Tuesday, March 15, 2016

788 Neocons to create 3rd party if Trump gets nomination; but HE could also form a 3rd party

Neocons to create 3rd party if Trump gets nomination; but HE could also
form a 3rd party

Newsletter published on 27 December 2015

(1) William Kristol favors forming a right-wing third party if Trump
wins GOP nomination
(2) Jeb Bush has indicated he may not back Trump if he is the nominee
(3) Trump the only candidate independent of the Lobby. Islamic leaders'
failure to condemn destruction of Buddhas & Iraqi artefacts
(4) Bigot, racist, xenophobe, sexist - the names you call TRUMP are the
names you call US
(5) Trump on Putin’s compliment: ‘Great honor’
(6) Saudi adviser admits Arab culture's "hatred of the other" is to
blame for Islamic State
(7) Seymour Hersh: US military warn that US is arming extremists, fall
of Assad would lead to chaos as in Libya
(8) Gazan poet faces death sentence in Saudi Arabia
(9) Is Saudi Arabia building an 'Islamic NATO?'
(10) ISIS leader's Mobile Phone attests Turkey's Support
(11) Wiretapped calls reveal communication between Turkish officers and
ISIS – report
(12) Trump: There's no proof that Putin killed Journalists

(1) William Kristol favors forming a right-wing third party if Trump
wins GOP nomination

Right-wing journalist William Kristol has indicated he favors forming a
right-wing third party if Trump wins the GOP presidential nomination,
and Jeb Bush has indicated he will not support Trump if Trump is the

    Paul Bustion<pbustion22@gmail.com> 23 December 2015 at 19:01

Right-wing journalist William Kristol has said the right-wing should
organize a third party if Donald Trump wins the Republican presidential


The thought of voting for Donald Trump for president is so unbearable to
Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol that the infamous neocon has
promised to leave the Republican Party in support of a third party bid
if Trump becomes the Republican presidential nominee.

“I doubt I’d support Donald. I doubt I’d support the Democrat,” Kristol
told CNN. “I think I’d support getting someone good on the ballot as a
third party candidate.”

Kristol’s idea of a “third party,” however, failed to veer off the
Republican ranch and instead remained firmly entrenched in the realm of
the war hawks. Go figure. Kristol singled out two of the most vocal
critics of the international Iranian nuclear deal as his dream ticket.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton,
“would be an excellent independent ticket!” Kristol told CNN in an email.

And in a tweet this morning, Kristol suggested that retired neurosurgeon
Ben Carson, who comes second to Trump in both national and early state
polls should actually be considered the frontrunner, not Trump:

Despite his obvious displeasure with Trump’s dominance, Kristol appears
to have resigned himself to the likelihood that Trump has a real appeal
among Republican voters.

“I’ve wondered if I’ve had it backwards,” Kristol revealed during a
recent discussion with failed Republican presidential candidate Newt
Gingrich, begrudgingly admitting that Trump was the leading candidate in
a straw poll of Weekly Standard readers. “Maybe I’m wrong … I kept
saying ‘it’s not going to happen, it would be so unusual,’ but I don’t

(2) Jeb Bush has indicated he may not back Trump if he is the nominee

Steve Holland, Reuters

Dec. 17, 2015, 6:30 PM

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's campaign has looked into
whether it is possible to withdraw a pledge to support the eventual
nominee if it is Donald Trump, a senior Bush aide said on Thursday, in a
sign of the deep enmity between the two.

The development came to light after Bush and Trump engaged in bitter
exchanges at the last Republican debate of the year on Tuesday night in
Las Vegas.

Last week in New Hampshire, Bush insisted he would not need to withdraw
his support for the nominee because he did not believe Trump would win
the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Behind the scenes, top aides have looked into whether Bush would still
qualify to be on the ballots in all 50 states because some states
require a loyalty pledge in order to be on the ballot.

A driving factor behind the move was Trump's proposal to ban all Muslims
from entering the United States, a step that Bush denounced to Trump's
face at the debate."We received lots of questions following Donald
Trump’s most recent unhinged proposal so our campaign did due diligence
looking into the rules surrounding the pledge," said a senior Bush aide
who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Still, Bush has not moved to declare he would not support Trump if he
wins the nomination fight.

"Governor Bush made explicitly clear on Tuesday his view that Donald
Trump would be a chaos president who would be wrong for the country.
Voters know where he stands. His focus is on defeating him in the
primary," the aide said.

Trump has said he does not want Bush's endorsement.

Trump, the front-runner in national polls of Republican voters and
leading in some of the early voting states, has taunted Bush all year.

Bush fought back with gusto at the debate, and the well-funded Super PAC
that supports him, Right To Rise, released a television ad on Thursday
that described the former Florida governor as "the one candidate tough
enough to take on the bully."

It is to air in Iowa, which holds the first nominating contest of the
2016 election on Feb. 1, as well as the two next states to hold
contests, New Hampshire and South Carolina. ==

The reason I agree with Kristol is because Trump has been saying he
wants to ban Islamic immigrants from the USA and put severe restrictions
on Islam. Even though I oppose Islam and think some forms of it are
violent and that this is not only due to extremists but is partially the
fault of Mohammad himself, I also think there is liberty of religious
conscience in the USA and should be, so I have a problem with
restricting freedom of religion. And I also think the measures Trump is
advocating against Muslims and Arabs have at least superficial
similarities to the measures right-wing extremists like Father Charles
Coughlin advocated being placed against the Jews in response to the
Jews' role in the Bolshevik movement. I feel like Trump is doing the
same thing the extreme anti-Jewish people of the 1920s and 1930s did,
just on a different topic. That is disturbing to me, and I think he
would also target other minority groups, not just Muslims. Do you share
my misgivings about Trump?

(3) Trump the only candidate independent of the Lobby. Islamic leaders'
failure to condemn destruction of Buddhas & Iraqi artefacts

- by Peter Myers, December 27, 2015

 > Do you share my misgivings about Trump?

No, I support Trump. That does not mean I endorse all his policies, but
I do endorse two in particular.

First, his Protectionism. He would re-impose tariffs and force
manufacturers to return to the US if they want to sell their goods there.

Second, his opposition to the Neocons' wars for Israel, and his
willingness to make friends with Putin. I'd also like to see Marine Le
Pen win in France. These three would end Globalism and return the world
to some sanity.

