UAE pardons, releases British academic convicted of spying
By JON GAMBRELL
Monday, November 26
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates said Monday it pardoned and released a British academic sentenced to life in prison on spying charges, ending a diplomatic dispute with its longtime Western ally while still alleging the researcher spied for MI6.
Matthew Hedges’ monthslong detention and sentencing last week came as relations between Britain and its onetime protectorate have been strained since the 2011 Arab Spring, the tension only worsening with the UAE’s military campaign in Yemen and its boycott of Qatar. Tens of thousands of British expatriates nevertheless fill lucrative jobs across the sheikhdoms of the UAE and more visit as tourists.
Emirati officials insisted they had developed a strong case against Hedges. At a meeting of journalists hastily convened in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, officials showed short video clips of Hedges purportedly acknowledging his intelligence work.
“He was a part-time PhD researcher, a part-time businessman, but he was a 100-percent a full-time secret service operative,” said Jaber al-Lamki, an official with the UAE’s National Media Council.
“Mr. Hedges has been found guilty of espionage,” al-Lamki added. “He was here to steal the UAE’s sensitive national security secrets for his paymasters.”
Daniela Tejada, Hedges’ wife, told the BBC she couldn’t wait to have him back, calling the time since his May 5 arrest at Dubai International Airport “an absolutely nightmarish seven months.”
“In my heart, I know that he isn’t a spy,” she said.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt also welcomed the decision on Hedges, tweeting it was “fantastic news.” He said Britain did not agree with the charges against Hedges but added that it is “grateful to UAE government for resolving issue speedily.”
“We’ve seen no evidence to support these accusations,” Hunt said, adding that the U.K. is “deeply perplexed” by the charges.
Hunt had lobbied senior UAE officials for Hedges’ release. The UAE came under mounting international pressure after the academic’s life sentence was handed down last week.
“Today we want to thank them (the UAE) for the fact that they’ve reflected upon the strong representations we have made,” Hunt said.
UAE President and Abu Dhabi ruler Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued the clemency for Hedges on Sunday, along with over 780 others to mark the country’s forthcoming National Day. In his statement, al-Lamki said Hedges had routine access to doctors and lawyers, while British Embassy officials attended his court hearing.
Al-Lamki declined to take any questions from journalists at the news conference. Al-Lamki said later Monday afternoon that Hedges had been released, without elaborating.
Supporters say Hedges, 31, was in the UAE as part of research for his doctorate in Middle Eastern Studies at Durham University. Emirati officials say they gathered evidence from his electronic devices showing he worked as a spy.
The Emirates’ state-run WAM news agency alleged Hedges sought information for British intelligence on weapons systems, economic data, details about the UAE’s war in Yemen and “sensitive information on key government figures, including members of the UAE ruling families and their networks.” Hedges’ research for Durham University focused on security issues.
On Wednesday, a closed session of the Federal Appeals Court of Abu Dhabi found Hedges guilty and sentenced him to life in prison.
An international outcry ensued, with many criticizing Western schools like NYU that maintain branch campuses in the UAE, which has faced past criticism over its widespread surveillance programs and its arrest of human rights activists.
In an attempt to explain Hedges’ arrest, Emirati officials showed short clips of him being questioned and in court. They did not allow journalists to record the videos.
In one video, Hedges describes himself as a “captain” in MI6 during what appears to be a court hearing. However, MI6, also known as the Secret Intelligence Service, is not known to use military ranks. The service is similar to the CIA in that it handles covert overseas intelligence collection and analysis.
Another clip appears to show Hedges speaking to someone in an office, describing his work as trying to understand UAE weapon purchases and strategy. He says he describes himself as an academic as “it helps the research to go in an easy way.”
Hedges then snaps his fingers and adds: “Then it becomes MI6.”
In the office video, Hedges appears in a blue polo shirt and jeans. He did not appear to be injured or under duress, though the audio during the court appearance sounded garbled. Emirati officials also did not offer any context for the video clips, which ended with Hedges describing himself as being alone in the UAE, looking down at his hands.
