Thursday, June 30, 2016

GNA foreign minister meets with top NATO officials in Brussels

Mohamed Siala, foreign minister in the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), met today in Brussels with the head of NATO, and the EU policy chief to discuss how each organization could help improve security in Libya and on its borders.

NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said he was encouraged by the progress being achieved by the GNA. He focused on how NATO could help in terms of defense and security. At the 2014 NATO summit in Wales NATO said it would help Libya build its defense and security capacity if it were asked by the GNA to do so and was in harmony with the EU and UN. No details of the discussions have been released although a statement noted that the meeting followed a recent conversation between Stoltenberg and the PM of the GNA, Faiez Serraj. as well as contacts between NATO and other GNA officials.
The meeting of Siala with Federika Mogherini, EU policy chief, concentrated on discussion of security on Libya's southern borders. Human trafficking is one concern but there is also arms smuggling through the borders as well as terrorists entering Libya from other countries, particularly some of the Sahel G5. One topic was how to prevent asylum seekers dying in the Sahara desert. The Sahel G5 are Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Mogherini said: “There is a shared concern with the Sahel over security and the management of borders with Libya. For us, supporting cooperation with border countries to the south of Libya – such as Chad, which has experiences to share – is fundamental.”
The naval operation Sophia was also discussed. The UN Security Council authorized the expansion of the operation to allow vessels to counter human trafficking and operate within Libyan waters. It will include stop and search operations. There were no details released about what was discussed on Sophia. The two were also to discuss training of the proposed presidential guard. The GNA is in dire need of armed forces of its own rather than having to rely on militia for security. Often the GNA is at the mercy of the militia. Power distribution in Tripoli is determined by different militias who insist power continue to be provided to areas they control. Recently 12 former Gadaffi soldiers were murdered on their release from jail. Militia may have been responsible for the killing.
Mr. Sala is acting as Minister of Foreign Affairs even though the GNA has yet to receive a vote of confidence from the House of Representatives(HoR) as required by the Libya Political Agreement (LPA). Another meeting is scheduled on Monday but earlier meetings have either lacked a quorum or in two cases been disrupted. A meeting scheduled for last Monday lacked a quorum. In spite of Stoltenberg's praise of the GNA's progress Libyans in Tripoli and elsewhere are facing crippling power shortages, lack of cash, and recently in Tripoli a lack of water.

Protesters demand Government of National Accord solve urgent problems

Many took to the streets of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, to protest against the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNC) headed by Faiez Serraj.

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Some tires were set ablaze and some roads were blocked such as Ghout Al-Shaal, Al-Saba crossroad and in the Al-Firnaj neighborhood. Many protesters had signs protesting the government and its Presidential Council headed by Faiez Serraj. They demanded solutions to the problems they face including long power outages, a cash crisis and now a water shortage. The situation is exacerbated by high temperatures.
As noted in an article a few days ago in Digital Journal, militia determine how power is distributed in Tripoli. Militia force the electrical company GECOL to leave power on to areas they control. As the length of power outages increase more and more areas see protests. They started in the Driebi and Bab Ben Gashir districts but have now spread to five more different areas. In some areas the power was off for 12 hours and returned for only one hour before being off again for the rest of the day. Three districts had no power all day.
Libya Herald reporters tried to approach teenagers and young boys setting fire to tires in the street but they were in no mood to talk. Temperatures in the city had surged to the low forties C. With no power for air conditioning conditions in many buildings were miserable. Mohamed Jabu from the Ain Zara Municipal Council said: “If the situation remains like this, there are going to be a lot more protests across Tripoli in the next few days,” The city's main highway was closed by the protests.
A source at the General Electricity Company of Libya (GECOL) said that there were no practical solutions to reduce the outages. The only option was to share the present power load evenly, but this has not been possible as the militia refuse to allow areas they control to have long power outages. The source noted: “I believe the network will not bear this much longer and we are again warning that Tripoli might fall into a complete darkness within days.”
The situation is building resentment not just against the GNA but also against those areas that have maintained the power supply. Protesters in Ras Hassan tried to storm Al-Madar mobile company to sever power links to towns that are refusing to share in the power outages.
Even the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), Martin Kobler expressed his concern about the outages in a tweet: ‏"@KoblerSRSG Worried about the continued power cuts in large parts of tripoli. Urge #Gna to tackle energy supply for the population." It is not just Tripoli that is suffering from the outages but other areas near Tripoli as well. The situation is even worse in the south as electrical towers have been vandalized apparently. As a tweet puts the matter: "South has it worst by far when it comes to power cuts.Cities in South have gone days without electricity. Enough is enough. #Fezzan #Libya"
Protesters are also demanding an end to the liquidity crisis as there still does not seem sufficient cash in banks. Prices for items are also rising. There is also a water shortage with some areas having to use well water often of poor quality. The head of the Presidential Council, Faiez Serraj, had promised in a televise speech last Monday to take steps to end the suffering but little appears to have happened as yet.

Divisions begin to appear in the eastern Libyan National Army forces of Khalifa Haftar

Divisions appear within the LNA, commanded by Khalifa Haftar, as the unity government defense minister Barghathi supports the Solid Structure forces, mainly Misrata militia, and also the Petroleum Facilities Guard led by Haftar's foe, Ibrahim Jodhran.

