PictureSyrian Rebel forces training

Are American taxpayers funding the persecution of Christians and murder of civilians in war-torn nations?

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on August 25th, 2013)

Russian President Vladimir Putin made headlines earlier this month when he called on world leaders to unite in fighting anti-Christian persecution. Putin has made significant efforts in recent days to underscore the importance of Christian virtues to the Russian people, and his latest statement condemned the violence that has been perpetrated against Christian people in the Middle East and in North Africa.

President Obama didn’t respond in agreement. Indeed, shortly afterwards, he cancelled a scheduled summit with the Russian President. However, Putin’s statement resonated deeply with many Americans who have been working to call attention to the plight of Christian minorities worldwide.

The trouble is that, far from doing our part to end these atrocities, extant American foreign policy seems calculated to exacerbate them. Rather than making an end of the bloodshed, our influence has been making things worse.

Last week, Syrian rebels opened fire on a Christian village during the celebration of a feast day and killed 9 Christian villagers and 2 others. Women and children were among the dead.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Syria’s population, know this is no isolated incident. Since the beginning of the conflict between Sunni Muslim rebel forces and Syrian President Bashar Assad, thousands of Christians have been forced from their homes or brutally murdered. Several Catholic priests and clerics have been beheaded or gunned down in their churches.

Radical Muslim groups, who back the rebel Free Syria Army, see Christians as supporters of Assad’s regime and enemies of their religious belief system, even though many Christians who have been targeted took no active part in supporting Assad.

Open Doors spokesman Jerry Dykstra warned in July that young, Christian women are bearing the brunt of the civil war, with widespread reports of rape in Christian communities. Of the war’s 100,000 casualties since 2011, as estimated 5,000 have been children under 16. A disproportionate number have been Christian women and girls.

Earlier this week, a disturbing video surfaced, purporting to show the execution of two young boys by Syrian rebel forces. The boys, who were accused of supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, are shown blindfolded on their knees beside each other as a masked man hastily reads off what sounds like a list of charges behind them. The video then continues to roll as the boys are riddled with bullets and left lying prostrate and immobile on the ground. Viewer discretion is advised.

In another incident in June, a 14-year old boy in the Northern Syrian city of Aleppo, who was accused of blaspheming the Muslim prophet Muhammad, was flogged and executed by rebel forces. Reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claim the boy was first taken by the rebel gunmen to an unknown location where he was beaten and tortured. He was returned with his body slashed with the marks of a whip and a shirt tied around his head. He was then shot repeatedly in front of a crowd. Grisly photos were released of his bloodied body, a gaping hole all that remains of his nose and mouth.

The Islamists claim that the shockingly violent acts which have been committed by their army are nothing compared with the “genocide,” that has been conducted by Assad’s regime, but it seems the gap is narrowing, as the rebels continue to stack up more and more incidents against themselves. And, obviously, these are only the incidents that have been reported to western news outlets. Who can know what is really going on in the dark recesses of the war-torn nation? 

Of course, the last thing anyone would expect is that a civil, respectable, tolerant, and progressive society would be willing to fund such a malicious, vengeful war, or take any part in providing assistance to either side of such a vicious conflict. You wouldn’t expect America, a nation already trillions of dollars in debt, to be giving $250 million in defensive combat supplies to Islamist rebels who violate Christian girls and torture young boys and shoot them up in front of their parents.

But you would be wrong.

Catholic Franciscan Friar Pierbattista Pizzaballa warned Vatican Radio in June,

“Unfortunately Syria has now become a battleground not only between Syrian forces, but also between Arab countries and the international community. And those paying the price are the poor, the young and the Christians. The international community must put a stop to all this. The world must know that the support of gunmen by the west is helping extremists in killing Syrians.”

Syria isn’t the only place where “Arab Spring” violence has resulted in increased persecution of Christians. Following widespread violence in Egypt this week, CNN reported over 52 churches have been torched and looted by Islamists since Wednesday, along with uncounted Christian homes and businesses.

The unrest began when supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi launched a protest against the military-imposed state of emergency. The protest, which is backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, culminated in a “Friday of Rage” yesterday, which left over 600 people dead and over 4,000 injured.

What we’re seeing right now in Egypt is literally a pogrom,” said Middle East expert Eric Stakelbeck, “where Christians are systematically being targeted. Right now there is a bulls-eye on the back of every Christian living in Egypt.”