Hedges’ arrest comes amid growing disputes between Britain and the UAE. Britain expressed support for the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, which the UAE and its Saudi allies viewed as a threat to regional stability. More recently, British politicians have expressed opposition to the war in Yemen, where the UAE is a key member of a Saudi-led coalition battling Iran-aligned rebels. Britain has also expressed concern over the blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.
However, experts say the UAE and Britain are still bound by longstanding ties and mutual suspicion of Iran.
“There hasn’t been too much of a price paid in terms of the impact on the bilateral relationship,” said Michael Stephens, a senior research fellow who focuses on the Mideast at London’s Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies.
“That’s good, but there is a bad taste in the mouth and that’s going to take some time to wash away.”
Associated Press writers Jill Lawless and Gregory Katz in London and Fay Abuelgasim in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap .
Opinion: Report on N. Korean Missiles Raises Concerns in U.S.
By Donald Kirk
WASHINGTON — A report by a major think tank on North Korea’s missile program has created a sensation while U.S. officials wonder what’s next in efforts at reconciliation and dialogue with North Korea.
The report, issued by the influential Center for Strategic and International Studies, cites as many as 20 facilities that could be used launching short-range, intermediate-range and long-range ballistic missiles. Satellite imagery has detected more than half the sites that are in various stages of construction and development.
The report is increasing doubts in Washington about whether it’s possible to reach any accommodation with North Korea on its program for building nuclear warheads and the long-range missiles needed to carry them to distant targets. CSIS released the report in the midst of efforts at arranging a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.
Analysts say the report is showing overwhelming differences between pledges of “denuclearization” made by Trump and Kim at their summit in Singapore in June and the reality that North Korea has done nothing substantive about getting rid of its nukes and missiles. As the report makes clear, the North Koreans have acknowledged the existence of none of these sites. Nor have they provided an inventory on their nuclear and missile program.
The report delivered a devastating indictment of North Korea for its efforts at avoiding detection while making a pretense of seeking reconciliation through dialogue.
In fact, said the report, “The dispersed deployment of these bases and distinctive tactics employed by ballistic missile units are combined with decades of extensive camouflage, concealment and deception practices.” The point, it said, was to maximize the survival of its missile units from pre-emptive strikes and during wartime operations.”
The report zeroed in specifically on the Sakkanmol missile base 85 kilometers north of the Demilitarized Zone, stating that it is now equipped with short-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching much of Japan and anywhere in South Korea. The site, says the report, “could easily accommodate more capable medium-range ballistic missiles.”
South Korean officials insisted the report basically had no new information, that all its findings were well known to South Korean and American analysts, but the report was still likely to have a devastating effect on the mood here about making further concessions to North Korea. While North Korea has demanded the United States remove sanctions imposed for its nuclear and missile tests, Trump has repeatedly said sanctions will remain in place until North Korea makes good on the promises made at Singapore.
U.S. officials do not consider North Korea’s gesture of blowing up its nuclear test site at Pyunggye-ri as convincing since the site was largely destroyed in the North’s last missile test more than a year ago. North Korea has said inspectors are welcome to take a look at the site, but no one seems very interested in taking up the offer.
Opinions vary widely as to how far the North Koreans have gone in developing the sites, all of them spread out over mountainous regions where detection and monitoring, even by satellites, is quite difficult. Images of the Sakkanmol site indicate support buildings scattered over a wide area while the missiles themselves are hidden in tunnels.
Joseph Bermudez, who has written extensively on North Korea’s missile program for years, is quoted in the report as emphasizing that the bases are “not launch facilities” but also said that “missiles could be launched from within them in an emergency.
Bermudez derided North Korea’s decision to shut down its Sohae site near the Chinese border for launching satellites as basically a play “for gaining media attention.” At the same time, he said, that gesture “obscures the military threat to U.S. forces and South Korea from this and other undeclared ballistic missile bases.”
The report was expected to have an immediate effect on attempts to revive talks between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korea’s Kim Jong-chol. In fact, some observers believed it was because they knew the report was about to be released that North Korea canceled a meeting the two were to have had last week at which they were to discuss arrangements for another summit between Trump and Kim early next year.
