Category Archives: World

Iran’s European Hit Men - The victim, Ahmad Mola Nissi, dies that night of his wounds – including several shots to the head. He leaves a family grieving, but not surprised; there have been threats against him for some time, a…

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Sen. Tom Cotton Is Trying to Cripple a Bill to End U.S. Support for the War in Yemen

With the Senate set to vote on a resolution that could end U.S. support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, hawkish Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., has introduced two last-minute amendments that would largely undermine it.

The Senate will vote Thursday afternoon on a resolution that, if it were to also pass the House of Representatives, would direct President Trump to remove U.S. forces from hostilities stemming from Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen, which has killed thousands and contributed to the world’s worst famine.

The measure was introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Chris Murphy, D-Conn.; and Mike Lee, R-Utah, and failed 55-44 in March. But following the killing of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Turkey, the measure gained broader support and easily passed two procedural votes. An amendment process and final vote is expected Thursday.

Cotton’s first proposed amendment would allow the U.S. to give Saudi Arabia “materials and advice” as long as they were “intended to reduce civilian casualties or further enable adherence to the Law of Armed Conflict.” That would essentially mean business as usual, because the Obama and Trump administrations have consistently claimed since the fighting began in 2015 that their backing — which includes providing weapons, intelligence, and logistical support — was aimed at reducing civilian casualties.

In a letter to the Senate earlier this year, Defense Secretary James Mattis wrote, “Since 2015, the United States has provided limited support to Saudi-led coalition military operations … focused on improving coalition processes and procedures, especially regarding compliance with the law of armed conflict and best practices for reducing the risk of civilian casualties.”’

Cotton’s second amendment would create an exception when U.S. assistance is intended to “disrupt Houthi attacks against locations outside of Yemen.” In retaliation for the bombing campaign, the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group that is fighting the Saudis, have conducted ballistic missile attacks on targets inside of Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis frequently cite such attacks as a justification for their intervention. For instance, after the coalition bombed a school bus full of children in August, the Saudi Press Agency quoted coalition spokesperson Turki al-Malki saying the attack was a “legal military action to target elements that planned and executed the targeting of civilians.”

“Sen. Cotton’s amendments are a cynical attempt to leverage civilian protection concerns — not toward conflict de-escalation, but in favor of continuing U.S. support in perpetuity,” said Eric Eikenberry, advocacy officer for the Yemen Peace Project. “Senators voting for these amendments are knee-capping the very message they claim to want to send to the coalition regarding the thousands of Yemeni lives lost.”

It is unlikely either amendment will gain much support among Democrats, but it is unclear how many Republican votes either will get.

In response to congressional pressure, the Trump administration has already decided to cut off its mid-air refueling support for coalition warplanes. But the move did not stop opponents of the war in Congress from demanding the complete withdrawal of U.S. support.

The post Sen. Tom Cotton Is Trying to Cripple a Bill to End U.S. Support for the War in Yemen appeared first on The Intercept.

2,000 Clandestine Graves: How a Decade of the Drug War Turned Mexico Into a Burial Ground

Editor’s note: This story is an edited translation of an investigation carried out by a team of Mexican reporters and recently published in Spanish at This deep dive into Mexico’s mass graves comes as the country inaugurates a new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has pledged to take a new approach to the drug war. Bloodshed in Mexico became more widespread and more brutal after December 2006, when then-President Felipe Calderón declared war on drug cartels. His successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, continued the same strategy of militarization, which has done little to curb drug production or trafficking but has led to an explosion of murders, disappearances, human rights violations by the army and police, and other forms of violence. In Mexico, 37,485 people were reported missing between December 2006 and last October, according to official records. It is unknown how many of them may have vanished into mass graves.

On February 20, 1943, the Purépecha community in Angahuan, Mexico, watched with great astonishment as the earth opened up, expelled black smoke, and gave birth to the Paricutín volcano, the youngest volcano in the world. More than 60 years later, on September 7, 2006, the same municipality in the state of Michoacán was the scene of another uncovering. Police dug up six half-naked men with their hands tied, their eyes covered, and their jugular veins slit.

The clandestine burial pit was discovered in a wooded touristic spot only a half-hour away from the thriving city of Uruapan. Locals had reported seeing a luxury pickup truck drive by and soil turned over.

The discovery of these bodies marked the beginning of a new barbarity. From that point on, clandestine graves multiplied. In Mexico’s drug war, it is not enough for murderers to kill. They also go to a lot of trouble to hide the bodies.

A year-and-a-half-long investigation by a team of independent Mexican journalists, supported by Quinto Elemento Lab, shows that almost 2,000 clandestine graves have been found all around Mexico between 2006 and 2016 — one grave every two days, in 1 out of 7 municipalities.

There were at least 1,978 clandestine burial pits in 24 states — a number that greatly surpasses information provided by the Mexican government to date. State district attorney’s offices in Mexico recovered from these pits 2,884 bodies, 324 craniums, 217 bones, 799 bone remnants, and thousands of other remains that belong to an as yet undetermined number of individuals.

The investigation found that only 1,738 victims have been identified, according to more than 200 requests made under freedom of information laws to authorities in all 32 Mexican states. And because of gaps in the official record, we know that this information provides only a partial map of the barbarity’s dimensions.

As Mexico’s drug war escalated, the phenomenon of mass graves reached catastrophic levels. In 2006, only two graves were found, while in the years that followed, the figure increased to several hundred per year. In 2007, 10 burial pits were discovered in five states. In 2010, the figure rose to 105 graves in 14 states; in 2011, it leapt to 375 throughout 20 states — equivalent to one per day on average. Since 2012, at least 245 clandestine burial pits have been found each year.

Illegal interments became a hallmark of the administrations of Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, with criminals digging holes to hide the bodies of their victims, and in some cases, burning them, in 372 municipalities in Mexico.

“This investigation allows us to know the municipalities where organized crime has the ability to murder people and make burial pits to disappear them; it allows us to see the new modes of operation and governance where people don’t dare report to the police,” said Sandra Ley, a professor and researcher from the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics, known as CIDE by its Spanish initials, and an expert in criminality and violence.

The unprecedented figure of almost 2,000 graves over 11 years is supported by answers to public information requests that were provided by district attorney’s offices in 24 states. While the data exceeds all the numbers given previously by any authority, the information is still incomplete, and at times conflicts with press reports and figures from the Mexican national government.

Eight states answered that they did not find any burial pits: Baja California, Chiapas, Ciudad de México, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Puebla, Querétaro, and Yucatán. Yucatán is the only state where no one — not the local district attorney’s office; nor the national attorney general’s office, or PGR by its Spanish initials; nor the National Human Rights Commission, or CNDH; nor the press — has recorded finding any clandestine graves to date.

Los residentes de Carrizalillo, Guerrero, México. Localizan una fosa  clandestina en una vereda carca de las instalaciones de la mina Carrisalillo. Los restos humanos fueron encontrados el 19 de noviembre del 2015. fotografía: Pedro Pardo.

Residents of Carrizalillo, Guerrero, locate a clandestine grave in a mine on Nov. 19, 2015.

Photo: Pedro Pardo

Plague of Graves

The stench started to saturate the landscape. In 2010, Juan Viveros and Nabor Baena, two watchmen for an abandoned mine on the outskirts of the city of Taxco in the state of Guerrero, heard trucks in the night and started to sense the unbearable smell of death coming out of one of the mine intakes. They realized that the intake’s end had been unsealed, and the mineshaft had reopened.

“It bothered us when we came, because there was a lot of blood,” said Viveros. “I told Nabor, ‘Look, where did that blood come from?’ He answered, ‘Who knows, maybe they brought an animal?’ Whatever it was, the smell came out, and it smelled bad. So, we went to work.”

Baena recalled, “Then, some people reported the bad smell, and when the people from the [municipal system for] Civil Protection searched, there was the hole where they threw them down. There were human beings down there.”

“We realized what was in there — that they were pulling people out, there were people stored, that the mineshaft wasn’t empty,” said Viveros.

Both workers learned through the news that people were being taken out in the carts normally used to extract silver, according to an interview they gave in 2010.

“55 bodies found,” reported the press at the time. The PGR’s records said “there were 41”; 64 were recorded in the local district attorney’s office logbook. According to the families that went to the morgue to verify whether any of the bodies belonged to their missing relatives, there were more than 120.

That moment was a prelude to hell. Since 2010, such discoveries have become more and more common. The official data obtained in this investigation shows that:

  • The states with the highest number of exhumed graves over 11 years are Veracruz (332), Tamaulipas (280), Guerrero (216), Chihuahua (194), Sinaloa (139), Zacatecas (138), Jalisco (137), Nuevo León (114), Sonora (86), Michoacán (76), and San Luis Potosí (65).
  • The states where the most corpses were found in mass graves were Durango (497 bodies), Chihuahua (391), Tamaulipas (336), Guerrero (325), Veracruz (222), Jalisco (214), Sinaloa (176), Michoacán (132), Nuevo León (119), Sonora (96), and Zacatecas (81).
  • The cities of Veracruz and San Fernando, in Tamaulipas, had the highest number of reported graves of any municipality. In Veracruz, 125 graves and 290 skulls were found. In one area, called Colinas de Santa Fe, authorities found 22,079 bone remnants. Authorities still haven’t reported how many people the remains correspond to, and disinterment work is still being carried out. In San Fernando, an hour and a half away from the Texas border, 139 graves and 190 bodies and bone fragments  were recorded over a two-year period.
  • Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, on the border with Texas, has appeared on the ghastly list of mass graves every year since 2008. The sum of the graves there — not taking into account the valley surrounding the city — amounts to 58. Acapulco has been on the list ever year since 2010; overall, the port city accumulated 108 burial pits from 2006 to 2016.
  • The state of Durango exhumed the most bodies, with 497. But the state of Veracruz reported that they had exhumed 222 bodies, 293 craniums, and 157 bone remnants — which adds up to 672 victims. Nuevo León was the only state to specify the number of people that corresponded to the number of bone remains; their records mention 119 bodies, as well as bone remains belonging to 475 people, for a total of 594 victims.
Graciela Pérez busca a su hija Milynali, quien el 14 de agosto de 2012 desapareció en Tamaulipas cuando viajaba con sus familiares José Arturo Domínguez Pérez, Alexis Domínguez Pérez, Ald0 de Jesús Pérez Salazar e Ignacio Pérez Rodríguez. Milynali tenía 13 años. Para seguir su rastro, Graciela se ha enfocado documentar incidentes o enfrentamientos en la zona de Ciudad Valles, Ciudad Mante, Reynosa, Xicoténcatl y Ciudad Victoria y se ha capacitado para elaborar un banco de ADN en esa zona para Ciencia Forense Ciudadana. Foto: Monica Gonzalez Islas/ Pie de Pagina Red de Periodistas de a Pie

Caution tape marks the discovery of a clandestine grave in Ciudad Mante, Tamaulipas, Mexico, during a search by the group Milynali Red CFC on Jan. 24, 2017.

Photo: Mónica González

In Mexico’s collective imagination, graves are located in remote and deserted places. However, this investigation proves that this is not always the case. Burial pits also exist in populated neighborhoods and along busy avenues.

In the spring of 2011, a noise woke a married couple, professionals who lived in a small house that had once been abandoned, in a neighborhood in Durango’s city center. The couple was surprised to discover some soldiers attempting to cut the chains of the entrance gate.

