We Tortured Some Folks...

Neil Durkin   |   August 7, 2014   12:00 AM ET

Barack Obama's now rather famous phrase from the end of last week is quite something.

As others have observed, it's not the first time he's referred to the mistreatment of detainees during the USA's "war on terror" as torture (though it's still rare to hear it). But it's definitely new that he's used this eye-catching "folks" phrase, a far more human word than alternatives like "detainees" or "terrorism suspects".

On one level - and particularly on this side of the Atlantic - "folks" still sounds too er... folksy for this very grave subject matter. To my ears it positively jars, sounding like a sort of glib, down-home Bushism, almost as if it were said with one of George W's characteristic twinkle-eyed facial expressions. (This could just be me though. I've always disliked the word, hearing a hollow talk-show-host ring of insincerity in it).

But, on another level, and particularly for domestic US audiences, "folks" is surely the quintessential "us" - regular folk, neighbours, co-workers, our people. One commentator observed that folks brings a Fargo-like quality to the topic (ya know, kinda homely, kinda friendly). Whether the president intended this or whether the phrase was just used off the cuff is - to me at least - unclear, but the end result is that torture victims have been partially re-humanised through the vocabulary. Turned back into people. No longer just "bad guys".

Which is a start. Lest we forget, torture is a worldwide scourge, affecting three-quarters of the world. Acknowledging that it's as wrong when used against "terrorism suspects" as it is against political opponents or even minor criminal suspects is... well, progress.

What's far less encouraging is the fact that Obama is still talking about "making sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved" (mistakes!?), and not about things like "making people properly accountable for their actions" or "bringing people to justice". Not a whisper about that. Indeed Obama even warns of the supposed dangers of being "sanctimonious in retrospect" about what the interrogator-torturers did. These too were "folks", he says, ones with a "tough job" (though maybe not as tough as those who were actually being waterboarded or being forced to stay awake for 11 consecutive days).

Obama's remarks are clearly preparing the ground for the long-awaited publication of at least part of the US Senate Intelligence Committee's mammoth (6,300-page) report into the activities of the CIA during its notorious rendition and secret detention programme. But whether anyone is actually going to be held responsible for authorising or carrying out crimes like kidnapping or torture is looking... far from certain. Obama's record on this is pretty awful. Shortly before his inauguration in 2009 he reassured any nervous Langley operatives that he didn't "want them to suddenly feel like they've got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders." Priorities, eh?

No, the worry here is that the White House is going to treat the CIA report as just another exercise in news management, just more PR firefighting. Rather embarrassingly, an internal "Talking Points" briefing prepared for White House officials by their US State Department colleagues recently appeared in public after accidentally getting sent to a journalist. This gave advice on how to deal with journalists' questions over the Senate report. I note that one question in this crib-sheet Q/A was "Will the Justice Department revisit its decision not to prosecute anyone?" I wonder what the "A" to that is...

We shall see. But what are the odds that the CIA will end up being ritualistically praised ("keeping America safe" etc) and that no-one will end up being punished? And if this fiercely contested (the CIA has already been caught spying on the Senate committee's computers) process doesn't produce anything approaching truth and justice isn't there a danger that whole chunks of the past will be more or less erased, just like those incriminating interrogation videotapes the CIA wiped back in the day. Remember what Jose Rodriguez Jr (forrmer deputy director of operations at the CIA, 2004-7,) said about that? If the world saw the tapes it would be "devastating to the CIA", he said, and "the heat from destroying is nothing compared to what it would be if the tapes ever got into public domain".

Rodriguez et al may be sleeping slightly uneasily at the moment but it's still not looking especially likely that they'll have to fully account for their actions.

We tortured some folks. But did we also let some folks get away with it?

  |   August 5, 2014    4:48 PM ET

A soldier has been killed and a number of Britons injured in a suspected "insider attack" at a military academy in Afghanistan. The incident happened at the Afghan National Defence University in Kabul city when a man reportedly dressed in Afghan army uniform opened fire on foreign troops.

The International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) confirmed one of its soldiers was killed, while Germany's Ministry of Defence said an army general was among 15 people injured. It is understood a number of Britons were wounded in the attack but their injuries are not thought to be life-threatening.

A US official said the soldier killed was American, the Associated Press reported. The UK's Ministry of Defence said it was investigating reports of a shooting incident and "it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time". The incident took place at the site in the Qargha district of Kabul which also houses a British-run military academy - dubbed "Sandhurst in the sand".

A spokesman for Germany's Ministry of Defence said: "There has been an attack, probably through an 'inside attacker'...at 12.23pm Afghan time on August 5. At least 15 Isaf members were wounded, among them a German soldier who works as a brigade general. One Isaf soldier died from his injuries.

