ISIL Executes US Aid Worker In Latest Video
On Nov. 16, militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) published a video online claiming to document the execution of 26-year-old American aid worker Peter Kassig, also known as Abdul-Rahman. The White House confirmed later that the deceased man in the video was indeed Kassig, who was kidnapped in Syria in October of last year.
During his captivity, Kassig converted to Islam and began using the first name Abdul-Rahman. Kassig was beheaded in what appears to be Dabiq, Syria, along with several Syrian soldiers (Time, “White House Confirms Latest ISIS Beheading,” 11.16.2014). Secretary of State John Kerry stated that he and Kessig’s home Senator Joe Donelly had been working since his capture to rescue him, and called ISIL “wicked” for ignoring their work, as well as a plea written by Kessig’s mother.
According to CNN, some analysts see the killing and video as a sign of “desperation” by ISIL. Haras Rafiq of Quiliam Foundation told CNN that the brutality of the video reflects greater violence to come because the United States has made recent gains against ISIL, thus provoking insecurity and an attempt to prove further strength. It is also different from previous execution videos of Westerners released in recent months. Kassig does not speak to the camera like previous victims and is not the only victim in the video. Further, the video does not name a future victim. According to retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joe Ruffini, it may be primarily intended as a propaganda video to intimidate Iraqi and Syrian civilians and keep them from resisting ISIL authority by featuring the execution of several Syrian men. On the other hand, a ISIL member in the video directly “taunts” the US to invade the Iraqi city of currently ISIL-occupied Mosul (CNN, “Analysts: ISIS video ‘sign of desperation,’” 11.16.2014).
United States veteran Kassig was a former Army ranger who returned to the Middle East after his tour of duty, serving as a medical aid worker in Syria. He wrote, in a 2012 email published by the BBC, that he returned to the Middle East because “what I do know is that I have a chance to do something here, to take a stand. To make a difference” (BCC News, “Abdul-Rahman Kassig in his own words,” 11.16.2014). He continued to write about his humanitarian goals during his captivity, telling his parents in early 2014, “If I do die…I went out as a result of trying to alleviate suffering and helping those in need.”
President Obama released a statement later on Sunday condemning the beheading as “evil” (Time, “White House Confirms Latest ISIS Beheading,” 11.16.2014). He focused on aid work and also highlighted that Kassig had converted to Islam during his captivity, stating that ISIL members who killed Kassig betrayed the religion that they shared with him because of the violence that they committed.
President Obama Announces Upcoming Immigration Executive Action
On Nov. 15, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced that President Obama intends to hand down immigration-reform executive actions before the end of this year. Nearing the penultimate year of his time in office, Obama is considering actions that would allow millions of undocumented immigrants to stay and work in the United States. The announcement may come as soon as November 22 (Reuters, “U.S. official sees action on immigration before year-end,” 11.16.2014).
According to The New York Times, one essential part of Obama’s forthcoming legislation will be provisions allowing parents of children who are US citizens or legal residents to obtain permission to stay in the U.S. and to work. This will provide more legal protections for up to 5 million members of migrant families who came to the United States, had children and now fear the separation of their families (New York Times, “Obama Plan May Allow Millions of Immigrants to Stay and Work in U.S.,” 11.13.2014).
The President also seeks further protections for immigrants who traveled to the United States as minors, although he is less likely to propose protections for illegally employed farm laborers. Johnson also asserted on Sunday that the package will aim to increase border security.
Meanwhile, conservatives in the newly-Republican Congressional Houses have responded to these announcements with hints at forcing a new government shutdown to block Obama’s executive orders. Arizona Republican Representative Matt Salmon wrote an open letter, signed by more than 50 of his conservative colleagues, to the House Appropriations Committee proposing caveats to this year’s government spending bill that would block the immigration legislation. This, in turn, would lead the funding bill to be vetoed by President Obama, even if it makes it past Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (Md.) who is a Democrat and has asserted that such additions would be a “deal-breaker” (Roll Call, “As Obama Weighs Executive Action on Immigration, Is Government Shutdown Possible?” 11.13.2014).
However, according to Reuters, Congressional leadership is currently looking for alternatives to forcing another shutdown, but is still committed to blocking Obama’s immigration reform legislation. In the coming weeks, the exact nature of President Obama’s immigration reform executive actions will become clear, and conservative members of Congress will have to decide whether they believe opposing these measures is worth forcing another government shutdown.
—Elizabeth Dean, Design Editor.
Keystone XL Pipeline Defeated in Senate
On Nov. 18, the Senate defeated a bill that approved the building of the Keystone XL oil pipeline by a vote of 59 yay to 41 nays, falling one vote shy of passage. The vote comes one week after the House of Representatives passed the bill and in light of a recent poll that 65 percent of Americans supported the pipeline (The New York Times, “Senate Narrowly Defeats Keystone XL Pipeline,” 11.18.14). Although political analysts believed that the bill would have been vetoed by President Obama, this narrow loss showed divisions within the Democratic and the two houses of the legislative branch.
The pipeline would have constructed the final 1,200 miles of a 3,800 pipeline network that attempted to connect the Gulf of Mexico and Canada (Reuters, “Senate narrowly fails to pass Keystone XL pipeline bill,” 11.18.14). Reuters reports that the pipeline, owned by the TransCanada Corporation, is worth approximately $8 billion. The pipeline proposal would have run through South Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Nebraska (CNN, “Keystone XL pipeline debate: what do I need to know?” 11.18.14).
Within the Senate vote, a deep split appeared within the Democratic party not present among Republicans. While all 45 Republicans supported the bill, 14 Democrats supported the bill as well (The New York Times, “Senate Narrowly Defeats Keystone XL Pipeline,” 11.18.14).
The pipeline was previously supported in the House of Representatives by a vote of 252-161-1 (NBC, “Keystone Vote Falls Short in Senate,” 11.18.14). During this vote, 31 Democrats supported the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This support marks one of many passed bills within the House of Representative about the pipeline, all of which were previously avoided on the Senate floor.
The bill faced a wide variety of support and criticism. The passage would have assisted in the run-off election of Democratic Senator Landrieu of Louisiana on Dec. 6; heavily promoting the pipeline, Landrieu hoped to win votes in the oil-rich state (CNN, “Senate rejects Keystone Pipeline XL bill,” 11.18.14). Another argument supporting the pipeline is the belief it will add jobs and boost the economy (CNN, “Keystone XL pipeline debate: what do I need to know?”).
Meanwhile, critics include environmentalists and many Native American tribes. Environmentalists have argued that potential spills and the damage to the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest aquifers in the world. Aquifers provide fresh water and critics of the pipeline argued the pipeline could pollute the water reserves (CNN, “Keystone XL pipeline debate: what do I need to know?”).
The pipeline also traverses Native American tribal lands, prompting the Rosebud Sioux Tribe to state that “the House bill to approve Keystone XL last week amounted to a declaration of war” (CNN, “Keystone XL pipeline debate: what do I need to know?” 11.18.14).
Despite the Senate rejection, the debate about the pipeline may resurface in the coming months. In January, the full State Department report on the pipeline’s effects will become available, a report the White House has commonly cited as a reason for opposing any current legislation, which may prompt supporters to introduce another iteration of this bill.
—Bethan Johnson, Contributing Editor