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    Covid-19 Drugmakers Pressured Twitter to Censor Activists Pushing for Generic Vaccine / TheIntercept · Monday, 16 January - 15:30 · 8 minutes

In mid-December 2020, Nina Morschhaeuser, a lobbyist for Twitter in Europe, emailed colleagues with a dire warning. The drugmaker BioNTech, along with the German government, had contacted her with news of an imminent “campaign targeting the pharmaceutical companies developing the COVID-19 vaccine,” she wrote.

“The authorities are warning about ‘serious consequences’ of the action, i.e. posts and a flood of comments ‘that may violate TOS’ as well as the ‘takeover of user accounts’ are to be expected,” wrote Morschhaeuser. “Especially the personal accounts of the management of the vaccine manufacturers are said to be targeted. Accordingly, fake accounts could also be set up.”

The campaign they were concerned about was the launch of an international push to force the drug industry to share the intellectual property and patents associated with coronavirus vaccine development. Making the patents available, in turn, would allow countries across the world to swiftly manufacture generic vaccines and other low-cost therapeutics to deal with the ongoing pandemic.

Morschhaeuser, while alerting several site integrity and safety teams at Twitter, forwarded on an email from BioNTech spokesperson Jasmina Alatovic, who asked Twitter to “hide” activist tweets targeting her company’s account over a period of two days.

Morschhaeuser flagged the corporate accounts of Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca for her colleagues to monitor and shield from activists. Morschhaeuser also asked colleagues to monitor the hashtags #PeoplesVaccine and #JoinCTAP, a reference to the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool, a program promoted by developing countries to accelerate the development of vaccines through the equitable sharing of research and manufacturing capacity. She noted that the group Global Justice Now was spearheading the action with an online sign-up form .

It is not clear to what extent Twitter took any action on BioNTech’s request. In response to Morschhaeuser’s inquiry, several Twitter officials chimed in, debating what action could or could not be taken. Su Fern Teo, a member of the company’s safety team, noted that a quick scan of the activist campaign showed nothing that violated the company’s terms of service, and asked for more examples to “get a better sense of the content that may violate our policies.”

But it shows the extent to which pharmaceutical giants engaged in a global lobbying blitz to ensure corporate dominance over the medical products that became central to combatting the pandemic. Ultimately, the campaign to share Covid vaccine recipes around the world failed.

The Intercept accessed Twitter’s emails after the company’s billionaire owner, Elon Musk, granted access to several reporters in December. This is the second story I have reported through access to these files. The first centered on the Pentagon’s network of fake Twitter accounts used to spread U.S. narratives in the Middle East.

In reporting this story, as with the last, Twitter did not provide unfettered access to company information; rather, they allowed me to make requests without restriction that were then fulfilled on my behalf by an attorney, meaning that the search results may not have been exhaustive. I did not agree to any conditions governing the use of the documents, and I made efforts to authenticate and contextualize the documents through further reporting. The redactions in the embedded documents in this story were done by The Intercept to protect privacy, not Twitter.

Twitter and the German Federal Office for Information Security, the cybersecurity agency that Morschhaeuser said contacted Twitter on behalf of BioNTech, did not respond to a request for comment. BioNTech’s Alatovic, in response to a request for comment, stressed that the firm “takes its societal responsibility seriously and is investing in solutions to improve the health of people regardless of their income.”

In November, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism published a lengthy report showing that pharmaceutical companies went to great lengths to stifle efforts to share pandemic-related patents and IP, including threats to the leadership of Belgium, Colombia, and Indonesia. The Intercept has also detailed the domestic lobbying push to block support for a special World Trade Organization waiver necessary for the rapid creation of generic pandemic medicine. German media has similarly reported on the aggressive effort by BioNTech to build support from the German government in opposing the waiver at the WTO.

In May 2021, the Biden administration reversed its earlier position and that of the Trump administration and voiced support for the WTO waiver, making the U.S. one of the largest wealthy countries to support the idea, backed by a coalition led by India and South Africa. But infighting at the international trade body, along with staunch opposition from other wealthy countries, prevented any effective progress on the issue.

The largely successful assault against the creation of generic vaccines resulted in an unprecedented explosion in profit for a few select biopharmaceutical drug interests. Pfizer and BioNTech generated a staggering $37 billion in revenue from its shared mRNA vaccine in 2021 alone, making it one of the most lucrative drug products of all time.

Moderna, which made $17.7 billion from vaccine sales in 2021, recently announced its plan to hike the price of its Covid shot by about 400 percent.

The high cost of vaccines and concentrated ownership meant supplies in 2021 were hoarded in the European Union, United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Japan, and other wealthy countries, while much of the developing world was forced to wait for excess vaccines the following year.

“To try and stifle digital dissent during a pandemic, when tweets and emails are some of the only forms of protest available to those locked in their homes, is deeply sinister.”

“For more than two years, a global movement has been speaking out against pharmaceutical greed and demanding that everyone, everywhere has the tools to combat pandemics,” said Maaza Seyoum, a campaigner for the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

“Whatever nasty tricks companies and governments pull,” she added, “we cannot and will not be silenced.”

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, noted that at the time of BioNTech’s censorship request, much of the world was under various lockdown orders, making digital forms of protest all the more vital for influencing public policy.

“To try and stifle digital dissent during a pandemic, when tweets and emails are some of the only forms of protest available to those locked in their homes, is deeply sinister,” he said.

The headquarter of biopharmaceutical company BioNTech, September 18, 2020 in Mainz, Germany.

The headquarter of biopharmaceutical company BioNTech, September 18, 2020 in Mainz, Germany.

Photo: Yann Schreiber/Getty Images

The BioNTech request was not the only channel through which vaccine-makers sought to shape content moderation actions at Twitter.

Stronger, a campaign run by Public Good Projects, a public health nonprofit specializing in large-scale media monitoring programs, regularly communicated with Twitter on regulating content related to the pandemic. The firm worked closely with the San Francisco social media giant to help develop bots to censor vaccine misinformation and, at times, sent direct requests to Twitter with lists of accounts to censor and verify.

Internal Twitter emails show regular correspondence between an account manager at Public Good Projects, and various Twitter officials, including Todd O’Boyle, lobbyist with the company who served as a point of contact with the Biden administration. The content moderation requests were sent throughout 2021 and early 2022.

The entire campaign, newly available tax documents and other disclosures show, was entirely funded by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a vaccine industry lobbying group. BIO, which is financed by companies such as Moderna and Pfizer, provided Stronger with $1,275,000 in funding for the effort, which included tools for the public to flag content on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for moderation.

Many of the tweets flagged by Stronger contained absolute falsehoods, including claims that vaccines contained microchips and were designed to intentionally kill people. But others hinged on a gray area of vaccine policy through which there is reasonable debate, such as requests to label or take down content critical of vaccine passports and government mandates to require vaccination.

One tweet flagged by the BIO-backed moderation effort read, “if a vaccinated person and an unvaccinated person have roughly the same capacity to carry, shed and transmit the virus, particularly in its Delta form, what difference does implementing a vaccination passport actually make to the spread of the virus?”

Public health experts and civil libertarians strongly debated the constitutionality of such passports , an idea that was eventually discarded by U.S. policymakers.

Joe Smyser, the chief executive of Public Good Projects in charge of the Stronger campaign, said his organization’s work was a good-faith effort to battle disinformation. “BIO contributed money and said, ‘You guys are planning on running a pro-vaccine, anti-vaccine misinformation effort and we will give you $500,000 [per year] no questions asked,’” said Smyser.

Many pharmaceutical lobby groups made exaggerated claims about the danger of sharing vaccine technology. PhRMA, another drug industry lobby group, falsely claimed on Twitter that any effort to allow the creation of a generic Covid vaccine would result in placing all 4.4 million jobs supported by the entire American drug industry at risk.

I asked Smyser whether his group ever flagged any content distributed by the pharmaceutical lobby as “misinformation.”

Smyser agreed that policy debate was important, and if misinformation was spread by pharmaceutical companies, any global citizen “should be aware of it,” but that his organization never flagged or focused on any drug industry content.

