Asawin Suebsaeng

Asawin Suebsaeng

Reporter

Asawin Suebsaeng is a reporter at the Washington, DC, bureau of Mother Jones. He has also written for The American Prospect, the Bangkok Post, and Shoecomics.com.

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A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn., Asawin came back to DC with hopes of putting his flimsy Creative Writing major, student newspaper tenure, and interest in human rights and political chicanery to some use. He started cutting his teeth at F&M's student-run weekly, The College Reporter, serving as editor in chief. He has interned at The American Prospect, been a reporter for the Bangkok Post, and scribbled for ShoeComics.com. His favorite movie is either Apocalypse Now or Pirahna 3D, depending on the day or mood.

The Obama Administration Finally Admits Killing 4 Americans

| Wed May. 22, 2013 4:00 PM PDT

After nearly two years of (officially) keeping quiet about what the whole world already knew, the Obama administration on Wednesday formally acknowledged that the United States government had indeed killed four American citizens in drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. This had been fairly common knowledge ever since the strikes occurred in 2011, but the White House, CIA, and other involved parties have maintained (but not really) an official policy of not acknowledging that a targeted killing program exists.

Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed that the administration had signed off on a drone strike that killed, without due process, the Al Qaeda-linked cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in September 2011 in a letter sent to congressional leaders on Wednesday, which was obtained by New York Times reporter Charlie Savage. The letter also acknowledged the killing of Samir Khan (killed in the same drone operation), Awlaki's teenage son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (killed in Yemen later that month), and Jude Mohammed (killed in Pakistan in November 2011). However, all except Anwar al-Awlaki were "not specifically targeted by the United States," according to Holder's letter.

"Today's disclosure builds on the administration's effort to pursue greater transparency around our counter-terrorism operations," an anonymous White House official told Fox News correspondent Ed Henry.

Here is Holder's letter:

The letter was released the day before President Obama is scheduled to deliver a big speech on national security at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. He is expected to touch on his administration's controversial ramped-up use of drone warfare and the status of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The last time Obama publicly discussed US drone strikes and his administration's targeted killing program was in a Google+ "Fireside Hangout" on February 14:

First of all, I think, there's never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil. And, you know, we respect and have a whole bunch of safeguards in terms of how we conduct counter-terrorism operations outside the United States. The rules outside the United States are going to be different then the rules inside the United States. In part because our capacity to, for example, to capture a terrorist inside the United States are very different then in the foothills or mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan.

But what I think is absolutely true is that it is not sufficient for citizens to just take my word for it that we are doing the right thing. I am the head of the executive branch. And what we've done so far is to try to work with Congress on oversight issues. But part of what I am going to have to work with Congress on is to make sure that whatever it is we're providing Congress, that we have mechanisms to also make sure that the public understands what's going on, what the constraints are, what the legal parameters are. And that is something that I take very seriously. I am not someone who believes that the president has the authority to do whatever he wants, or whatever she wants, whenever they want, just under the guise of counter-terrorism. There have to be legal checks and balances on it.

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The NRA's List of "Coolest Gun Movies" Is Astoundingly Dumb

| Wed May. 22, 2013 10:51 AM PDT
The 2009 action-comedy "Zombieland," starring Jesse Eisenberg (above) and Emma Stone, is one of the films that the NRA's magazine has endorsed as really awesome.

When conservatives try to list their favorite pop-culture items to make a political point, the results are often baffling. In 2005, Human Events released the list of "Most Harmful Books" written in the 19th and 20th centuries (Charles Darwin and John Stuart Mill are put in the same league as Hitler and Mao). The following year, National Review compiled a much-discussed "50 greatest conservative rock songs," which for whatever bizarre reason included Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun." In 2012, the Telegraph declared their brazenly idiotic "top 10 conservative movies of the modern era." And just over a week ago, the American Enterprise Institute posted the "21 greatest conservative rap songs of all time," which prominently features Justin Bieber.

And now American Rifleman, the National Rifle Association's shooting and firearms consumer magazine, has published its official list of the 10 "Coolest Gun Movies." Writes American Rifleman blogger Paul Rackley, "Many of these movies also take us back to simpler times, when dreaming of saving the day got us through that oh-so boring class." Here's his list:

Conviction of Genocidal Dictator Efrain Rios Montt Overturned by Guatemala's Highest Court

| Tue May. 21, 2013 10:43 AM PDT

On Monday, Guatemala's Constitutional Court overturned the conviction of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, an army general who ruled as de facto president from 1982 to 1983. On May 10, Ríos Montt, 86, was found guilty by a three-panel tribunal on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, and sentenced to 80 years in the slammer; he is the first former head of state in the Americas to stand trial for genocide. But less than two weeks later, Guatemala's highest court threw out all proceedings in the case dating back to April 19, in part thanks to an aggressive lobbying effort by the nation's most influential business federation. Due to the court's 3-2 decision, the way forward—for Ríos Montt's opponents, for his supporters—has been thrown into question. After Monday's ruling, Ríos Montt was sent back to house arrest, where he had been since the case started in January 2012.

