regime is now said to be in full control of the Damascus area for the first time since 2012, with the fall of Yarmouk, the long-besieged Palestinian refugee camp outside the capital. Under another "surrender deal," resistance fighters were allowed to flee to rebel-held Idlib governorate in the north, although those apparently affiliated with ISIS were provided transportation to unspecified locations in Syria's eastern desert. It is clear that many of the camp's civilian residents are also choosing to evacuate, fearing reprisals from the regime. Some 7,000 have been displaced from camp, the overwhelming majority of them Palestinians, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Some of these had already fled to pockets of rebel control around the Damascus area which have since also fallen to regime forces, and their fates remain uncertain. Reports are already emerging of looting and pillaging of abandoned properties by regime troops and their militia allies. (MEM, Al Bawaba, Madamasr.com, Action Group for Palestinians of Syria)