The Defense Minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), Mahdia Barghathi said that his ministry will provide full support for the Solid Structure forces and also the Petroleum Forces Guard (PFG) in their fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Sirte and elsewhere.
In a meeting with Jodhran in Ras Lanuf, as well as Colonel Bashir Budafira of the Ajdabiya-Sirte operations room, Barghathi called on Libyan forces to end their divisions and fight against IS and other extremists in the country. At the same time, he reportedly ordered Jodhran's PFG to secure oil fields in the area. Some are said to be in the hands of pro-LNA forces loyal to Haftar. This order is likely to cause combat rather than heal divisions. Barghathi also visited the towns of Ben Jawad and Nufliya recently liberated from IS by the PFG.
There is a battle between Barghathi and Haftar to gain support among eastern tribes. No doubt, Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) of the UN and the GNA are encouraging this division in an attempt to isolate Haftar and gain more power for the GNA. While Barghathi is believed to still have considerable support within the Libyan National Army in the east, Haftar appears to have even more. Both he and Barghathi have had meetings to gain support. Just last week Haftar held a meeting with the Supreme Council of Tribes of Benghazi. They pledged support for Haftar and the Al-Thiinni House of Representatives (HoR) However, it also decided it would try to build bridges between Haftar and Barghathi.
Haftar has not participated in the offensive against IS in Sirte although he announced more than three weeks ago that he was marching to liberate the city. He has had no battles with IS in the area. Instead he has been attacking the city of Derna and the Shura Council of Derna Jihadists, who recently were instrumental in ridding Derna of IS. He has come under considerable criticism for the civilian casualties that he has caused.
Recently, Haftar dissolved two militias that were part of his Dignity Operation. They are the Special Tasks Force and Military Intelligence. Both had taken the side of Barghathi against Haftar. Haftar launched Dignity Operation back in May of 2014 to clear Libya of Islamist militia. He includes many loyal to the GNA including the Mistrata militia who are part of Solid Structure.
Faraj Egaim, the head of the Special Tasks Force, said that a ring aligned with Haftar's military command, had been arrested for committing murder. During a meeting of the Awagir tribe in Benghazi, Egaim said his force had arrested a 15-member cell in downtown Benghazi who were plotting assassinations of a number of people including himself and GNA defense minister Barghathi. Egaim said:"We seized guns with silencers with this ring, they have underground secret detention centers where torture is practiced, they are hiring 6 Bengalis to commit torture and cut off limbs of their victims, We recorded 137 cases of murder committed by groups loyal of Haftar."He said that there was no army just senior military leaders doing business with their ammunition and equipment. He claimed the government and military officials were involved in corrupt business deals. He claimed he had to buy ammunition for his own militia. He said that Haftar wants a defense minister submissive to his will.
The House of Representatives (HoR) has still not voted confidence in the GNA as yet as required under the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA). After the vote, the HoR would become the legislature of the GNA. Until it does, the HoR does not recognize the GNA. A meeting was to be held last Monday in Tobruk but there was no quorum. There have been numerous meetings with either no quorum or a disrupted meeting with no vote. Another meeting is supposedly scheduled for this Monday.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Newly released documents give more information on CIA torture techniques

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has released 50 documents giving details of its brutal interrogation and torture techniques used on terror suspects after 9/11.

The documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The CIA used interrogation techniques that President Obama has called "torture" but the CIA refers to either as "expanded interrogation" or "enhanced interrogation techniques." Under "Description of Pressures" are discussed facial slaps, use of diapers, "insects" and "mock burial." Under insects there is the suggestion to use the threat of stinging insects being placed within a confined box with suspects but non-stinging insects would be released. In the "mock burial" the suspect was placed in a cramped confinement box resembling a coffin but the box had hidden air holes to prevent suffocation.
One much redacted communique sent on August 12, 2002, warned employees about using speculative language as to the legality of their activities or making judgement calls about their legality. One CIA official wrote in an email that the interrogation program was a train wreck waiting to happen and he was getting off the train before the crash. A Senate torture investigation in 2014 had made much of the information public earlier.
One document shows that even President Bush showed concern about the processes. A memo dated June 7, 2006, said that Porter Goss then director of the CIA said that Bush "was concerned about the image of a detainee chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper and forced to go to the bathroom on themselves". While CIA officers and others acting on behalf of the CIA were warned only to use permissible techniques that included waterboarding and forcing detainees to wear adult diapers for purposes of "humiliation".
The documents also confirm the torture of German citizen Khalid Al-Masri who was mistakenly abducted in Macedonia and then rendered to Afghanistan where he was detained for over four months. He was held even after it had been determined he was innocent. He had been tortured during his internment. Before the Senate torture report, the CIA had denied that the US had any role in the affair. The CIA flew El-Masri out of Afghanistan and released him at night on a desolate road in Albania. Albanian guards found him. They believed he might be a terrorist because of his unkempt condition. He was returned to Germany. El-Masri was so disoriented he thought that the release was a ruse and he would be executed. Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director said:"These newly declassified records add new detail to the public record of the CIA's torture program and underscore the cruelty of the methods the agency used in its secret, overseas black sites,"
One portion of the documents deal with Gul Rahman who died from hypothermia at a secret CIA prison in 2002. The family of Rahman is now suing CIA-contracted psychologists James Mitchell and John Jesse who helped design the torture program. The Wikipedia entry on Rahman says: Gul Rahman (died 20 November 2002) was a suspected Afghan militant and torture victim. He died in a secret CIA prison, or black site, located in northern Kabul, Afghanistan and known as the Salt Pit.[1][2] He had been captured October 29, 2002.[3][4]His name was kept secret by the United States for more than seven years although his death was announced. In 2010 the Associated Press reported that before his death he was left half-stripped and chained against a concrete wall on a night when the temperature was close to freezing.[3] The United States government did not notify his family (wife and four daughters) of his death, according to the report.[3]
Another report shows that Zubaydah Abu Zubaydah who was waterboarded 83 times was probably willing to cooperate with his captors according to medical personnel who were involved. Zubaydah said he made up fake terrorist plots in an attempt to make the torture stop. As noted in the Wikipedia entry on Zubaydah he was subject to other torture than waterboarding and lost an eye while in custody:During the time in CIA custody Zubaydah was extensively interrogated; he was water-boarded 83 times[2] and subjected to numerous other torture techniques including forced nudity, sleep deprivation, confinement in small dark boxes, deprivation of solid food, stress positions, and physical assaults. While in CIA custody, Zubaydah lost his left eye.[3] Videotapes of some of Zubaydah's interrogations are amongst those destroyed by the CIA in 2005.[4][5][6][7]
Zubaydah was arrested in 2002 and is still being held in Guantanamo. CIA interrogators apparently apologized to him as they found out he was not a senior figure in Al-Qaeda as they thought but probably a minor "fixer" whose role was to arrange transportation to training camps for militants in Pakistan.
At a military hearing in Guantanamo Zubaydah said that the interrogators said that they were sorry they made a big mistake. He said that during custody he was beaten, prevented from using the bathroom for up to 36 hours. He testified: “They didn’t care that I almost died from these injuries. Doctors told me that I nearly died four times.” His case is mentioned in the accompanying video. Tapes of interrogation videos have been destroyed.

