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Republican senators ask Biden’s UN rep to highlight Houthi rights abuses

group of Repub上海夜生活lican senators a上海品茶网re demanding the Biden administration bring international attention to alleged human rights abuses committed by Houthi forces in Yemen.

Sen. Jim Risch of Idado, who is the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led the publication of the letter on Monday to US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

Risch, along with Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Todd Young of Indiana and Mike Crapo of Idaho, implored the diplomat to highlight abuses and “mass indoctrination of the Yemeni people” carried out by the Iran-backed Houthi forces. They said that the lack of attention 上海夜生活lican senators a上海品茶网on the issue discourages the Houthi rebels from negotiating in Yemen’s civil war.

“For too long, the international community has turned a blind eye to Houthi atrocities,” wrote the senators. “This lack of international attention has led to a culture of impunity, and, as a result, the Houthis today are less willing to negotiate in good faith.”

Yemen has been embroiled in a devastating civil war since 2014. The governmen上海夜生活lican senators a上海品茶网t of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, supported by a Saudi-led coalition, is fighting against the Houthi rebels, backed by Iran. Efforts by the administration of US President Joe Biden to negotiate a peace deal have failed to yield an agreement so far.

The senators, who are critical of Iranian policy in the region, said the Houthis’ rule is intrinsically tied to the Islamic Republic.

“To maintain power, the Houthis have developed a repressive intelligence apparatus that, like Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, operates outside normal ‘state’ control and reports directly to the movement’s senior leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi,” they said.

The senators asked Thomas-Greenfield to ensure alleged human rights abuses by Houthi forces are a part of UN Security Council meetings, statements and resolutions related to the Yemen conflict.

Upon taking office, the Biden administration removed the terrorist designation of the Houthis, formally known as Ansarallah, and appointed US Foreign Service Officer Tim Lenderking to serve as the US Envoy to negotiate an end to the war in Yemen.

Houthi forces have received international scrutiny recently for their human rights record. In February, the United Nations sanctioned a Houthi police official for alleged crimes against women. In March, the Biden administration sanctioned two Houthi military leaders following cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia.

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Biden urged to secure release of Americans left behind in Iran

the Unite上海夜生活论坛d States work上海夜生活s to bring Iran back into compliance with the nuclear accord, the family of two Americans held by Tehran is appealing to the Biden administration to make their release part of any deal made with the Islamic Republic.

US officials say they’ve engaged in indirect discussions — independently of the nuclear deal talks in Vienna — with Iran over unjustly detained US citizens, including Siamak and Baquer Namazi.

The White House says their release is a top priority, but Babak Namazi worries his brother, Siamak, and father, Baquer, could once again be left behind.

“That fear is ever present, irrespective of what assurances one receives,” he told Al-Monitor.

Siamak and Baquer Namazi have come to symbolize what rights groups describe as Iran’上海夜生活论坛d States work上海夜生活s use of hostage diplomacy. Days after the nuclear deal — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — was reached in July 2015, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) detained and interrogated Siamak Namazi as he arrived at the Tehran airport for a return flight home to the United Arab Emirates following a visit with relatives. After months of interrogations, the Iranian-American business consultant was formally arrested in October 2015.

Several months into Siamak Namazi’s imprisonment, the IRGC lured Baquer Namazi to Iran on the premise he could visit his son in prison, his family says. The senior Namazi, a former Iranian provincial governor and UNICEF official, was instead intercepted at the airport and thrown in jail under the same vague spying charges.

In October 2016, both men were sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of cooperating with the US government. Baquer Namazi’s sentence was commuted in February 2020, but the 84-year-old is still barred from leaving the country despite serious medical conditions.

Siamak Namazi, now the longes上海夜生活论坛d States work上海夜生活t-held American prisoner in Iran, remains in the notorious Evin prison where his family says he has endured long stretches of solitary confinement, as well as physical and psychological torture.

“We continue to call for the return of all US citizens who are unjustly detained — of course, those who are in Iran and those who are unjustly detained in countries all over the world,” State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told Al-Monitor during a recent telephone briefing.

But the Namazi family fears a repeat of what happened in 2016 when Siamak Namazi was the only American not returned home as part of a swap described by President Barack Obama as “a one-time gesture to Iran.” The prisoner exchange, which occurred the same day JCPOA took effect, reportedly came after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif personally assured then-Secretary of State John Kerry that Namazi would be freed separately in a matter of weeks.

