Torture is unlawful and unnecessary, retired US generals tell Trump

Agence France Presse
Tue, 2017-01-10

WASHINGTON: Dozens of retired top military brass have written to President-elect Donald Trump urging him not to follow through on campaign pledges to reinstate waterboarding, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
Trump said while campaigning that “waterboarding is fine, but it’s not nearly tough enough” and said he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
In a letter dated January 6 and obtained by the Times, a group of 176 retired officers from across the US military, including 33 four-star generals and admirals, said they were concerned by such rhetoric.
“The use of waterboarding or any so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ is unlawful under domestic and international law,” they wrote.
Those signing the letter include General Stanley McChrystal and General John Allen, who oversaw the war effort in Afghanistan, and former special operations commander Admiral William McRaven.
“Torture is unnecessary,” the letter continues. “Based on our experience — and that of our nation’s top interrogators, backed by the latest science — we know that lawful, rapport-based interrogation techniques are the most effective way to elicit actionable intelligence.”
Trump has also claimed that even if waterboarding doesn’t work, terror suspects “deserve it anyway for what they do to us.”
Since his election, Trump appears to have modified his views on waterboarding — a change that may reflect the influence of his nominee to head the Pentagon, retired Marine general James Mattis.
In an interview with the Times, Trump recounted how Mattis had said that winning a prisoner’s trust is a far more effective way of prying information.
“’Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I’ll do better,’” Trump said Mattis had told him.
The signatories of the letter, who said they have “over six thousand years” of combined military leadership experience, noted that torture is counterproductive because it violates US values and serves as “a propaganda tool for extremists who wish to do us harm.”
“Our greatest strength is our commitment to the rule of law and to the principles embedded in our Constitution. Our servicemen and women need to know that our leaders do not condone torture or detainee abuse of any kind.”

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At least 21 killed Taliban-claimed bombings in Kabul

AFP, Reuters
Tue, 2017-01-10

KABUL: Twin Taliban blasts struck near the Afghan parliament in Kabul Tuesday, killing at least 21 people and wounding 45 others in the rush-hour attack that shattered a relative lull in violence in the capital.
Taliban insurgents immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings, which struck as employees were exiting the parliament complex.
“The first explosion happened outside the parliament… a number of innocent workers were killed and wounded. It was caused by a suicide bomber on foot,” Zabi, an injured parliament security guard, told AFP.
“The second one was a car bomb. It was parked on the other side of the road and flung me back when it detonated,” he said.
The blasts left 21 people dead and 45 others wounded, most of them civilians including parliament employees, a security official told AFP, requesting anonymity.
Another security official said the explosions had left “dozens of people dead.”
Around 70 wounded people had been rushed to hospitals, a health ministry spokesman told AFP.
The blasts went off near a parliament annexe, which houses offices of some lawmakers.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the explosions targeted a vehicle belonging to Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency.
The Taliban are pressing ahead with nationwide attacks despite the onset of winter, when fighting usually ebbs, as international efforts to jumpstart peace talks falter.
Repeated bids to launch peace negotiations with the Taliban have failed, with a fierce new fighting season expected to kick off in the spring.
Earlier on Tuesday, a suicide bomber blew himself up in Lashkar Gah, the capital of the volatile southern province of Helmand, killing seven people, the local police chief said.
The attacks underline concerns over growing insecurity in Afghanistan, where around 10,000 US troops are assisting struggling Afghan forces to combat a resilient Taliban insurgency along with Al-Qaeda and Daesh militants.
Afghanistan last week welcomed the Pentagon’s decision to deploy some 300 US Marines to Helmand, where American forces engaged in heated combat until their mission ended in 2014.
The Marines will head to the poppy-growing province this spring to assist a NATO-led mission to train Afghan forces, in the latest sign that foreign forces are increasingly being drawn back into the worsening conflict.
Afghanistan got scarcely a passing mention in the bitterly contested US presidential election — even though the situation in the conflict-torn country will be an urgent matter for the new president.
President-elect Donald Trump has given few details on his expected foreign policy, with even fewer specifics on how he will tackle the war in Afghanistan.

