Journalist’s disappearance tests Trump’s close Saudi ties
By DEB RIECHMANN and JONATHAN LEMIRE
Friday, October 12
WASHINGTON (AP) — Sword dancers. Gleaming palaces. Military jets streaming red, white and blue trails.
President Donald Trump soaked up the grandeur of Saudi Arabia on his first foreign stop as president last year and envisioned huge benefits for the United States in building closer ties with the repressive and oil-rich desert kingdom.
Now, the White House relationship with Riyadh is imperiled over the mysterious disappearance of a Saudi writer, and the situation is creating friction between the Trump administration and members of Congress demanding to know if the columnist for The Washington Post was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
Trump said he has talked to officials at the highest level of the kingdom and is “demanding everything” to explain how Jamal Khashoggi, an activist who had been critical of Saudi leaders, vanished after he walked into the consulate in Istanbul to get documents he needed to get married.
Turkish authorities claim Khashoggi, who resided in the United States, was killed by members of an elite Saudi “assassination squad.” The kingdom describes the allegation as “baseless.” But if Saudi Arabia is found to be complicit in his disappearance or death, the warm U.S.-Saudi relationship — and even hopes for Middle East peace — could be upended.
A senior administration official said Friday that the U.S. is in ongoing contact with Turkish and Saudi officials about the case. The U.S. believes it is essential that Turkish authorities — with full, transparent support from the Saudi government — are able to conduct a thorough investigation and officially release the results, the official said.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly, said the U.S. supports Turkish investigators’ efforts, will not prejudge the outcome of the official investigation, but stands ready to assist.
Trump said Thursday the U.S. had “investigators over there and we’re working with Turkey” and Saudi Arabia. But he has provided no details.
Trump has backed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious campaign to modernize the conservative kingdom and its economy. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who exchanges phone and text messages with the young crown prince, was instrumental in last year’s deal to sell $110 billion in U.S. weapons to the kingdom.
But even before Khashoggi vanished, concerns were mounting in Congress over Saudi Arabia’s policies and the crown prince’s aggressive steps to silence his critics. And now there are calls on Capitol Hill for the U.S. to halt arms sales to the kingdom, and Khashoggi’s disappearance could galvanize more opposition from lawmakers and pressure Trump to rethink his relations with Saudi Arabia.
Trump on Thursday pronounced U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia “excellent” and said he doesn’t want to scuttle arms deals with Riyadh because it means tens of millions of dollars pouring into the U.S. economy. He said the kingdom would simply buy the weapons from Russia or China instead.
“If it turns out to be as bad as it might be, there are certainly other ways of handling this situation,” he said without elaborating.
Much of how the U.S. responds will depend on whether evidence surfaces that proves Saudi Arabia is responsible for Khashoggi’s death.
Trump will have to craft a “calibrated response,” said Jon Alterman, who directs the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “He doesn’t like that approach. The president likes complete wins.”
The close ties between the Trump White House and the kingdom were in part forged by a friendship between two young princes: Last spring, Kushner and the crown prince met formally for the first time as a late-season snow fell outside the White House.
The two men — both in their 30s, both trusted aides of older, familial leaders — struck a bond. As their countries’ chief negotiators on Israeli-Palestinian peace, Kushner and the Saudi prince were both looking to make a name for themselves on the world stage and consulted with each other frequently over the following months.
Kushner championed Crown Prince Mohammed to the president and senior foreign policy officials, some of whom expressed wariness at the embrace of MBS, as he is known in diplomatic circles.
The two men’s relationship also played a key role in Riyadh becoming the unlikely first stop on Trump’s maiden international trip in May 2017. Trump, despite endorsing a travel ban on Muslims during his campaign, became the first U.S. president to make his official first trip to an Islamic nation.