“I believe what Iran does, not what it says,” said Jared Genser, the Namazi family’s pro bono lawyer in Washington.

“I would hope that this administration, which includes many of the same key players in the 2016 deal, would not make the same mistake t上海夜生活论坛d States work上海夜生活wice and would not enter into an agreement based on promises of future action by Iran,” Genser said.

President Donald Trump took a personal interest in bringing home Americans detained abroad, tweeting during the 2016 presidential campaign that such hostage-taking in Iran “doesn’t happen if I’m president.” But he too failed to win back the Namazis in deals that saw the return of Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang and Navy veteran Michael White.

Such prisoner releases were welcome developments, Babak Namazi said, but also agonizing “in the sense of why were we left behind again, and again, and again? That’s a question we’ve had to ask ourselves three times.”

There are two other known cases of dual US citizens held by Iran. Environmental activist Morad Tahbaz and businessman Emad Sharghi each were sentenced to prison on spying charges their families say are baseless.

It’s unclear who Tehran is seeking in a prisoner swap, although in 2019 the Iranian Foreign Ministry said the number was around 20. A spokesperson for Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not return a request for clarification.

Under the January 2016 prisoner trade, the Obama administration granted clemency to seven Iranians convicted of or pending trial in the United States for sanctions violations.

“There is an inherent asymmetry in any kind of swap that Iran offers,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

“Whenever the Islamic Republic does propose the idea of a prisoner swap, it’s always going to be uneven because in Iran they’re exchanging people who are literally hostages with people abroad who have actually engaged in crimes,” Taleblu said.

In what rights groups say is a feature of Iran’s foreign policy dating back to the country’s 1979 revolution, foreigners are routinely imprisoned as leverage for sanctions relief, frozen assets and other concessions.

According to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, at least 15 dual nationals and one foreign citizen from countries including the United Kingdom, France, Austria, Canada and Sweden are currently known to be held in Iran.

Hadi Ghaemi, the rights center’s executive director, said multilateral pressure is needed to prevent Iran from continuing to use foreign nationals as pawns. He called for the United States and like-minded countries to “look beyond the current hostages and think, how are they going to prevent this?”

“Iran would get the message much more clearly that taking innocent people over their interests is not going to be tolerated,” Ghaemi said. “I don’t see any sign of that, and that means this vicious cycle could continue.”

Over the past six years, Babak Namazi has made repeated trips between Washington and his home in Dubai, meeting with officials of now three US administrations in an effort to raise the profile of his father and brother.

Namazi said he and his family aren’t political people. They don’t care about the outcome of the nuclear agreement negotiations in Vienna, only that any potential deal that the Biden administration makes with Iran includes the release of Siamak and Baquer Namazi, he said.

“All of my efforts have not resulted in their freedom, so I can say I’ve failed,” Babak Namazi said. “Since I failed, everyone by extension — including the US administration who has been engaged in bringing my family home — has failed.”

“We need to find any way to bring them home, and bring them home before it’s too late,” he said.

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House votes to repeal 2002 Iraq war authorization

The US House上海夜生活 of Representative上海品茶网s has passed a measure to repeal a 2002 law authorizing the president to use military force against Iraq.

Introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the bill to repeal the authorization passed 268-161 with 49 Republicans joining a large majority of Democrats. Only one Democrat opposed the repeal.

The move marked rare progress on Democrats’ efforts to rein in broad authorizations granted to the presidency to fight the War on Terror following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) allowed the George W. Bush administration to circumvent the War Powers Act to conduct regime change against the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

The law has remained on the bo上海夜生活 of Representative上海品茶网oks for nearly two decades after the Iraqi regime collapsed under the US invasion in 2003.

“In 2011, President Obama brought our combat troops home [from Iraq], and yet this law remains on the books, vulnerable to misuse because Congress has not acted to remove it,” Lee said today.

Until now, Democrats’ efforts to repeal the law have made little headway, as have attem上海夜生活 of Representative上海品茶网pts to reform a predecessor law, the 2001 AUMF, which has granted broad authorities for now four US presidents to deploy the military against Islamist terrorists virtually anywhere in the world.