“I understand why someone would be skeptical, because as a researcher, it matters where your money comes from,” Smyser said. But, he argued, “my job is, how do people figure out where to go get vaccinated? And how do I encourage them to get the vaccine? That was it.”

In a December 2020 email thread further discussing how to monitor BioNTech and respond to the vaccine equity campaign engaging in “spammy behavior” potentially in violation of the social media company’s policies, Holger Kersting, a Twitter spokesperson in Germany, offered several links to tweets in potential violation of the policy.

Two of the tweets were from an account owned by Terry Brough, a retired bricklayer in a small town outside of Liverpool. The messages called on the chief executives of Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca to share vaccine technology with “poor countries.”

Reached for comment, Brough reacted with surprise that his messages were being monitored for possible fake content.

“I’m actually 74 and still living,” said Brough with a chuckle. “I was a bricklayer all my life just like my dad. I’m no Che Guevara, but I’ve been an activist, a trade unionist, and a socialist. And all I did was sign a tweet. I wish I could’ve done more, really.”

The post Covid-19 Drugmakers Pressured Twitter to Censor Activists Pushing for Generic Vaccine appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Kevin McCarthy Wants to Hold China Accountable. His Top Aide Lobbied for Alibaba. / TheIntercept · Friday, 13 January - 19:31 · 2 minutes

Immediately after being elected House speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy vowed to hold Beijing accountable. “We will create a bipartisan select committee on China to investigate how to bring back the hundreds of thousands of jobs that went to China, and then we will win this economic competition,” the California Republican said early Saturday morning after a dramatic 15-vote series that elected him to lead the GOP majority in the lower chamber.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives made good on McCarthy’s promise, voting 365 to 65 to establish the House Select Committee on China, which will be chaired by foreign policy hawk Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis. “Here’s the good news: There is bipartisan consensus that the era of trusting Communist China is over,” gloated McCarthy from the House floor.

McCarthy and Gallagher wrote an op-ed for Fox News last month declaring “a new cold war” between China in the United States. “Our goal will be to promote overwhelming economic superiority,” wrote the GOP duo, “by developing policies to prohibit state and local pension funds—the same entities evangelizing for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investments—from investing in China.”

That could spell trouble for McCarthy’s chief of staff Daniel P. Meyer, who owns somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of shares in Alibaba Group Holdings Limited — one of the largest companies in China, with close ties to the Chinese government. Before joining McCarthy’s office, Meyer was president of the Duberstein Group, a firm that earned millions lobbying on behalf of Alibaba in the U.S.

Meyer’s Alibaba investment is the largest by far of the 132 entries listed under assets and “unearned income,” according to his 2021 financial disclosure statement — the most recent available — obtained by The Intercept from the House Office of the Clerk.

In 2021, Alibaba spent over $3 million to hire 34 lobbyists to push the company’s agenda on trade, telecommunications, copyright, and other areas, according to Open Secrets . Duberstein Group collected the largest fees by far from Alibaba.

Meyer worked as a lobbyist for Alibaba during his time as a top executive at Duberstein in the decade before joining McCarthy’s team. Between 2011 and 2021, Duberstein Group collected $3.7 million in lobbying fees from Alibaba, with Meyer listed as the registered lobbyist for the Chinese multinational company from 2012 to 2019.

A 2018 report by Lee Fang and Nick Surgey for The Intercept found that Alibaba had joined the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a controversial group that ghostwrites legislation for corporations and other special interest groups.

“We are probably the world’s largest e-commerce company you have never heard about. We have business-to-business marketplace solutions. We have VC marketplace solutions. And we have over 500 million active buyers on our marketplaces,” said Alibaba lobbyist Bill Anaya at an ALEC summit in Nashville in 2017.

Meyer is a former senior aide to ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich and also served as a legislative aide to President George W. Bush. “Dan Meyer played a key role in developing the Contract with America [a set of 10 bills undermining the social safety net and cutting government spending in 1994] and in helping lead the House Republicans out of 40 years in the minority wilderness. He went on to be a superb legislative liaison for President George W. Bush,” Gingrich told Politico when Meyer joined McCarthy’s staff in 2019.

Neither Meyer nor McCarthy’s office replied to email requests from The Intercept for comment on his significant Alibaba investment.

The post Kevin McCarthy Wants to Hold China Accountable. His Top Aide Lobbied for Alibaba. appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Listen to Barack Obama’s Chilling Description of U.S. Involvement in the Gigantic 1965 Indonesia Massacre / TheIntercept · Friday, 13 January - 16:09 · 8 minutes

Joko Widodo, the president of Indonesia, expressed regret on Wednesday about 12 instances of “gross human rights violations” over the past decades of the nation’s history — including an extraordinary U.S.-backed bloodbath carried out by the Indonesian military following a coup in 1965.

The carnage targeted the Indonesian Communist Party — known as Partai Komunis Indonesia, or PKI — as well as their family members, purported sympathizers, or people who stood next to a member of the PKI at a bus stop once. (It was not an exact science.) At least 500,000 Indonesians were killed, often up close with machetes or knives. Soon afterward the Central Intelligence Agency, which played a key role in supporting the massacre, called it “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century.”

Remarkably, Barack Obama used similar language in a passage in his 1995 autobiography “Dreams From My Father,” referring to the killings as “one of the more brutal and swift campaigns of suppression in modern times.” Yet this section of the book has received almost no notice. A Google search finds references to that sentence from Boston public radio station WBUR; the student newspaper at Northwestern; the New York Review of Books; my dormant blog ; and little else.

As Obama describes it, he moved with his mother from the U.S. to Indonesia in 1967 after she divorced his father and married Lolo, an Indonesian engineer. Obama recorded the audiobook version of “Dreams From My Father” himself, so we can hear the president-to-be describing the terrifying facts his mother learned about both their adopted country and the country they’d come from:

Or if you prefer to read rather than listen, here are Obama’s words:

She found herself a job right away teaching English to Indonesian businessmen at the American embassy. … The Americans were mostly older men, careerists in the State Department, the occasional economists or journalists who would mysteriously disappear for months at a time, their affiliation or function in the embassy never quite clear. …

These men knew the country, though, or parts of it anyway, the closets where the skeletons were buried. Over lunch or casual conversation they would share with her things she couldn’t learn in the published news reports. They explained how Sukarno had frayed badly the nerves of a U.S. government already obsessed with the march of communism through Indochina, what with his nationalist rhetoric and his politics of nonalignment — he was as bad as Lumumba or Nasser! — only worse, given Indonesia’s strategic importance. Word was that the CIA had played a part in the coup, although nobody knew for sure. More certain was the fact that after the coup the military had swept the countryside for supposed Communist sympathizers. The death toll was anybody’s guess: a few hundred thousand, maybe; half a million. Even the smart guys at the Agency had lost count.

Innuendo, half-whispered asides; that’s how she found out that we had arrived in Djakarta less than a year after one of the more brutal and swift campaigns of suppression in modern times. The idea frightened her, the notion that history could be swallowed up so completely, the same way the rich and loamy earth could soak up the rivers of blood that had once coursed through the streets; the way people could continue about their business beneath giant posters of the new president as if nothing had happened. …

Power. The word fixed in my mother’s mind like a curse. In America, it had generally remained hidden from view until you dug beneath the surface of things; until you visited an Indian reservation or spoke to a black person whose trust you had earned. But here power was undisguised, indiscriminate, naked, always fresh in the memory. Power had taken Lolo and yanked him back into line just when he thought he’d escaped, making him feel its weight, letting him know that his life wasn’t his own. That’s how things were; you couldn’t change it, you could just live by the rules, so simple once you learned them. And so Lolo had made his peace with power, learning the wisdom of forgetting.

The 1965 coup and its hideous aftermath is covered in detail in the recent book “ The Jakarta Method ” by former Washington Post reporter Vincent Bevins.