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Trump son-in-law Kushner to take senior White House role, with focus on Mideast

Tue, 2017-01-10

NEW YORK: President-elect Donald Trump has appointed his influential son-in-law Jared Kushner as a White House senior adviser, putting the young real estate executive in position to exert broad sway over both domestic and foreign policy, particularly Middle East issues and trade negotiations.
Trump has come to rely heavily on Kushner, who is married to the president-elect’s daughter Ivanka. Since the election, the political novice has been one of the transition team’s main liaisons to foreign governments, communicating with Israeli officials and meeting Sunday with Britain’s foreign minister. He’s also huddled with congressional leaders and helped interview Cabinet candidates.
Ivanka Trump, who also played a significant role advising her father during the presidential campaign, will not be taking a formal White House position. Transition officials said the mother of three young children wanted to focus on moving her family from New York to Washington.
Kushner’s own eligibility for the White House could be challenged, given a 1967 law meant to bar government officials from hiring relatives. Kushner lawyer Jamie Gorelick argued Monday that the law does not apply to the West Wing. She cited a later congressional measure to allow the president “unfettered” and “sweeping” authority in hiring staff.
In a statement Monday, Trump said Kushner will be an “invaluable member of my team as I set and execute an ambitious agenda.”
Kushner will resign as CEO of his family’s real estate company and as publisher of the New York Observer. He will also divest “substantial assets,” Gorelick said. The lawyer said Kushner would not be taking a salary. Ivanka Trump will also be leaving her executive roles at the Trump Organization — her father’s real estate company — and her own fashion brands.
Kushner, who turns 36 on Tuesday, emerged as one of Trump’s most powerful campaign advisers during his father-in-law’s often unorthodox presidential bid — a calming presence in an otherwise chaotic campaign. Soft-spoken and press-shy, he was deeply involved in the campaign’s digital efforts and was usually at Trump’s side during the election’s closing weeks.
He has continued to be a commanding presence during the transition, working alongside incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and senior adviser Steve Bannon. He’s played a key role in coordinating Trump’s contacts with foreign leaders and has been talking with foreign government officials himself, according to a person with knowledge of the conversations.
Last week, Kushner and Bannon — the controversial conservative media executive — met with British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson.
Kushner and Bannon have also worked closely on issues related to Israel, including discussions over moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, which could inflame tensions in the Middle East, and on the Trump administration’s response to a United Nations Security Council measure condemning Israeli settlements.
Kushner is also weighing in on domestic policy. He joined other Trump advisers Monday night for a meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, on tax reform. He championed the pick of his friend Gary Cohn, the president of Goldman Sachs, for a top White House economic post, and Cohn’s influence within Trump’s team is said to be growing. He’s been a conduit between Trump’s team and the private sector, a role transition officials said would continue in the White House.

Anti-nepotism law
Those with knowledge of Kushner’s role spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss internal matters.
The anti-nepotism law had appeared to be the main obstacle to Kushner joining the White House. In arguing that the measure did not apply to the West Wing, Gorelick cited an opinion from two federal court judges in a 1993 case involving Hillary Clinton’s work on her husband’s health care law. She said Trump planned to seek an advisory opinion on the nepotism law from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
Gorelick worked in the Clinton administration at both the Pentagon and Justice Department.
Norman Eisen, who served as President Barack Obama’s government ethics lawyer, said there is a “murky legal landscape” regarding the anti-nepotism law. But he said Kushner appeared to be taking the proper steps regarding the ethics and disclosure requirements for federal employees.
Like his father-in-law, Kushner pushed a mid-sized real estate company into the high-stakes battlefield of Manhattan. Though he is often viewed as more moderate than Trump, people close to him say he fully bought into the Trump campaign’s fiery populist message that resonated with white, working-class voters. He never publicly distanced himself from Trump’s more provocative stances, including the candidate’s call for a Muslim-immigration ban and his doubts about President Barack Obama’s birthplace.
Kushner’s place in Trump’s orbit — vital but often discreet — was vividly on display last month, when the president-elect toured the Carrier plant in Indiana to tout the jobs he says he saved.
Trump marched around the plant with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, shaking hands with workers, posing for photos and flashing his thumbs-up to the traveling press. Kushner stayed away from the cameras, lingering a deferential 10 or 20 feet from Trump while marveling at the scene.
“Look at these people,” Kushner was overheard saying as he watched dozens of workers cheer. “This is why he won.”
Associated Press writer Steve Peoples contributed to this report.
Follow Jonathan Lemire at and Julie Pace at

