US court shields some of congressman’s phone records in Trump election probe

US court shields some of congressman’s phone records in Trump election probe
Scott Perry, a retired US Army National Guard brigadier general who represents a district in Pennsylvania in the US House of Representatives. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 14 September 2023
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US court shields some of congressman’s phone records in Trump election probe

US court shields some of congressman’s phone records in Trump election probe
  • The judges found that Perry’s communications with other members of Congress discussing the certification of the 2020 election results “are quintessential legislative acts” that can be shielded from executive branch agencies

WASHINGTON: A US appeals court has ruled that some of the contents of Republican Representative Scott Perry’s cellphone should be shielded from the criminal probe into former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss, but found that some of his other communications may not be protected.
The ruling by a three-judge panel of the US Court of the Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — dated Sept. 5 and unsealed publicly on Wednesday — handed a partial victory to the Trump ally who helped spread false claims that the election was stolen through widespread voting fraud.
The judges found that Perry’s communications with other members of Congress discussing the certification of the 2020 election results “are quintessential legislative acts” that can be shielded from executive branch agencies. But they found that not all of Perry’s texts and other communications with people outside of Congress were necessarily protected, and ordered a lower court to go back and review each communication.
Perry, a retired US Army National Guard brigadier general who represents a district in Pennsylvania in the US House of Representatives, has sought to prevent the Justice Department from reviewing the contents of his cellphone since it was seized by the FBI last year.
“The D.C. Circuit’s decision is a full-throated vindication of Congress’ protection from intrusive and overreaching inquiry into the legislative deliberations of Members of Congress,” John Rowley, one of Perry’s attorneys, said in a statement.
US Special Counsel Jack Smith has brought four criminal charges against Trump, the front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination to face Democratic President Joe Biden in the 2024 election, related to efforts to overturn the election.
Trump has pleaded not guilty and called the charges politically motivated. He also has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges brought in three other cases, including in Georgia where he faces state charges related efforts to undo his 2020 election loss in that state.
A spokesperson for Smith declined to comment on the Perry ruling.
Perry’s conduct is under scrutiny in Smith’s investigation because of the prominent role he played ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by Trump supporters who sought to block Congress from certifying Biden’s election victory.
The legal dispute focuses on whether the contents of Perry’s cellphone are shielded from disclosure under a provision of the US Constitution that gives members of Congress immunity from civil litigation or criminal prosecution for actions that arise in the course of their legislative duties.
Justice Department attorneys in February had urged the D.C. Circuit to uphold a ruling by Judge Beryl Howell, who had found that Perry’s communications were not within a “legitimate legislative sphere” and therefore could be reviewed by the FBI.
The panel included Judges Gregory Katsas and Neomi Rao, both appointed by Trump, and Judge Karen Henderson, appointed by Republican former President Ronald Reagan.


Retired general’s testimony links private contractor to Abu Ghraib abuses

Retired general’s testimony links private contractor to Abu Ghraib abuses
Updated 17 April 2024
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Retired general’s testimony links private contractor to Abu Ghraib abuses

Retired general’s testimony links private contractor to Abu Ghraib abuses
  • Taguba’s testimony was the strongest evidence yet that civilian employees of the Virginia-based military contractor CACI played a role in the abuse of Abu Ghraib inmates