Indonesia was governed from World War II until 1965 by President Sukarno (some Indonesians have a single name) who had previously led the resistance to Dutch colonization. This made the U.S. increasingly unhappy. Indonesia was enormous, with the world’s sixth-largest population, and the PKI was the third-biggest Communist Party on Earth, after China’s and the Soviet Union’s. It mattered little to the American government that Sukarno was not himself a Communist, or that the PKI had no plans or capacity for violence. It was bad enough that Sukarno did not leap to put the Indonesian economy at the service of U.S. multinationals, and that he helped create the Non-Aligned Movement of countries that wished to stay out of both the Soviet and American blocs.

The U.S. goal, then, was to extract Sukarno from power in favor of someone reliable (from the American perspective), while creating a pretext for the Indonesian military to destroy the PKI. But how to make this happen?

Howard P. Jones, the American ambassador to Indonesia until April 1965, told a meeting of State Department officials just before leaving his post, “From our viewpoint, of course, an unsuccessful coup attempt by the PKI might be the most effective development to start a reversal of political trends in Indonesia.” This, he believed, would give the army a “clear-cut kind of challenge that would galvanize effective reaction.” A British Foreign Office official made the case that “there might therefore be much to be said for encouraging a premature PKI coup during Sukarno’s lifetime.”

Coincidentally enough, this is exactly what appeared to happen. On September 30, 1965, a group of young military officers kidnapped six Indonesian generals, claiming that they planned to overthrow Sukarno. All six generals somehow soon ended up dead.

Suharto, an Army general who was, fortuitously, not targeted, announced with his allies that the dead generals had been castrated and tortured by female members of the PKI in a “depraved, demonic ritual,” according to Bevins. Years later it was discovered that none of this was true; all but one of the six generals had simply been shot.

To this day, it’s impossible to say what truly happened. Bevins lists three theories. First, the leader of the PKI may have helped plan the events of September 30 with contacts in the military. It may have been the young members of the military acting alone with no PKI involvement. Or Suharto may have collaborated with the September 30 officers, pretending that he would support them and then betraying them as part of a plan to seize power for himself.

In any case, Suharto certainly seemed to have a plan ready to execute. Soon afterward, Sukarno was out and Suharto was in charge. Then the killing began, in what the Indonesian army internally called Operasi Penumpasan, or Operation Annihilation.

The U.S. was not only aware of what was happening, but was also an eager participant, providing lists of PKI members to the Indonesian military.

The butchery lasted for months, into early 1966, with the New York Times referring to it as a “staggering mass slaughter of Communists and pro-Communists.” The U.S. was not only aware of what was happening, but was also an eager participant, providing lists of PKI members to the Indonesian military. One American official later said , “They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that’s not all bad. There’s a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment.” According to Time magazine, there were so many corpses that it created “a serious sanitation problem in East Java and Northern Sumatra where the humid air bears the reek of decaying flesh. Travelers from those areas tell of small rivers and streams that have been literally clogged with bodies.”

New York Times columnist James Reston soon wrote about these events under the headline “A Gleam of Light in Asia.” Americans needed to understand these “hopeful political developments,” including the fact that the “Indonesian massacre” could not have occurred “without the clandestine aid [Indonesia] has received indirectly from here.” Recently declassified records illustrate just how right Reston was .

Suharto ruled Indonesia brutally for the next three decades, remaining a key U.S. ally until he fell from power in 1998. Only now, over 57 years since the coup, is the Indonesian government barely beginning to face its own past.

“Acknowledging some of the crimes of the Suharto regime is a start,” says Bradley Simpson, a historian and expert on this period. “But President Widodo must do more to initiate a long overdue process of accountability and restitution for victims and survivors of the 1965–1966 killings. So do governments like the United States and Great Britain, which were willing accomplices in the Indonesian army’s campaign of mass murder.”

There is no sign of that happening in U.S., however. Obama, with his direct personal knowledge of Indonesia and this history, might seem to be a natural leader for this process. But you shouldn’t get your hopes up. He also explains in “Dreams From My Father” that he learned in Indonesia that “the world was violent … unpredictable and often cruel.” His stepfather, he records, taught him that “Men take advantage of weakness in other men. They’re just like countries in that way. … Better to be strong. If you can’t be strong, be clever and make peace with someone who’s strong. But always better to be strong yourself. Always.”

The post Listen to Barack Obama’s Chilling Description of U.S. Involvement in the Gigantic 1965 Indonesia Massacre appeared first on The Intercept .

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    New Stock Listings Open the Door to American Investment in the Israeli Occupation / TheIntercept · Wednesday, 11 January - 11:00 · 5 minutes

In early December, the New York Stock Exchange signed a memorandum of understanding to begin dual listing securities with its Israeli counterpart, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, potentially accelerating U.S. investment in companies tied to illegal West Bank settlements.

The move could allow American investors increased access to companies like the construction firm Ashtrom, which is currently listed on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and on a 2020 United Nations human rights office database of over 100 companies tied to the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. To be included in that list, a company had to be engaged in supplying equipment used to destroy Palestinian assets including farmland and property; supplying transportation, utilities, or other support for existing settlements; or aiding in financial backing for settlement expansion or maintenance. Ashtrom, in addition to operating quarries in the West Bank, has helped construct housing in illegal West Bank settlements and prisons and military installments in the occupied territories.

Dozens of companies in sectors including telecom, construction, and renewable energy are listed in both the U.N. database and the Tel Aviv exchange. That includes some of Israel’s largest banks and the massive energy and infrastructure conglomerate Delek, one of Israel’s largest companies.

Beyond dual listing, the memorandum signed between the two exchanges also lists the potential development of exchange-traded fund, indexes, and environmental, social, and corporate governance, or ESG products. The potential creation of ESG products is especially notable given that ESG funds, while offering groupings of socially responsible products, have also been used to greenwash companies with a track record of various abuses . At the same time, impact investing groups, like JLens , have gone on the offensive to attack ESG funds incorporating Israeli human rights abuses into their modeling.

While the vast majority of companies in the 2020 database are Israeli, a handful of U.S. companies made it onto the list, including Airbnb, Tripadvisor, Expedia, and General Mills. These companies are already listed on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. The memorandum will likely open U.S. investors’ access to Israeli companies also doing business in illegal settlements and bolster Tel Aviv listings through the institutional support and size of the New York exchange.

NYSE President Lynn Martin said in a press release that “our exploration of dual listings will provide investors with potential exposure to listed companies and economic activity in both markets. The importance of our global capital markets has never been greater, and we look forward to demonstrating what two great exchanges can accomplish when they work together.”

Dual listing is not a departure from standard financial sector norms. Tel Aviv has entered into similar agreements with exchanges like Toronto prior to the New York memorandum.

“The narrow framing of this is that it’s the perfect headline for those of us who would worry about a blending of the Israeli far-right and American-style finance capitalism,” Robert Hockett, a professor of financial and international economic law at Cornell, told The Intercept. “The New York exchange is the largest of them all,” Hockett said, “and is the most heavily traded exchange and is in that sense the largest capital market, so any firm in Tel Aviv will get a lot more access than it previously had.”

Despite the Biden administration’s official stance against illegal settlement expansion, as the U.N. was set to add more companies to its database last month, the United States began lobbying the human rights office to drop its bid to expand the list. Two American diplomatic officials, including Michèle Taylor, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council, told an Israeli ambassador they were pressuring the U.N. human rights chief Volker Türk not to add more companies to the U.N. database.

At the same time that the New York and Tel Aviv exchanges announced their collaboration, a coalition of far-right Israeli extremists seized power in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Fomented by Benjamin Netanyahu’s desperation to regain power amid ongoing corruption investigations, the new coalition of cabinet ministers has already engaged in egregious provocations against Palestinians and laid bare its intent to fully annex the West Bank.

Language from the coalition deal states that Jews “have a natural right over the Land of Israel,” and that “in light of our belief in the aforementioned right, the prime minister will lead the formulation and advancement of policies within the framework of applying sovereignty in Judea and Samaria.” Israel’s incoming tourism minister has vowed to accelerate annexation and Jewish tourism to the West Bank, describing Palestine as “our local Tuscany.”