When the couple questioned them, the soldiers asked them if they could come in and dig in their yard. They dug a first hole and didn’t find anything. Then they went to the back of the yard, almost to the enclosing wall, where they found something. There were bodies. Elsewhere, under the cement floor of a palapa, there were more.

Ever since, a rusty chain keeps the black gate locked. Grass has grown over the piles of dirt in the yard where the army found 12 bodies.

Most of the 350 bodies recovered in 2011 in Durango were buried in urban areas: some in the city center, others in houses, repair shops, workshops, construction sites, empty lots, in the street — even next to a high school.

This is far from extraordinary. In 18 out of the 24 states that responded, there are records of burial pits in the municipalities of the capital cities.


Clothes found in a safe house in Ciudad Mante, Tamaulipas, Mexico, during a search by the group Milynali Red CFC on Jan. 24, 2017.

Photo: Mónica González

Dancing Numbers

A sky blue tarp laid on the ground serves to display what appear to be some underpants, a shirt, black plastic bags, shapeless pieces of fabric, and babies’ clothes. Everything is stained with the same muddy color due to the time they remained underground.

That image, published by the government of Veracruz, ran in newspapers on September 7, alongside the news that 32 clandestine graves had been found with 174 skulls in the center of the state. “Little trousers, bonnets and sweatshirts: babies’ clothes were found in clandestine mass graves in Veracruz,” read one headline highlighting the murderers’ cruelty.

That discovery prompted an erratic dance of figures from the federal government as to how many such graves existed in Mexico. Members of López Obrador’s SEGOB, the Spanish acronym for Mexico’s federal interior department, talked about extremely inconsistent figures given by the outgoing federal government. Peña Nieto’s SEGOB reported 855; the National Search Commission, which is in charge of leading search efforts for missing people, said 1,150.

CNDH, meanwhile, said that from January 2007 to May 2018, they located 1,306 graves, housing 3,926 hidden bodies and almost 36,000 bone remnants. From 2007 to 2016, they documented just 855 graves.

This investigation recorded a much larger figure for the period between January 2007 and December 2016: 1,976 graves.

This number is likely still incomplete. That’s because not every state acknowledges its graves. The governments of seven states reported that in their territory, there are no graves or similar sites, even when information coming from CNDH, PGR, or the press proves otherwise.

This was the case in Baja California, which denied having records of burial pits, body dissolution sites (or “kitchens,” as organized crime groups call them), or any similar place where criminals could have disappeared the bodies of their victims. This is despite the fact that in 2009 in Tijuana, the Mexican army captured Santiago Meza López, presented to the press as “El Pozolero” (pozole is a traditional Mexican stew) because he dissolved in acid the bodies of alleged enemies of Tijuana’s cartel.

Meza López confessed that he had dissolved the bodies of at least 300 people; he said it while standing exactly in the location where he committed the crimes, an estate on the outskirts of the city on community-owned land called Ojo de Agua. Since that terrible day, families have worked alongside the authorities to search for traces of missing people, and every so often, they find teeth or pieces of bones, which the PGR has taken for their analysis. In other words, there are clandestine sites of interment in Baja California.

Mexico City, Querétaro, Hidalgo, and Chiapas also reported zero clandestine burial pits when they were asked for information. This information differs from that given by the PGR and CNDH, which report 10 graves altogether (including media reports, CNDH arrives at 17). Guanajuato and Puebla also both declared themselves free of graves; press reports indicate otherwise.

Other state district attorney’s offices often reported fewer graves than other records show. Consider the case of Michoacán, where the local government reported the discovery of only two graves in 2006: the six men found with their throats slit in Angahuan and another grave in Aguililla. The PGR, however, added another grave, in Lázaro Cárdenas, which held the bodies of three men with their hands and feet tied. Media at the end of that year reported two more graves, which do not appear in the government’s records.

Graves processed by the PGR, the exhumed remains from which end up in federal facilities in Mexico City, are not taken into account in the state records. This leads to underreporting of large-scale clandestine burial pits, such as in La Barca, Jalisco, where 37 graves with 75 bodies were discovered in 2013. Or the 175 bodies taken from 54 graves in the surrounding hills of Iguala, Guerrero, discovered by locals from a group called the Other Missing People, which was formed after the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from the teachers’ college of Ayotzinapa.

Because of these disparities, our analysis and map consider the data provided by the local district attorney’s offices and the PGR separately. Regions that are geographically remote or controlled by criminal groups may appear in white on the map, as if there are no clandestine graves. In fact, no one knows for sure, because these places can’t be reached.

“There is a time difference between when a grave is created and when it is found, and that shows us the time and spatial dynamics of violence. The discovery of graves could correspond to a moment in which violence in those regions has decreased, hardly when it is at its peak,” said Camilo Vicente Ovalle, a historian at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and an expert in the history of disappearances in Mexico. Vicente Ovalle says that in places like the mountains of Guerrero there are surely more graves that haven’t been discovered.

Silvia Ortiz busca a su hija Fanny, quien desapareció en Torreón, Coahuila, en 2004. Formó el grupo Vida para buscar en las "cocinas" de los zetas y en las casas de seguridad, recolectando los pequeños trozos de huesos que no recolectan los peritos. foto: Mónica González

A woman examines one of the 22 sites located by Grupo Vida as extermination sites, near the city of Torreón, Coahuila, Mexico, on July 2, 2017.

Photo: Mónica González

Sites of Death

In 2015, María de la Luz López Castruita, who has been looking for her daughter Claribel Lamas López since 2008, found one of these previously undiscovered graves, in an area of land held in common known as Patrocinio, in Coahuila. As many families of Mexico’s disappeared have done, she had started her own investigation and found her way to places where there were rumors that people were taken and never again seen.

María de la Luz López, or Lucy, as she is known to most, started to go out looking disguised as a farmer – with a hat, handkerchief, a stick and a water jug on her back – and soon local goatherds helped her get to places where there were metal drums, ashes, buried human remains, shoes, and clothes spread across the ground.

A goatherd told her that he had seen 80 to 90 metal drums where people who had been captured were burned.

“So, there were hundreds of dead people?” she asked the goatherd.

“Thousands, ma’am. Everyday, trucks went by with people tied up in the back, piled up like animals, in the daylight, the sun was up high,” she recalled the man answering.

“And the metal drums?”

“They were taken to the junkyard, but there are still two over there,” said the man, and he took her to the spot.

Patrocinio is just one of the places that criminals established in Coahuila for the extermination of people. Grupo Vida, a group of trackers to which Lucy belonged, located other spots with drums full of holes made with a talache, or pick, in which they put their victims and burned them with diesel and gasoline. They used a truck tire to contain the fire, and then put the burned remains in holes.

Lucy, along with other families, helped organize an international caravan, known as Busqueda en Vida, or  Searching Alive, to carry out searches in the field in 2017 in Coahuila. These expeditions have taken place even when violence has not subsided, in the middle of the “war,” in territories that are still controlled by organized crime. Many burial pit discoveries have been made thanks to arduous investigations carried out by the families.

But that effort has brought little reward. Lucy and other women searchers have found a large number of graves, but the government has rarely done what is required to identify the remains they uncover. (The Scientific Police Division of the Federal Police is in charge of doing an analysis of these findings and notifying the family when someone is identified.) The body of Lucy’s daughter Claribel is not among the 1,738 victims in mass graves that the district attorney’s offices have already identified.

After years of searching, there is disappointment in Lucy’s voice. “Why do we waste time looking for graves, for the dead, if they don’t tell us who they are anyway? And we don’t have time for this. That’s why we decided to look for those alive.”

Identifying corpses is very difficult, and even more so when mistakes are made during disinterment. In Durango in 2011, bodies were destroyed by the excavator that extracted them. It’s also difficult when the remains were burned, incinerated, or dissolved using acids or alkaline methods — as in Veracruz, where there are six spots with at least 18,680 bone remains, from which only two people have been identified. Coahuila reports 87 clandestine interment sites from which 102,717 “biological samples” have been taken, and only 19 people have been identified. The district attorney’s office there refused to provide the location of each site.

In other states, it would seem that district attorney’s offices lost track of the bodies under their own custody. We requested information about one body recovered in Nogales, Sonora, in 2016, and were told, “We don’t know if the body was identified.” Regarding two bodies exhumed in 2008 in the municipality of Naco, officials stated, “There is no information because the doctor no longer works here.” Concerning other cases, they answered, “We don’t know if the bodies were cremated nor do we know where they are being kept.”

“Why take the bodies out if we won’t be able to identify them anyway?” asks Juan Carlos Trujillo Herrera, who has four missing brothers – two captured in Guerrero, the other two in Michoacán – and leads national search brigades. “There is not enough capacity. I believe that is the problem.”

Many of the places found where layers of graves have accumulated stand out because they are the locations of persistent dispute among criminal groups, fights that sometimes involve the armed forces of Mexico. All of them are along borders, either with the ocean or with the United States: Ciudad Juárez; Ahome, Sinaloa; San Fernando, Tamaulipas; and the ports of Acapulco, Guerrero, and Veracruz, Veracruz.

The data also indicates that in the northeast and the northern parts of the Gulf of Mexico – states such as Veracruz, Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Coahuila, or Nuevo León — incineration has spread as a method to get rid of victims’ bodies, leaving only fragments. In those places, families and authorities keep finding pieces of land with thousands of bone pieces, which make identification work even harder.

Pilar Calveiro, an Argentian with a Ph.D. in political science and the author of “Power and Disappearance,” suggested analyzing the moment when killing and throwing bodies in the street stopped being punishment enough, when criminals started burying bodies to disappear them, and the moment when murderers stopped burying bodies and switched to dissolving them.

“The technology used for the disappearance says a lot about the perpetrators and the power they hold,” she said.

MEXICO DF 6 SEPTIEMBRE 2011 La Secretaria de Turismo, Gloria Guevara Manzo, en coferenci de prensa FOTO MONICA GONZALEZ

DNA samples analyzed in the Forensic Medical Service’s facilities in Mexico City on May 9, 2011.

Photo: Mónica González

Forensic Tower of Babel

This investigation also came across fragmented information, often contradictory, other times sugar-coated. We found a lack of standardization in the state district attorney’s offices’ records when it comes to how they classify bodies, remains, bones, fragments, and graves.

To reach the our numbers, we had to figure out the array of names that every district attorney’s office gives to the places of the bodies’ removal. For Veracruz’s district attorney’s office, for instance, a hole with charred bone remains is a burial pit, but they also call it a “body destruction center,” whereas Coahuila calls the places where metal drums used to burn people were found “clandestine inhumation sites.”

Tamaulipas added to their answer the quantity of metal drums that were found with incinerated pieces of bone remains. And the 19 locations where bodies were burned were called “kitchens” by Nuevo León’s district attorney office. Meanwhile, Aguascalientes answered that they did not know the meaning of the words “clandestine grave.”

Jacobo Dayán, a researcher at Colegio de Mexico and lecturer at the Universidad Iberoamericana, who studies crimes against humanity, says that an investigation such as this “exposes the state’s failure.”

“There is no official information about burial pits in the country, nor about the bodies’ locations — if they were donated to medical schools, or if they are being driven around in trucks, or lost in institutes of forensic sciences, or who knows where. It’s urgent to have a clear record of missing people, and additionally of fragments, remains, and graves to start creating search, exhumation, and identification policies,” Dayán said.

