Why did PBS let Martin Smith serve as a mouthpiece for the Assad regime?

The idea of an American journalist going inside Assad’s Syria might sound courageous. It presents the possibility for a much-needed counterbalance in a conflict that has overwhelmingly been reported from one side. After all, how is the outside observer to gauge how much genuine support the Assad regime really enjoys if our only interlocutors are its opponents?

This is how Martin Smith frames his decision to report on those part’s of Syria that remain under regime control:

“You will be killed.”

“Excuse me.”

“You’re going to be pilloried, lambasted. Yeah, you’re going to be unpopular.”

That was the conclusion of a colleague, someone with a lot of experience in the Middle East after watching just the opening minutes of my new FRONTLINE documentary, Inside Assad’s Syria.


“It’s the very idea of it — going into regime-held territory. Too many people have a view of Syria that this will inevitably challenge. This is an invitation for abuse.”

Another colleague told me before I left, “You will get the charm offensive. The regime’s best dog and pony show. Potemkin village.”

Of course I went anyway.

Was the end result, as predicted, just an invitation for abuse, or was it on the contrary a heroic piece of journalism?

After Smith’s report aired last week, some viewers were bubbling with praise:

Let’s be clear: No one would have taken this report seriously if it was demonstrably lacking in objectivity — if, for instance, regime insiders were presented as ordinary Syrians who freely support their government.

Yet this is exactly what happened as Smith misled PBS viewers.

As Syria became too dangerous for most foreign journalists to risk entering, citizen journalists uploading videos onto YouTube became one of the primary windows on the conflict. These images have been a cry for help from ordinary Syrians reaching out to an often indifferent world.

This medium of grassroots reporting is the iconic voice of an uprising that refuses to be crushed by the regime’s barrel bombs.

But what if the regime has its own grassroots supporters, taking the same risks. Wouldn’t that change the way the world perceives the regime?

In the figure of Thaer al-Ajlani, Smith seems to present just such an individual.

Ajlani is described as a “pro-regime journalist” who for the last four-and-a-half years “has chronicled the war.” Smith underlines that Ajlani is partisan: “He wants me to see things from the regime’s perspective.” And yet we are led to understand that this is because Ajlani supports the regime — not because he works for the regime.

There is no question that Smith views Ajlani as having a pivotal role in telling this story. As Inside Assad’s Syria aired, Smith live-tweeted his intense interest in Ajlani’s work:

Every brutal regime has support from ordinary people who align themselves with power because they are too fearful to do otherwise. Closer in comes the support of those who benefit from that power. And then there is the power structure itself — the regime in its many branches permeating the military, intelligence, security services, militias, government agencies, media outlets, and a variety of informal accessories.

To understand how or if Thaer al-Ajlani had an important story to convey, we would need to know what exactly was his relationship with the regime.

When Ajlani is killed, shortly after Smith’s arrival, the filmmaker is shocked and ready to leave:

Having lost his chosen guide, Smith is offered an alternative by the Syrian Ministry of Information but he declines:

Ostensibly, Ajlani was independent. He might speak in support of the regime, yet he did not speak for Assad. Or did he?

After the Syrian’s death, Smith says: “I wanted to get to know this man better and to understand his Syria. The next day, I attend the funeral. I had expected a quiet family affair, not this.”

This, is a large funeral parade. “As the procession makes it way across town, crowds build. It’s clear al-Ajlani is a regime hero.” Smith concludes: “The regime has lost a defender.”

But why would Smith say he expected a quiet family affair, when Ajlani was from no ordinary family?

Ajlani was employed by two pro-regime media outlets: Sham FM Radio and Al-Watan, a Syrian daily newspaper owned by one of Assad’s cousins, Rami Makhlouf.

Moreover, according to the Syrian American Council, Ajlani’s ties to the regime ran much deeper.

They report he was a regime official who headed military propaganda for the Damascus area and that he previously ran Assad’s parliamentary press office.