The possible creation of ESG products referenced in the dual listing announcement also follows intense lobbying to ignore Israeli human rights abuses in scoring social impact of investments. In October, the financial services giant Morningstar bent to overwhelming pressure from powerful American Zionist groups like the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the Women’s Zionist Organization of America to remove Israeli human rights abuses committed against Palestinians from its methodology. A leader of ESG analytics, Morningstar and its subsidiary Sustainalytics committed to removing its Human Rights Radar service, no longer using the U.N. Human Rights Council as a source for its analysis, and abandoning terms relating to Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The ESG products that could emerge out of the dual listing memorandum hold the potential to mirror the principles of JLens , an investment advising fund now owned by the Anti-Defamation League that led the charge against Morningstar, leveling accusations of antisemitism.

“Dual listing serves the interests of Israeli companies and of the State of Israel by allowing companies to maintain a strong link to Israel and ecosystem it offers while benefiting from the upsides of listing on the world’s largest exchange,” Ittai Ben-Zeev, CEO of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, said in a press release. Ben-Zeev was previously executive vice president and head of Capital Markets at Bank Leumi, which is listed in the U.N. database of financial institutions supporting illegal West Bank settlements.

The post New Stock Listings Open the Door to American Investment in the Israeli Occupation appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Mexico Arrested El Chapo's Son Before International Summit: “Was It a Gift to Biden?” / TheIntercept · Monday, 9 January - 23:15 · 8 minutes

In the predawn hours of January 6, dramatic videos surfaced online from the Mexican state of Sinaloa. In the clips, a Mexican army attack chopper unloaded heavy machine gun fire into the rural fishing community of Jesús María, outside the capital city of Culiacán. Soon after, news broke that Mexican troops had once again arrested Ovidio Guzmán López, the 32-year-old son of world-famous drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera.

The last time the younger Guzmán was arrested, in 2019, hundreds of gunmen laid siege to Culiacán, burning cars, setting roadblocks, and surrounding a housing complex belonging to the families of Mexican soldiers. Fourteen people were killed on “Jueves negro” — “ Black Thursday ” — and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador ultimately ordered Guzmán released.

Though Mexican authorities held on to Guzmán this time around, the raid exacted a heavy cost on Sinaloans still recovering from the last wave of violence. While details continue to surface, the latest reporting indicates that at least 30 people were killed — including 11 soldiers and 19 alleged shooters loyal to Guzmán. At least three civilians, including a child, were reportedly wounded in gun battles that raged for up to 12 hours.

As gunmen were terrorizing Culiacán on Thursday, President Joe Biden announced major policy changes on the U.S.-Mexico border, including the expansion of a Trump administration policy authorizing the summary expulsion of asylum-seekers to Mexico without due process. Both the Guzmán operation and the White House announcement came just three days before a summit, beginning this week, that brings Biden and López Obrador — as well as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — together for a meeting to discuss the most pressing issues facing the continent.

Guzmán arrest follows a pattern of prior cases where high-level narcos suddenly found themselves under arrest at times of important international summits. Many journalists and analysts speculated that Mexican authorities intentionally timed their operation against Guzmán for this week’s high-profile meeting — showing that, contrary to complaints from U.S. security officials, Mexico was committed to providing justice and security to its citizens.

“Was it a gift to Biden? I don’t know,” Michael Lettieri, a senior human rights fellow at Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego, told The Intercept. “I kind of go with Occam’s razor there — if it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck.”

Though Mexican officials indicated that the operation benefited from U.S. support, López Obrador denied that Guzmán’s arrest was politically motivated. “We act with autonomy, with independence,” the president said last week. “Yes, there’s cooperation, that will continue, but we make our own decisions as a sovereign government.”

Guzmán, a flashy young narco, is now being held in the same maximum-security prison that his father tunneled out of in 2015. While the elder Guzmán is serving a life sentence in the U.S., his son’s fate remains unclear. Though he bears his father’s name, Guzmán is considered a less significant figure in the family business than his brothers, and, while he is wanted in the U.S., the López Obrador administration has indicated that he will not be extradited anytime soon.

“He’s a useful scapegoat for fentanyl if he ends up in the U.S. At the same time, how quickly is he going to end up in the U.S.? I’m not so sure,” Lettieri said. “I would suspect that if Biden thinks he’s getting the gift, he’s going to find that the gift takes a while to arrive.”

Gift or not, Lettieri pushed back on suggestions that Guzmán’s recapture reflected a moment of redemption for López Obrador following the events of 2019.

“I would suspect that if Biden thinks he’s getting the gift, he’s going to find that the gift takes a while to arrive.”

“The point of 2019 was not that he got away,” he said. “The point of 2019 was that organized crime shut down a major city, took over a major city, and the state was just sitting there helpless. And guess what? That happened again.”

Despite a deployment of 3,000 Mexican soldiers , hundreds of civilian vehicles were commandeered by Guzmán’s “ pistoleros .” Many of the carjacked vehicles were torched as Guzmán’s forces descended on the airport, where they opened fire on aircraft with .50 caliber sniper rifles — all but certainly procured in the U.S. — in an attempt to prevent his removal from the city.

“Organized crime not only shut down an entire city, they shut down an entire state,” Lettieri said. Still, despite the extraordinary show of force and its implications for Mexico, Lettieri is doubtful that Guzmán’s arrest will have much impact on this week’s summit.

“There’s so much on the table in terms of bilateral issues,” he said. “Security is never the top one.”

January 8, 2022, Mexico City, Mexico: US President Joe Biden arrives at the Santa Lucia Airport (Felipe Angeles) on the occasion of his participation in the 10th North American Leaders Summit. on January 8, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Carlos Tischler/ Eyepix Group / Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

President Joe Biden arrives at the Santa Lucia Airport in Mexico City on Jan. 8, 2023.

Photo: Carlos Tischler/Sipa USA via AP

Biden’s visit to Mexico City, the first for a U.S. president in nearly a decade , finds the relationship between the countries dominated by Washington’s fixation on immigration. Driven in no small part by endless attacks from a Republican Party unlikely to ever to declare satisfaction with the Democrats’ response to the issue, the president’s approach has left many experts and advocates unimpressed, frustrated, and disappointed.

“When the Biden administration speaks to the Mexican government, the central priority is how to further reduce arrivals and accessibility at the U.S. border to migrants and asylum-seekers, unfortunately,” Stephanie Brewer, director of Mexico policy issues at WOLA, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization, told The Intercept.

That fixation is the extension of a view held among officials and policymakers in Washington over recent years that the U.S. should “externalize” its border security mission — meaning that the project of stopping unauthorized immigration into the U.S. should begin in Mexico or better yet, in Central and South America.

The project began in earnest the last time Biden was in the White House, serving as vice president in the Obama administration. The U.S. poured millions of dollars into Mexican security forces in an effort to clamp down on Central American migration across Mexico’s southern border.

The Trump administration took the effort even further, threatening to shut down border trade unless Mexico agreed to programs — illegal under U.S. domestic and international law — in which asylum-seekers were systematically dumped in under-resourced and dangerous communities in northern Mexico to wait out their cases.

In his announcement last week, Biden expanded one of those Trump-era programs — known as Title 42 — to allow the expulsion Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans, further cementing the border externalization project of his predecessors.

By investing so much in pushing the border out, the U.S. weakens its own negotiating positions on other critical issues with Mexico, Brewer argued, including creating a public security framework that goes beyond the militarized, whack-a-mole drug war operations that rocked Culiacán last week.

“It’s giving the Mexican government this strangely disproportionate role and power in terms of apparently controlling U.S. southern border arrivals or enforcement,” Brewer said.

The current arrangement simultaneously puts Mexico — a country where disruptions in the day-to-day operations of organized crime can lead to the shutdown of entire states — in a position to receive tens of thousands of vulnerable people. Many of those will arrive as part of families with small children fleeing the very same forces of organized crime, corruption, and state violence that dominate large swaths of Mexico.

Under those conditions, “the whole bilateral relationship becomes distorted in furtherance of inflicting suffering and violating the rights of asylum-seekers,” Brewer said. “And there’s no clear benefit for anyone in that scenario.”