Measure to ban transfer of cluster bombs to Saudis defeated in US House of Representatives

The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly defeated a measure to ban the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia. The vote was 204 for and 216 against. The vote against the measure was made up of 200 Republicans but only 16 Democrats.

The Obama administration had urged Democrats to vote against the measure. The closeness of the vote shows the growing opposition against Saudi Arabia's conduct of the war which shows that cluster bombs were used several times and fragments show that some at least came from the U.S. This vote comes just as the Obama administration is reported to have quietly put a hold on transfer of cluster bombs to the Saudis.
However, the administration is obviously dead against a ban on sending the weapons to the Saudis. Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, chair of the House Committee on Defense Appropriations, said during debate:“The Department of Defense strongly opposes this amendment, They advise us that it would stigmatize cluster munitions, which are legitimate weapons with clear military utility.”
The munitions scatter hundreds of thousands of miniature explosives over large areas often the size of several football fields. Some fail to explode leaving mine-like explosives that can kill civilians long after a battle. There is an international ban against cluster munitions as described in Wikipedia:The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) is an international treaty that prohibits the use, transfer and stockpile of cluster bombs, a type of explosive weapon which scatters submunitions ("bomblets") over an area. The convention was adopted on 30 May 2008 in Dublin,[6] and was opened for signature on 3 December 2008 in Oslo. It entered into force on 1 August 2010, six months after it was ratified by 30 states.[2] As of April 2016, 108 states have signed the treaty and 100 have ratified it or acceded to it.[3]
Neither the United States, China, Russia, nor Israel have signed the treaty. Neither, have Yemen nor Saudi Arabia.The U.S. position is that they are militarily useful but should not be used in densely populated areas. Representative Hank Johnson from Georgia spoke in favor of the amendment saying: “Earlier this year, the Saudi-led coalition dropped cluster bombs in Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, specifically targeting known civilian neighborhoods. One of the buildings hit was the al Noor Center for Care and Rehabilitation for the Blind, which also has a school for blind children. The destruction of the school and the injuries sustained by the children was unbearably gruesome.”
The vote came just one day after Mohammed Bin Salman, the defense minister as well as Saudi deputy crown prince met with US lawmakers to discuss among other items "the threat posed by Iranian aggression in ..Yemen and the broader Middle East." The closeness of the vote encouraged, Sunjeev Bery, of Amnesty International who said: “This is a big deal for the U.S.-Saudi Arabia alliance, More and more members of Congress are clearly getting tired of selling Saudi Arabia bombs when it is dropping them on civilians in Yemen.”
While Canada is a signatory to the ban on cluster bombs, four Canadian financial institutions have invested $565 million in companies that manufacture the bombs. This information is revealed in the report released in Ottawa by the Dutch Peace Group PAX. The four are among a total of 158 companies worldwide that have invested a whopping $28 billion in companies connected to the weapons from June 2012 to April 2016. Paul Hannon, director of Mines Action Canada wants the Canadian government to issue guidelines to ban such investments by Canadian institutions. Hannon said:"These are inhuman and indiscriminate weapons and no financial institution should be investing in them. Whether it's because they don't realize that they're doing this, whether it's because they're such huge corporations, and one arm doesn't realize what the other arm is doing, that's fine. But they now need to understand."
Named in the report are the Royal Bank of Canada(RBC), Manulife Financial, Sun Life Financial and CI FInancial. CI claims it no longer holds any shares in the US company cited in the report. Royal Bank invested $132 million and Manuflie $48 million in the US firm Textron that manufactures the bombs. RBC said:"RBC is a responsible lender and practices a high level of due diligence prior to lending funds..Our policy prohibits directly financing equipment or material for cluster munitions. We are currently working towards extending this policy beyond lending."Manulife and Sun Life did not respond to a request to comment. Suzanne Ooserwijk, author of the report noted that the Royal Bank had taken positive steps to ban investments in cluster munitions but that their policy contained loopholes. As the appended video shows some of the cluster bombs used in Yemen by the Saudis come from the UK rather than the U.S.

Forces loyal to Libyan unity government continue to encircle the Islamic State in Sirte

The media office of the Albunyan Almarsoos (Solid Structure) that is in charge of the battle in Sirte against the Islamic State, announced that 10 of its forces were killed and seven injured in a suicide car bomb attack by ISIS in Abu Grein.

