Trump Saw A Disturbing Video, Then He Shut Down The CIA’s Covert Syria Program

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By zerohedge

While we’ve carefully documented the dynamics in play behind Trump’s decision to end the CIA’s covert Syria program, as well as the corresponding fury this immediately unleashed among the usual hawkish DC policy wonks, new information on what specifically impacted the president’s thinking has emerged.

Thomas Joscelyn, a Middle East analyst for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explains in the August edition of The Weekly Standard:

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump was shown a disturbing video of Syrian rebels beheading a child near the city of Aleppo. It had caused a minor stir in the press as the fighters belonged to the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, a group that had been supported by the CIA as part of its rebel aid program.

 

The footage is haunting. Five bearded men smirk as they surround a boy in the back of a pickup truck. One of them holds the boy’s head with a tight grip on his hair while another mockingly slaps his face. Then, one of them uses a knife to saw the child’s head off and holds it up in the air like a trophy. It is a scene reminiscent of the Islamic State’s snuff videos, except this wasn’t the work of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s men. The murderers were supposed to be the good guys: our allies.

Trump pressed his most senior intelligence advisers, asking the basic question of how the CIA could have a relationship with a group that beheads a child and then uploads the video to the internet. He wasn’t satisfied with any of the responses:

Trump wanted to know why the United States had backed Zenki if its members are extremists. The issue was discussed at length with senior intelligence officials, and no good answers were forthcoming, according to people familiar with the conversations. After learning more worrisome details about the CIA’s ghost war in Syria—including that U.S.-backed rebels had often fought alongside extremists, among them al Qaeda’s arm in the country—the president decided to end the program altogether.

Screenshot of the horrific video of a CIA-backed Syrian group beheading a boy named Abdullah Issa.

At the time the beheading video surfaced (July 2016), many in the American public naturally wanted answers, but the story never really picked up much momentum in the media. As Joscelyn describes, it caused nothing more than “a minor stir in the press.” The State Department seemed merely satisfied that the group responsible, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, claimed to have arrested the men that committed the gruesome crime, though nothing more was known. Absurdly, a US government spokesperson expressed hope that the child-beheading group would “comply with obligations under the law of armed conflict.”

The only press agencies that publicly and consistently challenged the State Department at the time were RT News and the Associated Press, yet even these attempts didn’t get picked up beyond the confines of the State Department’s daily briefing. When the AP’s Matt Lee initially questioned spokesman Mark Toner as to whether Zenki would continue to receive any level of US assistance, Toner casually replied “it would give us pause” – which left Lee taken aback.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t just the US government which had aided Zenki, but as fighting in Aleppo raged it became a favored group among both the mainstream media and prominent think tank pundits. One of the UK’s major broadcasters (Channel 4) even went so far as to attempt to delete and hide its prior online content which sought to normalize the beheaders as “moderate” and heroic once news of the video got out.

Among think tankers, Zenki’s most prominent public supporter, frequently presenting the terror group as actually representative of Syria’s “secular” and supposedly democracy-promoting armed opposition (even after the beheading video emerged), was Charles Lister. Lister was finally confronted not by mainstream media, but by AlterNet’s Max Blumenthal at a DC event held by the (largely Gulf funded) Atlantic Council.

Only by the time of this January 2017 public forum, and after being persistently questioned, did Lister awkwardly back off his previous enthusiastic promotion of Zenki:

We can imagine that Trump saw other things beyond the shocking Zenki beheading video which made him fully realize the utter criminality of the CIA program (Thomas Joscelyn further emphasizes that Trump came to understand the full scope of CIA cooperation with al-Qaeda in Syria).

The only question that remains is who in the CIA or Obama-era State Department should be prosecuted first?


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EPA Head Scott Pruitt Will Face 2 House Panels Thursday

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Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt will appear before two House panels on Thursday, and his numerous questionable ethics decisions are likely to come up.

Here's a quick refresher: 

Pruitt was revealed to have rented a D.C. apartment from a lobbyist for a favorable rate. 

Reports he was spending well more than his predecessors on security and first-class travel also started to circulate. 

Pruitt also allegedly forced out or demoted five staffers who disagreed with his spending habits. 

Two of Pruitt's senior staffers got large raises, though Pruitt claims he wasn't aware of that decision.  

And probably most worrying for Pruitt, he could — in theory — face criminal charges for spending $43,000 on a soundproof phone booth.

Pruitt is under numerous investigations into his actions, including multiple inquiries from both the EPA itself and the White House. Other investigations are underway in both chambers of Congress, the Government Accountability Office and Office of Government Ethics.

