The “Obama 2017″ campaign is attempting to “persuade” the former U.S. president to run for office again — in France.

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The “Obama 2017″ campaign is attempting to “persuade” the former U.S. president to run for office again — in France.

Courtesy of Obama 2017

The French presidential campaign has been marked by scandal, surprises and upsets as the April election approaches.

Now a petition is calling for an even bigger plot twist: the return of President Barack Obama. As in, French President Barack Obama.

Earlier this week, the Obama 2017 campaign was launched, calling for the former U.S. president to step forward as a candidate in the French election while there’s still time.

“Barack Obama has completed his second term as President of the United States,” the site says. “Why not hire him as president of France? … [He] has the best resume in the world for the job.”

Posters for Obama 2017 have been plastered around Paris. The slogan, of course: “Oui on peut,” French for “Yes we can.” And a campaign-style website is gathering signatures to persuade Obama to run.

It’s not the first time French citizens have expressed longing for Obama’s leadership — at least two petitions were started last year — but it’s by far the most successful. According to the site’s organizers, some 27,000 people have signed the petition so far.

A group of four friends — “basic 30-year-old guys from Paris” who work in creative industries — came up with the idea “after a drink,” according to one of the people behind the site. He asked NPR not to use his name, to avoid possible legal consequences that could damage his career.

“We were thinking about French politics and saying that we were fed up with the fact that we all the time had to vote against someone,” he says, “and how it would be cool to be able to vote for someone we admire. We came up with Obama.”

“I think the whole world would love to have him as president,” he says.

“Yes we can,” the posters read, with a link to the petition.

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We should note that in order to run for president in France, Obama would have to be naturalized as a French citizen. Also, he doesn’t speak French — although Michelle Obama studied the language in college, according to a biography.

Anyway, that’s not really the point.

“It’s definitely a joke,” says the co-creator of the site. “But it could make people think a little bit about what we could do differently in French politics. … the idea was to make people wake up.”

Obama 2017 isn’t mean to rally support for any French candidate or party, he says — it’s an expression of frustration about politicians in France in general.

“Always the same people, here for 20 years, coming up from the same schools, giving ministry [positions] to their friends,” the co-creator says.

“We don’t know politics,” he says, referring to the group of friends behind the site. “We aren’t coming with real stuff. We’re just proposing something to make people think.”

NPR has reached out to Obama’s personal office for comment; so far, there has been no reply.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/02/23/516877566/a-citizens-petition-calls-for-a-new-french-president-barack-obama?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend meets with U.S. forces in Mosul, Iraq.

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Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend meets with U.S. forces in Mosul, Iraq.

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The war against ISIS is entering a tough new phase, as Iraqi fighters with growing U.S. assistance push into western Mosul, warns the senior American commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend.

“ISIS is a brutal, brutal enemy,” said Townsend, speaking in Erbil as Iraq’s security forces were about to attack Mosul’s airport with help from the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.

He said west Mosul will be more complex and challenging than the eastern side of the city, which was retaken from the extremists in four months. ISIS has its command center on the west side, along with stores of rockets and car bombs — and an urban geographical advantage.

“The old town of Mosul has the most ancient construction, and the narrowest winding streets,” said Townsend. Iraqi forces will be unable to move combat vehicles in the warren, and the coalition will find it difficult to conduct airstrikes without hitting civilians.

As the deadline nears for a new plan on ISIS that President Trump asked his advisors to prepare, Townsend painted a somber picture of the battle against the extremists in Iraq and in neighboring Syria, where the coalition also operates.

He said ISIS still holds a little more than half the territory it has taken in Iraq since grabbing control of large parts of the country in 2014. And although he said U.S.-backed troops are moving closer to the ISIS-held city of Raqqa in Syria, he conceded it is not clear who will actually move to take the city.

As fighting in Mosul gears up again, Townsend visited U.S. troops near the front lines, some of about 450 of soldiers from the coalition. In a significant shift in tactics, the international forces are now more deeply embedded with their Iraqi counterparts around Mosul, part of an effort to reduce casualties and speed the campaign.

Leaping out of a Black Hawk helicopter, Townsend ran to meet officials at a federal police base at Hammam Alil, a village south of Mosul once known for its swimming hole. Now it has become a staging post for troops moving on ISIS.

Waiting to meet him was Iraq’s new interior minister, Qasim al-Araji, who received the general with some pomp and a cluster of Iraqi television cameras.

“We thank you for your support to the federal police during this operation,” said Araji.

“It does my heart good to see them moving so quickly,” responded the American general.

“Our Iraqi and Syrian partners are sacrificing not only for their own countries, but for the region and the rest of the world as well,” says Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the American commander as U.S. forces help Iraqi troops in Mosul.