South Korean officials feared the report would derail the drive toward reconciliation not only between the two Koreas but also between the United States and North Korea. It was to stave off the negative effect that Kim Eui-kyeom, spokesman for the Blue House, observed that South Korea and the United States had “far more detailed information from military satellites.”
Moreover, he noted, the Sakkanmol base was for short-range missiles, not for the long-range types that most alarmed the United States last year when Trump denounced Kim as “little rocket man.”
ABOUT THE WRITER
Donald Kirk has been a columnist for Korea Times, South China Morning Post many other newspaper and magazines. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Kavanaugh’s impact on the Supreme Court and the country may not be as profound as predicted
November 20, 2018
Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Oregon
Ofer Raban 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.
Partners: University of Oregon provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court has been widely predicted to plunge the court – and American law with it – into a new conservative era.
The main areas of concern include reproductive rights, LGBT rights, affirmative action, environmental regulations, criminal punishments, gun rights and voting rights.
But these prognoses fail to heed some fundamental distinctions among the decisions of the Supreme Court, and may create a mistaken impression of the court’s power and the inevitable trajectory of American law.
Simply put, Supreme Court rulings are often not the last word on a matter.
What the court does
The U.S. Supreme Court performs two primary tasks: interpretation of federal laws and interpretation of the federal Constitution.
The Supreme Court has the final authority to determine what laws enacted by Congress require. But its determinations can always be reversed by Congress, which has the power to amend or repeal the laws it has passed.
For example: In 1964 Congress gave employees the right to sue their employers for discrimination based on gender. In 2007, a 5-4 conservative majority read that law in a way that limited the available compensation for women suing for equal pay. Within two years Congress responded by increasing the available compensation.
The Supreme Court also has final authority to determine what the U.S. Constitution requires. It does so by deciding cases that challenge the constitutionality of federal and state laws. Generally speaking, the court either declares the law in question to be constitutional or unconstitutional.
When the court declares that a law is constitutional, it effectively steps out of the way of decisions made by other branches of government. But those other branches can always change their decisions.
For example, in 1990 the court ruled that Oregon’s prohibition of the use of a hallucinogenic in religious Native American ceremonies was constitutional. The ruling allowed the Oregon legislature to criminalize such use.
But the Oregon legislature remained free to amend or repeal the law – which it promptly did. Within a year of the Supreme Court decision, the Oregon legislature amended its law to allow the consumption of peyote in religious ceremonies.
Moreover, when the Supreme Court declares that a state law is constitutional under the U.S. Constitution, state courts are free to decide that the law is unconstitutional under their own constitutions.
For example: After the Supreme Court decided that a Georgia law criminalizing sodomy was constitutional, the Georgia courts declared the law unconstitutional under the Georgia Constitution.
State constitutions can provide more rights and liberties than those protected by the federal Constitution. All 50 states have their own constitutions which are often easy to amend. And most state judges – who have the final authority over state constitutions – are elected for office, making them responsive to public opinion.
Decisions that cannot be undone
Things are different when the Supreme Court declares that a law violates the U.S. Constitution.
When the Supreme Court declares a law unconstitutional, its ruling is the final word. Congress, state legislatures or state courts cannot make such Supreme Court decisions go away. These decisions can be overridden only by a constitutional amendment – which, at the federal level, is almost impossible to attain. There have been only 17 amendments in the past 223 years.
For example, when the court declared in 2003 that a Texas statute making sodomy a crime was unconstitutional, neither the Texas legislature, nor the Texas courts, nor Congress could change or repeal that decision.
Heeding this distinction – between Supreme Court decisions that are the final word on an issue and those that can be undone – is important for a fuller appraisal of Kavanaugh’s expected impact.
Recourse in some decisions
Many of the concerns over Kavanaugh’s appointment are about potential decisions that can be reversed by the democratic process.
Take environmental regulations.
Worries about an anti-environmentalist Supreme Court are largely concerns about the court’s statutory interpretation. That means that decisions in this area can mostly be amended or overruled through the legislative process.
