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National Govt & Politics
Senators in dark as U.S. sends home diplomats from Iraq
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Senators in dark as U.S. sends home diplomats from Iraq

Senators in dark as U.S. sends home diplomats from Iraq

Senators in dark as U.S. sends home diplomats from Iraq

Amid signs of growing tensions between the United States and Iran which have prompted worries about military conflict, Senators in both parties on Wednesday urged the Trump Administration to explain the threats supposedly coming from Iran, and why the State Department suddenly announced it is sending non-essential diplomats home from their posts in Iraq.

"I would urge the State Department and the DOD (Department of Defense) to come down here and explain what's going on," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

The lack of an explanation was broached on Wednesday during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by members of both parties, who said lawmakers were in the dark as to what was going on in with Iran, and why American diplomats were suddenly in danger in Iraq.

"The Trump Administration has not provided any information to this committee on the intelligence behind their decisions," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

The call by Menendez for an immediate briefing was echoed by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) - who was then told by committee chairman Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), that he had been briefed by the Trump administration on the situation - which made clear that Democrats had been left out of the discussions.

Across Capitol Hill, Democrats in the House and Senate all but accused the Trump Administration of trying to provoke Iran into a military conflict.

"This escalating crisis with Iran was entirely predictable, and entirely purposeful," said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). "This seems like escalation with no end game."

Echoing that was Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who warned the White House not to get into any fight with Iran without the express approval of the Congress, as Paul also said he feared the Trump Administration was setting up negotiations with Iran to fail.

But some Republicans pushed back - as U.S. allies cast doubts on evidence that there was an immediate threat from Iran, as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) assailed unidentified officials quoted in one story in the New York Times.

The Trump Administration seemed unlikely to offer briefings to all members immediately - instead that seemed likely to take place in both the House and Senate next week.

