Trump: North Koreans love Kim

President Trump on Tuesday said the people of North Korea “love” the country’s leader Kim Jong Un despite previously condemning the regime’s human rights abuses.

“His country does love him,” Trump said in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos following the historic summit between Trump and Kim in Singapore.

Trump said “you see the fervor” the North Koreans have for their leader.

“They’re gonna put it together, and I think they’re going to end up with a very strong country, and a country which has people  — that they’re so hard working, so industrious,” Trump said.

Stephanopoulos, however, pressed Trump’s reversal from his previous criticism over the oppressive regime that’s been accused of multiple human rights abuses.

“You say his people love him,” Stephanopoulos retorted. “Just a few months ago you accused him of starving his people.”

Trump said in January during the State of the Union address that North Korea has “more brutally oppressed its people than any regime on Earth.”

Stephanopoulos pressed the issue, saying Kim is a brutal dictator who runs a police state with labor camps and forced starvation.

“He’s assassinated members of his own family,” Stephanopoulos added. “How do you trust a killer like that?”

Trump said he can only judge Kim based on his interactions with him.

“I mean, this is what we have, and this is where we are, and I can only tell you from my experience, and I met him, I’ve spoken with him, and I’ve met him,” Trump said.

Trump also noted that things can change in the relationship, saying, “Will I come back to you in a year and you’ll be interviewing me and I’ll say, ‘Gee, I made a mistake?’ That’s always possible.”

Trump said Kim “wants to do the right thing” and that begins with denuclearization.

“I mean, this is what we have, and this is where we are, and I can only tell you from my experience, and I met him, I’ve spoken with him, and I’ve met him,” Trump said.

Trump also noted that things can change in the relationship, saying, “Will I come back to you in a year and you’ll be interviewing me and I’ll say, ‘Gee, I made a mistake?’ That’s always possible.”

Trump said Kim “wants to do the right thing” and that begins with denuclearization.

“Now, with all of that being said, I can’t talk about — it doesn’t matter,” Trump added.

Trump said at a press conference following the summit that human rights abuses happen “in a lot of places” when he was asked if he would reverse his previous criticism of Kim’s regime.

“I believe it’s a rough situation over there,” Trump told reporters. “It’s rough in a lot of places, by the way, not just there.”

The feds lost — yes, lost — 1,475 migrant children

The Trump administration recently announced a new, get-tough policy that will separate parents from their children if the family is caught crossing the border illegally.

It was a big news story. So big it overshadowed the fact that the federal government has lost — yes, lost — 1,475 migrant children in its custody.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Congress that within 48 hours of being taken into custody the children are transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services, which finds places for them to stay.

“They will be separated from their parent,” said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

“Just like we do in the United States every day,” Nielsen replied.

Except that the states, unlike the federal government, have systems in place to better screen the people who become guardians of the children and much better ways to keep track of those children.

And not lose them.

That is what happened to 1,475 minors swept up at the border and taken into custody by the federal government.

Gone.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement reported at the end of 2017 that of the 7,000-plus children placed with sponsored individuals, the agency did not know where 1,475 of them were.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said, “It’s just a system that has so many gaps, so many opportunities for these children to fall between the cracks, that we just don’t know what’s going on — how much trafficking or abuse or simply immigration law violations are occurring.”

A documentary from the PBS program Frontline said that the federal government has actually released some of the minors to human traffickers.

Imagine that.

And now we want to dramatically ramp up the number of children who are removed from their parents?

When pressed about safety concerns Secretary Nielsen said, “I just want to say, I couldn’t agree with your concerns more, period. We owe more to these children to protect them. So I’m saying I agree, we’ve taken steps and we will continue to strengthen what our partners do to protect these children.”

There are 1,475 reasons not to be reassured by the secretary’s promise.

If anything, it would have been better to have a policy in place, with protections, and safe places to stay, and safe people to stay with, and personnel on the government payroll to check-up on them before the administration’s new policy was implemented.

Secretary Nielsen said, “My decision has been that anyone who breaks the law will be prosecuted. If you are parent, or you’re a single person or if you happen to have a family, if you cross between the ports of entry we will refer you for prosecution. You have broken U.S. law.”