"The German general, who is not thought to be in a critical condition, is receiving treatment. His next of kin have been informed. An investigation into the attack is taking place." An MoD spokesman said: "We are aware of reports of an incident at Qargha. The incident is under investigation and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time".

An Isaf spokesman said: "Isaf confirms that an incident occurred today involving local Afghan and International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) troops at The Marshal Fahim National Defence University in Kabul City, Afghanistan. "At this time, Isaf can confirm one Isaf service member was killed. This incident is under investigation. It is Isaf policy to defer casualty identification to the relevant national authorities."

General Mohammmad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Defence Ministry, told the Associated Press a "terrorist in an army uniform" opened fire on both local and international troops. He said the shooter had been killed and that three Afghan army officers were injured.

A US official said one American soldier was killed in the attack and "about a dozen" of those wounded were Americans, AP reported. The attack was initially reported to have happened at the British-run training academy, dubbed "Sandhurst in the sand", which will be the only remaining British military presence in the country after operations end this year.

However it is understood the incident happened in another part of the large site at Qargha, where there are several training facilities. The attack comes as so-called "insider attacks" - incidents in which Afghan security forces turn on their Nato partners - largely dropped last year. In 2013, there were 16 deaths in 10 separate attacks. In 2012, such attacks killed 53 coalition troops in 38 separate attacks.


Jessica Elgot   |   August 5, 2014    4:15 PM ET

A racist laser artwork of President Barack Obama swallowing a banana has been projected onto the facade of the US embassy in Moscow, wishing the US leader a 'happy birthday'.

On the front of the imposing building in the city's Presnensky District late Monday night, the green laser beams etched the words 'Happy Birthday Obama' on the day the President turned 53.

An image of the President in a party hat, with a banana moving into his mouth was then played out.

A group calling itself 'The Moscow Student Initiative' claimed responsibility for the projection, posting on its VK social media page: "Laser show at the US Embassy in Moscow as a gift to Barack Obama".

The group describes themselves as "an art group, a circle of common interests, activists, students, patriots".

"On the night of August 4, activists of the Moscow Student Initiative projected an extraordinary image on the US embassy. The image resembled the face of Barack Obama. The composition was animated and there was a diving banana in the mouth of the US President. At the end was the inscription 'Happy Birthday Obama'."

Ridus, a citizen journalism website in Moscow, said one man was detained by police after the images were projected.

The group also claimed responsibility for a banner close to the consular building for the US Embassy, which compared him to the 'Three Wise Monkeys'.

obama banner

The banner outside the US consulate

The banner reads: "Don't see. Don't hear. Truth for no one" — according to a translation by the Washington Post.

And on its VK page, Russia's answer to Facebook, the students also posted pictures of a sculpture of a white American with its arms folded and another two arms in its ears.

On its folded arms it says 'American democracy', with its body painted in the colours of the American flag and dollar bills stuffed in its folded elbows and armpits.


One of the sculptures created by the Russian group

The group has previously projected #SaveKidsFromUkraine onto the Embassy building, in protest at US support for Ukraine's new pro-Europe government, which has been forcing out pro-Russia rebels in the countries East, causing civilian casualties.

A Century of Warfare: Analysing America's War Record Since WWI

Brad Linzy   |   July 31, 2014    4:33 AM ET

This past Monday, 28 July 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, a war which was supposed to have ended all wars, yet in hindsight, really began a century of warfare that raised the technology of killing to a high art and shuffled the decks of world power.

Although US involvement in World War I wasn't official until 1917, this conflict would herald the arrival of the US as an imperial power and set up a trail of political dominoes that are still falling to this day.


To better understand why I say this has been a century of warfare, particularly for the US, let's look at some raw numbers. While most war statistics focus on human casualties, and while most discussions of warfare hinge upon qualifications of justness or morality, for the sake of this exercise let's focus only on the duration of each war. What follows is a list of every major, official US military conflict of the past 100 years along with the number of days spent by the US in each engagement.