On the Moslem question, yes I agree that the milder forms of Islam are
fine, no problem. But I'm concerned that when the Taliban blew up Buddha
statues in Afghanistan, and Islamic State destroyed Iraqi archaeological
artifacts, there was no condemnation of those acts from religious
leaders of the Islamic world. The silence of the Saudi monarchy, and
Imans generally, seems to be tacit consent.

Likewise, there are religious Jews who do no harm and should therefore
be free to practice their religion. But there are also the Zealots,
whose mentality is very much like the Taliban. Both acquired it,
ultimately, from the Torah. We can now see that the Torah was written by
priests with a mentality like the Taliban. We should do all we can to
stop those Zealots from ruling our lives (as they wish to do, by
imposing Hoahide Laws), and from instigating war (eg by pulling down the
Dome of the Rock).

Protestant Christians endorse the Torah, with all its violence. For
example, in the story of the Golden Calf at Exodus 32: 28, Moses
instructs his men to kill those who "worship idols":

27He said to them, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Every man of
you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to
gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his
friend, and every man his neighbor.'" 28So the sons of Levi did as Moses
instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day.
29Then Moses said, "Dedicate yourselves today to the LORD-- for every
man has been against his son and against his brother-- in order that He
may bestow a blessing upon you today."

The Protestants, the Jewish Zealots, and the fundamentalist Moslems, all
endorse such cultural destruction. When Islamic armies invaded India,
they destroyed numerous Buddhist and Hindu temples. Earlier Islamic
invaders removed the facing from the Pyramids. Catholic Rome removed the
arms and noses from statues of Greek and Roman gods. When Catholic Spain
invaded the Aztec and Inca empires, it destroyed every temple, and built
a church on top.

Christians no longer do such desecration, but Moslems do, and Jewish
Zealots would if they attained power.

It is one thing to allow a certain amount of Islamic immigration; but in
France, Moslems now are about 10% of the population. They are probably
outbreeding the French, just as fundamentalist Jews are outbreeding
secular Jews, so France is heading for trouble, if it wants to retain
its traditions.

Ultimately, the wars in Islamic countries have been instigated by Israel
and its Lobby. It wants a Clash of Civilizations between Islam and the
West, after which it would build the Third Temple on the site of the
Dome of the Rock. But Saudi and Qatari leaders also want such a clash;
they want to evict Western armies and build a new Ottoman Empire and
Caliphate. The best way to avert the clash is to out those behind it -
Likud and the Lobby, on the one hand, and hardline Islamic leaders on
the other.

Trump is the only Presidental candidate who is independent of funding by
the Lobby. Therefore, he is the only one who can bring peace to the
Middle East. Although the Islamicists oppose him, the Lobby and its
warhawks (William Kristol, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton) do too. Being
independent of both, he can force both to the table.

William Kristol and Jeb Bush have canvassed forming a third party if
Trump gets the Republican nomination. But the Republican elite are
likely to deny him anyway. In that case, he himself should form a third
party; he has sufficient followers. The American people may finally get
a choice to vote againt Globalism; let's hope they seize the opportunity.


(4) Bigot, racist, xenophobe, sexist - the names you call TRUMP are the
names you call US

Date: Fri, 4 Dec 2015 11:58:49 +0000 (UTC) From: Frederick Adam


Why Liberal Media Hate Trump

His contempt for the norms of political correctness is daily on display

Pat Buchanan

December 3, 2015

In the feudal era there were the “three estates” – the clergy, the
nobility and the commons. The first and second were eradicated in
Robespierre’s Revolution.

But in the 18th and 19th century, Edmund Burke and Thomas Carlyle
identified what the latter called a “stupendous Fourth Estate.”

Wrote William Thackeray: “Of the Corporation of the Goosequill – of the
Press … of the fourth estate. … There she is – the great engine – she
never sleeps. She has her ambassadors in every quarter of the world –
her courtiers upon every road. Her officers march along with armies, and
her envoys walk into statesmen’s cabinets.”

The fourth estate, the press, the disciples of Voltaire, had replaced
the clergy it had dethroned as the new arbiters of morality and rectitude.

Today the press decides what words are permissible and what thoughts are
acceptable. The press conducts the inquisitions where heretics are
blacklisted and excommunicated from the company of decent men, while
others are forgiven if they recant their heresies.

With the rise of network television and its vast audience, the fourth
estate reached apogee in the 1960s and 1970s, playing lead roles in
elevating JFK and breaking Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

Yet before he went down, Nixon inflicted deep and enduring wounds upon
the fourth estate.

When the national press and its auxiliaries sought to break his Vietnam
War policy in 1969, Nixon called on the “great silent majority” to stand
by him and dispatched Vice President Spiro Agnew to launch a
counter-strike on network prejudice and power.

A huge majority rallied to Nixon and Agnew, exposing how far out of
touch with America our Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal had become.

Nixon, the man most hated by the elites in the postwar era, save Joe
McCarthy, who also detested and battled the press, then ran up a
49-state landslide against the candidate of the media and
counter-culture, George McGovern. Media bitterness knew no bounds.

And with Watergate, the press extracted its pound of flesh. By August
1974, it had reached a new apex of national prestige.

In “The Making of the President 1972,” Teddy White described the power
the “adversary press” had acquired over America’s public life.

“The power of the press in America is a primordial one. It sets the
agenda of public discussion, and this sweeping political power is
unrestrained by any law. It determines what people will talk and think
about – an authority that in other nations is reserved for tyrants,
priests, parties and mandarins.”

Nixon and Agnew were attacked for not understanding the First Amendment
freedom of the press. But all they were doing was using their First
Amendment freedom of speech to raise doubts about the objectivity,
reliability and truthfulness of the adversary press.

Since those days, conservatives have attacked the mainstream media
attacking them. And four decades of this endless warfare has stripped
the press of its pious pretense to neutrality.

Millions now regard the media as ideologues who are masquerading as
journalists and use press privileges and power to pursue agendas not
dissimilar to those of the candidates and parties they oppose.

Even before Nixon and Agnew, conservatives believed this.

At the Goldwater convention at the Cow Palace in 1964 when ex-President
Eisenhower mentioned “sensation-seeking columnists and commentators,” to
his amazement, the hall exploded.

