Jeff Sessions: Completely Out Of Touch With Honesty Or Truth?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday ordered federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest penalties possible for criminal defendants. CreditMichael Reynolds/European Pressphoto Agency

WASHINGTON — As a senator, Jeff Sessions was such a conservative outlier on criminal justice issues that he pushed other Republicans to the forefront of his campaign to block a sentencing overhaul, figuring they would be taken more seriously.

Now Mr. Sessions is attorney general and need not take a back seat to anyone when it comes to imposing his ultratough-on-crime views. The effect of his transition from being just one of 535 in Congress to being top dog at the Justice Department was underscored on Friday when he ordered federal prosecutors to make sure they threw the book at criminal defendants and pursued the toughest penalties possible.

“This is a key part of President Trump’s promise to keep America safe,” Mr. Sessions said on Friday as he received an award from the New York City police union to mark the beginning of National Police Week.

Given Mr. Sessions’s long record as a zealous prosecutor and his well-known views on the dangers of drug use, his push to undo Obama-era sentencing policies and ramp up the war on drugs was hardly a surprise. But it was still striking, because it ran so contrary to the growing bipartisan consensus coursing through Washington and many state capitals in recent years — a view that America was guilty of excessive incarceration and that large prison populations were too costly in tax dollars and the toll on families and communities.

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In an increasingly rare achievement, conservatives and liberals had come together on the issue, putting them on the verge of winning reductions in mandatory minimum sentences and creating new programs to help offenders adjust to life after prison. Given the success shown by similar changes at the state level, bipartisan majorities in the House and the Senate seemed eager to move ahead on the issue last year.

Despite the strong support, stiff opposition from Mr. Sessions and a few other outspoken Republicans — Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia among them — stalled the bill in the Senate and sapped momentum from a simultaneous House effort.

As the 2016 elections approached, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and majority leader, shied from bringing to the Senate floor the politically charged issue that had divided his party. So the effort died, much to the disappointment of the unusual cross-section of advocates behind it.

Backers of the sentencing overhaul say that Mr. Sessions, who as a senator from Alabama supported legislation that would have made a second marijuana trafficking conviction a capital crime, is living in the past and is badly misguided.

“Locking up people who don’t pose a threat to public safety is a waste of taxpayer money, a waste of resources and doesn’t deter crime,” said Steve Hawkins, the president of the Coalition for Public Safety, a sentencing reform advocacy group whose partners are as diverse as the liberal Center for American Progress and the conservative FreedomWorks.

These organizations, along with Koch Industries, argued for sentencing changes as a way to save governments the huge costs of maintaining prisons and to make more productive contributors out of nonviolent offenders — a rare win-win for ideologically divided factions.

The wide backing, which came as an opioid crisis was hitting economically struggling communities across America, struck a chord with Republicans who might usually balk at a less punitive model. Prominent Republican backers in the Senate included John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 party leader; Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary Committee chairman, who was instrumental in advancing the legislation; and Mike Lee of Utah, a well-respected younger conservative.

But while these lawmakers saw an opportunity to take a new approach to sentencing and incarceration, Mr. Sessions was not convinced. Despite a broad decrease in crime in recent years, Mr. Sessions believed that a recent surge in violence in some cities showed that America was again at risk. An early backer of Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions shared his stark vision of an urban America besieged by criminals, and argued that plea deals disguised the real nature of crimes committed by people portrayed as nonviolent.

Mr. Sessions repeatedly said that going soft on crime would accelerate a return to the days of drug-fueled criminality across the country — a point he reaffirmed on Friday.

“We know that drugs and crime go hand in hand,” he said. “Drug trafficking is an inherently violent business.”

In the Senate, Mr. Sessions was more than willing to cede the limelight on the issue to Mr. Cotton, a rising star among conservatives who referred to the Senate legislation as the “criminal leniency bill” and said America was suffering from an “under-incarceration” problem. But Mr. Sessions remained a crucial force.

“He’s been the No. 1 opponent of the bipartisan effort in the Senate to reduce mandatory minimums for low-level nonviolent drug offenses,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, who was one of the chief authors of the bipartisan bill.

Advocates of the sentencing changes say they hope that the unilateral move by Mr. Sessions will stir Congress to intervene and establish new policy through legislation. And Jared Kushner, the president’s adviser and son-in-law, has been assigned the job of working on a criminal justice overhaul, among other issues.

But pushing the bipartisan approach would require confronting the sitting attorney general and perhaps the president — a challenge many Republicans may not be willing to accept. None of the chief Republican backers of the Senate legislation issued any public reaction to the new Justice Department directive on Friday — not a good sign for proponents of an overhaul.

As a senator, Mr. Sessions succeeded in stalling the sentencing reform movement. As attorney general, he has sent it reeling in Washington, and it could be very hard for advocates to regain their footing while he is the nation’s chief law enforcement official.

Attorney General Orders Tougher Sentences, Rolling Back Obama Policy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions has in the past suggested that prosecuting drug crimes more vigorously will broadly reduce other crime. CreditJim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors late Thursday to pursue the toughest possible charges and sentences against crime suspects, reversing Obama administration efforts to ease penalties for some nonviolent drug violations.

The drastic shift in criminal justice policy, foreshadowed during recent weeks, is Mr. Sessions’s first major stamp on the Justice Department, and it highlights several of his top targets: drug dealing, gun crime and gang violence. The Justice Department released the new directives on Friday.

In an eight-paragraph memo to the nation’s prosecutors, Mr. Sessions returned to the guidance of President George W. Bush’s administration by calling for more uniform punishments — including mandatory minimum sentences — and directing prosecutors to pursue the strictest possible charges. Mr. Sessions’s policy, however, is broader than that of the Bush administration, and will be more reliant on the judgments of United States attorneys and assistant attorneys general.

The policy signaled a return to “enforcing the laws that Congress has passed,” Mr. Sessions said on Friday at the Justice Department, characterizing his memo as unique for the leeway it afforded federal prosecutors around the country.

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“They deserve to be un-handcuffed and not micromanaged from Washington,” he said. “It means we are going to meet our responsibility to enforce the law with judgment and fairness. It’s simply the right and moral thing to do.”