So why was Smith presenting him as a “hero” and a loyal citizen who gave his life for the regime?

Did Smith know enough about Ajlani to understand that as a filmmaker he was making himself complicit in a fabrication? Or had he become so over-invested in this particular source that he preferred not to vet him more thoroughly?


Turkey’s slide into dictatorship is about to speed up

By Bahar Baser, Coventry University and Ahmet Erdi Öztürk, University of Ljubljana

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayip Erdoğan, appears to have strengthened his grip on the country after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won an outright majority in a snap election just five months after an inconclusive poll. It is a result that will shock and frighten many in the country.

Unofficial preliminary results, appeared to give the AKP 49.3%, followed by the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) on 25.7%, the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) on 12.1% and the pro-Kurdish left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) on 10.5%. The AKP is predicted to take 312 seats in the 550-seat parliament, the CHP 135 seats, the HDP 60 and the MHP 43.

This result is a big surprise, since pre-election polls forecast a result not much different from that of the June election – and it undoubtedly owes a lot to the toxic atmosphere in which the election was held.

As reported widely around the world, the campaign was anything but fair. The AKP not only controls the army, but also holds sway over the judiciary and much of the media. The party and President Erdoğan effectively dominated pre-election airtime on the country’s public broadcaster, the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), which once again displayed blatant favouritism toward the government and Erdoğan.

More worryingly still, reports are circulating of vote-rigging. The news agencies announced the results very rapidly. The election was called for the AKP within only a few hours, despite the fact that many votes were not even delivered to the counting boots. Social media was abuzz with allegations of election fraud, as angry Turks documented their claims with photographs and videos.

[Read more…]


Turkey’s elections campaign unfair, say international monitors

The Guardian reports: International observers of Turkey’s parliamentary elections have criticised the climate of “violence and fear” that preceded the vote, saying the security environment, arrests of opposition activists and stifling of press freedoms combined to make the campaign “unfair”.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has said he deserved respect from the whole world following Sunday’s result. But the international election observation mission that monitored the polls expressed serious concerns at a press conference in Ankara on Monday.

“This campaign was unfair and characterised by too much violence and fear,” said Andreas Gross, the Swiss head of the mission representing the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe (Pace).

In a stunning victory that secured 317 seats, the Justice and Development party (AKP) which Erdoğan founded and which is led by the prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, regained the outright majority it had lost in June’s inconclusive election. Saying the Turkish electorate had voted for stability, Erdoğan on Monday urged the international community to accept the election results. [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal reports: Angry young Kurds clashed with police here in the de facto capital of the country’s Kurdish southeast as it became evident on Sunday that the party backing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would regain its lock on power.

Young men set up barricades and fired bullets into the air, accusing the government of fraud. Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disburse the activists as Kurdish hopes of expanding their political clout suffered another setback.

“Now Turkey will become a one-man state,” said Elif, a university student in Diyarbakir, as she watched election results on television. “The peace process was also just to boost his own power. I don’t believe he will restart [peace talks].”

The unexpected triumph for Mr. Erdogan’s loyalists in Parliament undercut Kurdish politicians who have been trying to bring an end to a renewed conflict. [Continue reading…]


Turkey: When the state steals newspapers

Mustafa Akyol writes: What happened in Turkey on Oct. 28 is something that should enter the Guinness Book of World Records, if it ever includes a chapter on “authoritarianism.” Two newspapers and two news channels, all very critical of the government, were taken over by government-appointed “trustees.” In less polite terms, they were practically stolen by the state.

If you haven’t seen the news, here is a summary of what happened: The media in question – dailies Bugün and Millet and TV channels KanalTürk and BugünTV – are owned by Koza İpek Holding. It was no secret that the holding’s boss, Akın İpek, has been a follower of Fethullah Gülen and a financial supporter of the Gülen Movement. Since this movement turned from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s best ally to worst enemy, every institution affiliated with it has been under legal scrutiny. Koza İpek Holding faced an investigation, too. But nothing yet has been found that is illicit.