The report said that the attack on the Abu Grein police station was at dawn on Thursday. The killed and injured were from Abu Grein, Misrata, and Sebha. Abu Grein was liberated almost three weeks ago by Solid Structure forces, mostly militia from Misrata. The town is about 140 km west and south of Sire. On Twitter there is a video of the event. The attack shows that there are sleeper cells of IS ready to launch attacks even though the IS no longer controls significant territory. One can expect that IS will resort to attacks in major cities and launch guerrilla-type warfare rather than holding territory.
Forces loyal to the GNA claim they have consolidated their siege around the Islamic State in Sirte. The IS controls only a 15 to 20 square mile area in central Sirte. The consolidation is for a final battle to take Sirte. The IS has been launching counterattacks with suicide bombers that are taking a heavy toll both within Sirte and outside as in the Abu Grein attack. Several bomb attacks have been foiled. One attack killed three people at a field hospital. The anti-IS troops have captured an ammunition stockpile and supposedly fended off an IS attack to retake the port. After losing the port, the IS cannot be resupplied by sea.
Twitter is a virtual battlefield as IS and the Misrata militia trade competing photos and videos showing that they control the port. One tweet shows the Solid Structure forces at the port: #Libya : @centre_ly released a video, dating as of today of #Sirte harbour. Troops seem to be at east of the harbour, A commentator notes that the IS video could be at the west end of the harbour. Often photos or videos have no date and are from another time.
The Solid Structure forces appear to be holding on to their gains. The Solid Structure operations room said:“Our forces drove back an advance in which Daesh used mortar bombs and one tank along with snipers located on high buildings, Our forces continued targeting IS positions in the vicinity of Ouagadougou conference centre, The Libyan air force carried out a number of sorties, while engineers continued sweeping the liberated areas of landmines and explosives.”The Ouagadougou conference center is a three-hectare area of sprawling halls built by Muammar Gaddafi to host African Union meetings. It is used as a headquarters by the IS. The Solid Structure coalition has made great gains since the offensive started early last month.
On the eastern front, the Petroleum Facilities Guard has also advanced capturing several towns in the eastern part of IS territory including Ben Jawad, Nofiya, and Harawa. Meanwhile Khalifa Haftar has yet to engage in the battle for Sirte even though he announced over three weeks ago that he was marching to liberate the city. Instead he has been attacking Derna and the Shura Council that was instrumental in liberating Derna from the IS. Haftar has been criticized by many for the resulting civilian casualties.
Military officials told the Libya Channel that IS is launching vigorous counter attacks, with suicide bombers, booby traps, and snipers, that has stalled the advance of Sold Structure troops. As the Abu Grein attack shows the IS can still strike far behind the front lines. Medical officials says that so far a total of 145 pro-GNA troops have been killed and about 500 injured. On Tuesday, five were said to be killed and 37 wounded in a counter-attack.
Spokesperson for the Solid Structure, Brigadier General Mohamed al-Gasri, urged the international community to help with the wounded. Some flights containing the wounded have not been allowed to land in Europe and there are complaints about treatment in Tunisia and elsewhere. Al-Gasri said: “Our sons are hospitalized and their condition is pitiful, but there is no support from the international community on whose behalf we fight this war>”
Haftar rejects the GNA and its officials. He refuses to join a unified command saying:“Firstly, We have no links with Mr Seraj and the Presidential Council which he leads is not recognized by the parliament,
Secondly, on this unified command center, I would like to stress that Mr Serraj relies on militia and we refuse them. An army cannot unify with militias so they must be dismantled. It’s unthinkable to work with these armed factions,”

Libyan National Army's bombing of Libyan city of Derna condemned by many

Some time ago the Libya city of Derna and adjacent areas were cleared of all Islamic State fighters. This was mostly the result of actions by the fighters of the Shura Council of Derna Jihadists.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) under commander in chief General Khalifa Haftar has also claimed credit for clearing the Islamic State out of the surrounding areas but it is not clear how much they helped. Even after the Islamic State had retreated Haftar's forces continued airstrikes against Derna. Haftar considers the Shura Council to be allied with Al Qaeda even though they deny any such connection. He has carried on the attacks since he consider the Shura Council to be radical Islamists and his enemy. He says the attacks are part of what he calls his Operation Volcano, part of Operation Dignity. Operation DIgnity was begun back on May 16, 2014, with attacks on Islamist militia bases in Benghazi but then involved the burning of the Libyan parliament as shown on the appended video.
Haftar considers any Islamists opposed to him as radical Islamists to be defeated, including many of the militia loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). Haftar rejects the GNA and supports the rival Tobruk-based House of Representatives. (HoR). The HoR is required to vote confidence in the GNA according to the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA). It would then become the legislature of the GNA. However numerous meetings called to hold a vote have either been disrupted or failed to have a quorum. A meeting just last Monday lacked a quorum.
The attacks on Derna by Haftar are happening at the same time as he is supposed to be marching to liberate Sirte, as he announced some three weeks ago. However, the only forces fighting Sirte are those of the GNA in the west, mostly militia from Misrata, and in the east forces of the Petroleum Facilities Guard headed by Ibrahim Jodhran, an opponent of Haftar and supporter of the GNA government. The Islamic State territory is now just a few square kilometers in the city of Sirte. Until there were a number of civilian casualties both the GNA and Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary General(SRSG) kept quiet but now Kobler has spoken out condemning the civilian casualties. In a tweet he says: Deeply saddened to hear of civilian casualties from airstrikes #Derna, 2 women & 2 child died. Densely populated areas must not be targetedNote that he fails to condemn the airstrikes themselves. Others go much further.
Military veteran and army officers in Derna have condemned what they describe as Dignity Operation airstrikes on the city that left a number of civilians dead. Colonel Yahya Al-Osta said on Sunday that the airstrikes that killed civilians, including children were carried out by armed militias and mercenaries who have no links to the army. The planes no doubt are from the air force which is headed by an ally of Haftar. Al-Osta called Haftar a criminal and said that his militia groups are a far cry from military values and principles when they start targeting civilians and populated areas, He said: "We want police and army that protect civilians, not attacking them". Graphic photos of some of those killed can be found if you search for the hashtag #Derna on twitter.
Among those killed were a father and his son on his way to another town to cash out their salaries. In another strike a woman and her two children were killed. A tweet shows the location with no military target. Another tweet says: A kids play area in the city #Derna was attacked from LNA ..At least a kid is killed through these air attack. Another tweet reports: "Former eastern defence zone commander, Suleiman Mahmoud appeals to pilots under Hefter's command to refuse orders targeting Derna civilians." Some strikes are aimed at certain companies as shown in the damage to a Turkish company's buildings. Fortunately, much machinery is OK.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Egyptian president will have power to appoint members of Higher Press Council

