A free speech rally took place on August 19th in Boston. The media presented it as a peaceful, non-violent event. Were they lying?
According to organizers, 3,000 people attended a march through the center of Seoul, holding signs that read ‘Koreans hate THAAD’ and ‘Yes to peace talks,’ as well as banners directed at US President Donald Trump.
“The deployment of THAAD, which is unnecessary for the defense of the Korean Peninsula, should be pulled back,” said one of the speakers at the rally, quoted by local news outlet Yonhap. “The South Korea-US summit to come next week should be a venue where the review of the THAAD deployment should be assured.”
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and Trump are due to meet for the first time in Washington next week, with THAAD expected to dominate the agenda.
Moon, a center-left politician, who was sworn in last month after a corruption scandal brought down the previous right-wing administration, has been a fierce critic of the way in which the sophisticated defense system has been deployed and has ordered a full investigation.
On Thursday, Moon told Reuters that according to the “original agreement,” only one missile battery, consisting of six missile launchers, was due to be deployed in 2017, with five others due to be imported and brought online thereafter.
Instead, two were brought online a week before last month’s election, and four were “covertly” brought into the country as the previous government realized that they were facing defeat, with the public not told until they were already in the country.
“For some reason that I do not know, this entire THAAD process was accelerated,” said Moon.
Washington said that all steps were agreed with the government and comply with NATO guidelines.
“The US trusts the South Korean official stance that the THAAD deployment was an Alliance decision. We have worked closely and have been fully transparent with the South Korean government throughout this process,” United States Forces Korea wrote to the Korea Herald on Friday, when asked to respond to Moon’s comments.
Trump has been angered by Moon’s insinuations of impropriety and the purported ingratitude of South Koreans, who would be receiving a state-of-the-art defense system against North Korea’s recently bolstered missile-launching capacities, and has charged that Seoul owes Washington $1 billion in THAAD expenses.
Moon’s office has been attempting to limit the stand-off between allies following the Reuters interview, saying his government is not fundamentally opposed to THAAD, but is merely trying to follow procedures.
“The president’s remark came as a part of his effort to explain that the South Korean government is not trying to postpone the deployment of THAAD. It was aimed to highlight the government’s effort to follow the legitimate process for the deployment,” it said in a statement.
The THAAD issue has become a nexus of several agendas and developments, meaning that backing down now will likely result in a loss of credibility for at least some of the involved actors.
North Korea’s frequent missile tests this year have demanded a response, but Moon has advocated charting a more diplomatic course with Pyongyang, and also wants a clean break with the messy practices of the previous government.
Trump has called for the total isolation of North Korea and has also threatened force. Trump further believes that NATO allies are not making sufficient contributions.
Pyongyang’s patron, China, has also condemned THAAD while engaging in a costly unofficial trade war with South Korea over its decision to install the missile defense system.
Graphic footage posted on Twitter on June 20 shows a man wearing a T-shirt with the White Helmets logo dumping a pile of bodies, allegedly being that of Syrian Army soldiers or pro-government fighters.
The gut-wrenching footage shows that many bodies in the pile are beheaded and one militant even shows a severed head of a soldier up close on camera.
“Impartial and humanitarian White Helmets [are] participating in the beheading and throwing of Syrian soldiers bodies at a dumpster in Daraa,” a caption under the video posted on Twitter reads.
Daraa is a southern Syrian province bordering Jordan where several rebel factions as well as Al-Nusra terrorist group and its affiliates are operating.
It remains unclear which militant group was shown in the video disposing of the bodies.
Following the incident, the White Helmets, officially known as the Syria Civil Defense, were quick to release a statement, in which the group’s management condemned the man shown in the video and said they fired him for violating their code of conduct.
The group acknowledged that the filmed man was indeed the member of the White Helmets but said he was “acting independently and not in his capacity as a member of SCD.”
“On 20 June 2017, a volunteer of SCD in Daraa Governorate was witnessed participating in an activity that violated the organizational principles and vision of SCD,” the statement said, adding, that the behavior of the man in question, whose name was not revealed, “constitutes a gross breach of SCD’s Code of Conduct.”
“As a result, the volunteer has been dismissed,” the statement says.
It is not the first time that the White Helmets has been caught in scandals involving their members participating in various atrocities.
In one such incident in May, footage emerged showing several members of the group’s rescue team helping to get rid of a body of a man shot dead by rebels in the town of Jasim, also in Daraa province.
The man was shot during a summary execution carried out by the rebels in front of a large crowd and recorded on camera. The video then shows volunteers from the White Helmets moving in to dispose of the body, Almasdar news website reported at that time.
In May, the White Helmets also quickly released a statement stating that the group’s volunteers “were seen to act improperly and not in accordance with the voluntary Code of Conduct for Syria Civil Defense (SCD) members.”
At that time, the issue appeared to be the fact that the group’s local team leader failed to seek “permission from his superiors before agreeing to the request” to dispose of the body. He was later dismissed.
The White Helmets have long been hailed by the mainstream western media as heroes who save lives. A Netflix documentary film praising the group as “unarmed and neutral civilian volunteers” even won an Oscar for best documentary short feature in February.