Enter The Donald.

His popularity is traceable to the fact that he rejects the moral
authority of the media, breaks their commandments and mocks their
condemnations. His contempt for the norms of political correctness is
daily on display.

And that large slice of America that detests a media whose public
approval now rivals that of Congress relishes this defiance. The last
thing these folks want Trump to do is to apologize to the press.

And the media have played right into Trump’s hand.

They constantly denounce him as grossly insensitive for what he has said
about women, Mexicans, Muslims, McCain and a reporter with a disability.
Such crimes against decency, says the press, disqualify Trump as a
candidate for president.

Yet, when they demand he apologize, Trump doubles down. And when they
demand that Republicans repudiate him, the GOP base replies:

“Who are you to tell us whom we may nominate? You are not friends. You
are not going to vote for us. And the names you call Trump – bigot,
racist, xenophobe, sexist – are the names you call us, nothing but cuss
words that a corrupt establishment uses on those it most detests.”

What the Trump campaign reveals is that, to populists and Republicans,
the political establishment and its media arm are looked upon the way
the commons and peasantry of 1789 looked upon the ancien regime and the
king’s courtiers at Versailles.

Yet, now that the fourth estate is as discredited as the clergy in 1789,
the larger problem is that there is no arbiter of truth, morality and
decency left whom we all respect. Like fourth-century Romans, we barely
agree on what those terms mean anymore.

(5) Trump on Putin’s compliment: ‘Great honor’

From: "Tom Mysiewicz tgmy7@hotmail.com [shamireaders]" <shamireaders-
Date: Fri, 18 Dec 2015 14:55:28 -0800

Published time: 18 Dec, 2015 05:17

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump responded to Vladimir
Putin’s comment, in which the Russian president called Trump “the
absolute front-runner,” stating that it was a “great honor” to receive
praise from a “highly respected” leader like Putin.

“It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so
highly respected within his own country and beyond,” Trump said at a
rally in Columbus, Ohio.

Putin praised Donald Trump on Thursday for wanting deeper ties with
Russia and described him as the “absolute front-runner in the
presidential race.”

“He is a very flamboyant man, very talented, no doubt about that… He is
the absolute leader of the presidential race, as we see it today. He
says that he wants to move to another level of relations, to a deeper
level of relations with Russia. How can we not welcome that? Of course
we welcome it,” Putin said during his traditional end-of-year Q&A
session with journalists.

(6) Saudi adviser admits Arab culture's "hatred of the other" is to
blame for Islamic State


Saudi official: Arab culture 'immersed in hatred'

Member of Saudi Arabian legislative council calls on Arab world to take
responsibility for violent and xenophobic culture.

By Tova Dvorin

First Publish: 12/18/2015, 8:15 AM

Violence pervades Arab culture, a Saudi Arabian politician declared
earlier this month, and blamed that culture for encouraging terror
attacks in Europe and around the world.

Ibrahim Al-Buleihi, a member of Riyadh's Shura Council - the formal
advisory body to Saudi Arabia's absolute monarchy, affirmed that Arab
culture's "hatred of the other" is to blame for the Islamic State (ISIS)
attacks in Paris, in a December 5 Al-Arabiya television broadcast. His
remarks were translated by the Middle Eastern Research Media Institute

(7) Seymour Hersh: US military warn that US is arming extremists, fall
of Assad would lead to chaos as in Libya


Vol. 38 No. 1 · 7 January 2016

Military to Military

Seymour M. Hersh on US intelligence sharing in the Syrian war

Barack Obama’s repeated insistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave
office – and that there are ‘moderate’ rebel groups in Syria capable of
defeating him – has in recent years provoked quiet dissent, and even
overt opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the
Pentagon’s Joint Staff. Their criticism has focused on what they see as
the administration’s fixation on Assad’s primary ally, Vladimir Putin.
In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and
China, and hasn’t adjusted his stance on Syria to the fact both
countries share Washington’s anxiety about the spread of terrorism in
and beyond Syria; like Washington, they believe that Islamic State must
be stopped.

The military’s resistance dates back to the summer of 2013, when a
highly classified assessment, put together by the Defense Intelligence
Agency (DIA) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then led by General Martin
Dempsey, forecast that the fall of the Assad regime would lead to chaos
and, potentially, to Syria’s takeover by jihadi extremists, much as was
then happening in Libya. A former senior adviser to the Joint Chiefs
told me that the document was an ‘all-source’ appraisal, drawing on
information from signals, satellite and human intelligence, and took a
dim view of the Obama administration’s insistence on continuing to
finance and arm the so-called moderate rebel groups. By then, the CIA
had been conspiring for more than a year with allies in the UK, Saudi
Arabia and Qatar to ship guns and goods – to be used for the overthrow
of Assad – from Libya, via Turkey, into Syria. The new intelligence
estimate singled out Turkey as a major impediment to Obama’s Syria
policy. The document showed, the adviser said, ‘that what was started as
a covert US programme to arm and support the moderate rebels fighting
Assad had been co-opted by Turkey, and had morphed into an
across-the-board technical, arms and logistical programme for all of the
opposition, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State. The so-called
moderates had evaporated and the Free Syrian Army was a rump group
stationed at an airbase in Turkey.’ The assessment was bleak: there was
no viable ‘moderate’ opposition to Assad, and the US was arming extremists.

Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the DIA between 2012 and
2014, confirmed that his agency had sent a constant stream of classified
warnings to the civilian leadership about the dire consequences of
toppling Assad. The jihadists, he said, were in control of the
opposition. Turkey wasn’t doing enough to stop the smuggling of foreign
fighters and weapons across the border. ‘If the American public saw the
intelligence we were producing daily, at the most sensitive level, they
would go ballistic,’ Flynn told me. ‘We understood Isis’s long-term
strategy and its campaign plans, and we also discussed the fact that
Turkey was looking the other way when it came to the growth of the
Islamic State inside Syria.’ The DIA’s reporting, he said, ‘got enormous
pushback’ from the Obama administration. ‘I felt that they did not want
to hear the truth.’