  • Word War I: 6 April 1917 - 11 November 1918 (585 days)
  • World War II:
    8 December 1941 - 2 September 1945 (1365 days)
  • Korean War:
    25 June 1950 - 27 July 1953 (1128 days)
  • Vietnam War (aka Second Indochina War):
    1 November 1955 - 30 April 1975 (7121 days)
    NOTE: Although this war is often officially cited as beginning for the US after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, the US had been sending troops, arms, and tactical aid to South Vietnam as early as 1950. The start of the Second Indochina War is often cited as 1 November 1955, after the French withdrawal. While it may skew our traditional view slightly, I believe this start date affords a more accurate overall picture.
  • Panama Invasion (Operation Just Cause):
    20 December 1989 - approx, 1 April 1990 (103 days)
  • The Gulf War (Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm):
    2 August 1990 - 28 February 1991 (211 days)
  • Somali Civil War (Operation Restore Hope):
    4 December 1992 - 31 March 1995 (848 days)
  • Bosnian War (Operation Deliberate Force):
    30 August 1995 - 20 September 1995 (22 days)
    NOTE: this conflict was much longer and involved US-led intervention as early as 1992, but official US direct military involvement lasted through the dates above. This is a conservative estimate of US involvement.
  • Haiti (Operation Uphold Democracy):
    19 September 1994 - 31 March 1995 (194 days)
  • Kosovo War:
    23 March 1999 - 11 June 1999 (81 days)
    NOTE: dates reflect actual start and end of NATO bombing.
  • Afghanistan War (Operation Enduring Freedom):
    7 October 2001 - Present (4680 days)
  • Iraq War:
    20 March 2003 - 18 December 2011 (3196 days)
  • Libya Intervention:
    19 March 2011 - 31 October 2011 (227 days)

Total duration of US involvement in wars from 6 April 1917 to present is 19,550 days. That's over 53.5 years of war out of 100.

Here are the most "warlike" Presidents over this time period. Figures are calculated by the total number of days of all wars over which each presided. Multiple wars running concurrently are counted separately.

  1. George W. Bush, Republican (4797 days Afghanistan, and Iraq)
  2. Barack Obama, Democrat (3308 days, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya)
  3. Dwight Eisenhower, Republican (2097 days Korea and Vietnam)
  4. Richard Nixon, Republican (2028 days, Vietnam)
  5. Lyndon Johnson, Democrat (1887 days, Vietnam)
  6. Franklin Roosevelt, Democrat (1222 days, WWII)
  7. Bill Clinton, Democrat (1098 days Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, and Kosovo)
  8. Harry Truman, Democrat (1063 days, WWII and Korea)
  9. John F. Kennedy, Democrat (1037 days, Vietnam)
  10. Woodrow Wilson, Democrat (585 days, WWI)
  11. Gerald Ford, Republican (387 days, Vietnam)
  12. George H.W. Bush, Republican (362 days, Panama, Persian Gulf, and Somalia)

Democrats: 10,200 total days presiding over wars
Republicans: 9671 total days presiding over wars


These numbers can paint an historical picture that looks somewhat askew from what we're used to. For instance, who would have guessed that Bill Clinton was more "warlike" than Harry Truman? Or that George H.W. Bush, who presided over three conflicts during his single term in office including the first Gulf War, would be at the bottom of this list? Or that the Democrats would be more "warlike" than Republicans?

In the case of Eisenhower, his numbers are inflated by the assertion that the Vietnam War started in 1955, not 1964 after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Eisenhower, who warned the world of the influence of what he called the "military industrial complex", did not start the Korean War and did not cave to pressure to increase US presence in Vietnam during his term, yet his numbers show him at #3 on the "Warlike Presidents" list nonetheless.

The same could be said of Kennedy. He resisted the same pressure to expand the war in Vietnam, yet he still sent troops, arms, and tactical aid to South Vietnam and racked up an entire presidency technically "at war".

This leads to an interesting debate about what constitutes "war". The US Constitution stipulates that only Congress can declare war, yet does not prescribe the exact methodology by which this must be done, hence we have a situation whereby every war starting with Korea onward has been "authorized" in one form or another by Congress, yet not officially "declared".

As Randolph Bourne said when writing about World War I in 1918, war is the health of the state. As America's power has grown, so has its propensity for war. Regardless of the debates about the justness or morality of war, the numbers have shown peace to be the exception in America while war has been the rule, making this last century since the start of World War I undeniably a century of warfare.

Jack Sommers   |   July 30, 2014    9:55 PM ET

Scots living in US are much more sceptical of independence than those living in the country, with many Scots-Americans fearing the "special relationship" with America would suffer if their country left the UK, according to a new survey.

The survey showed 74% of Scottish-born people living in the United States wanted Scotland to remain in the UK and 38% fear independence would harm its relationship with America.

Earlier this month, an ICM poll of those living in Scotland - the only ones who will have a ballot to cast in September's referendum - showed around 45% are opposed to independence, compared with 34% in favour and the rest undecided.

scottish american flag

A runner on New York's Scotland Run

The American survey was conducted by non-profit corporation Friends of Scotland, which polled more than 200 Scots who live in the US.

