- The Trump Administration has designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, marking the first time the U.S. has given the designation to a foreign government
- This choice has received criticism from military leaders and the intelligence community, as it could set a dangerous precedent for U.S. foreign relations.
- Iran responded by classifying U.S. Central Command as a terrorist organization and promising further retaliation.
IRGC Designated As Terrorist Organization
The Trump administration announced Monday that the United States was designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization. The unprecedented move marks the first time the U.S. has ever named a part of another country’s government a foreign terrorist organization.
Iran’s IRGC is a military unit that was originally created after the Iranian Revolution in 1979 as security for Iran’s religious rulers. Since that time, the IRGC has become Iran’s most powerful security organization.
The unit has an estimated 125,000 personnel, that compose army, navy, and air units, and includes control of Iran’s ballistic missiles and nuclear programs.
The IRGC owns a huge network of businesses that range from oil and gas to construction and telecommunication, essentially giving the unit unlimited political influence in business, real estate, and other sectors of the economy.
The U.S. blames the IRGC for facilitating the deaths of U.S. service member in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East because they have financed, trained, and given weapons to terrorist networks.
What Does This Mean?
In a statement released by the White House, Donald Trump said, “The IRGC is the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.”
“This action will significantly expand the scope and scale of our maximum pressure on the Iranian regime,” said Trump, “This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also addressed the situation in a press briefing, where he further elaborated on the reasoning behind the decision.
“We’re doing because the Iranian regime’s use of terrorism as a tool of statecraft makes it fundamentally different from any other government,” Pompeo said. “This historic step will deprive the world’s leading state sponsor of terror the financial means to spread misery and death around the world.”
Pompeo also said that the designation will allow the IRGC to, “Take its rightful place on the same list as terror groups its supports.”
With the new designation, many are wondering what the label entails.
Much like Trump said, the designation, which is set to go into effect next week, will give the U.S. a huge scope of actions they can take against Iran. This includes imposing significant economic sanctions and travel bans on the IRGC and any organizations, companies, or individuals that might have ties to it.
It will also allow the Trump administration to bring criminal charges against the IRGC and any foreign officials that aid them.
Opposition From Military & Intelligence Officials
While the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization is new, it is something that has been debated for years because it is highly controversial in the military and intelligence communities.
The Trump administration has championed the move as a step forward in cracking down on Iran, but top Pentagon and C.I.A. officials strongly oppose the designation.
They argue that it is too strong of a hardline, and could allow Iranian officials to retaliate and justify dangerous and deadly actions against U.S. personnel abroad, especially Special Operations units and paramilitary units that work under the C.I.A.
The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies are also concerned that the designation would prohibit all contact with foreign officials who may have met with or communicated with Guard personnel – a move that could severely damage diplomatic relations in the region.
U.S. military and intelligence officials also oppose the designation because it sets a dangerous precedent that other countries could use against the U.S.
Matt Levitt, the director of the counterterrorism program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the move could prompt Russia and China to start designating U.S. agencies and use the same actions against them that they are taking against Iran.
Others, including an interagency lawyers group, have said the designation is too vague and broad. Some U.S. officials are saying the terrorist designation could include 11 million people, according to the New York Times.
Due to the fact that the IRGC itself is only about 125,000 of that number, the number of people and organizations that have “ties” to the IRGC under the broad definition could be disproportionately targetted, including U.S. allies.
The Iraq Problem
For example, the designation will likely apply to officials in Iraq, which is a key U.S. ally in the region.
Iraq shares a border with Iran, and the two countries are major trading partners. Senior Iraqi officials are against the designation because it could impose travel bans and sanctions on some lawmakers in the government who have ties to Iranian officials.
U.S. officials are also worried that the move could encourage Iraqi parliamentarians to limit the movements and actions of 5,000 U.S. troops who are based in Iraq. This plan has been proposed before and is very popular in Iraq’s parliament. If Iran’s parliament felt as though the U.S. is unfairly restricting them, they could easily retaliate against U.S. troops in their country.
Additionally, U.S. troops and diplomats could be banned from contact with Iraqi authorities who interact with the IRGC and can give the U.S. important intel. That could complicate and even endanger U.S. operations in the region and will most likely complicate U.S. efforts to stop a resurgence of ISIS.