‘Our policy of arming the opposition to Assad was unsuccessful and
actually having a negative impact,’ the former JCS adviser said. ‘The
Joint Chiefs believed that Assad should not be replaced by
fundamentalists. The administration’s policy was contradictory. They
wanted Assad to go but the opposition was dominated by extremists. So
who was going to replace him? To say Assad’s got to go is fine, but if
you follow that through – therefore anyone is better. It’s the “anybody
else is better” issue that the JCS had with Obama’s policy.’ The Joint
Chiefs felt that a direct challenge to Obama’s policy would have ‘had a
zero chance of success’. So in the autumn of 2013 they decided to take
steps against the extremists without going through political channels,
by providing US intelligence to the militaries of other nations, on the
understanding that it would be passed on to the Syrian army and used
against the common enemy, Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State.

Germany, Israel and Russia were in contact with the Syrian army, and
able to exercise some influence over Assad’s decisions – it was through
them that US intelligence would be shared. Each had its reasons for
co-operating with Assad: Germany feared what might happen among its own
population of six million Muslims if Islamic State expanded; Israel was
concerned with border security; Russia had an alliance of very long
standing with Syria, and was worried by the threat to its only naval
base on the Mediterranean, at Tartus. ‘We weren’t intent on deviating
from Obama’s stated policies,’ the adviser said. ‘But sharing our
assessments via the military-to-military relationships with other
countries could prove productive. It was clear that Assad needed better
tactical intelligence and operational advice. The JCS concluded that if
those needs were met, the overall fight against Islamist terrorism would
be enhanced. Obama didn’t know, but Obama doesn’t know what the JCS does
in every circumstance and that’s true of all presidents.’

Once the flow of US intelligence began, Germany, Israel and Russia
started passing on information about the whereabouts and intent of
radical jihadist groups to the Syrian army; in return, Syria provided
information about its own capabilities and intentions. There was no
direct contact between the US and the Syrian military; instead, the
adviser said, ‘we provided the information – including long-range
analyses on Syria’s future put together by contractors or one of our war
colleges – and these countries could do with it what they chose,
including sharing it with Assad. We were saying to the Germans and the
others: “Here’s some information that’s pretty interesting and our
interest is mutual.” End of conversation. The JCS could conclude that
something beneficial would arise from it – but it was a military to
military thing, and not some sort of a sinister Joint Chiefs’ plot to go
around Obama and support Assad. It was a lot cleverer than that. If
Assad remains in power, it will not be because we did it. It’s because
he was smart enough to use the intelligence and sound tactical advice we
provided to others.’ *

The public history of relations between the US and Syria over the past
few decades has been one of enmity. Assad condemned the 9/11 attacks,
but opposed the Iraq War. George W. Bush repeatedly linked Syria to the
three members of his ‘axis of evil’ – Iraq, Iran and North Korea –
throughout his presidency. State Department cables made public by
WikiLeaks show that the Bush administration tried to destabilise Syria
and that these efforts continued into the Obama years. In December 2006,
William Roebuck, then in charge of the US embassy in Damascus, filed an
analysis of the ‘vulnerabilities’ of the Assad government and listed
methods ‘that will improve the likelihood’ of opportunities for
destabilisation. He recommended that Washington work with Saudi Arabia
and Egypt to increase sectarian tension and focus on publicising ‘Syrian
efforts against extremist groups’ – dissident Kurds and radical Sunni
factions – ‘in a way that suggests weakness, signs of instability, and
uncontrolled blowback’; and that the ‘isolation of Syria’ should be
encouraged through US support of the National Salvation Front, led by
Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian vice president whose
government-in-exile in Riyadh was sponsored by the Saudis and the Muslim
Brotherhood. Another 2006 cable showed that the embassy had spent $5
million financing dissidents who ran as independent candidates for the
People’s Assembly; the payments were kept up even after it became clear
that Syrian intelligence knew what was going on. A 2010 cable warned
that funding for a London-based television network run by a Syrian
opposition group would be viewed by the Syrian government ‘as a covert
and hostile gesture toward the regime’. [...]

In July 2013, the Joint Chiefs found a more direct way of demonstrating
to Assad how serious they were about helping him. By then the
CIA-sponsored secret flow of arms from Libya to the Syrian opposition,
via Turkey, had been underway for more than a year (it started sometime
after Gaddafi’s death on 20 October 2011).?? The operation was largely
run out of a covert CIA annex in Benghazi, with State Department
acquiescence. On 11 September 2012 the US ambassador to Libya,
Christopher Stevens, was killed during an anti-American demonstration
that led to the burning down of the US consulate in Benghazi; reporters
for the Washington Post found copies of the ambassador’s schedule in the
building’s ruins. It showed that on 10 September Stevens had met with
the chief of the CIA’s annex operation. The next day, shortly before he
died, he met a representative from Al-Marfa Shipping and Maritime
Services, a Tripoli-based company which, the JCS adviser said, was known
by the Joint Staff to be handling the weapons shipments.

By the late summer of 2013, the DIA’s assessment had been circulated
widely, but although many in the American intelligence community were
aware that the Syrian opposition was dominated by extremists the
CIA-sponsored weapons kept coming, presenting a continuing problem for
Assad’s army. Gaddafi’s stockpile had created an international arms
bazaar, though prices were high. ‘There was no way to stop the arms
shipments that had been authorised by the president,’ the JCS adviser
said. ‘The solution involved an appeal to the pocketbook. The CIA was
approached by a representative from the Joint Chiefs with a suggestion:
there were far less costly weapons available in Turkish arsenals that
could reach the Syrian rebels within days, and without a boat ride.’ But
it wasn’t only the CIA that benefited. ‘We worked with Turks we trusted
who were not loyal to Erdog?an,’ the adviser said, ‘and got them to ship
the jihadists in Syria all the obsolete weapons in the arsenal,
including M1 carbines that hadn’t been seen since the Korean War and
lots of Soviet arms. It was a message Assad could understand: “We have
the power to diminish a presidential policy in its tracks.”’