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Maritime kidnappings at 10-year high: watchdog

Agence France Presse
Tue, 2017-01-10

KUALA LUMPUR: The number of maritime kidnappings hit a ten-year high in 2016, with waters off the southern Philippines becoming increasingly dangerous, the International Maritime Bureau said Tuesday.
While the overall number of pirate attacks has declined in recent years, the IMB said 62 people worldwide were kidnapped for ransom at sea last year compared to only 19 in 2015 and nine in 2014.
“The kidnapping of crew from ocean-going merchant vessels in the Sulu Sea and their transfer to the southern Philippines represents a notable escalation in attacks,” the IMB said in a report.
It urged shipowners to avoid the Sulu Sea, which lies between eastern Malaysia and the Philippines, by routing ships to the west of Borneo island.
In a string of incidents in the Sea last year, groups of armed men — said to be either from or linked to the Abu Sayyaf — ambushed ships and seized crew for ransom.
The Abu Sayyaf are based on remote and mountainous southern Philippine islands. Their leaders pledge allegiance to the Daesh group, but analysts say they are more focused on lucrative kidnappings.
Noel Choong, head of the IMB’s Kuala Lumpur-based Piracy Reporting Center, said groups linked to militants were carrying out the kidnappings — particularly off West Africa and in the Sulu Sea.
Despite the rise in kidnappings, the number of overall pirate attacks continued to fall due to better policing and ships taking more precautions.
A total of 191 cases of piracy on the high seas were recorded in 2016 compared to 246 in 2015.
World piracy has been on the decline since 2012 after international naval patrols were launched off East Africa in response to a spate of violent assaults by Somali-based pirates and others.
The number of cases has also plummeted off Indonesia thanks to more efficient patrols.
“The continued fall in piracy is good news but certain shipping routes remain dangerous, and the escalation of crew kidnapping is a worrying trend in some emerging areas,” said Pottengal Mukundan, director of IMB.
In addition to the Sulu Sea, the Gulf of Guinea was a kidnap hotspot, with 34 crew taken in nine incidents last year.
The number of all pirate attacks off Nigeria rose from 14 in 2015 to 36 last year.
Peru, which had a clean sheet in 2015, saw 11 pirate incidents last year — 10 of them at its main port of Callao.

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8 fishermen killed in suspected pirate attack in southern Philippines

Associated Press
Tue, 2017-01-10

MANILA, Philippines: Eight Filipino fishermen were fatally shot by at least five suspected pirates who boarded their boat in the southern Philippines, officials said Tuesday.
Seven other crewmembers survived the attack Monday night in waters near Zamboanga City by jumping off the boat and swimming away when the attackers began tying up their colleagues, said Commodore Joel Garcia, head of the Philippine Coast Guard.
“According to the initial investigation, (the attackers) were on board a boat and they were all armed,” he said. “They immediately tied up eight of the crewmen, and the seven others were able to jump out and survive.”
Two of the survivors reached land and reported the massacre to a village leader, who alerted the coast guard. Two vessels were sent to the area, and coast guard personnel found the fishing boat floating with eight bodies on board.
Pictures released by the coast guard showed the bodies sprawled on the boat’s bow, with a nylon cord tying the men together by their hands.
The coast guard found the five other survivors floating near Siromon Island, and they were given medical care and taken to the fishing boat’s homeport.
“We are now conducting an investigation with the seven survivors and will find out who are the perpetrators,” Garcia said.
Lt. Commander Alvin Dagalea, commander of the coast guard station in Zamboanga on Mindanao island, said in a telephone interview that the gunmen are believed to be pirates. A military report said other motives being looked into include extortion or a grudge between fishing groups.
Abu Sayyaf militants are suspected of being behind a string of ship hijackings in the southern Philippines. Last week, coast guard and navy units foiled an attempt by suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen to hijack a cargo vessel in nearby Basilan province.

