Wikileaks Cable: American TV Shows 'Agents of Influence' in Saudi Arabia

PhotoCourtesy - Joe Raedle/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- American television shows broadcast across the Middle East are proving to be effective "agents of influence" in the ongoing battle over hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims pondering jihad against the United States, a confidential government cable published by Wikileaks reveals.

ABC's Desperate Housewives and World News with Diane Sawyer, as well as CBS' Late Show with David Letterman" and NBC's Friends, all carry more sway with viewers than a U.S. taxpayer-funded Middle East broadcast network, an unnamed Saudi source told U.S. embassy officials last year.

"It's still all about the war of ideas here, and the American programming on [privately-owned] MBC and Rotana is winning over ordinary Saudis in a way that 'Al Hurra' and other U.S. propaganda never could," the source said.

"Saudis are now very interested in the outside world, and everybody wants to study in the U.S. if they can. They are fascinated by U.S. culture in a way they never were before."

The Saudi government has permitted the satellite broadcasts of American programming uncensored with Arabic subtitles over the privately-owned Middle East Broadcasting group, or MBC, as a "means of countering the extremists."

U.S. officials also wrote in the cable to Washington that some American movies, broadcast over Rotana's Fox Movies channel, were particularly influential with Saudi audiences.

They credited two, unnamed "mawkish U.S. dramas featuring respectful, supportive American husbands dealing with spouses suffering from addiction problems" with displaying "models of supportive behavior in relationships."

The film Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney, was noted as resonating among Saudis for its "exemplary illustration of heroic honesty in the face of corruption." And the Robin Williams-Al Pacino film Insomnia was singled out for its presentation of "respect for the law over self-interest." 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Gaunt, Scared U.S. Hostage Appears in New Taliban Video

Photo Courtesy - Majid Saeedi/Getty Images(NEW YORK)-- Looking gaunt and scared and with a cut on his face, Bowe Bergdahl appears in a newly-released Taliban video, a sign that the captive Army soldier is still alive, but that his nearly 18-month ordeal has taken a toll.

The 44-minute video, which was widely distributed on the web, shows a clean-shaven Bergdahl standing with the senior Taliban commander behind his capture near the Pakistani border in June 2009. Bergdahl is on-screen for about 15 seconds just over halfway through the video.

Mullah Sangin, a top commander in the al Qaeda-connected Haqqani group, is believed to have orchestrated the kidnapping of Bergdahl, and facilitated his movement from Afghanistan to the tribal areas of western Pakistan, where Bergdahl is believed to be held.

Bergdahl has appeared in a total of four Taliban videos since his capture, the first released in July 2009. Soon after Bergdahl's capture, Sangin threatened to kill him if the U.S. did not pull out of Afghanistan, but he had not previously appeared in a video with his captive.

Through a spokesman, Bergdahl's family has confirmed his identity via screen grabs of the video.

Bergdahl, 24, of Boise, Idaho, is the only U.S. serviceman captured since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001.

A private first class at the time of his capture, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska before deploying to Afghanistan. He was promoted to specialist while in captivity.

Bergdahl was lured from his post in eastern Afghanistan by several Afghan National Army soldiers on June 30th, 2009, and then taken by Taliban fighters in a nearby village, according to a senior Pentagon official.

Bergdahl was quickly moved to Pakistan, where he has been shuttled around several locations, primarily in northern Waziristan, the Pentagon official said.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Charges on Julian Assange: Politically Motivated, or Just Convenient?

Photo Courtesy - Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- The arrest and detention of Julian Assange Tuesday on charges of rape and sexual assault was at the least a convenient development for government leaders who've sought ways to contain the leader of the controversial website Wikileaks.

But to some observers, including Assange, the timing and nature of the personal allegations are more than coincidence -- they're "politically motivated."  And the confluence of recent events gives at least the appearance that could be true.

In mid-August, two Swedish women told prosecutors and news outlets they had each had consensual sex with Assange, but that he didn't use a condom, against their wishes, and subsequently refused to get tested for sexually-transmitted diseases.  Their complaint led to a warrant on charges of sexual molestation.

But now prosecutors allege Assange forcibly raped at least one of the women and sexually assaulted the other -- significantly more serious allegations than what investigators initially pursued.