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“Our Iraqi and Syrian partners are sacrificing not only for their own countries, but for the region and the rest of the world as well,” says Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the American commander as U.S. forces help Iraqi troops in Mosul.

Alice Fordham/NPR

Outside, U.S. troops stationed at the base mingled with Iraqi police, while rockets fired by ISIS thudded intermittently nearby.

American forces in Iraq do not fight on front lines, but they were wearing body armor and helmets. As coalition advisors have deployed closer to the battle, they have found themselves in harm’s way, said the coalition’s spokesman, Col. John Dorrian.

American troops “have come under fire at different times, they have returned fire at different times, in and around Mosul,” Dorrian told reporters Wednesday.

At Townsend’s next stop, a much smaller outpost also south of Mosul, American soldiers described how they try to help Iraqis defend themselves against ISIS’s deadliest battlefield weapon: mobile car and truck bombs, which are often carefully hidden and which have been used in the hundreds.

Staff Sgt. Sung Kim said usually an Iraqi liaison officer will pass on information that his men can see the car bomb moving toward them.

“And we’ll say, OK, so what direction? And they’ll give it to us, and we’ll immediately get the aircraft in the area,” Kim said. The surveillance aircraft send images to a control center at this small base. “And we will search for it, and search for it, and search for it until we find it.”

Then, they can call in an airstrike to target the bomb — known in military jargon as a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device or VBIED. Out here, in wild, open countryside, it is clear Iraqis and Americans are working closely.

“The Iraqis — they’re hardened men,” said Kim. “They’ve been through the same crap over and over and over again — and the more VBIEDs we can hit before they hit the Iraqis, the better.”

Americans and coalition partners are working with a range of Iraqi forces: local and national police, tribal fighters, the army, special forces. One body they do not yet assist directly is the one known as the Popular Mobilization.

These fighters, which include hard-line Shiite Muslim forces designated as terrorists by the U.S., are now officially part of Iraqi’s security forces. Many of them are deployed west of Mosul — and, said Townsend, they too are part of the fight against ISIS.

They “absolutely are contributing positively to the fight,” he said, noting that the fighters were following the orders of the prime minister and battlefield commanders.

“They’re doing what they’ve been instructed to do and they are doing it fairly well,” he said. “And it’s because of them that Mosul is cut off from the rest of Iraq and Syria.”

Townsend declined to discuss the new administration’s strategy to defeat ISIS, and the effect of the — now blocked — executive order banning Iraqis and Syrians from traveling to the U.S. But he did pay tribute to American allies in those two countries, speaking of the sacrifices made by Iraqi security forces in east Mosul as they strove to avoid civilian casualties, and of the fact that the fight against ISIS is crucial to keeping the U.S. and the world safe.

“That’s what I think I would like the people of the West to know,” the general said in the closing moments of an interview conducted in the back of a muddy pickup truck. “How important this fight is here, and that our Iraqi and Syrian partners are sacrificing not only for their own countries, but for the region and the rest of the world as well.”

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/02/23/516847744/a-u-s-commander-works-with-iraqi-forces-to-fight-brutal-enemy-isis?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

TV screens in Seoul, South Korea, show images Wednesday of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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TV screens in Seoul, South Korea, show images Wednesday of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Ahn Young-joon/AP

Malaysian authorities say initial autopsy results show a chemical weapon — VX nerve agent — was used in the fatal poisoning of Kim Jong Nam, older half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un.

VX is an odorless substance that can exist as liquid or gas. It can kill within minutes if it’s passed through the skin. It is 10 times more toxic than sarin and classified as a weapon of mass destruction.

Early last week, while Kim Jong Nam was traveling through the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, two women approached him, touched his face and held a cloth over it. He was able to walk to a help desk, which took him to an airport nurse area, but soon fell severely ill and died before making it to the hospital.

The women who approached him were caught on airport security cameras and captured within days of the attack. They are from Southeast Asian countries and are now in custody. But police believe the plot involved far more people than the two women. It’s seeking at least seven North Koreans, including a diplomat, in connection with the crime.

That VX nerve agent is responsible for Kim’s death strengthens the claims made by South Korea that the North Korean regime ordered the hit. VX is man-made and not that difficult to produce, according to chemical weapons experts. But it tends to be used by state actors. For example, Saddam Hussein is believed to have used VX nerve agent on Kurdish citizens of Iraq in the 1980s.

South Korea last week blamed North Korea for the killing and called the rather public assassination a terrorist act. North Korean officials in Malaysia, meanwhile, were rejecting the autopsy’s results before it was even concluded. And to add to all this drama, someone this week apparently tried to break into the morgue where Kim’s body is being held. That incident is under investigation.

