Saudi Arabia, UAE gave US arms to al-Qaeda-linked groups

CNN says Saudi Arabia and UAE transferred US-made weapons to militias designated by the US as terrorist groups.

Saudi Arabia, UAE gave US arms to al-Qaeda-linked groups: Report

US-made Oshkosh armoured vehicles were given to the Abu al-Abbas Brigade in Taiz, CNN reported [Al Jazeera]

Saudi Arabia and its coalition partner in Yemen, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) transferred US-made weapons to al-Qaeda-linked groups and a Salafi militia whose commander who once “served with” the Yemeni branch of ISIL, a CNN investigation has found.

Corroborating an earlier report by Al Jazeera, the CNN investigation said that the weapons had also made their way into the hands of Houthi rebels who are battling against the coalition for control of the country.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE entered Yemen’s war in 2015 leading a military coalition to try and restore the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The two Gulf countries wanted to restore the Hadi government after a civil war broke out between Hadi’s supporters and those loyal to the Houthis.

Cars, guns and TV interviews: The militiaman on the UAE payroll

But according to CNN, the coalition was using US-manufactured weapons “as a form of currency to buy the loyalties of militias or tribes, bolster chosen armed actors, and influence the complex political landscape,” local commanders and analysts said.

According to the Pentagon, the Gulf monarchies were breaking the terms of their arms deal with Washington.

A US defence official told CNN that there was an ongoing investigation into the issue.

‘The coalition is still supporting me’

Citing the situation in the flashpoint city of Taiz, CNN said that al-Qaeda had forged “advantageous alliances with the pro-Saudi militias they fought alongside”.

It said the Abu al-Abbas Brigade possessed US-made Oshkosh armoured vehicles that were paraded through the city in a 2015 show of force.

Abu al-Abbas, the militia’s founder, was sanctioned by the US in 2017 for allegedly financing al-Qaeda and the Yemeni chapter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.

After al-Qaeda: No signs of recovery in Yemen’s Mukalla

“The coalition is still supporting me,” al-Abbas said in an interview in December with the Washington Post. “If I really was a terrorist, they would have taken me in for questioning.”

According to CNN, his group still enjoyed support from the Saudi-led coalition and was absorbed into the coalition-supported 35th Brigade of the Yemeni army.

“The United States has not authorized the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates to re-transfer any equipment to parties inside Yemen,” Pentagon spokesperson Johnny Michael told CNN.

“The US government cannot comment on any pending investigations of claims of end-use violations of defence articles and services transferred to our allies and partners,” Michael added.

US weapons in Houthi hands

According to the report, US-made weapons also ended up in the hands of Houthi rebels.

In September 2017, a Houthi-run TV channel broadcast images of Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a senior Houthi leader, sitting behind the wheel of a captured US-made Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (MRAP) in the capital Sanaa, as a crowd chanted “death to America” in the background.

CNN also obtained an image showing the serial numbers of a second MRAP in the hands of another senior Houthi official last year in Hodeidah.

The vehicle was part of a $2.5bn sale to the UAE in 2014.

The sale document, seen by CNN, certifies that “a determination has been made that the recipient country can provide the same degree of protection for the sensitive technology” as the US.

Hiram Al Assad, a member of the Houthi political council, confirmed to CNN that the MRAPs were still in Houthi hands but denied reports that the vehicles had been probed by Iranian intelligence.

The US is by far the biggest supplier of arms to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and its support is crucial to the Saudi-led coalition’s continuing war in Yemen.

In his first overseas trip as president, US President Donald Trump sealed an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth about $110bn over several years. The agreement was said to be aimed at bolstering security “in the face of Iranian threats”.

According to CNN, the revelations raise fresh questions over whether Saudi Arabia is responsible enough to be allowed to continue buying sophisticated US arms and other military hardware.

Out of the 18,000-plus raids the Saudi-UAE coalition has launched since the start of the conflict, nearly a third of all bombs have hit civilian targets, according to the Yemen Data Project, a monitor of the war in Yemen.

The developments also come as Congress, outraged with Riyadh over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, considers whether to force an end to the Trump administration’s support for the Saudi-UAE coalition.