“This is not going to convince people who are on the other side of the spectrum.”

Over the past two decades, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the so-called drug war in Mexico — a misleadingly simplistic name that refers to an infinitely complex pattern of violence, conflict, and official impunity that implicates U.S. and Mexican policymakers and citizens alike. Brewer contended that the urgent need to address this insecurity is one of the many critical binational issues overshadowed by an attempt to satisfy critics who will never be satisfied, no matter how much Biden pares back longstanding U.S. commitments to upholding domestic and international asylum laws.

“This is not going to convince people who are on the other side of the spectrum,” she said. Caught in the middle are everyday people — from Mexicans attempting to live their lives in communities like Jesús María, to asylum-seekers turned back at the border. “They’re the principal ones who are losing in this equation,” Brewer said. “They have nowhere to go.”

In the days since Guzmán’s arrest, residents of Jesús María have described the violence they witnessed last week. While the government insisted that no civilians were harmed in the operation, witnesses told the local news outlet Ríodoce that two innocent bystanders were injured by bullets that punctured their roof and that a boy between the ages of 10 and 12 was shot in the head by a soldier after stepping outside his home. The paper reported that the boy was transferred to a hospital and, as of Thursday, is still alive.

If there’s one thing he’s learned in his many years tracking human rights abuses in Mexico, Lettieri said, “it’s that when those helicopters start shooting like that, the likelihood that it’s basically an extrajudicial execution is pretty high.” He’s awaiting further, independently confirmed information on the deaths of nongovernment personnel reported last week.

“The use of helicopter gunships, it’s war tactics,” Lettieri said. “And it’s not always clear that it’s particularly attuned to human rights.”

The post Mexico Arrested El Chapo’s Son Before International Summit: “Was It a Gift to Biden?” appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Sabri al-Qurashi Has Lived Without Legal Status in Kazakhstan Since His 2014 Guantánamo Release / TheIntercept · Saturday, 7 January - 11:00 · 15 minutes

“I’m trying to be OK,” Sabri al-Qurashi texted me one afternoon after I asked how he was. Al-Qurashi has made it through a lot, but he’s increasingly depressed, tired, and has become desperate for his living conditions to change. By now, he has spent two decades feeling trapped with no end in sight.

Al-Qurashi lived the nightmare of languishing in a cage as a detainee at the notorious U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He never expected he’d be living in another version of a cage after he was released in 2014 . For nearly a decade, he has found himself stuck in Kazakhstan. Promises once made to him of starting a life and starting a family after Guantánamo have now been all but shattered. His life now feels like one of permanent purgatory as he holds no form of basic identification at the mercy of the Kazakh government. With no hope or patience left, al-Qurashi is now threatening a hunger strike.

“Truly, my life now is just as bad as w­­hen I was in Guantanamo, and in many aspects even worse. At least there, I knew I was in prison and that I would get out one day,” al-Qurashi wrote in an account shared with The Intercept, which is set to be published by CAGE, a group that advocates for “war on terror” victims and detainees. “Now I’m living as if I’m dead and being told I am free when I am not.”

“Now I’m living as if I’m dead and being told I am free when I am not.”

When al-Qurashi met with representatives from Kazakhstan’s government while still at Guantánamo, he was optimistic about being sent to a new strange home. He agreed to a secretive resettlement deal negotiated by the U.S. State Department.

Unable to return to Yemen because of the country’s instability, al-Qurashi said he was offered a good life elsewhere. His understanding, and that of his legal team, was that, after living under some restrictions for two years, he would be a free man, with all the same rights as Kazakh citizens. It is a Muslim country, he was told, and he would be treated as a member of society. Instead, he said now he finds himself without the most basic needs.

“I have no official status, no ID card, no right to work or education, and no right to see my family,” al-Qurashi said. “I have been married for eight years, but my wife is not allowed to come and live with me.”

Al-Qurashi lives under conditions that are in stark contrast to the stability that the State Department had tried to guarantee in his deal. “The United States’ goal in resettling former Guantánamo detainees was to create conditions for these men to integrate into their new societies and give them the opportunity to start a new life in a manner that protected the security of the United States,” a former State Department official familiar with the Obama administration’s efforts to transfer Guantánamo detainees told The Intercept. “Among other things, successful resettlements entailed housing, access to medical care, educational opportunities, the ability to work, and the opportunity to start or reunify with their families.”

In an interview with The Intercept, al-Qurashi said that he has been repeatedly told over the years that his wife and other family are not allowed to visit, much less join him, from Yemen because he is “illegal.” He said he was told, “You have no rights.” According to a message viewed by The Intercept, the Red Crescent Society is currently negotiating with Kazakh officials for al-Qurashi’s wife to finally be allowed a brief first visit. “We are waiting for a reply. I will keep you informed,” an International Committee of the Red Cross representative working on al-Qurashi’s behalf texted him in late October. Al-Qurashi hasn’t heard anything since.

A spokesperson for the State Department said that once security agreements around resettlement expired, responsibility for treatment of the former detainees fell to the host governments. “Repatriation or resettlement of former detainees is a carefully negotiated process between the United States and receiving countries based on mutually reached security and humane treatment assurances. While security assurances are time-limited, assurances related to humane treatment do not expire,” said Bureau of Counterterrorism spokesperson Vincent Picard in a statement. “While host governments are encouraged to consult with us, the U.S. government does not exercise any sort of custody over the treatment of resettled individuals. We encourage all host governments to exercise their responsibilities humanely and with consideration of appropriate security measures.” (The Kazakh Embassy to the U.S. did not respond to a request for comment.)

For al-Qurashi to have gone so long without even documentation of his identity, in defiance of the diplomatic efforts of the State Department, is something his legal advocates never imagined.

“Ultimately, he never received proper identification to be a documented individual in the country, and that poses problems in any country,” Greg McConnell, al-Qurashi’s pro bono counsel, said. “That’s something that was never appropriately fulfilled in the way that we understood it would be by the Kazakh government.”

Following the broken promises, al-Qurashi now feels that no one cares about him. With the ICRC financing his apartment, food, and even a place to paint, al-Qurashi worries that Kazakh officials may ask, “What more could you possibly want?” For al-Qurashi, though, the new life he signed up for was one where his wife could join him, and they could build a home together. His existence now, he said, is sustained by aid, but it isn’t really life at all.

“Of course, I try not to give up,” he said, “but everything is against me.”


A painting Sabri al-Qurashi made while imprisoned at Guantánamo shows an airplane in the sky, seen through a broken chain-link fence, in 2014.

Illustration: Sabri al-Qurashi

Road to Guantánamo

Al-Qurashi maintains a calm confidence. His infectious smile is matched by a warm hospitality that can be felt through our WhatsApp video calls. His big hands wave around and often stop suddenly, palms up toward the ceiling when he emphasizes his most exasperating moments. When he’s not caught up in despair, his humor shines through.

On a call one afternoon in late fall, he asked me where I was sitting. “It’s a little backyard, like a garden,” I said, panning the laptop around my ground-floor, concrete yard in Brooklyn.

“Oh, I’ve got a garden too,” he said. “Let me show you.” He walked through a stark apartment and plunges the camera into the saddest-looking attempt at an indoor herb garden I’ve ever seen. Small green seedlings of basil and mint fight for life in a halved plastic water jug. A big laugh follows, his face transformed by a joyful moment of self-deprecation. A few weeks later, all the plants were dead.

For years, al-Qurashi has tried to keep himself sane by painting; his illustrations are sophisticated and conceptual, and his talent, discovered at Guantánamo, is immense. The power of escape afforded by making art, however, has diminished lately. “Even drawing, which is the best thing in my life, and I love it — I’m no longer enthusiastic about it,” he told me.

Al-Qurashi opened up about his youth in a series of interviews. Born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents, he spent all his youth in Hafar al-Batin, doing odd jobs for vendors at the market so he could run home with 10 or 20 riyals in his pocket after school. With dreams of becoming a “rich man,” he began selling perfume oils in the Saudi markets in his mid-20s. Eventually, he took a trip to the wholesale factories in Pakistan, his first such solo visit. That’s when the 9/11 attacks happened. In a desperate attempt to leave the country while security forces were rounding up foreigners, al-Qurashi was grabbed in a raid of the apartment he was staying in.

