Posted on August 14, 2016 in Countdown

Click here to subscribe to Countdown, AAI's weekly take on news from Washington, around the country, and abroad.


U.S. Promises Severe Reaction, Israel Delivers

We're not sure what has changed the Obama Administration's calculation of the cost of Israeli home demolitions, but something seems to have escalated. The village of Susiya has been demolished multiple times, starting in 2001, and it might happen again very soon. Remember, it was just one short year ago that people across the U.S. rallied to pressure Secretary Kerry to stop Israel from wiping out the Palestinian village, which the Israeli occupation forces claim are built illegally. Well it's ground hogs day folks, because once again U.S. organizations are putting pressure on the State Department to save Susiya from imminent demolition - an effort that might work once again. Earlier this week an anonymous source warned of a "severe reaction" from the U.S. if Israel moves forward with demolition plans, and just yesterday U.S. Consulate General paid the village an in-person visit. That's tough talk from the U.S. in comparison to the typical denunciations - but not warnings - issued when the Israeli occupation continues apace. But while the U.S. is still talking tough, Israel is actually getting tough(er). The drama unfolding with humanitarian organizations in Gaza is case in point. Right in line with the narrative Israel has built for years - the international NGOs are nefariously working against the state of Israel - the IDF arrested and brought charges against the Gaza director of one of the largest, most well-respected NGOs in the world, World Vision. Charged with aiding Hamas to the tune of $50 million in charitable funds, the charges are being cautiously disputed while the evidence to prove these charges remains an Israeli secret. But that hasn't stopped Israel from bringing similar charges against the UN Development Programme and Save the Children. It seems to many that Israel is systematically trying to scare humanitarian NGOs out of Gaza, clearing what is an open air prison for so many from international inspectors, accountability, and badly needed resources. But that isn't all of Israel's tough talk this week. In a move that will only shock those who aren't paying attention, the Israeli Public Security Minister launched a program where citizens can report tourists who are BDS activists so they can be deported. Now that is more than just tough talk.


Swimming Right Through the Great Battle of Aleppo

Like most of the world, the refugee Olympic team has indeed warmed our hearts. Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini's story of swimming for her life and many others is important and powerful for the world to hear. But we have to echo the frustrated commentary of people who have been frantically trying to bring attention to the plight of refugees for years. It's obscene that refugees have to be Olympians for the world to take notice and care. Non-Olympic Syrians continue to suffer grave conditions in Syria and in countries they have fled to, all the while certain U.S. personalities keep threatening to end U.S. programs which help Syrians escape ISIS. Judging by U.S. media coverage, we'd bet only close observers in America know that the raging fighting in Aleppo is now commonly referred to as "The Great Battle of Aleppo." Aleppo has been under siege for almost four years - - and the battle between the Syrian government (with Russian air backing) and the Syrian opposition (with U.S. support but not involvement) has rendered the city nearly doctor-less, closed off to humanitarian re-supply or escape, and the epicenter of the civil war. Yesterday, Russia announced they would pause their air raids for 3 hours a day - which is neither generous nor helpful to the opposition held areas they've been bombing alongside the Assad army, who reportedly used chlorine in an attack last week. It is an impossible story that a Syrian escaped Damascus to swim for gold at the Olympics, but it is an even more impossible to bring an end to the suffering when only a concerned few are paying attention to the war's most important and devastating battle to date.


Donald, Still Digging That Hole

It's safe to say that no one should still be waiting for Donald Trump to "pivot to the General Election," by which we mean that there is no more hope that Trump will stop saying inflammatory things, regularly. Instead all the campaign onlookers are trying to predict what inflammatory Trump-ism will happen next. In the past week alone, Donald spit in the face of the Republican Party leadership multiple times, made outlandish comments about victims of sexual harassment (with his own daughter as the hypothetical), didn't blink when 50 GOP experts called him dangerous or dissenters stepped forward, failed to impress many experts with his economic plan, called for 2nd Amendment supporters to "do something" to stop Hillary Clinton from winning, and then said President Obama is the "founder of ISIS." That's just a week on the trail with Trump. Trump's increasingly erratic behavior inspired a Republican former CIA officer to jump into the race thinking he can win Republican votes from Donald, and we're hearing talk about the "catatonic" GOP Chairman threatening to pull RNC funding from the Trump campaign. It's a hardly consoling threat, seeing as the party's most influential leaders like Paul Ryan are still standing by their endorsement of Trump. But we can't stop ourselves from hoping that more will step up to demand their party's nominee to get serious, and Presidential.


Policing the Cops, Someone's Got to Do It

Shortly after all the Baltimore policemen involved in the events surrounding the death of Freddie Gray were cleared of wrongdoing, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a blistering 164-page report on the Baltimore PD's practices. Much like the report DOJ issued on the Ferguson, MO police department, there are some serious, systematic wrong-doings with how Baltimore polices communities of color - including the excessive use of force and unlawful stops. In the report's many recommendations which have been agreed to by the BPD, there will be an overhaul of how data is collected and analyzed to monitor police activity. This agreement comes on the heels of the Obama Administration’s announcement last year of a "Police Data Initiative" that will put reporting standards in place for 53 jurisdictions across the country. Amidst the heated, divisive rhetoric about policing in America - data collection is a way forward. We have to know the problem before we can fix the problem. Data - if collected and analyzed transparently - can help protect policeman from baseless accusations and can help communities trust the police sworn to protect them by enabling greater accountability. This is an important moment in the raging rhetorical war about policing in America, let's hope it's implemented swiftly.


U.S. Drones by the Rules

Obama's drone war has warranted outcry from day one, and that outcry has only gotten louder as the President has tried to explain and defend the program over the last year. It was only a couple weeks ago that the U.S. released a report stating that at most drone strikes over the last six years have resulted in 116 civilian casualties. It’s a ridiculously small number, as some groups estimate it is honestly closer to 1,000 innocent deaths. But the drone program had an even bigger unveiling this week thanks to lawsuits filed by the ACLU. The White House was forced to release the all-important Presidential Policy Guidance (PPG) that Obama uses to direct the expansion of the global drone war his Administration is waging. After stalling to release the PPG for three years, Obama's critics now have even more ammunition to rail against the lawfulness of this covert warfare since there are some loopholes in the guidance and the standards the guidance lays out doesn't always reconcile with what eye witnesses report on the ground. By way of awful example, surely a drone strike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital doesn't meet the guidance but that didn't stop it from happening. The drone war will be a major part of President Obama's legacy, but - as the ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffar gingerly reminded us - the new transparency over the drone program is "a timely reminder of the breadth of the powers that will soon be in the hands of another president." And that should make us all shudder.