For instance, one central environmentalist concern with Kavanaugh is that the court will cease to defer to the decisions of the Environmental Protection Agency. But such rulings, if they occur, would be based on the court’s interpretation of federal laws. And these laws could always be amended by Congress.
Or take abortion: Those who fear Kavanaugh’s impact on abortion rights are almost exclusively worried that the court would uphold state laws that restrict access to abortions – like the 2013 Texas law that caused the closure of several abortion clinics in that state.
But such Supreme Court rulings can be countered at the ballot box, where voters could install state lawmakers or judges who would expand abortion rights.
There is an important qualification to this general rule. While Supreme Court decisions that declare laws to be constitutional can be made irrelevant by legislatures or by state courts, things are trickier when it comes to laws that distort our democracy – like onerous voter ID requirements or gerrymandered voting districts.
After all, such decisions impact the composition of the very institutions that could remedy the issue. Officials elected thanks to voter suppression or political gerrymandering are not likely to repeal such measures. Thus, Supreme Court decisions that uphold antidemocratic measures should also count as potentially irremediable.
No significant difference
The Supreme Court wields its most significant and enduring power when it makes decisions that cannot be remedied by the democratic process. So it makes sense to pay particular attention to those kinds of decisions when examining the significance of Kavanaugh’s appointment.
Liberals’ concerns over the court’s irremediable decisions are primarily about gun control, affirmative action, religious exemptions for LGBTQ anti-discrimination requirements, campaign finance regulations, and upholding laws that distort our democracy.
But when it comes to these areas, it is hard to see how Kavanaugh could make a significant difference. The major turns to the right have already occurred.
Since John Roberts became chief justice, the Supreme Court had already invalidated gun controls by revolutionizing Second Amendment doctrine. It had already invalidated numerous campaign finance regulations and extended constitutional protections to what many regard as political corruption; it had already invalidated the enforcement of an LGBT anti-discrimination measure on grounds of religious freedom; and it already invalidated affirmative action admission programs at K-12 schools.
As for laws that distort our democracy: The Roberts Court had already upheld a voter ID law described as voter suppression; upheld Ohio’s aggressive purges of its voter rolls; and had never met a case of political gerrymandering – which effectively imposes a minority rule – that it did not find constitutional.
The Roberts Court was already the most conservative Supreme Court in many decades – even before Kavanaugh’s appointment, and also before Neil Gorsuch’s. It is worth remembering, though, that the American public is not without recourse. Many of the court’s past and future decisions can be undone at the ballot box.
Securing the Benefits our Veterans Earned – Monday, November 26, 2018
By Sen. Sherrod Brown
This month’s Veterans Day celebrations around Ohio are a reminder that nothing is more important than serving those who have sacrificed so much for our country.
With the Senate back in session, we need to get to work and show this country that we can work together – and there’s no better place to start than ensuring all the women and men who served this country get the care and benefits they’ve earned.
Right now, in order to receive VA healthcare and disability benefits for conditions resulting from Agent Orange exposure, Blue Water Navy veterans must meet a higher burden of proof than veterans who served on land or on inland waterways.
They’re forced to navigate additional bureaucracy that can delay or even deny them benefits they’ve earned, simply because of where they served.
That makes no sense.
If you were exposed to a toxic substance while serving our country, we should make sure that you receive the benefits you have earned, period. No exceptions.
I talked to Joe Benedict, a Blue Water Navy veteran from Cleveland and the president of Cleveland Honor Flight about this issue last week. Like too many, Joe has been denied benefits because the VA changed its policy.
That’s why last year I worked with my colleagues on the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017, which would guarantee that all Vietnam veterans exposed to toxic Agent Orange chemicals have equal access to the care and benefits they earned.
I’ve also raised the issue with VA Secretary Wilkie at a meeting in September and at a Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, pressing him to expand benefits to all Vietnam veterans.
After a long campaign season, we need to show the American people we can work together, Republicans and Democrats, and we should start by putting partisanship aside and finally getting this fixed for the veterans we serve.
I’ve spoken to Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Senator Isakson about this, and I’m hopeful we can get a solution soon.