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East Timor plans to restart border talks with Australia

Tue, 2017-01-10

CANBERRA, Australia: East Timor plans to negotiate a larger share of the oil and gas wealth in the seabed between the impoverished Southeast Asian nation and Australia by restarting talks on a maritime boundary.
East Timor and Australia said in a joint statement on Monday that the tiny half-island country plans to give its wealthy neighbor three months’ notice that a bilateral treaty on sharing Timor Sea oil and gas will be terminated. That 2006 treaty also suspended negotiations on a maritime boundary for 50 years.
By reverting to a 2002 treaty, East Timor plans to restart negotiations and hopes persuade Australia to accept a boundary midway between the countries, Deakin University expert on Southeast Asia Damien Kingsbury said.
Australia has long maintained that the border should extend beyond it large continental shelf and much closer to the East Timorese shore, but has failed to reach agreement on the subject with East Timor or with Indonesia which controlled the province before the East Timorese voted for independence in 1999.
Instead, Australia has shared the energy wealth of the disputed seabed within an area known as the Joint Petroleum Development Area.
East Timor currently collects 90 percent of royalties from the area, which go into a national fund.
Kingsbury said East Timor stood to gain 100 percent of those royalties as the oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea were drying up over the next decade.
Australia confirmed its commitment to negotiate a maritime boundary and said in the joint statement that it recognized East Timor’s right to terminate the 2006 treaty.
East Timor’s Ambassador to Australia, Abel Guterres, said he expected Australia to accept international law in deciding where the boundary should lie.
“It’s quite welcome for Australia to take this step and for us to deal with this issue once and for all,” Guterres said. “It’s very important for both countries in our bilateral relations as well as regional stability and security.”
East Timor and Australia opened conciliation on the maritime boundary last year before a panel of five experts at a conciliation commission in The Hague convened under an international treaty governing the laws of the sea.
The acrimonious dispute has long soured relations between East Timor and Australia, which played a pivotal role in helping East Timor gain independence after a long occupation by Indonesia.
The relationship plumbed new depths in 2013 amid allegations that Australian spies bugged the East Timorese Cabinet ahead of crucial revenue-sharing negotiations. Australia rejects the claim, which is the focus of a separate arbitration case between the countries.

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Swiss Muslim girls must take swimming classes with boys: Europe court

Agence France Presse
Tue, 2017-01-10

STRASBOURG, France: Muslim parents in Switzerland cannot refuse to send their daughters to mixed school-run swimming lessons, Europe’s rights top court ruled Tuesday, responding to a challenge by a Turkish-Swiss couple who argued the classes violated their beliefs.
The European Court of Human Rights accepted that the refusal by authorities to exempt girls from the lessons interfered with their freedom of religion.
But the interference, it said, was justified by the need to protect the children from social exclusion.
School plays “a special role in the process of social integration, particularly where children of foreign origin were concerned,” ruled the court, which is based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg.
Swimming lessons are “not just to learn to swim, but above all to take part in that activity with all the other pupils,” it added.
The case was brought by a Turkish-Swiss couple who argued that forcing their pre-pubescent daughters to attend the classes violated their faith.
The court found that the Basel authorities had tried to accommodate the parents’ beliefs by, for instance, allowing the girls to wear the full-body “burkini” swimsuit.
The court also said that the fine of 1,400 Swiss francs (around 1,300 euros) imposed on the couple in 2010 after a warning was “proportionate to the aim pursued” of getting them to comply with the regulation.
The case was brought by Aziz Osmanoglu and his partner Sehabat Kocabas, whose daughters were born in 1999 and 2001.
All their appeals were rejected by Swiss courts, after which they took their case to Strasbourg.
Tuesday’s ruling is not final. The couple has three months to appeal the decision.