The flow of US intelligence to the Syrian army, and the downgrading of
the quality of the arms being supplied to the rebels, came at a critical
juncture. The Syrian army had suffered heavy losses in the spring of
2013 in fighting against Jabhat al-Nusra and other extremist groups as
it failed to hold the provincial capital of Raqqa. Sporadic Syrian army
and air-force raids continued in the area for months, with little
success, until it was decided to withdraw from Raqqa and other hard to
defend, lightly populated areas in the north and west and focus instead
on consolidating the government’s hold on Damascus and the heavily
populated areas linking the capital to Latakia in the north-east. But as
the army gained in strength with the Joint Chiefs’ support, Saudi
Arabia, Qatar and Turkey escalated their financing and arming of Jabhat
al-Nusra and Islamic State, which by the end of 2013 had made enormous
gains on both sides of the Syria/Iraq border. The remaining
non-fundamentalist rebels found themselves fighting – and losing –
pitched battles against the extremists. In January 2014, IS took
complete control of Raqqa and the tribal areas around it from al-Nusra
and established the city as its base. Assad still controlled 80 per cent
of the Syrian population, but he had lost a vast amount of territory.

CIA efforts to train the moderate rebel forces were also failing badly.
‘The CIA’s training camp was in Jordan and was controlled by a Syrian
tribal group,’ the JCS adviser said. There was a suspicion that some of
those who signed up for training were actually Syrian army regulars
minus their uniforms. This had happened before, at the height of the
Iraqi war, when hundreds of Shia militia members showed up at American
training camps for new uniforms, weapons and a few days of training, and
then disappeared into the desert. A separate training programme, set up
by the Pentagon in Turkey, fared no better. The Pentagon acknowledged in
September that only ‘four or five’ of its recruits were still battling
Islamic State; a few days later 70 of them defected to Jabhat al-Nusra
immediately after crossing the border into Syria.

In January 2014, despairing at the lack of progress, John Brennan, the
director of the CIA, summoned American and Sunni Arab intelligence
chiefs from throughout the Middle East to a secret meeting in
Washington, with the aim of persuading Saudi Arabia to stop supporting
extremist fighters in Syria. ‘The Saudis told us they were happy to
listen,’ the JCS adviser said, ‘so everyone sat around in Washington to
hear Brennan tell them that they had to get on board with the so-called
moderates. His message was that if everyone in the region stopped
supporting al-Nusra and Isis their ammunition and weapons would dry up,
and the moderates would win out.’ Brennan’s message was ignored by the
Saudis, the adviser said, who ‘went back home and increased their
efforts with the extremists and asked us for more technical support. And
we say OK, and so it turns out that we end up reinforcing the extremists.’

But the Saudis were far from the only problem: American intelligence had
accumulated intercept and human intelligence demonstrating that the
Erdog?an government had been supporting Jabhat al-Nusra for years, and
was now doing the same for Islamic State. ‘We can handle the Saudis,’
the adviser said. ‘We can handle the Muslim Brotherhood. You can argue
that the whole balance in the Middle East is based on a form of mutually
assured destruction between Israel and the rest of the Middle East, and
Turkey can disrupt the balance – which is Erdog?an’s dream. We told him
we wanted him to shut down the pipeline of foreign jihadists flowing
into Turkey. But he is dreaming big – of restoring the Ottoman Empire –
and he did not realise the extent to which he could be successful in
this.’ *

One of the constants in US affairs since the fall of the Soviet Union
has been a military-to-military relationship with Russia. After 1991 the
US spent billions of dollars to help Russia secure its nuclear weapons
complex, including a highly secret joint operation to remove
weapons-grade uranium from unsecured storage depots in Kazakhstan. Joint
programmes to monitor the security of weapons-grade materials continued
for the next two decades. During the American war on Afghanistan, Russia
provided overflight rights for US cargo carriers and tankers, as well as
access for the flow of weapons, ammunition, food and water the US war
machine needed daily. Russia’s military provided intelligence on Osama
bin Laden’s whereabouts and helped the US negotiate rights to use an
airbase in Kyrgyzstan. The Joint Chiefs have been in communication with
their Russian counterparts throughout the Syrian war, and the ties
between the two militaries start at the top. In August, a few weeks
before his retirement as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Dempsey made a
farewell visit to the headquarters of the Irish Defence Forces in Dublin
and told his audience there that he had made a point while in office to
keep in touch with the chief of the Russian General Staff, General
Valery Gerasimov. ‘I’ve actually suggested to him that we not end our
careers as we began them,’ Dempsey said – one a tank commander in West
Germany, the other in the east.

When it comes to tackling Islamic State, Russia and the US have much to
offer each other. Many in the IS leadership and rank and file fought for
more than a decade against Russia in the two Chechen wars that began in
1994, and the Putin government is heavily invested in combating Islamist
terrorism. ‘Russia knows the Isis leadership,’ the JCS adviser said,
‘and has insights into its operational techniques, and has much
intelligence to share.’ In return, he said, ‘we’ve got excellent
trainers with years of experience in training foreign fighters –
experience that Russia does not have.’ The adviser would not discuss
what American intelligence is also believed to have: an ability to
obtain targeting data, often by paying huge sums of cash, from sources
within rebel militias.

A former White House adviser on Russian affairs told me that before 9/11
Putin ‘used to say to us: “We have the same nightmares about different
places.” He was referring to his problems with the caliphate in Chechnya
and our early issues with al-Qaida. These days, after the Metrojet
bombing over Sinai and the massacres in Paris and elsewhere, it’s hard
to avoid the conclusion that we actually have the same nightmares about
the same places.’

Yet the Obama administration continues to condemn Russia for its support
of Assad. A retired senior diplomat who served at the US embassy in
Moscow expressed sympathy for Obama’s dilemma as the leader of the
Western coalition opposed to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine:
‘Ukraine is a serious issue and Obama has been handling it firmly with
sanctions. But our policy vis-à-vis Russia is too often unfocused. But
it’s not about us in Syria. It’s about making sure Bashar does not lose.
The reality is that Putin does not want to see the chaos in Syria spread
to Jordan or Lebanon, as it has to Iraq, and he does not want to see
Syria end up in the hands of Isis. The most counterproductive thing
Obama has done, and it has hurt our efforts to end the fighting a lot,
was to say: “Assad must go as a premise for negotiation.”’ He also
echoed a view held by some in the Pentagon when he alluded to a
collateral factor behind Russia’s decision to launch airstrikes in
support of the Syrian army on 30 September: Putin’s desire to prevent
Assad from suffering the same fate as Gaddafi. He had been told that
Putin had watched a video of Gaddafi’s savage death three times, a video
that shows him being sodomised with a bayonet. The JCS adviser also told
me of a US intelligence assessment which concluded that Putin had been
appalled by Gaddafi’s fate: ‘Putin blamed himself for letting Gaddafi
go, for not playing a strong role behind the scenes’ at the UN when the
Western coalition was lobbying to be allowed to undertake the airstrikes
that destroyed the regime. ‘Putin believed that unless he got engaged
Bashar would suffer the same fate – mutilated – and he’d see the
destruction of his allies in Syria.’ [...]