We all get that. And we all want a secure border. But we don’t want to trade in our humanity in the process.

As Sen. Portman told Frontline, “We’ve got these kids. They’re here. They’re living on our soil. And for us to just, you know, assume someone else is going to take care of them and throw them to the wolves, which is what HHS was doing, is flat-out wrong. I don’t care what you think about immigration policy, it’s wrong.”

He’s right.

[USA Today]

Trump awards Medal of Honor to Navy SEAL accused of war crimes

President Trump on Thursday awarded the Medal of Honor to a retired Navy SEAL who has been accused of committing war crimes — and leaving a man behind in enemy territory.

Former Master Chief Special Warefare Operator Britt Slabinski received the award during a public ceremony at the White House.

In 2002, he spearheaded a controversial SEAL Team Six mission in Afghanistan — which led to the deaths of seven Americans.

He was a Senior Chief Petty Officer at the time, in charge of leading a seven-member unit into eastern Afghanistan to set up an observation post on the mountain of Takur Ghar.

It was just six months after 9/11, and US forces had been waging war with Al Qaeda in the valley below as part of Operation Anaconda.

“Britt and his teammates were preparing to exit the aircraft on the mountain peak when their helicopter was struck by machine gun fire, and machine gun fire like they’ve never seen before,” explained Trump, who recounted the events on Thursday.

“Not a good feeling,” he said.

As the chopper “lurched away from the assault,” one of the SEAL Team Six members — later identified as Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts — got tossed from the aircraft but was thought to have survived.

“At this point, Britt received information suggesting [Roberts] was probably still alive,” Trump said. “The team faced a choice: to wait for reinforcements and pretty much safety, or to return immediately to the enemy stronghold in the hope of saving Neil’s life.”

Despite being “out-manned, out-gunned and fighting uphill on a steep, icy mountain,” Trump said Slabinski and his squad made the choice to turn back.

“For them, it was an easy one,” the president added. “They went back to that mountain.”

While Trump hailed Slabinski for his actions, many in the military community feel that he made several bad decisions that day in 2002, which wound up costing the lives of seven Americans, including Roberts.

First, he chose to take a much more dangerous route than the one they had planned after experiencing maintenance delays and pressure from senior officers. Slabinski told the New York Times in 2016 that when they landed on Takur Ghar, Qaeda forces were already waiting.

Next, he reportedly made the decision to land his team directly on the observation post — rather than hiking up to it from a safer position. Military officials later determined that this was a major error, which “violated a basic tenet of reconnaissance.”

Slabinski then chose to turn back after losing Roberts — recruiting Air Force Technical Sgt. John Chapman in the process, according to accounts.

Unbeknownst to him, Roberts had already been captured by enemy fighters and killed.

“Britt continued to engage the enemy, repeatedly exposing himself to horrendous fire,” Trump said Thursday, calling the assault the “Battle of Roberts Ridge.”

“When they could go no further, Britt tended to the wounded and coordinated their escape until his team was finally evacuated,” the president added.

Members of the Army’s Delta Force and 75th Ranger Regiment teams, which were involved in the battle, believe Slabinski left Chapman behind that day after retreating with the rest of his unit.

Footage obtained by the Times appears to show the airman battling Qaeda forces on the mountain for another hour — even resorting to hand-to-hand combat at one point.

Chapman wound up dying in an attempt to protect arriving reinforcements from gunfire, according to the Times.

He will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, though it’s unclear when.

Slabinski has repeatedly denied leaving him on Takur Ghar that day, while also defending the rest of his actions.

“I can tell you, we left no one behind. No one,” he told Fox News, just three days before receiving the Medal of Honor.

“What I saw, what I experienced, I know that clearly that we didn’t leave anyone behind up there,” Slabinski said. “I wasn’t more than 20 to 30 feet away from where John was and that was my experience. But what I want people to focus on is that it’s called Roberts Ridge now because we lost six other people up there. A total of seven.”

Asked if he thought Chapman was still alive when they retreated, Slabinski replied: “That wasn’t what I experienced. It wasn’t what I saw.”