A bill that allows Egyptian President Abdel el-Sisi the power to appoint the leaders of the Higher Press Council the group that controls state-owned media outlets. The bill represents just one more move by el-Sisi to crack down on any opposition. The Egyptian government has long been trying to stamp out any opposition to the government in the media. On May 1 only two days before World Press Freedom Day, Egyptian police raided the Press Syndicate in Cairo. Amnesty International reports on the event as follows: " 1 May up to 40 heavily armed members of the National Security agency stormed the Press Syndicate for the first time since it was established in 1941. They attacked journalists, beating security guards and detained two journalists Amro Badr and Mahmoud Al-Saqqa. They are being held in Tora prison and have been charged with forming an illegal group with the aim of overthrowing the government, inciting protests and publishing false news, and belonging to the April 6 Movement, a leading youth group that was instrumental in organizing protests in 2011."

The Committee to Protect Journalists claims that Egypt is among the world's worst jailers of journalists. Since January 1 this year, four have been sentenced for "publishing false news" with five others referred to trial and two more detained. Photojournalist, Mahmoud Zeid, has been in jail for more than two years subsequent to his arrest for covering a protest. On the 29th of May, Yahia Galash, head of Press Syndicate and senior board members Khaled Elbalshy and Gamal Abd el-Reheem were summoned for questioning by the public prosecution. After being questioned for a full 13 hours the three were charged with harbouring suspects against whom an arrest warrant was issued, and also with publishing false news, which threatened public peace.

The bill was proposed by independent Moustafa Bakri an independent and a journalist himself. The bill passed the Egyptian parliament in less than two hours. Bakri denied that the bill has any political implications claiming it is just an interim measure to last two or three months until a new media law is implemented. He claimed to be astonished that anyone would not welcome the bill. He claims that the president does not have the power to meddle in the press. Another independent MP, Khaled Youssef warned that the bill gives the president "exceptional power." He said that while el-Sisi has constantly said he wants to make Egypt a modern democratic state, the bill went against that. Youssef is a film director. Youssef said of the bills: "Rather than discussing a legislative ‎amendment in record speed, and rather than granting ‎the president an exceptional and undemocratic power, we ‎have to exert pressure on the government and the state ‎council to refer the unified law on the regulation of the ‎media and the press as soon as possible,"

 Osama Sharshar, another independent and a journalist remarked that the speed with which the bill was passed reminded him of the legislative process as it was under Hosni Mubarak. He wanted to wait until the new laws on the press were presented to the parliament. Another report notes that the new bill also gives the Higher Press Council the power to name editors and board chairs of any state-run press organizations.‎ The terms of present editors and board chairmen is running out so in effect incoming editors and chairs of state-owned media outlets will be appointed by a board appointed by el-Sisi.

El-Wefaq, largest Shia political party in Bahrain suspended

El-Wefaq, the largest Shia political party in Bahrain was suspended yesterday. The assets of the party were frozen as well. The move is part of a crackdown on activists after more than five years since a pro-democracy uprising first started in Bahrain. The official news agencypublished a statement from the Justice and Islamic Affairs Ministry. The statement said that a Bahrain court had ruled El-Wefaq should be suspended to "safeguard the security of the kingdom." This is not the first suspension for the party. The party demands a transition to democracy and the end of the rule of King Hamad al-Khalifa. Ever since an uprising that began on 14 February 2011, the monarch has been faced by continuing protests even though he insists he has reformed.

 The monarchy is dominated by Sunnis who are a minority in the country while the majority Shia claim they are marginalized. Activists are constantly placed under arrest. Zainab al-Khawaja who was held in jail until recently fled the country after she was threatened with being arrested again. She had been held in jail with her infant son for ripping up an image of King Khalifa. Her father Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is serving a life sentence for his role in the 2011 uprisings. While she was sickin jail with the flu she was not allowed to have her husband take the baby until she was better. Abdulla al-Shamiawi , the lawyer for El-Wefaq,said that he was only served with the court papers on Tuesday morning and a hearing took place so quickly he had no time to prepare a defence. The documents claimed that El-Wefaq has harmed Bahraini security since its founding in 2001 and that it took part in the unrest during the 2011 protests. He said the suspension came "out of the blue". On the 6th of October a court hearing is to be held to decide if El-Wefaq should be "liquidated" .

After the 2011 protests, Bahrain, supported by Gulf allies responded by a crackdown that killed dozens of protesters, and countless activists and dissidents have been jailed with many alleged to have been tortured. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid al-Hussein claimed that at least 250 people have lost their citizenship "because of their alleged disloyalty to the interests of the kingdom." Al-Hussein said: "Repression will not eliminate people's grievances; it will increase them." The Foreign Minister Khalid al-Khalifa tweeted: : "We will not allow the undermining of our security and stability and will not waste our time listening to the words of a high commissioner who is powerless." Early Monday morning another human rights activists was arrested according to a member of the family. Nabeel Rajab was arrested after his house was surrounded and searched according to his son. The authorities seized his electronic devices. They gave no reason for the arrest. However, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy(BIRD) based in London said they believed the arrest was ordered by the Ministry of Interior's Electronic Crime Unit. They claimed it was part of a move to silence opponents ahead of the 32nd Session of the UN Human Right Council that was to convene soon in Geneva.