“It is in my nature that I forgive even those who have wronged me.”

At the time, the U.S. government was doling out up to $5,000 to Afghan warlords and to the government of Pakistan for capturing suspected members of Al Qaeda or the Taliban and turning them over. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, 86 percent of the men jailed at Guantánamo were sold for a bounty. Al-Qurashi had no idea he was about to join hundreds of men handed over to American intelligence by Pakistani officials.

At the American makeshift prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan, al-Qurashi said he was stripped naked, shaved, intimidated with dogs and deprived of water, warmth, and basic dignity. The worst day of his life, he said, was the flight to Cuba. He waited for his captors to realize their mistake, but the day never came. Through brutal interrogations, hunger strikes, and solitary confinement, he maintained his innocence.

Al-Qurashi said he feels no bitterness about what happened to him, even expressing gratitude for the friends he’s made along the way. I asked if he forgave the people who tortured him. “Of course,” he responded without hesitation. “It is in my nature that I forgive even those who have wronged me.”


A painting by Sabri al-Qurashi of a snowy landscape scene in Kyzylorda, Kazakhstan, in 2021.

Illustration: Sabri al-Qurashi

Another Prison

By the end of 2014, three Yemenis, including al-Qurashi, and two Tunisian men arrived in Kazakhstan from Guantánamo Bay — the first and last group to be sent to the former Soviet country. The destination may seem odd, but Kazakhstan is majority Muslim and could address the U.S.’s security concerns about a handoff. Harsh treatment, intensive surveillance, and harassment started immediately, as documented in a Vice investigation shortly after the men arrived.

Al-Qurashi and Lotfi bin Ali , a 6-foot-8 Tunisian, were first placed along the Russian border in Semey, a small city in the shadow of the Semipalatinsk nuclear weapon testing site. The men expected to be welcomed in a Muslim country, but instead they found outward hostility.

Al-Qurashi struggled to learn Kazakh from a non-Arabic-speaking teacher, in a city that mostly spoke Russian. Lotfi, at the time, couldn’t find a winter coat that fit his huge frame.

Bin Ali frequently spoke to reporters about his conditions in Kazakhstan and, perhaps because of the embarrassing media reports, was resettled again in Mauritania, along with fellow Tunisian, Adel Hakimi. Never having returned home to Tunisia, bin Ali died on March 9, 2021, after struggling to find adequate medical treatment for heart disease.

“The State Department didn’t even pretend to give a shit,” said Mark Denbeaux, bin Ali’s former lawyer. “All they wanted to do was get people out of Guantánamo. They dumped them in Kazakhstan and didn’t care what happened.”

Another former Guantánamo detainee shipped to Kazakstan — Asim Thabit Al Khalaqi, a Yemeni without documented health problems — died four months after the transfer from a sudden severe illness. Friends and family allege medical malpractice and say his body was never returned to Yemen or properly buried.

Al Qurashi, too, now struggles to find adequate medical care for an injury he sustained three years ago, when a man violently assaulted him on the street. Struck in the face and left with nerve damage, he was told after the attack that he could not report the incident or have any sort of day in court. The police said al-Qurashi, because of his lack of status in the country, did not have standing to bring charges. His treatment for the partial facial paralysis is ongoing — he’s been given acupuncture and a jar of blood-sucking leeches — but he needs a complicated surgery that he is afraid to have performed because of how he’s been treated so far.

In addition to leaving his body in peril, the Kazakhs authorities’ approach to al-Qurashi has left him virtually unable to make meaningful social contact with those around him, he said.

“I have no basic dignity or freedom to move even in the streets around my apartment,” al-Qurashi explained in the CAGE account. “The government harasses anyone I get in contact with which makes it impossible to socialize. The government deters people from associating with me by telling us that we are terrorists and dangerous. Because of not wanting to put anybody in harm, I have stopped attempting to integrate with locals.”

Because of his lack of identification, al-Qurashi is unable to do basic things like send and receiving money, packages, or mail. He is unable to work. When he wants to leave his apartment, for instance to go fishing nearby, he must call the Red Crescent office and ask for his assigned chaperone to accompany him. Sometimes the wait is days long. He cannot leave his neighborhood, let alone drive or travel outside Kyzylorda, his open-air prison. “I exist in life, but I do not live it,” al-Qurashi told me.

The experience echoes those of other former prisoners speaking out against the relentless stigma of life after Guantánamo. “When they leave Guantánamo, it’s not as if they’re exonerated, it’s not as if the United States says that they’re innocent or that they were wrongfully detained,” said Maha Hilal, author of “Innocent Until Proven Muslim” and a scholar of the effect of the so-called war on terror on Muslims. “And so, obviously, they leave Guantánamo with the stigma of ‘terrorist’ on their back.”

Al-Qurashi said, “I have been treated like a terrorist since the day I stepped off the plane here.”

Of the five detainees sent to Kazakhstan, only al-Qurashi and Muhammad Ali Husayn Khanayna, who declined to comment, remain today in Kyzylorda.

Whose Responsibility?

When the Obama administration ended, so, too, did the diplomatic effort of the State Department working with men cleared for release from Guantánamo. The Trump administration disbanded the office responsible for the resettlements, then called the Special Envoy for the Closure of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facilities. Former Guantánamo prisoners were left with no support to hold their host countries to account for mistreatment. The men cleared for release from Guantánamo remained in prison as President Donald Trump canceled all outbound transfers.

Once the two-year deal between a host country and the State Department expired, there was no longer a means for maintaining that the hosting countries would treat the resettled detainees with basic human rights, said Martina Burtscher, a fellow at the human rights group Reprieve who works on Guantánamo issues. (“Once security assurances have expired, and pending any specific renegotiation of assurances, it largely falls to the discretion of the host country to determine what security measures they continue to implement,” said Picard, the State Department spokesperson.)

The complete collapse in communication and lack of diplomatic pressure allowed host countries like Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates , and Senegal to do whatever they wanted with the resettled detainees — including imprisoning them and, in the case of Senegal, forced repatriation to Libya.

“This is not the solution the U.S. wanted, but [it happened] because of lack of care and lack of resources,” Burtscher said. “I understand that they need to empty Guantánamo. But they also have a responsibility to follow up.”

“They implanted these men in countries where they have no family, no friends, no connections, don’t speak the language, have nothing,” she continued. “The very least they can do is make sure that they have a solid legal status.”

“They implanted these men in countries where they have no family, no friends, no connections, don’t speak the language, have nothing. The very least they can do is make sure that they have a solid legal status.”

After Joe Biden assumed the Oval Office in 2021, the State Department created a desk with a mandate similar to the old special envoy, now the office of the Senior Representative for Guantánamo Affairs. Tina Kaidanow was appointed in August.

For resettled men like al-Qurashi, the appointment makes them no less desperate for their host country’s mistreatment to radically change. Through his lawyer, Greg McConnell, al-Qurashi sent a message to Kaidanow asking for help in his case. “Please, I’m asking you to review my case,” al-Qurashi wrote. “If I stay in Kazakhstan, I must be given the right to live and work as a free man, have legal status, be able to travel, and be allowed for family visits. If this is not possible in Kazakhstan, please, help [me] be relocated to another country where I can live as a free man.”

As al-Qurashi’s advocates continue to request legal status for him in the country, al-Qurashi said the only offer on the table from Kazakh officials is a trip back to Yemen — an offer that may violate the international law of nonrefoulement , Burtscher said. He has so far refused, the stigma of being branded an Al Qaeda terrorist by the U.S. potentially making him a target for various factions in the Yemeni civil war.

The State Department’s new office could conceivably intervene — should they make it a priority over transfers of detainees out of Guantánamo — and negotiate for al-Qurashi to be transferred to a more hospitable country.

Al-Qurashi, however, said he would stay in Kazakhstan if the authorities give him legal residence and allow his wife to live with him. “If I were given my freedom and rights, I could achieve so much more here,” he told me.