Yet still, a famous judge (who had become famous last year by banning Twitter, at the behest of the government) took a fateful decision last Monday. He referred to an article in the penal code which says that a “trustee” can be appointed to a company if necessary to reveal any evidence, while the company goes through an investigation. He also noted Koza İpek Holding is a suspect of “terrorism.”

But were there any credible basis for this “terrorism” charge? Were there any guns or bombs involved? Not really. It is just that the president began calling the Gülen Movement a “terrorist organization” after a corruption investigation that targeted his government. It is not a legal definition, in other words, it is political rhetoric. [Continue reading…]


‘A new wave of repression is imminent in Iran’

Akbar Ganji writes: [N]ow that Khamenei is no longer concerned about military attacks, he is constantly talking about “the enemy’s agents”. New repression and a crackdown on the opposition may be on their way. There is a danger that the judiciary may arrest some leading reformists, force them to “confess” that they work for the US, and broadcast the “confessions” on national television.

Fars, the news agency controlled by the IRGC, published a letter on 5 October from 11 hardline majles deputies in which they claimed that Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has been incarcerated for 445 days, “is a professional spy and US intelligence agent in Iran” and that it was “imperative that the judiciary allow broadcast of his confessions to inform the nation”.

Even the mere talk of “films” of Rezaian’s confessions is evidence for my analysis of Khamenei’s thinking. The arrest of another Iranian-American Siamak Namazi last week by Revolutionary Guards intelligence further indicates where developments are leading. In all likelihood, Namazi will be described as an “agent” of American influence.

In yet another episode, former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s tourism visit to Iran has drawn harsh reaction from conservatives. They claim this trip “is part of a project to influence [Iran]” and aims to “test Iran’s public opinion in the aftermath of the nuclear deal.”

Mashregh, a website operated by the Revolutionary Guard has stated that American-Iranians “are the invisible conduits of American influence in Iran”, implying that any dual-national coming to Iran must be treated as a potential spy.

But the most important targets to be singled out, as agents of American influence, are domestic critics of the IRI. Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, who leads Friday prayers in Mashhad and is a member of the Assembly of Experts, has stated that the looming election constitutes a likely avenue of American influence, with the Americans using as spies those have a difference of opinion with Khamenei and his followers. [Continue reading…]

EA Worldview reports: Iranian authorities re-arrested prominent journalist Isa Saharkhiz on Monday on charges of “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “propaganda against the regime”.

A post on Saharkhiz’s Facebook page announced the arrest and posted photos of a search warrant for his home.

Saharkhiz, a journalist for more than 30 years and a former Deputy Minister of Culture, was seized in July 2009 amid the protests over the disputed Presidential election. He was released in October 2013.

Saharkhiz’s son Mehdi wrote of the arrest on Twitter and said his father had started a hunger strike.

In another arrest on Tuesday, Ehsan Mazandarani, the managing director of the Farhikhtegan newspaper, was detained for “security reasons”. [Continue reading…]


They freed a Syrian town from ISIS. Now they have to govern it.

The Washington Post reports: When Islamic State fighters fled this northern Syrian town in June, they took with them the electricity generators, the water pumps, the hospital equipment and pretty much everything else that had helped sustain the semblance that they ran a functioning state.

They left behind their graffiti, their instruments of torture, the block of wood on which they beheaded their victims, the cage in which they punished smokers — and a community riven with suspicion and distrust.

Today, Tal Abyad is a tense and troubled place. Its new Kurdish masters are seeking to assert their control over a mixed town that, at least until recently, had an Arab majority — some of whom were not entirely unhappy to be governed by the Islamic State.