If the Scotland votes yes, 66% of respondents would prefer to retain their British passports than change to a new Scottish issued one, the survey said.

A total of 84% felt those pushing for independence had not set out a vision of what the new nation's foreign relations would be handled, saying they did not believe "sufficient thought has been given to Scotland’s international representation through embassies and consulates to guarantee, protect and promote Scotland’s interests abroad".

Friends For Scotland was founded in 2001 by actor Sir Sean Connery - who is a vocal advocate of independence - to promote Scottish interests abroad, particularly in the US.

American tourists' visits to Scotland are estimated to be worth £280 million to the Scottish economy a year.

Scots who live in the US but favour independence include actor Alan Cumming, who bought a property in Edinburgh ahead of the poll so he could vote, only to be told he couldn't because it was not his main residence.

The poll is not the first intervention in the Scotland debate by those living in the US.

The intervention of Barack Obama was a decisive moment in the debate over Scottish independence.

"The UK has been an extraordinary partner to us. From the outside at least it looks like things have worked pretty well and we obviously have a deep interest in making sure one of the closest allies that we will ever have remains a strong, robust, united and effective partner," he said at a press conference alongside David Cameron in June.


Hillary Clinton, who may succeed Obama as president, also opposes Scottish independence.

Speaking on Newsnight, she said: "I would hate to have you lose Scotland. I hope that it doesn't happen but I don't have a vote in Scotland. But I would hope it doesn't happen."

She added: "I would think it would be a loss for both sides but, again, I don't have a vote."

Clinton said the special relationship between Britain and the US was "worth everything to me and to our country".

She added: "I do think we see the world very similarly."

The Yes Campaign was undeterred by the Friends of Scotland survey findings.

"Importantly, the respondents to this survey highlight that 62% believe that Scotland’s strong relationship with the United States will endure after a Yes vote and that Scotland will come together after the referendum," a spokesman for Yes Scotland told The Huffington Post UK.

"Large numbers of the respondents also want more powers for the Scottish Parliament, but as the referendum debate has developed, more and more people in Scotland have come to realise that the only way to achieve a meaningful package of powers - that Holyrood could use to grow the economy and build a fairer society - is to vote Yes in September."

He added: "People in Scotland are comfortable with many identities, be they Italian, Polish, American, British, English, Irish, Indian and Pakistani. Everyone is entitled to their view, but the referendum is about who is best to take decisions on Scotland’s future and we believe that is the people who live and work here.

"It is certainly not a Tory government at Westminster that continues to impose economically damaging policies in Scotland."

What Does the World Say to the KGB Agent?

Andrea Chalupa   |   July 28, 2014    7:36 PM ET

When my grandfather was a young man in Donbas, he was summoned to the local office of the NKVD--the Soviet secret police and the predecessor of the KGB. A family man with a wife and an infant at home, he managed a factory and was a law-abiding citizen. Yet an agent interrogated him about plotting to overthrow the government, and demanded that he sign a confession. My grandfather right away knew that they had mistaken him for someone else, but the agent was convinced that they had the right man--a terrorist committed to killing Stalin. So they took him to a dark, dank room and hung him up by his arms so that his feet dangled off the ground. The last thing my grandfather remembered before passing out was a giant man beating him with relentless fists and, when the giant grew tired, he flogged my grandfather with a chair. For many months, the torture continued, because my grandfather refused to sign the confession. Naively, he thought that the entire Soviet system had erroneously pinned this treacherous plot on him and him alone--he did not know that he was one of countless innocent victims arrested and tortured during Stalin's purges.

"I will torture you until there is nothing left of you!" an agent liked to scream at my grandfather. I often think about that agent and how my grandfather found the strength to survive. I like to imagine myself in the room with them in the form of a light whispering in my grandfather's ear, telling him that he will have granddaughters one day, and he will sit comfortably in his California home and watch this entire hellish machine fall apart on television. And the television will show him a sea of people singing the Ukrainian national anthem in Kyiv. I can't imagine how else he could have survived.

I often talk to the agents who tortured my grandfather. When I'm faced with getting on a stage and speaking to a room full of people, or getting out of bed when I don't particularly want to and have to write, I tell the agents who thought they would torture my grandfather to death: He survived and continues to defy you because here I am on this stage, here I am writing, here I am doing this thing that I feared to do, and I do it to remind you that my grandfather survived all that you did to him.