Controversial tool emerges in opioid fight: fentanyl test strips

Test strip helps prevent fentanyl overdoses
Test strip helps prevent fentanyl overdosesTest strip helps prevent fentanyl overdoses 01:50

(CNN)A controversial tool has emerged in the fight against opioid overdose deaths. It’s a strip that allows people who use street drugs such as cocaine and heroin to test whether their drugs are laced with fentanyl.

If the drugs test positive, they might choose not to use them or choose to use less of them.
According to a new report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is now the deadliest drug in America and was linked to nearly 29% of all overdose deaths in 2016. The synthetic opioid is about 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine and produces a powerful high. It’s cheap and sometimes mixed into street drugs without the buyer even knowing. Given its potency, it can be deadly.
Fentanyl is the deadliest drug in America, CDC confirms

Fentanyl test strip technology was originally developed by a Canadian biotech company BTNX to test urine samples for the presence of the drug, but the strips work basically the same way when they’re dipped in the residue of cooked heroin or when a little water is added to empty baggies of cocaine.
It works like a pregnancy test in reverse. One line on the strip suggests that the drugs are positive for fentanyl. Two lines is interpreted as a negative result.
In a study, researchers at Johns Hopkins and Brown University determined that the test strips worked to detect even low concentrations of fentanyl in street drugs.
“Our findings bring to the table evidence that can inform a public health approach to the fentanyl crisis. Smart strategies that reduce harm can save lives,” Susan Sherman, a co-author on the study, said in a news release.
According to the study, several programs in the United States that distribute clean syringes to people who use drugs have started to distribute fentanyl test strips, as well.
This is fentanyl: A visual guide
In Los Angeles County, emergency departments, first responders and other heath care workers have been advised to discuss the potential risks and benefits of the strips with patients who use street drugs.
The test strips aren’t 100% effective at eliminating the risk of overdose, since they don’t identify all forms of fentanyl and can produce false negatives. They also don’t let users know how much fentanyl the drugs contain.
Still, the researchers see an opportunity to halt the increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths.
“We are at a pivotal moment in the overdose epidemic, and we need to embrace the full range of interventions that can save lives,” Sherman said.
In a video, the Urban Survivor’s Union, an organization that advocates on behalf of drug users, offers instructions on how to use the strips and what to do if the results are positive.
“Let’s say you had some drugs you were going to inject. … If it tests positive, you have options,” the video explains. “One, you can shoot half back into another sterile syringe, which may not only be life-saving but also cost-effective. Or two, you may even choose not to do it.”
The concept of drug checking has jarred some.
The Trump administration’s assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for mental Health and substance use, Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, has expressed ardent opposition to the use of the fentanyl test strips.
In a blog post, Katz laid out several reasons. Among them is a concern that even if people who use drugs know that their drugs are laced with fentanyl, they will still use the drugs, despite the apparent danger. They might also use the strips to seek out drugs that contain fentanyl to achieve a stronger high.
“We can’t afford to create a false sense of security. … Let’s not rationalize putting tools in place to help them continue their lifestyle more ‘safely,’ ” McCance-Katz said.

CNN fires Commentator Marc Lamont Hill after criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

CNN: Facts first, just not on Israel

CNN firing commentator Marc Lamont Hill exposes yet another layer of mainstream media’s bias and lack of objectivity.Last week, the US mainstream media demonstrated once again that it has a Palestine problem. CNN suspended the contract of commentator and Temple University Professor Marc Lamont Hill, after he gave a speech at the United Nations in which he criticised the Israeli occupation and the abuse of Palestinian rights.

Hill based his speech very much on facts. He cited Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinians; the use of arbitrary violence by the Israeli security apparatus; the use of torture against Palestinian detainees; the denial of due process to Palestinians by Israeli courts; the restriction on movement in the occupied territories, etc – all violations that have been well-documented and condemned by the UN and a myriad of human rights organisations.

Yet CNN, which last year adopted a new slogan – “Facts first” – did not seem to agree with these facts. After pro-Israel organisations like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) condemned the speech, the TV station was quick to sever its ties with Hill.