The body believed to be that of Kim Jong Nam has yet to be identified by next of kin, so Malaysia is refusing to release the remains. Malaysian authorities have asked the North Koreans to provide a DNA sample from a Kim family member. But North Korea is not cooperating.

The Malaysian police inspector general has been talking with the press this week, but not answering many questions, saying instead that a lot of answers reporters are seeking are “subjects of the investigation.” Later he said that the investigation could last years.

Chan Kok Leong contributed to this post, from Kuala Lumpur.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/02/24/516978090/chemical-weapon-found-on-body-of-north-korean-leaders-half-brother?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world



AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There’s a country music band in Istanbul made up of Americans and Syrians. And instead of Johnny Cash and “I Walk The Line,” what’s inspiring them now is the travel ban President Trump has ordered for people from seven mostly Muslim countries. Reporter Dalia Mortada caught up with them and has this.

(SOUNDBITE OF COUNTRY FOR SYRIA SONG, “IN THE STATES”)

DALIA MORTADA, BYLINE: This is the sound of the band Country for Syria, a folksy band fuses country songs with tunes from the Middle East. The founders of the 10-piece ensemble are American Owen Harris and Syrian Bashar Balleh. Harris explains.

OWEN HARRIS: It wasn’t our intention to start a country and Arabic music band. And we had a gig. And we didn’t prepare enough music for it. We ran out. And so I just threw some chords to some country songs at him. And he played them. And I sang them. And then he threw some chords to some Arabic songs at me. And it actually worked out pretty well.

MORTADA: I talked to them near a domed brick building they used as a backdrop for their video. They say the song is a message for President Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “IN THE STATES”)

COUNTRY FOR SYRIA: (Singing) Dear Mr. President, it’s too late for writing. Already your orders tore families apart. From silent lips, we’ll cry no more. We’ll breathe free on other shores.

MORTADA: For Syrian guitarist Balleh especially, Trump’s executive order gets personal. In January, he got married to his wife, Kathryn, who’s from Boise, Idaho. They met at a Country for Syria concert last year in Istanbul, where Kathryn works as an English teacher. The couple planned to apply for Balleh’s immigrant visa. But now, they’re not sure what to do.

BASHAR BALLEH: First plan was going to the states. B plan was going to Syria. But A and B is cancelled now (laughter).

KATHRYN BALLEH: Plan C may be Canada if they’ll accept us. Plan D might be stay in Turkey for longer than we had hoped.

MORTADA: The band’s been together for over a year. They don’t have an album yet. But they play at bars and clubs, and did a short tour in the U.S. in October. Balleh remembers being stopped at the entrance of a grocery store in rural Pennsylvania.

B. BALLEH: Then they, like, told me that you can’t get – go inside there with your backpack. There was like – kind of everyone has his backpack. But because I was – I don’t know. Am I darker than you?

K. BALLEH: Not really, no.

B. BALLEH: Anyway, they thought I’m different. So they told me this.

MORTADA: So when they came back, the band wrote the first version of their song called “In The States” as a way to process their trip.

B. BALLEH: After the executive order that came from Mr. Donald Trump, we decided to change the lyrics so it can be, like, describing our feelings about how he hurt us, like, all of us, not just me as a Syrian, also like Owen. He’s American. He also, like, he was hurt. And I felt how Owen was like feeling bad and ashamed.

MORTADA: Trump says his order is needed for security. Balleh’s lyrics in Arabic say that Americans have nothing to fear from people like him.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “IN THE STATES”)

COUNTRY FOR SYRIA: (Singing in foreign language).

B. BALLEH: I try to show, like, I’m not a person who’s, like, looking to steal your country. This is not a thing I’m looking for.

MORTADA: Balleh is saying that all he wants from America is to be with his wife and play music he thinks belongs there.

B. BALLEH: The states were I think a lot more because, you know, like, Country for Syria, like, it’s more about country music. So we are aiming more about the states.

MORTADA: But for now, they’ll stick to performing in Istanbul and other parts of Europe. For NPR News, I’m Dalia Mortada in Istanbul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “IN THE STATES”)

COUNTRY FOR SYRIA: (Singing in foreign language).

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

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Article source: http://www.npr.org/2017/02/22/516695493/syrian-country-band-criticizes-trumps-travel-ban-in-new-song?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Volunteers from a local monument company help to reset vandalized headstones on Feb. 22 at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb. Since the beginning of the year, there has been a spike in incidents around the country, including bomb threats at Jewish community centers and reports of anti-Semitic graffiti.