Now I have a new KGB agent to talk to. To be honest, I thought that they were all dead. But there's one who seems to be holding the world hostage. I don't so much blame him as much as I blame the world. You see, Vladimir Putin reminds me of that Japanese soldier who in 1974 had to be convinced by a higher ranking officer that World War II had ended; yet for 29 years in the wilderness he lived like a madman, waging war on imaginary enemies. That is Putin. He wants the Iron Curtain back in a world that is increasingly global and connected--such a feat seems impossible even if world leaders continue to look the other way.

It's the people who are unwilling to talk to KGB agents who I hold accountable. On a few occasions, I've heard from Jewish friends that they or their family members refuse to step foot in Germany. I always thought that this was extreme. But now that history seems to be repeating, I understand their decision differently. Germany wasn't simply hijacked by a madman and his thugs; Hitler provided economic relief like Russian gas serves Germany today; like Hollande's minstrel ships serve France; like oligarchs serve London banks and far too many British institutions to count. Hitler was an economic choice for Germany, and so the vast majority of Germans went along for the military industrial complex ride and benefited. Since its defeat, Germany has tried desperately to make amends for the horrors of the Holocaust, yet all of that rings hollow now: Building memorials are important but they can't save lives and end wars like leadership can. Given their reluctance to hold Putin accountable, any statement German leaders make about the Holocaust sound like a polluting corporation giving a drop of profits to conservation for the sake of a press release. My heart goes out to victims of the Holocaust and their descendants, and to victims of the Soviet Union and their loved ones. We were promised "Never again" and all we're getting from the EU is the dismissive "Not now."

If not now, when?

How many more lives must be lost? How many more sovereign states invaded? There is a madman fighting imaginary enemies. Someone must send him a powerful message to snap him back to reality. To world leaders I ask, will you finally speak to the KGB agent in a way that he can understand?

Paul Vale   |   July 28, 2014    3:12 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Sarah Palin does not like the mainstream… sorry "lamestream"… media. The pantomime former vice presidential nominee has spent the intervening years since her brief sojourn in the political spotlight lambasting the American press for failing to agree with her unlettered worldview, often in angry screeds penned on Facebook.

Yet despite holding no political position, the former governor remains hugely popular with members of the Tea Party, a popularity the Alaskan moose hunter is now trying to monetise by launching the Sarah Palin Channel, a website that boasts Mama Grizzly as the executive editor, while offering readers political commentary and information about her personal life.

In a Facebook post uploaded on Sunday, Palin asks: "Tired of media filters? Well, so am I!" Readers are then invited to hand over $99.95 a year, or $9.95 a month, to gain access to un-blinkered news, commentary, ramblings and, presumably, pictures of the right-wing doyenne standing atop trophy kills of wild game.

"Let’s go rogue and launch our own member-supported channel. I want to talk to directly to you on our channel on my terms and no need to please the powers that be,” she said, whilst promising to "go beyond the sound bites and cut through the media's politically correct filter and things like Washington, D.C.'s crony capitalism."

"We'll talk about the issues that the mainstream media won't talk about and we'll look at the ideas that I think Washington doesn't want you to hear."

At the top of the website, just bellowing a picture of Palin (of course) are two clocks – one showing the US national debt (going up) and a second showing Obama’s time left in office (going down). Her daughter Bristol has even been given her own blog on the site. Is it all nonsense? Yes. Will it be popular? You betcha!


  |   July 28, 2014    7:26 AM ET

The UN Security Council called for an 'immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire' after a 24-hour ceasefire plan ahead of a major Muslim holiday appeared to have disintegreted.

A spokesman for Hamas had said it would respect the truce that began from 2pm (12pm BST) in the lead-up to Eid al-Fitr, which caps the fasting month of Ramadan, after the Palestinian group rejected Israel's offer late on Saturday of a 24-hour extension to a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire which was respected by both sides.

More rockets were fired towards Israel, prompting the Israeli Defence Forces to restart operations. The IDF claimed Hamas had continued to launch rockets against Israel after their ceasefire began.

The military force tweeted: "The Iron Dome just intercepted 4 rockets over Beersheba. Hamas continues to fire at Israel from Gaza."

US President Barack Obama stressed in a call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his "serious and growing concern" about the number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives, as well as the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Obama also stressed the need for an "immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire" to end hostilities.

And he called for the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarisation of Gaza in order to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Lt Col Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, did not confirm whether the IDF would hold fire following the new truce requested by Hamas, but said that troops would carry on demolishing Hamas military tunnels.

The IDF also released a statement denying it was responsible for the deaths of some 15 women, children and UN workers at a UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school in northern Gaza on Thursday.

A spokesman said that the Israeli military force had conducted a "comprehensive inquiry regarding the incident" in Beit Hanoun.