“As long as you didn’t bother them, they didn’t bother you,” said Sarkis Kaorkian, 60, who is one of the town’s few Christians who remained behind and is now deeply relieved the Islamic State is gone. He claims he drank and smoked his way through the group’s 17-month rule by staying out of their way and paying on time the $100 tax, or jizya, leveled twice a year on Christian residents. [Continue reading…]


70 babies have drowned since Aylan

The Daily Beast reports: More than 70 babies have drowned since the fragile body of 4-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on Turkish shores last month. The outrage over the loss of his young life faded all too soon, but the drive to keep the world focused on the continuing tragedy has not.

One person who vows not to let the world forget about what has become the biggest refugee crisis since World War II is Melissa Fleming, a 51-year-old American who is the chief communications and spokeswoman for the United Nations Refugee Agency. She says she ends and begins every day obsessing over the human stories about refugees that she can share with the world in hopes someone is listening. On Friday, she tweeted a horrific video of a dying baby being given CPR. The day before, she tweeted a body count. “Dozens missing after refugee boat sinks off Lesvos. 11 dead. Kids! All in one terrible day.”

“What kills me is that even the biggest tragedies are headline news for just one day,” she told The Daily Beast. “My family reminds me I am obsessed, but I have to be. I get a report several times a day on statistics, which, to me, are human beings with the tears dried off. The stories that kill me the most are when I hear about a mother or father losing a child to the waves. As a mother myself, to lose them this way is incomprehensible.” [Continue reading…]


After hailing democracy in Tahrir Square in 2011, Cameron now welcomes the man who killed Egypt’s revolution

Jack Shenker writes: In footage recorded by news cameras, you can see David Cameron – flanked by a large security team – threading his way through the flag sellers and nut vendors and the amiable mayhem of Tahrir Square. It is February 2011, ten days after the overthrow of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Locals drift over to see what the fuss is about, and many call out to welcome the British prime minister. At one point a boy, his face painted in revolutionary style with the colours of the Egyptian flag, runs up to Cameron and smiles. “Are you happy now?” Cameron asks, in English. The child looks blank. Cameron nods with satisfaction and holds out his hand. “Put it there,” he grins.

The imagery of Cameron traipsing around an urban landscape that still bore the scars of revolutionary struggle was designed to convey a particular message: after decades of providing steadfast support to one of the Middle East’s most entrenched autocrats, Britain was supposedly ready to embrace a new type of politics. “I’ve just been meeting with leaders of the democracy movement, really brave people who did extraordinary things in Tahrir Square,” Cameron told the BBC. “We want Egypt to have a strong and successful future, we want the aspirations of the Egyptian people – for democracy, for freedom, for openness, the things we take for granted – we want them to have those things.”

Almost half a decade later, Cameron is finally about to return Egypt’s hospitality, and once again news cameras will be on hand to capture the moment. This time round, though, the images will be very different.

Next week Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is scheduled to accept an invitation to Downing Street: red carpets will be unfurled, gifts exchanged and powerful hands shaken. His photoshoot with Cameron will be a celebration not of new politics, but of more conventional forms of power – the kinds that remain safely locked up inside the executive, the army and institutional elites. The buzzwords at the official banquet will be “stability” and “security”. Of freedom, or openness, or the Egyptian streets that Cameron was so keen to walk down – the streets in which power, not so long ago, came to reside – little mention will be made. [Continue reading…]


Iran starts taking nuclear centrifuges offline

Reuters reports: Iran has begun shutting down uranium enrichment centrifuges under the terms of a deal struck with six world powers in July on limiting its nuclear program, Tehran’s atomic energy chief said on Monday during a visit to Tokyo.

“We have already started to take our measures vis-a-vis the removal of the centrifuge machines – the extra centrifuge machines. We hope in two months time we are able to exhaust our commitment,” Ali Akbar Salehi told public broadcaster NHK.

