Advocates For Father And Son Imprisoned In Iran Appeal To UN For Help

WASHINGTON ― A lawyer representing two American citizens imprisoned in Iran appealed to the United Nations on Tuesday to intervene on behalf of his clients.

In a 27-page petition submitted to the U.N. Working Group On Arbitrary Detention, Jared Genser argued that the Iranian government is arbitrarily depriving Siamak Namazi, 45, and his father Baquer, 80, of their liberty. Their treatment in Evin Prison amounts to torture, and risks causing “irreversible damage to their physical and mental health, or even death,” wrote Genser, the founder of Freedom Now, a nonprofit that works to free prisoners of conscience.

The U.N. working group, established in 1991, can issue opinions on individual cases and urge countries to free prisoners who are being detained unlawfully. It has little ability to compel countries to abide by its recommendations, but a statement on the Namazis from the group could help apply pressure on Tehran.

The decision by the Namazi family to make a public appeal to the U.N. group is part of a broader strategy meant to increase public awareness of Siamak and Baquer’s plight and to urge the Trump administration to strike a deal with Tehran to secure their release.

Genser released his submission to the U.N. just before a delegation from the U.S. was scheduled to meet in Vienna with counterparts from Iran and the five other countries that helped negotiate a 2015 agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. He and Babak Namazi, Siamak’s brother and Baquer’s son, plan to hold a press conference in Vienna just before the world powers meet to discuss the Iran nuclear deal.

“This will be the first face-to-face discussions between the U.S. and Iran since the inauguration of President Trump,” Genser wrote in an email. “We have been informed that the U.S. delegation will raise the Namazi cases directly to the Iranian delegation.”

The State Department declined to comment on the Namazis specifically but a spokesman said the agency “continue[s] to use all the means at our disposal to advocate for U.S. citizens who need our assistance overseas.”

Until recently, the Namazi family took a very different approach to getting Siamak and Baquer out of prison. When Siamak was arrested in October 2015, his family stayed quiet, hoping to give the previous administration room to negotiate. But when the Obama administration finalized a prisoner swap with Iran last year, Siamak was left behind. The month after the prisoner swap, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Forces arrested Baquer too. In their final days in office, Obama administration officials made a last-ditch effort to negotiate the Namazis’ release, but they were unsuccessful.

After quiet patience proved ineffective, the Namazis decided to speak out. Last month, Babak Namazi briefed a group of reporters and human rights activists in Washington on Siamak and Baquer’s condition. He gave a detailed narrative of the family’s saga since Siamak was arrested in 2015 and said he hoped President Donald Trump would be able to accomplish what his predecessor could not.

According to the petition filed by Genser, Siamak’s physical and mental state has deteriorated dramatically since he was first imprisoned. He is often kept in solitary confinement in a cell without a bed, forcing him to sleep on the concrete floor. He has been tortured by guards, beaten, hit with stun guns, and forced to watch government propaganda with images of him and his father in prison, Genser wrote. He has lost 26 pounds in prison as a result of a hunger strike.

Baquer’s physical health conditions are even more serious. He has a heart condition that caused him to undergo triple bypass surgery before he was imprisoned. He has been hospitalized at least twice since his arrest but has not been allowed to see his heart specialist while in prison.

Tehran’s denial of “medically appropriate detention conditions for the Namazis constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” Genser wrote in the petition.

Despite being held in the same prison, Siamak and Baquer first saw each other in February, more than a year since Baquer entered Evin, Genser alleged in the petition.

Siamak and Baquer have both been convicted of cooperating with a “foreign state” against Iran ― a reference to the U.S. ― and have been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

They were only allowed to meet with the attorneys in Iran for a half-hour several days before the hearing, which was closed to the public and the media. According to Genser, they were not allowed to present evidence, call witnesses, or meaningfully challenge charges or evidence against them.

The case against the Namazis appears to rely heavily on their past affiliation with Western organizations. Siamak held fellowships with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the National Endowment for Democracy ― both of which receive funding from Congress. Baquer worked with the humanitarian relief organization UNICEF for over 10 years. At the time of their arrests, Siamak was working at an oil and gas company in Dubai and Baquer was retired and living Iran.  

Genser’s petition to the U.N. group is just as much an appeal to the U.S. government to focus on getting Siamak and Baquer released. He is conveying a message to the Trump administration that because of their deteriorating health and Baquer’s age, they don’t have much time to negotiate a deal.

During the presidential campaign last year, Trump tweeted that he wouldn’t let Iran imprison Americans and demand money for their release if he became president.

Earlier this month, the Treasury Department sanctioned the Tehran Prisons Organization and senior prison official Sohrab Soleimani for human rights abuses. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer mentioned Siamak and Baquer by name when he discussed the sanctions.

Last week, an American imprisoned for three years in Egypt returned home after the Trump administration negotiated her release. Her release was possible, in part, because of the Trump administration’s willingness to drop pressure on Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to improve the country’s human rights record. 

But it’s not clear what leverage the Trump administration will have with Tehran. Unlike in Egypt, where he was eager to patch up relations, Trump has vowed to take a tougher stance in Iran. And he repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for giving up too much in last year’s prisoner swap, which means it would be hard for him to accept significant American concessions to bring Siamak and Baquer home.