The Pentagon under prior administrations has objected to AUMF reform in the past, citing concerns that it could legally jeopardize ongoing operations, including the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq and the war against the Islamic State.

Lawmakers renewed their scrutiny of the authorization in recent years amid worries that the Donald Trump administration may use the law to attack Iran. The Trump administration cited the Iraq war authorization to justify the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad last January.

Democrats’ campaign to reform AUMF authorities have the backing of President Joe Biden, the White House reiterated earlier this week.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said yesterday he would bring Lee’s bill to the Senate floor before the end of the year, clarifying his support for the first time.

Schumer said the repeal will “eliminate the danger of a future administration reaching back into the legal dustbin to use it as a justification for military adventurism.”

“It’s been nearly 10 years since this particular authorization has been cited as a primary justification for a military operation. It no longer serves a vital purpose in our fight against violent extremists in the Middle East,” the senior lawmaker said.

Lee was the only member of Congress in 2001 to oppose the AUMF. Critics say the authorities of that law have been stretched beyond recognition with minimal pushback from lawmakers. She also voted against the Iraq war authorization in 2002.

In the Senate, Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is sponsoring a similar bill. Kaine’s bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and four other Republicans, would repeal both the 2002 AUMF and an even older authorization from 1991 that allowed former President George H.W. Bush to drive Saddam’s forces out of Kuwait.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the Kaine-Young measure next Tuesday.

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lawmakers unveil American hostage task force

Members上海夜网论坛of Congress on上海夜生活 Thursday announced a dedicated working group aimed at helping Americans unjustly held by hostile governments and terrorist organizations.

On Thursday, Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and French Hill (R-Ark.) announced the launch of the Congressional Task Force on American Hostages and Americans Wrongfully Detained Abroad, which will serve as a resource for families and former hostages.

“It’s only through a comprehensive and all of government approach with Congress and with the administration working together that w上海夜网论坛of Congress on上海夜生活e can bring Americans home, take care of those affected families and disincentivize those corrupt government and non-state actors that would take an American hostage,” Hill said at an event unveiling the task force.

Hill represents the family of former Arkansas resident Majd Kamalmaz, who along with journalist Austin Tice, is believed to be held by the Syrian regime or allied forces. In February 2017, the psychotherapist was stopped at a government checkpoint near Damascus and hasn’t been heard from since.

The two men are among at least 53 publicly known cases of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained worldwide, according to a tally by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation.

The organization’s recent annual report found that former hostages and their families continue to benefit from reforms introduced by the Barack Obama administration in 2015, but “there remain some gaps in the support provided to these hostage families and in the US government’s ability or willingness to prioritize the reco上海夜网论坛of Congress on上海夜生活very of U.S. hostages.” Released earlier this month, the Foley Foundation report also called for more mental health and reintegration support for Americans who return home after their detention.

Retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who was considered the longest-held hostage in American history, was a constituent of Deutsch. Levinson disappeared off the remote Iranian island of Kish in 2007 and is believed to have died in Iranian custody, his family says.

The Florida Democrat co-sponsored the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, a law that aims to shore up existing US government resources for missing Americans.

The Biden administration is currently seeking the release of at least four Iranian-Americans held by Tehran, including businessman Siamak Namazi, former UNICEF official Baquer Namazi, conservationist Morad Tahbaz and businessman Emad Shargi.

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hopeful but ‘realistic’ on departure of foreign forces from Libya

After a conference上海夜网论坛 on Libya’上海夜生活论坛s political future ended without a concrete plan for the withdrawal of foreign forces, a top US diplomat expressed optimism but said Washington is “realistic” about what can be achieved ahead of elections later this year.

“We’ve seen remarkable progress among political actors,” Joey Hood, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told reporters on a call Thursday.

“We’re realistic,” Hood added. “We can’t wave a magic wand and make this happen, but working together with the Libyan people, I think there’s a strong chance that we can set the conditions to 上海夜网论坛 on Libya’上海夜生活论坛provide the incentives and other parameters for these forces to leave.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah for talks in Berlin this week hosted by Germany and the United Nations.

Topping their agenda was the departure of foreign fighters and mercenaries, whose presence in the North African country is a violation of the UN arms embargo that has been in place since the uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Libya had been embroiled in civil war since 2014, with the Turkey-backed Gov上海夜网论坛 on Libya’上海夜生活论坛ernment of National Accord pitted against Khalifa Hifter’s self-styled Libyan National Army, which counted Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt among its supporters.