Activists have been banned from travel overseas prior to the conference. Rajab has been in prison many times. He was last released in July of 2015 after he had served three months for "insulting public institutions". Sayed Alwadaei, BIRD director of advocacy condemned Rajab's new arrest saying: “The re-arrest of Nabeel Rajab is abhorrent and reflective of the government repressive nature. This is a key test, especially for the US and UK, who must immediately and very clearly condemn the arrest of one of Bahrain's most prominent activists.” As shown on the appended video a court increased the sentence of a prominent activist to almost double the original sentence.

Operation Sophia extended to allow interception of illegal arms shipments to and from Libya

The United Nations Security Council voted to allow naval forces of EU countries to intercept ships in Libyan waters suspected of carrying weapons to or from the country. According to Bloomberg, the new authorization, approved Tuesday, is part of the war against the Islamic State terrorist group and other militias fighting the UN-brokered Government of National Accord. The new motion expands the power of the existing Operation Sophia to allow the navies involved to intercept boats in Libyan waters. Enforcing the arms embargo may bolster the GNA government of Faiez Sarraj, which is struggling to control much beyond the borders of the naval base where it is headquartered. Militia in the west as well as the forces of Khalifa Haftar in the area controlled by the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) appear to be able to receive arms without much trouble. A large shipment of trucks and ammunition for Haftar landed at Tobruk in April.

The GNA appears to have little control over militia nominally loyal to it. Recently 12 former Gadaffi soldier released from jail were murdered. The power in Tripoli is distributed according to the wishes of various militia. Ironically, the measure is being implemented just as the Islamic State is hardly a factor, being surrounded in central Sirte with no access to the port. Nevertheless Francoise Delattre, French ambassador to the UN said that the motion could be a game changer for Libya giving Operation Sophia the means to enforce the arms embargo on Libya. It grants a 12-month mandate to inspect without undue delay ships off the coast of Libya which there are reasonable grounds to believe are carrying arms or related material to or from Libya. The aim of Operation Sophia iis to attempt to identify, capture, and dispose of assets used by migrant smugglers as well as arrest smugglers.

The resolution to expand the Sophia operation was introduced by the UK and France. Amnesty International expressed concern about Operation Sophia, arguing that closer cooperation with the Libyan government risked "fuelling the rampant ill-treatmet and indefinite detention in horrifying conditions" that was experienced by thousands of refugees and migrants. Magdalena Mughrabi, of Amnesty said: “Europe shouldn’t even think about migration cooperation with Libya if it results, directly or indirectly, in such shocking human rights violations.The EU has repeatedly shown it is willing to stop refugees and migrants from coming to the continent at almost any cost.”

In contrast EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini told the UN that the move had to go ahead to make the "Mediterranean a safer place, starting for our Libyan friends". Earlier the Russian Ambassador to the UN had expressed a concern that the measure might create suspicion against some party. The Russia concerns led to an addition to the resolution that the EU ships must "make good-faith efforts" to first "seek consent from the ship's flag state before carrying out any inspection." The EU would be authorized to "seize and dispose" of the weapons and divert the vessels and their crew to a nearby port. The new move coincides with a request that the Serraj GNA government be granted exemptions to the embargo but the exemption request appears to be progressing slowly as there are concerns that weapons might fall into the "wrong hands". The UN wants guarantees this will not happen. The UN also wants Tripoli to provide a clear command structure for the numerous militia that claim to be fighting for the GNA.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Militia determine how electric power is distributed in Tripoli

 In a speech last night, Prime Minister-elect of the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA), Faiez Serraj admitted that militias are controlling the distribution of electricity in Tripoli.
Faiez Serraj

In a short 15-minute TV speech, Ferraj said that " many challenges started prior to our (GNA's) arrival in March." He claimed the challenges had accumulated over the years.
On the electricity shortage, he described the problem as multifaceted. Many power stations were damaged since the revolution. The foreign technicians performing maintenance have left the country. It is not clear why the GNA is not able to get them back to help the electrical company and the new government. As a result many stations are not performing at full capacity. There are rolling blackouts.
The Libya Herald then reports: He then admitted that his GNA still had no control in Tripoli, let alone the whole of Libya, outside its Baghdad-like ‘’green zone’’ of the Bu Sitta Naval base by confirming that Tripoli militias were coercing the employees of the electricity company to distribute the electricity supply according to their wishes.
Serraj called on Libyans to be patient but had no new or radicals ideas on how to improve the situation although he promised to solve problems.
The inability of the GNA to provide security in Tripoli was made evident bythe recent murder of 12 former Gadaffi soldiers who had been released from jaii. All 12 had been shot and some bodies showed evidence of torture.
The power situation in Tripoli is so bad that the General Electricity Company of Libya (GEOCOL) has warned authorities that the power supply to Tripoli could collapse completely due to certain areas of the city such as Abu Sleem and elsewhere refusing to accept power cuts. Power cuts in the city are over 12 hours per day. In a statement the company said that it could not be held responsible for what might happen to the electricity supply throughout the west of Libya. It claimed that militia had physically threatened its employees forcing them, to leave the power on in certain areas. The areas mentioned included Misrata, Zawyia, Khoms and Jebel Nafusa mountain as refusing to share in the same power cuts as Tripoli. Also in certain parts of Tripoli such as Abu Sleem the cuts have not taken place.Kamal, an Abu Sleem resident, told the Libya Herald: “We are enjoying full time power with not even a single hour of cuts for three days now. Many thanks to our strong man Ghenaiwa,”

Libyan Sovereign Wealth Fund sues Morgan Stanley

Lawyers for Libya's sovereign wealth fund claim that Goldman Sachs exploited inexperienced staff members to close inappropriate deals which cost the fund a humongous $1.2 billion.