Mercedes Doretti, director of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team in Mexico, believes that the findings reveal the need to create a standardized protocol throughout the country to record graves and remains.

“They [every district attorney’s office] should explain what they mean when they say grave, bones, body, or remains. What do they call someone who was identified but whose family hasn’t been located? Unidentified or unclaimed? How do they count this person? How do they classify what they call ‘kitchens’? Or when the bodies are buried, or in rivers, dams, out in the open, or in a suitcase? Without these definitions, it is very hard to create statistics. This needs to be solved.”

The state and federal governments’ vague, incomplete, contradictory, or fragmented records force families to live in uncertainty about the whereabouts of their loved ones. Negligence combined with omission means that missing people go missing a second time.


Bertila Parada holds a photo of her son, Carlos Alberto Osorio Parada, a Salvadoran migrant found in a grave with 12 others in Tamaulipas in 2011.

Photo: Mónica González

Bertila Parada, a Salvadoran woman, had to rescue her son Carlos Alberto Osorio Parada from the mazes of the Mexican bureaucracy, where his body, rescued from a grave, was lost due to a lack of protocols.

The young migrant was murdered in March 2011 by the criminal group Los Zetas, in collusion with San Fernando’s municipal police. His body was identified in a grave with 12 others when exhumations started that April. In total, 189 bodies were recovered from about 40 graves in the area.

On April 17, Osorio’s body was taken to a morgue in another city, where, the following day, an autopsy was performed; 122 other exhumed bodies went to the PGR’s offices in Mexico City. Osorio was buried as an unidentified person together with 67 others; he lay in row 11, plot 314, block 16, in La Cruz municipal cemetery in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas’s capital city.

When his family found out about the discovery of the burial pits, they had genetic tests done so that the PGR could compare them with the genetics of the exhumed remains. However, at first, the PGR only tested the bodies that were sent to Mexico City — and so the young man spent three years and 10 months in Tamaulipas’s common grave, and was at one point about to be cremated by the authorities.

“He was buried here. Why did so much time go by without being able to bring him? He was here, in this hill,” said his mother, who sells pupusas in El Salvador, when she was interviewed in 2016. She showed a folder she received on January 28, 2015, that contains pictures of her son’s destroyed cranium and the cemetery where he was put to rest under a rusty cross that marked his tomb. His only identity was “Body 3, Grave 3.”

She complained many times to Salvadoran authorities before she found a Mexican organization, Foundation for Justice, and the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, which helped her rescue her son from abandonment and anonymity, and give him rest at home.

Only once her son’s body was recovered was Parada able to feel a little relief from the torment she experienced while trying to find out where he was.

“I feel pain, and at the same time I feel that we did achieve something. Because many people haven’t achieved it, many don’t know where their children are. When I buried him, I had a little peace of mind,” she said.

Visualization by David Eads.

Translation by Ashley Hermosillo Bawell.

Juan Solís, Gilberto Lastra, Aranzazú Ayala, Paloma Robles, Mayra Torres, and Erika Lozano contributed reporting.

The post 2,000 Clandestine Graves: How a Decade of the Drug War Turned Mexico Into a Burial Ground appeared first on The Intercept.

Cyber Deterrence: An Oxymoron for Years to Come - Western states largely renounced the concepts of defense and deterrence after the end of the Cold War. Instead, Western powers focused on expeditionary warfare—military crisis management, counterterr…

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The Betrayals, Arrests, and Gun Battles That Brought Down a Top Drug Gang

One year ago, the eyes of many Brazilians were glued to the TV as a bloody battle raged for control of one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favelas, Rocinha. The drug lord Rogério 157 and his men took on soldiers loyal to another, known as Nem. The death toll surpassed 50, but the true total is still unknown. Since 2005, Nem had controlled the drug trade of the entire favela — despite being behind bars for much of that time — and, until recently, he was Rogério’s boss and friend. Both men and their armies had belonged to a group called Amigos dos Amigos, or Friends of Friends, one of Rio’s oldest and most powerful drug cartels.

To most Brazilians, this incident looked like just another chapter in Rio’s increasingly violent criminal narrative. As TV news channels broadcast dramatic live coverage from the favela, calls for a full military takeover of the state’s public security apparatus grew louder. That intervention did come to pass, but the shootouts and the bloodshed across Rio only intensified. The government’s ineffective tactics are partially to blame, but something else was brewing that only became clear in hindsight: the wholesale restructuring of organized crime in the city that would push the Amigos dos Amigos to the edge of extinction.

In a monthslong investigation based on exclusive data from Disque Denúncia, a tip line for crime and urban violence; interviews with key players, specialists, and residents; and historical press accounts, The Intercept is able to tell this story in its entirety for the first time.

Once home to notorious drug lords like Escadinha, , Playboy, Bem-Te-Vi, and Nem da Rocinha, Amigos dos Amigos was once among the most powerful and respected cartels in Brazil, but at the first scent of blood in the water, enemies attacked from all sides to rip it apart, aided by internal feuds and betrayals. After losing control of 17 territories in little more than a year, now only one kingpin remains: Celsinho da Vila Vintém.

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Activists Found Guilty of Terrorism-Related Offense For Stopping U.K. Migrant Deportations

The guilty verdict arrived around lunchtime on December 10 — Human Rights Day, which this year marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It signaled the end of a nine-week trial and three days of jury deliberations in Chelmsford Crown Court, about 30 miles northeast of London. More than a year and a half after the 15 defendants had locked themselves around a deportation charter flight at London’s Stansted Airport, successfully stopping it from taking off, the defendants were convicted of intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome, a terrorism-related offense with a potential life sentence.

Known as the Stansted 15, the defendants had all pleaded not guilty to the charge, which falls under the United Kingdom’s Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, an obscure law intended to fight terrorism. The activists were originally charged with aggravated trespass, but that charge was later upgraded to intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome — under the “endangering safety at an aerodrome” section of the act — and seen by many as a disproportionate response to peaceful protest. Now, the guilty verdict has sent a chilling message to those who may wish to follow in the Stansted 15’s footsteps. Amnesty International, which had been observing the trial, tweeted, “The rights and freedoms of all of us are being eroded. The UK should not be targeting human rights defenders in this way.”

In a statement released minutes after the verdict was announced, the defendants wrote, “We are guilty of nothing more than intervening to prevent harm. The real crime is the government’s cowardly, inhumane and barely legal deportation flights and the unprecedented use of terror law to crack down on peaceful protest. We must challenge this shocking use of draconian legislation, and continue to demand an immediate end to these secretive deportation charter flights and a full independent public inquiry into the government’s ‘hostile environment’.”

The Crown Prosecution Service published a press release about the verdict, outlining the disruption to airport operations, such as delayed and rerouted flights, caused by the Stansted 15’s action. Judith Reed, a deputy chief crown prosecutor, stated, “The [Crown Prosecution Service] worked with the police to build a strong case which reflected the criminality of the defendant’s actions, regardless of their motivation.” Tony Badenoch, who represented the prosecution in court, declined to comment.

“We are guilty of nothing more than intervening to prevent harm.”

On March 28, 2017, the 15 activists, members of anti-deportation groups End Deportations and Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, cut a hole through Stansted Airport’s perimeter fence and climbed through. Once inside airport grounds, they headed toward a Titan Airways Boeing 767 and broke into two groups. One intended to lock themselves around the plane’s front wheel with double-layered pipes; the other, to construct a two-meter pyramid structure out of scaffolding poles under the plane’s left wing and then lock themselves around it.

The plane had been chartered by the Home Office, the government department responsible for immigration, security, and law and order, and was set to fly migrants and asylum-seekers back to Nigeria and Ghana later that night. Instead, it remained in place until the next morning, when police officers managed to remove all of the activists. In grounding the flight, the activists aimed to prevent the deportees from being sent back to places where they faced threats of harm and even death; they also wanted to draw attention to the government’s practice of deporting people via private charter flights, where security personnel often outnumber deportees, there is little notice given to asylum-seekers in advance, and reports tell of excessive restraint used on passengers.

Most of the people scheduled to be on that flight were eventually placed on other flights and deported back to their countries of origin. However, the Stansted 15’s action also allowed additional time for some of the deportees’ asylum applications to be reviewed or for decisions to be appealed. As of this past July, 11 people scheduled for that flight remained in the U.K. According to the activists, two have been found to be victims of human trafficking and at least one has since been granted indefinite leave to remain in the country.

In an anonymous piece written by one of the deportees scheduled for that March 28 flight and published by The Guardian right after the verdict came down, a man explains how the Stansted 15 changed his life, giving him “a chance to appeal to the authorities over my deportation — a case that I won on two separate occasions, following a Home Office counter-appeal.” More importantly, he wrote, it also allowed him to be in the U.K. for the birth of his daughter.

This was precisely what the activists had hoped for when they cut a hole in Stansted’s fence and laid down on the tarmac below the Titan plane. And it was this goal of preventing harm that, they argue, justified their actions, regardless of any laws they may have broken in the process — a defense that Judge Christopher Morgan discarded when instructing the jury on what to consider during his summation on December 4. Instead, he told the jury, the decision hinged solely on whether the defendants had acted “in such a way as to be likely to endanger the safe operation of the aerodrome or the safety of persons at the aerodrome.” Jurors’ personal feelings about the Home Office, immigration policy, and the use of this charge, as well as any sympathy they may have for the defendants, were not to be factors.

Now, the 15 defendants — one of whom is eight months pregnant — remain in a state of limbo until their sentencing hearing, scheduled for February. “It’s disappointing to get this ruling, but I feel it’s not the end for us because we will appeal it,” explained Jyotsna Ram, one of the defendants, speaking to The Intercept a few hours after the verdict was announced. Ram, 33, works for a small organization in London that does research and campaigns around climate change and energy, although, she laughed, “It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten what my life outside of this is like.” She said that, at least in some ways, the verdict did not come as a shock. “This was the wrong charge in the wrong court. So we’re not surprised because everything about this process has been wrong, and we have to fight a bit more.”

The post Activists Found Guilty of Terrorism-Related Offense For Stopping U.K. Migrant Deportations appeared first on The Intercept.

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Jair Bolsonaro Promised to End Corruption in Brazil — Then He Appointed an Extremely Corrupt Cabinet

“Our government departments will not be led by anyone who’s been convicted of corruption,” said Jair Bolsonaro on October 31, three days after being elected president of Brazil. The goal of his statement, published on his social media feeds, was clear: to deny accusations in the press that he had asked Alberto Fraga, a member of Congress who was convicted of taking bribes, to join his administration.

A week earlier, a video had emerged on the Brazilian website R7 with Bolsonaro singing a different tune than his post-election statement. Surrounded by pro-gun members of Congress at a gathering in his home on October 23, Bolsonaro excitedly said, “I can already announce that Fraga will be the one to coordinate the [pro-gun parliamentary] front in my administration.” Hours after Bolsonaro’s tweet about eschewing corrupt officials, however, the R7 video was deleted from the website. It was only the latest episode in which R7, part of the right-wing evangelical Universal Church’s media empire, had crossed the line from journalism to a (poorly) disguised propaganda office.