“This isn’t about taking a tough approach to Iran’s support for terrorism,” Said Jeffrey Prescott, a former senior Middle East director at the White House National Security Council, “Rather, it will put our service members in Iraq and throughout the region at additional risk with nothing to show in return.”
Prescott also argued that the backlash against the U.S. will be way worse than any potential benefits, saying:
“There is a reason that successive administrations have held off designating the I.R.G.C. as a terrorist organization, and why many of Trump’s own military and intelligence officials are said to be highly opposed to the move: The potential blowback vastly outweighs the benefits.”
Iran has already begun its retaliate against the U.S. designation.
Following yesterday’s announcement, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), which is a state-run news source in Iran, reported that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called for Central Command to be deemed a terrorist organization, writing:
“Zarif in its letter referred to the US military forces’ covert and open support for the terrorist groups in the region and their direct interference in terror activities and offered the Supreme National Security Council to enlist CENTCOM in its terror list.”
According to Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) declared the U.S. a “terrorist government,” and blacklisted CENTCOM.
Fars also reported this morning that Iran’s parliament ratified a bill that stated:
“All US military, security and intelligence forces active in West Asia and all real and legal persons representing them in West Asia region will be declared as terrorist and any financial, technical, training and service and logistical assistance to this group of forces is considered as collaboration in terrorist acts.”
The bill also aims to strengthen the IRGC.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is also the head of the SNSC, responded angrily to the designation in a televised statement.
“You want to use terrorist groups as tools against the nations of the region,” said Rouhani.“You are the leader of world terrorism.”
Other leaders in the Iranian government have threatened reciprocal action against the U.S. if they actually enforce the designation, including Iran’s Defense Minister and the IRGC General Commander.
The Trump Connection
Some people in both the U.S. and Iran have criticized the move as an effort to help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the day before the Israeli election.
Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif referred to the move as an “election-eve gift to Netanyahu” in a tweet.
Netanyahu himself seemed to reinforce this idea, thanking Trump for this decision in a tweet.
Additionally, others have criticized Trump for a different reason.
Back in 2017, The New Yorker published an extensive investigative report that discovered the Trump Organization had been involved in building Trump Tower Baku a hotel in Azerbaijan.
According to the report, the hotel never opened, and was found “to be a corrupt operation engineered by oligarchs tied to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.”
Currently, it seems like Iran will take action against the U.S. if the designation does take effect, which is it set to do in about a week.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (NPR) (Fox News)
Trudeau Expels MPs From Party, Threatens to Sue Opposition Leader
- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expelled Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal Party and banned them from running in October’s election as Liberals.
- Wilson-Raybould, who previously served as the Attorney General and Justice Minister, accused Trudeau of pressuring her to drop a criminal case against Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin and reassigning her when she refused.
- Opposition leader Andrew Scheer released a letter he received from Trudeau, threatening to sue him for libel over statements he made regarding the case.
Trudeau Kicks Former Ministers Out of Party
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expelled two former ministers from the Liberal Party, in a move intended to create unity between members of his party.
Trudeau said Tuesday that former Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott are no longer allowed in the Liberal Party.
Trudeau also banned Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from running for the party in the federal election in October.
The move comes as Trudeau has been embroiled in a corruption scandal that alleges his office attempted to settle a criminal case against SNC-Lavalin, a huge engineering and construction firm based in Canada.
The criminal case against SNC says the company paid millions in bribes to officials in Lybia in order to secure lucrative contracts between 2001 and 2011, including millions of dollars to the regime of Lybian dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.
When Trudeau and the Liberal Party took office in 2015, Wilson-Raybould was given oversight of the case against SNC in her role as Justice Minister and Attorney General.
A Scandal is Born
Then in January, Trudeau reassigned Wilson-Raybould to the Veterans Affairs Department, which was considered a major demotion.
On February 7, The Globe and Mail published an investigative report claiming Trudeau and his aides had tried to direct Wilson-Raybould’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin case. Wilson-Raybould resigned less than a week after the story was published.
Shortly after that, Wilson-Raybould testified before a parliamentary committee, and claimed that Trudeau and his aides had pressured her to settle the case by using “political interference” and “veiled threats.”
She said what they did was not illegal, but that it crossed informal lines intended to keep politics and criminal prosecutions separate.
Following Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, Philpott resigned from her post as Treasury Board president, saying in a resignation letter that she had lost all confidence in the government.
Both women remained as members of the Canadian Parliament in the Liberal Party after they stepped down from their cabinet positions.