The accusation was made at London's High Court at a high profile trial launched by the fund against the prestigious U.S. investment bank. The allegations of shady dealings include the use of prostitutes back in 2008. Goldman Sachs denies that it did anything wrong and that the losses to the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) sovereign fund were simply due to the 2008 financial crash and had nothing to do with the relationship of the LIA to Goldman Sachs.
The lawyer for LIA, Roger Masefield, read out an internal memo that was sent by Driss Ben-Brahim a Goldman Sachs partner: Ben-Brahmin said that the fund was "very unsophisticated" and that anyone could "rape them." Youssef Kabbaj, a Goldman Sachs employee gained the trust of "young and impressionable staff" and was able to sell it complex products that ended up costing the LIA a loss of over $1.2 billion. The LIA lawyers claim that the products earned Goldman Sachs over $220 million in profits. The LIA is suing Goldman Sachs for the $1.2 billion loss.
Kabbaj also forged a close relationship with Haitem Zarti, the younger brother of the chair of the LIA Mustafa Zarti. Kabbaj secured an internship for the brother at Morgan Stanley and took him on holidays in Morocco and to a conference in Dubai. The LIA lawyers said: "it appears from Goldman Sachs' disclosure that, while there, Mr Kabbaj arranged for two prostitutes to spend the evening with them at a cost of $600." The LIA subsequently rushed through a large number of deals without either conducting due diligence or seeking independent advice. The investments became worthless with the subsequence collapse of Lehman Brothers and the financial collapse.
The chair of the LIA, Mustafa Zarti became clear about events at a meeting with Goldman Sachs in 2008. He threw Kabbaj out of the meeting Later he called Goldman Sachs a "bank of Mafiosi" and claimed that it had abused his trust by selling him risky products that were not suitable for a state fund.The lawyers cited an email sent by a Goldman Sachs vice-president describing a presentation to the fund: "You just delivered a pitch on structured leveraged loans to someone who lives in the middle of the desert with his camels."
Goldman Sachs claims it sold standard products in the financial world and claimed: "The credit crisis and its impact on global markets turned out to be far more prolonged than the LIA and the great majority of market participants had anticipated. The LIA was the victim of an unforeseen financial depression, not of any wrongdoing."
Wikipedia describes the purchase from Goldman Sachs and its subsequent decline:Between January and June 2008, the LIA paid $1.3 billion for options on a basket of currencies and options on six stocks (Citigroup Inc., UniCredit SpA, Banco Santander, Allianz, √Člectricit√© de France and Eni SpA) via Goldman Sachs. By February 2010, the value of these investments was 0.025 billion - a 98% loss.
As of December 31, 2012 the value of the fund was estimated at $67 billion. There is still a dispute at the LIA as to who should be chairman and as a result the business advisory firm BDO has been appointed by the court to manage the suit on LIA's behalf. The LiA is also filing suit against the French Investment Bank Societe General for $2.1 billion on the basis of another set of trades in 2007 and 2008. The case is not expected to go to trial until next January. The Goldman Sachs trial is scheduled for seven weeks. Faiez Serraj the Prime Minister of the UN-brokered Government of National Accord is on the Board of Trustees of the LIA.

Islamic State counter-attacks in Libyan stronghold of the Islamic State Sirte

Three vehicles driven by Islamic State suicide bombers, targeted Albinyan Almarsoos (Solid Structure) forces in Sirte. The forces are loyal to the UN-brokered Government of National Accord.

The forces, mostly militia from Misrata, have hemmed in the Islamic State within a 5 square kilometer area of Sirte. They have captured the port, the airport , and several military camps. However, they have had to fend off a counter attack at the port. There are numerous booby traps and suicide bombings.
The Solid Structure forces entered Sirte on Wednesday. Forces from the Petroleum Facilities Guard are advancing from the east as well. Sirte was seized by IS last year and had become its main base of operations after Derna a city it also held for some time saw the Derna Shura Council drive them out. The Islamic State has also been losing ground in Syria and Iraq.
A spokesperson for the government forces, Reda Issa said that two of the bombings hit gatherings of pro-government forces and that the third struck a field hospital. Issa said that at least one person was killed and four wounded in the attacks. Several military vehicles were also damaged. The forces are engaging in heavy street fighting with the militants, deploying tanks, rocket launchers and artillery. They have also carried out dozens of air raids. Some reports claim that three people were killed at the field hospital and over seven wounded.
The headquarters of the IS is a sprawling conference centre from the Gaddafi-era. The militants are using snipers, mortar rounds, and suicide bombers to counter the offensive. A medical official in Misrata said Saturday that at least 137 fighters loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord(GNA) have been killed and up to 500 wounded since the offensive begum on May 12. However, the IS have lost virtually all their territory around Sirte that before was quite extensive.
While foreign intelligence services have estimated that IS has up to 5,000 fighters in Libya, they do not appear to be in Sirte, and the numbers may be exaggerated in order to portray IS as more or a threat than it was. Many of the IS fighters may already have fled. There could very well be terrorist attacks in Tripoli and elsewhere. A recent tweet indicates that a suicide bombing took place south of Sirte.:" Oded Berkowitz ‏@Oded121351 5h5 hours ago#Libya- #ISIS suicide bomber reportedly detonated in Qasr Abu-Hadi, ~15km SE of #Sirte, earlier today ". The US praised the rapid progress against IS. Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) said in a tweet that he was impressed by the rapid progress made by the pro-GNA. Both US and UK special forces are reported to be providing intelligence support for the operation. The presence of IS along the Libyan coast has been a concern to southern European nations, especially Italy and Malta.
The liberation of Sirte has been accomplished without the help of the forces of the Libyan National Army (LNA)commanded by Khalifa Haftar. The LNA are the armed forces of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives ( HoR) a rival government to the GNA. Haftar announced more than three weeks ago that he was on the march to liberate Sirte. He has yet to have a single clash with them. Instead he has been busy attacking the city of Derna and its Shura Council Jihadists, who were instrumental in liberating Derna from the IS. He is also fighting in Benghazi. Haftar refuses to recognize the GNA and will not join a unified command unless all the militia associated with the GNA are disbanded.
The HoR was scheduled to meet today to vote confidence in the GNA. However, a recent tweet shows that once again there will be no vote: "No HoR session today due to the lack of quorum. Around 70 members & Agilah Saleh were present. Saleh's two deputies were not there. #Libya" Note that the two deputies who have constantly complained about the lack of a vote did not even show up. However, Saleh, who was there, has been sanctioned by the EU for obstructing the vote process. There have been numerous previous meetings with no quorum and two that were disrupted before a vote could be taken. Until there is a vote of confidence the GNA term does not start. The HoR will be the legislature of the GNA so until a vote the GNA is a government without a legislature.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Over 50 US State Dept. diplomats want US to strike Assad forces in Syria

