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Al-Jazeera news channel seen throughout the Muslim world is biased and a voice for terrorists, says ex-journalist

Al-Jazeera News Channel Seen Throughout The Muslim World Is Biased And A Voice For Terrorists, Says Ex-journalist His incarceration made al-Jazeera a powerful symbol of resistance to Egypt s military dictatorship. (Reuters)

Mohamed Fahmy is the last person one would expect to make the case against al-Jazeera. In 2014, the former Cairo bureau chief for the Qatar-funded television network began a 438-day sentence in an Egyptian prison on terrorism charges and practicing unlicensed journalism. His incarceration made al-Jazeera a powerful symbol of resistance to Egypt s military dictatorship. Today Fahmy is preparing a lawsuit against his former employers. And while he is still highly critical of the regime that imprisoned him, he also says the Egyptian government is correct when it says al-Jazeera is really a propaganda channel for Islamists and an arm of Qatari foreign policy. The more the network coordinates and takes directions from the government, the more it becomes a mouthpiece for Qatari intelligence, he told me in an interview Thursday. There are many channels who are biased, but this is past bias. Now al-Jazeera is a voice for terrorists. Fahmy s testimony is particularly important now. Al-Jazeera is at the center of a crisis ripping apart the Arab Gulf states. Earlier this month Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain imposed a political and diplomatic blockade on Qatar. As part of that blockade, al-Jazeera has been kicked out of those countries. The treatment of al-Jazeera as an arm of the Qatari state as opposed to a news organization does not sit well with many in the West. This week a New York Times editorial accused Qatar s foes of muzzling a news outlet that could lead citizens to question their rulers in the Arab world. In some ways it s understandable for English-speaking audiences to take this view. Al-Jazeera s English-language broadcasts certainly veer politically to the left. At times the channel has sucked up to police states. The channel embarrassed itself with such fluff as a recent sycophantic feature on female traffic cops in North Korea. But al-Jazeera English has also broken some important stories. It worked with Human Rights Watch to uncover documents mapping out the links between Libyan intelligence under Muammar Qaddafi and the British and U.S. governments.

Al-Jazeera s Arabic broadcasts however have not met these same standards in recent years. To start, the network still airs a weekly talk show from Muslim Brotherhood theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi. He has used his platform to argue that Islamic law justifies terrorist attacks against Israelis and U.S. soldiers. U.S. military leaders, such as retired Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded forces in the initial campaign to stabilize Iraq, have said publicly that al-Jazeera reporters appeared to have advance knowledge of terrorist attacks. Fahmy told me that in his research he has learned that instructions were given to journalists not to refer to al Qaeda s affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra, as a terrorist organization. He said Qatar s neighbors were justified in banning al-Jazeera. Al-Jazeera has breached the true meaning of press freedom that I advocate and respect by sponsoring these voices of terror like Yusuf al Qaradawi, he said. If al-Jazeera continues to do that, they are directly responsible for many of these lone wolves, many of these youth that are brain washed.

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Fahmy didn t always have this opinion of his former employer. He began to change his views while serving time. It started in the scorpion block of Egypt s notorious Tora prison. During his stay, he came to know some of Egypt s most notorious Islamists.

When I started meeting and interviewing members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their sympathizers, they specifically told me they had been filming protests and selling it to al-Jazeera and dealing fluidly with the network and production companies in Egypt associated with the network, he said. One example of al-Jazeera s coordination with the Muslim Brotherhood revolves around Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in the summer of 2013, following the military coup that unseated Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president. As part of Fahmy s case against al-Jazeera, he took testimony from a former security guard for the network and the head of the board of trustees for Egyptian state television. Both testified that members of the Muslim Brotherhood seized the broadcast truck al-Jazeera used to air the sit-ins that summer. In other words, al-Jazeera allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast its own protests.

That incident happened in the weeks before Fahmy was hired to be the network s Cairo bureau chief. He says he was unaware of these ties to the Muslim Brotherhood until he began doing his own research and reporting from an Egyptian prison. When Fahmy learned of these arrangements, he became angry. It undermined his case before the Egyptian courts that he was unaffiliated with any political party or terrorist groups inside Egypt. To me this is a big deal, this is not acceptable, he said. It put me in danger because it s up to me to convince the judge that I was just doing journalism. Ultimately Fahmy was released from prison in 2015. But this was not because al-Jazeera s lawyers made a good case for him. Rather it was the work of human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who eventually got him safely out of the country to Canada.

