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An international summit on combating militants from the Islamic State has opened in France, bringing together around 30 countries from a U.S.-led coalition. The Obama administration says several Arab League countries have signed on for airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, but no sustained campaign is imminent. Speaking at the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the United States is at “war” with the Islamic State.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “In the same way that we are at war with al-Qaeda and its affiliates around the globe, we are at war with ISIL. But make no mistake, when I say 'we,' I’m not talking just about the United States. I’m talking about this broader international coalition that includes Sunni-led governments in the region and our allies around the world who are united in confronting this threat.”
President Obama has already asserted he does not need congressional approval to expand U.S. airstrikes into Syria. On Friday, the Obama administration says it derives legal authority for the war on the Islamic State from both the 2001 war on terror resolution as well as the 2002 vote authorizing the Iraq War. The White House made the claim despite Obama’s previous call for repealing the war authorization measures.
The news comes as video was posted online showing a member of the Islamic State beheading British aid worker David Haines. He is the third Western hostage to be beheaded by the militants in less than a month. In the video, the Islamic State issued death threats against another British captive, Alan Henning.
The Obama administration has nearly tripled its estimate of Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria. The CIA says the group may have up to 31,500 fighters between the two countries, up from an initial estimate of 10,000. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the new numbers don’t change the mission.
John Kirby: “The numbers certainly got bigger, and that certainly intensifies the scope of the enemy that you’re facing. I don’t think there’s a direct line between that and the duration of the conflict or the difficulty of the conflict. Believe me, everybody here at the Pentagon knows what we’re up against and is taking it very seriously.”
President Obama met with over a dozen well-known columnists and pundits ahead of his speech last week declaring expanded strikes on the Islamic State. According to The Huffington Post, the group includes David Brooks and Thomas Friedman of The New York Times; Dexter Filkins and George Packer of The New Yorker; and Jeffrey Goldberg and Peter Beinart of The Atlantic.
In Syria, dozens of people have reportedly been killed in government airstrikes on a Damascus suburb. The attack on Douma reportedly killed at least 42 people, including seven children.
A group of veterans from an elite Israeli intelligence unit have announced their refusal to spy on Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. In a letter made public last week, 43 current and former members of the Unit 8200 say that Israel has made “no distinction between Palestinians who are and are not involved in violence” and uses intelligence for “political persecution,” and “harms innocent people.” Two members of the unit spoke about their objections on Israeli television.
Soldier 1: “We have come to an understanding that the right title for the unit’s action over there is not self-defense. The right title would be to control the Palestinian population.”
Soldier 2: “Israel is obliged to protect itself with all resources available, but when it comes to what’s happening in the territories, this is no longer self-defense. We are talking about an attempt to maintain and tighten our grip of the Palestinian population, to erode the Palestinians’ ability to sustain proper way of life. This is also not something we think contributes to Israel’s security.”
The protest marks the first collective act of refusal by a group of Israeli intelligence officers. Israeli politicians across the political spectrum have denounced the dissenters, and government officials have threatened legal action.
Voters in Sweden have elected a left-leaning coalition after eight years of rightist rule. The Social Democratic party ran on a platform of rejecting austerity measures and strengthening the country’s social welfare system. But they will face challenges after failing to win enough seats for a majority government, while the far-right Sweden Democrats won enough votes to emerge as the country’s third-leading party.
In Egypt, one of the country’s leading activists has been released on bail as he challenges a lengthy jail term. Alaa Abd El-Fattah recently launched a hunger strike to protest his third imprisonment since the start of the 2011 revolution. Fattah was sentenced to 15 years for challenging Egypt’s anti-protest law. His father, the prominent human rights attorney Ahmed Seif al-Islam Hamad, died while he was in prison last month.
The National Football League remains at the center of controversy amidst a new case linking a player to abuse. Adrian Peterson, a star running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was indicted in Texas on Friday on allegations of child abuse against his four-year-old son. Peterson was released after posting bail Saturday night. Peterson was deactivated for the Vikings’ game on Sunday. Also deactivated was Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who was recently found guilty of assaulting and threatening an ex-girlfriend. The developments follow last week’s suspension of the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice after video emerged of him punching his fiancée in the face, knocking her unconscious. On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said the Rice tape had “shocked” President Obama.
Denis McDonough: “We have talked generally about the situation in the NFL, and the president was shocked by what he saw. Let’s put it that way. I don’t want to get into characterization of that right now, but I think we all know that Ray Rice being suspended indefinitely seems to be exactly the right thing.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has faced calls to resign over his handling of the Rice assault. On Sunday, the women’s advocacy group UltraViolet flew planes over games at stadiums in four cities with banners reading “Goodell Must Go.” In a statement, the group said: “In a country where a woman is battered every nine seconds and one-in-four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime, we simply cannot afford to have an NFL commissioner who doesn’t take this issue seriously.”
In other league news, NFL officials have acknowledged that one-third of retired players will suffer from long-term cognitive issues. The disclosure came in court documents on a settlement with retired players who accused the NFL of concealing the dangers of concussions.
The Obama administration has taken the unprecedented step of invoking the state-secrets privilege to quash a private lawsuit. On Friday, the Justice Department intervened in a defamation case against United Against Nuclear Iran, an advocacy group that campaigns for sanctions against the Iranian government. In its filing, the government said the case should be dropped because forcing the group to disclose its files would threaten national security. The government has previously invoked the state-secrets privilege to dismiss cases against CIA torture and National Security Agency warrantless spying. Its use in a private case raises questions about the government’s ties to United Against Nuclear Iran. According to The New York Times, the government’s intervention suggests the group may have potentially obtained classified information. Another possibility is that the United States is acting to protect the Israeli government, which is said to have close ties to the group.
An African-American actress is accusing the Los Angeles Police Department of wrongly detaining her after assuming she was a prostitute. Daniele Watts, who starred in the Oscar-nominated “Django Unchained,” says police suspected illicit activity because she was embracing her white partner inside their car. Watts claims she suffered injuries after police put her in handcuffs.
Cuba has announced it is sending 165 health workers to help address the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. A team of doctors, nurses and infection specialists will be stationed in Sierra Leone for six months. President Obama is expected to unveil the U.S. response Tuesday in a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The National Institutes of Health is warning the epidemic will continue for between 12 to 18 months.