The guidance allowed for limited exceptions. “There will be circumstances in which good judgment would lead a prosecutor to conclude that a strict application of the above charging policy is not warranted,” Mr. Sessions wrote.

His memo replaced the orders of former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who in 2013 encouraged prosecutors to consider the individual circumstances of a case and to exercise discretion in charging drug crimes. Mr. Holder directed prosecutors — when considering nonviolent defendants with insignificant criminal histories and no connections to drug trafficking or other criminal organizations — to omit details about drug quantities from charging documents so as not to lead to automatically harsh penalties.

Document: Memo by Sessions to U.S. Attorneys on Charges and Sentencing

Mr. Holder called the new policy “unwise and ill-informed,” saying it ignored consensus between Democrats and Republicans, and data demonstrating that prosecutions of high-level drug defendants had risen under his guidance.

“This absurd reversal is driven by voices who have not only been discredited but until now have been relegated to the fringes of this debate,” he said in a statement.

Supporters of Mr. Holder’s policy have argued that quantities of drugs are a weak indicator of how dangerous a person may be.

“Long sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses do not promote public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation,” Mr. Holder wrote in his 2013 memo, noting that in fact they exacerbate an expensive, overburdened prison system. The Obama administration, which led a bipartisan push for more lenient and flexible sentencing laws, presided over the first decline in the federal prison population in a generation.

Mr. Sessions’s memo explicitly mentioned Mr. Holder’s 2013 directive in a footnote and rescinded it effective immediately.

Mr. Sessions’s policy was most similar to one issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2003. Then, Mr. Ashcroft outlined six specific types of “limited exceptions” in his memo — which ran nearly four times the length of Mr. Sessions’s new guidance, and repeatedly referenced particular federal statutes. Mr. Sessions, by contrast, outlined no specific scenarios and provided little detail.

Instead, he simply directed prosecutors to “carefully consider whether an exception may be justified.” He said any exceptions to ease criminal penalties must be documented and approved by United States attorneys, assistant attorneys general or their designees.

“There’s a long history of these memos saying both that prosecutors should charge the most serious, readily provable offense, but also that prosecutors should exercise some discretion,” said David Alan Sklansky, a law professor at Stanford University who specializes in criminal justice. “There’s tension between those two things.”

Syria Has Changed The World

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT AND THE NEW YOUR TIMES)

Syria Changed the World

Istanbul- The world seems awash in chaos and uncertainty, perhaps more so than at any point since the end of the Cold War.

Authoritarian-leaning leaders are on the rise, and liberal democracy itself seems under siege. The post-World War II order is fraying as fighting spills across borders and international institutions — built, at least in theory, to act as brakes on wanton slaughter — fail to provide solutions. Populist movements on both sides of the Atlantic are not just riding anti-establishment anger, but stoking fears of a religious “other,” this time Muslims.

These challenges have been crystallized, propelled and intensified by a conflagration once dismissed in the West as peripheral, to be filed, perhaps, under “Muslims killing Muslims”: the war in Syria.

Now in its seventh year, this war allowed to rage for so long, killing 400,000 Syrians and plunging millions more into misery, has sent shock waves around the world. Millions have fled to neighboring countries, some pushing on to Europe.

The notion that the postwar world would no longer let leaders indiscriminately kill their own citizens now seems in full retreat. The Syrian regime’s response to rebellion, continuing year after year, threatens to normalize levels of state brutality not seen in decades. All the while Bashar al-Assad invokes an excuse increasingly popular among the world’s governments since Sept. 11: He is “fighting terror.”

“Syria did not cause everything,” said the Syrian dissident Yassin al-Haj Saleh, a secular leftist who spent nearly two decades as a political prisoner under Mr. Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez. “But yes, Syria changed the world.”

The United Nations Security Council is paralyzed. Aid agencies are overwhelmed. Even a United States missile strike on a Syrian military air base, ordered by President Trump in retaliation for a chemical attack on a rebel-held town, seems little more than a blip in the turmoil, the latest unilateral intervention in the war. Two weeks later, the Syrian regime, backed by Russia, continues its scorched-earth bombings.

There remains no consensus on what should have been or could still be done for Syria, or whether a more, or less, muscular international approach would have brought better results.

The Obama White House kept Syria at arm’s length, determined, understandably, to avoid the mistakes of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. And Western leaders surmised that unlike the 1990s civil war in Bosnia, the Syrian conflict could burn in isolation from their countries.

Moral or not, that calculation was incorrect. The crisis has crossed Europe’s doorstep and is roiling its politics.

The conflict began in 2011, with political protests. Syrian security forces cracked down, and with Western support stronger in rhetoric than reality, some of Assad’s opponents took up arms. The regime responded with mass detentions, torture, starvation sieges and bombing of rebel-held areas. Extremist jihadists arose, with ISIS eventually declaring a caliphate and fomenting violence in Europe.

More than five million Syrians have fled their country. Hundreds of thousands joined a refugee trail across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Images of crowds of desperate refugees — and of the extreme violence they had faced at home — were used by politicians to fuel fears of Islam, and of Muslims. That lifted far-right European parties already riding on resentment of immigrants, from Finland to Hungary.

The refugee crisis has posed one of the biggest challenges in memory to the cohesion of the European Union and some of its core values: freedom of movement, common borders, pluralism. It heightened anxieties over identity and culture, feeding off economic insecurity and mistrust of governing elites that grew over decades with globalization and financial crises.

Suddenly European countries were erecting fences and internment camps to stop migrants. While Germany welcomed refugees, other countries resisted sharing the burden. The far right spoke of protecting white, Christian Europe. Even the Brexit campaign played, in part, on fears of the refugees.

In the United States, as in Europe, right-wing extremists are among those embracing authoritarian, indiscriminately violent responses to perceived “Islamist” threats. White nationalists like Richard Spencer and David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, post adoring pictures on social media of Assad, who portrays himself as a bulwark against extremism.

In my decade of covering violence against civilians in the Middle East, mass murder by states has often seemed less gripping to Western audiences than far smaller numbers of theatrically staged killings — horrific as they are — by ISIS and its Qaeda predecessors.