A central talking point of Bolsonaro’s campaign was to market the far-right candidate as the only one who could free Brazil from the ills of corruption. It was an obvious strategy. Corruption was at the top of Brazilians’ lists of concerns, according to a poll published in December by Ibope, a research institute. Corruption ranked higher than health, education, and public safety. It only makes sense for the president-elect to try to disconnect his image from the corrupt politicians that voters have come to hate so intensely. But there’s a problem: Bolsonaro deliberately surrounded himself with these very same corrupt politicians.

Examining Bolsonaro’s top deputies and cabinet appointments, it becomes apparent that his speeches against corruption are nothing but empty words. From the allies arrayed alongside Bolsonaro during his first speech as president-elect to the transition team he assembled and the governmental department heads he’s appointed, Bolsonaro picked at least seven people tangled up in scandals, from lawsuits and official investigations to criminal convictions and even confession of guilt.

Brazilian Rio Grande do Sul Congressman, Onyx Lorenzoni (C), Brazilian Economist Paulo Guedes (L) and Brazilian Social Liberal Party (PSL) vice-president, Gustavo Bebianno (C-Back), talk with press in front of the house of the businessman Paulo Marinho where the Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro held a meeting, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on October 30, 2018. - Brazil's far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro huddled with advisers Tuesday to finalize the cabinet that will be charged with implementing his hardline agenda, as opponents planned their "resistance." (Photo by Mauro Pimentel / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Onyx Lorenzoni, center, accompanies Brazilian economist Paulo Guedes, left, and Brazilian Social Liberal Party vice president Gustavo Bebianno to talk with press in Rio de Janeiro on Oct. 30, 2018.

Photo: Mauro Pimentel/AFP/Getty Images

Onyx Lorenzoni – Chief of Staff

A month before Alberto Fraga was caught on tape complaining that the bribes he got were too low, fellow member of Congress Onyx Lorenzoni decided that there was no point in waiting to get caught. In May 2017, Lorenzoni openly admitted to having received R$100,000 ($26,000) in slush funds from a company named JBS, the world’s largest meat processor, which has been subject to many Brazilian Federal Police investigations. “It was the end of the campaign,” he said on a radio program broadcast in southern Brazil, referring to the 2014 election. “It was the end game; we were in debt with distributors.” He added: “I used the money.” The confession never led to any investigation.

Lorenzoni had already been investigated for allegedly receiving R$175,000 in bribes from Odebrecht, a major construction company whose owner was imprisoned as part of the Operation Car Wash corruption investigations that have roiled Brazilian politics. Last June, however, the inquiry into Lorenzoni was dismissed by the Supreme Court after Prosecutor General Raquel Dodge claimed that there was insufficient evidence to press charges.

Unlike what he did to Fraga, Bolsonaro did not try to dissociate himself from Lorenzoni. Instead, he invited the member of Congress to his victory speech, asked him to coordinate his transition team, and offered him a prime spot in his administration. As of January, Lorenzoni will take up a ministerial position as Bolsonaro’s new chief of staff.

Jair Bolsonaro accompanied by Senator Magno Malta during a filming ceremony in the PSL party on Wednesday, March 7, held in the Chamber of Deputies Photo: Mateus Bonomi / AGIF - Brasilia - 07/03/2018 - Filiation of Jair Bolsonaro in PSL (via AP)

Jair Bolsonaro embraces Sen. Magno Malta during a filming ceremony for the PSL party on March 7, 2018.

Photo: Mateus Bonomi/AGIF via AP

Magno Malta – “Dream Vice President”

Hand in hand with Bolsonaro, Sen. Magno Malta opened the president-elect’s victory speech with a prayer. Months earlier, he had passed up on the chance to run with Bolsonaro — who called him his “dream vice president” — to make a bid for re-election in the Senate. But Malta failed.

Like others in Bolsonaro’s inner circle, Malta has been dogged by rumors around shady dealings and a court case. The Intercept Brasil revealed in September that Malta spent half a million reals of taxpayers’ money at two gas stations between September 2009 and last July. One spate of fuel purchases over a two-month period would be enough for a car to circle the Earth twice — and there would still be some gas left in Malta’s tank. There was, of course, a catch: Both gas stations belong to former state-level member of Congress José Tasso Oliveira de Andrade, who was convicted of tax evasion and stealing public money.

In September, a newspaper from Malta’s home state, Espírito Santo, revealed that he had falsely accused a bus-ticket collector of raping his own 2-year-old daughter. The accusation was particularly galling because Malta is the chair of a Congressional Committee investigating pedophilia. The man, Luis Alvez Lima, spent nine months in prison after the 2009 allegation before forensic tests proved that the girl had not been raped. Now, he’s suing Malta, alleging that the senator defamed him in pursuit of raising his own profile and, shockingly, overseeing the psychological torture he suffered in prison. Lima says he was subject to tooth pulling, choking, beating, and electric shocks to his genitals, among other forms of physical torture.

On November 6, Bolsonaro said his right-hand man might be the head of the Family Department, a new branch of government that would include the present Social Development Department and Human Rights Department. However, Malta’s bad reputation kept him out of Bolsonaro’s administration in the end. “I thought I’d get a department, but I didn’t,” he told The Intercept in an exclusive interview published last Wednesday. Malta’s disappointment was huge; he said he would be leaving politics.

Onyx Lorenzoni (L), the future Chief of Staff of Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro's government and Paulo Guedes, who was appointed as Finance Minister gesture uppon arrival at the transitional government's headquarters in Brasilia on November 21, 2018. (Photo by EVARISTO SA / AFP)        (Photo credit should read EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images)

Paulo Guedes, right, and Onyx Lorenzoni arrive at the transitional government’s headquarters in Brasilia on Nov. 21, 2018.

Photo: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

Paulo Guedes – Secretary of Economy

Brazil’s soon-to-be secretary of the economy is under two separate investigations for fraud in investment funds. Paulo Guedes’s investment company, BR Educacional, got R$1 billion from the pension funds of five major state-owned companies — some of which were already under investigation for fraud. Being an economist himself, Guedes was personally responsible for the two funds that received the investment. And it seems that he may have decided to use a large sum of it for his own benefit: Guedes turned around and invested in HSM Educacional — now called BR Educação Executiva, a company he owns. HSM Educacional then bought an out-of-business Argentinian company for over R$16 million. The whole deal was a terrible investment, to say the least: Both companies ended up losing money for stockholders in the following years.

The second probe involving Guedes is looking into a possible fraud in an investment his company made in Enesa Participações, an engineering firm. Stockholders trusted the economist’s judgment with R$112 million — and they lost every penny. Caixa Econômica, one of Brazil’s public banks, owned a fifth of those stocks.

In addition to all this, Guedes’s company Bozano will likely profit from the neoliberal reforms he intends to push forward. Bozano’s investments depend on the privatization of health, education, and energy services — all part of Guedes’s economic strategy for Brazil. The soon-to-be secretary’s family also stands to benefit from Bolsonaro’s controversial plan to cut funds for public universities: Elizabeth Guedes, Paulo’s sister, is vice president of the National Association of Private Universities.

Brazilian astronaut Marcos Pontes attends a lecture with Army General Hamilton Mourao, vice presidential candidate of right-wing Jair Bolsonaro, at Toledo Teaching Institution, in Bauru, in the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, on September 19, 2018. Pontes supports Bolsonaro's candidacy. Photo: TIAGO QUEIROZ/ESTADÃO CONTEÚDO (Agencia Estado via AP Images)

Brazilian astronaut Marcos Pontes attends a lecture at the Toledo Teaching Institution in Bauru, São Paulo, on Sept. 19, 2018.

Photo: Tiago Queirox/Agencia Estado via AP

Marcos Pontes – Secretary of Science, Technology, and Communications

Bolsonaro appointed the only Brazilian to have ever traveled to space as head of the new Science, Technology, and Communications Department. Documents obtained by The Intercept indicate that Marcos Pontes, a reserve lieutenant colonel in the Brazilian Air Force, hid assets for over a decade and violated the Military Conduct Code.

While he was still on active duty at the Air Force, Pontes was investigated for supposedly owning part of the company Portally Eventos e Produções, registered under the name of one of his press representatives. The lieutenant colonel, though, has always denied his association with Portally, which sells knick-knacks related to his career as an astronaut, such as small figurines, mousepads, and watches. The Brazilian Military Code prohibits military service members from taking part in any commercial activity while they’re on active duty.

The investigation into Portally, however, never achieved closure due to the application of the statute of limitations. As soon as he was off the hook, Pontes, already on reserve duty at that point, became the company’s major shareholder, holding 80 percent of Portally. Three years earlier, when he unsuccessfully ran for Congress, Portally Eventos e Produções donated R$20,000 to his campaign. Nowadays, the website produces a steady source of income for Pontes. As a shareholder, he’s entitled to a monthly withdrawal from the company, “the value of which is to be set at each month.”

DF - Brasilia - 04/12/2018 - Bolsonaro government transition committee - General Augusto Heleno, future defense minister of the Bolsonaro government, on this Tuesday, December 4, and seen at the CCBB headquarters of the transition committee. Photo: Mateus Bonomi / AGIF (via AP)

Gen. Augusto Heleno, future defense minister of the Bolsonaro government, on Dec. 4, 2018, at the transition committee headquarters.

Photo: Mateus Bonomi/AGIF via AP

Augusto Heleno – Head Minister of the Institutional Security Cabinet

Bolsonaro’s head of the Institutional Security Cabinet, a federal branch with ministry status known by the initial GSI, was convicted in 2013 by Brazilian’s federal accountability office for authorizing illegal grant agreements for the 2011 Military Games, an international multi-sport competition held every four years, hosted in Rio de Janeiro that year. As head of the Brazilian Army’s Science and Technology Department at the time, Augusto Heleno authorized deals that amounted over R$22 million with two military-related institutes that were supposed to provide services during the games. According to the accountability office’s ruling, those institutes could not have been hired without a public tender, and there was no proof that the partnerships would benefit the army. Heleno appealed the decision, but the court upheld his conviction in 2016 and ordered him to pay a R$4,000 fine.

Leading the GSI, which will be under Heleno’s watch starting January, is a high-level office responsible for “immediately” advising the president, especially when it comes to military and security measures; analyzing potential risks to the stability of Brazilian institutions; managing crises in case of “grave and imminent threats”; and coordinating intelligence and security efforts.

In June, Bolsonaro asked Heleno to be his vice president, but the general’s party refused to partner with the candidate. After being elected, Bolsonaro first handed Heleno the Department of Defense. On November 7, he was shifted to lead the GSI. This game of musical chairs displeased future Secretary of Justice Sérgio Moro, who would normally oversee the GSI — making it easier for him to rein Bolsonaro in if his long history of authoritarian speech turned into real actions. Under Heleno, the cabinet is now more vulnerable to Bolsonaro’s control.

Luiz Henrique Mandetta – Secretary of Health

On November 20, an announcement came on Twitter for the appointment of Congress member, orthopedist, and pediatrician Luiz Henrique Mandetta as the leader of the Department of Health, which has the largest budget in the federal government. Mandetta held the seat of health secretary in Campo Grande, capital of the Midwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul, between 2005 and 2010, and is now being investigated for influence trafficking, defrauding a public tender, and using slush funds while in office.

Criticized for yet another iffy pick for his administration, Bolsonaro merely stated that Mandetta hasn’t been prosecuted and will be taken out of office in case any “robust accusations” are made in the future.