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: An Army general who investigated the abuse of prisoners 20 years ago at Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib prison testified Tuesday that a civilian contractor instructed prison guards to “soften up” detainees for interrogations.
The retired general, Antonio Taguba, told jurors that the contractor, Steven Stefanowicz, even tried to intimidate the general as he investigated the Abu Ghraib abuses.
“He would lean on the table staring me down. He did not answer questions directly,” Taguba said. “He was trying to intimidate me.”
Taguba’s testimony was the strongest evidence yet that civilian employees of the Virginia-based military contractor CACI played a role in the abuse of Abu Ghraib inmates.
Three former inmates at the prison are suing CACI in federal court in Alexandria, alleging that the company contributed to the tortuous treatment they suffered. The trial, delayed by more than 15 years of legal wrangling, is the first time that Abu Ghraib inmates have been able to bring a civil case in front of a US jury.
The lawsuit alleges that CACI is liable for the three plaintiffs’ mistreatment because the company provided civilian interrogators to the Army who were assigned to Abu Ghraib and conspired with the military police who were serving as prison guards to torture the inmates.
In a report Taguba completed in 2004, he recommended that Stefanowicz be fired, reprimanded and lose his security clearance for “allowing and/or instructing” military police to engage in illegal and abusive tactics.
“He clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse,” Taguba’s report concluded.
In testimony Tuesday, Taguba said he personally questioned Stefanowicz for about an hour as part of his investigation.
“He was a very coy type of personality,” Taguba said of Stefanowicz, often referred to as “Big Steve” by Abu Ghraib personnel.
Taguba said his investigation was focused on military police, and his probe of civilian interrogators’ role was limited. But he felt obligated to delve into it, he said, because he received credible testimony from the military police that the civilians were playing an important role in what occurred.
The MPs told Taguba that they weren’t getting clear instructions from within their own military chain of command, and that Stefanowicz and other civilian personnel ended up filling the void. Taguba said the military chain of command was unclear, and that various commanders were not cooperating with each other, all of which contributed to a chaotic atmosphere at the prison.
Taguba said he was several weeks into his investigation before he even understood that civilians were carrying out interrogations at Abu Ghraib. He said he and his staff heard multiple references to CACI but initially misunderstood them, believing that people were saying “khaki” instead.
On cross-examination, Taguba acknowledged the limits of his investigation. A second report, completed by Maj. Gen. George Fay, looked more directly at the role of military intelligence and civilian contractors at Abu Ghraib.
Taguba also acknowledged that his report contained several errors, including misidentifying a CACI employee as an employee of another contractor, and another civilian contractor as a CACI employee.
CACI’s lawyers emphasized that Stefanowicz was never assigned to interrogate any of the three plaintiffs in the case.
As Taguba testified about Stefanowicz, a lawyer asked him if he was indeed intimidated by the CACI contractor.
“Not on your life,” Taguba responded.
The jury also heard Tuesday from one of the three plaintiffs in the case, Asa’ad Hamza Zuba’e, who testified remotely from Iraq through an Arabic interpreter. Zuba’e said he was kept naked, threatened with dogs, and forced to masturbate in front of prison guards.
CACI’s lawyers questioned his claims. Among other things, they questioned how he could have been threatened with dogs when government reports showed dogs had not yet been sent to Iraq at the time he said it happened.

 


Yellen says Iran’s actions could cause global economic spillovers as White House vows new sanctions

 US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen attends a press conference at US Ambassador’s residence in Beijing on April 8, 2024. (AFP)
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen attends a press conference at US Ambassador’s residence in Beijing on April 8, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 17 April 2024
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Yellen says Iran’s actions could cause global economic spillovers as White House vows new sanctions

 US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen attends a press conference at US Ambassador’s residence in Beijing on April 8, 2024. (AFP)
  • Israel has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry
  • White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan also said Tuesday that coming US sanctions would target Iran’s missile and drone program and entities supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s Defense Ministry

WASHINGTON: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Tuesday of potential global economic damage from rising tensions in the Middle East as the Biden administration said it was readying new sanctions in response to Iran’s malevolent activity in the region.
Yellen spoke out against Iran’s “malign and destabilizing activity” in remarks ahead of this week’s spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, saying Iran’s weekend missile and drone attack on Israel “underscores the importance of Treasury’s work to use our economic tools to counter Iran’s malign activity.”
She added: “From this weekend’s attack to the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, Iran’s actions threaten the region’s stability and could cause economic spillovers.”