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Chobani Sues Alex Jones For Posting Vicious Fake News Stories

Chobani filed a lawsuit this week against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, accusing the right-wing radio host and his site, Infowars, of posting a fake news story linking the company and its CEO, Hamdi Ulukaya, to a 2014 sexual assault case involving refugees. 

Ulukaya has long been the target of xenophobic threats and right-wing attacks over business practices that earned him and his company admiration all over the world. In addition to supporting charities that aid refugees and immigration, Ulukaya made it a point early in the company’s history to hire refugees and individuals who had been laid off.

“If a refugee has a job, they are no longer a refugee,” Ulukaya, himself a Turkish immigrant of Kurdish descent, told The Financial Times last year.

Earlier this month, Chobani argued that Infowars published a falsified report about a sexual assault case in Twin Falls, Idaho, where Chobani owns and operates the largest yogurt plant in the world. The lawsuit says the erroneous report linked Ulukaya to the assault case and accused his company of bringing “crime and tuberculosis to the community.” The fake news stories led to a customer boycott call against Chobani products, the suit says.

The article, which carries the headline “MSM [Mainstream Media] Covers For Globalist’s Refugee Import Program After Child Rape Case” has received more than 22,000 views on YouTube, and Jones tweeted the story to his roughly 600,000 Twitter followers. The lawsuit says the story was also given a different headline, “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists,” when it was tweeted by Infowars.

“Defendant Alex Jones is no stranger to spurious statements,” the lawsuit states. “The Southern Poverty Law Center described Mr. Jones as ‘almost certainly the most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America.’ Mr. Jones has now taken aim at Chobani and the Twin Falls community.”

Click here to read the lawsuit, filed in Idaho District Court, in its entirety.

 

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The Guide To Becoming Jared Kushner

NEW YORK ― When Charles Kushner was heading to federal prison in 2005 for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering, his son Jared got some advice from Howard Rubenstein ― the dean of New York damage control ― on how to rehabilitate the Kushner name, Charles would later tell a family friend.

Step one: Buy a New York newspaper. Don’t be too particular, Rubenstein told Jared, according to the family friend’s recounting of their conversation with Charles. Any newspaper will do. Step two: Buy a big Manhattan building. Any building will do. Step three: Marry the daughter of a rich New York family. Anyone will do.

The younger Kushner went on to do just that. He bought the New York Observer in 2006, made a debt-laden $1.8 billion purchase of 666 Fifth Ave. in 2007 and married Ivanka Trump in 2009. (A Kushner Companies spokesman denied the family friend’s account. Rubenstein said: “That’s preposterous. I never said that or anything like that.”)

Whether or not Kushner was indeed working through a checklist, his actions during those years have served him well. They also laid the groundwork for the meticulous public relations strategy that has made possible Kushner’s current paradoxical role in the press, as a blameless yet uniquely powerful member of the Trump administration.

Long before he could afford the counsel of someone like Rubenstein, Jared’s father had a sense for how to shape perception to his advantage. In the 1990s, Charles Kushner bought a corporate box at New Jersey’s Giants Stadium on the 50-yard line ― right next to the box reserved for the team’s owners, the Tisch family, according to the Kushner family friend. At the time, the Kushner real estate business was still small, and Charles could barely afford the expense. (A Kushner Companies spokesman confirmed that the family had box seats but denies this characterization.) But he found a way, because he recognized that if you can get close enough to powerful and wealthy people, they’ll assume you are one of them. It’s exactly the sort of maneuver Howard Rubenstein would respect.

The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta condensed the highlights of Rubenstein’s client list in a 2007 profile: “George Steinbrenner, Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, and Leona Helmsley; the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and the Whitney Museum; BMW North America, Mount Sinai Hospital, Time Inc., Bloomberg L.P., and the notorious Lizzie Grubman. He has advised the last six mayors and the last four governors.” It’s a remarkable lineup, a who’s who of rich, powerful, nefarious, or just intermittently infamous New Yorkers. Martin Dunn, the former editor-in-chief of the New York Daily News, told Auletta that Rubenstein is “much more of a power broker than a public-relations man.”

The Kushners have always had a fleet of PR people working behind the scenes to fluff their image. Rubenstein and his son and protege Steven, who now runs the family business, worked for the Kushners until around late 2011. The Kushners then took their PR business to Matthew Hiltzik, a former aide to Hillary Clinton during her first Senate campaign who went on to work for Bob and Harvey Weinstein at Miramax Films, as well as Glenn Beck, Justin Bieber and Alec Baldwin. It was during his time at a Hiltzik client that Jared Kushner met Josh Raffel, one of the firm’s employees and the man Kushner recently tapped to lead communications for his government-wide innovation project. The White House declined to comment for this story.

In late 2014, Kushner stopped working with Hiltzik and began working with Roxanne Donovan, a PR maven the Observer once described as a “younger, sexier Howard Rubenstein.” Kushner also hired Harriet Weintraub, who has a specialty PR company for real estate and luxury brands, before hiring Risa Heller, a former press aide to notoriously media-savvy Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in November 2015.

