Focal Points Blog

Sy Hersh Still Under Attack for Blaming Syrian Rebels for Sarin Attack


Syria Sarin

In the Los Angeles Review of Books, sociologist Muhammad Idrees Ahmad takes Seymour Hersh to task for his article The Red Line and the Rat Line in April London Review of Books. Generating even more controversy than he usually does, Hersh, revered and reviled in equal measures, fleshes out the premise that, aided by Turkey, the al-Nusra Front — not the Assad regime — was responsible for the August 2013 sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. (Can you imagine something like that happening in — if you live in one — your suburb?)

Ahmad accuses Hersh of relaying “a cock-and-bull story invented by an interested party and forego[ing] corroboration.” He states that, when the attack occurred,

… employing a weapon that the [Assad] regime was known to possess, using a delivery mechanism peculiar to its arsenal, in a place the regime was known to target, and against people the regime was known to loathe, it was not unreasonable to assume regime responsibility. This conclusion was corroborated by first responders, UN investigators, human rights organizations, and independent analysts.

Read More

Let Us Return! Can the World Cup Be a Tool for Chagossian Social Justice?


Image Indiegogo

Image Indiegogo

One week from now in Brazil, 32 nations will start play in the world’s most popular sporting event, the World Cup. While the likes of Argentina, Germany, Mexico, England, and the USA go head to head, one national team won’t be there.

The Chagos Islands national team isn’t eligible for the World Cup because Chagos — a tiny archipelago in the Indian Ocean — isn’t a recognized nation. Its players can’t even live in the land they represent on the field because they are a people that have been living in exile for more than 40 years. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the U.S. and British governments forcibly removed the entire population while building a major U.S. military base on the Chagossians’ island Diego Garcia. The two governments deported the people 1,200 miles away, leaving them in exile with nothing.
Read More

Cultivating Empathy in Hungary

Julieta Nagy Navarro

Julieta Nagy Navarro

When it comes to people expressing trust in others, Hungary ranks rather low. In 2011, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a ranking that put Hungary 24th out of 30 countries. Hungary’s ranking – 47 percent of the population expressed high trust in others – put it at nearly half the rate of Denmark (89 percent). It was also one of the few countries where mistrust had grown over the polling period. Other East-Central European countries did equally poorly: Slovakia and Poland (47 percent), Slovenia (53 percent), Czech Republic (56 percent).

“There is a lot of mistrust here,” Julieta Nagy Navarro told me. “And that’s a response to a particular attitude: I must grab whatever I can for myself.”
Read More

The Solution to South Sudan’s Problems? Sudan


South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit

South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit

In spite of the recent peace deal, the conflict in South Sudan seems to be far from over. Almost all the regional and international players that are involved in the peace process have their own agenda to pursue, and this has left the South Sudanese people highly vulnerable.

Amidst all this conflict, Sudan has managed to keep quiet. However, the time has come for Sudan to be proactive and play a bigger role in the current conflict in South Sudan. In all likelihood, only Sudan can pave the path towards sustainable peace in South Sudan.
Read More

The Search for Bergdahl Was the U.S. Military at Its Best


U.S. Soldiers Continue Patrols Outside FOB Shank In Afghanistan

Some of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers, report Eric Schmitt, Helene Cooper, and Charlie Savage in the New York Times, are filled with resentment about diverting their resources to searching for Bergdahl after he deserted. Meanwhile, the right wing is doing its level best to turn the trade for Bergdahl into another Benghazi. (No doubt, though, they’re frustrated because they can’t link it to possible Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, as they did with Benghazi.) The Times team reports (emphasis added):

“Yes, I’m angry,” Joshua Cornelison, a former medic in Sergeant Bergdahl’s platoon, said in an interview on Monday arranged by Republican strategists. “Everything that we did in those days was to advance the search for Bergdahl. If we were doing some mission and there was a reliable report that Bergdahl was somewhere, our orders were that we were to quit that mission and follow that report.”

Read More

Will Taliban Freed in the Bergdahl Trade Come Back to Haunt U.S. Soldiers?



In the New York Times, Eric Schmitt and Charlie Savage report on the exchange of five Taliban who had been imprisoned at Guantánamo for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a prisoner of the Afghan Taliban since 2008.

The five Taliban detainees at Guantánamo, including two senior militant commanders said to be linked to operations that killed American and allied troops as well as implicated in murdering thousands of Shiites in Afghanistan, were flown from Cuba in the custody of officials from Qatar, who will accompany them back to that Persian Gulf state.

Less than enthusiastic about the deal, Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, made the traditional case.
Read More

It’s Always Been Too Easy to Justify Civilian Casualties



In a recent post I asked how Boko Haram justified the depths of depravity to which it descends. It includes not only kidnapping schoolgirls, but mass-murdering civilians and perhaps even cannibalism. Its leader Abubakar Shekau’s reply, as reported by Adam Nossiter and David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times mirrors a justification sometimes used by other Islamist militants: “the sole purpose of its violence was to demonstrate the incapacity of the Nigerian state.”
Read More

Iran Knows Nukes Would Be Detrimental to Its National Security


Arak nuclear reactor in Iran

Arak nuclear reactor in Iran

In the New Yorker, Robin Wright profiles Javad Zarif, Iran’s Westernized foreign minister who also acts as its chief nuclear negotiator (no link because it’s behind a paywall). While she writes as if she accepts the conventional wisdom that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons and MUST BE STOPPED, we’re in Ms. Wright’s debt for the revealing glimpses into Zarif’s character that she provides. She writes that “Zarif is an affable man, with a disarmingly unrevolutionary grin” and “a quick wit.” She quotes Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) who said, “He is thoughtful. He is real.”
Read More

Red Mud and Other Messes


Mud Spill

Cross-posted from

It was one of the worst environmental disasters in Europe. In October 2010, near the town of Ajka in northern Hungary, a reservoir wall containing the industrial sludge pond of an alumina plant collapsed and more than a million cubic meters of toxic red mud swept across the countryside, through several villages, and into the rivers feeding the Danube. Ten people died, and more than 120 were injured. The pictures of the disaster are astonishing.

Accidents happen. But this was not a complete surprise. As early as 2006, the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River declared this particular pond to be “at risk” of polluting the area around the river. Moreover, Hungary had gradually been weakening the legal framework for environmental protection.
Read More

Did the U.S. Revive Operation Paperclip for a Terrorist?



In the New York Times, Mark Landler reports about a new biography a legendary CIA operative titled The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames, by Kai Bird.

Mr. Bird explores Mr. Ames’s shadowy path in the Middle East, where he formed an unlikely friendship with the intelligence chief of the Palestine Liberation Organization and used it to try to draw the Israelis and Palestinians together in peace negotiations.

The book comes complete with what looks like a bona fide scoop about the 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, which killed 63 people, 17 of them Americans. Among them were eight CIA officers, including Ames himself. Landler writes that

… in sifting through the long-dead embers from the embassy bombing, Mr. Bird makes a startling assertion: that an Iranian intelligence officer who defected to the United States in 2007 and is still living here under C.I.A. protection, oversaw the 1983 bombing, as well as other terrorist attacks against Americans in Lebanon.

… “This is a classic intelligence dilemma,” he continued. “When do you deal with bad guys? When do you agree to give them asylum? In my opinion, this goes over the line.”

Read More

Page 18 of 190« First...10...1617181920...304050...Last »