One lawmaker in DC has come to the conclusion that what is occurring is unacceptable. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a longtime critic of US foreign policy and foreign aid spending, introduced a bill at the end of July to redirect approximately $1.5 billion in foreign aid from Egypt and use it to rebuild US infrastructure. “In our hour of need in our country, why are you sending money to people that hate us?” Paul asked.

His remarks are reminiscent of another speech he made in June, when he called for an end of foreign aid to countries that persecute Christian people.

"It angers me to see my tax dollars supporting regimes that put Christians to death for blasphemy against Islam, countries that put to death Muslims who convert to Christianity, and countries who imprison anyone who marries outside their religion," Paul said in June, at a conference in DC.


"There is a war on Christianity, not just from liberal elites here at home, but worldwide. And your government, or more correctly you, the taxpayer, are funding it."

The bill failed to pass, with only 13 Senators voting in favor of it. Senator John McCain argued that cutting the foreign aid to Egypt would harm Israel, and that other nations would quickly step in to fill the “vacuum” left by the cuts. The ponderous list of things Sen. McCain doesn’t understand just got a lot longer. Added to it is the fact that choosing to support a murderous society for the reason that someone else will be sure to step in and do it if you don’t, is no reason at all.


The web of the world is a great, impenetrable mass of humanity, ideology, corruption, violence and faith. To attempt to summarize in a few short paragraphs the state of the planet is more than a trifle arrogant. Who of us, out of our limited understanding, can say who is responsible for all of the deaths and the decapitations of the past few months in nations seething with sectarian differences, and violent values systems? Who can tell which side is more evil in a conflict where unspeakable atrocities are being perpetrated by both sides?

Thankfully, it is not the place of the American people or elected officials to make these judgments, or to choose which murderous regime to depose, which to support, and which to instate. When our government does step in to make these kinds of calls, one outcome is guaranteed: the American taxpayer comes out of it with blood on his hands. The blood, perhaps, of young children, of uninvolved bystanders, of peaceful Christian families. The American taxpayer doesn’t want that.

When Americans all across the country found themselves in eager agreement with Putin’s call for an end to the persecution of Christian people, did they realize one of the first steps towards achieving that end might be cutting the funding that we give to the persecutors?

It’s time to realize it.

As a closing note, for those that remain unconvinced of the evils of indiscriminate US foreign aid to troubled war zones and terrorist organizations, one final piece of evidence is shrieking loudly, demanding to be heard.

America doesn’t have any money.


 
 
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Senator Rand Paul warns indefinite detention is back: a House-Senate committee led by Sen. McCain has presented a new draft of the 2013 NDAA bill – without the Feinstein-Lee amendment

(Posted by Bryana Joy on December 21, 2012)

Just a month ago, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was making headlines by threatening to hold up the 2013 NDAA bill. The NDAA is a federal law that is passed every year, specifying the budget and expenditures of the US Department of Defense, although each year's act also includes other provisions. Paul’s demand was for a vote on an amendment to secure the right to a jury trial.

“If you don't have a right to trial by jury, you do not have due process. You do not have a Constitution. What are you fighting against and for if you throw the Constitution out?” he pleaded in an address before the Senate on November 30th.

As anyone knows who stayed up into the wee hours of the morning on the night of the 30th with c-span on their screens and their hearts pounding, he seemed to win a quite glorious victory.

Amendment #3018, which was introduced by California Sen. Feinstein and Mike Lee of Utah and enthusiastically supported by Rand Paul, passed the Senate by a wide margin of 67-29 that night. It provided that,

“an authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States unless an act of Congress expressly authorizes such detention.”

Many embraced this amendment as a solution to the wildly unpopular clause in Section 1021 of the 2011-2012 NDAA, which provided for the indefinite detention without trial of American citizens judged to be involved in terrorism or “belligerent acts” against the US.

Others were not so sure, insisting that the line about an Act of Congress “expressly authorizing such detention” was a loophole allowing for Section 1021 to remain in effect. Congressman Justin Amash stated,

“Well, that Act of Congress is the 2012 NDAA, which renders the rest of the Feinstein amendment meaningless.”

Mike Lee offered his full response countering Congressman Amash’s concern on his website.