Pruitt will speak before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's subcommittee on environment in the morning, then the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations subcommittee in the afternoon.

Lawmakers have published Pruitt's prepared opening statement. The New York Times also reportedly got ahold of Pruitt's prepared responses to questions about his actions. Those reportedly include spreading blame, outright denial and assertions that changes have already been made. 

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Former President George H. W. Bush Out Of ICU

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Former President George H. W. Bush is out of the intensive care unit at a Houston hospital, according to a spokesperson. 

The 41st president was admitted to the hospital on Sunday morning with an infection that had spread to his blood. He was admitted just hours after the funeral for his wife, Barbara Bush. 

A statement Wednesday said the former president was alert and talking to hospital staff, friends and family. Bush's son Jeb said his father is expected to be released from the hospital on Friday.

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GOP lawmakers make ‘surreal’ return to field where gunman opened fire

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Kyley Schultz

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

GOP lawmakers make ‘surreal’ return to field where gunman opened fire

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Gloomy skies and a rain-soaked field did not stop Republican lawmakers from returning to practice Wednesday at the baseball field where a gunman opened fire last summer, wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and three others. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, who was on the field last June when the shooting began, said it was important for lawmakers to come back - even if being back to the scene was "surreal." "It's great to be back and to come and change into your cleats in the dugout where a lot of us were piled in just a year ago," Flake said after the early morning practice. "To be in that dugout where there are still marks of the bullet holes there is a surreal experience." Flake and many of those at Wednesday's practice said it was important to come out and prove that "one act of madness" cannot stop the camaraderie and fellowship of the Congressional Baseball Game. The longtime annual Washington event pits congressional Democrats and Republicans against each other to raise funds for charity. Republicans at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park on Wednesday dedicated the practice to the U.S. Capitol Police officers and medical responders who saved lives in last June's attack. Scalise was not present at the practice, still recuperating from a follow-up surgery on his hip after a bullet tore through it in the shooting. That attack left him hospitalized for a month and he still walks with the aid of canes after returning to Congress in September. But the GOP team manager, Rep.Joe Barton, R-Texas, read a statement from Scalise that said "one act of madness will not deter the spirit of camaraderie and philanthropy that has made this such a strong tradition in Congress." Last year's game, which was played just days after the shooting, raised $1.5 million for charity, a record high for the game and more than twice the previous year's $700,000. -Cronkite News video by Shelby Lindsay The Republican practice was winding down on June 14, when gunman James Hodgkinson unleashed roughly 70 rounds at the players, before Capitol Police at the scene could return fire and strike him. Hodgkinson later died of his wounds at a nearby hospital. It was later learned that Hodgkinson was targeting Republicans in the attack, which also hit congressional aide Zachary Barth, former aide Matt Mika and Capitol Police Special Agent Crystal Griner. Mika was back for Wednesday's practice, which Flake called "really gratifying." "Matt was shot first right in front of the dugout - I remember where we were - and then shot again after that," Flake said. "I've been meeting with him and seeing his progress over the year. To see him out here hitting balls to us is really gratifying." Security was strengthened for Wednesday's practice, with gun-toting Capitol police watching closely as lawmakers caught fly balls and hit grounders, and bomb-sniffing dogs were brought in to check media equipment. Reporters were told that future practices would be rotated through fields in addition to Simpson Stadium Park, where bullet holes were still visible near the first base dugout. Despite "horrible memories" from the past, Flake said the game is a chance for both parties to come together for a great cause. "This really has been one of the best institutions - you get to know people, trust one another, which helps with legislating and everything else you do," he said. "It's a great tradition where you get to pretend you are young and raise a lot of money for charity." This year's game is set for June 14, the anniversary of the shooting. It will be the last game for Flake, who has played for his 18 years in Congress but who announced last year taht he will not seek re-election this fall. "I'm going to miss being out with the guys in the morning," he said. "For those of us who love baseball and love sports and Congress as well, it doesn't get any better than this." Read more

Photos: Teacher Stand Out on Broadway Road in Tucson

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Hundreds of teachers, support staff, parents and students around the Tucson area joined Tucson Unified School District employees for a Stand Out on Broadway Road on April 25, 2018. The educators had planned to have groups stretching from downtown to Houghton Road in advance of the statewide ... Read more

Mohawk Nation News ‘Hey, Chief, What’s Your Price?’