National security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during a press briefing at the White House, in Washington. (AP file photo)

Iran’s attack on Israel early Sunday came in response to what it says was an Israeli strike on Iran’s consulate in Syria earlier this month. Israel’s military chief said Monday that his country will respond to the attack, while world leaders caution against retaliation, trying to avoid a spiral of violence.
As the IMF and its fellow lending agency, the World Bank, hold their spring meetings this week, high on the agenda are the fast-rising tensions between Iran and Israel and what escalation could spell for the global economy.
Meanwhile, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan also said Tuesday that coming US sanctions would target Iran’s missile and drone program and entities supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s Defense Ministry.
“We anticipate that our allies and partners will soon be following with their own sanctions,” Sullivan said in a statement. “In addition, we continue to work through the Department of Defense and US Central Command to further strengthen and expand the successful integration of air and missile defense and early warning systems across the Middle East to further erode the effectiveness of Iran’s missile and UAV capabilities.”
Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s six-month war against Hamas militants in Gaza. The war erupted after two militant groups backed by Iran led an attack on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. An Israeli offensive in Gaza has caused widespread devastation and killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.
“We’ve targeted over 500 individuals and entities connected to terrorism and terrorist financing by the Iranian regime and its proxies since the start of the Administration,” Yellen said, citing sanctions against Iran’s drone and missile programs, militant groups Hamas, the Houthis, Hezbollah, and other Iraqi militia groups.
Yellen said she expected the additional sanctions to be announced in the coming days.
The annual gathering will take place as other ongoing conflicts, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, threaten global financial stability.
Yellen in February offered her strongest public support yet for the idea of liquidating roughly $300 billion in frozen Russian Central Bank assets and using them for Ukraine’s long-term reconstruction.
She said Tuesday that the US is “continuing to work with our international partners to unlock the economic value of immobilized Russian sovereign assets and ensure that Russia pays for the damage it has caused.” Yellen added that she will meet with Group of Seven finance leaders Wednesday to continue discussions on the topic and will look at “a series of possibilities, ranging from actually seizing the assets to using them as collateral.”
Another major issue for this year’s meetings on the US side, Yellen said, will be ongoing conversations about Chinese industrial policy that poses a threat to US jobs and the global economy. She traveled to Guangzhou and Beijing earlier this month, to hold “difficult conversations” with counterparts over what she describes as China’s overcapacity in its wave of low-priced Chinese green tech exports that could overwhelm factories in the US and make it impossible to compete.
Yellen said she plans to meet later this week with her Chinese counterparts for a fourth meeting of the US-China Economic and Financial Working Groups, “to share information, identify potential areas of cooperation, and, when we disagree, frankly communicate concerns.”
US Treasury and China’s Ministry of Finance launched the economic working groups in an effort to ease tensions and deepen ties between the nations.

 


Trump goes from court to campaign at a bodega in his heavily Democratic hometown

Trump goes from court to campaign at a bodega in his heavily Democratic hometown
Updated 17 April 2024
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Trump goes from court to campaign at a bodega in his heavily Democratic hometown

Trump goes from court to campaign at a bodega in his heavily Democratic hometown
  • The visit would be Trump’s first campaign appearance since his criminal hush money trial began, making the presumptive GOP nominee the first former president in US history to stand criminal trial