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Volunteers from a local monument company help to reset vandalized headstones on Feb. 22 at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb. Since the beginning of the year, there has been a spike in incidents around the country, including bomb threats at Jewish community centers and reports of anti-Semitic graffiti.

Michael Thomas/Getty Images

News of recent anti-Semitic acts in the U.S. — like the toppling of tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis and bomb threats against Jewish community centers — is being followed closely in Israel. So is the Israeli government’s response to these incidents.

Some Israelis are questioning whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has played down the incidents to keep pressure off his political ally, President Trump.

The president has frequently deflected questions about threats and attacks against Jewish institutions. Last week, Trump called a question he was asked about anti-Semitic incidents “repulsive” and “disgusting.”

But on Tuesday, he called the recent incidents “horrible” and “painful.”

Netanyahu, for his part, insisted Wednesday during a trip to Australia that Trump has taken a “strong stand against anti-Semitism.” But before this, the Israeli leader hadn’t issued any public statements about the most recent incidents in the U.S.

Netanyahu’s muted response has drawn criticism, including from Yehuda Bauer, the academic advisor of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum.

“He follows President Trump,” Bauer says. “He did not react immediately.”

Bauer believes Trump “is not an anti-Semite. But his attitude, his policies, encourage people who develop hatred toward other groups. So it’s an atmosphere that he represents.”

Daniel Shek, a former Israeli consul general in San Francisco, says Israel’s government usually speaks out about overseas incidents like these.

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in the White House on Feb. 15. Netanyahu’s muted reaction to the most recent threats and attacks on U.S. Jewish sites has drawn criticism from some in Israel.

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President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in the White House on Feb. 15. Netanyahu’s muted reaction to the most recent threats and attacks on U.S. Jewish sites has drawn criticism from some in Israel.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

“For much less than what has been reported is happening in the U.S., there would have been an uproar here, and rightly so,” he says.

Shek, who considers himself in opposition to Netanyahu, blames politics for the reserved Israeli response.

“There is so much enthusiasm in the current Israeli government about the election of Donald Trump,” he says. “And they think what he stands for – I am not sure they are right – about Israeli settlements and the Palestinian issue, they don’t want to ruffle his feathers in any way, even at the cost of not speaking up against anti-Semitism, which I think is totally unacceptable.”

Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations visited Israel this week with U.S. Jewish leaders, and he says Israeli cabinet ministers did express concern about anti-Semitism in the U.S. during their meetings.

A former adviser to Netanyahu, Dore Gold, says he doesn’t see anything wrong with Netanyahu’s response.

“There has been a tendency to politicize this whole issue of anti-Semitism in America,” he says. “Opponents of the Trump administration want to blame it for anti-Semites coming out of the woodwork and attacking Jewish institutions. I think we should all be united in our struggle against anti-Semitism, and not look for a fall guy for what is happening.”

Israel trusts U.S. law enforcement, he says, to root out the source of anti-Semitic acts.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/02/22/516681680/in-israel-some-wonder-where-the-outrage-is-over-u-s-anti-semitic-attacks?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Cressida Dick, work worked for Scotland Yard for 31 years before leaving to work for Britain’s Foreign Office, has been named the new commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, the first woman to lead Scotland Yard in its 188-year history.

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Cressida Dick, work worked for Scotland Yard for 31 years before leaving to work for Britain’s Foreign Office, has been named the new commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, the first woman to lead Scotland Yard in its 188-year history.

Charlotte Ball/AP

London’s Metropolitan Police Service, better known as Scotland Yard, is Britain’s oldest and biggest police force. More than 43,000 officers and staff work for the organization.

On Wednesday, Cressida Dick, 56, was named as the first female police commissioner in the organization’s 188-year history.

In a statement, the former beat cop from London’s West End, said she was “thrilled and humbled” by the appointment.

From 2011 to 2014 Dick was head of counterterrorism, and among other operations, she oversaw security for the 2012 London Olympics.

The Associated Press reports Dick’s record is not without controversy:

She has drawn criticism for commanding an operation after the July 2005 London bombings in which an innocent Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes, was shot dead by police after being mistaken for a suicide bomber.

A jury cleared Dick of blame, but relatives of de Menezes’ had called for her not to be given the top job at Scotland Yard.

In a statement issued by cousin Patricia Armani, the family said they had “serious concerns” about the appointment.

“The message of today’s appointment is that police officers can act with impunity,” they said.

Dick worked for Scotland Yard for 31 years. In 2014, she left to become general secretary at the Foreign Office.