Assange, 39, was formally charged and held without bond in London on one count of rape, two of sexual assault, and one of coercion.  He has denied the allegations and insists the sex with both women was consensual.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Man Arrested in Afghan Woman's Mutilation

Photo Courtesy - ABC News (URUZGAN, Afghanistan) -- An Afghan man who helped mutilate his young daughter-in-law after she tried to flee her marriage has been arrested for abetting the crime.

The father-in-law, named Suliman, is being held in an Afghanistan jail, according to Women for Afghan Women, and has confessed to holding a gun to the young girl's head while her nose and ears were cut off.

Ayesha, the young woman, is safely in the United States where she is undergoing counseling and a series of reconstructive surgeries.

Police are still searching for her husband and her brother-in-law, who performed the mutilation.

She was featured on the cover of Time magazine this year and, in October, was honored with the Enduring Heart award from the Los Angeles-based Grossman Burn Foundation, which provided her facial reconstruction.

Ayesha came to the United States in August to undergo eight months of reconstructive procedures. In October, she was fitted with a special prosthesis, which she can apply herself every day with a special skin adhesive.

Ayesha, was married to a man in the Taliban when she was 12 years old.  After enduring years of abuse, including being forced to sleep in the stables with animals, she tried to run away but was caught. The village men handed down her sentence, and Ayesha's husband sliced off her nose and ears while his brother held her down.

Left for dead, she managed to crawl to her uncle's house, but he refused to help her. Ayesha kept on until a relative finally took her to a hospital run by an American military medical team. The hospital cared for her for more than two months, ensured her safety, and gave her something she had not received before -- kindness.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


US Abandons Push for Israeli Settlement Freeze

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With Mideast peace talks at a standstill for months, the Obama administration was forced to change tactics and concede Tuesday that its first effort to broker an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians has faltered.

The United States gave up on its efforts to persuade Israel to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in order to revive direct negotiations, according to U.S. officials briefed on the decision.

"After consultation with the parties, we have determined that a moratorium extension will not at this time provide the best basis for resuming direct negotiations," one official told ABC News, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters.

Instead, the U.S. has decided to push both sides to discuss contentious core issues through U.S. intermediaries. To that end, negotiators from both sides have been invited to Washington next week where they will meet individually with U.S. officials, but not together.

The U.S. had hoped a settlement freeze would create the atmosphere for negotiations on the most contentious issues, but the process got bogged down as the parties haggled over what was meant to be a confidence building measure.

The Palestinians had demanded that Israel halt construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where it plans to build its future capital, before it would return to the fragile peace talks.

Despite U.S. enticements, including the sale of fighter jets to Israel, the Israeli cabinet balked at an effort by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend a 10-month Israeli settlement freeze which expired in September, just weeks after talks began.

That arms sale is now off the table, though U.S. officials stressed that Washington remains committed to Israel's security and maintaining its military edge in the region.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton forecasted a new direction for the peace talks last Friday in an interview in Bahrain. She's expected to provide more details, and possibly new U.S. ideas to move the process forward, during a speech to the Brookings Institution's Saban Center Forum on Friday evening. 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


Marine General: The Fight for Marjah is 'Essentially Over'

Photo Courtesy - U.S. Department of Defense(WASHINGTON) -- The top U.S. Marine commander in southern Afghanistan said Tuesday that almost 10 months after the military offensive to take the key town of Marjah concluded, the fight against the Taliban there is "essentially over." Major General Richard Mills told Pentagon reporters via videoconference that Taliban fighters have been pushed into the desert areas surrounding the town, though they occasionally come back to town and "takes the odd shot at us."

Mills is in charge of Regional Command Southwest, the NATO command responsible for providing security in Helmand Province, an area that has long been a Taliban stronghold.

Located in the heart of the opium growing areas of southern Afghanistan, Marjah had long been under Taliban rule and was a key component in the Taliban's control of the opium trade to fund its operations.