The unit has also received praise from Amnesty International, describing it as “a group of neutral, unarmed volunteers.”
However, the group has long been plagued by allegations of having ties with terrorist groups. Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said in April that the White Helmets are involved in covering up terrorist’s crimes.
“The White Helmets not only feel at home on territories controlled by Al-Nusra Front and Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL], but also openly express positive attitudes towards them, providing them with information and even financial assistance,” she said at the time.
A Canadian journalist and rights activist, Eva Bartlett, who has traveled to Syria numerous times since the start of the war, has also questioned the authenticity of the White Helmets’ claims concerning their ‘rescue effort’ mandate.
Members of the group “purport to be rescuing civilians in eastern Aleppo and Idlib [but]… no one in eastern Aleppo has heard of them,” she said in an address to the UN in December 2016.
Vanessa Beeley, an independent researcher and journalist, told RT in October 2016 that “there is massive video and photographic testimonial evidence from inside Syria to give evidence that they are running a terrorist support group.”
She particularly pointed out that the group is “embedded entirely in terrorist-held areas whether it is predominantly Al-Nusra Front or ISIS or any of the various associated brigades of terrorists.”
The residents of Aleppo have described the group as “camera posers, thieves, and raiders,” who are only interested in releasing dramatic videos. “When they came to help the injured they stole from them,” one elderly man told RT’s war correspondent Lizzie Phelan in December 2016. “If people are wearing jewelry, they cut it off. All of them are thieves.”
By John Binder
Agustin Jorge Figueroa-Garcia, a 29 of Mexico, was caught by federal immigration agents with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency in Texas, according to News4 San Antonio.
Figueroa-Garcia was deported for the sixth time by ICE in December 2014 via El Paso, Texas.
Now, federal agents are looking to deport Figueroa-Garcia for the seventh time, charging him with re-entering the U.S. illegally.
RT – MAY 31, 2017
Despite early signals from the Trump administration that it would not mind improving relations with Russia, which seemed to hit rock bottom during the last months of the Obama presidency, Moscow “had no special expectations” with regards to the new US President Trump, the Russian leader said in an interview to be published in full Wednesday.
While US presidents “come and go,” its political landscape is hardly prone to changes, Putin said, noting that the incumbent US leader “is steering a traditional US policy.”
This political invariability can be ascribed to the sprawling US bureaucratic machine, which imposes rigid constraints on every neophyte leader as soon as he rises to power, Putin argued.
“When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suits… These people start explaining how things are done. And instantly, everything changes,” Putin elaborated, noting that no administration is able to escape this trap, which significantly narrows its room for maneuver.
Putin argued that former US President Obama also fell victim to the system as he was not able to deliver on his pre-election promise to close the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison. Describing Obama as a “forward-thinking man,” Putin said that he has no doubt that Obama genuinely wanted to follow through his pledge, but failed even though the controversial Cuban prison was known primarily for torture and a practice of unlawful detentions.
“Can you imagine France or Russia acting this way? This would have been a disaster. But it is possible in the United States and continues to this day,” Putin said, referring to widespread and well-documented human rights abuses in the prison.
The Russian president said Moscow still hopes for a political normalization with Washington, but is in “no hurry” and “ready to wait” until the anti-Russian hysteria, fueled by the defeated party which seeks to shift the blame for its own loss on Russia, subsides.
“That said, I am cautiously optimistic, and I think that we can and should be able to reach agreements on key issues,” he said.
Criticizing the increase in NATO military spending and its build-up on Russia’s doorstep, Putin nevertheless noted that Trump showed a “pragmatic and understandable approach” when he demanded from other NATO member states to share the financial burden of common defense with the US.
Dismissing allegations of Russian meddling in the US and French presidential elections, Putin argued that claims that Moscow was behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee emails have not been supported by evidence. He added that it does not take much effort to cover up the source of the attack for the purpose of making Moscow a scapegoat.
“As President Trump once said, and I think that he was totally right when he said it could have been someone sitting on their bed or somebody intentionally inserted a flash drive with the name of a Russian national, or something like that,” Putin said.
The Russian leader believes that essence of the problem lies not in the Moscow’s perceived interference in the electoral process, but in the unwillingness of those who were stunned by the defeat in the November elections to take responsibility for their poor performance.
“They are absolutely reluctant to admit this, and prefer deluding themselves and others into thinking it was not their fault, that their policy was correct, they did all the right things, but someone from the outside thwarted them. But it was not so. They just lost and they have to admit it,” Putin said.
Apparently, Trump turned out to be “closer to the people and better understood what ordinary voters want,” Putin said, suggesting that the Democrats need to put up with the fact and adding that when those drop this mindset “it will be easier for us to work [with the US].”
While there is no timeline for when such a turnaround will happen, Putin believes that this phase in US-Russia relations, during which Russia is being dragged into US internal policy, is temporary.
“The fact that this is being done using anti-Russia tools is not good, as it brings discord into international affairs,” Putin said. “But it will pass, everything passes, and this will pass as well.”