Economic sanctions, meanwhile, are still in effect against Russia for
what a large number of Americans consider Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine,
as are US Treasury Department sanctions against Syria and against those
Americans who do business there. [...]

Obama now has a more compliant Pentagon. There will be no more indirect
challenges from the military leadership to his policy of disdain for
Assad and support for Erdog?an. Dempsey and his associates remain
mystified by Obama’s continued public defence of Erdog?an, given the
American intelligence community’s strong case against him – and the
evidence that Obama, in private, accepts that case. ‘We know what you’re
doing with the radicals in Syria,’ the president told Erdog?an’s
intelligence chief at a tense meeting at the White House (as I reported
in the LRB of 17 April 2014). The Joint Chiefs and the DIA were
constantly telling Washington’s leadership of the jihadist threat in
Syria, and of Turkey’s support for it. The message was never listened
to. Why not?

(8) Gazan poet faces death sentence in Saudi Arabia

by  Asmaa al-Ghoul

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — An art teacher in Saudi Arabia did not believe
that a child could draw so beautifully. He hit the child and insisted on
knowing who drew it for him. In tears, the child swore that the
masterpiece was his. The following day, the boy's father, a Palestinian
from the Gaza Strip, went to the school to assure the teacher that it
was his talented son who made the drawing. Summary ? Print A Saudi court
has sentenced Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death on charges of
spreading atheism and insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Author Asmaa
al-Ghoul Posted December 18, 2015 TranslatorSami-Joe Abboud

More than 20 years later, Ashraf Fayadh is being held accountable once
again, not because of his drawing, but because of his poetry. His book,
“Al-Taalimat Bel Dakhel” ("Instructions Within"), was published in 2008
on his homeland, full of self-reflection and love.

Fayadh, now 32, was accused of spreading atheist ideas and sentenced to
death by the Saudi judiciary on Nov. 17.

Fayadh’s sister Raida, 37, told Al-Monitor about the childhood drawing
incident and the details of the death sentence during an interview at
her house in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip.

Raida shared the documents issued by the Supreme Court in Abha on May
25, 2014. They included several charges against Ashraf, including
spreading atheism among young people in coffee shops; insulting the
divine entity, the Prophet Muhammad and Saudi Arabia; and having
pictures of girls he knows on his mobile phone.

According to the documents, the court backed down on imposing the death
penalty after Ashraf declared that he had repented. Witnesses testified
in his favor and said that he was not atheist. They said that it all
started with an altercation between him and a man from the Committee for
the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the religious police in
Saudi Arabia. Consequently, Ashraf was sentenced to four years in prison
and 800 lashes in May 2014.

According to the documents that Al-Monitor reviewed, this ruling was
appealed after his repentance (likely a coerced confession of atheism)
was deemed more important than the witness testimony. On Nov. 17, he was
charged with apostasy and sentenced to death.

His sister explained that Ashraf was first summoned to court by the
Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Saudi
Arabia in 2013 on charges of insulting the divine entity. He was
acquitted and then arrested again in 2014.

Raida confirmed that Ashraf, her youngest brother, has always been very
talented. He draws, writes and makes movies. She said he has even
represented Saudi Arabia in many international exhibitions, such as the
Biennale art exhibition in Venice in 2013. She pointed out that the
family has been living in Saudi Arabia for 50 years and all her siblings
were born in the country but have no passports, except for the Egyptian
travel document.

The Egyptian authorities had granted travel documents when Egypt started
managing the Gaza Strip's affairs in 1956 until the arrival of the
Palestinian Authority in 1993. Thousands of Palestinians currently in
the Gulf hold these papers, which are not recognized by much of the
world, causing them much trouble during their travels.

Asked about Rashad’s poetry book, Raida said it was published by Dar
Al-Farabi in Beirut in 2008 and the book only made it to Saudi Arabia
through a book fair.

“His contemporary poetry talks about identity, and the court had
originally acknowledged that the book was not aimed at spreading
atheism,” she added.

As for the concept of prosecuting poets for their work, Gazan author
Khodr Mohjez told Al-Monitor, “How could a state worker prosecute
creativity and poetry? Is he even qualified to interpret contemporary
poetry? He most certainly is not because his standards are not based on

He added, “In the era of the prophet and the history of Muslim
countries, not a single poet was ever tried for their literary creations.”

Raida explained, “The problem started when a Saudi man identified as Sh.
A. [in the court documents] started following Ashraf to monitor his
moves. Ashraf would always complain about this guy to our sister, who
was based in Abha. It later turned out that he was sent by the Committee
for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.”

She added, “The man kept following Ashraf until an altercation occurred
following a film screening in 2012 — as part of a cinema project called
‘The Secret Cinema’ — during which Sh. A. insulted Ashraf, called him a
refugee and a beggar, and threatened him.”

Writer Bandar Khalil, a Saudi friend of Ashraf, told the same story in
an article published on Ultrasaw.com Nov. 25. He wrote, “A teenager came
to participate in the open seminar we held after the screening of the
film. His reproachful discourse was extremely revolting, although his
looks were modern. A few months later, this guy tattled on Ashraf and
was part of the plot that led him to being sentenced to death.”

He added, “The man was cranky, with an Islamic State-esque irritability.
He was an intruder in a world of art and beauty, and he threatened to
make Ashraf return to Gaza.”

According to the court documents Raida showed to Al-Monitor, the young
Sh. A. was one of the three main witnesses, all members of the Committee
for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, who testified
against Ashraf.

Khalil explained in his article that the man who managed the case in the
Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice also worked
as an investigator in the Bureau of Investigation and Public
Prosecution. “This is a terrible confusion that reveals that there is a
state within a state,” he added. [...]

The PA has only taken meager steps toward intervention, despite the
pleas by activists and civil society institutions in and outside Gaza to
President Mahmoud Abbas. Meanwhile, a Nov. 27 statement by the
Palestinian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Bassem al-Agha, was quite
shocking: “It is neither in the interest of Fayadh nor in the interest
of his case to have the issue inflamed; Saudi Arabia shall not be
treated with such hostility.”