On the whole, most defenders of freedom seemed to agree that, if not perfect, amendment #3018 still offered some protections to American citizens. Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a practically legendary champion of liberty, wrote on his facebook page,

“I applaud the Feinstein-Lee amendment for moving the debate forward. In the House most Republicans believe that a habeas hearing is sufficient for due process. The Feinstein-Lee amendment makes clear that anything short of a jury trial is not due process.”

Today, Senator Paul had some sad news to announce: A House-Senate conference committee led by Senator John McCain has stripped amendment #3018 from the new draft of the NDAA bill. Senator Levin confirmed this, saying, “The language of the Senate bill was dropped,” but, according to Politico’s Juana Summers, declined to offer any further comments.

"The decision by the NDAA conference committee, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to strip the National Defense Authorization Act of the amendment that protects American citizens against indefinite detention now renders the entire NDAA unconstitutional," Sen. Paul warned.

When I entered the United States Senate, I took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. It is for this reason that I will strongly oppose passage of the McCain conference report that strips the guarantee to a trial by jury,” Paul further elaborated.

The good news is that your senators took that same oath. The bad news is that they need regular and animated reminders of the fact. The good news is that you have the opportunity to give them exactly that.

Now is as good a time as any to dial up both of your two senators at all of their offices and leave your message explaining the latest developments in the struggle for individual liberty. Remind them of their oath. You might also need to remind them that you watch, you listen, you care and you vote. They had better do the same.


(This article was first posted at The Washington Times Communities.)
 
 
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Incomplete Victory: Senators
Rand Paul, Feinstein and Lee take some of the teeth out of indefinite detention

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on December 01, 2012)

“If you don't have a right to trial by jury, you do not have due process. You do not have a Constitution. What are you fighting against and for if you throw the Constitution out?” asked Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, speaking before the Senate on Wednesday evening. “When zealots of the government arrest suspects or radicals without warrants, hold them without trial, deny them access to counsel or admission of bail, we have shorn the Bill of Rights of its sanctity.”

Earlier this month we learned that Sen. Paul was planning to force a vote on an amendment to protect the rights of American citizens detained under the controversial 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The NDAA is a federal law that is passed every year, specifying the budget and expenditures of the US Department of Defense, although each year's act also includes other provisions. The explosive 2011-2012 NDAA bill included a wildly unpopular clause in Section 1021 which provided for the indefinite detention without trial of American citizens judged to be involved in terrorism or “belligerent acts” against the US.

Sen. Paul has been a vocal opponent of the indefinite detention clause in the 2011-2012 NDAA bill, lamenting what he considers “Orwellian” developments and staunchly defending the right of all American citizens to a jury trial. For two weeks he has been threatening to put the 2013 NDAA bill on hold unless he was granted a vote on his amendment to restore the jury trial rights of Americans in military detention.

Liberty activists were hoping that the massive public outcry which ensued following the passage of the 2011-2012 NDAA bill would pressure some Senators to swing over to Sen. Paul’s side.  However, due to the fact that his colleagues in the Senate this lame-duck session were mostly supporters of last year’s NDAA bill, Sen. Paul’s chances of getting them to undo that legislation seemed slim.

On Wednesday evening, something different happened.

Rand Paul rose to speak in support of a different amendment. Amendment #3018 was sponsored by California Sen. Feinstein and Mike Lee of Utah. It provides that,

“an authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States.”

And – would you believe it ? – the Senate did something right. Albeit, it was merely an undoing (and, admittedly, a partial one) of something that was already horribly wrong. Nevertheless, it was a mighty demonstration of the power of the irate and tireless minority when the amendment passed the Senate on Thursday night. The vote was 67-29.


Marring an otherwise joyous occasion was the sad realization that the supporters of jury trial rights for American citizens are no minority at all among American citizens, but rather a massive majority. That they should be represented by only a minority – even a noble and brave one – in the Congress of their representatives, is appalling.

(First posted at The Washington Times Communities)


UPDATE: Considerable contention has arisen since the vote, with some liberty activists arguing that the last clause of the amendment undoes all of the protections it claims to restore.

Congressman Justin Amash said,

“ ‘…unless an act of congress expressly authorizes such detention.’ Well, that Act of Congress is the 2012 NDAA, which renders the rest of the Feinstein amendment meaningless.”  