Brazilian Deputy Tereza Cristina Correa da Costa Dias, who was appointed to the Ministry of Agriculture by Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonao, leaves her home in Brasilia on November 8, 2018. (Photo by Sergio LIMA / AFP)        (Photo credit should read SERGIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images)

Brazilian Deputy Tereza Cristina Correa da Costa Dias, who was appointed to the Ministry of Agriculture by Bolsonaro, leaves her home in Brasilia on Nov. 8, 2018.

Photo: Sergio Lima/AFP/Getty Images

Tereza Cristina – Secretary of Agriculture

“Poison Muse.” That’s the name many Brazilians have given to future Secretary of Agriculture Tereza Cristina. Though the nickname is used as an insult by her opponents, it was first coined as a compliment. In June, she presided over the congressional committee that pushed through a bill intended to facilitate the approval of new agrotoxics, chemical pesticides that help enhance produce cultivation, but pose serious threats to the environment and human health. The draft bill, which is yet to be voted on in the lower house of Congress, is known as the Poison Bill. But at a celebratory dinner on the committee vote, Cristina’s allies came up with “Poison Muse” to honor her achievement.

Cristina’s time in Congress is marked by some little-known facts. She was first elected in 2014 and has seen an almost 50,000 percent increase in her assets since then. And, most relevantly, she has questionable connections to JBS, the meat-processing company drowning in corruption scandals. Between 2011 and 2012, while she was still secretary of agribusiness in the Midwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul, Cristina signed on to tax incentives for the company that are now under investigation. At the same time, she had a personal business partnership with JBS, leasing land for them to raise cattle. In 2014, she got over R$100,000 in campaign donations from the agricultural giant.

Though the tax incentives she signed off on are in the center of the investigation of corruption in her home state, Cristina’s role in it hasn’t been investigated so far. “At this time, she has our full trust,” Bolsonaro said after the Brazilian press highlighted this fishy chapter in Cristina’s political history. “I’m also the defendant in [a case awaiting trial in] the Supreme Court. So what?” Bolsonaro went on, referring to his ongoing suit for supposedly inciting the crime of rape (in Brazil, it’s a felony to incite the practice of crimes).

Julian Lemos – Member of the Transition Team

The leader of Bolsonaro’s party in the state of Paraíba, in northeastern Brazil, Member of Congress Julian Lemos coordinated his campaign in the region, which is historically an electoral stronghold of Bolsonaro’s rival Workers’ Party. In 2011, Lemos was convicted of fraud for using a fake certificate to secure a contract between his company and the state of Paraíba. Lemos pleaded not guilty and appealed the decision, and before the second trial, the crime hit the statute of limitations and Lemos did not face any punishment.

Bolsonaro’s “close friend,” as the president-elect himself once referred to Lemos, has also been accused of domestic violence by his ex-wife and his sister, and was arrested once on the charge. Though both women later recanted their testimonies, a forensic examination showed multiple wounds on his sister’s neck, shoulder, and arm. The investigation is ongoing.

Aware of Lemos’s conviction for fraud, Bolsonaro declared in March that many of his allies “have messed up, like Julian Lemos here, but are people with something to add to our army.”

COSTA DO SAUIPE, BAHIA - DECEMBER 04:  Ministry of Defence Special Advisor for Major Events, General Jamil Megid Junior attends a press conference during a media day ahead of the Final Draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup at Costa do Sauipe Resort on December 4, 2013 in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Gen. Jamil Megid Jr. attends a press conference ahead of the Final Draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup on Dec. 4, 2013, in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil.

Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Jamil Megid Jr. – Member of the transition team

Jamil Megid coordinated the 2011 Military Games and worked on the security arrangements for other major events held in Rio, such as the 2013 World Youth Day, the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the 2016 Olympics. He was convicted in 2013 by Brazil’s federal accountability office for irregularities in the Military Games.

The accountability office says that some of the services and equipment for the event were hired through padded contracts and were never even provided. The court verified, for example, that the furniture lease for the games cost R$2.6 million more than it would have taken for the army to buy those items. The military also spent R$4.3 million on workers who never provided any services. Earlier this year, however, the conviction was annulled. The accountability office judge responsible for reviewing the case said that organizing the games was so difficult and challenging that it would be unfair to punish Megid for his mistakes.

SP - Sao Paulo - 07/09/2018 - Jair Bolsonaro movement Albert Einstein - Candidate for Federal Deputy for the PSL of Rio de Janeiro Alexandre Frota, during a prayer vigil in support of Jair Bolsonaro in front of Albert Einstein Hospital at night this Friday 07, Bolsonaro, who was attacked yesterday afternoon in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais, while on schedule, was transferred to Sao Paulo this morning to continue the treatment of recovery, his condition is considered serious but stable Photo: Suamy Beydoun / AGIF (via AP)

Alexandre Frota at a prayer vigil for Jair Bolsonaro outside the Albert Einstein Hospital on Sept. 7, 2018, after Bolsonaro was attacked.

Photo: Suamy Beydoun/AGIF via AP

Alexandre Frota – Party Colleague Invited to Victory Speech

One of the select few chosen to appear next to Bolsonaro at his victory speech, Alexandre Frota had just gotten elected to serve his first term as a member of Congress for São Paulo, Brazil’s largest state. Before entering politics under Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party, the former porn actor was already somewhat of an idol among the president’s ultraconservative fandom for his rants against “political correctness” and “gender ideology” — a deprecating reference to the debate of gender issues.

In 2015, Frota laughingly described on national television how he had raped a “mãe de santo,” a priestess of Afro-Brazilian religions. The actor spent over five minutes telling the talk-show audience how he engaged in intercourse without the woman’s consent. At one point, he admitted to holding the back of her neck so strongly that she blacked out. According to his account, even after rendering the victim unconscious, he did not stop. The audience howled.

What clearly sounded like the impromptu confession of a crime was then qualified by Frota as “fiction” shortly after the heavy criticism he got from women’s groups. He was investigated for making apologia for the crime of rape but was never charged. The district attorney said that “Alexandre did not intend to boast for his (reprehensible) conduct, but only to narrate an episode of his life” — which contradicted Frota’s version that the story was fictional. The supposed rape was never investigated and Bolsonaro never commented on the case.

It May Not Be Corruption, but …

There’s a second category of members in Bolsonaro’s team: those who tread through a gray area of morality.

BSB - Brasília - Brasil - 26/11/2018 - PA - Sérgio Moro, indicado para ministro da Justiça do governoJair Bolsonaro concede entrevista coletiva Foto: Jorge William / Agência O Globo (GDA via AP Images)

Sérgio Moro arrives at a press conference in Brasília on Nov. 26, 2018.

Photo: Jorge William/Agência O Globo via AP

Sérgio Moro – Secretary of Justice

Sérgio Moro was a judge-turned-national-hero for his harsh stance in cases related to the Operation Car Wash. He sentenced Brazil’s former President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva in 2017. The appeal hearing upheld the conviction earlier this year. In April, when Lula was ahead in presidential election polls, he was imprisoned. Over the years, Moro has repeatedly stated that he would never go into politics. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to seek any sort of political office because that could — let’s put it this way — raise questions about the integrity of the work I’ve done so far,” he said in an interview with Veja magazine. Less than a year later, Moro seems to have radically changed his opinion. On November 1, the man responsible for removing Bolsonaro’s strongest competitor from the presidential race accepted the president-elect’s invitation to become secretary of justice.

Moro’s conflict of interest became even more explicit after Bolsonaro’s vice president, Gen. Hamilton Mourão, told the press that the invitation had first been made while the campaign was still going. A few days before the first round of voting, Moro lifted the gag order on the testimony of Lula’s former Finance Minister Antonio Palocci. The decision breathed new life into Palocci’s earlier accusations, still mostly unproven, regarding bribe payments during Lula and his successor former President Dilma Rousseff’s governments, including R$40 million allegedly directed to Rousseff’s campaign.

It took Moro less than a week after accepting his new position to signal that his dedication to the anti-corruption crusade may no longer be a priority. In 2017, the judge said at a Harvard event that he considered political slush funds to be even worse than corruption — but that didn’t keep him from declaring his “great admiration” for Onyx Lorenzoni, the future chief of staff who confessed to using slush funds on his campaign, in November. “As to his mistakes, he himself has admitted [them] and taken the measures to repair them,” Moro said. “He has my full trust,” he added this week. The fact that Lorenzoni was never investigated, let alone punished for the crime, doesn’t seem to bother the newly appointed secretary of justice.

Brasília - O presidente da FINEP, Marcos Cintra participa da 2ª edição do Encontro Finep para Inovação (Wilson Dias/Agência Brasil)

Chosen by current President Michel Temer to join the transition team, Marcos Cintra could personally gain from advice that he offers to Bolsonaro’s economic planners.

Photo: Photo: Wilson Dias/Agência Brasil

Marcos Cintra – Member of the Transition Team

The economist, one of Paulo Guedes’s advisers, is the chair of Financiadora de Inovação e Pesquisa, or Innovation and Research Financing, a public company under the Science and Technology Department that offers grants to research institutions and companies in the fields of science, technology, and innovation. Marcos Cintra is also vice chair on leave of the Getúlio Vargas Foundation, one of Brazil’s most acclaimed private research institutions and most expensive universities. In 2017, the average monthly fee at the university was 4,000 reals.

Bolsonaro’s plans to transfer responsibility for public universities from the Department of Education to the new Science, Technology, and Communications Department — as well as his intentions to cut down on public universities’ funding — might end up personally benefiting Cintra.

Roberto Castello Branco, who was appointed by Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro as President of Petrobras, addresses the press outside the transitional government's headquarters in Brasilia on November 20, 2018. (Photo by EVARISTO SA / AFP)        (Photo credit should read EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images)

Roberto da Cunha Castello Branco addresses the press outside the transitional government’s headquarters in Brasilia on Nov. 20, 2018.

Photo: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

Roberto da Cunha Castello Branco – Member of the Transition Team

The economist is a board member of Invepar, a private company that operates 11 of Brazil’s biggest public concerns, including the Guarulhos Airport in São Paulo; Metrô Rio, the subway system in Rio de Janeiro; and VLT Carioca, the light rail system in Rio. Advising the president-elect’s economic team, which already announced plans to broaden privatizations, could directly benefit Branco’s businesses.

Not Just His Allies

The president-elect has his own shady personal history with corruption. Bolsonaro spent 11 years of his 27-year political career in Progressists, the political party with most politicians investigated in the Operation Car Wash. He left in 2016, roughly two years after the investigation started making daily headlines — but not before admitting that his party had received hundreds of thousands in bribes from the agri-giant JBS in 2014.

“Yes, the party got bribes. What party doesn’t get bribes?” Bolsonaro said last year. He then claimed to have returned the R$200,000 in JBS funds that had been transferred to his campaign account and to have accepted instead a transfer in the same amount from party funds: “I take [money] from the party funds. [JBS’s] money went to another congressman.”