The fight for Marjah was portrayed by NATO officials as the first example of their new strategy to restore security to key population centers and build confidence in the Afghan government's ability to provide public services.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


State Dept. Sanctions Al Qaeda Operative Tied to USS Cole Bombing

Photo Courtesy -- -- The U.S. State Department on Tuesday sanctioned a known Al Qaeda operative and placed him on a list of designated global terrorists.
The State Department hopes to cut off funding to Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso, an Arabian Peninsula operative who served jail time in Yemen for his role in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 U.S. citizens.

“The designation of Fahd al-Quso highlights U.S. action against the threat posed to the United States by al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula,” said U.S. Ambassador for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin.  “Today’s joint designation by the United States and the United Nations alerts the public that Fahd al-Quso is actively engaged in terrorism.  These actions expose and isolate individuals like al-Quso and results in denial of access to the global financial system.”
In a video released by the AQAP in 2010, al-Quso threatened to attack the United States as well as U.S. embassies and naval ships. In 2009, he was designated by the FBI as one of their most wanted terrorist.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Damaged Cruise Ship Limps to Shore

Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(USHUAIA, Argentina) – A cruise ship is slowly making its way back to shore after a wave damaged one of its engines Tuesday, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operations.

The CLELIA II was on its return journey to Ushuaia, Argentina when a wave broke over the bridge of the vessel, causing an electrical outage that reduced power to the port engine.

None of the ship's 101 passengers, who are all from the United States, were injured. One of the 65 crew members, however, suffered minor injuries. 

The vessel has begun to make its way to shore at speeds around 3.2 knots, or about 5 mph.

CLELIA II encountered rough waters in the Drake Passage between the southern tip of South America and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. The ship’s captain said in his 159 travels along that route, he had never seen such weather.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


China Debuts at Top of International Education Rankings

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- China shocked educators Tuesday by taking the top spot globally in its debut in international standardized testing. Despite modest gains in math and science, the U.S. continues to lag behind other developed countries.

A report out Tuesday, "Highlights From PISA 2009: Performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy in an International Context," shows the U.S. now ranks 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading out of the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

While OECD countries such as Finland, South Korea, Canada, Japan, Switzerland and New Zealand continue to outpace the U.S. in reading, science and math, all eyes are on China. In its first year to be included in the study as a non-OECD country, Shanghai-China ranked first in all three categories. Hong Kong-China came in second in reading and science and third in math.

"The 2009 PISA data demonstrate the rise in the quality of education in Asia -- among the top performers were Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, and Korea," said Tony Jackson, Vice President of Education at the Asia Society. "Aligning education goals to economic development, Asian nations have scoured the world for models of effective education systems, and implemented them consistently through deliberate policies and long-term investments. Any definition of a world-class education must include knowledge of Asia and the language and cultural skills to deal with Asia. It's a two-way street: America must now learn from -- and with -- Asia and the world."

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the findings, "to be brutally honest, show that a host of developed nations are out-educating us."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Iran Agrees to Second Round of Talks, Won't Give Up Nuclear Enrichment

Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili. Photo Courtesy - AFP/Getty Images(GENEVA) -- World powers have wrapped up their first meetings with Iran in over a year and, in a small victory, announced that Tehran had agreed to hold another round of talks in late January. Iran’s negotiator, however, told reporters that his country had no intention of halting its uranium enrichment program.

European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, who represents the group, said in a statement the talks in Geneva Monday and Tuesday were “detailed” and “substantive.” Ashton insisted Iran comply with its “international obligations” to halt its nuclear program. Iran, however, remained defiant.

Expectations for this week’s talks had been low, and Iran’s agreeing to another round of discussions is more than the group of world powers was able to achieve last time they met with Iran. This week’s meetings were preceded by Iran’s announcement that it had developed an indigenous capacity to produce yellowcake uranium.

The so-called P5+1, the permanent five UN Security Council members plus Germany, had been expected to present Iran with an offer to transfer its uranium stockpiles out of the country for enrichment abroad, in exchange for fuel that could be used in a nuclear power plant. The deal was similar to one that Iran initially accepted, then quickly rejected at a meeting in October 2009 but this time called for a larger amount of uranium to be transferred out in order to compensate for Iran’s continued production in the past year. As part of the deal Iran would also be required to halt its move to enrich uranium up to 20%, a process that could help it perfect the techniques needed to eventually produce bomb-grade fuel.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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