The Guardian newspaper reports:

Dick’s appointment means five of the top posts in the criminal justice system in England and Wales are now held by women. Lynne Owens is director general of the National Crime Agency, seen as a rival to the Met for prestige. The other women leading the justice system include Alison Saunders at the Crown Prosecution Service, [Home Secretary Amber] Rudd and [chair of the National Police Chiefs' Council Sara] Thornton.

In all, six candidates applied to be commissioner. It was the first time foreign police chiefs would be considered but none applied despite the government changing the law. The Guardian understands that one U.S. police chief was sounded out but declined to apply.

Dicks succeeds Bernard Hogan-Howe, who steps down next week after being Britain’s top police officer for more than five years.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/02/23/516779580/cressida-dick-named-scotland-yard-s-first-female-top-cop?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Mansoor al-Dayfi sits in his apartment in Serbia. He was resettled there after serving 14 years in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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Mansoor al-Dayfi sits in his apartment in Serbia. He was resettled there after serving 14 years in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Screenshot courtesy of Frontline (PBS)

In the final months of the Obama administration, the U.S. struggled to find homes for dozens of detainees in the Guantanamo Bay detention center. But the negotiations with host nations proved complicated, and five men approved for release never made it out. To understand why, I set out to interview a released Guantanamo detainee, as part of a project in partnership with the PBS series Frontline.

About This Story

This story was produced in partnership with the PBS series Frontline.

The episode examines the process for releasing Guantanamo detainees and explores what has happened to one of the last men to be released before President Trump took office. Watch a short teaser here:

I traveled to Serbia and met Mansoor al-Dayfi, who had been sent to Guantanamo Bay soon after the war-on-terrorism detention facility was opened in early 2002.

He now lives in a sparsely furnished apartment in Belgrade. It’s small, but with a separate bedroom and kitchen and a living room with a nice view of the city. Dayfi is from Yemen but couldn’t go home because of the instability there. So last July, U.S. officials sent him to Belgrade. The Serbian government set him up with a new life: an apartment, a monthly stipend and the opportunity for Serbian-language classes. After 14 years detained at Guantanamo, he’s free.

But Dayfi told me he feels like he is still in prison.

“When they brought me to Serbia they make my life worse. They totally kill my dreams. It’s making my life worse. … Not because I like Guantanamo, but my life become worse here. I feel I am in another jail,” he said.

Dayfi taught himself English at Guantanamo, but he didn’t make it far in his language classes in Serbia. He said his prospects for an education, a job, a social life and marriage are all derailed by the stigma of being an accused terrorist. He said he wants to be sent to an Arab country.

To protest his conditions — just as he did at Guantanamo — Dayfi went on a hunger strike.

“What I am asking [is] to be sent to another country [where] I can start my life. That [is] what I want, to start a family, start to finish my college education and to live like a normal person. That [is] what I want in my life. Not more,” he said. “Simple dream. … I hope to leave here, where I can start my life, this my hope. Where I can get some support and to either a country — other country where I can least make something of my life, move on with my life, that what I want.”

I had come to Serbia to find out why transferring former Guantanamo inmates deemed ready to re-enter society was so difficult. And right away I got a sense of the problem. Moments after speaking with Dayfi for the first time, I was stopped by the police and questioned. Even though the Serbian government had agreed to give him a home, it still seemed uncomfortable with an accused terrorist living in its capital city.

The officials I spoke with, up to the prime minister, said the former detainee in Belgrade was adjusting well. But after our first interview, Dayfi disappeared. For two days he didn’t answer his phone or his door. He then appeared at my hotel, looking terrified, with a fresh bruise on his head. He was certain he had been followed and that we were being watched in the hotel lobby, so we went to my room to talk.

He told me that the day after our first interview several Serbian men wearing masks had forced their way into his apartment, and pinned him to the floor. While the others searched his apartment, the man holding him down yelled at him, saying things like, “If you want to stay here, you have to keep your mouth shut. You are lying. You are playing games.”

Dayfi said he felt humiliated, and he broke down as he told the story. “They told me basically just shut your mouth and I’m lying. ‘If you don’t stay in this place, we’re going to take you someplace where you don’t like,’ ” he said.

This was a difficult situation: interviewing an ex-Guantanamo detainee hiding from authorities in a foreign country, now in my hotel room.

Making the situation more complicated, we still didn’t know who Dayfi really was.

He was captured in 2001 after the prison uprising at Mazar-e Sharif in Afghanistan and told interrogators he trained with al-Qaida and met repeatedly with Osama bin Laden.

The American government now says he was a low-level fighter who exaggerated his role to sound important. But if he has lied about being a terrorist, I had to ask him, how could I trust what he said now?

He told me he did what he needed to survive.