It claimed to have found that a "single errant mortar" hit the school's courtyard when it was "completely empty", despite multiple reports that the premises had been crowded with people seeking shelter.

"The inquiry concluded that during the intense fighting between IDF forces and Hamas militants, the militants operated adjacent to the UNRWA school," the spokesman said.

"The militants fired anti-tank missiles at IDF soldiers, who then responded by firing several mortars in their direction," the army statement said.

"The inquiry... concluded that a single errant mortar landed in the courtyard of the UNRWA school, when it was completely empty.

"The IDF stresses it does not operate or target international organisations in the Gaza Strip, and the ongoing coordination conducted via the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) is continuous without change, even during times of combat.

"In light of the inquiry's findings, the IDF rejects the claims that were made by various officials immediately following the incident, that people were killed in the school premises as a result of IDF operational activity."

Former prime minister Gordon Brown decried the bombing or damage to a total of 120 schools - more than 70 run by UNRWA - since the military campaign began in Gaza.
Writing in the Observer, Brown said: "As the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has said, schools are for learning and must never become theatres of war.

"They should be safe havens for boys and girls, and their violation is a crime against international law.

"And whatever the provocation, their militarisation - by whatever means - should be outlawed."

Labour former deputy prime minister John Prescott today added his voice to those criticising Israel's bombardment of Gaza, which he described as "brutally disproportionate and grossly indiscriminate".

Lord Prescott said any other country would be made an international "pariah" if it acted in the same way.

And he directly compared the situation in Gaza with a concentration camp, suggesting the Nazi Holocaust should "give Israelis a unique sense of perspective and empathy with the victims of a ghetto".

"Imagine a country claiming the lives of nearly three times as many as were lost in the MH17 plane tragedy in less than three weeks," Lord Prescott wrote in the Sunday Mirror.

"A nation which blasted a hospital, shelled and killed children from a gunboat as they played football on the beach and was responsible for 1,000 deaths, at least 165 of them children, in just two weeks.

"Surely it would be branded a pariah state, condemned by the United Nations, the US and the UK. The calls for regime change would be -deafening.

"But these howls of protest are muted. The condemnation softened. For this is Israel."

Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched through London yesterday, many of them branding Israel a "terror state".

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, speaking after crisis talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign ministers in Paris yesterday, urged both sides to extend the cessation of violence in a bid to stem the loss of life.

"The necessity right now is to stop the loss of life and you stop the loss of life by getting this ceasefire to roll over for 12 hours, or 24 hours or 48 hours, and then again and again," he said.

Israel's latest campaign in the Gaza Strip, which began on July 8, has killed more than 1,050 Palestinians, mainly civilians, according to Palestinian health officials.

Israel has lost 43 soldiers, while two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker have been killed by rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza.

More than 2,400 rockets have been fired toward most of Israel's major cities, but casualties have remained low due to the Iron Dome aerial defence system.

Eid al-Fitr, one of the most important holidays in the Muslim calendar, is expected to begin on Monday or Tuesday, depending on the sighting of the new moon.

  |   July 24, 2014    4:04 PM ET

What a week! The week of the brilliant, bonkers and brilliantly bonkers opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow...

...which was so much fun, the Queen like TOTALLY lightened up and photobombed someone the following day...

The week that Mr Miliband went to Washington...

And of course the week when a certain little fella turned one:

We've already done a definitive round-up of funny tweets about the opening ceremony - but we've got highlights below; plus tweets about all the above and more.

That 'more' includes Nick Griffin, Steven Gerrard and #AskWenger. Enjoy, sport/Scotland/Scottie dog fans!


Asa Bennett   |   July 23, 2014    4:49 PM ET

Ed Balls has made light of his awkwardly memorable surname, quipping that he is in a better position than health secretary Jeremy Hunt, whose own surname was infamously mangled twice by BBC journalists.

The Labour shadow chancellor made his cheeky joke on Tuesday night at Labour's annual business reception in the City, telling the audience: "I've always had a name that people tend to remember once they hear of it."

"I am only member of the House of Commons where BBC presenters get embarrassed when they pronounce my surname correctly, which is the opposite of the problem that Jeremy Hunt and [Lib Dem MP] Tessa Munt have."

James Naughtie, a longtime co-host of the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, first made the error about Jeremy Hunt's name in 2010, when he accidentally replaced the "H" at the start of Hunt's last name with a "C", leading to him descending into a coughing fit afterwards.

Later on the same day, Andrew Marr, who hosts a panel show on the same network was talking about Naughtie's gaffe and ironically, after promising not to repeat it, he did just that. Both presenters apologised for their gaffes.