The foreign backers have flooded the country with mercenaries and arms. The United Nations estimated in December that 20,000 foreign fighters remained in Libya in violation of an October 2020 cease-fire agreement reached by the two sides in October 2020, which called for countries to withdraw their proxy fighters within 90 days.

US officials told reporters that Turkey and Russia, which backed opposite sides in Libya’s civil war, had reached an initial understanding to each withdraw 300 Syrian mercenaries “as a tangible, practical first step.” Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush said Wednesday she is hopeful that foreign forces will begin to leave the country within days.

During the Berlin conference, the transitional Government of National Unity reaffirmed its commitment to holding elections on Dec. 24. Under a UN-supported process known as the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, Dbeibah and a three-member presidential council are leading an interim government.

Experts have questioned whether Libya’s current leaders are willing to step aside for elections, but Hood said Thursday that the United States “fully expects” voting to take place in December.

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drones downed over Yemen weren’t military’s, CENTCOM says

military disavowed上海夜网论坛 two dro上海品茶网nes reportedly shot down by Yemen’s Houthi rebels near the contested city of Marib over the weekend, saying it had lost no such unmanned aircraft recently in the region.

Houthi media on Wednesday released footage purporting to show two US-made drones shot down over the central Yemeni province, where Saudi-backed government forces are holding off an unrelenting offensive by the rebels.

One of the destroyed Scan Eagle drones in the footage bore markings identifying its manufacturer as Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing based in Washington 上海夜网论坛 two dro上海品茶网state, according to The Associated Press, which first reported on the shoot-down.

US Central Command spokesperson Lt. Col. Karen Roxberry told AP there were “no downed CENTCOM assets” in the Middle East and the US military is “not flying over Marib.”

News of the shoot-down comes two days after the Justice Department took down a host of Iran-linked websites, including the pro-Houthi Al-Masirah outlet.

Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden ordered a halt to all US support for the Saudi-led coalition’s offensive operations in Yemen, with the exception of maintenance support for the Royal Saudi Air Force and intelligence and surveillance support to help Saudi Arabia defend against Houthi missile launches.

The head of US forces in the Middle East, Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, told Al-Monitor in April the US military is not participating in the defense of Marib from the Houthi offensive.

“We’re not doing anything in terms of ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconn上海夜网论坛 two dro上海品茶网aissance) … on things happening in Marib or places like that,” McKenzie said.

It remains unclear to which government or organization the drones belonged, though the CIA has conducted drone operations in Yemen in the past.

The Houthis have claimed in recent years to have shot down a handful of US-made drones over Yemen, including one with Saudi markings last year.

The rebels also brought down two US military MQ-9 Reapers in the summer of 2019 and another Scan Eagle in November of that year. The roughly $3 million Scan Eagle is a low-altitude surveillance drone with more than 20 hours of flight time.

The Houthis’ main backer, Iran, also shot down a US RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone near the Strait of Hormuz in 2019 amid peak tensions between the two countries. Iran said the drone entered airspace over its territory. The United States confirmed the shoot-down and said the drone had been operating in international airspace.

In 2012, Iran claimed to have captured a US Scan Eagle drone with plans to reverse engineer it. The US Navy at the time denied it had lost any such aircraft.

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Meet Iran’s US-sanctioned new judiciary chief

Iranian Supreme Leader 上海夜生活娱乐论坛Ayatollah Ali Khamenei named Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei the country’s new judiciary chief July 1. Mohseni Ejei will succeed Ebrahim Raisi, who is busy preparing to take office as Iran’s president in a few weeks following his landslide victory in a low-turnout election June 18.

In his letter of credentials to the new chief justice, Khamenei advised his pick to tackle corruption, and ensure the rule of law and justice, after describing the cleric as a man with “in-depth understanding and a brilliant record.”

Under Article 157 of Iran’s theocratic constitution, the unelected supreme leader directly appoints the head of the judiciary, one of the上海夜生活娱乐论坛 three branches of power along with the executive and the parliament. As the same laws require the judiciary head to be a cleric, the post has in the past three decades been held by relentless hard-liners close to Khamenei.