Relations between the two countries are complex because they are entwined on energy, military, economic and intelligence issues. The Trump administration has aggressively courted the Saudis for support of its Middle East agenda to counter Iranian influence, fight extremism and forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
“We want to have a relationship with Saudi Arabia. They’re a strategic partner. They’re a mortal enemy of the Iranians. They’re helping us on terrorism,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump supporter and top member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Having said all that, if this did happen — and it’s increasingly likely that something bad happened to this man at the hands of the Saudi government — that shows contempt for us. That’s disrespectful to us. It puts people like me in a box who’ve been one of the leading champions of the relationship.”
It’s not just Graham who’s in a box. It’s also Trump, who has long-standing business ties to Saudi Arabia.
Jeff Prescott, who was senior director for the Middle East at the National Security Council during the Obama administration, said that a reassessment of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia is overdue and that Trump should raise U.S. complaints with Saudi leaders.
“What the Trump administration has given Saudi Arabia is a green light to pursue any policy,” said Prescott, now executive director of National Security Action, a group of former officials opposed to the Trump administration. “The key question is whether Republicans will have the courage to force the administration to have a reckoning of the relationship.”
He said Kushner’s project to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians also could be in jeopardy.
“There is no question that a rift with Saudi Arabia — or even relations strained by pressure from Congress — would make an already bleak prospect even less likely,” Prescott said.
In Congress, there is a push for sanctions under a human rights law, and lawmakers are questioning American support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. The U.S. has raised concerns previously about heavy civilian casualties caused by the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., voiced doubt there would be support in Congress for another arms sale to Saudi Arabia — though lawmakers haven’t blocked sales before. He also called for at least a temporary halt in U.S. military support for the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen. Murphy tweeted that if Saudi Arabia is found complicit in Khashoggi’s death, it should be viewed as a “fundamental break in our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”
Lemire reported from New York.
Hidden hunger affects nearly 2 billion worldwide – are solutions in plain sight?
October 12, 2018
Research Fellow, American University
Morten Wendelbo does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Incredible strides have been made to eradicate hunger around the world since World War II. New technology, foreign aid, and a world economy that has grown more than 30-fold have combined to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty and hunger.
Even as groups that work to end hunger celebrate these incredible achievements, it is important not to lose sight of how far we still have to go. In 2018, we are still not on track to eradicate hunger in our lifetime, even though all 191 U.N. member states vowed in 2000 to end hunger by 2015.
In fact, at the moment, numbers are heading in the wrong direction. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that since 2014, the number of people experiencing hunger is on the rise around the world. Conflict and climate change are the likely culprit behind most of this deterioration.
This statistic hides an even more disheartening reality. Close to 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient malnutrition, commonly called “hidden hunger” because it is less obvious than regular hunger.
Since it is harder to identify visually, hidden hunger gets far less attention than it warrants. Micronutrient malnutrition causes many of the same health problems as calorie deficiency hunger. Hidden hunger is particularly detrimental to young children, women of childbearing age, and the poorest parts of populations in developing countries. Like regular hunger, it costs millions of lives each year and prevents an even greater number from escaping poverty.
As a development researcher, I have witnessed firsthand the consequences of hidden hunger. I have also observed many ingenious solutions that can effectively, affordably and swiftly solve many of the problems that cause hidden hunger. With enough attention and support, hidden hunger can be erased in a few decades, significantly improving the lives of nearly a third of the world’s population.
What is micronutrient malnutrition?
The body needs far more than just calories to function and develop properly. Vitamins and minerals are essential to many of the body’s core functions, such as immune system health and brain function. When the calorie intake is not varied, it is entirely possible to eat sufficient calories without having sufficient micronutrient nutrition. That is, a person can have enough calories but still be malnourished.
It is caused by micronutrient malnutrition, which occurs when a person’s diet has insufficient amounts of critical vitamins and minerals. Although there are dozens of important micronutrients, some deficiencies are more prevalent than others, including those of Vitamin A, zinc, iron and folic acid.
Consequences of hidden hunger
The effects of the deficiencies vary. A deficiency of iron in the blood, for example, which causes anemia, severely restricts the amount of oxygen that the blood can carry to the body’s cells. The result is fatigue, apathy, headaches and poor body temperature control, among other symptoms.
