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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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US Plans Missile Attack on Syria

Here are some details of the planned military strike on Syria. The UK is expected to assist the U.S. Tomahawk missiles are likely.

The blitz may last 48 hours.

The missiles would be unleashed to destroy Syrian President Bashar Assad’s command and control facilities, weapons delivery centres, intelligence bases and military training camps.

A former Syrian military official who has since defected says chemical weapons stockpiles are unlikely to be targeted. [More...]

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Why The UK Detention of Miranda Was Unlawful

Via Shayana Khadidal, this excellent post by Jack of Kent, who appears to be a British attorney, regarding the detention of David Miranda at Heathrow Airport The gist:

What section 40(1)(b) says:

So schedule 7 provides a limited power to question and a limited power to detain. Both the powers to question and to detain are conditional on the purpose of whether a person falls within section 40(1)(b) of the 2000 Act.

So the next question is fundamental – what does section 40(1)(b) say?

Section 40(1)(b) is a definition clause, and it provides the following definition of “terrorist”:

a person who…is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.
Section 40(1)(b) thereby is a limiting definition – the questioning (and any period of detention) under schedule 7 is for seeing if a person falls within this definition. Accordingly, any questioning (and any period of detention) which is not for this specified purpose is outside the scope of the provision. [Emphasis supplied.]

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Schapelle Corby Approved for Parole

Update here.

The Bali Corrections Board approved Schapelle Corby for parole Friday. The remaining paperwork could take a few months, and while not a guarantee, it seems she will be released. She has to remain in Indonesia until a year after her sentence expires in 2015, and will live with her sister Mercedes. In March, the Australian Government gave Indonesia a guarantee she would not not violate parole.

Schapelle Corby has been imprisoned since her arrest in October, 2004. She was sentenced to 20 years in 2005, later reduced to 15. She became eligible for parole in 2012. [More...]

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Kim Dotcom Speaks at NZ Protest Rally, Crowd Cheers

Meet the new Kim Dotcom, New Zealand activist for privacy rights, fighting against expansion of government surveillance and U.S. drone strikes and for the rights of whistleblowers.

Kim Dotcom spoke at a rally of thousands of New Zealanders (video here) who had gathered to voice their opposition to a bill expanding Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB)surveillance authority and information sharing with law enforcement.

Dotcom said it was very important for people to understand the GCSB is a subsidiary of the NSA and spying for the Americans, feeding them information for its war on terror to locate targets for drone strikes.

Dotcom tells the crowd the U.S. didn't want him spied upon because they thought he was a terrorist or a threat to national security, but because a handful of billionaires in Hollywood didn't like his business. The crowd cheers its approval. He asks, "Why would they spy on me?" [More...]

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Kate, William and the Royal Baby

Here's a video of Kate and William showing their new baby to the crowd gathered in front of the hospital. They are very warm and gracious.

When they left the hospital, Prince William put the baby in a car seat in the back of their personal vehicle and the couple then drove off.

No limousine, no throngs of security agents, and the couple walked right up to the public and chatted. How refreshing.

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Princess Kate Delivers Healthy Baby Boy

Update: It's a boy.

The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, also known as Princess Kate, has entered a London hospital in the early stages of labor.

This is really big news in England. The media has been camped outside the hospital for days.

Following tradition, after the baby is born, a notice with details will be posted on the easel pictured above.

The formal announcement that a baby has been born will be made in a statement driven by car from the hospital across London and posted on an easel in the grounds of Buckingham Palace.

There will also be a 41-gun salute.[More...]

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