“In Guantanamo, when they put you under pressure, under very bad circumstances you are going to tell them what they want. That’s it,” Dayfi said. “Say, like 72 hours under very cold air conditioning, and you are tied to the ground and someone came and poured cold water, whatever. Tell him what he want. Just OK, get out of my skin. I will sign anything, I will admit anything!”

A photo of Dayfi while he was detained at Guantanamo Bay

Screenshot courtesy of Frontline (PBS)


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A photo of Dayfi while he was detained at Guantanamo Bay

Screenshot courtesy of Frontline (PBS)

Dayfi was in rough shape when I left Serbia in November and more than a dozen pounds lighter than he had been just weeks before. He finally ended his hunger strike in December under pressure from his mother, who threatened her own hunger strike if he didn’t start eating.

I spoke with Dayfi regularly on video calls and text messages. He said he was facing his first real winter without a proper coat. And he was still miserable. A few weeks ago, he video called me via WhatsApp on a Saturday afternoon, tearing through his apartment and ranting, “This is crazy!”

He was ripping the molding off the walls, yanking out wires, and he pulled out three tiny hidden cameras — “I’m really, really pissed off. I, this is f****** enough … really it’s enough… being watched on camera in the place where I live,” he said.

As we were on the call, I saw armed men dressed in black ski masks walk into his apartment. Dayfi switched to the front phone camera so I could watch as they searched his apartment. The men demanded he hand over the phone he was using to record our conversation. Dayfi refused. And after a standoff, some unmasked officials who spoke English arrived.

“So can you tell me why I’m being watched in my apartment? Give me one reason, am I a criminal?” Dayfi asked them. They didn’t have an answer for him, but demanded his phone again.

“I’m not giving you my phone! No! No, don’t talk to me like this!” Dayfi screamed at the police. “Don’t scare me,” he continued. “Look, if I was a bad guy — ” he stammered, and spat out in frustration. “I’m not stupid. I’m very smart. And very dangerous.”

“Very smart” and “very dangerous” — those words cut to the heart of the problem. Is Dayfi a real threat or just a desperate man pushed into a corner?

That’s exactly what the Serbs want to know.

Dayfi told the officials that he never wanted to be sent to Serbia, he wanted to be sent to an Arab country instead.

“Did you — did you know, uh, that you don’t probably have opportunity to do it?” one of the Serbian officials told Dayfi. “I am following the finishing on Guantanamo; I see that Trump said that they want to rise again, something like that. They want to put a new guy inside [there]. … It is not the same like before, one month. They start to put the wall between the Mexico and, and America, uh, two days ago … Everything change.”

More On Guantanamo

Eventually, there was a sense of resignation in the conversation, and almost humor. The men fell into a very cordial chat for another hour before Dayfi finally agreed to let them take his phone and laptop, which were returned two days later, Dayfi said, wiped of data.

Chuck Hagel, who served as U.S. secretary of defense from 2013 to 2015, personally signed off on the release of more than 40 detainees. “We say to the host countries that are going to accept them, we want these people to get back into society, where they are productive citizens. That means education; that means rehabilitation.”

Ambassador Lee Wolosky, the State Department special envoy for Guantanamo closure under President Obama who negotiated the deal with Serbia to take in Dayfi, says Dayfi got a fair deal.

“This is a pretty remarkable thing. An individual is picked up as a fighter by the United States. He spends a period of time in Guantanamo. And then one of our partner countries offers not only to take him in, but to give him a stipend, give him an apartment, give him language training, and to provide two years of educational support, as he tries to get himself educated,” Wolosky says.

Today, 41 detainees remain at Guantanamo. Ten are scheduled to go on trial in military commissions, including the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The rest are being held without charge. President Trump has vowed to stop releases.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/2017/02/21/516441733/out-of-gitmo-released-guantanamo-detainee-struggles-in-his-new-home?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Germany last week and heads to Mexico this week, amid growing questions about how much influence he has in the White House.

Brendan Smialowski/AP


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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Germany last week and heads to Mexico this week, amid growing questions about how much influence he has in the White House.

Brendan Smialowski/AP

Rex Tillerson is heading on his second foreign trip as secretary of state later this week. But as in his visit last week to Germany, Tillerson is expected to try to keep a low profile when he travels to Mexico on Wednesday.

Tillerson has said very little in public since taking office. There has been no State Department briefing since the Trump administration began a month ago.

For two days at last week’s G-20 meetings in Bonn, where Tillerson was meeting with his counterparts from the group of 20 leading economies, reporters tried but failed to get the secretary of state to weigh in on some of the key foreign policy issues facing the Trump administration.

“Met a lot of new friends,” Tillerson said with a laugh at a photo op.