The statement appears to have a political dimension, given the close
relations between Saudi Arabia and the PA. The kingdom is one of the
biggest contributors to the PA’s budget.

Asmaa al-Ghoul is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse and a
journalist from the Rafah refugee camp based in Gaza.

(9) Is Saudi Arabia building an 'Islamic NATO?'

In Riyadh, shortly after midnight on Dec. 14, Deputy Crown Prince and
Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia Prince Mohammed bin Salman surprised
the world when he held a press conference — his first — in which he
announced the formation of a new Islamic military coalition against
terrorism. Predicated on the premise that Muslims have suffered more
from terrorism than any other group, Mohammed argued that Islamic
countries needed to transform the unilateral counterterrorism campaigns
currently being carried out by more than 50 countries around the world
into a collective effort to vanquish this “disease.” Summary ? Print
Frustrated with weak efforts from the US-led international community,
Saudi Arabia has proposed an Islamic coalition in the hopes of defeating
terrorism. Author Fahad Nazer Posted December 20, 2015

While the timing of the announcement might lead some in the West to
assume that it was in response to increasing calls from the
international community — and especially the United States — for Islamic
countries to "do more" in the fight against the terrorist organization
known as the Islamic State (IS), Saudi Arabia and other Islamic
countries may have a different rationale.

 From their vantage point, this coalition might in fact be a reaction to
what they perceive as the international community's (under US
leadership) largely ineffective campaign against IS, which in their
eyes, lacks a clear strategy and resolve and neglects the two main
factors that have allowed IS to spread: Bashar al-Assad’s brutalization
of Syria’s Sunni majority and Iran’s support of Shiite militias in Iraq,
Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

It is not clear at this point whether the ultimate objective of this
Saudi initiative is to create the Islamic equivalent of NATO, a formal
military alliance with binding commitments from its member states.
Nevertheless, the announcement is consistent with two prior decisions
that suggested that while it is not rejecting the security framework
agreed upon by the victorious powers following World War II and which
became institutionalized in the United Nations Security Council, Saudi
Arabia may be looking to lead alternative security frameworks.

The first decision was Saudi Arabia’s rejection of the United Nations
Security Council seat it had won in the fall of 2013. The second was its
announcement in March of this year that it would be leading an Arab
military coalition in Yemen to restore the internationally recognized
president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who had been ousted from the capital
Sanaa by Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in late 2014. Taken in total,
these three decisions — the rejection of the Security Council seat,
launching a military campaign in Yemen and leading an Islamic coalition
against terrorism — indicate that there has been a paradigm shift in
Saudi Arabia: It is one that has redefined how the kingdom views its
role in the Middle East and broader Islamic world as well as how it
views the role of the traditional guarantor of stability in the region,
the United States. [...]

While the Saudis still favor American weapons and are continuing to
share intelligence and consult regularly with the United States, they
seem to have concluded that the United States has differing threat
perceptions than theirs. Saudi Arabia’s two most pressing foreign policy
priorities, the conflicts in Yemen and Syria, do not seem to be US
priorities. Just as importantly, as the Saudis continued to repeatedly
express their concern about what they deemed to be Iran’s destructive
role in the region, the United States signed a historic nuclear
agreement with Iran that could pave the way for reintegrating it into
the international community.

While the United States is providing vital intelligence and logistical
support to the Saudi-led Arab coalition in Yemen, the Saudis launched
this unprecedented campaign after it became clear that the international
community had no interest in taking forceful measures to reverse the
Houthis’ military gains. The Saudis have succeeded in convincing 10
other Arab counties to support the ongoing campaign. The Yemen campaign
is the ultimate expression of Saudi Arabia’s new, more assertive and
independent foreign policy posture.

Saudi Arabia stunned the international community when it declined its
first-ever seat at the United Nations Security Council two years ago.
The Saudis issued a strongly worded statement that maintained that the
ongoing carnage in Syria and the stalled peace process between Israel
and the Palestinians were “irrefutable evidence and proof of the
inability of the Security Council to carry out its duties and
responsibilities.” While out of character at the time, the decision,
much like the Arab and Islamic military coalitions since, suggests that
the Saudis had become increasingly frustrated with the US-led
international community and had elected to forge their own alliances to
protect their national interests.

In the days following the Dec. 14 announcement, Saudi civilian and
military officials provided some details about the objectives of this
coalition. While Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir suggested at a press
conference in Paris that a joint force acting under the command of the
operations center in Riyadh was a possibility, Saudi military spokesman
Ahmed Assiri was later quoted as saying that the coalition would be more
focused on “coordinating” its members ongoing efforts rather than
establishing a joint force. However both Jubeir and Mohammed were
unequivocal in saying that the coalition was not predicated on sectarian
considerations, implying that sect would not determine the identity of
its members or the terrorist groups that would be targeted by it. The
defense minister made clear that the coalition would not only target
Sunni terrorist groups such as IS but that it would go after all
militant groups that are destabilizing the region. Both he and Jubeir
also maintained that the member countries would have discretion in terms
of the level of support they provide the coalition. Mohammed also
stressed that the coalition would consult with the “legitimate”
authorities in the countries involved and that it would coordinate with
the international community. While these remarks suggested that the
Islamic coalition would complement the US-led effort against IS, the
notion that it may be intended to supplant it should be given consideration.

In the weeks and months to come, more details should emerge about what
the mandate of the coalition is and how it is supposed to operate.
Somewhat ominously, some reports in the Western press have suggested
that officials from some of the key member countries have expressed
surprise at their inclusion in the coalition. Nevertheless the Saudis
did follow through with their decision to reject the UN seat and have
managed to sustain the military campaign against the Houthis in Yemen
for nine months, defying conventional wisdom in the process. Whether the
Saudis will succeed in leading an even bigger coalition to fight the
international community’s most daunting challenge — religiously inspired
terrorism — remains to be seen.

(10) ISIS leader's Mobile Phone attests Turkey's Support

Mon Dec 21, 2015 5:55

ISIL Ringleader's Mobile Phone Speaks Loud of Turkey's Support for Terrorism

TEHRAN (FNA)- A commander of the Iraqi volunteer forces (Hashd
al-Shaabi) revealed that a mobile phone found with one of the killed
ISIL ringleaders proved the Turkish spy agency's support for the
terrorist group.