NHK’s website also quoted Salehi as saying it was important that there be “balance” in implementing the deal, signaling Tehran’s stance that all sanctions against Iran should be lifted promptly in step with its dismantling of nuclear infrastructure. [Continue reading…]


Organized crime: Pentagon blows $43 million on useless Afghan gas station

USA Today reports: U.S. taxpayers footed the bill for a $42 million natural-gas filling station in Afghanistan, a boondoggle that should have cost $500,000 and has virtually no value to average Afghans, the government watchdog for reconstruction in Afghanistan announced Monday.

A Pentagon task force awarded a $3 million contract to build the station in Sheberghan, Afghanistan, but ended up spending $12 million in construction costs and $30 million in “overhead” between 2011 and 2014, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found. Meanwhile, similar gas station was built in neighboring Pakistan cost $500,000.

“It’s hard to imagine a more outrageous waste of money than building an alternative fuel station in a war-torn country that costs 8,000% more than it should, and is too dangerous for a watchdog to verify whether it is even operational,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said in a statement. “Perhaps equally outrageous however, is that the Pentagon has apparently shirked its responsibility to fully account for the taxpayer money that’s been wasted — an unacceptable lack of transparency that I’ll be thoroughly investigating.” [Continue reading…]


Why did it take the U.S. so long to build its first offshore wind farm?

Slate reports: Wind-generated electricity has become a big business in the United States. From virtually nothing a decade ago, it has boomed to account for about 5 percent of electricity generated each year. In certain states, at certain times, cheap, emission-free wind can account for a huge chunk of supply, as happened recently in Texas. Wind adds capacity in large chunks — a wind farm may consist of scores of turbines arrayed across vast expanses of land. So far this year, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, nearly 3 gigawatts of wind capacity has come online in the U.S., accounting for 40 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity.

But although the U.S. has become a global leader in wind, there’s a subsector in which it’s lagged behind: offshore wind.

Around the world, and especially in northern Europe, anchoring wind turbines to the bed of the sea—where the wind is consistent and strong—has become a huge business. Denmark has installed so many offshore wind turbines that it often produces far more wind power than it can actually use. Earlier this week, DONG Energy announced plans to develop the largest offshore wind farm in the world, an 87-turbine site off the coast of Wales with a capacity of 660 megawatts. That’s about the size of a decent coal-fired plant. [Continue reading…]


It’s completely ridiculous to think that humans could live on Mars

Danielle and Astro Teller write: Our 12-year-old daughter who, like us, is a big fan of The Martian by Andy Weir, said, “I can’t stand that people think we’re all going to live on Mars after we destroy our own planet. Even after we’ve made the Earth too hot and polluted for humans, it still won’t be as bad as Mars. At least there’s plenty of water here, and the atmosphere won’t make your head explode.”

What makes The Martian so wonderful is that the protagonist survives in a brutally hostile environment, against all odds, by exploiting science in clever and creative ways. To nerds like us, that’s better than Christmas morning or a hot fudge sundae. (One of us is nerdier than the other — I’m not naming any names, but his job title is “Captain of Moonshots.”) The idea of using our ingenuity to explore other planets is thrilling. Our daughter has a good point about escaping man-made disaster on Earth by colonizing Mars, though. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Mars has almost no surface water; a toxic atmosphere that is too thin for humans to survive without pressure suits; deadly solar radiation; temperatures lower than Antarctica; and few to none of the natural resources that have been critical to human success on Earth. Smart people have proposed solutions for those pesky environmental issues, some of which are seriously sci-fi, like melting the polar ice caps with nuclear bombs. But those aren’t even the real problems.