The former Exxon Mobil CEO is new to politics. His aides say he was mainly in listening mode on his first trip. He was also trying to reassure nervous allies in Europe about where the Trump administration is heading.

Britain’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, told his colleagues at a security conference in Munich that he is impressed so far by his U.S. counterpart.

“Rex clearly understands and thought deeply about some of the conflicts that everybody is now looking to the U.S. to address, particularly Yemen, Libya, and of course Syria and Iraq,” Johnson said. “I’m optimistic about this, folks, not least because I have no option.”

But some foreign diplomats are wondering just how much influence Tillerson actually has with the White House. The secretary of state was not part of Trump’s recent meetings with the leaders of Canada, Israel and Japan. The White House hasn’t approved a deputy for him yet, and many high-level State Department jobs have yet to be filled.

That worries Tom Countryman, a former State Department official who served most recently as acting undersecretary for arms control and international security.

“The very slow pace at which the White House seems to be paying attention to filling those vacancies is an indication, I fear, that the White House is content to have empty agencies across the government that cannot interfere with the edicts that are issued by the White House,” Countryman says.

Last month, Countryman was nudged out of his arms control job by the Trump administration, one of several senior foreign service officers effectively forced into retirement. Since then, the administration has moved to eliminate one of the State Department’s deputy positions and the job of counselor, another holdover from the Obama administration.

That kind of reshuffling is not unusual, says Brett Schaefer, who has written about reforming the State Department for the Heritage Foundation.

You’ve seen changes in the structure of the organization by pretty much every secretary that has come in,” he says. “They’ve either established new positions or shifted boxes around to try to comport with their ideas of what a more efficient structure should be.”

The Obama administration hired many special envoys and expanded the State Department budget, Schaefer notes.

“But what you haven’t seen,” he says of the Obama era, “is a sense that the State Department is functioning more efficiently in championing the foreign policy of the United States.”

Schaefer says Tillerson would like to move more quickly to get his team in place. Countryman, the retired diplomat, says that is key.

“Diplomacy is not like other businesses,” Countryman says.

The U.S. needs a lot of high-level diplomats to interact with countries around the world, he says.

“Even if they operate with a very small staff and a flexible set of responsibilities,” Countryman says, “it gives you greater capability respond to allies and friends who need a high-level touch by the United States.”

This week, the Trump administration will be giving a high-level touch to Mexico. Tillerson will be joining Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly there. They’ll be trying to put the relationship back on track after Trump’s phone call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and his many statements demanding that Mexico pay for a border wall.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/02/21/516480949/secretary-of-state-rex-tillerson-keeps-low-profile-since-taking-office?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

An airstrike targeting an Islamic State group cash and finance distribution center near Mosul, Iraq, as shown in a video released by the U.S. military.

AP


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An airstrike targeting an Islamic State group cash and finance distribution center near Mosul, Iraq, as shown in a video released by the U.S. military.

AP

The so-called Islamic State’s financial fortunes are bound to the amount of territory it controls.

And the group’s dramatic loss of ground in its strongholds in Syria and Iraq is putting pressure on its finances, according to a new report from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

Though exact figures are murky, the researchers assessed information, including leaked documents, about ISIS finances. They found that the group took in $870 million last year, which is approximately 50 percent less income than in 2014.

That’s because its most significant income sources — taxes and fees, oil, and looting — are linked to territory, as ICSR Director Peter Neumann tells All Things Considered.

“In fact what made them so rich in 2014, the fact that they were tied to territory, territory that they could exploit — that also explains why their income has declined so dramatically,” he says. Neumann adds that losing control of key cities “means fewer businesses to tax, fewer people to tax, less oil fields to be exploited.”

This stands in contrast to financing patterns of most terrorist groups, as the report explains, which tend to be reliant on “foreign donors, charities, or conducting its ‘business’ of the international banking system.”

Iraqi forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition air support and advisers, are currently attempting to wrest Mosul from ISIS control. It’s the group’s last major population center in Iraq. The operation began in October and is now focused on the western part of the key city.

The apparent decline in the group’s finances, the report states, is a product of the coalition’s broader military campaign rather than efforts specifically aimed at their finances.

But as Neumann explains, a decline in territory and finances for ISIS “will not have an immediate effect on terrorist operations abroad.” Here’s why:

“We know that in Europe for example, terrorists have been told to self-finance their attacks, even the Paris attacks, which were fairly complex in November 2015. According to the French government, they cost less than 20,000 euros and that money was raised through petty criminality — people were taking out fake loans, they were selling consumer goods, they were even dealing with drugs.