NEW YORK: Donald Trump plans to visit New York’s Harlem neighborhood Tuesday after spending his second day in a lower Manhattan courtroom as a criminal defendant.
Trump was expected to stop by Sanaa Convenient Store, a tiny bodega that sells chips, sodas and other snacks. Trump aides said the former president and current Republican nominee chose the store because it has been the site of a violent attack on an employee. He will also highlight consumer inflation under President Joe Biden, aides said.
The visit would be Trump’s first campaign appearance since his criminal hush money trial began, making the presumptive GOP nominee the first former president in US history to stand criminal trial.
Trump will be confined to the courtroom on most days, dramatically limiting his movements and his ability to campaign, fundraise and make calls. Aides have been planning rallies and other political events on weekends and Wednesdays, the one weekday when court is not supposed to be in session. Plans also include local appearances Trump can make after court recesses each day.
Trump’s stop in Harlem demonstrates the former president’s determination to amplify familiar campaign arguments even within the strictures of being a criminal defendant.
In July 2022, Jose Alba, a clerk at the store in Hamilton Heights, a heavily Hispanic section of Harlem, was attacked by 35-year-old Austin Simon. The resulting altercation, captured on surveillance video, ended with Alba fatally stabbing Simon. Alba was arrested and charged with murder but the Manhattan district attorney dropped the charges within weeks, saying they could not prove Alba had not acted in self-defense.
On another evening in August 2022, according to the New York Post, owner Osamah Aldhabyani was in the store when a customer entered and an altercation between the two ensued. The customer was arrested, the newspaper reported.
Before his arrival, Trump’s campaign distributed materials to journalists criticizing Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for his handling of the stabbing case, including the weeks Alba spent jailed at Rikers Island without bail. Bragg oversees the office now prosecuting Trump.
The former president’s local appearance also affirms his intentions to campaign in his home state, even though New York remains overwhelmingly Democratic. In 2020, Biden garnered more than 60 percent of the vote in the state and ran up even wider margins in New York City. Trump insists he can win New York in November anyway, and he has mused about holding rallies in the South Bronx and Queens, where the former president was born and grew up, and even Madison Square Garden.
“I may rent Madison Square Garden,” he said in an interview with Breitbart News. “That’s the belly of the beast, right?”
That would be a prohibitively expensive proposition, particularly as his campaign has worked to save cash as it confronts a fundraising gap with Biden.
“You know, the president is very keen on New York,” Chris LaCivita, Trump senior campaign adviser, told The Associated Press last month as he talked up the campaign’s efforts to put more states in play. Still, LaCivita laughed when asked whether he agrees. “I don’t get out in front of the boss. I do what the boss says. The boss drives,” he said.
Trump has argued that the ongoing influx of migrants to the city, where he grew his real estate empire and became a tabloid fixture, has made New Yorkers more willing to vote for him since his 2020 loss to Biden. The city has struggled to house the new arrivals, putting many up in city hotels.
“I think we have a chance. New York has changed a lot in the last two years,” he told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo. “The people of New York are angry. People that would have never voted for me because I’m a Republican — I mean they’re Democrats ... I think they’re going to vote for me. So I think we’re going to give New York a heavy shot.”
Trump cited the 2022 New York governor’s race, when Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul prevailed over Republican former Rep. Lee Zeldin — but by a much tighter margin than usual for her party’s statewide nominees.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, a top Trump ally, said Monday that Trump will be campaigning all over the state while he’s forced to be on trial in New York.
“He’s going to make the best out of this,” she said, adding that “Democrats in New York and the judge and everyone, they’re really going to regret it.”
At the least, Trump, long a famous figure for New Yorkers, showed Tuesday that he can still turn heads in the city.
“Papito Trump is coming. Yeah!” said one passerby ahead of the former president’s arrival.
Lesandra Carrion, 47, who lives in the neighborhood, came out to see the former president when she heard he might be visiting.
She said she doesn’t agree with everything Trump says or does but declared that “he speaks the truth.” Carrion cited the rising migrant population and strained city resources. “I think that he will make a difference,” she said of Trump.
As for his troubles at the courthouse at the south end of Manhattan, Carrion was dismissive. “He’s going to beat that,” she said. “We all make mistakes at the end of the day. But he’s the truth and light. I feel that God is in him.”


Uncertainty surrounds US Republicans’ plan for separate Ukraine, Israel aid bills

Uncertainty surrounds US Republicans’ plan for separate Ukraine, Israel aid bills
Updated 17 April 2024
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Uncertainty surrounds US Republicans’ plan for separate Ukraine, Israel aid bills

Uncertainty surrounds US Republicans’ plan for separate Ukraine, Israel aid bills
  • The proposal fueled uncertainty about the long-awaited aid package, particularly for Ukraine, given fierce opposition toward from some far-right Republicans, who have threatened to oust Johnson if he allows a House vote on assistance for Kyiv

