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Schapelle Corby Granted Parole

Update 1:50 a.m: Schapelle Corby has been granted parole. She could be released at any time -- as soon as the prison receives written confirmation. It most likely will be Monday. More here. Here's a live video of the press conference with translation. She will have to remain in Indonesia until 2017. This is interesting: Had she not asked for or been granted parole, she could have returned to Australia in 2015 as her sentence would have expired and there would be no requirement of supervision.

Update 1:45 am: More media confirm parole was granted at what sounds like one of the most confusing press conferences ever.

Corby has got parole. Press statement clarifies that she has "fulfilled all substantive administrative requirements". Date up to prison

Update 1:35 a.m. What he said was 1,291 cases of the 1,700 have been processed. He didn't specifically say Schapelle was one of them. But reporters say his press release says she got parole. And ABC News Australia says parole was granted. [More...]

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Egypt Charges 20 al Jazeera Journalists With Aiding Terrorists

20 journalists who work for the al-Jazeera news organization have been charged in Egypt with aiding terrorism and/or joining a terrorist group. Among them are at least three who work for the al Jazeera English network, including "acting bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian, award-winning correspondent Peter Greste of Australia and producer Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian."

The Egyptian journalists are charged with joining a terrorist group, while the foreign journalists are charged with aiding a terrorist group.Egypt enacted the law under which they are charged last month. The three mentioned above were arrested on Dec. 29 and remain in custody. [More...]

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Group Threatens Olympic Attacks

The group "Vilayat Dagestan" which is part of the Caucasus Emirate, has claimed credit for the recent bomb attacks in Volgograd, Russia, and threatens more for the Olympics.

"We've prepared a present for you and all tourists who'll come over," the video says. "If you will hold the Olympics, you'll get a present from us for the Muslim blood that's been spilled."

The two men in the video, identified as Suleiman and Abdurakhman, claimed to be the suicide bombers from the recent bombings and showed pictures of themselves with explosives strapped to their bodies.

Doku Umarov, the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, initially called for attacks on the Olympics, but later rescinded them.

Here is the Google-translated version of their statement that accompanied the video. [More...]

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Jailed Pussy Riot Women To Be Freed

Under a Amnesty bill passed in Russia this week, the two Pussy Riot members still jailed in Russian prisons, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina will be freed.

In September, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova went on a hunger strike, and released this letter describing the inhumane conditions of her confinement. She was later moved to a prison in Siberia.

Also likely to be freed: 30 Greenpeace protesters.

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International Accord Reached on Iran's Nuclear Program

An accord has been reached with Iran about its nuclear weapons program.

Iran has agreed to stop enriching uranium above 5%. The accord is to last six months. (Sounds more like a pause than a cessation.)

In return for the initial agreement, the United States agreed to provide $6 billion to $7 billion in sanctions relief. Of this, roughly $4.2 billion would be oil revenue that has been frozen in foreign banks.

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Libyan PM Kidnapped From Hotel

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was kidnapped at gunpoint from the posh five star Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli just before dawn. As the photo shows, he's not wearing his glasses and appears to be in his jammies.

The Group claiming responsibility for the kidnapping is The Operations Cell of Libyan Revolutionaries, which along with other former rebel groups, have been providing security to the military.The rebel groups which kidnapped Zeiden have been providing security to the military. One claimed credit on Facebook.

According to the AP, the kidnapping is in retaliation for the U.S. kidnapping of suspected al-Qaida suspect al-Libi,last week. [More...]

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Al Shabab Takes Credit for Kenya Mall Killings

Al Shabab, the Islamic extremist group from Somalia, has claimed credit for the Kenyan mall attacks.

A statement from al-Shabab on its official Twitter feed Saturday says the attacks are retribution for military action by Kenya inside Somalia. The group said it was now shifting the battlefield to Kenya.

The attack took place at the upscale Westgate mall, while the Red Cross was holding a children's event. The gunman asked Muslims to identify themselves, and told them to leave. The rest were fair game.

At least 39 people were killed, and more than 150 were wounded. [More...]

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On Syria: A return to the UN and a proposed AUMF

With the uncertainty of both Congressional and international support for a military strike against Syria by the U.S., some news on the possibility of returning to the UN:

The United States said on Sunday it did not rule out returning to the U.N. Security Council to secure a Syria resolution once U.N. inspectors complete a report on a chemical weapons attack, but indicated Arab countries were seeking a tough response. [...] French President Francois Hollande, increasingly under pressure at home and among European partners to seek a U.N. mandate before any military intervention in Syria, on Saturday suggested he could seek a resolution at the U.N. Security Council despite previous Russian and Chinese vetoes.

French officials say a draft resolution presented jointly by Britain and France at the end of August was not even read by Russia and China, let alone discussed. U.N. inspectors are likely to hand in their report later this week roughly at the same time as the U.S. Congress votes on whether to allow limited strikes on Syria.