Here's a quick reminder of who Efraín Ríos Montt is, and what he did.

1. During his 17-month stint as military dictator, he oversaw the genocide by his armed forces of at least 1,771 members of the indigenous Maya Ixil population. Roughly 100 survivors testified during the course of his trial.

Efrain Rios Montt newspaper trial
This Guatemala City newspaper reads, "Ríos Montt charged with 11 massacres." Via Granito: How to Nail a Dictator/Facebook

2. Along with the mass murder, his military regime carried out a policy of forced displacement, forced assimilation, torture, systematic rape and sexual assault, starvation, and arbitrary execution against those labeled as political opponents.

3. Due to his staunchly anti-communist attitudes during the Guatemalan Civil War, the general received plenty of financial, military, and political support from President Ronald Reagan's administration and friends in the United States. (Ríos Montt is an alumnus of the School of the Americas, a Department of Defense-owned institute and notorious tyrant-mill at Fort Benning, Georgia that taught torture, blackmail, death-squad tactics, and counter-insurgency to numerous Latin American strongmen and human rights abusers.)

Here's Reagan speaking to reporters following his meeting with Ríos Montt in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on December 4, 1982:

Well, ladies and gentlemen, President Ríos Montt and I have just had a useful exchange of ideas on the problems of the region and on our bilateral relations...I know that President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment. His country is confronting a brutal challenge from guerrillas armed and supported by others outside Guatemala. I have assured the president that the United States is committed to support his efforts to restore democracy and to address the root causes of this violent insurgency. I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice. My administration will do all it can to support his progressive efforts.

For all the accusations of obscene human rights violations, Reagan maintained that Ríos Montt was simply getting a "bum rap" from naïve activists.

Croatians (and Americans) Training Honeybees to Sniff Out Landmines

| Mon May. 20, 2013 11:12 AM PDT

Bees are basically the most important insect ever. Honeybees make possible roughly a third of everything we eat, and the bugs pollinate about $14 billion worth of crops and seeds in the United States each year.

Here's yet another reason for mankind to feel forever indebted to the bees: They may one day be instrumental in detecting unexploded landmines. And Croatians are leading the charge in this field of research. Here's the rundown from Wired UK:

Nikola Kezic, a professor in the Department of Agriculture at Zagreb University, has been exploring using bees to find landmines since 2007. Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and other countries from former Yugoslavia still have around 250,000 buried mines which were left there during the wars of the early 90s. Since the end of the war more than 300 people have been killed in Croatia alone by the explosives, including 66 de-miners.

Tracking down the mines can be extremely costly and dangerous. However, by training bees — which are able to detect odours from 4.5 kilometres away — to associate the smell of TNT with sugar can create an affective way of identifying the locations of mines...The research is ongoing, but once the team is confident in the bees' landmine-seeking abilities, they will release the creatures in areas that have been de-mined to see whether the field has been successfully swept by humans. Kezic told AP "it has been scientifically proven that there are never zero mines on a de-mined field, and that's where bees could come in."

As wild as this idea sounds, it's hardly unprecedented. In fact, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy have been working on this sort of research for years. The Defense Advanced Research Laboratory (DARPA) has been studying honeybees since 1999. Check out some of this Pentagon press material released in 2004:

bees landmines department of defense
honey bees land mines detection sniff out
Via the US Department of Defense

And here's a 2008 video from the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory on how American scientists train honeybees to detect other types of explosive devices:

Spock and Awe: How 4 Lucky Post-9/11 War Vets Landed Roles in "Star Trek Into Darkness"

| Thu May. 16, 2013 4:05 PM PDT

On April 24, 2005, US Marine Corps lance corporal Adam McCann was on patrol with his fire team, as he had been on many other occasions. His team was inspecting a weapons cache discovered in the city of Hīt in Iraq's Al-Anbar province. As they prepared to head back to base, they were met with a hail of mortar fire launched from the other side of street. The entire team was injured, and McCann sustained shrapnel wounds to his neck and both legs. But all escaped with their lives.

"Seeing my name in the movie credits was pretty nice," McCann says. "And the after-party was pretty amazing."

Eight years later, on May 14, McCann, who is now 27, attended the star-studded Los Angeles premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness—in which he plays a minor role. "Seeing my name in the movie credits was pretty nice," McCann told me. "And the after-party was pretty amazing as well."

McCann is one of four post-9/11 American war veterans featured in the new film as the "Starfleet Ceremonial Guard." (The others are Melissa Steinman of the Coast Guard, Eric Greitens of the Navy, and Jon Orvrasky of the Marine Corps.) All have been involved with The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that awards community service fellowships to vets, and helps them apply the skills they learned in the armed forces to work and life at home. Greitens—an ex-Navy SEAL and Rhodes Scholar—founded the group in 2007, and was included in the 2013 Time 100, where he was praised by former Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen as "one of the most remarkable young men I have ever encountered."

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