Earlier this year, the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo revealed that Bolsonaro kept a ghost worker among his 14 cabinet employees. Walderice Santos da Conceição was listed as the member of Congress’s aide for 15 years — but she wasn’t actually doing any work for the government. Instead, she owns a small business selling açaí berries, the popular Brazilian fruit usually served smashed and frozen in bowls. Both she and her husband carried out minor tasks at Bolsonaro’s summer house in Angra dos Reis, a town near Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil's President-elect Jair Bolsonaro speaks to the press after receiving the Peacemaker medal at the Army Headquarters, in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Bolsonaro will take office on Jan. 1. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

Jair Bolsonaro speaks to the press after receiving the Peacemaker medal at Army Headquarters in Brasilia on Dec. 5, 2018.

Photo: Eraldo Peres/AP

Bolsonaro denied the paper’s accusations and kept Conceição on his payroll until August. During a debate, presidential candidate Guilherme Boulos, of the Socialism and Freedom Party, confronted Bolsonaro on the matter. “Who is Wal?” he asked. Bolsonaro then claimed Folha didn’t find her in his cabinet back in January because she was on vacation. His response prompted the paper to pay Conceição another visit, which led to the article “Bolsonaro’s ghost worker is still selling açaí during office hours.” She was finally fired that same day.

The president-elect also hid over R$2.6 million in assets from the Supreme Electoral Court, according to a cross-check done by Brazilian newspaper O Globo, using the court’s database and public information from notaries’ offices. The article ran the same day Veja magazine published a cover story based on over 500 pages of court documents dating back to 2008, which contained serious accusations made by Bolsonaro’s ex-wife Ana Cristina Siqueira Valle in their divorce proceedings. She claimed that Bolsonaro hid millions in assets, in line with the findings of O Globo; that most of his income came from unidentified sources, since he made roughly R$100,000 a month, according to her, but his salary as a member of Congress and a military reservist only accounted for about a third of that; and that he had stolen jewelry and cash amounting to R$1.6 million from a safe she kept in a bank.

Though the theft really did happen, the investigation led nowhere, so there is no proof that Bolsonaro was responsible for the crime. However, in another court case involving the former couple, the president-elect claimed that his ex had taken their child to Norway to blackmail him for the contents of the stolen safe. At the time, Valle told Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that she had left the country due to death threats from Bolsonaro.

None of these accusations have been properly investigated so far. All were later disavowed by Bolsonaro’s ex — who ran for office in these elections using his last name — as “fake news.” Valle now denies having accused Bolsonaro of threatening her, even though there’s a paper trail of her claims and many of her then-friends in Norway backed up the original narrative.

DF - Brasilia - 05/12/2018 - Government transition committee Bolsonaro - Joice Hasselmann, elected federal deputy PSL-SP, was seen on Wednesday, December 5, after leaving the Bolsonaro government transition committee. Photo: Mateus Bonomi / AGIF (via AP)

Joice Hasselmann on Dec. 5, 2018, after leaving the Bolsonaro government transition committee headquarters.

Photo: Mateus Bonomi/AGIF via AP

Aware that the article would be coming out, Bolsonaro’s team seems to have called upon party colleague and now Congress-member-elect Joice Hasselmann to help discredit the story before it even ran. Hasselmann, who was responsible for starting some of the biggest election rumors, posted a video stating that a magazine had received R$600 million to spread lies about Bolsonaro. Mostly known among Brazilian journalists for having plagiarized over 60 articles back when she was a journalist herself, Hasselmann offered no proof or sources to back up her allegation. No matter how absurd it was, however, the rumor stuck. The accusations against Bolsonaro, on the other hand, did not.

It’s a pattern with Bolsonaro: Nothing sticks. Neither did the discovery that Brazilian businesses had spent up to R$12 million each to have marketing agencies fire hundreds of millions of pro-Bolsonaro messages on WhatsApp. If confirmed, the scheme exposed by Folha de S.Paulo would mean that Bolsonaro — knowingly or not — benefited from “second-degree slush funds,” which would be illegal under a 2015 law that prohibits companies from making donations to political parties and campaigns. The Supreme Electoral Court is investigating the case but has made no progress so far. Meanwhile, believing their candidate’s claims that all these reports are fake news, his supporters coined the phrase “I’m Bolsonaro’s slush funds.”

With such a loyal constituency, it doesn’t take much effort from Bolsonaro to brush off any of the accusations against him — which is why he had an easy time pretending he never asked Alberto Fraga to serve in his administration in the first place. Or why, just last month, he felt confident enough to say on video that he had been wrongly fined in 2012 for fishing in an area protected by environmental law. “I wasn’t there,” he said — even though there’s a photograph showing he was.

Likewise, there’s a video of Bolsonaro telling fellow Member of Congress Maria do Rosário in 2003 that he “would never rape her because she isn’t worth it,” then pushing her and calling her a “whore.” He would repeat the insults in 2014, during a speech in Congress, telling her once again that she wasn’t worthy of being raped by him. Since the second round of misogynistic insults against the Workers’ Party politician, he’s been convicted for slander — and has lost two appeals — and is still on trial for supposedly inciting rape. Four years later, it’s clear none of this damaged his image.

This weekend, one of Operation Car Wash’s many investigations touched on the Bolsonaro clan’s activities. News broke that the president-elect’s son Flávio Bolsonaro, who serves as a state-level member of Congress from Rio and was just elected senator, employed a driver investigated by the Treasury Department  for suspicious bank transactions.

The driver, a police officer named Fabrício José de Carlos Queiroz, is a friend of the Bolsonaro family. The Treasury Department’s probe kicked off when the Treasury office responsible for investigating suspicious financial activity noted that there were over R$1 million in transactions to and from Queiroz’s personal account between January 2016 and January 2017 — an unusually high level of activity for the driver.

The Treasury Department report also revealed that eight aides connected to the Bolsonaros made several deposits to Queiroz. One of the shady transactions from Queiroz’s account is a R$24,000 check to Michelle Bolsonaro, the president-elect’s wife.

Jair Bolsonaro claims the money was part of the payment of a R$40,000 loan he had given his son’s driver and personal friend. Asked by the media why the check was made out to his wife, he said it was for practical matters: He didn’t have time to go to the bank. The response became fodder for internet humor when it was pointed out that, weeks earlier, a news site had reported  that Bolsonaro went to the bank three times in a single day.

With a track record like this, it’s no wonder that Bolsonaro would pick these people to serve by his side in the government. What remains astonishing is how this career politician, with almost three decades in Congress under his belt, has managed to validate himself as Brazil’s anti-establishment miracle cure for corruption. How long can his facade last?

The post Jair Bolsonaro Promised to End Corruption in Brazil — Then He Appointed an Extremely Corrupt Cabinet appeared first on The Intercept.

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Falling for “Les Fake News,” Trump Spreads Lie French Protesters Chant His Name

Donald Trump is so vain he really thinks the protests in Paris are about him. As about 8,000 anti-government protesters wearing yellow safety vests dodged tear gas in the French capital on Saturday, the president of the United States fell for a social-media hoax, claiming that the demonstrators were chanting his name.

Writing on Twitter, the president claimed, falsely, that the protests had been inspired by his opposition to the Paris climate accord and the phrase “We want Trump” rang out on the streets.

In fact, the president was misled by a viral hoax, in which video of British white supremacists chanting his name last year was posted on Twitter this week with a false caption, incorrectly describing the scene as one unfolding in France.

As reporters like Samuel Laurent of Le Monde and Ryan Broderick of Buzzfeed News have explained, there is a Trumpian aspect to the unrest in France though, since “les fake news” has helped fuel the wave of protests over the past month. That’s because the yellow-vest movement has galvanized support for protests via social networks, particularly Facebook, with a potent mix of genuine stories of suffering caused by real failings of the French government and a raft of conspiracy theories and hoaxes, including the viral rumor that a non-binding United Nations pact on migration would soon put France under UN administration, so that millions of migrants could be resettled to replace the native-born population.

While the yellow-vest protests were initially triggered by complaints that an eco-tax on fuel placed an unfair burden on the working poor for tackling climate change, the demonstrations have continued since that tax increase was paused because they are driven by broader concerns about income inequality, austerity and underfunded public services.

As reporters on the ground in Paris noted on Saturday, beyond widespread calls for President Emmanuel Macron’s resignation, just 18 months after his election, protesters voiced a range of demands from one end of the political spectrum to the other. Some protesters voiced support for a borderless European Union, while others demanded Frexit, or a French exit from the bloc.

PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 08: A demonstrator gestures in front of placards, one of which says 'Frexit car dictature!' during the demonstration of the yellow vests at the Arc de Triomphe on December 08, 2018 in Paris France. 'Yellow Vests' ("Gilet Jaunes" or "Vestes Jaunes") is a protest movement without political affiliation that protests against taxes and rising fuel prices. The "Yellow Vest" protests have wrecked parts of Paris and other French cities for nearly a month, as the movement - inspired by opposition to a new fuel tax - has absorbed a wide range of anti-government sentiment. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Some protesters in Paris on Saturday demanded a French exit from the European Union.

Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Amid skirmishes between the riot police and violent protesters known as “casseurs,” or “breakers,” which led to more than 700 arrests, there were also calls for non-violence, demands for taxes to be halved and social spending to be doubled, anti-vaccine activists, snatched selfies and eloquently simple slogans scrawled on vests, like one woman who just wrote, “I’m under pressure.”

There were also widespread displays of solidarity from protesters with a group of high-school students who were arrested this week in Mantes-la-Jolie, west of Paris, and forced by the police to kneel in the mud with their hands on their heads.

Trump’s false claim that the protesters were inspired by his hatred of the Paris climate agreement was also undermined by the presence of many yellow vests at a climate march in another part of the French capital, where more than 20,000 people demanded action.

At the climate march, Stéphane Mandard of Le Monde noted that one of the yellow vests was emblazoned with a slogan that seemed to offer one answer to the two struggles: “Make the rich pay for the environmental transition.”

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the radical-left France Unbowed party, attended a climate rally in Bordeaux with members of the yellow vest movement.

Loïc Prud’homme, one of the party’s representatives in parliament, told Le Monde that the two problems had to be tackled together. “We can not have climate justice without social justice,” he said.

The post Falling for “Les Fake News,” Trump Spreads Lie French Protesters Chant His Name appeared first on The Intercept.

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Let’s Talk About George H.W. Bush’s Role in the Iran-Contra Scandal

US Vice President George H. W. Bush talking with Tower Commission members who are investigating Iran-Contra affair at the White House.  (Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Then-U.S. Vice President George H. W. Bush talks with Tower Commission members investigating Iran-Contra affair at the White House.

Photo: Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

The effusive praise being heaped on former President George H.W. Bush — “a calm and vital statesman” who exuded “decency, moderation, compromise” — risks burying his skeletons with him. One of the most notable skeletons that has gotten scant attention in recent days is his role in the Iran-Contra scandal.

As CIA director in the mid-1970s and as Ronald Reagan’s vice president, Bush helped forge a world of strongmen, wars, cartels, and refugees that continues today. In particular, he was deeply involved in the events that became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, a series of illegal operations that began with a secret effort to arm Contra fighters in Nicaragua in the hopes of toppling the leftist Sandinista government; this effort became connected to drug trafficking, trading weapons for hostages with Iran, and banking scandals.

In 1987, Arthur Liman, chief counsel for the Senate Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Nicaraguan Opposition, described it as a “secret government-within-a-government … with its own army, air force, diplomatic agents, intelligence operatives and appropriations capacity.” Independent counsel Lawrence Walsh, tasked with investigating Iran-Contra, concluded that the White House cover-up “possibly forestalled timely impeachment proceedings against President Reagan and other officials.” Bush was a central figure in this.