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The Latest News Headlines

  • The Florida Department of Children and Families is working to suspend operations at a Westside preschool, after a baby girl was left in the facility’s van for five hours, and died. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office says Ewing’s Love & Hope Preschool & Academy picks up some of their children, but this morning, an infant was left in a car seat in the back of the facility’s van. That was around 8 AM, and it wasn’t until around 1 PM that JSO says the baby was found unconscious and not breathing. She was taken to the hospital, but died. “Every day, parents entrust child care providers with their most precious gifts. Tragically, today a family has just been notified of the gut-wrenching loss of their precious baby girl,” says a statement from DCF Secretary Chad Poppell. Poppell says DCF has opened a joint child death and child care licensing investigation, as it also works with law enforcement. They have started the administrative process of getting an emergency suspension order to stop operations at the facility. DCF additionally says the preschool did not notify them that they were transporting children, so transportation standards were not being monitored. Some of those standards include maintaining a driver’s log of each child that includes verification that each has left the vehicle, conducting a physical inspection of the vehicle to ensure no child is left behind, and having a second staff member perform similar verifications. The most recent inspection of this preschool took place last month, and there were no violations, according to online records. Overall, since the preschool was licensed in 2016, they have not had any Class I violations- which are the most serious- two Class II violations, and 13 Class III violations. At this time, no arrests have been made in connection to the baby’s death today. JSO says they’re working with the State Attorney’s Office to determine what charges are appropriate in this case and if any charges will be filed.
  • John Walker Lindh, the American, who as a teenager, joined the Taliban in Afghanistan in the run-up to the 911 terror attacks, is scheduled to leave a federal prison in Indiana Thursday after serving 17 years on charges of providing support to the Islamic fundamentalist group. >> Read more trending news   Lindh, who is now 38, said he converted to Islam after seeing the film “Malcolm X as a teenager. He left the United States to go to Yemen to study Arabic and the Quran. Then when he was 21 he traveled to Pakistan to join the Taliban. He was with the group on Sept. 11, 2001, when hijackers flew planes into the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and a crashed a fourth plane into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. A little more than two months after the attacks, Lindh was captured when the United States attacked Afghanistan after the country’s leaders refused to turn over 911 mastermind Osama bin Laden. Lindh was taken to the Qala-i-Jangi fortress which was being used as a prison for captured Taliban soldiers. While there, he was interrogated by American intelligence officers. A violent uprising by the prisoners at Qala-i-Jangi on Nov. 25, 2001, resulted in the death of CIA officer Micheal Spann along with more than 400 Taliban soldiers and supporters. Spann’s family opposes Lindh’s scheduled release. Lindh is said to have known of the planned uprising at Qala-i-jangi, though he did not directly take part in the attack. Neither did he let American interrogators know about the planned uprising, according to American prosecutors. Here are seven things to know about Lindh before he is released: Lindh went by the name Sulayman al-Faris during his time in Afghanistan. He became known as the “American Taliban” after his capture in 2001. Lindh was the first American detainee to be brought to the United States for trial on during the War on Terror. He was first charged with conspiring with al-Qaeda, but was not charged with Spann’s death. He was indicted on 10 charges on Feb. 5, 2002. He was in a Taliban training camp and said he met bin Laden there.  Lindh said he never intended to fight against Americans, even though he stayed with the Taliban after 9-11 and knew bin Laden had planned the attacks. Lindh’s defense attorneys entered into a plea bargain in July 2002. Lindh pleaded guilty to two charges – supplying services to the Taliban and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony – and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. One condition of the plea deal was that he had to consent to a gag order keeping him from making any public statement. LIndh contended that he was tortured by U.S. military personnel after his capture. As part of the plea deal, he had to drop the claims of mistreatment.
  • A former Somali army colonel accused of war crimes was found guilty of torture Tuesday in Virginia, where he’s lived for decades and, up until earlier this month, worked as a driver for both Uber and Lyft.  A federal civil jury ordered Yusuf Abdi Ali, of Fairfax, to pay $500,000 to Farhan Mohamoud Tani Warfaa, who said he was tortured for four months as a teen in 1987 before being shot multiple times and left for dead. The jury unanimously found Ali guilty and awarded Warfaa, now 49, $400,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages, federal court records show.  Jurors found Ali liable for the torture Warfaa suffered but found he was not liable for the attempted killing of the teen, the verdict form shows.  “We’re thrilled that the jury came back and found that our client had in fact been tortured,” Warfaa’s attorney, Kathy Roberts, of the Center for Justice and Accountability, or CJA, told The Washington Post. “It’s a good verdict; it stands for the principle that no one above the law. Our client is very happy.” >> Read more trending news No criminal charges have ever been brought against Ali related to the his military service. Warfaa, who traveled for the trial from his home in northern Somalia, also now known as Somaliland, said in a statement through the CJA that he hopes Tuesday’s verdict can contribute to the continued healing of those who suffered at the hands of Ali, who was purportedly a high-ranking commander in former Somali President Jaalle Mohamed Siad Barre’s regime.  Ali was known as Col. “Tukeh,” or “Crow,” during his time in Siad Barre’s command, the Post reported.  “It has been a long journey, seeking justice for what happened to me and to my community,” Warfaa said in the statement. “Today’s verdict was a vindication not only for me, but also for many others in Somaliland who suffered under Col. Tukeh’s command.” The torture Warfaa was subjected to as a 17-year-old farmer stemmed from a missing water tanker.  “Over the course of a three-day trial, the jury heard evidence that early one morning in 1987, Mr. Warfaa was rounded up with other men from his village and taken to the military headquarters of the Fifth Brigade of the Somali National Army, where Col. Tukeh held command,” CJA attorneys said in a news release. “Mr. Warfaa testified that Col. Tukeh’s soldiers tortured and interrogated him, and that Col. Tukeh himself shot Mr. Warfaa multiple times at point blank range, leaving him for dead.  “Miraculously, he survived.” See a 2016 Canadian Broadcasting Corp. report about Yusuf Abdi Ali below. Warfaa said in his lawsuit that he survived only because the men Ali assigned as his gravediggers saw he was alive and solicited a bribe from his family to let him live.  Ali’s attorney, Joseph Peter Drennan, told reporters the jury’s split decision suggested his client was found guilty of torture simply because of his position in the Somali army.  “Yusuf Abdi Ali was held liable because he was a commander in an army that served under a regime that had a poor human rights record,” Drennan said, according to CNN. “But aside from the plaintiff's testimony, there was virtually no evidence that Ali tortured anyone.” Drennan argued that his client cannot afford to pay the damages ordered by the jury, pointing out that Ali recently lost his job as a ride-share driver. He was considering an appeal of the verdict. Watch CNN’s report below on Yusuf Abdi Ali, who drove for Uber even as his federal civil case began last week. It was CNN that sent undercover reporters earlier this month to find Ali, who was working full-time as an Uber driver even as his civil trial for Warfaa’s torture and shooting was set to begin. At the time the reporters caught a ride with Ali, he was listed as an “Uber Pro Diamond” driver who had been working for the company for 18 months.  “I do this full-time,” Ali, who worked in suburban Virginia, told the reporters, saying he preferred working weekends because “that’s where the money is.” During the car ride, which the reporters surreptitiously caught on video, Ali said applying for the job had been easy.  “They just want your background check, that's it,” Ali said. “If you apply tonight, maybe after two days, it will come, you know, everything.” Ali passed the background check despite his name turning up in documents and news accounts of his alleged war crimes that are easily found in a Google search, CNN reported. The alleged atrocities under his command have also been detailed in a documentary by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Witnesses who participated in the CBC documentary recounted murders they allege Ali committed during his command. During the civil trial in the federal courtroom in Alexandria, former soldiers who served under Ali and witnesses in Warfaa’s village testified on the plaintiff’s behalf. Ali has denied the claims against him, the Post reported.  Watch the entire 1992 CBC documentary about Ali, Crimes Against Humanity, below. “I did nothing to anybody,” he said in a deposition, according to the newspaper. “They’re just lying.” CNN reported that, following its questions about Ali, Uber suspended his access to the app. Lyft, which he had stopped working for in September, permanently banned him from working for the company.  Uber permanently removed Ali’s access following Tuesday’s verdict, CNN said.  The news network said that background checks for both Uber and Lyft are mainly done by a third party company called Checkr, which checks for red flags in sex offender databases, federal and local court records, as well as databases used to flag suspected terrorists.  A Checkr spokesperson told CNN its background checks “rely on public criminal records that have been adjudicated in a court of law rather than unverified sources like Google search results.” “Similarly, most employers don’t request background checks that include pending civil litigation due to its subjective nature,” the spokesperson said.  The lawsuit against Ali was first filed in 2005, when Warfaa learned the former military commander was living in the area of Alexandria, Virginia. According to the complaint, Ali served as commander of the Somali army’s Fifth Brigade from 1984 to 1989 before seeking asylum in Canada in 1990, as the tide turned against dictator Siad Barre. Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, plunging the country into decades of civil war.  “Col. Tukeh fled to Canada after the Barre regime was overthrown and eventually became a permanent resident of the United States, where he has been living since 1996,” the CJA said in its background of the case.  Warfaa’s civil suit says Ali was deported from Canada in 1992 for “having committed gross human rights abuses in Somalia,” at which time he came to the U.S. When deportation proceedings were initiated against him here, he voluntarily left the country.  He returned in 1996, reportedly on a visa obtained through his Somali wife, who had become a U.S. citizen, CNN reported. Ali’s wife was found guilty in 2006 of naturalization fraud for claiming she was a refugee from the country’s Isaaq clan -- the same clan that Ali has been accused of brutalizing during the civil war.  Warfaa’s lawsuit claims he was targeted because he is a member of the Isaaq clan, members of which established an opposition force called the Somali National Movement during the war.  “The Somali National Army committed widespread human rights abuses in its violent campaign to eliminate the SNM and any perceived supporters,” the civil complaint states. “It killed and looted livestock, blew up water reservoirs, burned homes, and tortured and detained alleged SNM supporters.” Read the entire amended complaint against Yusuf Abdi Ali below. Warning: The details of the alleged acts against Farhan Warfaa may be disturbing to some readers. The court document states that when the water tanker, which had been used to provide water to Ethiopian refugees, was stolen, Ali went to Warfaa’s village, Jifo Uray, with his men and threatened to execute everyone there unless the tanker was returned.  It was a few nights later that Warfaa and others from the village were rounded up and imprisoned by Ali’s men, the lawsuit states.  CNN’s report earlier this month was not the first time the network tracked Ali down in the United States. Reporters found him in 2016 working as a security guard at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. He was fired from that job a short time after the story aired, the network said. 
  • A one-time IB program teacher at Terry Parker High School has now pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography online. Jordan Schemmel changed his plea in federal court today, and now faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison. He will also be required to register as a sex offender, and he may have a life term of supervised release. Schemmel was first arrested in October, and he initially pleaded not guilty to the charge. The criminal complaint says Schemmel had used Kik and seen things that were illegal, but said he removed himself from those groups. He also allegedly admitted to using Grindr, but said he would report any user he didn’t believe was over 18-years-old. The criminal complaint says Schemmel did ultimately admit to sending a video to someone on Kik- who was actually an undercover agent. He also allegedly told investigators he had other images and videos of child porn on his phone. The US Attorney’s Office says a total of 106 images and 28 videos showing the sexual abuse of a young child were found on Schemmel’s phone and thumbdrive. The court records show Schemmel said he knew child pornography was wrong, and he had tried unsuccessfully to stop himself, but he believed it was an addiction. The criminal complaint says Schemmel previously taught in both Duval and St. Johns counties. At the time of his arrest, the Duval County Public School District said they would remove Schemmel from any contact with students pending the outcome of an internal investigation, if he were to be released from prison. DCPS says Schemmel resigned his position in January, pending disciplinary action. Schemmel’s sentencing date is not immediately available.
  • The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is crediting multiple witnesses for helping their investigation of a double shooting in March, which has now led to an arrest. 19-year-old Cashmere Bland is accused of a robbery and shooting that happened on Atlantic Blvd. on March 16th. Police say Bland walked up to a vehicle with two people he knew inside, robbed the driver, and then opened fire. The driver was killed and the passenger was shot, but survived. Bland has been arrested for murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. 

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