Others, Congressman Ron Paul among them, seem to disagree. The elder Paul wrote on his official facebook page this morning,

“I applaud the Feinstein-Lee amendment for moving the debate forward. In the House most Republicans believe that a habeas hearing is sufficient for due process. The Feinstein-Lee amendment makes clear that anything short of a jury trial is not due process.”


 
 
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Obama waives sanctions on four of six nations that use child soldiers in their armed forces, including Libya and South Sudan

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on October 5th, 2012)

“When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world. Now, as a nation, we’ve long rejected such cruelty.”

President Obama uttered these stirring words at the annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York last week. He was making reference to the appalling practice of recruiting young children to serve in military action, a practice that has long been prevalent in various African and Middle Eastern countries. From the infamous Joseph Kony of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army to the Libyan youths recruited by both sides in the recent rebellion in Libya, to middle-school aged boys conscripted into the Free Syrian Army, the plight of child soldiers has gained widespread attention over the past few years, with humanitarian organizations working hard to keep the issue in the public eye.

In 2008, Senators Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., introduced the Child Soldier Prevention Act, (CSPA) a bill to restrict the US government’s military support of nations that fail to stop recruiting child soldiers into their armed forces. This bill passed both houses of Congress unanimously and was signed into law by former President Bush, making it a federal crime to recruit or use soldiers under the age of 15. The law also gave the US authority to “prosecute, deport or deny entry to individuals who have knowingly recruited children as soldiers.” Needless to say, international human rights organizations applauded the bill enthusiastically.

On Sunday afternoon, President Obama signed a Presidential memorandum waiving the sanctions that the CSPA imposes on the nations of Libya, Yemen and South Sudan, and partially waiving the sanctions imposed on the Congo, thus authorizing the US to sell weapons to four nations that would not be eligible to receive military aid from the US under the CSPA. Four of only six nations on the State Department's list of foreign governments that recruit and use child soldiers. That’s two-thirds.

President Obama states in the memo,

I hereby determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to Libya, South Sudan, and Yemen; and further determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive in part the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to allow for continued provision of International Military Education and Training funds and nonlethal Excess Defense Articles, and the issuance of licenses for direct commercial sales of U.S. origin defense articles; and I hereby waive such provisions accordingly.

Jesse Eaves, a senior policy advisor for child protection at World Vision, expressed disappointment over this action by the President, saying,  “At a time when Congress is locked in one of the most difficult budget battles I’ve ever seen, it is shameful that a portion of federal funding continues to help support governments who are abusing children. At its core, this is a missed opportunity to show leadership on this issue and protect thousands of vulnerable children around the world. Frankly, we expected more from our nation’s leaders.”

Given his statement earlier this week hotly condemning child soldiery and branding it “slavery,” it does seem odd to find the President taking this action which seems to betray his own ideals.  Unfortunately unbeknownst to many, this is in fact the third straight year that President Obama has granted waivers to countries using child soldiers. When Obama granted the waivers in 2010, his administration explained that they were a one-time deal, but when he again granted them in 2011, humanitarian organizations were incensed. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry tried to pass new legislation requiring Obama to notify Congress before issuing the waivers again, and called the decision an "assault on human dignity.”

Every now and then, some absurdity enacted behind closed doors in Washington is uncovered which should leave the people of the US with the uncanny feeling that all is not as it appears to be on the surface of things. Some actions are simply too inexplicable – or point to horrible and frightening explanations. Some decisions on the part of our leaders and lawmakers make it all too obvious that what they are saying is not what they are doing and that what they are doing cannot be explained by what they are saying.

We like to think of America as a nation dedicated to ideals. Liberty, justice, freedom. Unfortunately, the bitter truth is that the majority of our nation’s leaders allow pragmatism to eclipse their ideals on most occasions when the two come into conflict. Principles are only good until they get in the way of allowing the US to take action. If Libya is working to overthrow Gadhafi and our leaders don’t like Gadhafi, they are going to back his attackers regardless of whether they employ child soldiers or not.

Rand Paul’s lonely foreign aid filibuster on the Senate Floor last week showed us that most of our supposedly conservative senators cannot necessarily be expected to vote for foreign aid restrictions to Islamic countries that disrespect our ambassadors and our flag. President Obama’s disturbing memo of Sunday shows us that US weapons sales for controversial rebellions in Islamic countries are more important than curbing our own national bankruptcy and more important than putting an end to the nightmare of child soldiery. And that is an assault on human dignity.