Why Were They Expelled?
Trudeau has continually denied any wrongdoing and has said he takes the concerns very seriously.
Trudeau’s decision to eject Wilson-Raybould and Philpott is largely considered part of his broader efforts to do damage control as he faces a federal election in October.
However, it has not been unprompted. Parliamentarians have recently pushed Trudeau to remove both women from caucus on the grounds that they were undermining party unity.
“The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken,” Trudeau said in a press conference on Tuesday, “It’s become clear that Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Philpott can no longer be part of our Liberal team.”
Wilson-Raybould & Philpott Stir the Pot
Trudeau’s decisicion to remove Wilson-Raybould and Philpott did not come out of the blue.
About two weeks ago, Wilson-Raybould publicly released a secret a recording of a phone call she had in December with Canada’s clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, who is Canada’s top civil servant.
In the phone call, she told Wernick that Trudeau “was on dangerous ground.” Wilson-Raybould released the records shortly after Wernick announced that he was going to step down from his position before the election.
In addition to continually supporting Wilson-Raybould, Philpott also angered members of the Liberal Party after she gave an interview with MacLeans on March 21.
“There’s much more to the story that should be told,” Philpott said in the interveiw, “I believe the former attorney general has further points to make. I believe that I have further issues of concern that I’m not free to share.”
Both women can still run for election again, but they would have to run as a different party, which could be challenging. Though neither Wilson-Raybould nor Philpott have said they are going to run for Parliament again in October under another party yet.
Wilson-Raybould & Philpott Respond
Wilson-Raybould responded to Trudeau’s move to expel her in a series of tweets on Tuesday, writing, “I have no regrets. I will speak the truth as I will continue to do.”
In a letter to the Liberal Party, Wilson-Raybould wrote a letter to the Liberal party, in which she stated:
“I am angry, hurt, and frustrated because I feel and believe I was upholding the values that we all committed to. In giving the advice I did, and taking the steps I did, I was trying to help protect the Prime Minister and the government from a horrible mess. I am not the one who tried to interfere in sensitive proceedings.”
Philpott also responded to her expulsion in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
“It appears that the caucus is intent on staying the current course, regardless of its short-term and long-term consequences to the party and to the country,” Wrote Philpott, “And it has been decided that there is no place for me in the caucus.”
Trudeau’s move to expel Wilson-Raybould and Philpott may have come from internal pressures inside the Liberal Party as they inch closer to the election, but this kind of action is largely unprecedented in Canadain politics.
“There’s been resignations on disagreements to government policy, there’s been resignations relating to scandal,” said Chris Cochrane, a University of Toronto politics professor, “There’s never been two resignations in recent memory of people resigning on principle … together.”
Cochrane also said that Wilson-Raybould and Philpott’s ejections especially come as shock because they represent a change of course for Trudeau, who has continually said that Liberals needed strong legislators with different points of view, and who also campaigned on transparency and government accountability.
“The difference here is that Trudeau explicitly promised in the last election to do business differently than previous governments,” Cochrane told the National Post.
Trudeau is also receiving criticism because he has been championed in the past as a self-described feminist and a supporter of indigenous rights.
Now his opponents have used this incident to portray him as a leader who directed aides to bully Wilson-Raybould, an Indigenous woman, in order to protect a corporation from a criminal conviction in a corruption case.
Trudeau Threatens Lawsuit Against Opposition Leader for ‘Libel’
On Sunday, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer released a letter he received from Trudeau’s lawyer on March 31 threatening to sue him for libel.
On March 29, Scheer posted a statement on Facebook and Twitter regarding Wilson-Raybould and the SNC case. According to Trudeau’s attorney, Scheer’s statement was“beyond the pale of fair debate” and “libelous.”
The lawyer also said the statement, “Contained highly defamatory comments about Prime Minister Trudeau.” The letter concludes that it should be taken as a notice for any subsequent action.
Scheer responded to the letter in a tweet, writing, “I stand by every single criticism I have made of Justin Trudeau’s behaviour in this scandal.”
The tweet also included a letter from Scheer’s own lawyer in response to Trudeau’s letter, which called the libel claim “completely without merit,” and claimed Scheer was “performing his constitutional duty to hold the Prime Minister and his government to account.”
Scheer also later tweeted that he welcomed Trudeau’s lawsuit, “Because he will finally be forced to testify under oath.”