Heller represented Kushner personally until this January, when he took an official role in the White House. She still represents his family company, where Jared has resigned his role in the family business and divested his ownership in some of the company’s businesses. Donovan, Hiltzik and Weintraub declined to comment for this story; Heller declined to comment beyond statements offered as a spokesperson for Kushner Companies.

Kushner now faces his greatest PR struggle yet, as the son-in-law and a senior adviser to a historically unpopular president whose flagship issues so far have included attempting to strip health care from millions of Americans and impose a constitutionally dubious immigration ban. Donald Trump has given Kushner a comically large set of responsibilities ― from setting American foreign policy in the Middle East to ending the opioid epidemic to revolutionizing the operations of the entire U.S. government.

While Trump dictates policy by Twitter and spends most of his time making impossible promises, Kushner is rarely quoted on the record. His few public statements consist of bland generalities and unwavering support for his father-in-law. Kushner rarely speaks on camera, a point “Saturday Night Live” recently mocked by having Jimmy Fallon play him for an entire sketch with no lines. A source close to Kushner said it’s simply part of his personality to let his actions speak for him.

The few existing videos of Kushner speaking on camera suggest a possible reason he doesn’t do it more: He’s not very good at it. Two brief videos from 2014 ― one from a real estate conference and one for the Jehovah’s Witnesses talking about his $700 million purchase of the group’s former Brooklyn headquarters ― show Kushner in his familiar uniform of a gray suit and dark tie, speaking blandly and without much conviction. With his soft voice and Tri-State Area accent, he sounds remarkably like his brother-in-law Eric Trump.

I don’t talk to the press,” he told Forbes in December. But someone is clearly shaping his image in the media as a beacon of moderation, the man working to pull Trump toward consensus-minded policies and socially liberal politics.

Kushner and Ivanka “helped kill a proposed executive order that would have scrapped Obama-era L.G.B.T. protections,” The New York Times reported in February, based on “people familiar with the issue.” They also “intervened to strike language about the climate deal from an earlier draft of the executive order,” The Wall Street Journal reported a few weeks later, “according to multiple people familiar with the move.” Ivanka was in favor of bombing Syria, her brother Eric said, and Kushner supported the strike as well, according to unnamed sources.

The exact same nuggets that seem engineered to elicit sympathy for Kushner and his wife from one group ― the public writ large ― are why other White House insiders reportedly mock them as “globalists” who are Democrats in all but name. (That moniker is also supposedly bestowed on Goldman Sachs alums Gary Cohn, Trump’s National Economic Council director, and Dina Powell, who ran Goldman’s charitable activity and now serves as a deputy adviser on the National Security Council. The term “globalist” is widely understood to have anti-Semitic connotations, and Kushner, Ivanka and Cohn are Jewish.)

What the press anecdotes from unnamed sources don’t do ― the ones in this story included ― is explain Jared’s political beliefs. He keeps his views so hidden that it’s not clear whether he actually has any at all.

The White House’s on-the-record statements aren’t much help in figuring out what Kushner thinks. For instance, when The Associated Press ran a story on March 29 noting that Kushner’s ability to escape close scrutiny might be coming to an end, White House director of strategic communications Hope Hicks offered this: “Jared is a visionary with an endless appetite for strategic, inventive solutions that will improve quality of life for all Americans.”

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Open thread for night owls: ‘I do not want to dedicate my life to assholes’

At some point, every public servant must reevaluate his or her dedication to his job and to those they serve. Sometimes this is done in private; sometimes it is not.

Meet Daniel Delomez, the mayor of the town of Annezin in northern France. Delomez is so mad that 38 percent of his local electorate voted for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s presidential election that he says he might step down, he told French publication L’Avenir de l’Artois.

“It is catastrophic,” Delomez said. “It’s possible that I will step down as I do not want to dedicate my life to assholes.”

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You can’t be anti-participation trophies and pro Confederate statues. They are the world’s biggest participation trophies.

— Larry Beyince (@DragonflyJonez) April 24, 2017

BLAST FROM THE PAST

At Daily Kos on this date in 2009—What We Know So Far: A Torture Timeline:

So much information about the Bush administration’s torture policies and rationales has surfaced in recent days that, contrary to the secrecy meme of those days, we are now in danger of suffering from TMI – too much information.

So I thought it would be helpful to put together a timeline of known facts, reports and claims to try to give some chronological perspective to it all. As with any such collection, the selections are somewhat subjective, but I have tried to be fair (but not balanced; this isn’t a sporting event) in including what is known, admitted or reasonably validated. And – for once – I will leave speculation to the comments.

It turns out there is so much information already known that just summarizing it is torture. The timeline thus focuses mainly on the torture memos themselves and the events occurring at the time they were written, tested and replaced.

On today’s Kagro in the Morning show, Greg Dworkin rounds up weekend news, the worst of the gobbledygook AP interview, the science march, and the search for self-reflection on 2016. As sexual harassment suits come in from all quarters, a reminder that the culture at Fox begins with Murdoch.

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