The United States’ own “war on terror” played a part in making violations of humanitarian and legal norms routine: detentions at Guantánamo Bay, the torture at Abu Ghraib and the continuing drone and air wars with mounting civilian tolls in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.

Then, too, Syria’s war broke out when the global stage was set for division and ineffectiveness. Russia was eager for a bigger role, the United States was retreating, Europe was consumed with internal problems. Russia and the United States saw opposite interests in Syria, deadlocking the Security Council.

The New York Times

Facebook murder suspect killed himself after police pursuit in Pennsylvania

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

‘We have our closure’: Facebook murder suspect killed himself after police pursuit in Pennsylvania

April 18 at 4:10 PM

Pennsylvania police detail final hours of manhunt for Facebook murder suspect

 

 
Steve Stephens, the man who posted a video of himself on Facebook shooting an elderly man in Cleveland, was found dead by Pennsylvania State Police on April 18. (Reuters)

The man suspected of fatally shooting a 74-year-old, randomly selected target and posting a video of the killing on Facebook committed suicide as police were closing in on him Tuesday, authorities said.

Steve W. Stephens — the subject of a nationwide manhunt after Sunday’s horrific slaying in Cleveland reignited a debate about violence in the Internet age — was spotted late Tuesday morning at a McDonald’s in Erie County, Pa.

A restaurant manager told the New York Times that drive-through employees recognized Stephens, phoned police and tried to delay him by holding up his french fries.

“He just took his nuggets and said, ‘I have to go,’” the manager said.

Pennsylvania State Police said they chased him from the McDonald’s for about two miles, finally ramming his car.

“As the vehicle was spinning out of control … Stephens pulled a pistol and shot himself in the head,” police said in a statement.

Thus ended a desperate, rapidly expanding search that began Sunday — when a video on Stephens’s Facebook page appeared to show him gunning down Robert Godwin Sr. for no apparent reason.

“We have our closure,” Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson said at a news conference in Ohio.

But Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams probably spoke for many when he said moments later: “We have so many questions.”

Godwin was killed on Easter, as he walked alone down a residential road in east Cleveland, carrying a grocery bag.

He was reportedly collecting aluminum cans, though his family told CNN that he was walking home from a holiday meal when Stephens — 6-foot-1 and 224 pounds, according to police — approached with a cellphone camera.

“I found somebody I’m about to kill,” Stephens said in the live video. “He’s an old dude.”

There was little in Stephens’s history, as told by those who knew him, to suggest the violence he was about to document.

He had no criminal history. He had worked for many years at a children’s behavioral center in Ohio, where he had no red flags in his personnel file, according to the Erie Times-News.

A neighbor told CNN that he often stayed with his girlfriend and her children in a house outside Cleveland and that he was there two days before the killing, fixing the garage.

But Stephens’s mother told CNN that he’d bid her a cryptic farewell that weekend. He’d said that he was “mad at his girlfriend” and — in a phone call shortly before the killing — that he was “shooting people.”

Authorities say Stephens had never met Godwin before he pulled his Ford Fusion up beside him about 2 p.m.

Stephens approached Godwin. “Can you do me a favor?” Stephens said, as seen in the video. He asked Godwin to say the name “Joy Lane.”

“Joy Lane?” Godwin responded.

“Yeah,” Stephens said. “She’s the reason why this is about to happen to you.”

Stephens then asked Godwin how old he was, raised a gun into the frame and pulled the trigger.

The camera spun around; when the picture came back into focus, Godwin was on the ground.

In the video, Stephens claimed to have killed more than a dozen people. Police said they have not confirmed any other deaths.

Williams, the police chief, said Tuesday that the case started with one tragedy and ended with another, about 100 miles from the street in Cleveland where Godwin died. “A loss of life is a loss of life,” the chief said.

Stephens posted a subsequent video — on his cellphone, telling someone to go online to watch the footage.

“I can’t talk to you right now. I f‑‑‑‑‑ up, man,” he says.

“I shamed myself,” he adds in the video, posted by Cleveland.com. “I snapped. Dog, I just snapped, dog. I just snapped. I just killed 13 motherf‑‑‑‑‑‑, man. That’s what I did — I killed 13 people. And I’m about to keep killing until they catch me, f‑‑‑ it. … I’m working on 14 as we speak.”

“She put me at my pushing point, man,” Stephens says, speaking of Lane, laughing and calling it the “Easter Sunday Joy Lane massacre.”

CBS News reported that it communicated with Lane via text message.

“We had been in a relationship for several years,” she wrote, according to the network. “I am sorry that all of this has happened. My heart & prayers goes out to the family members of the victim(s). Steve really is a nice guy … he is generous with everyone he knows. He was kind and loving to me and my children.”

The case prompted Facebook to review how quickly and easily its users can report material that violates standards.

“We have more to do here, and we’re reminded of this this week by the tragedy in Cleveland,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a developer conference Tuesday. “We will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening;”

Three men were shot last year in Norfolk while one was broadcasting live on Facebook from inside a car. And in 2015, a shooter killed a TV journalist and her cameraman during a live television broadcast before posting his own video of the killing on Facebook.

In January, four people in Chicago were accused of attacking an 18-year-old disabled man while broadcasting the assault on Facebook Live. They have since pleaded not guilty.

Other live platforms have been used to broadcast similar videos.

Facebook said it suspended Stephens’s account minutes after learning of the gruesome video.

But it had circulated for hours by then, horrifying countless people.

“This is something that should not have been shared around the world. Period,” Cleveland’s police chief said.

On Monday, in a tearful interview on CNN, Godwin’s relatives said they forgave Stephens.

“The thing I would take away most from our father is that he taught us about God: how to fear God, how to love God and how to forgive,” Tonya Godwin-Baines, the victim’s daughter, said on CNN.

And so, she said, “each one of us forgives the killer, the murderer. We want to wrap our arms around him.”

Authorities just wanted to find him.

 

Authorities issued an arrest warrant on a charge of aggravated murder, put him on the FBI most-wanted listed, and offered up to $50,000 for information leading to his arrest — while warning that he was “armed and dangerous.”