Now Fahmy is turning his attention to al-Jazeera. He is pressing a court in British Columbia to hear his case in January against the network, from whom he is seeking $100 million in damages for breach of contract, misrepresentation and negligence.

Fahmy s case is one more piece of evidence that the al-Jazeera seen by English-speaking audiences is not the al-Jazeera seen throughout the Muslim world. It s one more piece of evidence that Qatar s foreign policy is a double game: It hosts a military base the U.S. uses to fight terror, while funding a media platform for extremists.

Cultural District adding color to downtown Springfield with painted pianos and more (photos)

SPRINGFIELD — Your walk through the downtown area is getting a bit more musical and colorful thanks to the Springfield Central Cultural District. Springfield Central Cultural District has been a nonprofit organization for about a year now. Its plan is to make the downtown area more comfortable and fun to walk around. One of its initiatives is an Aug. 2 pop-up art walk. From 4:30-6 p.m. people can check out art displayed in downtown buildings, attend a jazz concert and even play pianos right outside. All ages are welcome.

Cultural district Director Morgan Drewniany believes art can bring the city together and increase the amount of walking downtown, whether it’s people stopping to look at the painted utility boxes or artwork that school kids have done. Three colorfully painted pianos were recently placed outside One Financial Plaza, the Springfield Public Schools office and the Market Place Shops. The pianos will be there for the public to play until September. Inside the lobby of our schools office, at 1550 Main St., there is also artwork by students at The Springfield Renaissance School.

Megan Scaife, a junior at Renaissance whose drawing can be found in the lobby, said her inspiration came from Barry Moser’s pen and ink drawing titled “Ephialtes,” part of the revered Western Massachusetts artist’s “Inferno” series. In her piece, a self-portrait, Scaife highlighted the forehead and the heart. “My message is that you should always trust your brain and you should always trust your heart. To kind of connect with each other. You shouldn’t just trust one or the other. You should use both to make every decision in your life,” she said. Also in her self-portrait, she’s wearing a butterfly necklace; the necklace can always be found in her drawings. She received the butterfly necklace from her father at the age of seven from The Big E. “I love the whole idea of a butterfly, how it’s in this little cocoon but it transforms into a beautiful butterfly,” she said. “I believe anyone can do that.”

Jack Devlan, who painted the piano found near the Market Place Shops, said, “I just brought down colors and went with it. I used a variety of tools to get my shapes and so forth.”

The piano outside One Financial Plaza, 1350 Main St., was painted by Sheldon Smith. It’s covered with gold seashells — a play on the artist’s first name. On the back of the piano Smith painted his son, Trevian Smith-Figueroa, because that’s who inspired him to do the project and he happens to play the piano.

“Ideas are limitless. … One day he ended up coming down and playing the piano so I figured that should be a feature,” said Smith.

Smith loves the idea of the piano he painted being outdoors for the public to play. He said a security guard told him that a homeless man comes just about every night between the hours of 1-3 a.m. and just plays till he’s tired. Smith believes the project’s goal of bringing people together is exactly what’s happening.

Liberals table bill to remodel national security services, oversight

OTTAWA Cyberwarfare. Data sets. Terrorist disruption powers. Welcome to a brave new world of Canada s efforts to counterterrorism abroad and at home.

With the National Security Act 2017, the Liberal government wants to empower Canada s ultra-secret electronic spies at the CSE Canada s counterpart to the Americans NSA to operate offensively in foreign cyberspace. But there will be more watchful eyes on the spies here at home.

The sweeping new bill introduced Tuesday proposes a new super-watchdog agency to review all national security and intelligence players, and to put CSE and CSIS under tighter ministerial and judicial control. Overall, the legal and constitutional framework for Canada s national security actors would dramatically change.

The showpiece is a proposal to stand up a big watchdog agency to be called the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency with broad powers and government-wide authority. It would replace two other watchdog offices that until now were more narrowly focused on CSIS and CSE alone.

It would be able to compel testimony and documents from 17 federal agencies and departments who have national security responsibilities, including for the first time the Canada Border Services Agency. It would have responsibility to oversee the cyberspies at the Communications Security Establishment or CSE, the traditional spooks at Canadian Security and Intelligence Service or CSIS, the Mounties, the border guards at CBSA, aviation and transport authorities at Transport Canada, the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship as well as the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada or Fintrac.

Only the RCMP s civilian review and complaints commission would remain in place, but the RCMP s national security activities would be reviewed by the new agency, to be known as NSIRA.