A zinc deficiency can cause the body to develop too slowly and can damage the central nervous system, and it lowers the body’s ability to fight diarrheal disease. There are 1.7 billion cases of diarrheal disease around the world each year, and it is the second most prevalent cause of death among children under 5. Diarrheal disease compounds the micronutrient malnutrition damage because the body struggles to make full use of available calories and micronutrients, leading to even greater levels of malnutrition.
Vitamin A is crucial for the immune system to combat many diseases, and for maintenance of eyesight, particularly in children. Folic acid is associated, among other things, with fetal development, and, when missing from a pregnant woman’s diet, can lead to birth deformities.
Children suffering from hidden hunger in early childhood are less likely to complete their education, more likely to suffer from chronic disease, and are consequently less productive. This affects their ability to escape poverty and malnutrition later in life, passing the vicious cycle on to their own children.
Almost anyone can immediately recognize the consequences of regular hunger. For many years aid organizations, NGOs and others have leveraged the widespread imagery of stunted children with distended bellies as a call to arms against hunger. The visible suffering triggers compassion in most people and serves as a call to action.
Micronutrient malnutrition earned the nickname hidden hunger because, although it has many of the same long-term health consequences, it is difficult to identify, even for people suffering from it. Many of the consequences, such as lower cognitive function, accrue over a lifetime and they are hard to attribute directly to a specific deficiency. But, they are just as real.
How can we fix it?
The ideal solution to micronutrient deficiency is a diverse diet, rich in different grains, meats and vegetables, like the food pyramid recommended by many health agencies around the world. While this would satisfy most micronutrient needs, a diverse diet is prohibitively expensive for many people, who would have to give up calories to afford better foods, effectively trading one type of hunger for another.
Other and much more feasible and affordable solutions exist. In Tanzania, situated near the equator in sub-Saharan Africa, most people depend on a single staple – maize – for more than 80 percent of their calories. It is the only affordable way for most people to consume enough calories. Maize, just as with other staples like rice, wheat, cassava and millet, is almost entirely void of micronutrients. What little micronutrient content a whole maize kernel holds is largely lost during the milling process to make maize flour, the most common form of maize consumption in East Africa and much of Latin America.
The simple solution to improving the nutritional value of these staple goods is to fortify them with a mix of micronutrients. After or during the milling process, a safe and inexpensive micronutrient powder can be added by the miller, or by consumers themselves, drastically boosting the nutritional value. Despite recent increases in attention to the importance of hidden hunger, comprehensively fortifying staple goods is still a long way away for most developing governments, which lack the funds, expertise and occasionally the political will, to ensure fortification. Without substantial subsidies, millers can only fortify staples when they can pass at least part of the cost onto consumers. For many people living in abject poverty, even a small increase of a few percent in the cost of food is prohibitive.
Food fortification is the most cost-effective way to help hundreds of millions of people simultaneously improve quality of life, health and education, and to escape poverty. It is far more cost-effective than the typical aid programs that are aimed at incremental improvements in just one of these areas. With enough attention and support, hidden hunger can be erased in a few decades, significantly improving the lives of nearly a third of the world’s population.
Out of Matthew Shepard’s tragic murder, a commitment to punishing hate crimes emerged
October 12, 2018
Professorial Lecturer, Department of Government, American University School of Public Affairs
Lara Schwartz does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
American University School of Public Affairs provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
On an October night in 1998, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten, driven to a remote field, tied to a fence and left to die. The cyclist who found him reported that the unconscious young man’s face was covered with blood except where tears had washed the skin clean.
People gathered for vigils nationwide. The press flocked to Laramie to cover the story.
Matthew died six days later, on Oct. 12, 1998.
It soon became clear that Shepard had not been a random victim of a savage crime: He had been murdered because he was gay. One of his killers, Aaron McKinney, would describe Shepard as “a queer” and a “fag” in his confession. He would later state that Shepard “needed killing.”
Shepard was far from the first person to be targeted for violence because of his identity, nor would he be the last.