 
 
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Law-abiding citizens concerned about the government's most recent belligerent actions -- against them

(Posted by Bryana Joy on March 1, 2012)

A facebook user who posted a negative comment about a presidential candidate to a private page found himself in a whole mess of trouble when authorities showed up at his workplace and later arrived at his home to interrogate him. According to Jason Brashear of Citizen Wars who reported Sunday that the facebook user, also named Jason, had contacted him with the story, a local police officer and two sheriffs showed up at his home, explaining, “We are here because of a possible threat to Senator Santorum based on your Facebook comment.”

The comment in question? “I wish there was a magic wand to make Senator Santorum disappear,”  Jason had posted to a private political thread.

The officer explained he had made his appearance at Jason’s house,
 “to view the home and make sure that there were no pictures of the former Senator Rick Santorum or evidence that Jason was planning something against the former Senator. The officer explained the US Government has a system to monitor and scan all social sites like Facebook for key words that might raise suspension [sic] of ill intent. The officer stated that Jason was ‘flagged due to his post on Facebook.’  Chris Frierson said, “we are here to warn you that there is a very fine line between freedom of speech and a threat.” He told Jason “Be thankful that it is just the Austin Police Department here and not the secret service as they would be going through your entire house and documents.”

The officer said that he concluded Jason was not a threat and reported that in his statement.


This disturbing story coincides with reports from last week that The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been paying a defense contractor $11.4 million to monitor social media websites and other Internet communications to find criticisms of the department’s policies and actions. Noel Brinkerhoff
reports that a government watchdog organization, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), obtained hundreds of documents from DHS through the Freedom of Information Act and found details of the arrangement with a contractor, General Dynamics. The company was contracted to monitor the web not only for “potential threats and hazards,” “potential impact on DHS capability” to accomplish its homeland security mission, and “events with operational value,” but also for “reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government, DHS, or prevent, protect, respond or recovery government activities," including sub-agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In a testimony submitted to the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, Ginger McCall, director of EPIC’s Open Government Project, stated that, “the agency is monitoring constantly, under very broad search terms, and is not limiting that monitoring to events or activities related to natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or manmade disasters.”

EPIC wasn’t able to acquire these documents for a song, though. When they first asked for access to them in April, under the Freedom of Information Act, they were denied, and were only able to obtain the documents months later, after a lawsuit. You can read their full report here.
In another episode that has infuriated concerned citizens, the FBI released a flyer earlier this month which outlined methods for internet café owners to identify potential terrorists. Included on the list were such tell-tale behaviors as,

1) repeatedly paying for coffee with cash

2) trying to shield the computer screen so that others can’t see personal or credit card information
3) using web search engines to look up information about “police” or “government”
4) obtaining photos, maps or diagrams of transportation, sporting venues, or populated locations

What do these three stories all have in common? Law-abiding Americans who are active online are afraid that these reports indicate a paranoid governmental system which may have an unhealthy obsession with repression of dissent. Many are pointing to the Obama administration’s extensive exploitation of the 1917 Espionage Act, said David Carr in the New York Times on Sunday,


“The Obama administration, which promised during its transition to power that it would enhance ‘whistle-blower laws to protect federal workers,’ has been more prone than any administration in history in trying to silence and prosecute federal workers.”


Indeed, the Espionage Act, which was enacted in 1917 for the purpose of cracking down on spies who provided information to foreign powers at war with the US, was used only three times in all of the prior administrations to bring cases against government officials accused of providing classified information to the media. It has been used six times since the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

“In case after case,”
Carr argues, “the Espionage Act has been deployed as a kind of ad hoc Official Secrets Act, which is not a law that has ever found traction in America, a place where the people’s right to know is viewed as superseding the government’s right to hide its business.

Jesselyn Radack, director for national security and human rights at the Government Accountability Project, weighed in on the issue, saying that,
“the Obama administration has been quite hypocritical about its promises of openness, transparency and accountability. All presidents hate leaks, but pursuing whistle-blowers as spies is heavy-handed and beyond the scope of the law.”

Do you think that spending $11.4 million on a program to track your internet activity is a good use of your money? You be the judge. After all, it’s your money.

(Originally posted at The Washington Times Communities)
 

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