Williams said authorities had contact with Stephens via cellphone early in the investigation, but his last known location was the site where Godwin was killed.

“I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason for what happened,” the police chief told reporters Monday. “I don’t think there’s anything we can point to specifically to say that this is what sparked this. Only Steve knows that.”

Hundreds of reports of possible sightings started to pour in from across the country — most of them inaccurate.

Early Tuesday, someone called police to report that he thought he had seen Stephens at a hotel in Washington, but a police spokesman there said authorities quickly determined that the person was not the man being sought.

On Tuesday morning, FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson said Stephens could be anywhere.

“You’re going to see law enforcement activity who knows where,” she told The Washington Post.

It’s not clear what brought Stephens to Erie County. Police described the area as remote, rural and full of potential hiding places.

Cleveland.com reported that he’d posted to Facebook about extensive gambling losses at a casino nearby, and police told CNN that he was a regular patron.

In any case, Pennsylvania State Police were on the trail of his Ford Fusion by 11 a.m., after getting the tip from the McDonald’s.

They scoured the area for the “Facebook Killer” and chased his car for about two miles — before causing it to crash across the street from a former elementary school, according to the Erie Times-News.

“As the officers approached that vehicle, Steve Stephens took his own life,” Williams said.

“We would like to have brought in Steven peacefully and really talk to him and find out why this happened,” he said.

Not everyone thought so.

“All I can say is that I wish he had gone down in a hail of 100 bullets,” Godwin’s daughter Brenda Haymon told CNN.

Drew Harwell, Travis M. Andrews and Fred Barbash contributed to this report, which has been updated numerous times. An earlier version incorrectly identified the suspect’s license plate as well as the year Facebook launched its live-streaming feature.

Science helps verify an unbelievable Holocaust escape account

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL

Jews digging a trench in which they were later buried in, after being shot, in Ponary, Poland. (Courtesy of Yad Vashem)
The escape tunnel at Ponar is witness to ‘the victory of hope over desperation’

Science helps verify an unbelievable Holocaust escape account

The story of a band of Lithuanian Jews who dug their way to freedom was met with widespread skepticism over the years. A new TV program sheds light on their incredible tale

April 15, 2017, 8:38 am 4

LOS ANGELES (JTA) – A one-hour TV program airing next week on PBS links brings advanced scientific techniques to bear on an incredible Holocaust escape story.

“Holocaust Escape Tunnel,” a “Nova” production to be shown April 19, sheds new light on the attempt by 80 imprisoned men and women — mostly Lithuanian Jews — to make a break for freedom in the face of Nazi bullets. The show documents the application of scientific methods to verify what would otherwise be a nearly unbelievable story.

The documentary is set in and around Vilna, the Yiddish and Hebrew designation for Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. At its peak, before World War II and the Holocaust, the city boasted a Jewish population of some 77,000, had 105 synagogues, the largest Jewish library in the world and six daily Jewish newspapers.

The vigorous Jewish life in Vilna started to decline in 1940, when the Soviet Union absorbed Lithuania. It was almost completely destroyed after German armies attacked Russia in 1941, quickly conquering Lithuania.

Within a year Nazis shot and killed – in the days before Auschwitz-type gas chambers – most of the Jews and tossed their corpses into huge pits in the nearby Ponar Forest, initially dug by the Soviets to store fuel and ammunition. One pit alone held 20,000 to 25,000 corpses.

In late 1943, with Russian armies advancing from the east and partisans attacking German supply lines in surrounding forests, Hitler’s headquarters in Berlin decided to cover up the monumental massacre by ordering that all the bodies be cremated.

The Germans ordered the region’s surviving Jews, along with some Russian prisoners of war, to first chop down large trees in the forests, cut them into planks, form huge layers of wood, spread the bodies between the layers and then set them aflame. Methodically, the Germans formed 10 “burning brigades,” each consisting of 80 prisoners, mainly Jewish.

After a day’s work, the “burners” were held in pits and their feet shackled. One such unit, consisting of 76 men and four women, decided it was duty bound to pass on the truth to the world and future generations.

The prisoners freed their legs by cutting the shackles with a smuggled-in file and, for the next 76 days, using only spoons and their hands, carved out a 2-by-2-foot-wide tunnel extending 130 feet.

April 15, 1944, the last day of Passover, was set for the escape. As the first prisoners left the tunnel, guards opened fire and killed almost the entire group. But 12 made it out and cut through the wire fence. They joined a detachment of partisans commanded by the legendary Abba Kovner.

At the end of the war, all but one of the escapees were still alive and eventually settled elsewhere, mainly in pre-state Israel and the United States.

Among the thousands, if not millions, of post-Holocaust remembrances, the story of the Vilna escapees was met with widespread skepticism even by the future wives and children of the 11 survivors, said historian Richard Freund, who is prominently featured in the documentary.

The skepticism was fueled by the absence of any physical evidence of the alleged tunnel. Lithuania — already beleaguered by charges of its wartime collaboration with the Germans — showed little enthusiasm for further investigations.

In recent years, however, with a change of attitude by a new generation of Lithuanians, their government was ready to seek the truth about the Holocaust and invite outside experts to participate in the endeavor.

An initial contact was Jon Seligman, a leading researcher with the Israel Antiquities Authority. Freund, of the University of Hartford, also was interested — he had directed archaeological projects at the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland, as well as at six ancient sites in Israel. In 2014, the two scholars decided to cooperate on the project, spurred by their similar ancestral descent from Vilna Jews. A third member of the documentary team with Jewish roots in Eastern Europe was Paula Apsell, the senior producer for “Nova.”

The infamous “Burning Pit” used by the Nazis to burn the remains of their Jewish victims in order to rid themselves of all evidence. (Ezra Wolfinger for WGBH/JTA)

The infamous “Burning Pit” used by the Nazis to burn the remains of their Jewish victims in order to rid themselves of all evidence. (Ezra Wolfinger for WGBH/JTA)

Seligman and Freund had initially set their sights on exploring the fate of the Great Synagogue of Vilna, once the center of Jewish worship and scholarship, which had been destroyed by the Germans. The Soviets later razed the remains and built a school there.