More than 50 U.S. State Department diplomats signed an internal memo that is critical of the Obama administration policy in Syria.

In the memo, the diplomats urge Obama to carry out military strikes against the forces of President Bashar al-Assad to stop what the diplomats claim are persistent violations of the cease-fire in the civil war that has lasted five years already.

A draft of the memo was obtained by the New York Times from a State Department official.

The draft claims that U.S. policy has been "overwhelmed" by unrelenting violence in Syria and calls for "a more judicious use of stand-off and air weapons which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process."

Such a move would no doubt result in an increased confrontation with Russia and would represent a radical shift in U.S. policy which is at present emphasizing the battle against the Islamic State rather than the overthrow of the Assad regime. However, diplomatic attempts to end the conflict led by Secretary of State, John Kerry are on the verge of collapse.

The dissent was filed  in the State Department "dissent channel". The channel was set up during the Vietnam War so that employees could register disagreements with policies without any fear of reprisal. Filings are relatively common but this dissent has an unusually high number of signatures. The signatures on the filing are almost all of mid-level working officials. There are no well-known higher officials on the list but it is known that many share the concerns expressed in the dissent.

Kerry himself has suggested there be a stronger U.S. response in Syria to force Assad into a diplomatic solution. Obama has resisted such pressure and been backed up by military commanders who fear the result should Assad lose power. John Kirby, the State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the memo, but said Kerry respected the process.

Robert Ford former US ambassador to Syria said: “Many people working on Syria for the State Department have long urged a tougher policy with the Assad government as a means of facilitating arrival at a negotiated political deal to set up a new Syrian government.” Ford resigned from the Foreign Service over the administration's policy on the conflict. The officials who signed the memo denied that they  were advocating a "slippery slope that would end in a military confrontation with Russia". They insist there must be credible threat of military action to keep Assad in line. The threat should be followed by negotiation.

Obama's policy in Syria has been designed to avoid further military entanglement in the civil war. It has been described as risk-averse.

However, the U.S. is aiding Kurdish-led forces against the Islamic State. Attempts to aid moderate rebels previously have not been successful.

The U.S. administration  shows no sign it was willing to consider military strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces as the memo suggests.
Syrian Army Forces

At ninety, Hugh Heffner sells Playboy Mansion for over $100 million

Hugh Heffner
Hugh Heffner, 90, the owner of the Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills California in the Los Angeles area has sold it for a contract that is worth more than $100 million. The buyer is the 32-year old son of a billionaire who already owns the property  next door. Daren Metropoulos is principal at the investment firm Metropolous and Co. and co-owner of Hostess Brands that produces the famous Twinkies. Daren is the son of equity investor Dean Metropoulos 70 who bought the next door property in 2009 for  $18 million as his personal residence. He hopes to eventually join the two properties. The Playboy Mansion was listed earlier in the year for $200 million.

​Daren said that he was pleased to have Mr. Hefner continue as his neighbor and felt it was a privilege to have the opportunity to serve as a steward for the historic property. As part of the deal, Heffner will be allowed to stay at the mansion as long as he lives. The Metropoulos family has owned and sold brands such as Pabst Blue Ribbon, Bumble Bee, Chef Boyardee canned goods, and Duncan Hines Baking Mixes. 

The mansion is roughly 20,000 square feet. Heffner bought it in 1971 for $1.05 million. It includes a 29 room mansion with a catering kitchen, wine cellar, home theater, gym, tennis court, and a swimming pool with a cave-like grotto. It also has a zoo licence. 

Heffner is famous for his Playboy magazine as well as the parties he held at the mansion. The first issue of Playboy which was undated was published in December 1953 and featured Marilyn Munroe nude from her 1949 calendar. Heffner never met Monroe but bought the crypt next to hers at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. Heffner has married three times as well as having a number of affairs. He had a son and a daughter from the first marriage. In 1959 Heffner had a minor stroke which caused him to alter his lifestyle. The following year he married Kimberley Conrad a former year's playmate. They had two sons. For a time the mansion was a family friendly place.  Finally at the ripe age of 86 he married Crystal Harris 26.

Details about the mansion can be found here.  The mansion is actually owned by Playboy Enterprises which leases back parts of it for Heffner's own use.

Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

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