So far, the new State Department office has seemed slow to act. “Having the ambassador named is helpful and that certainly shows some level of commitment from the Biden administration,” McConnell said. “I have yet to really hear anything meaningful from them about what’s happening to remedy this situation. They’re very polite, very appreciative, and absorb a lot of information — and I get nothing back — and that hasn’t changed in a long time.”

Mansoor Adayfi , another Yemeni that was formerly held in Guantánamo, said nothing will happen without meaningful U.S. moves. “His case needs the U.S. government to get involved again to fix the problem. And either they need to talk to Kazakhstan to guarantee legal status, so he can see his wife, be able to get permission to work and live legally, like anyone else,” Adayfi said. “Or they should send him to a better country so he can build his life.”

McConnell said, “This was something of their making. It’s failed. And they need to help rectify it.”

The post Sabri al-Qurashi Has Lived Without Legal Status in Kazakhstan Since His 2014 Guantánamo Release appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Biden’s "Diplomacy" in Yemen Means Taking Saudi Arabia’s Side — and Could Spark All-Out War / TheIntercept · Sunday, 1 January - 11:00 · 9 minutes

When Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called for a vote on a war powers resolution that would block U.S. support for the Saudi-led war effort in Yemen, the Biden administration immediately pushed back. The resolution, the White House warned, would upset diplomatic efforts and bring about the war it was trying to end.

“The Administration strongly opposes the Yemen War Powers Resolution on a number of grounds, but the bottom line is that this resolution is unnecessary and would greatly complicate the intense and ongoing diplomacy to truly bring an end to the conflict,” read White House talking points circulated privately . “In 2019, diplomacy was absent and the war was raging. That is not the case now. Thanks to our diplomacy which remains ongoing and delicate, the violence over nearly nine months has effectively stopped.”

The White House’s claims that its diplomacy is working, however, are undercut by its own political moves and the reality on the ground. President Joe Biden’s envoy for the conflict has consistently sided with the Saudi coalition against the Houthi movement that controls much of the country. And though a ceasefire during the spring and summer provided a respite in civilian casualties due to bombings, the ongoing Saudi blockade and economic warfare against Yemenis perpetuates the humanitarian crisis in the country — which the United Nations has deemed the worst in the world.

Without taking an even-handed approach to the conflict in search of a political solution and the mitigation of the humanitarian crisis, the Biden administration’s machinations can hardly be considered good-faith efforts at diplomacy, critics of U.S. policy in the conflict said.

“There’s been no diplomatic progress whatsoever,” Jamal Benomar, the U.N. special envoy for Yemen until 2015, told The Intercept. “There’s been no political process, no negotiations, or even a prospect of them. So an all-out war can resume at any time.”

“There’s been no diplomatic progress whatsoever. There’s been no political process, no negotiations, or even a prospect of them.”

The divisions in Yemen — with the Saudi coalition controlling southern oil fields and ports, and the Houthi-led government controlling territory in the north that houses some 80 percent of the country’s 30 million residents — are only growing more entrenched. Instead of asking concessions of its allies in the Saudi coalition, the administration’s one-sidedness has contributed to the breakdown of diplomacy.

Though violence has not returned to earlier levels since the expiration of the ceasefire in October, fighting continues along some of the war’s frontlines . The Houthis have warned that their restraint won’t last long amid the current impasse and continued blockade of fuel imports; if the embargo is not eased, they said, they will reciprocally blockade a nearby waterway crucial to the global oil markets. The situation is only growing more explosive.

“There’s been a lull in the fighting, but since there was no concerted effort to move the political process forward, the lull is a temporary one and all sides are preparing for the worst,” said Benomar. “The situation is extremely fragile because Yemen has fragmented now and you have different areas of Yemen under the control of different warlords.”


The largely diplomatic push cited by the White House in opposing the Sanders war powers resolution — a so-far ineffective push that gives Saudi Arabia room to maneuver — follows a pattern it has held since early in the administration, when Biden pledged to work toward ending “offensive operations” to the Yemen war, and Saudi Arabia engaged in its most aggressive bombing campaign under the rubric of “defensive operations.”

Under such conditions, progress toward a treaty has remained elusive. While the Houthi movement has steadily gained territory — and political support in the country — the Saudi-backed government and other allied militia groups maintained control of oil-rich areas and ports in the south, enabling the punishing blockade. Biden balked at calls to pressure Saudi into easing the blockade when it sparked the worst fuel crisis in Yemeni history. Instead, when administration officials have commented, they have avoided naming the Saudis, calling instead on “all parties” to allow unhindered import of fuel.

As the blockade continued and the fuel crisis worsened, the Houthis attacked the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in late January 2022 in two separate attacks, with one reaching a U.S. military base. In March, the Houthis targeted a storage site belonging to the Saudi national oil company, marking the second boldest attack against Saudi oil facilities. Instead of convincing the Saudis to deescalate, the Biden administration pledged to defend Riyadh and Abu Dhabi against what they’ve called the “terrorist” attacks.

Yet the threat to the global oil supply was becoming clear, a risk the White House was uninterested in running amid both a midterm election and a war between Russia and Ukraine. A week after the attack on Saudi’s oil infrastructure, the United Nations, backed by the U.S., managed to have all parties agree on a truce that would allow for talks on a settlement to the yearslong conflict. “The Saudis accepted the truce after belatedly realizing that they were losing in an expensive quagmire,” said Bruce Riedel, a veteran CIA analyst and Brookings Institution senior fellow, in an email. “Biden’s team helped get them to that point along with a lot of help from the UN and Oman.”

The two-month truce allowed for a halt to all Saudi airstrikes and ground fighting and an ease on fuel imports to north Yemen, in return for a halt to Houthi missile and drone strikes on Saudi Arabia.

No Renewal

The ceasefire largely held up and kept getting renewed until October 2, when the Houthi government refused to renew it again.

The Houthi government laid blame with Riyadh and the U.S. for avoiding the issue most important to the Houthi-led coalition: monthly salary payments of the state employees. Since 2016, the Saudi-backed government relocated the Central Bank of Yemen to territory it controls, accusing the Houthi government of diverting the bank’s funds to the war effort, a charge international observers and aid groups found baseless. The Saudi-backed government promised to keep the bank’s policy of paying all public servants, estimated at 1 million employees who support around 10 million others, but it broke its word, denying millions of Yemenis their only source of income.

The Houthi-led coalition put the salary payment issue as a condition to renew the deal, but the Saudis agreed only on paying workers in the health and educational sectors. The Houthis maintained that the revenues from oil exports in areas under the Saudi-backed government, which would account for nearly 70 percent of Yemen’s budget, should be allocated for the pay of all public servants. No Biden-led diplomacy — intense, delicate, ongoing, or otherwise — could persuade the Saudis to stop diverting Yemeni public-servant money back to Riyadh.

Little progress has been made on the question of paying public servants. The U.N. Security Council, Britain, the European Union, and the U.S. called the Houthi government demand to pay all public servants “unrealistic” and “maximalist.” During a congressional hearing in December, Biden’s Yemen envoy Tim Lenderking blamed the Houthi government for the current impasse, slamming “the last-minute Houthi demand that the Yemeni Government divert its limited oil export revenues to pay the salaries of active Houthi combatants.”

What the U.S. deemed unrealistic has in fact been a demand of Democrats on Capitol Hill. What Sanaa demanded as a condition to renew the deal wasn’t impossible or even unrealistic. A group of 16 senators — along with many aid groups — called on Biden in May 2021 to end the Saudi blockade. While the Biden administration angled to keep the blockade as leverage in negotiations, the senators said the embargo “must end today and be decoupled from ongoing negotiations.”

For critics, the Biden administration’s stance — considering the payments to Yemeni public servants too great a cost for establishing a new ceasefire — isn’t a serious approach to ending the war.