In fact, earlier that year, an African-American man named James Byrd, Jr. had been murdered by three white supremacists who chained him to a pickup truck and dragged him for 3 miles.
But their stories and their families’ advocacy raised awareness and would lead to a federal law that bears their names: the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
As a lawyer with the Human Rights Campaign, I worked on the legislation from 2002 until it passed in 2009 and President Barack Obama signed it into law.
Twenty years after Shepard’s murder, hate crime legislation has come a long way. Nonetheless, reports of hate crimes have ticked up in recent years, and those trying to enforce these laws still face a number of obstacles.
The importance of federal resolve
Before the Matthew Shepard Act passed, many states did have hate crime laws on the books. California’s hate crime law, for example, has included sexual orientation since 1984. However, state laws vary; many don’t include sexual orientation and most don’t include gender identity. Some state statutes cover property crimes such as arson motivated by bias.
The Matthew Shepard Act makes it a federal crime to commit certain violent acts motivated by race, color, religion, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.
The act also authorized the federal government to assist local law enforcement agencies investigating hate crimes with funding, manpower and lab work.
This is an important aspect of the legislation. Prosecuting these crimes can be expensive and challenging, and many communities don’t have adequate resources. For example, investigating and prosecuting Matthew Shepard’s murder was so expensive that the Laramie Sherriff’s office had to temporarily lay off employees.
When Congress was considering the hate crimes bill, most arguments against its passage centered on the bill’s protection of LGBT people. Many opponents said they would support the bill – so long as it left out LGBT people.
They claimed that it would criminalize thoughts, with prosecutors unfairly using someone’s prior statements about gay people as evidence that a crime was a hate crime. If this were the case, they argued, then people would essentially be jailed for their speech and opinions. Others claimed that because the law included sexual orientation, ministers would be prosecuted for preaching the gospel, which they believed condemns homosexuality and limits marriage to a union of a man and a woman.
In truth, these fears are unfounded: The federal law is limited to crimes that result in death or serious bodily injury.
In the end, the coalition supporting the bill held firm about including protections LGBT Americans. In fact, in 2007 the bill’s sponsors added explicit protection for transgender people to the bill.
How many hate crimes fall through the cracks?
Because most criminal prosecutions take place at the state and local level, there are fewer federal hate crimes prosecutions than state and local ones.
Nonetheless, it’s difficult to truly know how many hate crimes happen in this country.
Under the 1990 Hate Crimes Statistics Act, state and local law enforcement are responsible for reporting hate crimes. Many agencies fail to report or under-report instances.
Furthermore, about half of bias-motivated crimes aren’t reported to police at all. This makes sense when we consider that targets of hate crimes are often marginalized in their communities. They might mistrust law enforcement or wish to avoid “outing” themselves. Hate crimes against people with disabilities are often committed by people the victim knows, a factor that can also deter reporting.
Proving bias as a motivation is also difficult. A prosecutor might conclude it’s better to enter into a plea agreement for assault than go to trial to get a hate crime conviction.
Finally, though hate crimes laws cover crimes of violence or property destruction, hate speech lies in an entirely different realm. While it can make life painful for the people it targets, hateful speech is protected by the First Amendment, whether it’s Ku Klux Klan marches or protesters holding signs reading “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” near a military funeral.
So when people today see viral videos of truly hateful behavior, they might think they’re seeing a hate crime and want justice. But unless there is an assault or harassment, our criminal laws don’t cover this shameful behavior.
Ultimately, the most powerful aspect of hate crime legislation may be the message it sends.
A hate crime has a ripple effect: It tells those who identify with the victim that they aren’t welcome in a community and stokes fears that they may be next.
Hate crimes laws are an unequivocal statement that it is unacceptable for anyone to live in fear of being targeted for who they are.
The strength of this message – and the potent symbolism of the legislation – is one reason the Matthew Shepard Act took 11 years to pass. It’s why anti-LGBT groups were its fiercest opponents. And it’s why President Obama, during the bill’s signing, reiterated the importance of taking a stand against “crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits – not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear.”