The two scholars — backed by other experts and teams of young volunteers — made some dramatic discoveries at the Great Synagogue site, but also were intrigued by reports on the escape tunnel.

In approaching the latter, the project leaders ruled out using the traditional method of digging into an archaeological site with spades and machines.

“Traditional archaeology uses a highly destructive method,” Freund told JTA. “You only have one chance to get it right and you can’t repeat an experiment. Additionally, in our case, we were determined not to desecrate the site and victimize the dead a second time.”

Instead, the teams used two noninvasive techniques that are widely employed in gas and oil explorations. One approach was through Ground Penetrating Radar, or GPR, which uses radar pulses to return images of objects found beneath the earth’s surface. The results were analyzed in Los Angeles by geophysicist Dean Goodman, who developed the GPR software.

In the second approach, called Electrical Resistivity Tomography, or ETR, scientists investigate sub-surface materials through their electrical properties. The same technique is widely used in medical imaging of the human body.

Thanks to these techniques, in 2016 the investigators were able to scientifically confirm the existence and dimensions of a wartime escape tunnel, as JTA reported at the time. The New York Times listed the feat as one of the top science stories of the year.

One of the successful tunnel escapees was Shlomo Gol, whose son Abraham (Abe) was born in a displaced persons camp in Munich, Germany. The elder Gol died in 1986 at the age of 77, and his son will be 68 in July. The family initially immigrated to Israel, then moved to the United States.

Abe Gol, who lives in Pembroke Pines, Florida, told JTA that friends recalled his father as a young man full of life and as a natural leader. However, the father young Abe knew “withdrew within himself” and did not speak of his experiences.

The little he learned of his father’s past came in two ways: One was the annual reunion, on the last day of Passover, held by escapees who had settled in Israel. At dinner, when shots of vodka loosened tongues, the men talked of the past, paying no attention to the boy listening in.

In later years, Gol discovered that his father had kept a written record of his past, which the son translated into English. One small recollection from the diary: the persistent stink from the combination of kerosene and tar the prisoners had to pour on the wood pyres to fan the flames.

At the time of the tunnel’s discovery, Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority wrote, “As an Israeli whose family originated in Lithuania, I was reduced to tears on the discovery of the escape tunnel at Ponar. This discovery is a heartwarming witness to the victory of hope over desperation. The exposure of this tunnel enables us to present not only the horrors of the Holocaust, but also the yearning for life.”

With the deaths of the last eyewitnesses of the Holocaust, Freund said, historians will have to rely increasingly on yet unknown scientific and technological advances to preserve and enlarge our knowledge of the great tragedy of the 20th century.

“Holocaust Escape Tunnel” will air April 19 at 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific times; 8 p.m. Central time. Check your local PBS station for details.

Referendum Inflames Concerns Over Turkey’s Grip in Germany

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES AND REUTERS)

The Cologne Central Mosque in Germany is covered in windows that allow outsiders and Muslims to have a view of each other’s worlds. CreditThilo Schmülgen/Reuters

COLOGNE, Germany — The impressive Islamic complex here, Germany’s largest, boasts towering minarets and a soaring prayer hall. But what Turkish officials here seem most proud of are the hundreds of windows, which allow outsiders and Muslim worshipers to glimpse each other’s worlds. The idea, they say, is transparency.

Yet it is what lies beneath the surface these days that concerns both Germans and Turks as Turkey prepares to vote on Sunday in a referendum that could vastly expand the powers of its already authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose reach into Germany — both open and concealed — has become an increasing point of friction.

Since Turks arrived for work in the 1960s, Germany has maintained the largest Turkish diaspora in Europe, now some three million people. For many years, Germany was happy to let the Turkish state provide and pay for prayer leaders and other provisions for its emigrants. This now includes overseeing more than 900 Muslim associations and training and appointing many of Germany’s imams. The large mosque complex here is a part of that network.

But Turkey’s resulting grip in Germany is coming back to haunt both sides. German intelligence agencies and politicians now charge that Mr. Erdogan is using the decades-old arrangement to hunt down and punish opponents as he pursues a desperately wanted victory that would make his authority all but unchallengeable. Roughly half of the Turks who live in Germany hold Turkish citizenship and are eligible to vote.

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The Germans have accused some imams sent by Turkey of spying on Turks living in Germany and of denouncing individuals and institutions critical of the president — right down to kindergartens. Such spying, the Germans said, has allowed the Turkish government to track down, detain and harass their targets’ families and associates back home in Turkey as part of a sweeping purge of Erdogan opponents.

Already, Mr. Erdogan’s long shadow over Germany’s Turkish communities is palpable. On the heavily Turkish Keupstrasse, a street in Cologne, some Erdogan critics voiced apprehension about posting opinions on social media. They waited until they were alone with reporters to express their opinions, speaking freely but then declining to be identified by name.

“Do not underestimate the danger,” said Lale Akgun, a former Social Democratic member of the federal Parliament, an Erdogan opponent and a longtime observer of German-Turkish relations. “This is like a mini-Turkey. Everything they have there, we have here, too,” she added, alluding to Turkey’s many potentially explosive political rifts.

The tensions and the turn toward a more authoritarian Turkey carry worrying implications not only for Germany, but for all of Europe.

In neighboring Belgium, the Flemish authorities this month shut down a Turkish mosque — the second biggest in the country — over its alleged ties to Mr. Erdogan’s governing party. Since then, Belgium’s intelligence chief said, Turkey has halted intelligence cooperation.

In Germany, the spying accusations surfaced in February. Afterward, Turkey’s state religious authority, Diyanet, said it had quietly withdrawn an unspecified number of imams “in order not to damage 40 years of relations.”

Nonetheless, the matter is roiling relations across the board. Turkish-Germans who have lived here for decades said they had trouble recalling a tenser time between Turkey and Europe.

Germany’s foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, recently held urgent meetings with Turkish community leaders, worrying aloud that 20 to 30 years of “successful work at living together can get broken.”

Mr. Erdogan and his associates hurled charges of Nazism at leaders in Germany and the Netherlands after those countries, sometimes citing sudden security concerns, banned rallies by Turkish ministers ahead of Sunday’s vote.