“So this is quite independent of Syria, of ISIS the central organization as it exists in its core territory in Syria and Iraq. And as ISIS says itself, one of the responses of the declining territory in its core territory will be to increase, or to call for the increase, of terrorist operations abroad. So in the short term, I don’t think it will have any effect. If anything, it may actually have a negative effect. It may mean actually more effort to carry out terrorist operations abroad.”

At the same time, the extremist group does not appear to be finding new sources of revenue. Neumann says this may mean a shift in strategy: “They are going underground. They are becoming essentially a criminal network again that is involved in smuggling, in extortion, that is involved in common criminality.”

The findings corroborate recent reports from the region that suggest financial strain.

“Having built up loyalty among militants with good salaries and honeymoon and baby bonuses,” The Associated Press reports, “the group has stopped providing even the smaller perks: free energy drinks and Snickers bars.”

The wire service adds that Mosul residents in ISIS-controlled areas are now being punished for dress code breaches with fines, rather than floggings, as they had done previously.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/02/21/516466023/new-report-finds-isis-territorial-defeats-are-also-hitting-the-groups-wallet?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world



ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Here’s how the U.K. parliament spent Presidents Day – debating whether the U.S. president, Donald J. Trump, should meet their queen. The queen of England has invited Trump for a state visit later this year, but more than 1.8 million people signed a petition saying Trump should not enjoy such an honor. For more, we’re joined by NPR’s Frank Langfitt. And, Frank, could Parliament actually block Trump’s visit?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: No, they couldn’t, Ari. You know, this is just basically a debate over whether he should meet the Queen. There’s not going to be any vote, but it shows how unpopular right now Trump is here.

SHAPIRO: So what were some of the arguments that we heard today for refusing Trump a meeting with the queen?

LANGFITT: Well, you heard everything from disparagement of women to contempt for the news media. Paul Flynn, he’s a member of Parliament with the Labour Party, he pointed out that tens of thousands of people came out in London to protest Trump the day after the inauguration. And Flynn delivered this with sort of a typical dry British wit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL FLYNN: It was an expression of fear and anxiety that we had someone in the White House wielding this enormous power, but unfortunately the intellectual capacity of the president is protozoan.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

LANGFITT: Yeah. It’s the usual – it’s, you know, it’s that kind of debate that you get. You would remember ’cause you were here, the kind of debate that you hear in Parliament.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Did anyone in Parliament speak out in defense of President Trump?

LANGFITT: Kind of. Yeah, they did. Nigel Evans, he’s a parliamentarian with the conservative Tory Party. Lawmakers, he said, should respect the will of the American people and recognize that a lot of same people who voted for Trump also voted here for Brexit, same kinds of folks. Which, of course, remember, Brexit was very unpopular in Parliament here. And here’s how Nigel Evans put it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIGEL EVANS: We may not like some of the things that he says, and I certainly don’t like some of the things that he’s said in the past. But I do respect the fact that he stood on a platform which he is now delivering. He is going to go down in history as being roundly condemned for being the only politician to deliver on his promises.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

LANGFITT: Now, Ari, what really irks people here is that Trump was offered a state visit just a week into office. This is, of course, as you remember, a huge honor, and far sooner than any previous American president. Now David Lammy, he’s of the Labour Party, he said he was appalled by this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID LAMMY: Seven days, really? And why? Because this great country is so desperate for a trade deal that we would throw all of our own history out the window?

SHAPIRO: Of course, the British prime minister, Theresa May, did visit the United States briefly after Trump was inaugurated, though it wasn’t a state visit. This might be some degree of reciprocity. But tell us about this trade deal that he’s talking about.

LANGFITT: Well, this is what it all comes down to. The U.K., of course, with Brexit is leaving the European Union. It needs friends. And Trump has offered a trade deal with the U.S. Most people here think it’s not going to really amount to much, but Lammy basically says the government, by doing this, is kind of embarrassing itself.

SHAPIRO: Frank, can you provide a little bit of historical perspective? The special relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. is discussed all the time. But there was also a sense during the George W. Bush years that Tony Blair, the prime minister at that point, was the lap dog of the U.S. president. Do you see some of those concerns bubbling back up to the surface all these years later?

LANGFITT: Absolutely, very, very similar. People talk about Theresa May bending over backwards to work with Donald Trump, who’s extremely unpopular here in the United Kingdom. And people feel to some degree, some people feel that she’s kind of selling out British values.

SHAPIRO: That’s NPR’s Frank Langfitt speaking with us from London. Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF DJ MAKO SONG, “BLU”)

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Article source: http://www.npr.org/2017/02/20/516292246/british-parliament-debates-donald-trumps-visit?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world