The real problems have to do with human nature and economics. First, we live on a planet that is perfect for us, and we seem to be unable to prevent ourselves from making it less and less habitable. We’re like a bunch of teenagers destroying our parents’ mansion in one long, crazy party, figuring that our backup plan is to run into the forest and build our own house. We’ll worry about how to get food and a good sound system later. Proponents of Mars colonization talk about “terraforming” Mars to make it more like Earth, but in the meantime, we’re “marsforming” Earth by making our atmosphere poisonous and annihilating our natural resources. We are also well on our way to making Earth one big desert, just like Mars. [Continue reading…]


At least 70 killed and 550 wounded in horrific market-bombing in Damascus besieged area

Médecins Sans Frontières reports: At least 70 people have been killed and 550 injured in an air strike on a marketplace in the Douma neighbourhood near Damascus, Syria.

As the nearest makeshift hospital had been bombed the previous day, medical workers struggled to cope with the influx of injured people. MSF fears the intensification of bombing that has been seen in northern and central Syria over the course of October could become even more horrific if it spreads to besieged areas around Damascus, where almost a million people are trapped with no way to escape, few medical facilities, and no options for medical evacuations of seriously wounded.

The devastation caused by the initial air strike on the market was exacerbated by further shelling on the rescue teams who were attending to the wounded. Two hundred and fifty patients required surgery, and a further 300 patients have been treated for non-surgical wounds. The multi-trauma wounds are described by medics as being worse than anything they have seen before.

“This was an extremely violent bombing,” says the director of a nearby MSF-supported hospital who assisted in the first wave of mass-casualty response. “The wounds were worse than anything we’ve seen before, and there were large numbers of dead. We had to do many amputations. And a lot of the wounded had massive blood-loss, which means we needed large amounts of IV-fluid and blood bags. We did out best to cope, but the number of critically wounded was far beyond what we could handle with our limited means.”

Because so many hospitals have been destroyed in Syria’s conflict, many facilities have moved services underground or split up services across different locations in a bid to remain operational. The entrance gate of the Douma makeshift hospital had been struck by bombing on Thursday, causing 15 dead and 100 wounded. Because the services had recently been split across several buildings, the hospital was able to respond to part of the mass casualty influx. However, the overwhelming numbers of critically wounded meant that no one single hospital could have coped, and six other makeshift hospitals also launched mass casualty response plans to help treat the wounded from the marketplace bombing. [Continue reading…]


Russian raids said to deliberately target rebel field hospitals in Syria

RFE/RL reports: Russian air strikes in Syria have deliberately targeted field hospitals in strategic opposition-controlled areas of Syria, killing and injuring staffers, disrupting their work and in some cases disabling hospitals altogether, opposition sources in Syria claim.

The head of the opposition-controlled Free Health Directorate of Aleppo, Yasser Darwish, told RFE/RL’s correspondent in Syria this week that since the Russian air campaign started on September 30, Russian warplanes had carried out over 40 raids on field hospitals in the southern Aleppo countryside, as well as in Hama and Idlib provinces.

The raids have damaged field hospitals in the southern countryside of Aleppo, including in Al-Eis, Al-Hadher, Khan Tuman, and Al-Zirba, Darwish said.

Civilian casualties were reported in Al-Zirba and Al-Hadher in Russian raids on October 15.

Other doctors, including Dr. Muhammad Tennari, the director of Sarmin hospital in Idlib Province, where at least 12 people were killed in an air raid last week, have also claimed that Russia is deliberately targeting medical facilities. [Continue reading…]


Why U.S. government officials are so often viewed with contempt

“Public diplomacy – effectively communicating with publics around the globe – to understand, value and even emulate America’s vision and ideas; historically one of America’s most effective weapons of outreach, persuasion and policy.” Jill A. Schuker (former Senior Director for Public Affairs at the National Security Council), July 2004

To be persuasive, you have to be believable. But who, inside or outside the Syrian opposition, thinks that the following pledge holds an iota of credibility?

Syria is an issue on which the Obama administration has never been fully engaged. It has instead been an issue that refused to go away — however persistently it was ignored. Some officials inside the State Department might sincerely claim they are “with” the Syrian opposition, yet the support provided by the U.S. government as a whole, has proved to be less than worthless.