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HEY, CHIEF, WHAT’S YOUR PRICE? Posted on April 25, 2018 Please post & distribute. MNN. Apr. 25, 2018. Indian sell outs will do anything for money and fake prestige. Recently at court Joe Norton of Kahnawake told the judge, “Don’t call me Mr. Norton. Call me the Grand Chief Norton!” We call him the “Gross Chief”! Every chance the chiefs have they head for the bright lights of Las Vegas, Read more

#RedForEd: What’s about to happen when teachers walk out

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Chris McCrory

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

#RedForEd: What’s about to happen when teachers walk out

PHOENIX – Tens of thousands of educators will march Thursday from Chase Field to the Capitol to demand higher teacher pay and more classroom funding as part of the Red for Ed movement, in a historic walkout across the state. Here are the answers to some common questions:

How many people will this walkout affect?

At least 75 percent of Arizona’s 1.1 million schoolchildren are in districts that are shutting down during the walkout. As for teachers, 100,000 of them took part in “walk-in” demonstrations over the past three weeks, and organizers expect about half of them will rally Thursday or Friday at the Capitol. The walkout is slated to begin Thursday, but organizers have not said when it will end. Thursday is Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day, which is a welcome coincidence for some parents who can take their children to work. But if the walkout continues, many will be forced to use other child-care services.

Has this ever happened before?

This statewide walkout is believed to be unique in the state’s history. But there is plenty of recent precedents across the nation. The Arizona Red for Ed movement is part of a national outcry from teachers and education advocates about low salaries, who have seen success in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma after similar strikes by educators.

Is this a walkout, or a strike?

Effectively, the two words mean the same thing. Although the protest fits all the criteria for a strike (a union group refusing to work until contract dispute negotiations are concluded), Arizona believes teachers do not have the right to strike, according to a 1971 opinion by the Arizona Attorney General. That opinion has never been legally challenged, so if school districts decide to punish teaches, it could prompt a court battle over whether public employees can strike. [su_divider top="no" size="2" margin="10"]

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#RedForEd teachers demand 20 percent salary hike, more money for education#RedForEd: Teachers call in sick over low pay, protest state proposal on tax cuts for wealthy#RedForEd teachers protest low education funding in ‘walk-in’ demonstrationsDucey proposes 20% raise for teachers by 2020; Arizonans voice opinions on #RedForEd [su_divider top="no" size="2" margin="10"]

Teachers could be punished?

Theoretically, each school district can punish teachers who walk off the job. Many have encouraged their employees to use personal time or sick days when protesting. But legal experts say it’s unlikely for a school district to take disciplinary action over the walkout even if an employee does not use personal time, especially after many school superintendents have voiced support for the movement. "It depends on what their policy is for time off,” said Jessica Post, director at Fennemore Craig, a Phoenix law firm. “If a teacher has a time-off policy or vacation time, they can use it for anything. If they have time off and they choose to use their time off to do a walkout, then discipline would be much harder.”

When does the walkout end?

Organizers from Arizona Educators United, one of the grassroots organizations behind the walkout, were vague Wednesday when asked how the strike would end. One proposed idea is a vote to end the walkout – similar to the one educators held to gauge support for the action in the first place. Noah Karvelis, an organizer and history teacher in Tolleson, said a meeting of his group, lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey would be a show of good faith. “I would love to have those meetings, and I would love to have them with the governor there,” he said. “We’ve seen no movement on that.”

Speaking of the governor, what does he say?

Ahead of the walkout, Ducey has stuck by his plan, a proposed change to the state budget that would give teachers an incremental 20 percent raise by 2020. But educators and advocates say the plan doesn’t go far enough to meet other demands, including higher per-pupil spending and more money for classrooms and support staff, such as counselors and janitors. Lawmakers also are skeptical of Ducey’s plan, which relies on Arizona’s economy growing by nearly 4 percent every year. Some called the plan optimistic. The only other proposal on the table is from Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, who suggested a plan for a 1 percent sales tax increase, which he said would generate $1 billion annually. Follow us on Twitter. Read more

Jackson Faces New Allegations Of Bad Record-Keeping, Drunkenness

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President Donald Trump's pick to lead the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is facing a new round of allegations. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester released a list Wednesday of behavior he deemed concerning. 

The allegations largely reference his work as the White House doctor. The list includes giving people medication without the proper paperwork, shoddy record-keeping, creating a hostile work environment, being unreachable when he was needed because he was passed out drunk, and wrecking a government vehicle while drunk.