Whether or not Trudeau will move ahead with the lawsuit is yet to be known.
See what others are saying: (National Post) (CBC) (The Washington Post)
Australian Law Criminalizes Internet Companies that Don’t Remove Violent Content
- Australia passed a law that would criminalize tech companies who don’t remove violent materials from their social and online platforms.
- The legislation was proposed as a direct response to the attacks in Christchurch, and was passed within a week.
- Tech companies and others are criticizing legislators for passing the law too quickly, and for unintended consequences and complications could arise.
What Does the Law Say?
Australian lawmakers passed legislation that will criminalize internet platforms that fail to remove violent content from their site.
The bill, passed Thursday, states that this new law will, “address significant gaps in Australia’s current criminal laws by ensuring that persons who are internet service providers, or who provide content or hosting services, take timely action in relation to abhorrent violent material that can be accessed using their services.”
The goal is to make sure social media and other sites with user-based content “cannot be exploited and weaponised by perpetrators of violence.”
The legislation was created as a response to the attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, which were partially live-streamed to Facebook, and viewed by thousands of people. Since then, Facebook has worked to remove 1.5 million versions of the video.
The attacks are mentioned in the bill, and Attorney General Christian Porter also opened his remarks on the bill by paying tribute to the victims.
“Together, we must act to ensure that perpetrators and their accomplices cannot leverage online platforms for the purposes of spreading their violent and extreme fanatical propaganda.” he added during his reading. “These platforms should not be weaponised for evil purposes.”
According to the bill, “violent content” ranges from anything containing images or audio of terrorist attacks, to murder or attempted murder, and torture, among other things.
Companies who don’t take down these kinds of materials from their sites could end up with penalty fines of up to 10% of the corporate body’s annual turnover. Individuals found responsible could land in jail for up to three years.
Criticism of the Law
The legislation was first introduced by Australia’s Prime Minister last week, and many are critical of both the content of the bill and the speed in which it was passed.
The Law Council of Australia released a statement saying the bill, “could have serious unintended consequences and should not be rushed through the parliament.”
The council’s president, Arthur Moses, also said it could lead to increased amounts of censorship. “As we know, laws formulated as a knee-jerk reaction to a tragic event do not necessarily equate to good legislation and can have myriad unintended consequences,” he said.
“Whistleblowers may no longer be able to deploy social media to shine a light on atrocities committed around the world because social media companies will be required to remove certain content for fear of being charged with a crime. It could also lead to censorship of the media, which would be unacceptable.”
Tech company leaders are also taking issue with the law. Sunita Bose, the managing director of the Digital Industry Group Inc., which is an advocacy group that represents companies like Facebook and Google, told the New York Times that a lot of work has to be done to find a solution to this problem.
“With the vast volumes of content uploaded to the internet every second,” Bose said, “this is a highly complex problem that requires discussion with the technology industry, legal experts, the media and civil society to get the solution right — that didn’t happen this week.”
See What Others Are Saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (Radio New Zealand)
Celebrities and Los Angeles City Leaders Call for Brunei Boycott
- Celebrities including George Clooney, Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres, and Aria Grande have called for a boycott of Brunei’s hotels following the implementation of the new law that punishes gay sex by stoning people to death publicly.
- The law goes into effect April 3 and has garnered massive backlash from the international community and human rights organizations.
- Some have criticized the boycott as “tokenism” and “tantamount to Islamophobia,” while the Trump administration has refused to condemn Brunei, only expressing “concern.”
Brunei’s New Law
Numerous celebrities have called for boycotts of nine international hotels owned by Brunei in protest of a new law that punishes gay sex and adultery with death by public stonings.
The law, which is part of the country’s new Sharia Penal Code, is set to go into effect on April 3. The law also has a provision that punishes theft with amputation. The law applies to Brunei’s Muslim majority, as well as non-Muslims, foreigners visiting the country, and even children.
Brunei’s leader Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who has full executive power, has been gradually implementing the Penal Code since 2014. When Bolkiah first started enacting the Code, he was met with a wide array of international backlash.
In addition to criticism from international human rights organizations, there was also boycotts and calls for divestment from some of Brunei’s sovereign wealth fund investments. This included the upscale Beverly Hills Hotel, which attracted protests and celebrity boycotts.
The backlash actually did delay the sultan from carrying out some of the most extreme measures for a while, but once the outrage died down and people started forgetting about it, the sultan quietly continued to push ahead with these provisions.