German leaders have denounced a retreat of democracy in Turkey, citing especially the detention — so far, without charges — of the German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel.

As it has for years with members or supporters of the outlawed P.K.K. movement for Kurdish independence, Turkey has handed German officials dossiers with the names of more than 300 people in Germany whom Ankara sees as working against Mr. Erdogan’s Turkey.

Allegedly, many of those who were named support the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally now accused of orchestrating last summer’s failed coup in Turkey. Mr. Gulen lives in Pennsylvania.

The dossiers included material obtained by illegal Turkish espionage on German soil, German officials said.

“It is certainly one of the most difficult phases in Turkish-German relations,” said Michelle Müntefering, who heads the Turkey committee in Parliament and was named in one of the dossiers.

“The Turkish government is increasingly following a course that leaves little room for discussion,” Ms. Müntefering said, referring to Turkey’s growing litany of complaints — from last year’s vote in Germany’s Parliament recognizing the Armenian genocide to a crude satire of Mr. Erdogan by the German comedian Jan Böhmermann.

The rise of a populist right wing in Germany does not help, she noted. “Integration requires moderation, not populist, illusory solutions,” she said.

Photo

Voters waited last week at the entrance to a polling station in the General Consulate of Turkey in Berlin. Almost 49 percent of Turks who live in Germany voted in a referendum that would greatly expand powers for Turkey’s president. CreditFelipe Trueba/European Pressphoto Agency

But it is Germany’s largest Muslim association, known as the Ditib, and its close association with Diyanet that is being singled out for special concern.

“Ditib must become independent of Turkey and its religious authority,” Ms. Müntefering said. And its imams, who also have a social function, should learn German and train at least in part in Germany, she added.

The chairman of Ditib, Nevzat Yasar Asikoglu, is counselor for religious and social affairs at the Turkish Embassy in Berlin. He was also directly appointed by Diyanet. Below him is a hierarchy of attaches who visit and advise Turkish-Muslim communities across Germany.

One way of avoiding the suspicion, said Zekeriya Altug, a Ditib spokesman, is to be more open and active. “We must make ourselves much more visible in this society,” he said in an interview at the Cologne mosque.

Others urge training of imams in Germany, “so that dispatching imams becomes superfluous,” said Haci Halil Uslucan, professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen and head of its respected Turkey institute.

But few universities in Germany offer Islamic studies. To a large extent, the root of the problem is a failure to acknowledge that the Turkish “guest workers” and their families who came here in the 1960s would stay. The result was delayed integration and an obstructed path to German citizenship.

In Turkish communities, therefore, Ditib is crucial, said Yildirim Petek, 59, manager of the Ankara Supermarket in Cologne. He cited the need for support and guidance if families raising children in German schools “get badly treated.”

“You see Turkish children here eating pork and wearing Christian crosses because it’s fashionable,” his wife, Eylul, said as she prepared a traditional breakfast at their three-bedroom home in a suburb of Cologne. “The situation is completely out of control.”

“We feel a part of the German community and make an effort to fit in,” she said. “But when we set foot inside this door, shoes come off and it’s a purely Turkish household.”

Between Germans and Turks, indignation often runs high, and social mixing tends to be low. Peter Pauls, a senior columnist for the local newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, recalled a Turkish wedding he recently attended. He was one of just a few native Germans among hundreds of guests, he said.

The ostracism Turks feel in Germany (whose bureaucracy can easily baffle and alienate natives) has helped fuel support for Mr. Erdogan. In past elections, Mr. Erdogan’s A.K.P. party, which has governed Turkey since 2002, has prevailed among Turks in Germany.

Fully aware of that support, Mr. Erdogan’s government sought to campaign vigorously here and elsewhere in Europe before the referendum. It wanted to make sure diaspora Turks voted, which they were entitled to do in the two weeks up to last Sunday.

Almost 49 percent of the Turks living in Germany and eligible to vote did so, an increase from about 41 percent in parliamentary elections in 2015.

Free buses ferried voters from Turkish neighborhoods to the Cologne Consulate, where several voters explained why they favored Mr. Erdogan.

“We have been treated well by the Germans, but now I must think of my daughter and son,” said Erdem Tasdelen, 47, a textile company manager. He said he had lived here more than 20 years and only recently became a supporter of the president.

“There is discrimination against Muslim communities here,” Mr. Tasdelen added, “and the only person sticking up for us is Erdogan.”

In earlier years, Mr. Erdogan wanted to guide Turkey into Europe, but Germans and other Europeans ignored him, said Aysegul Parlak, 38, a fashion designer from Adana, in southeast Turkey, who came to Cologne six years ago to work with her sister.

“They feel threatened by his potential and power, and they cannot handle the idea of a Muslim country progressing to their level,” she said of Germany and other European governments.

Echoing sentiments widely expressed among Germany’s Turks of late, Ms. Parlak said she did not feel as welcome as she once had felt.

“When I tell people I’m from Turkey, all they do is vent about Erdogan and talk about his authoritarian ways,” she said. “They should look in the mirror. If they faced as many internal and external threats as he does, they would also be firm.”

“There is a lot of hypocrisy,” Ms. Parlak concluded, “and the Turkish community here is becoming very resentful.”

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani Has Registered To Run For A Second 4 yr Term

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

ANKARA, Turkey — Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, who helped end the country’s diplomatic and economic isolation with a landmark nuclear deal with major powers, registered on Friday to seek a second four-year term in the May 19 election.

Despite remaining faithful to Iran’s theocratic system, Mr. Rouhani has angered hard-liners with his calls for improved relations with the West, more freedom of expression and an easing of strict Islamic rules.

“Once again, I am here for Iran, for Islam, for freedom and for more stability in this country,” Mr. Rouhani told reporters on Friday as he announced his bid.

Mr. Rouhani’s more conservative critics accuse him of having encouraged moral corruption by advocating social tolerance. Some erstwhile supporters who had hoped for radical social changes under his presidency are also critical, saying he has failed to stand up to Iran’s religious establishment.

The president’s constitutional powers are limited. Ultimate authority rests with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Political analysts said they expected Iranian voters to rally around Mr. Rouhani even though many complain that they have seen few economic benefits from the lifting of sanctions.