“These demands benefit ordinary Yemeni workers, not the Sana’a government itself,” said Shireen Al-Adeimi, an assistant professor at Michigan State University and a nonresident fellow at the Quincy Institute, referring to the Houthi government in the capital of Sana’a. “What’s ‘unrealistic’ and even cruel, however, is to continue denying millions of public servants their salaries for multiple years and to derail ceasefire negotiations because of a humanitarian, not a political or military, demand.”

Diplomacy to Nowhere

The relative calm in fighting and a halt to bombing witnessed since April has been rare. Its impact on the most vulnerable, however, has been small. Much of the Yemeni suffering has been caused by the blockade and other economic warfare tactics, not the bullets and bombs.

The status quo leaves the Houthis little incentive to maintain a truce that delivers misery to the population it governs without any serious concessions around the blockade or payments to public-service employee payments. In return, the Houthi government has offered to cease its bombings of Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners. Saudi, emboldened by White House support, agreed on only easing restrictions on fuel imports.

Late last month, Omani negotiators were back in northern Yemen, urging the Houthis to sit down with the Saudis to discuss both issues. Abdulmalik al-Houthi, the Houthi movement’s leader and the one calling the shots, rejected the offer as another Saudi bid to evade addressing the economic crisis first, which he and his aides stressed should be decoupled from any other issues being negotiated. The Houthi message was simple, according to a source briefed on the talks: Pay the salaries of all public servants, lift the blockade on the northern port of Hodeidah and Sanaa airport, and then the parties can sit together to negotiate other terms.

The Saudis and the Emirates, however, seem unlikely to budge. So far, they have only granted concessions in the face of violence directed at Abu Dhabi and at Saudi oil fields, not through Biden-led negotiations.

That may be the dynamic at the heart of the White House’s opposition to the Sanders war powers resolution: Without U.S. support for its warplanes, the Saudis would be effectively grounded, perhaps emboldening the Houthis, who are poised to relaunch strikes and send global oil markets spinning to win an end to the blockade. So far, Houthi attacks intended as warnings have dissuaded tanker captains from offloading millions of barrels of crude oil that would have otherwise benefited the Saudi-backed government.

Facing the reality of the Houthis escalating their attacks, the Biden administration could dig in and refuse to meet reasonable Houthi demands while fending off congressional opposition to the war. Or the White House could pressure the Saudis into a genuine end to the war. In fighting the Sanders resolution, the White House has chosen to dig in. The Biden administration diplomacy is “ongoing,” but it’s not clear it’s going anywhere — making a resurgence of violence now seem inevitable.

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    What the United States Owes Afghan Women / TheIntercept · Sunday, 1 January - 10:00 · 5 minutes

In this picture taken on December 23, 2022, Marwa (C), a student reads books with her brother Hamid (L) at their home in Kabul. - Marwa was just a few months away from becoming the first woman in her Afghan family to go to university -- instead, she will watch achingly as her brother goes without her. Women are now banned from attending university in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, where they have been steadily stripped of their freedoms over the past year. "Had they ordered women to be beheaded, even that would have been better than this ban," Marwa told AFP at her family home in Kabul. (Photo by Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD SAHEL ARMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Marwa, center, was months away from attending university as the first woman in her family to do so. She now can’t go under Taliban rule, as her brother, Hamid, left, will attend without her. They read together in their home in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Dec. 23, 2022.

Photo: Ahmad Sahel/AFP via Getty Images

In the early days of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, alleviating the plight of Afghan women under the Taliban was a major part of the campaign to sell the conflict to the American public — and eventually to justify an open-ended military occupation. Whether the United States did much to help Afghan women is a debatable point, largely dependent on which women you ask .

Yet there is no question that today, under the Taliban, a young, educated, and urbanized generation of Afghan women who enjoyed a period of opportunity over the past 20 years is experiencing a catastrophic attack on their basic rights.

The Taliban’s recent decision to ban girls’ education past the sixth grade is only the latest outrage to be inflicted on Afghan women, and another step in a campaign to drag Afghan society back to the climate of medieval repression that reigned during the last Taliban government of the 1990s.

There is one thing that could easily be done to ease the suffering of Afghans under Taliban rule: giving a home to Afghan refugees.

This unhappy situation was not inevitable. There are ideological divisions inside the Taliban, particularly between its leaders who spent the war years abroad mingling in foreign capitals, and those who spent it fighting a grueling insurgency inside the country.

While the Taliban government showed initial hints of pragmatism upon coming to power, today it has become clear that the extremist faction of its leadership is in control and willing to sacrifice the well-being of Afghans and the goodwill of the international community to fulfill its ideological mission.

The United States has scant leverage left to change the calculus of an organization so dead set on its goals. If the words about human rights and women’s empowerment that justified the war for 20 years had any meaning at all, there is one thing that could easily be done to ease the suffering of Afghans under Taliban rule, without risking more harm in the process: giving a home to Afghan refugees.

Last week, Congress failed to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, a measure that would have given the tens of thousands of Afghans who escaped to the U.S. after the fall of Kabul a path to permanent legal residency. The measure had been supported by everyone from former senior U.S. military officials, who issued a letter calling protection of the refugees a “moral imperative,” to human rights organizations. The Afghan Adjustment Act, however, was left out of the omnibus spending bill passed at the end of the year, reportedly due to opposition from 89-year-old Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley.

These Afghans arrived in the U.S. on flights hastily arranged by the U.S. military as the Taliban marched on Kabul last summer. They remain in the U.S. on a precarious legal status known as temporary humanitarian parole that places them at risk of deportation.

Many of these refugee families include those who fought with the U.S. during the war or supported the U.S.-backed government — making them and their families prime targets of the new Taliban regime.

The failure to pass the law also leaves Afghans who worked with the U.S. military but remain trapped in Afghanistan today out in the cold, denying them eligibility for Special Immigrant Visas that could provide a legal hope of immigrating to the U.S. if they escape the country.

Many former Afghan allies of the U.S. continue to be hunted down by the Taliban as the group consolidates a regime that is prioritizing taking revenge for the past 20 years above rebuilding their shattered country.

If they are not provided a path to permanent status and are thus left to their fate, the ex-U.S. military officials warned in their letter, in future conflicts, “potential allies will remember what happens now with our Afghan allies.”

The Taliban’s recent decision to kick women out of school has been met with outrage by the international community and international Muslim religious figures , but most of all from ordinary Afghans. Many Afghans, including many men, have staged inspiring walkout protests from their classes to denounce the measure.

Having done more than anyone to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the U.S. presence in their country, these are the people who deserve whatever support can be provided to them and their families. In the absence of that support, their future is likely to be grim.

Donald Trump’s recent anti-immigrant presidency and the general tenor of Republican politics means that any effort to resettle refugees — those here today and those who may arrive in the future — is inevitably going to be a political fight. That said, a Democratic president will be in office for at least the next two years and will have an opportunity to use their political capital to right an obvious wrong that was done to Afghans by the U.S. — particularly if, as seems likely, the Taliban continue down a course of provocative repression against Afghan women and minorities.

Amid the terrible events now unfolding, it is worth remembering that, for a few months last year, when they appeared to send the world’s most powerful military into a scrambling retreat, the Afghan Taliban enjoyed a strange kind of recognition — maybe even popularity — around the world. Everyone loves a winner, and the triumphant march of the Taliban into Kabul was greeted warmly by everyone from former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who said that the group was “breaking the shackles of slavery,” to the American alt-right who projected their own idealized vision of hypermasculinity onto the new social-media-savvy militants.

Even mainstream conservative politicians like Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., claimed at the time that the Taliban was “more legitimate than the last government in Afghanistan or the current government here” — a statement made with apparent relish at the humiliation of a sitting Democratic president who presided over the final defeat.

Today, that bizarre honeymoon is over. It’s time to deal with the harsh reality of Afghanistan under Taliban rule and its consequences for Afghans.

The U.S. has done a great deal of harm to the Afghan people, using their country as a proxy battlefield, subjecting them to sanctions, and killing them in huge numbers during the war. The least it can do today is give safe haven to those, particularly women, fleeing the collapse of the shoddy government in Kabul that the U.S. government had propped up , and who are now suffering a harrowing attack on their basic freedoms by a Taliban regime that grows more draconian with each passing day.

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