Iran’s judiciary has long been accused of rights violations and has represented to many Iranians an institution defined by lack of transparency and plagued by inner corruption. Mahmoud Shahroudi famously declared upon his appointment as chief justice in 1999 that he had inherited an institution that was in ruins.

What perhaps distinguishes Mohseni Ejei from his predecessors is his repeated movements between the judiciary and the intelligence apparatus. As an interrogator in the early years following Iran’s 1979 revolution and later the judiciary’s representative in the Intelligence Ministry, Mohseni Ejei is accused of close involvement in the mass executions of political prisoners in the 1980s as well as the so-called “chain assassination” of Iranian dissidents and intellectuals in the late 1990s.

In 2005, Mohseni Ejei was named Iran’s intelligence minister, a post he maintained for four years before his promotion to prosecutor-general. His transition between the two key posts coincided with the Islamic Republic’s crackdown on the 2009 postelection protests. The unrest saw hundreds killed and thousands p上海夜生活娱乐论坛aced behind bars, many of whom shown confessing in mass televised trials as the ruling establishment was poised to crush a fledgling Green Movement. Mohseni Ejei’s role in the state-led clampdown triggered his inclusion as a rights violator in separate blacklists issued by the European Union and the US Department of Treasury.​

In 2004, the cleric became known as “the biting judge” after he expressed his intolerance of criticism by severely attacking and leaving a bite mark on the shoulder of a senior Reformist journalist during a weekly meeting.

The figure of a man known for his inflammatory speeches and overt disregard for press freedoms is already sending shivers down the spines of members of Iran’s civil society, who are sharing across social media platforms their experiences with the ultraconservative judge.

“It would be a step backward,” wrote rights activist and lawyer Ali Mojtahedzadeh before the official appointment as he hoped for the rumors to be untrue. “As we continue to deal with crises on a d上海夜生活娱乐论坛aily basis, the replacement of a bad chief justice with one who is worse is little less than a surprise,” tweeted another Tehran-based lawyer.

Mohseni Ejei’s appointment also marked yet another move toward a further tightening of the hard-liners’ grip on power in Iran. All the three branches of the Islamic Republic establishment are now in full control of men effectively handpicked by the country’s supreme leader.

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Islamic State exploits economic downturn in Iraq, Syria, US envoy says

The Islamic Stat上海夜生活论坛e (IS) is trying to take advantage of deteriorating economic conditions in Iraq and Syria to reconstitute itself, said the State Department’s envoy to the US-led coalition battling the group.

“One thing I heard consistently in both Iraq and Syria is that poverty, inequality and 上海品茶网perceived injustice continue to drive many young people to join terrorist groups, including [IS],” John Godfrey, acting US Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, told reporters on Thursday.

“The combination of a severe drought and a weak harvest that will be about half of what is normal has created a significant economic downturn that impacts the revenues of local partners and also contributes to unemployment,” Godfrey said.

Godfrey, who recently returned from a visit to Iraq and Syria, cited local partners who say the terrorist group is “actively seeking to exploit that economic situation to reconstitute presence, or to try to reconstitute presence, in areas hardest hit by the economic downturn.”

Iraq declared victory over the Sunni terrorist group in December 2017, but the group is still waging a low-level insurgency in the rural, mountainous parts of northern and western Iraq. The group is also suspected of several bombings in Baghdad this year.

IS is also territorially defeated in Syria but has carried out small-scale attacks on regime forces or areas held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). After the fall of the last IS stronghold in Baghouz in March 2019, thousands of captured fighters and their families were transferred to makeshift camps and detention centers run by the SDF.

More than two years later, the remaining prisoners and some residents of the camps “constitute a potential threat to security in the region and beyond.” The estimated 43,000 men, women and children housed by the Kurdish-led SDF are placing a major strain on the local authorities, he added. Human rights groups have repeatedly warned of the dire conditions in the camps and the potential for radicalization among impoverished residents.

On Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed US allies to repatriate their citizens who are in the custody of the under-resourced, Kurdish-led SDF in northeast Syria. He described the detention of 10,000 suspected IS fighters, about 2,000 of whom are foreigners, as an “untenable” situation.

The United States has repatriated a total of 28 Americans to date, Godfrey said on Thursday. Of that group, 12 are adults and 10 have been prosecuted or are undergoing prosecution.