Ronny Jackson denied the last allegation about wrecking a vehicle. He said his nomination was moving forward. But CNN reports the White House is preparing for the possibility Jackson will withdraw from the process.

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Arizona Teacher Walkout Poised To Be Largest In The Nation

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Teachers in Arizona are going on strike Thursday, demanding more school funding.

Over 840,000 students will be affected by the #RedforEd walkout. Seventy-five percent of public or charter school students will be enrolled in a school that is closed due to the walkout. It's potentially the nation's largest walkout in recent history. 

It's happening despite Gov. Doug Ducey's promise to give the teachers a 20 percent raise over the next two years, likely in hopes of avoiding a situation like this one. 

But teachers want stable school funding and yearly raises until their salaries match the national average, among other demands, according to Tucson.com.

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When a loss is a win: 8th District results called a warning for GOP

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Philip Athey

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

When a loss is a win: 8th District results called a warning for GOP

WASHINGTON - First-time Democratic candidate Hiral Tipirneni may not have defeated former state Sen. Debbie Lesko in Arizona's 8th District, but experts say Democrats can still consider the closer-than-expected race Tuesday a victory. Unofficial results from the Secretary of State's Office show Lesko, a Republican, received 52.6 percent of the vote to Tipirneni's 47.4 percent of the 174,513 votes cast - the slimmest margin of victory for the GOP since the district's boundaries were drawn in 2012. Experts said Republicans statewide should take the results in a GOP stronghold as a warning sign for fall. Democratic strategist Rodd McLeod called the race "a strong indicator that politics is shifting under the Republican?s feet." And Republican political consultant Jason Rose said state Republicans have to "pretend and prepare as if the end of the political world is at hand." But representatives from the Lesko campaign said they met their goal. "Debbie Lesko is congresswomen-elect, and that was the mission," said Barret Marson, her campaign spokesman, who promised that Lesko would "work hard for the next six months to improve her popularity by November." Tipirneni has indicated that she will run again in November when the seat is up again, but representatives from her campaign did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. The seat came open in December when Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, abruptly resigned midway through his eighth term when faced with a House ethics probe over allegations of sexual harassment. Franks never won less than 63 percent of the vote in the district, where President Donald Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by a 21 percentage point margin in 2016. [caption id="attachment_88480" align="alignleft" width="350"] Democratic nominee Hiral Tipirneni, right, with a voter on Election Day for the special election to fill Arizona's 8th District seat in Congress. (Photo by Sydney Isenberg/Cronkite News)[/caption] Leah Askarinam, a reporter at Inside Elections, said Democratic gains in the 8th District race were in line with other special elections around the nation since Trump's election. "For the most part, when it's an open seat Democrats have outperformed Hillary Clinton's 2016 numbers," said Askarinam. "Republicans in Arizona know to take Arizona seriously" now, she said. Rose said GOP difficulties started with Trump, but said Arizona Republicans have created their own set of problems. "Republicans have been terrible on solar issues, Republicans have been opposed to liberalization of marijuana," he said. "Republicans have been politically on the wrong side of DREAMer issues, Republicans are potentially going to be defending against a school voucher program statewide, Republicans are underwater on teacher pay." McLeod said that Republicans will have issues in Arizona, a state that is "moving in a Democratic direction." "Yesterday's results show that Republican voters and conservative independents are pretty fed up with the Republican Party," McLeod said. Tuesday's results will not be certified until May 21, although the state will send the results to Congress as soon as all the votes are counted. Elections officials said that process will take at least a week. Lesko could be sworn in any time after the results reach Washington. While she conceded Wednesday morning, Tipirneni ended the statement by saying, "Now, on to November." Experts say November could be a "wave election" that sees Democrats regain control of the House. Rose said the "wave is especially big for the party of blue this year." Askarinam warned that it is too early to call the upcoming midterm a wave election. "Obviously, momentum is on the Democrats' side," she said, "but it's only April." Rose also noted that while Lesko will still have issues to deal with come November, she will also go into that race with "the power of incumbency to show her mettle and show her standing." McLeod agreed that November is too far away to make any predictions, but is hopeful about Tipirneni's chances, especially after the way the special election played out. Analysts expected Democratic support in the special election, "but instead of taking place at volume level four they took place at volume level eight, and if you crank that volume to 10, Debbie Lesko loses in November." He knows Tipirneni face an uphill battle in any rematch but said the margin of victory Tuesday has changed the complexion of that race. "I don't think it would be smart for anyone to expect everything to go back to the way it was," when November rolls around, McLeod said. Read more