Hawaii judge extends order blocking Trump’s Muslim ban

Thu Mar 30, 2017 4:21AM
US President Donald Trump listens to a speaker during a meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on March 29, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
US President Donald Trump listens to a speaker during a meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on March 29, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

A federal judge in the US state of Hawaii has placed a stronger hold on Donald Trump’s revised travel ban, striking another legal blow against the president’s repeated attempts to bar people from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

On March 15, US District Judge Derrick Watson was the first to rule against the president’s revised executive order, saying that the state of Hawaii had established that the law could not be enforced because it was unconstitutional. The ruling blocked the travel ban but it was to last only a couple of weeks.

After hearing arguments from the attorneys for the Hawaii attorney general and the Department of Justice, Watson on Wednesday extended his previous temporary restraining order.

State Attorney General Douglas Chin argued that the implied message in Trump’s revised ban is like a “neon sign flashing ‘Muslim ban, Muslim ban'” that the administration did not care to address it.

US District Judge Derrick Watson

The judge issued a longer-lasting preliminary injunction, which will continue to extend the temporary order until the state’s lawsuit is resolved. He said that it would ensure the constitutional rights of Muslim citizens across the country.

The Trump administration could now file an appeal to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which had already once ruled against the travel ban.

In the previous ruling, Watson, a President Obama appointee, cited several comments made by Trump and declared that the travel ban is, despite the administration’s denials, a Muslim ban.

The judge concluded in his ruling that the revised ban is in fact not all that different to the original one. “Based upon the current record available, however, the Court cannot find the actions taken during the interval between revoked Executive Order No. 13,769 and the new Executive Order to be ‘genuine changes in constitutionally significant conditions.’”

The court in Hawaii was the first to rule on several legal challenges against the travel ban, which targets people from six mainly Muslim countries.

Protests have been held against plans to block travelers from six Muslim-majority countries. (Photo by AFP)

A day after Trump signed the new executive order on March 6, attorneys for Hawaii filed their proposed revision in federal court, along with a motion asking that it be allowed to proceed.

The revised travel ban changed and replaced the original, more sweeping executive order issued on January 27 that caused chaos and protests at airports and was challenged in more than two dozen lawsuits across the US.

Trump’s new order maintained a 90-day ban on travel to the US by citizens of Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan, but excluded Iraq and applied the restriction only to new visa applicants. It also removed an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees.

Thu Mar 30, 2017 5:22AM
US Central Command Commander Army General Joseph Votel testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, DC, March 9, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
US Central Command Commander Army General Joseph Votel testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, DC, March 9, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The United States should consider using “military means” against Iran, US Army General Joseph Votel says, calling Tehran “the greatest long-term threat to stability” in the Middle East.

Votel, who heads the US Central Command (CENTCOM), made the hostile remarks while speaking before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

“I believe that Iran is operating in what I call a gray zone, and it’s an area between normal competition between states — and it’s just short of open conflict,” he told the panel.

Votel went on to accuse Iran of “destabilizing” the region through “lethal aid facilitation,” using “surrogate forces” and cyber operations.

“We need to look at opportunities where we can disrupt [Iran] through military means or other means their activities,” he said. “We need to look at opportunities where we can expose and hold them accountable for the things that they are doing.”

The general’s statements fall in line with the anti-Iran rhetoric of US President Donald Trump, who has accused Iran of supporting terrorism and said “nothing is off the table” in terms of a response to the country’s defensive missile program. Trump has also said that his administration formally put Tehran “on notice” over its missile test.

As the commander of CENTCOM, Votel is tasked with leading Washington’s military efforts in Central Asia and the Middle East. More than 80,000 US soldiers are stationed across the area under Votel’s command.

The general also oversees the US-led coalition’s airstrikes and other military operations against purported terrorist targets inside Syria and Iraq, a campaign that began in 2014 and has led to the death of many civilians without any meaningful achievement.

Votel’s comments came less than two weeks after a deadly coalition strike that killed over 200 civilians in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

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The Pentagon has admitted to carrying out such “unintentional” raids against civilian targets in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen as well.

Relatives mourn as bodies of Iraqi children of west Mosul killed in an airstrike by the US-led coalition are covered with blankets, March 17, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Additionally, Washington has come under pressure for forging a close military and political alliance with Saudi Arabia, ignoring the regime’s bloody war on Yemen and its clear support for extremist groups.

This is while the international community has constantly hailed Iran’s active role in curbing the terrorism threat plaguing the region.

Persian Gulf encounters

In his testimony before the lawmakers, Votel also discussed the recent surge in Iran-US military encounters in the Persian Gulf, saying his team was “paying extraordinarily close attention” to the issue.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)’s Navy has on several occasions forced US Navy vessels to change course before wandering into Iranian territorial waters.

The last of such encounters occurred earlier this month, when a US Navy ship and three British Royal Navy boats steered out of the course approved for international naval transit in the Persian Gulf and came within 550 meters (0.3 nautical miles) of IRGC vessels, drawing serious warnings from them.

Iran has repeatedly warned that any act of transgression into Iran’s territorial waters would be met with an immediate and befitting response.

Thu Mar 30, 2017 7:49AM
A US Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon performs its flight routine during the Australian International Airshow in Melbourne, March 5, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
A US Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon performs its flight routine during the Australian International Airshow in Melbourne, March 5, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The administration of US President Donald Trump has decided to ignore Bahrain’s human rights record in order to sell F-16 fighter jets to the Arab monarchy.

The US State Department informed Congress on Wednesday that it plans to approve a request by the Persian Gulf nation to purchase 19 of the jets from Lockheed Martin worth up to $2.7 billion.

The figure would reach $4.9 billion if 23 engines, radars and other avionics, air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance and related equipment required to upgrade other jets in Bahrain’s fleet are included.

The deal was brought to a halt under former President Barack Obama, who had called on Bahrain to deliver on its promises to improve the human rights condition.

Lockheed, however, strenuously lobbied for the contract to go through, amid outrage among human rights groups concerned with the regime’s crackdown on dissidents.

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Bahrain’s ruling Al Khalifah family has been leading a ruthless crackdown against domestic dissent since 2011, killing scores of protesters with Saudi Arabia’s help.

“The sale will send exactly the wrong signal to the dictatorship: that the White House thinks the political crackdown is not just morally acceptable but also not dangerous, when in fact it’s what’s fueling the country’s instability,” Brian Dooley of the Washington-based group Human Rights First.

One of Obama’s conditions for the kingdom was the immediate release of Nabeel Rajab, a famed human rights activist who helped lead the anti-regime protests.

Trump’s State Department said earlier this week that Rajab should be released because there is not enough evidence against him.

The government’s notice gives lawmakers 40 days to review the deal. Given the Republican majority in Congress, the sale is expected to pass without any drama.

Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign relations Committee, praised the deal, saying in a statement that such conditions would have been “unprecedented and counterproductive.”

“There are more effective ways to seek changes in partner policies than publicly conditioning weapons transfers in this manner,” he argued.

Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet. Last year, the UK celebrated the 200th anniversary of mutual relations with the Arab kingdom by opening a massive Royal Navy base there.

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