"The mobile phone was found with one of the killed ISIL leaders in the
Northern parts of Salahuddin province two days ago," Jabbar al-Ma'mouri
told Soumeriya news on Monday.

He said that the mobile set and history files contain messages from the
Turkish intelligence agency which show that Ankara supports the ISIL
terrorist group through providing security at the points of entry used
by ISIL militants from Turkey to Iraq.

"The mobile phone also contains other important information which cannot
be disclosed now, and it has been delivered to the specialized security
groups for further scrutiny," Ma'mouri said.

In relevant remarks on November, Russian Ambassador to France Alexander
Orlov said that Turkey has played an "ambiguous" role in the campaign
against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) while acting as
an accomplice to the terrorist group’s activities.

Also last month, former US Department of State senior advisor David
Phillips said Turkey has blatantly provided material support to the ISIL
because they share an ideological connection along with a common foe in
Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"Turkey’s role has not been ambiguous — it has overtly supported the
ISIL," Phillips, currently Director of Columbia University’s
Peace-building and Rights Program, said. "It has provided logistical
support, money, weapons, transport and healthcare to wounded warriors."

Phillips explained that Turkey has been supporting the ISIL to remove
Syrian President Bashar Assad from power and because of a "spiritual
bond" that exists between Turkey’s governing party and the jihadists.

(11) Wiretapped calls reveal communication between Turkish officers and
ISIS – report


Published time: 24 Dec, 2015 17:46

Turkish officers on the Syrian border have communicated with Islamic
State militants in Iraq and Syria, Turkey's Cumhuriyet daily reported,
citing an investigation by the Ankara Chief Prosecutor's office which
allegedly eavesdropped on their phone calls.

The wiretapping reportedly took place last year as part of an
investigation into six missing Turkish citizens, the Cumhuriyet
reported. The relatives of those missing believed they might have joined
the ranks of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants.

An investigation was launched into as many as 27 suspects, some of them
in Syria, the report revealed.

The Chief Prosecutor's office reportedly received permission to wiretap
the phones of 19 people who were thought to have put the six missing
persons in touch with Islamic State. The investigation reportedly
revealed that those who wanted to join IS ranks received some form of
“ideological training.”

The file on the investigation is said to have been handed over to the
Military Prosecutor's office in March, after the Ankara Prosecutor's
office deemed the issue outside of its jurisdiction, according to the
Turkish newspaper.

“Those [who joined ISIS] from Ankara often used [the] Elbeyli district
[of Kilis] as a throughway by traveling via Gaziantep and Kilis to the
village of Able, which is subordinated to Syria's Al-Bab district,” the
report said, as cited by newspaper Today’s Zaman.

People talk as they stand next to oil barrels at a makeshift oil
refinery site in al-Mansoura village in Raqqa's countryside © Hamid
Khatib Most smuggled ISIS oil goes to Turkey, sold at low prices –
Norwegian report

A note written in one of the transcripts for the wiretappings allegedly
states that the person designated in the transcript as “X2” is
considered to be a member of the military, the Cumhuriyet reported.

One of the conversations is said to be as follows:

--Yes, brother.

X2: We are on the mined land where I delivered the vehicle. We have put
our lights on. [We have the] material on us; come here with your men
from that side…

Ankara has recently faced a number of accusations alleging it has bought
oil from IS and let terrorists freely pass through Turkey's border with
Syria. A newly-leaked report on illegal oil sales by Islamic State,
compiled at the request of Norway, revealed that most of the IS-smuggled
oil has been destined for Turkey, where it is sold off at bargain low

In early December, the Russian Defense Ministry also released evidence
which it said shows most of the illegal oil trade by IS goes to Turkey.
Ankara has denied the allegations.

Iraqi MP and former national security adviser, Mowaffak al Rubaie, told
RT on Tuesday there is “mounting evidence” from all over the world,
including Iraq, that “Turkey is playing not a very clean game,” when it
comes to Islamic State.

“Turkish authorities need to do a lot more than what they are doing now
to come clean from the accusations that they are siding [with], or at
least that they are turning a blind eye to, the movement of these
terrorists from Turkey to Syria and Iraq and vice versa,” the MP said.

(12) Trump: There's no proof that Putin killed Journalists

Dec 20 2015, 1:30 pm ET

Donald Trump: There's No Proof Putin Killed Journalists

by Ali Vitali Donald Trump on Vladmir Putin: 'He is a Strong Leader' 2:28

The Republican front-runner Donald Trump on Sunday pushed back on the
notion that Russian President Vladimir Putin has killed journalists,
saying that it's "terrible" if it's happened but he hasn't seen proof
that it has.

"In all fairness to Putin, you're saying he killed people. I haven't
seen that. I don't know that he has. Have you been able to prove that?
Do you know the names of the reporters that he's killed? Because I've
been - you know, you've been hearing this, but I haven't seen the
names," Trump said on ABC.

The Russian president, who some of Trump's GOP rivals have called a
"thug" and a threat, recently praised Trump as "bright and talented."

When confronted with Mitt Romney's tweet also alleging that Putin kills
journalists and political opponents, Trump again dismissed the claims.
"He's always denied it," Trump said of Putin. "He's never - it's never
been proven that he's killed anybody. So, you know, you're supposed to
be innocent until proven guilty, at least in our country. He has not
been proven that he's killed reporters."

ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked about a presumed moral equivalency
innate in Trump's answer, to which Trump fired back: "I'm saying, when
you say a man has killed reporters, I'd like you to prove it." Trump did
add that if this had happened, it was "despicable."

The Committee to Protect Journalists, however, does provide names of
journalists killed in Russia, and notes that, since 1992, 56 journalists
of various nationalities have been killed in the country.

An ex-KGB agent and former head of Russia's federal security service,
Putin first took over the role of prime minister in 1999 and has held
that title and president at various times over the past 16 years.

On NBC's "Meet the Press" Trump praised Putin's strength.

"What am I gonna say, he's a weak leader?" asked Trump. "He's making
minced meat out of our president. He is a strong leader ... He can't
stand President Obama. I think it would be a positive thing if Russia
and the United States actually got along and they could work to the
mutual good of getting rid of ISIS."

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