While CNN did not announce why it chose to do so, it is clear to many of us it caved in to pressure from pro-Israel groups. Hill was accused of being anti-Semitic for using the phrase “free Palestine from the river to the sea”, which supposedly is a “Hamas slogan” and a call for the destruction of Israel. Well, it is neither.

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Throwing accusations of anti-Semitism at people criticising Israel and supporting the Palestinian right to self-determination is a convenient tool of the Zionist lobby. But calling for the freedom of Palestinians and for the recognition of their rights is not anti-Semitic; it is pro-Palestinian.

Conflating anti-Semitism with pro-Palestinian positions and criticism of Israel is not only ill-intentioned but also dangerous, as it does a disservice to Jews who have faced hate speech and hate attacks.

In Palestine, the Israeli authorities have brought this tactic to the extreme and have already passed a number of laws curbing freedom of speech. This means that those of us who dare criticise Israeli policy or call for resistance to Israeli occupation, even if in the form of a poem, face the risk of imprisonment.

In the United States, those who do so clearly face the risk of being fired, as in the case of Professor Hill and as in the case of many others before him- and probably many others after. The way CNN (mis)handled this situation offers us an opportunity to discuss how media organisations succumbing to Israel’s campaign of silencing critics is particularly problematic.

 

 

 

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CNN sues Trump for suspending Jim Acosta’s press pass

The Trump administration vows to fight CNN lawsuit which claims the journalist’s constitutional rights were violated.

The dispute and Acosta's banishment triggered a wave of accusations that Trump is stifling the free press [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]
The dispute and Acosta’s banishment triggered a wave of accusations that Trump is stifling the free press

A federal judge will hold a hearing on Wednesday on a CNN lawsuit against President Donald Trump‘s administration after the White House revokedthe press credentials of the network’s journalist last week.

The American network said its correspondent Jim Acosta’s removal was a violation of his First Amendment rights to freely report on the government.

The White House dismissed CNN’s complaint as “grandstanding” and vowed to “vigorously defend” against the lawsuit.

If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials

A CNN STATEMENT

The dispute on live national television and Acosta’s resulting banishment triggered a wave of accusations that Trump is stifling the free press, and marked a sharp escalation in tensions between the president and CNN.

“The wrongful revocation of these credentials violates CNN and Acosta’s First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process,” the news network said in a statement, announcing the lawsuit filed on Tuesday in Washington.

“If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials,” CNN said.

US District Judge Timothy Kelly ordered the Trump administration to respond by 11:00am (16:00 GMT) on Wednesday and set a hearing for 3:30pm.

Kelly, a former chief counsel for the US Senate Judiciary Committee, was appointed by Trump last year.

The First Amendment

The White House had suspended Acosta’s hard pass after he sparred at a news conference with the president, who demanded that the reporter give up the microphone and called him a “rude, terrible person” when he did not immediately comply.

They began sparring after Acosta asked Trump about the caravan of migrants heading from Latin America to the southern US border. When Acosta tried to follow up with another question, Trump said, “That’s enough!” and a female White House aide unsuccessfully tried to grab the microphone from Acosta.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement accusing Acosta of “placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern”, calling it “absolutely unacceptable”.

Hours later, Sanders announced Acosta’s hard pass had been suspended, in a move that she justified by claiming the reporter was inappropriately “placing his hands” on the intern.

The interaction between Acosta and the intern was brief, and Acosta appeared to brush her arm as she reached for the microphone and he tried to hold onto it. “Pardon me, ma’am,” he told her.

She alleged that Acosta “physically refused to surrender a White House microphone to an intern,” softening the earlier misconduct accusation and then casting blame on the journalist for his persistent questioning.

“The First Amendment is not served when a single reporter, of more than 150 present, attempts to monopolise the floor,” the press secretary said in a statement.

“If there is no check on this type of behaviour, it impedes the ability of the President, the White House staff and members of the media to conduct business.”

CNN lawyer Ted Boutrous said the White Houses’ suspension of the press pass made “clear it was based on the content of the reporting.”

“CNN’s argument is very straightforward,” the lawyer told the American network. “We can’t have the White House tossing people out because they don’t like what they are saying or what they are reporting.”

“That is what happened. That is the First Amendment.”