Middle East Eye & Adam Taylor / The Washington Post & Ben Hubba / The New York Times – 2015-01-21 23:57:44
Obama Calls for New War Powers
To Fight IS in State of the Union Address
Middle East Eye
WASHINGTON, DC (January 21, 2015) — US President Barack Obama on Tuesday night urged lawmakers to endow him with new war powers to defeat Islamic State (IS) group militants, warning the battle would be long but eventually successful.
“This effort will take time. It will require focus. But we will succeed,” Obama said in his State of the Union address, which highlighted several key Middle East issues.
“In Iraq and Syria, American leadership — including our military power — is stopping ISILâ€™s advance,” the US commander-in-chief told US lawmakers.
“Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group,” Obama said.
“Weâ€™re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.”
But in order to emerge victorious, Obama told the gathered lawmakers to give him a new authorisation to use military force against the Islamic State group, also known as IS, which has seized a swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria.
The US has already unleashed dozens of airstrikes against the militants since September, using the powers enshrined in legislation adopted in the wake of the September 2001 attacks to hunt down Al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
But US officials have argued that a new Authorisation for Use of Military Force (AUMF) is needed.
“Tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorise the use of force against ISIL,” Obama said.
Obama also pledged to make good on his promise to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, saying it was “time to finish the job”.
“We have a profound commitment to justice — so it makes no sense to spend three million dollars per prisoner to keep open a prison that the world condemns and terrorists use to recruit,” Obama said.
Turning to Iran, the US president warned the Republican-controlled Congress that any move to impose new sanctions could scupper delicate negotiations aimed at reaching a complex nuclear deal. “New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy failsâ€Š,” Obama said.
How Saudi Arabiaâ€™s Harsh Legal Punishments
Compare to the Islamic Stateâ€™s
Adam Taylor / The Washington Post
(January 21, 2015) — Following the lashing of blogger Raif Badawi and leaked footage that showed the public execution of a woman accused of beating her daughter, Saudi Arabia’s harsh interpretation of Sharia law and its use of capital punishment have come under international scrutiny.
For many, the Saudi justice system sounds not unlike that of the Islamic State, the extremist Islamist group which has struck fear in much of the Middle East.
This week, Middle East Eye, a Web site that focuses on news from the region and is frequently critical of Saudi Arabia, contrasted a set of legal punishments recently announced by the Islamic State with the corresponding punishments in Saudi Arabia.
While Saudi Arabia isn’t particularly forthcoming about its use of capital punishment (and Middle East Eye doesn’t cite its source) and accurate information from within the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate is hard to ascertain, information from news sources and human rights organizations suggest the chart is at least broadly accurate.
One key difference between the Islamic State and Saudi Arabia, of course, is that the latter is a key US ally in the region — and a member of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State. Some experts argue that the fundamentalist brand of Islam practiced by both has theological links, however, and Riyadh’s recent crackdown has been interpreted as an act of appeasement for Saudi hard-liners.
Saudi Arabia’s own concern about the Islamic State is likely genuine (plans to build an enormous wall along its border with Iraq are a good sign of that), but for many Americans, the extremist group’s rise is also bringing with it a renewed skepticism about American allies in the region.
Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
Man Who Filmed Execution Is Arrested, Saudi Outlets Say
Ben Hubba / The New York Times
BEIRUT, Lebanon (January 18, 2015) — In a recent video from Saudi Arabia, three uniformed security officers and a professional swordsman in a white gown struggled to placate a woman cloaked in black and sitting in the street. A Saudi court had convicted her of murder, but she was proclaiming her innocence.
Then the officers stepped back, the swordsman took aim and the woman shrieked and fell silent as he struck her neck with his blade, three times in total. Medics wearing white gloves tended to the body, and the swordsman wiped his blade with a cloth.
The video was distributed by human rights activists and posted online after the execution in the city of Mecca on Jan. 12, shedding light on the way Saudi Arabia applies the death penalty.
On Sunday, Saudi news outlets reported that the authorities had arrested the man who had shot the video and planned to prosecute him. Although the reports did not specify what charges he faced, an Interior Ministry spokesman said such matters fell under the countryâ€™s law against cybercrimes.
Saudi Arabia, a hereditary monarchy governed by a strict interpretation of Shariah, the legal code of Islam based on the Quran, is an economic and military ally of the United States. But some of its practices have come under greater scrutiny with the rise of the Islamic State extremist group in Iraq and Syria, which also claims to rule according to Shariah law and has shocked the world with videos of its fighters beheading captives.
The kingdom recently delayed the second round of the public caning of a writer sentenced to 1,000 blows for running a liberal website after his sentence was criticized by the State Department and the United Nations. That followed an uproar caused by a video of the first round of the punishment that was posted online.
Many Saudis object to their country’s being compared to the Islamic State, saying that Saudi Arabia executes only those convicted of grave crimes, while the fighters of the Islamic State indiscriminately kill those who do not share their Sunni Muslim faith.
International human rights organizations have criticized the Saudi justice system, and two United Nations human rights experts called for a moratorium on beheadings in Saudi Arabia last year, labeling them “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
Although Saudi Arabia criminalizes any words or acts that insult the Prophet Muhammad, it condemned the deadly attack this month on the newspaper Charlie Hebdo in France and has joined the American-led air campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Still, some Saudis worry about how domestic practices affect their image abroad.
“You reach a stage where you can’t defend the country,” said Khaled Almaeena, a social and media analyst who lives in Jidda. “I can’t go on a platform in Europe and say that everything is hunky dory when someone is being lashed every Friday.”
Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and commentator, said that while some Saudis saw the damage such practices caused abroad, the government faced little opposition domestically, partly because of the belief that Islamic punishments should be carried out in public.
“It is the Saudi Foreign Ministry that will face the heat, but locally we don’t have a problem with that,” he said of public executions.
Saudi Arabia, a country of 27 million, executed 87 people last year for crimes like rape, murder, armed robbery and drug trafficking, according to a count compiled by Human Rights Watch. It has executed 11 people so far this year.
While most executions are believed to be beheadings, the government does not usually disclose the method used.
The United States, by contrast, executed 35 people last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, using methods that are not always flawless.
According to the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the executed woman was a citizen of Myanmar who had been convicted of severely beating her husband’s 7-year-old daughter, also from Myanmar, and violating her with a broomstick “without mercy or pity, which led to her death.”
In the video, which appeared to have been filmed with a mobile phone, the women repeatedly yelled, “I didn’t kill! I didn’t kill!” and “This is oppression!” in Arabic while the men positioned her for the blows of the sword.
The Saudi newspaper Okaz reported on Sunday that the police in Mecca had arrested a security officer who had filmed the beheading and that he would face both military and civilian justice.
Another Saudi newspaper, Al-Riyadh, cited Lt. Col. Atta al-Quraishi, a spokesman for the Mecca police, as saying that the man would be turned over to the “relevant authorities.”
The Interior Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mansour Turki, said in a text message that he had no information about the reported arrest but that such cases were handled according to the country’s cybercrime law.
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.
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