In addition to the 2002 incident, Slabinski has been accused of multiple war crimes. They include illegally ordering the executions of male Afghans and mutilating the bodies of fallen enemy fighters.

“[Slabinski] certainly has been accused of some very bad things,” retired SEAL officer Dick Couch told Politico.

He pointed out, however, how the award is based on “one specific action” — and not the recipient’s character.

“I’ve read excerpts of what he did in that battle and it certainly seems Medal of Honor-worthy,” Couch said.

Dana White, a spokesperson for Defense Secretary James Mattis, told Politico that Mattis “was well aware of the news reporting around Master Chief Slabinski” and recommended him for the Medal of Honor anyway.

[New York Post]

John Kelly defended separating children from their families at the border as a deterrent

Last week, White House Chief of staff John Kelly went on National Public Radio to make it clear that despite repeated bald-faced statements to the contrary, the Trump administration does not view immigrants as dangerous criminals. Regrettably, Kelly didn’t stop there. A second later, he defended the practice of separating children from their families at the border as a deterrent to illegal immigration. He then explained that the children torn from their mothers and fathers would be handled by “foster care or whatever,” a flippant phrase that betrayed the dismissiveness of not only Kelly but Jeff Sessions and the architects of the Justice Department program to the suffering of children.

The phrase was enough of a rhetorical roadblock that it prompted many to stop and further inspect the logic of the Justice Department program, which is being touted as a humane deterrent, which is an oxymoron. The program is designed to deter border crossings by presenting a profound threat to parents. It is fully intended to terrify. If it weren’t, it would not make sense as a program. The idea then that Americans should not see the separation as an act of retribution perpetrated against families, is ludicrous. For hardliners, the suffering of Guatemalan children might be an appropriate price for a secure border, but there’s little reason to think most Americans are sympathetic to that perspective. With the Pew Research Center uncovering a net outflow of migrants — more are leaving than coming in — America could afford a more humane approach.

Instead, the word of the day is “tough.” That’s John Kelly’s macho go-to. “It could be a tough deterrent — would be a tough deterrent,” he told NPR.

At one point in his interview Kelly, who is a father, evinced sympathy for migrants and acknowledged that they were heading to America for understandable reasons. He did not dive into the specifics of the violence families flee or the specific threats to children that exist in places like El Salvador, but he gestured in the direction of empathy. He publically faced the truth that these people are willingly staring down very long odds and will keep coming.

So, again, what is a “tough deterrent” but the promise of future violence, an assurance that America will not be safer for your children than wherever you started walking.

[Yahoo]

Trump: Nominee For CIA Director is Taking Fire Because She Was ‘Too Tough on Terrorists’

President Donald Trump defended Gina Haspel — his nominee for CIA director who has faced headwinds in her nomination process because of her ties to the CIA’s torture program — on Twitter Monday morning.

Haspel, who has been at the CIA for more than three decades, faces a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday that’s shaping up to be a tough ride for the career agent. Haspel ran a “black site” in Thailand, at a time when the U.S. enhanced interrogation program included waterboarding and other torture practices for terror suspects.

The Washington Post reported that on Friday, Haspel sought to withdraw her nomination for CIA director, fearing she would face the same fate — a blow to her reputation — that former VA secretary nominee Ronny Jackson did.

“My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists,” Trump tweeted, before adding a splash of identity politics: “Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror.”

“Win Gina!” he added.

Trump’s apparent defense of torture came shortly after his favorite morning show Fox & Friends covered Haspel’s struggles in her nomination process.

[Mediaite]

Reality

Trump’s proposed reliance on tactics used by Bond villains as a practical response to the terrorist acts of the Islamic State should be leaving people feeling aghast and concerned.

Unlike fictional TV shows, like 24 where Jack Bauer runs around and tortures his way to the bad guy or movies like Zero Dark Thirty who include torture scenes that never happened which lead to the capture of Osama Bin Laden, reality is quite different.

Waterboarding, and other forms of torture, is considered a war crime according to the Geneva Conventions and is not reliable for obtaining truthful, useful intelligence.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that “the CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.” There was no proof, according to the 6,700 page report, that information obtained through waterboarding prevented any attacks or saved any lives, or that information obtained from the detainees was not or could not have been obtained through conventional interrogation methods.”