Following nine hours of talks in Vienna on Friday, Josh Rogin says:

European diplomats at the conference told me they were concerned the new U.S.-led diplomatic effort was an empty gesture, to allow the Obama administration to claim it was working in earnest to solve the Syria crisis.

If U.S. diplomacy rings hollow even among America’s closest allies, then it will predictably and reasonably be ignored by every party directly involved in the war in Syria.


How the U.S. government condemns or ignores indiscriminate bombing

Micah Zenko writes: If you watch U.S. government press conferences, you will occasionally come across a moment of incidental but illuminating honesty. Yesterday, one such moment occurred during a routine press briefing with Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the command element for the war against the self-declared Islamic State. Col Warren was asked about the growing number of disturbing allegations of Russia’s indiscriminate use of airpower in Syria. Just the day before, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee that, “it appears the vast majority of [Russian] strikes, by some estimates as high as 85 percent to 90 percent, use dumb bombs.” Warren echoed Carter’s assessment, claiming that, “Russians have chosen to use a majority of really, just dumb bombs, just gravity bombs, push them out the back of an airplane, and let them fall where they will.”

Col. Warren went further to castigate Russia for its use of one particular type of ordinance: “You know, there’s been reporting that the Russians are using cluster munitions in Syria, which we also find to be irresponsible. These munitions have a high dud rate, they can cause damage and they can hurt civilians, and they’re just, you know, not good.”

That cluster munitions are “not good,” except as a reliable method for killing noncombatants outside of an intended target field, is a well-known and established fact. According to one UN estimate, the failure rates for cluster munitions vary from between 2 and 5 percent (according to manufacturers) to between 10 and 30 percent (according to mine clearance personnel). They were subsequently banned by the UN Convention on Cluster Munitions, which entered into force in August 2010 and has been endorsed by ninety-eight states parties. Notable states that have refused to sign and ratify the convention include those that consistently uses airpower to achieve their military objectives, such as Russia, the United States, and Saudi Arabia. [Continue reading…]


A mass refugee crisis, and it may yet get worse

The New York Times reports: They arrived in an unceasing stream, 10,000 a day at the height, as many as a million migrants heading for Europe this year, pushing infants in strollers and elderly parents in wheelchairs, carrying children on their shoulders and life savings in their socks. They came in search of a new life, but in many ways they were the heralds of a new age.

There are more displaced people and refugees now than at any other time in recorded history — 60 million in all — and they are on the march in numbers not seen since World War II. They are coming not just from Syria, but from an array of countries and regions, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, even Haiti, as well as any of a dozen or so nations in sub-Saharan and North Africa. They are unofficial ambassadors of failed states, unending wars, intractable conflicts.

The most striking thing about the current migration crisis, however, is how much bigger it could still get.

What if Islamic State militants are not beaten back but continue to extend their brutal writ across Iraq and Syria? What if the Taliban continue to increase their territorial gains in Afghanistan, prompting even more people to flee? A quarter of Afghans told a Gallup Poll that they want to leave, and more than 100,000 are expected to try to flee to Europe this year. [Continue reading…]


Turkey set to return to single-party rule in boost for Erdogan

Reuters reports: Turkey looked set to return to single-party rule after the Islamist-rooted AK Party swept to victory in a general election on Sunday, a major boost for embattled President Tayyip Erdogan but an outcome likely to sharpen deep social divisions.

Prime Minister and AKP leader Ahmet Davutoglu tweeted simply: “Elhamdulillah” (Thanks be to god)

Security forces fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters in the mainly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir as results filtered in, with support for the pro-Kurdish opposition falling perilously near the 10 percent threshold to enter parliament.

In June, the AKP lost the overall majority it had enjoyed since 2002. Erdogan had presented Sunday’s polls as a chance to restore stability at a time of tension over Kurdish insurrection and after two bombings, attributed to Islamic State, while critics fear a drift to authoritarianism under the president. [Continue reading…]