WASHINGTON: US Democrats said on Tuesday they would wait to decide how to respond to a proposal from the Republican-led House of Representatives to consider national security assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan separately, rather than as one bill.
More than two months after the Senate approved a $95 billion package of security assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan and other US partners in the Indo-Pacific, House Speaker Mike Johnson said on Monday that the House would consider the aid this week, but would do so as separate pieces of legislation.
The proposal fueled uncertainty about the long-awaited aid package, particularly for Ukraine, given fierce opposition toward from some far-right Republicans, who have threatened to oust Johnson if he allows a House vote on assistance for Kyiv.
Democrats in the House and Senate — and the White House — said they would look at Johnson’s proposals, even as they stressed that the best and quickest strategy would be for the House to pass the legislation approved by the Senate in February.
Johnson’s plan was endorsed on Tuesday by the leaders of the House Appropriations, Armed Services, Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees, and the chairperson of the defense appropriations subcommittee.
“We don’t have time to spare when it comes to our national security. We need to pass this aid package this week,” Representatives Tom Cole, Mike Rogers, Michael McCaul, Mike Turner and Ken Calvert said in a joint statement.
Turner and Representative Jim Himes, the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, said separately in a statement after a classified briefing that Ukraine’s situation on the ground was critical and aid must be passed now.
Consideration of separate bills could add weeks to the timeline for the aid to become law, as it must pass the House and then go back for a vote in the Senate, before it can be sent to the White House for Democratic President Joe Biden’s signature.
“I am reserving judgment on what will come out of the House until we see more about the substance of the proposal and the process by which the proposal will proceed,” Senator Chuck Schumer said as the Senate opened.
“Hopefully, we will get details of the speaker’s proposal later today. Again, time is of the essence,” Schumer said.
Representative Pete Aguilar, a member of the House Democratic leadership, told a press conference he would wait for the substance of the bill before drawing any conclusions.
“We don’t want to sink any plan that delivers aid to our allies,” he said.

TEXT, TIMELINE STILL TO COME
The text of the bills was not released — it was expected as soon as late Tuesday — but there would be separate measures providing assistance to Ukraine as it fights a Russian invasion, Israel after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and a weekend air assault by Iran, and partners in the Indo-Pacific as they face an increasingly aggressive China.
It also was not clear which country’s assistance the House would consider first. Republicans have tried repeatedly to push through aid for Israel without anything for Ukraine, an approach Democrats have rejected.
The White House has also opposed standalone aid for Israel.
When asked whether the White House would support the four separate bills, White House National Security spokesman John Kirby said the administration was awaiting more information.
“It does appear at first blush that the speaker’s proposal will, in fact, help us get aid to Ukraine, aid to Israel and needed resources to the Indo-Pacific for a wide range of contingencies there. We just want to get more detail,” he told reporters.
Johnson told Fox News on Tuesday that the fourth bill would include additional sanctions on Russia and Iran as well as the “REPO Act,” a provision regarding the seizure of Russian assets to help Ukraine.
Ukraine backers have been pushing Johnson to allow a vote on supplemental funding since last year. But Johnson had given a variety of reasons to delay, including the need to focus taxpayer dollars on domestic issues.
Many hard-right Republicans, especially those closely allied with former President Donald Trump, who is challenging Biden in the November presidential election, fiercely oppose sending billions more dollars to Ukraine.
At least two far-right Republicans have threatened to seek Johnson’s removal as speaker if he allows a vote on assistance for Ukraine. Johnson said he would not resign.
It was not clear whether he would be removed in case of a hard-right rebellion, as some Democrats have said they would vote to save Johnson’s job to prevent chaos in the House. Last year, conservatives ousted then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and it took three weeks before Johnson was elected.


Petition calling for suspension of UK arms sales to Israel handed to Downing Street

Petition calling for suspension of UK arms sales to Israel handed to Downing Street
Updated 17 April 2024
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Petition calling for suspension of UK arms sales to Israel handed to Downing Street

Petition calling for suspension of UK arms sales to Israel handed to Downing Street
  • Document by UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign signed by almost 70,000 people
  • Protest against arms sales to Israel will take place outside Parliament on Wednesday

LONDON: A petition calling for the UK government to halt arms sales to Israel was handed in to 10 Downing Street on Tuesday by a pro-Palestinian activist organization and a cross-party group of lawmakers.