In-fact, we’ve know for centuries that torture is not effective. Here is Napoleon’s own words on the subject:

“It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know.”

Instead, rapport-building techniques are 14 times more effective in extracting information than torture and has the upside of not being unethical.

Trump asked CIA official why drone strike didn’t also kill target’s family

President Trump reportedly asked an official at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) why they didn’t kill a terrorist target’s family during a drone strike.

The Washington Post reported Thursday after watching a recorded video of a Syrian drone strike where officials waited until the target was outside of his family’s home, Trump asked, “Why did you wait?”

The agency’s head of drone operations explained to an “unimpressed” Trump there are techniques to limit the number of civilian casualties.

Trump called for the CIA to start arming its drone in Syria and reportedly asked for it to be started in days.

[The Hill]

Reality

All four Geneva Conventions from 1949 contain “Common Article 3,” which applies to “armed conflict not of an international character.” What does that mean? The U.S. Supreme Court, in the 2006 case Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, ruled that “armed conflict not of an international character” means a war that is not fought against a sovereign state. (A sovereign state simply means a country with a recognized government.) Since groups like ISIS are not considered sovereign states, that means that Common Article 3 applies to the current war on terrorism.

According to Common Article 3, people who are taking no active part in the hostilities “shall in all circumstances be treated humanely… To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever … violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.”

Experts said this language would make Trump’s approach a violation of the Geneva Conventions, assuming that the family members were not taking part in terrorist activities.

U.S. diplomats accuse Tillerson of breaking child soldiers law

A group of about a dozen U.S. State Department officials have taken the unusual step of formally accusing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of violating a federal law designed to stop foreign militaries from enlisting child soldiers, according to internal documents reviewed by Reuters.

A confidential State Department “dissent” memo, which Reuters was first to report on, said Tillerson breached the Child Soldiers Prevention Act when he decided in June to exclude Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan from a U.S. list of offenders in the use of child soldiers. This was despite the department publicly acknowledging that children were being conscripted in those countries. [tmsnrt.rs/2jJ7pav]

Keeping the countries off the annual list makes it easier to provide them with U.S. military assistance. Iraq and Afghanistan are close allies in the fight against Islamist militants, while Myanmar is an emerging ally to offset China’s influence in Southeast Asia.

[Reuters]

Trump Announces U.S. Will Exit Paris Climate Deal

President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord Thursday, a major step that fulfills a campaign promise while seriously dampening global efforts to curb global warming.

The decision amounts to a rebuttal of the worldwide effort to pressure Trump to remain a part of the agreement, which 195 nations signed onto. Foreign leaders, business executives and Trump’s own daughter lobbied heavily for him to remain a part of the deal, but ultimately lost out to conservatives who claim the plan is bad for the United States.

“In order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord but being negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction under terms that are fair to the United States,” Trump said from the White House Rose Garden.

“We’re getting out. And we will start to renegotiate and we’ll see if there’s a better deal. If we can, great. If we can’t, that’s fine,” he added.

[Washington Post]

Reality

The U.S. now joins Syria, which has been mired in a war and Nicaragua, which has said it didn’t join because they didn’t think the climate agreement went far enough, in not taking part in the global agreement.

For years conservatives railed against Barack Obama for what they perceived was “leading from behind.” This is exactly leading from behind. Other countries like China will now take over as global leaders in green energy and reap the economic benefits while Trump at home will push for more oil and coal.

Trump Says U.S. Should Have Stolen Iraq’s Oil, and ‘Maybe We’ll Have Another Chance’

While addressing the CIA on Saturday, President Donald Trump took a break from lambasting the media to remind everyone that he thinks the U.S. should have stolen Iraq’s oil. He also suggested that the U.S. might get another chance to violate international law.

“Now I said it for economic reasons,” Trump said while introducing Representative Mike Pompeo, his pick to lead the agency. “But if you think about it, Mike, if we kept the oil, you probably wouldn’t have ISIS because that’s where they made their money in the first place, so we should have kept the oil. But, okay, maybe we’ll have another chance.”