"On President Hollande's comments with respect to the U.N., the president (Obama), and all of us, are listening carefully to all of our friends," Kerry said. "No decision has been made by the president." After the news conference, a U.S. official said Washington was not seeking a vote at the moment. "We have always supported working through the U.N. but have been clear there is not a path forward there and we are not currently considering proposing another vote," said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

More on the flip

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Senators Heitkamp and Manchin float diplomatic alternative to military strikes on Syria

This seems a good development:

The United States would give Syria 45 days to sign an international chemical weapons ban or face the wrath of American military might, under a draft resolution being circulated by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). The alternative to a use-of-force resolution could forestall an immediate American strike and create an incentive for Assad not to use chemical weapons against his own people again. It may also provide a rallying point for lawmakers who are reluctant to either approve strikes or reject the use of force outright.

I think there are problems with the wording and details but I applaud the thrust. Restart the diplomatic track. The Obama Administration should take a look at this.

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Int'l Norms: Obama Seeks To Violate UN Charter With Cong. Authorization

Jack Balkin wrote:

Under the U.N. Charter, it is illegal for member states to attack each other because they claim another state is violating international law unless they are acting in self-defense or unless they are authorized to do so by a Security Council resolution. There is no such resolution with respect to Syria. The whole point of the Charter is to keep (for example) Russia from attacking (for example) Israel because Russia claims that Israel is violating international law. What goes for Russia attacking Israel also goes for the United States attacking Syria.

This story is being under-reported in the press. Imagine a New York Times headline that read:

Obama seeks to violate United Nations Charter: Asks Congress's Blessing.

But that is exactly what is happening. Obama may say that he is just trying to enforce international norms, but he is doing it by violating article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter. To invoke a metaphor from another war, he is destroying the village in order to save it.

I point this out not because I think it is the most compelling reason to oppose Obama's Syria policy, but because it makes a mockery of the argument that we must support Obama's Syria policy in order to defend international norms. For example, E.J. Dionne writes today:

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Syria: The Obvious Questions About Doing "Something"

It seems sad to me that the questions presented in this Fallows piece are treated as trenchant, rather than obvious:

1. What objectives does the administration seek to achieve in Syria?

2. How does it anticipate that the use of force will lead to the fulfillment of those objectives?

3. What is the administration's theory of victory? That is, what are the assumptions that link the use of military force to the achievement of victory?

4. How does the administration believe that Syria will respond to the U.S. use of force?

5. What does the administration believe could go wrong? What unexpected things could happen?

6. And finally, how does the administration anticipate that this will end?

It is sad and shocking, but unfortunately, not surprising, that these questions are not the center of the debate.

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Senate Syria Compromise: Foreign Relations Comm. to Vote

The leaders of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee have agreed on a compromise Syria resolution. (Full text here.) It's not quite what Obama wanted, but it is expected to go to a committee vote tomorrow.

The bill limits the authorization to 60 days, with an option for an additional 30-day deadline, and makes clear there would be no boots on the ground, the sources said.

More here. A new Reuters poll shows 56% of Americans opposed to an attack.

I'm not in favor of the strike. Seems like a hollow gesture and a slippery slope -- for us. Give our leaders an inch, and they'll find a way to go for the mile.

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Hillary Clinton Backs Obama Syria Policy

I obviously disagree with the policy, but I also have to question the politics of this:

Secretary Clinton supports the president’s effort to enlist the Congress in pursuing a strong and targeted response to the Assad regime’s horrific use of chemical weapons,” a Clinton aide told POLITICO.

I think the President has not presented a plan that makes sense. And I see no reason why Hillary Clinton needed to comment on it now.

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Kerry Calls Syria Vote "Munich Moment"

Ostensibly, the Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, seems to have no idea what the job entails. NBC reports:

Secretary of State John Kerry told House Democrats during a Monday conference call that they face a "Munich moment" as they weigh whether to approve striking Syria to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for using chemical weapons, two sources with knowledge of the call told NBC News. The phrase is a reference to the 1938 Munich Pact that ceded control of part of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany -- a moment that history has harshly judged as an appeasement of Adolf Hitler that preceded World War II.

Personally, I think Kerry's phrasing is despicable, implying that those who disagree with his assessment of the right course of action in Syria are like those who appeased Hitler in the 1930s. It smacks of the worst rhetoric in the runup to the Iraq Debacle.

But more importantly, it simply is not something a Secretary of State should be saying. If diplomacy is required at some point in this situation, how is the Secretary of State to carry it out, given his intemperate, to put it kindly, remarks? He does not seem to possess the temperament for the job.

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Obama Asks Congress for Syria Strike Approval

President Obama today said he has asked Congress to vote on launching a strike on Syria when it returns Sept. 9. John Boehner says the vote will be the week of September 9.

Obama said he believes he has the authority to act without congressional approval, but asked lawmakers to weigh in and shoulder the responsibility for the decision.

“The country will be stronger if we take this course,” Obama said. “We should have this debate.”

Yesterday, Obama released this 4 page summary of a U.S. report detailing intelligence on the suspected use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government on Aug. 21. [More...]

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