“Rouhani is still very popular, and he is in a very strong position,” said one analyst, Saeed Leylaz. “People will vote for him to prevent a hard-liner from winning the election.”

Born into a religious family in 1948, Mr. Rouhani, a Shiite cleric, played an active role in the opposition that overthrew the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, in 1979. He has held several sensitive jobs in the Islamic republic of Iran, including representing Ayatollah Khamenei for 25 years at the Supreme National Security Council.

Mr. Rouhani is also a member of the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts, two influential advisory bodies in Iran’s multitiered power structure. The latter will choose the country’s next supreme leader.

Tesla Set to Unveil Electric Semi-Truck in September

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES AND THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

DETROIT — Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk says the company plans to unveil an electric semi-truck in September.

Musk tweeted the announcement Thursday. He offered no other details about the semi, such as whether it will be equipped with Tesla’s partially self-driving Autopilot mode.

Musk also said the company plans to unveil a pickup truck in 18 to 24 months.

Tesla currently sells two electric vehicles, the Model S sedan and Model X SUV. Its lower-cost Model 3 electric car is due out by the end of this year.

But Musk revealed last summer that the Palo Alto, California-based company is working on several more vehicles, including the semi and a minibus.

Tesla shares rose nearly 3 percent in late trading Thursday in response to Musk’s tweet.

Trump Was Right to Strike Syria

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT AND THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Opinion

Trump Was Right to Strike Syria

President Trump’s air strikes against Syria were of dubious legality. They were hypocritical. They may have had political motivations.

But most of all, they were right.

I’m deeply suspicious of Trump’s policies and competence, but this is a case where he is right and Barack Obama was wrong. Indeed, many of us believe that Obama’s worst foreign policy mistake was his passivity in Syria.

But Trump changed US policy 180 degrees after compelling photos emerged of children gassed in Syria. Should a president’s decisions about war really depend on the photos taken?

Here’s why I believe he was right.

Since the horrors of mustard gas during World War I a century ago, one of the world’s more successful international norms has been a taboo on the use of chemical weapons. We all have an interest in reinforcing that norm, so this is not just about Syria but also about deterring the next dictator from turning to sarin.

For an overstretched military, poison gas is a convenient way to terrify and subdue a population. That’s why Saddam Hussein used gas on Kurds in 1988, and why Bashar al-Assad has used gas against his own people in Syria. The best way for the world to change the calculus is to show that use of chemical weapons carries a special price — such as a military strike on an airbase.

Paradoxically, Assad may have used chemical weapons because he perceived a green light from the Trump administration. In recent days, Rex Tillerson, Sean Spicer and Nikki Haley all suggested that it was no longer American policy to push for the removal of Assad, and that may have emboldened him to open the chemical weapons toolbox. That mistake made it doubly important for Trump to show that neither Assad nor any leader can get away with using weapons of mass destruction.

Look, for a Syrian child, it doesn’t matter much whether death comes from a barrel bomb, a mortar shell, a bullet, or a nerve agent. I hope Trump will also show more interest in stopping all slaughter of Syrians — but it’s still important to defend the norm against chemical weapons (the United States undermined that norm after Saddam’s gas attack by falsely suggesting that Iran was to blame).

Critics note that Trump’s air strikes don’t have clear legal grounding. But Bill Clinton’s 1999 intervention to prevent genocide in Kosovo was also of uncertain legality, and thank God for it. Clinton has said that his greatest foreign policy mistake was not intervening in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide; any such intervention also would have been of unclear legality — and the right thing to do.

There are risks ahead, of Russia or Syria targeting American aircraft or of Iran seeking revenge against Americans in Iraq. War plans rarely survive the first shot, and military interventions are easier to begin than to end. But as long as we don’t seek to topple Assad militarily, everybody has an interest in avoiding an escalation.

Many of my fellow progressives viscerally oppose any use of force, but I think that’s a mistake. I was against the Iraq war, but some military interventions save lives. The no fly zone over northern Iraq in the 1990s is one example, and so are the British intervention in Sierra Leone and French intervention in Mali. It’s prudent to be suspicious of military interventions, but imprudent to reject any use of force categorically.

Want proof that military interventions in the Middle East can work? In 2014, Obama ordered air strikes near the Syria-Iraq border against ISIS as it was attacking members of the Yazidi minority. Those US strikes saved many thousands of Yazidi lives, although they came too late to save thousands more who were killed or kidnapped as slaves.

In Syria, the crucial question is what comes next.

There’s some bold talk among politicians about ousting Assad from Syria. Really? People have been counting on Assad’s fall for six years now, and he’s as entrenched as ever.

Moreover, if this was a one-time strike then the larger slaughter in Syria will continue indefinitely. But I’m hoping that the administration may use it as a tool to push for a ceasefire.

The New York Times

The Emerging Trump Doctrine: Don’t Follow Doctrine

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Photo

The damage on Friday after a reported airstrike by the Syrian government in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the outskirts of Damascus. CreditAbd Doumany/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — As he confronted a series of international challenges from the Middle East to Asia last week, President Trump made certain that nothing was certain about his foreign policy. To the extent that a Trump Doctrine is emerging, it seems to be this: don’t get roped in by doctrine.

In a week in which he hosted foreign heads of state and launched a cruise missile strike against Syria’s government, Mr. Trump dispensed with his own dogma and forced other world leaders to re-examine their assumptions about how the United States will lead in this new era. He demonstrated a highly improvisational and situational approach that could inject a risky unpredictability into relations with potential antagonists, but also opened the door to a more traditional American engagement with the world that eases allies’ fears.

As a private citizen and candidate, Mr. Trump spent years arguing that Syria’s civil war was not America’s problem, that Russia should be a friend, and that China was an “enemy” whose leaders should not be invited to dinner. As president, Mr. Trump, in the space of just days, involved America more directly in the Syrian morass than ever before, opened a new acrimonious rift with Russia, and invited China’s leader for a largely convivial, let’s-get-along dinner at his Florida estate.