National Review has noted that Trump’s “odd fixation” with taking Iraq’s oil dates back to at least 2011. He made the argument numerous times on the campaign trail, suggesting that the U.S. could take Iraq’s oil while fighting ISIS. When PolitiFact examined the claim in September, numerous experts said trying to seize Iraqi oil would not be legal, feasible, or desirable. The idea is “so out of step with any plausible interpretation of U.S. history or international law that they should be dismissed out of hand by anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of world affairs,” said Lance Janda, a military historian at Cameron University.

It’s not clear what Trump meant by “maybe we’ll have another chance,” but when you’re president, people take even offhand remarks about violating international law pretty seriously. BuzzFeed spoke with several Iraqis on the front lines of the battle against ISIS, and they said they were prepared to take up arms against Americans if they attempted to take their country’s natural resources.

“I participated in the attack against the Americans by attacking them with mortars and roadside bombs, and I’m ready to do it again,” said Abu Luay, an Iraqi security official using a nom de guerre, who is currently fighting the terrorist group in northwest Iraq. “We kept our ammunition and weapons from the time the Americans left for fighting ISIS. But once ISIS is gone we will save our weapons for the Americans.”

Several other people at a base for Popular Mobilization Units, a new branch of Iraq’s armed forces consisting of former militiamen and volunteers fighting against ISIS, said the move would be counterproductive. Iraq recently took out a $5.3 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, in part to help pay for the fight against ISIS.

“There’s no way Trump could take the oil unless he launched a new military front and it be a new world war,” said Kareem Kashekh, a photographer who works for the Popular Mobilization Units.

(h/t New York Magazine)

Reality

Specifically, the Annex to the Hague Convention of 1907 on the Laws and Customs of War, which says that “private property … must be respected (and) cannot be confiscated.” It also says that “pillage is formally forbidden.”

In addition, the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War provides that “any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”

For example, when Saddam Hussein (the former authoritarian leader of Iraq who Trump admires) invaded Kuwait in 1990, one of the justifications for international intervention was because Hussein seized and held Kuwaiti oil fields.

Media

Donald Trump ‘supports policy’ that has killed 4,500 people in the Philippines in five months

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to “kill all” the country’s suspected drug users and dealers has many foreign critics, including the United States, the European Parliament and the International Criminal Court. It now has at least one high-profile supporter: President-elect Donald Trump, at least according to Duterte.

In a statement on Saturday, Duterte shared details of a seven-minute conversation that took place on Friday. He said that during the call, Trump endorsed his campaign against drug users and dealers — a campaign that has left at least 4,500 Filipinos dead in about five months. Trump told Duterte that he was doing it the “right way,” according to Duterte’s account.

“I could sense a good rapport, an animated President-elect Trump,” he added. “And he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem.”

The comments, which have not been confirmed by Trump’s team, could signal another significant twist in U.S.-Philippine ties.

The Philippines is a former U.S. colony that has been a close U.S. partner for decades. Since sweeping to power last spring, Duterte has repeatedly lashed out at his longtime ally, threatening to ditch the United States for China and Russia.

In September, when President Obama raised questions about the bloody anti-drug crusade, Duterte lectured him on colonialism, referring to him with a slang term that translates, roughly, as “son of a whore.”

In the weeks that followed, he made several surprise announcements on U.S.-Philippine military ties, calling for the ouster of U.S. Special Operations forces from the southern island of Mindanao and the end of joint U.S.-Philippine military exercises — only to backtrack repeatedly.

But Trump’s triumph in the US presidential race saw Duterte switch direction again. Weeks after railing against “uncivilized” Americans, Duterte greeted the U.S. president-elect with an enthusiastic “long live” Trump. Duterte also mused that they might get along — because they both like to swear.

For the Philippine president, an expression of support from Trump could help reset ties with the United States. But endorsing Duterte’s crackdown may put Trump at odds with allies such as the European Union, whose parliament issued a resolution urging the Philippines to halt “extrajudicial executions and killings” in connection with the drug war.

(h/t Independent)

Reality

Duterte, also an authoritarian, threatens political rivals and other enemies with baseless claims that they too are drug dealers in order to intimidate into submission or move them aside, even having one political rival murdered under police custody.

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