However, the bill does not entirely ditch the controversial terrorism disruption powers CSIS got under the last Conservative government. Rather, it proposes to explicitly define and limit those measures that CSIS would be allowed to employ.

With judicial authorization, CSIS agents would be limited to actions such as disrupting or destroying a terror suspect s communications, documents, equipment, financial transactions; or faking documents, interfering with a person s movements, or impersonating an individual other than a police officer.

The key, said Goodale, is that CSIS would have to first see whether another agency like the RCMP is better placed to act; and a court would only approve any CSIS action that infringes on a Charter right if CSIS shows it is a reasonable limit on the right.

The Liberal government was quick to claim it struck just the right balance.

Canadians expect their governments to do two things: protect our communities and uphold our rights and freedoms. Getting that balance right has always been the focus of the Liberal Party, and that s exactly what we re focusing on doing in government, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The proposal for a massive new national security review agency, separate from and in addition to the proposal last year to create a national security committee of parliamentarians, would at long last address criticism by several judicial inquiries and parliamentary committees that the national security apparatus operates in silos.

The stovepipes are gone, said Goodale.

The NSIRA whatever I have to get used to the new acronyms it will have complete jurisdiction to examine activities of CSE, whatever they are, along with other actors in the national security field.

The bill would for the first time enable the CSE, the foreign signals intelligence gathering agency, to act offensively not just defensively, to preventively jam, disrupt or destroy foreign threat actors that are deemed a risk, not just to the government of Canada, but to Canadian interests more broadly defined. That could include defending military personnel or assets abroad in a war zone. Or it could mean attacking foreign websites that seek to radicalize Canadians to terrorism. Such active cyber operations would require the permission of two ministers- of national defence and foreign affairs.

Introduced by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, the bill would establish new rules around the collection and storage of personal data by CSIS. And it sets up an independent Intelligence Commissioner to be a sober second set of eyes on warrants requested by CSIS and the CSE, and approved by ministerial authorization.

It addresses other Liberal promises, such as narrowing the definition of terrorist propaganda to target counseling others to commit an offence; narrowing the information-sharing powers of government departments to disclosure of information that is strictly necessary and related to national security mandates; and improving the appeal process for the no fly list.

But reforms will not go far enough for many.

Michael Vonn, of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said the super-watchdog agency is long overdue and urgently needed. But Vonn said the rights advocacy group remains disappointed that so much of the old Conservatives law is intact.

Vonn said the Liberals attempts to rein in intrusive information-sharing provisions of the Conservatives regime are an improvement but they speak to tinkering as opposed to reform. He said too little was done to address the dreadful lack of due process protections in the no-fly scheme.

Conservative MP Erin O Toole decried the rolling back of some of the former government s measures, saying the burden would be too high on law enforcement and prevent agencies from being effective.

The NDP said it didn t go far enough to address Canadians concerns about the old law s infringement on privacy rights. NDP public safety critic Matthew Dub criticized the failure to bar CSIS collection of associated data of Canadians who are not deemed threats. The promise was to fix the bill, he said.

Canadians have made it very clear that they do not trust the NDP with their safety and they do not trust the Conservatives with their rights, Goodale fired back.

Canadians expect their governments to stay ahead of the myriad complex and evolving threats in the world today, he told reporters. The horrific terror attacks in Manchester and in London and those closer to home demonstrate that challenge.

Goodale pointed to cyberthreats like the global Ransomware virus, espionage and foreign interference as equally complex and active threats. He said rapidly evolving technology, an unstable international political environment and emboldened adversaries mean Canada s national security agencies need a legal and constitutional framework to both operate effectively, protect Canadians rights, and retain their trust and confidence.

Overall, the Liberal government guesses the cost will be $97 million, with about $70 million of that new money and the rest reallocated from existing watchdog agencies.

In a surprise move, the proposed law would repeal the Criminal Code s provision for investigative hearings a post-9/11 measure that was only ever invoked once, in the course of an Air India investigation, but never actually used. The government says that shows it is an unnecessary tool for agencies to retain.

University of Ottawa law professor and national security law expert Craig Forcese posted a series of observations on the bill, saying it bears the hallmarks of careful deliberation, puzzling through problems. Totally different world from hell that was C-51 process.

He said the bill provides huge gains on review with the proposed broad review agency NSIRA eliminating siloed & stovepiped review as well as gains on real-time oversight of national security, through the new Intelligence Commissioner.

People will disagree on different solutions to problems, wrote Forcese, but this is the biggest reform of Canadian national security law since 1984 and creation of CSIS. We ve need this for a while.

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