Launched on April 2 and signed by almost 70,000 people, the document, which is addressed to UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, also urges the government to publish any legal advice it has received regarding possible breaches of international law.

“On 2nd April 2024, Israel killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers, including UK citizens, in targeted air strikes in the Gaza Strip,” the petition, drawn up by the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said.

“This attack, on an agency distributing food to a population facing famine, is part of the broader Israeli war crime — as acknowledged by the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell — of intentionally using starvation as a weapon of war.

“It also comes following Israel’s two week siege on Al-Shifa hospital, killing over 400 Palestinians and leaving the hospital complex in ruins.”

The UK’s Strategic Export Licensing Criteria, under which all arms exports are assessed, specifies that the government will not grant a license if it determines “there is a clear risk that the items might be used to commit or facilitate internal repression … or a serious violation of international humanitarian law,” according to a January 2023 report on developments in UK strategic export controls.

“The ICJ (International Court of Justice) ruling of plausible genocide therefore requires the UK to immediately halt arms transfers to Israel,” the petition said.

“It is also understood the government has received — though not published — legal advice that Israel is breaking international humanitarian law which would also require a suspension of arms exports.”

The ICJ issued a landmark ruling in January finding it plausible that Israel’s acts could amount to genocide, offering the first concrete step toward possible sanctions.

“UN experts have called on all states to immediately suspend arms exports to Israel, as required by the 1949 Geneva Conventions and to comply with the Genocide Convention,” the petition said.

“The UK is putting itself at legal risk by ignoring this advice, and is also isolating itself from key international partners including Canada, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands and Italy, who have all suspended their arms exports to Israel.”

Conservative Party MP Alicia Kearns, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, on Friday said the UK Foreign Office “has received official legal advice that Israel has broken international humanitarian law, but the government has not announced it.”

On Monday in parliament, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused to deny the Foreign Office had received such advice and when asked by Labour Party MP Zarah Sultana whether Kearns was telling the truth said: “Israel is committed to and capable of complying with international humanitarian law.”

Ben Jamal, director of the PSC, said: “Israel’s genocidal assault on Palestinians and its attacks on Lebanon, Syria and Iran prove that arming it not only makes the UK complicit in violating international law but also in the sparking of a regional war with catastrophic consequences.

“Continuing to arm Israel cannot help the cause of peace or justice in the Middle East. Any government truly committed to upholding international law does not sell weapons to a state that continually breaches it.”

The Palestinian Health Ministry said on Tuesday that more than 33,000 Palestinians had been killed since Israel launched its assault on Gaza on Oct. 7, 70 percent of them women and children. Most of the civil infrastructure in the besieged enclave has been destroyed and the UN has issued warnings that famine is imminent for its population of 2 million people.

Israel uses British weaponry, surveillance technology and military equipment on Palestinians, and 15 percent of the components used by its F-35 aircraft to bomb Gaza are provided by the UK, according to the pro-Palestinian nongovernmental organization Friends of Al-Aqsa.

“Israeli bomber aircraft are being used in the ongoing genocide taking place in Gaza,” the UK-based group said.

According to a statement by the PSC, more than 1,000 lawyers, academics and retired judges, including the former President of the Supreme Court Baroness Brenda Hale, have signed an open letter stating that the “continued supply of arms to Israel puts the UK in breach of international law.”

On March 27, Sultana and a cross-party group of 134 UK lawmakers wrote to Cameron and Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch asking them to immediately suspend export licenses for arms transfers to Israel as “the case for this is overwhelming.”

Earlier this month, Cameron said the UK would not suspend arms sales to Israel, despite Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, Spain and Belgium announcing they would do so.

The PSC said it would lead a “Stop Arming Israel” rally outside parliament at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.