Balls previously showed off his panache for daring jokes after mocking David Cameron for needing a "surprisingly small towel" when he was papped changing while wearing a Mickey Mouse towel on the beach.

Balls chose to make light of his name on Tuesday after observing that Lord Hill, David Cameron's choice for European Union commissioner, had a name that lacked "resonance in policy circles".

The shadow chancellor also issued a warning against Britain leaving the EU, in a message that was met with enthusiastic applause by the assembled business figures.

Following Ed Miliband's meeting with Barack Obama, Balls said: "The thing we hear when we cross to the other side of the Atlantic and speak to our partners in America is as they cannot understand how at this critical time for foreign policy and economic policy that Britain could be flirting with possibly walking away from the largest single market on our doorstep, our membership of the European Union and all the jobs and investment that comes with that."

Balls also mused on the "irony" of MPs debating on Monday how to work with EU leaders to hit back against Vladimir Putin after the MH17 plane crash "as we flirt with walking away".

Speaking last year, Obama urged Cameron against a 'Brexit' from the political bloc, telling him that he “values a strong UK in a strong European Union”.

  |   July 23, 2014    9:58 AM ET

So this was the scene at the White House on Monday when naughty schoolboy Labour leader Ed Miliband met head teacher American President Barack Obama:

ed miliband

Naturally, on seeing this picture, we had to ask our Twitter followers for their picture captions.

Our favourite came courtesy of Michael Moran:

But check out all these other funny suggestions below...

SEE ALSO: Mr Miliband Goes To Washington - The Must-See Movie!

Chris York   |   July 22, 2014   11:19 AM ET

Ed Miliband met Barack Obama on Monday, in a meeting of such gravity the Labour leader tried to eat his own hands.

ed miliband

Maybe it was the pressure. Maybe he couldn't handle the insane glare from that mirror-like table.

Miliband: 'We Oppose The Israeli Incursion Into Gaza'

Or maybe it was the sense of sheer panic as he realised he'd just presented the most powerful man in the world with gifts in a badly crumpled plastic carrier bag (bottom right in the pic - it was three DVD box sets, including the original British version of 'House of Cards' since you ask.)

Despite the meeting looking anything but warm and friendly, Miliband insisted the meeting had been warm and friendly.

He then tweeted this with a very helpful description for those who don't know what an Obama, meeting, or indeed a picture, actually is.

Unfortunately there are no details of what happened next. Did Miliband accept the outstretched hand? Did he punch the US president? He really looks like he's going to punch him.

The highly orchestrated non-orchestrated meeting is officially known as a "brush-by" with the president casually dropping in to a scheduled meeting with security adviser Susan Rice.

Miliband was accompanied by shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, advisor Lord Wood of Anfield and Tim Livesey, his chief of staff.

All three gentlemen refrained from eating their hands.

Don't forget we've been here before - in 2011 the Miliband and Obama met at Buckingham Palace...

ed miliband

Despite both men holding the same pose, the US president looks chilled and relaxed while Ed looks like he's trying to divide 687 by the square root of Australia.

Mehdi Hasan   |   July 22, 2014    1:20 AM ET

The five things you need to know on Tuesday 22 July 2014...


Ed Miliband hasn't had much to say about Israel's bombardment, and ground invasion, of Gaza and the mounting civilian death toll inside the strip - until, that is, yesterday.

On a trip to Washington DC to try and see Barack Obama, the Labour leader sat down with the HuffPost's Washington DC bureau chief Ryan Grim and told him that Her Majesty's Opposition "oppose the Israeli incursion into Gaza".

Ryan writes:

"Miliband said the incursion into Gaza is likely to help Hamas' recruiting efforts, and undermines Israel in the eyes of the international community. "I don't think it will help win Israel friends," he said. 'I don't think this will make the situation better. I fear it will make it worse... As a party we oppose the further escalation of violence we have seen with Israel's invasion of Gaza,' he said. 'I defend Israel's right to defend itself against rocket attacks. But I cannot explain, justify or defend the horrifying deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, including children and innocent civilians.'"

Strong stuff from the Labour leader - his anti-Zionist mother, Marion Kozak, a Holocaust survivor, must be proud of him.

Whether the Israelis will give a damn is another matter. David Cameron has reiterated his "staunch support" for the Jewish state and has had little to say about the X Palestinian dead - "grave concern" is the phrase I think he belatedly and half-heartedly deployed yesterday. Barack Obama, meanwhile, continues to declaim "Israel's right to defend itself" from rockets - but without Miliband's qualifier about Palestinian dead.