In the process, Mr. Trump upended domestic politics as well. He rejected the nationalist wing of his own White House, led by Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, who opposes entanglement in Middle East conflicts beyond fighting terrorism and favors punitive trade measures against Beijing. And Mr. Trump, by launching the strike on Russia’s ally Syria, undercut critics who have portrayed him as a Manchurian candidate doing the bidding of President Vladimir V. Putin after the Kremlin intervened in last year’s election on his behalf.

Continue reading the main story

Given his unpredictability, none of this means that Mr. Trump has pivoted permanently in any of these areas. The White House has prepared an executive order that the president may sign in coming days targeting countries like China that dump steel in the American market. And Mr. Trump is sending Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson on Tuesday to Moscow, where he will have the additional task of trying to smooth over the rancor of recent days, in addition to exploring whether Russia could be a real partner in battling the Islamic State in Syria.

Moreover, the missile strike, in response to a chemical weapons attack, was intended to be a limited, one-time operation, and the president seemed determined to quickly move on. After announcing the attack Thursday evening, he made no mention of it Friday during public appearances, nor on Saturday during his weekly address. As of Saturday morning, the Twitter-obssessed president had not even taunted President Bashar al-Assad of Syria online, although he did thank the American troops who carried out the missile strike.

“Our decisions,” Mr. Trump said in the Saturday address, “will be guided by our values and our goals — and we will reject the path of inflexible ideology that too often leads to unintended consequences.”

That concept, flexibility, seems key to understanding Mr. Trump. He hates to be boxed in, as he mused in the Rose Garden last week while contemplating the first new military operation of his presidency with geopolitical consequences.

“I like to think of myself as a very flexible person,” he told reporters. “I don’t have to have one specific way.” He made clear he cherished unpredictability. “I don’t like to say where I’m going and what I’m doing,” he said.

That flexibility was a hallmark of his rise in real estate, and if critics preferred the word erratic, it did not bother Mr. Trump — it has since worked well enough to vault him to the White House. But now that he is commander in chief of the world’s most powerful nation, leaders around the world are trying to detect a method to the man.

“There is no emerging doctrine for Trump foreign policy in a classical sense,” said Kathleen H. Hicks, a former Pentagon official who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There are, however, clear emerging characteristics consistent with the attributes of the man himself: unpredictable, instinctual and undisciplined.”

On Syria, Mr. Trump had mocked President Barack Obama for setting a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and urged him not to launch a punitive strike against Syria after Mr. Assad crossed it in 2013. That attack, with a death toll of 1,400, dwarfed last week’s toll of 84. And just days before last week’s attack, Mr. Tillerson indicated that Washington would accept Mr. Assad’s remaining in power.

Photo

An injured child being treated after the strike. CreditAbd Doumany/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Indeed, critics, including Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, argued that Mr. Assad felt free to launch a chemical attack precisely because Mr. Trump’s administration had given him a green light. Russia, critics added, did not constrain Mr. Assad because it has had a blank check from an overly friendly Trump administration. And Mr. Trump’s efforts to bar Syrian refugees from the United States, they said, sent a signal that he did not care about them.

“President Trump seems not to have thought through any of this, or have any kind of broader strategy, but rather to have launched a military strike based on a sudden, emotional decision,” Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, wrote in an article for The Huffington Post on Saturday.

Mr. Assad is not the only leader testing Mr. Trump. North Korea has test-launched missile after missile in recent weeks, almost as if trying to get Mr. Trump’s attention. So far, he has been measured in his response, urging President Xi Jinping of China during his visit at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida to do more to rein in North Korea. But national security aides have also prepared options for Mr. Trump if China does not take a more assertive stance, including reintroducing nuclear weapons in South Korea.

Mr. Trump’s action in Syria was welcomed by many traditional American allies who had fretted over Mr. Obama’s reluctance to take a greater leadership role in the Middle East, and feared that Mr. Trump would withdraw even more. After the missile strike, Israeli news outlets were filled with headlines like “The Americans Are Back,” and European leaders expressed relief both that he took action and that he did not go too far.

“We have learned that Trump is not so isolationist as many Europeans feared he would be — he appears to care about victims of a gas attack in Syria,” said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform in London. “We have learned that he understands that U.S. influence had suffered from the perception — which grew under Obama — that it was a power weakened by its reluctance to use force.”

That touches on another animating factor as Mr. Trump deals with foreign challenges — doing the opposite of whatever Mr. Obama did. Mr. Trump’s first instinct after the Syrian chemical attack was to blame Mr. Obama for not enforcing his red line, never mind that Mr. Trump had urged him not to at the time. Even as he announced the missile strike on Thursday night, Mr. Trump asserted that his predecessor’s handling of Syria had “failed very dramatically.”

Intentionally or not, though, Mr. Trump adopted language similar to that used by Mr. Obama and many other presidents in defining American priorities. While in the past Mr. Trump said the United States did not have a national interest in Syria, last week he said instability there was “threatening the United States and its allies.”

He also said that “America stands for justice,” effectively espousing a responsibility to act in cases of human rights abuses, as other presidents have at times.

Until now, Mr. Trump has largely eschewed such language. Just three days earlier, he had hosted Egypt’s authoritarian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and made no public mention of the thousands of people the Cairo government has imprisoned in a political crackdown.

“What is striking to me is a subtle yet clear shift away from the rhetoric of pure American self-interest narrowly defined, as espoused by candidate Donald Trump,” said Robert Danin, a former Middle East negotiator who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations. “What has emerged is a new language of American leadership in the world that we have not heard before from President Trump.”

Mr. Grant and others noted that the strike, coming as Mr. Trump shared a meal with Mr. Xi, could resonate in Asia as well, leaving North Korea to wonder whether the president might resort to force to stop its development of ballistic missiles.

But Ms. Hicks said Mr. Trump’s flexibility — or unpredictability — was itself “extremely risky.” If other countries cannot accurately predict what an American president will do, she said, they may act precipitously, citing the example of China’s extending its maritime claims in the South China Sea.

“Imagine if Donald Trump then took exception in ways they didn’t anticipate and major wars ensued,” she said. “Bright lines, derived from clear interests and enforced well, are generally best, and I don’t think Donald Trump likes to be constrained by bright lines.”

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