Bush’s spy history is murky. According to Russ Baker, author of “Family of Secrets,” a history of the Bush family, in the late 1950s, Bush allegedly allowed the CIA to use an offshore oil rig he owned near Cuba as a staging ground for anti-Castro Cubans to raid their homeland. In 1967, Bush visited Vietnam as a freshman member of Congress, and Baker claims that Bush was accompanied by his business partner, a CIA agent, to investigate the Phoenix Program, the CIA torture and assassination operation that killed more than 20,000 Vietnamese by 1971.

These pieces come together when Bush served as CIA director from January 1976 to January 1977. During his tenure, he met his future national security adviser, Donald Gregg, who was involved in operations linked to the Phoenix Program as a former CIA station chief in Saigon. There, Gregg fought alongside Cuban exile and CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, who helped track down and kill Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.

Bush was at the CIA during the height of Operation Condor, an international “kidnap-torture-murder apparatus” run by six Latin American dictatorships and coordinated by Washington. In an Operation Condor plot carried out in October 1976, Chilean secret police assassinated former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and American Ronni Moffitt with a car bomb in Washington, D.C. Bush misled an FBI investigation about Chile’s responsibility. Also as spy chief, Bush met his Panamanian counterpart, Manuel Noriega, already suspected at the time of drug trafficking. (As president, Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in 1989 to remove Noriega from power, who was the country’s ruler by that point.)

As vice president, Bush became an architect of the “secret government” that came into being for the Iran-Contra operations. Official investigations of Iran-Contra are limited to the period after October 1984 when Congress banned military and intelligence services from providing direct or indirect support to the Contras. But Gary Webb’s expose on CIA and Contra links to cocaine smuggling, “The Dark Alliance,” dates to 1981 the covert U.S. support for the Contras. Cobbled together from remnants of Nicaragua’s defeated National Guard, the Contras were notorious for torture, assassination, and other atrocities. The Phoenix-Condor link reached Central America, as the CIA recruited veterans of Argentina’s Dirty War to train the Contras, who ignited a decadelong war that killed an estimated 50,000 Nicaraguans.

Rolling Stone dates Bush’s involvement in the Contra war to 1982, when he reportedly conspired with CIA chief William Casey in an operation they code-named “Black Eagle.” Working under Bush, Donald Gregg managed finances and operations for the Contras, according to Rolling Stone. Rodriguez handled arms flights to Central America and negotiated with military commanders there. Historian Douglas Valentine has claimed that in 1981, Bush authorized these veterans of the Phoenix Program to initiate a “Pink Planterror war against Central American insurgents.

Black Eagle masked its operation by relying on the Israeli Mossad to acquire and ship weapons to Central America, employing Panamanian airfields and companies as fronts, according to the Rolling Stone story. But the planes, once emptied of their arms cargo in Central America, were repurposed by Noriega and the Medellín cartel to ship drugs back to the United States. The CIA allegedly stuck a deal with the Medellín cartel’s primary contact, Barry Seal. In return for Seal hauling weapons to the Contras, the CIA protected him as his operations smuggled an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion in drugs into the United States.

The White House also leaned on Gulf State monarchies to cough up more than $40 million for the Contras, violating the 1984 congressional ban known as the Boland Amendment. In 1985, Lt. Col. Oliver North coordinated with Israel to ship more than 2,000 anti-tank missiles to Iran through Israel in exchange for Iran’s assistance in freeing American hostages held in the region — and the profits were used to fund the Contras.

The maneuver, which violated the Arms Export Control Act, was extraordinarily cynical. Iran was mired in a brutal war with Iraq, which was backed by Bush and other senior Reagan administration officials beginning in 1982. Through the BNL bank that would later collapse in scandal, Iraq received more than $4 billion of U.S. Department of Agriculture credits. Most of that money reportedly went to buy weaponry even as Iraq waged chemical warfare against Iran and its own Kurdish citizens.

Both the Contra weapons shipments and the arms-for-hostages deals were exposed in 1986.

Much is still not known about Iran-Contra because of document shredding, deceit, and cover-ups by Reagan-era officials. Congress handcuffed its inquiry by failing to subpoena Oval Office recordings and calling knowledgeable witnesses. Robert Parry, an Associated Press reporter who uncovered the arms-for-drugs trade years before Webb, criticized the media for failing to dig into the story and succumbing to White House pressure and perception management.

On Christmas Eve 1992, then-President Bush decapitated the investigation by Walsh. Bush pardoned six figures, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, whose trial was about to begin, with Bush likely called to testify. Walsh was livid. Saying “the Iran-Contra cover-up … has now been completed,” he called Bush a “president who has such a contempt for honesty [and] arrogant disregard for the rule of law.” Bush’s pardons are newly relevant because Bush consulted his attorney general at the time, William Barr, who reportedly did not oppose the pardons. Barr has just been named by President Donald Trump as his nominee for attorney general, where he may once again confront the issue of presidential pardons of senior government officials caught in an illegal conspiracy.

Bush’s role in the Iran-Contra scandal shows that his legacy is far darker than what is being reported amid his death and funeral. The truth is that he coddled dictators and death squads, undermined democratic institutions, and trashed the Constitution. He created the conditions that helped give rise to Donald Trump.

The post Let’s Talk About George H.W. Bush’s Role in the Iran-Contra Scandal appeared first on The Intercept.

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Here’s Facebook’s Former “Privacy Sherpa” Discussing How to Harm Your Facebook Privacy

In 2015, rising star, Stanford University graduate, winner of the 13th season of “Survivor,” and Facebook executive Yul Kwon was profiled by the news outlet Fusion, which described him as “the guy standing between Facebook and its next privacy disaster,” guiding the company’s engineers through the dicey territory of personal data collection. Kwon described himself in the piece as a “privacy sherpa.” But the day it published, Kwon was apparently chatting with other Facebook staffers about how the company could vacuum up the call logs of its users without the Android operating system getting in the way by asking for the user for specific permission, according to confidential Facebook documents released today by the British Parliament.

“This would allow us to upgrade users without subjecting them to an Android permissions dialog.”

The document, part of a larger 250-page parliamentary trove, shows what appears to be a copied-and-pasted recap of an internal chat conversation between various Facebook staffers and Kwon, who was then the company’s deputy chief privacy officer and is currently working as a product management director, according to his LinkedIn profile.

The conversation centered around an internal push to change which data Facebook’s Android app had access to, to grant the software the ability to record a user’s text messages and call history, to interact with bluetooth beacons installed by physical stores, and to offer better customized friend suggestions and news feed rankings . This would be a momentous decision for any company, to say nothing of one with Facebook’s privacy track record and reputation, even in 2015, of sprinting through ethical minefields. “This is a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective but it appears that the growth team will charge ahead and do it,” Michael LeBeau, a Facebook product manager, is quoted in the document as saying of the change.

Crucially, LeBeau commented, according to the document, such a privacy change would require Android users to essentially opt in; Android, he said, would present them with a permissions dialog soliciting their approval to share call logs when they were to upgrade to a version of the app that collected the logs and texts. Furthermore, the Facebook app itself would prompt users to opt in to the feature, through a notification referred to by LeBeau as “an in-app opt-in NUX,” or new user experience. The Android dialog was especially problematic; such permission dialogs “tank upgrade rates,” LeBeau stated.

But Kwon appeared to later suggest that the company’s engineers might be able to upgrade users to the log-collecting version of the app without any such nagging from the phone’s operating system. He also indicated that the plan to obtain text messages had been dropped, according to the document. “Based on [the growth team’s] initial testing, it seems this would allow us to upgrade users without subjecting them to an Android permissions dialog at all,”  he stated. Users would have to click to effect the upgrade, he added, but, he reiterated, “no permissions dialog screen.”

It’s not clear if Kwon’s comment about “no permissions dialog screen” applied to the opt-in notification within the Facebook app. But even if the Facebook app still sought permission to share call logs, such in-app notices are generally designed expressly to get the user to consent and are easy to miss or misinterpret. Android users rely on standard, clear dialogs from the operating system to inform them of serious changes in privacy. There’s good reason Facebook would want to avoid “subjecting” its users to a screen displaying exactly what they’re about to hand over to the company:

It’s not clear how this specific discussion was resolved, but Facebook did eventually begin obtaining call logs and text messages from users of its Messenger and Facebook Lite apps for Android. This proved highly controversial when revealed in press accounts and by individuals posting on Twitter after receiving data Facebook had collected on them; Facebook insisted it had obtained permission for the phone log and text massage collection, but some users and journalists said it had not.

It’s Facebook’s corporate stance that the documents released by Parliament “are presented in a way that is very misleading without additional context.” The Intercept has asked both Facebook and Kwon personally about what context is missing here, if any, and will update with their response.

The post Here’s Facebook’s Former “Privacy Sherpa” Discussing How to Harm Your Facebook Privacy appeared first on The Intercept.

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Rejecting Israel Lobby’s Influence Over Congress, Rashida Tlaib Plans to Lead Delegation to Palestine

Rashida Tlaib, a Democratic representative-elect from Michigan, belongs to a cohort of incoming members of Congress who’ve vowed to upend the status quo — even on third-rail issues in Washington like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To that end, Tlaib is planning to lead a congressional delegation to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, she told The Intercept. Her planned trip is a swift rebuke of a decades-old tradition for newly elected members: a junket to Israel sponsored by the education arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby group.

The AIPAC trips are among the lesser-known traditions for freshman members of Congress. They’re typically scheduled during the first August recess in every legislative session and feature a weeklong tour of Israel and meetings with leading Israeli figures in business, government, and the military. Both critics and proponents of the AIPAC freshmen trip say the endeavor is incredibly influential, providing House members with a distinctly pro-Israel viewpoint on complex controversies in the region. In recent years, the Democratic tour has been led by incoming Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Incoming Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., traditionally leads the Republican trip.

Tlaib, who is the first Palestinian-American woman to be elected to Congress, hopes to draw on her roots in the region to offer her fellow incoming representatives an alternative introduction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She said her group will focus on issues like Israel’s detention of Palestinian children, education, access to clean water, and poverty. She may even take them to Beit Ur al-Foqa, the village where Tlaib’s grandmother lives, in the northern West Bank.

It is unclear who will join Tlaib on the trip. She is still working out the details of when it will take place and what advocacy organizations she will partner with to fund the delegation. But Tlaib is clear about one thing: She wants her delegation to humanize Palestinians, provide an alternative perspective to the one AIPAC pushes, and highlight the inherent inequality of Israel’s system of military occupation in Palestinian territories, which Tlaib likens to what African-Americans in the United States endured in the Jim Crow era. She is not planning any meetings with the Palestinian Authority or with Israeli government officials, a mainstay of the AIPAC trips.

“They don’t show the side that I know is real, which is what’s happening to my grandmother and what’s happening to my family there.”

“I want us to see that segregation and how that has really harmed us being able to achieve real peace in that region,” Tlaib said in an interview. “I don’t think AIPAC provides a real, fair lens into this issue. It’s one-sided. … [They] have these lavish trips to Israel, but they don’t show the side that I know is real, which is what’s happening to my grandmother and what’s happening to my family there.”

Tlaib’s challenge to AIPAC isn’t limited to leading a separate trip to the region. In her interview with The Intercept, she for the first time came out in support of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, the movement known as BDS that seeks to punish Israel over its human rights abuses.