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Muslim girls must take mixed school swimming classes: Europe court

Agence France Presse
Tue, 2017-01-10

STRASBOURG, France: Muslim parents cannot refuse to send their daughters to mixed school-run swimming lessons, Europe’s rights top court found, ruling on a challenge by a Turkish-Swiss couple who argued the classes violated their beliefs.
The court ruled that the refusal by authorities in the Swiss city of Basel to exempt the couple’s two daughters from swimming lessons was justified by the need to promote the children’s social integration.

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Britain’s Labour backs down on migration to win back Brexit voters

Elizabeth Piper | Reuters
Tue, 2017-01-10

LONDON: Britain’s main opposition Labour Party will say for the first time on Tuesday it is not wedded to freedom of movement with the European Union, an attempt to win back millions of traditional supporters who backed Brexit.
In his first major speech this year, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will set out his Brexit strategy more than six months after Britain voted to leave the EU in the June referendum.
He is seeking to silence critics who say his party has failed to challenge Prime Minister Theresa May with a coherent, alternative plan.
Flagging in opinion polls, Corbyn will also try to ease concerns among some Labour voters who feel the party is not in tune with their fears over immigration and to staunch their exodus to the likes of the anti-EU UK Independence Party.
“Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle,” he will tell an audience in the English city of Peterborough, which voted strongly in favor of leaving the EU, according to excerpts of his speech.
“Labour supports fair rules and reasonably managed migration as part of the post-Brexit relationship with the EU.”
Since becoming leader over a year ago, Corbyn has struggled to put his stamp on a party which has been pro-EU for more than two decades and was blindsided on Brexit by the more organized ruling Conservative Party, which enjoys a slim majority in parliament and has largely driven the debate.
A socialist on the left of his party, Corbyn has criticized the bloc for being in thrall to big business.
But he has backed freedom of movement — one of the EU’s main pillars — which the bloc says must be respected if Britain is to maintain its preferential access to the single market of 500 million consumers.
In interviews before his speech, Corbyn said voters should recognize the “enormous contribution to our society and economy” EU migrants have made and to consider those Britons who live in the bloc and fear their rights may be hurt by Brexit.
But refusing to put a number on his preferred level of immigration from the EU, he said that would depend on what kind of preferential access Britain would get to the single market.
“The right to work here would be something that would be negotiated because that clearly cannot be put down yet until we know what the terms are of single market access,” he said.
He also told the BBC he wanted to see a cap on “high earnings” to reduce income inequality, another plank in a new approach to win not only voters but some Labour officials who are skeptical of his ability to lead them to election victory.
“We cannot set ourselves up as being a sort of grossly unequal bargain basement economy on the shores of Europe,” he said (Reporting by Elizabeth Piper)

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Powerful undersea quake hits south Philippines, no damage

Associated Press
Tue, 2017-01-10

MANILA: A powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 struck under the Celebes Sea off the southern Philippines on Tuesday but was far too deep to cause any damage and casualties or generate a tsunami. 
Renato Solidum of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said the quake, which was set off by movement of oceanic plates 625 kilometers (387 miles) under the seabed, was slightly felt in southern General Santos city.
The undersea quake was centered 223 kilometers ((138 miles) southeast of Sulu province and aftershocks were possible, he said, adding such quakes at that depth are rare although shallower ones have struck the region a number of times in the past.
The Philippine archipelago lies in the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanic activities are common. A magnitude 7.7 quake killed nearly 2,000 people on the northern island of Luzon in 1990.

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