The sultan enacted the measures so quietly that barely anyone noticed when Brunei’s attorney general released an announcement back in December, saying the law allowing death by stoning will go into effect on April 3.
Nearly four months later, the international community had just started to pick up on the story. Since then, it has spread and spread.
Celebrities Call for #BoycottBrunei
Leading up to April 3, there was a massive response from celebrities and others criticizing Brunei and calling for people to boycott all the hotels owned by the sultan.
On Thursday, George Clooney published an op-ed in Deadline asking people to boycott the nine hotels owned by the sultan all over the world, writing:
“Every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery.”
“Brunei is a Monarchy and certainly any boycott would have little effect on changing these laws. But are we really going to help pay for these human rights violations?” Continued Clooney, “Are we really going to help fund the murder of innocent citizens?”
Following the publication of the op-ed, Elton John commended Clooney in a series of tweets.
On the eve of the law taking effect, Ellen DeGeneres also called for boycotts in a tweet, writing, “We need to do something now.”
Ellen also made the same post on her Instagram, which was picked up and shared by others, including Ariana Grande, who posted the list of hotels to boycott on her Instagram story.
Unfortunately, the boycott has not stopped Brunei.
On Saturday, Brunei released a statement defending the Penal Code, saying the purpose of sharia law is for “criminalizing and deterring acts that are against the teachings of Islam,” Continuing, “it also aims to educate, respect and protect the legitimate rights of all individuals, society or nationality of any faiths and race.”
Not everyone is on board with the boycott.
“The people of Brunei are not backwards,” said Mustafa Izzuddin, a fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a think tank in Singapore, “They would see these boycotts [by Clooney and others] as tantamount to Islamophobia. If you polled right now, Clooney wouldn’t be very popular in Brunei. They might boycott his movies.”
Bill Maher also criticized Clooney on Real Time on Friday night, describing the boycott as “chickenshit tokenism.”
“What about Saudi Arabia? If you really want to get back at them, stop driving. Don’t use oil,” Said Maher, “It’s Sharia Law, which is some version of the law in most Muslim-majority countries. And if you want to be against that, you know, speak openly and honestly about standing up for liberal principles.”
Clooney indirectly responded to Maher’s comments and others who have been critical of the boycott in a second op-ed published on Monday.
“For those that want to play ‘what-about-isms,’ what about Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Somalia? There’s a long list. Well then, get to it. We all do what we can,” Wrote Clooney, “And we do it by chasing their finances and confronting the establishments that they’re laundering money through.”
Clooney also made the argument that speaking out against Brunei sends an important message to other countries.
“The most dangerous issue is Brunei’s neighbors.” He wrote, “And if Brunei isn’t met with loud, forceful resistance that shakes their business establishments, then anything is possible.”
LA City Officials Call for Boycotts
To Clooney’s credit, the push from celebrities has already made an impact on the outside world.
On Tuesday, LA City leaders called for a boycott of both the hotels located in Los Angeles. Councilman Paul Koretz, LA Controller Ron Galperin, and head of Equality California Rick Zbur said in a news conference on Tuesday that they will discourage residents and tourists from staying at the hotels through formal measures.
Councilman Koretz also said he would introduce a resolution at an upcoming City Council meeting.
The three leaders added that they would both look for other ways to combat Brunei’s Penal Code, like discouraging people from holding meetings and even at the hotels, passing further legislation, and asking the Trump administration to take action to stop Brunei.
Regarding their last point, many are waiting to see what the Trump administration will do.
Back in February, the Trump Administration announced it was launching a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality. Many people criticized the announcement as empty, citing Trump’s record on LGBTQ issues.
Trump himself seemed to not even know about the announcement when he was asked about it in a press conference.
Since the Brunei story started gaining traction, the Trump Administration has been largely silent.
On Friday, the Daily Beast published an article saying that the State Department declined to clarify its position on Brunei for nearly 24 hours. Then, “minutes after” the Daily Beast published a story noting the Department’s silence, they were finally sent a statement “saying the U.S. was ‘concerned’ about the new law.”
However, according to the article, “When asked by The Daily Beast, Pompeo and the Department of State declined to directly condemn, or state an objection to, the stoning to death of LGBT people.”
Since then, the State Department has not made any new statements on the matter, and only published the same statement they gave the Daily Beast.