“I personally support the BDS movement,” said Tlaib. She added that economic boycotts are a way to bring attention to “issues like the racism and the international human rights violations by Israel right now.”

Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, said that Tlaib’s trip is a sign that she will bring a fresh perspective to this issue when she takes office.

“She brings a certain viewpoint to this that is new and that we have not really seen before — especially with having family in the West Bank and having a strong connection there,” Munayyer said. “To have somebody like that perhaps play a leading role in helping to shed light on the situation to other members of Congress is important.”

Tlaib’s announcement of her pro-BDS position comes just weeks after Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., faced a firestorm of criticism, including accusations of anti-Semitism, for coming out in favor of BDS. Omar and Tlaib are the only two members of Congress to publicly support the movement, but their outspokenness is an indication of a shifting conversation in Washington about unconditional U.S. support for Israel, despite its harsh rule over Palestinians.

Human rights activists contend that AIPAC’s trips are a major factor in tilting the scales in Washington, D.C. toward policies that reflect the interests of the Israeli government over Palestinians, helping policymakers to disregard Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank, its settlements, and its military strikes against the Gaza Strip.

AIPAC has flexed its muscle in Congress and with the Trump administration to press for increased military aid to Israel and limit financial support to Palestinians, roll back former President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, and pass new laws to criminalize participation in the BDS movement, which calls for an end to Israel’s occupation, equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees kicked out of Israel in 1948. Under the Trump administration, key AIPAC priorities have become U.S. policy: moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and backing out of the Iran deal.

A typical House freshmen trip usually costs between $9,300 to $10,500 per participant.

Over the last decade, AIPAC’s education arm, the U.S. Israel Education Association, has spent $12.9 million on trips to Israel for 363 lawmakers and 657 congressional staff members, according to an Intercept analysis of public disclosures. A typical House freshmen trip usually costs between $9,300 to $10,500 per participant, which covers all expenses, including a business-class flight and a stay at a luxury hotel in Jerusalem. Lawmakers are invited to bring one family member.

The trips are institutionalized by congressional leadership officials in both parties. Hoyer’s press office confirmed that the Democratic leader will ask newly elected House Democrats to take part in an AIPAC trip to Israel next year and defended the program against charges of bias.

“While it has not yet been planned, Mr. Hoyer intends to once again serve as the senior member on a delegation of Members of Congress to Israel next year,” said Annaliese Davis, a spokesperson for Hoyer.

“The delegation trip to Israel is an opportunity for freshmen Members of Congress to learn more about regional threats and dynamics in the Middle East and the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Davis wrote in a statement. The organizers of the AIPAC trip, she added, “work hard to show both sides of that conflict,” including meetings with Palestinian leadership, the Israeli advocacy group Peace Now, and “Israeli leaders from across the ideological spectrum.”

(L-R): Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), enter the stage, for a panel discussion at the 2018 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., on Monday, March 5, 2018. (Photo by Cheriss May)(Sipa via AP Images)

From left, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., take the stage for a panel discussion at the 2018 American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., on March 5, 2018.

Photo: Cheriss May/Sipa via AP

AIPAC’s Pro-Israel Itinerary

Lawmakers who take the AIPAC trip have little time to hear from Palestinians and make no visits to Gaza, a coastal enclave facing a brutal embargo and Israeli military encirclement that is central to the conflict, according to itineraries for past trips filed with the House Ethics Committee.

In 2017, Democratic members of the 115th Congress spent the majority of their seven-day trip meetings with Israeli leaders. They took tours of Christian and Jewish religious and cultural sites; made two visits to learn about Israeli missile defense; and had dinner with the Times of Israel editor and, separately, with Israeli startup executives. The lawmakers also attended a briefing with an Israeli lieutenant colonel about the threat posed by Hezbollah, a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, among other visits with Israeli officials, according to their itinerary.

The schedule included only one visit with a Palestinian leader: an hour and 15 minute meeting with Shukri Bishara, the finance minister of the Palestinian Authority. The delegation also attended a breakfast meeting that featured a former director of Peace Now, along with Oded Revivi, mayor of Efrat, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

The GOP freshman of the 115th Congress had a similar itinerary, meeting with dozens of Israeli leaders and having just one brief meeting with officials from the Palestinian Authority.

Since 2013, the Republican and Democratic lawmakers have come together for a segment of their separate AIPAC trips. That tradition was started by Hoyer and McCarthy after Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., who led the GOP delegation in previous years, unexpectedly lost his party’s primary in 2012.

Hoyer, for his part, has been leading these trips in large numbers since 2003. “I get a reinvigoration of my principles and of my commitment and how critically important a relationship between Israel and the United States is,” said Hoyer at the AIPAC National Policy Conference in 2016, explaining the purpose of going to Israel. The trips, Hoyer added, are essential for “sending a message to the world that Israel’s survival and security is a critical issue for the United States of America.”

The Maryland Democrat was the highest-ranking House Democrat to co-sponsor the controversial legislation designed to criminalize participation in the BDS movement in 2017. Earlier this year, he told The Intercept that he supported the Israeli military’s assault on Palestinian protesters at the demarcation line that separates Israel from Gaza, which left over 50 demonstrators dead and over 2,000 injured.

“The AIPAC sponsored trips are organized with the express purpose of building one-sided support for Israel in Congress.”

“The AIPAC sponsored trips are organized with the express purpose of building one-sided support for Israel in Congress. There is nothing balanced about them,” Mike Merryman-Lotze, the Palestine-Israel program director for the American Friends Service Committee, wrote in an email to The Intercept. He noted that the lawmakers don’t spend any significant time in Palestinian areas, nor do they meet with Palestinians from the occupied territories or members of independent civil society.

Lawmakers’ own descriptions of the junkets highlight their one-sided nature.

After his AIPAC trip to Israel, Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., wrote an opinion column for the Chicago Sun-Times, noting that he had spent most of his time with “many of the nation’s top leaders, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, members of his cabinet, military leaders and our counterparts in the legislature.”

Hultgren faulted only Palestinians for continued violence in the region and concluded that the U.S. must continue to support Israel “to strengthen our cultural, religious and economic ties that bind us together in common purpose.”

Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., discussed his support for Israel’s controversial separation wall after his trip with AIPAC in 2003. In an interview with the Jewish Telegraph Agency, he said, “It gave me a better understanding of why things like the fence are necessary — and a rational response to the terrorist threats Israel faces.”

Democratic Dissent

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., a rare congressional champion for Palestinian rights, sharply criticized the influence of AIPAC.

“There should be no illusion among newly elected Members of Congress that AIPAC sponsored travel to Israel is intended to do anything other than advance the right-wing Netanyahu-Likud agenda of settlement expansion, occupation, and eliminating the opportunity for a two-state solution,” McCollum said in a statement to The Intercept.

McCollum encouraged Democrats to travel to Israel, but to do so while engaging with Palestinians living under military occupation and to learn how Israeli and Palestinian lives interconnect and are impacted by U.S. policy decisions.

“I understand why GOP members go on AIPAC trips since they share a right-wing agenda.”

“These AIPAC lobbying trips are designed to keep nearly $4 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars flowing to Israel’s military every year. I understand why GOP members go on AIPAC trips since they share a right-wing agenda,” said McCollum.

Another outspoken critic of the trips is former Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., who once described the trips as “virtually obligatory” because Democratic leadership leaned heavily on members to embrace AIPAC.

Baird traveled to the Gaza Strip independently in 2010. The lawmaker told reporters that being able to witness the living conditions and the damage wrought by Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli incursion into the area that killed over 1,000 civilians, opened his eyes to the imbalance of U.S. policy in the region.

“If all that happens is that you come to this region and you are led around by the hand to see the things that someone wants you to see, hear the stories that someone wants you to hear, you will not get the full impression of what’s actually going on,” he told CNN.

Some liberal Jewish-American activists have been trying for more than a decade to provide an alternative to the AIPAC junkets. In 2007, they formed J Street. The liberal advocacy group supports a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and has called for peaceful reconciliation with Palestinians.

J Street has been organizing congressional trips to Israel since 2010. But even those trips, which bring lawmakers in closer contact with Palestinian activists, are similarly centered on meeting with Israeli military and political figures.

The group has tried to compete with AIPAC, but has only a fraction of the resources. Over the last decade, AIPAC has spent $12.8 million flying 1,020 lawmakers and congressional staff to Israel, a review of ethics records show. In contrast, J Street has spent a little over half a million dollars over the same period flying 63 lawmakers and staff to the region.

American Israel Education Association-Funded Travel for U.S. Congress

Number of Lawmakers Who Attended Trip Cost for Lawmakers Total Number of Attendees, Including Staff Total Trip Cost
111th Congress 65 $1,007,361 172 $1,727,127
112th Congress 100 $1,820,063 212 $2,730,500
113th Congress 88 $1,548,223 249 $3,043,369
114th Congress 69 $1,400,156 219 $2,981,239
115th Congress* 41 $872,626 168 $2,361,902
(January 3, 2009 – November 26, 2018)
363 $6,648,429 1,020 $12,844,137

*Incomplete Data. Source: LegiStorm, Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives

“A lot of members feel pressure to go on the trip. Steny asks them to do it, so they just do it,” said one veteran Capitol Hill staffer who asked to remain anonymous. “The progressive members leave with a bad taste in their mouth. If you’re a freshman, you disengage on Israel-Palestine issues because you quickly realize after the trip it’s not worth it to butt heads with leadership.”

“If you’re a freshman, you disengage on Israel-Palestine issues because you quickly realize after the trip it’s not worth it to butt heads with leadership.”

Tlaib, by disavowing the AIPAC trip and planning her own, will be butting heads with leadership even before officially entering office. Other newly elected Democrats indicated that they are exploring the possibility of joining Tlaib’s alternative trip to the region, but were not ready to comment publicly.

The Michigan Democrat’s position is in line with that of advocates for Palestinian rights in Washington. Kareem El-Hosseiny, the government relations coordinator with American Muslims for Palestine, called on members of Congress to rethink their participation in the AIPAC junkets, which he said give cover to Israeli human rights violations.

“If these members have to go to the region, then they need to cross to other side, witness the Palestinian suffering with their own eyes, and meet with Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations and activists on the ground,” El-Hosseiny added.

Palestinian rights advocates also say that Tlaib’s willingness to buck the party line on Israel reflects a restive Democratic base that supports tougher action against Israeli settlements and its military occupation. A recent Economist/YouGov poll found that only a quarter of American liberals think of Israel as an ally — a number down from the 36 percent of liberals who viewed Israel as an ally in 2017.

“Palestinian rights are being integrated into the broader progressive agenda. It’s becoming almost standard that if you support single-payer health care and climate justice, you’ll support Palestinian rights,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

But that stance is at odds with a Democratic Party leadership that headlined, along with Vice President Mike Pence, a conference of the Israeli-American Council, a pro-Israel group funded by right-wing donors like Sheldon Adelson, over the weekend.

“The base has shifted and the leadership is going to have to shift sooner than they think,” said Vilkomerson. “The fight isn’t over yet. But that era of bipartisan unity in support of Israel really seems to be over.”

The post Rejecting Israel Lobby’s Influence Over Congress, Rashida Tlaib Plans to Lead Delegation to Palestine appeared first on The Intercept.

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