Miliband, incidentally, was in DC to get a "brush by" meeting with the Leader of the World, as craved by every British leader of the opposition and he got a 25-minute sitdown with Obama and his national security adviser Susan Rice. They talked Ukraine, Gaza, Scotland, climate change and the future of the EU, among other issues. Check out the official photo that was released (below) - the Labour spin team won't be too pleased with that rather large table placed between their man and the prez.

miliband obama

The Times reports:

"Mr Miliband also arrived with a House of Commons plastic bag containing his gifts for the president. A Labour spokesman said the bag contained three DVDs — the original versions of House of Cards, State of Play and The State Within. “Given the number of US political dramas on our screen, we thought we would showcase a few British-made examples,” said the spokesman, who stressed that all of the DVDs were in a US compatible format."

The Sun tries to be a party pooper: "Miliband accused of abandoning Britain to stage Obama PR stunt."


My HuffPost UK colleague Ned Simons has this rather nice scoop about the possibility of a Lib-Lab coalition post-May 2015 - and it's been picked up by several papers including the Telegraph and the Mail. Ned writes:

"The next general election will produce a Liberal Democrat-Labour coalition government, the Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davey has predicted. Davey let slip the forecast while speaking at a conference organised by the left-leaning Lib Dem Social Liberal Forum group in Shoreditch, East London, on Saturday. His comments offer an insight into the strategic thinking of the party leadership as May 2015 draws near... He said: 'If we were negotiating again and I hope we will be, but probably with the Labour Party this time ... that would be my prediction, I think because we are used to coalition politics, we would negotiate even better.'"


"It's time to punish Putin, says PM" is the headline on the front of the Telegraph. The paper reports:

"David Cameron last night lost patience with Vladimir Putin's 'bluster and obfuscation' and called on Europe to impose 'hardhitting sanctions' on Russia after the downing of Flight MH17. In his strongest intervention since the disaster, which killed 298 people, the Prime Minister invoked the spectre of the Second World War and compared Russia's aggression to that of Nazi Germany. He said Russia was facing a 'defining moment' in its history and expressed his frustration with European Union countries, including France and Germany, which have failed to back his calls for the toughest possible sanctions against Moscow."

The real question, as journalist Edward Lucas put it on the Today programme this morning, is: "What happens next?"


Watch this video of comedian John Oliver take on America's prison problem.


Hillary Clinton was recently slammed for claiming she and her multimillionaire ex-president husband Bill were "dead broke" after her failed 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Will former British PM Tony Blair be similarly slammed for claiming, in a speech to Blairite thinktank Progress yesterday, that he's *only* worth £20 million? I doubt it. There's a reason they call him 'Teflon Tony'.

From the Times:

"Tony Blair hit back at claims that he has become a member of Britain’s super-rich yesterday by insisting that he is actually worth less than £20 million. The former prime minister said he was not motivated by money and that suggestions his wealth had reached £100 million were 'greatly exaggerated'. He said the claims had led his wife, Cherie, to ask him where all their money had gone."

The paper adds:

"Mr Blair was quizzed about his “new life” after Downing St during an appearance marking the 20th anniversary of his election as Labour leader. He used the address to tell Labour that its best chance of winning the next election was to reach out beyond its “comfort zone” and fight from the political centre ground."


Is this the end of a (far right) era? From the Guardian:

"Nick Griffin has been replaced as leader of the British National party, the far-right group has announced. The BNP's website said Adam Walker, a former teacher who this year was struck off the teaching register for life, had been appointed acting chairman after Griffin 'stepped aside', two months after he lost the party's only seat at the European parliament in a disastrous set of election results. Griffin, who was declared bankrupt in January, had 'taken up the position of president', it said, adding that the national executive was 'united in their support' for his replacement."

Griffin isn't just bankrupt - he lost his European Parliament seat in May, too. Or as my HuffPost UK colleague Chris York puts it in a rather amusing blogpost: "Irrelevant Party Leader Stops Leading Irrelevant Party."


From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 38
Conservatives 34
Ukip 11
Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 44.


Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, says: "Pragmatists v romantics: the Tory dilemma."

Steve Richards, writing in the Independent, says: "The intensity of the adulation for Blair ought to concern Labour’s ‘new’ man."

Angus Roxburgh, writing in the Guardian, says: "Let Putin save face."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com), Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com) or Asa Bennett (asa.bennett@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons, @asabenn and @huffpostukpol@huffpostukpol

  |   July 21, 2014    2:52 PM ET

The Labour leader's off to Washington, in this new comedy caper...

ed miliband washington

(Casting directors: David Schneider, David Beresford, Handface and Andrea Mann)