TIME Physics

Supersonic Submarines Just Took One Step Closer to Reality

That would make San Francisco to Shanghai in two hours a possibility

Chinese scientists say there could one day be a high-tech submarine that crosses the Pacific Ocean in less time than it takes to watch a movie, the South China Morning Post reports.

Researchers at the Harbin Institute of Technology, in northeast China, have made dramatic improvements to a Soviet-era military technology called supercavitation that allows submersibles to travel at high speeds, the Post says.

Supercavitation envelops a submerged vessel inside an air bubble to minimize friction. It enabled the Russian Shakval torpedo to reach speeds of 230 m.p.h. — but theoretically, a supercavitated vessel, given sufficient power at launch, could reach the speed of sound (some 3,603 m.p.h.). That would mean crossing the 6,000-odd miles from San Francisco to Shanghai in just two hours.

One of the problems of supercavitation has been how to steer a vessel at such speeds. The Harbin scientists say they could have the answer.

According to the Post, they’ve developed a way of allowing a supercavitated vessel to shower itself with liquid while traveling inside its own air bubble. The liquid creates a membrane on the surface of the vessel, and by manipulating this membrane, the degree of friction applied to different areas of the vessel could be controlled, which would enable steering.

“We are very excited by its potential,” said Li Fengchen, professor of fluid machinery and engineering at the Harbin Institute’s complex flow and heat transfer lab. “By combining liquid-membrane technology with supercavitation, we can significantly reduce the launch challenges and make cruising control easier,” he told the Post.

Li stressed, however, that many technical problems needed to be solved before supersonic submarine travel could take place.

[SCMP]

TIME Autos

Volvo Is Banking on This Car to Crack the Top End of the World’s Biggest Auto Market

Front detail of Volvo's new XC90 Volvo Car Group

But will affluent Chinese consumers like the XC90?

Volvo unveils its first car under Chinese ownership on Tuesday. It’s a high-stakes moment for the Swedish carmaker —and a time of reckoning for the Chinese auto industry’s global ambitions.

“If Volvo is successful, it will have a great significance on Chinese automakers,” Bin Zhu, China forecast-team manager at consultancy LMC Automotive, tells TIME. “It could boost their confidence and set an example for the whole industry.”

More cars are being produced and sold in China than anywhere else in the world, yet the country’s domestic brands have failed to have international impact. In fact, they’re even struggling at home. More Chinese drive a Ford, Volkswagen or Nissan than a Chery, Dongfeng or Great Wall. And as buyers become more affluent, domestic marques are shunned even more.

Consultancy firm McKinsey forecasts that China’s premium car market will be the largest in the world by 2020. However, consumers they talk to doubt that any local carmaker will have come up with a model prestigious enough for them by then. Currently, the three top brands — Audi, BMW and Mercedes — dominate 75% of the premium sector and keep growing at the expense of local rivals. The new Volvo XC90 could buck that trend.

“It’s a car that hits right in the heart of the market,” James Chao, director of the IHS consultancy’s automotive unit, tells TIME. “It’s a little larger SUV, premium but not fully luxury. It’s retained a lot of Volvo’s European flair, while many people surely would feel proud to drive a Chinese vehicle of this caliber. If it’s priced competitively and realistically, it could be a hit.”

Success isn’t guaranteed. There was widespread skepticism when Geely first purchased Volvo in 2010. Other acquisitions, such as state-owned SAIC’s deal with Korean Ssangyong or SAIC’s subsidiary Nanjing Auto’s purchase of MG Rover, failed to bring the sought-for synergies.

“Sometimes the Chinese companies have taken a lot of time to absorb the knowledge, or the knowledge has been out of date,” says Bin. But, he adds, Volvo and Geely could be different. “Volvo needed a lot of investment to develop new technology, while Geely had money but no strong development team. It was a win-win situation.”

The partnership got off to a shaky start. Managers from the two companies publicly contradicted each other on how Scandinavian the new cars would be, and the sometimes brash Chinese tastes collided with the sober aesthetic of safety-minded carmakers from Torslanda. However, communication slowly improved and the two sides seem to have found some equal ground. In an interview with the Financial Times, Volvo’s head of design Thomas Ingenlath said that Geely’s owner Li Shufu had “opened our eyes” to the importance of a backseat experience that included a champagne cooler and a humidor. Li, for his part, expressed his admiration for Volvo’s values, and said that he thinks they may stand for something the Chinese are craving right now.

“Particularly in China, I think a lot of people start to realize: O.K., what are the things that they truly should value,” Li told the Financial Times. “That’s something that fits perfectly well with what Volvo is offering.”

There’s no arguing about the importance of the new XC90 to both firms: it’s the first to be rid of Ford technology (the American automaker sold Volvo to Geely in 2010) and the product of an $11 billion development process that will lead to a completely renewed Volvo fleet by 2020. If the XC90 doesn’t become successful, Li told the Wall Street Journal, “it will be very painful.”

The partnership does have one competitive advantage. Since Geely owns Volvo, it doesn’t have to live by the restrictions for joint ventures and can be more aggressive when it comes to research, development and manufacturing facilities inside China.

“We’ll absolutely see more cross-pollination in the coming five years,” says Chao at IHS, who says the Volvo name should give Geely a boost. “[Chinese automaker] Hongqi sold about as many cars last year as Audi does on an average day,” he says. “Maybe the best idea isn’t to introduce your own branded car in China at this point.”

LMC’s Bin agrees. “I think we’ll see more localization and cars tailor-made for China,” he says. In the long term, he says there could be “an opportunity to challenge the German automakers.”

Whatever the outcome, there is no denying the crucial importance of the XC90’s launch for Volvo.

“It’s the biggest proof of what we’re all about,” Alain Visser, Volvo’s head of sales and marketing, tells TIME. “If this doesn’t work out, we have an issue.”

TIME Israel

Hopes for a Cease-Fire Rise as the Gaza War Drags On

A Palestinian walks on the rubble of a mosque that was partially damaged by an airstrike on Aug. 25, 2014 in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip.
A Palestinian walks on the rubble of a mosque that was partially damaged by an air strike in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, on Aug. 25, 2014 Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images

The Gaza war has reached its eighth week, and people on both sides keep dying. But there are reports of a potential truce

Israeli and Palestinian media outlets were abuzz with reports Monday that the various factions involved in the Israel-Hamas conflict were close to agreeing on a cease-fire deal following renewed efforts by Egypt and Saudi Arabia to help negotiate a truce. Either way, the possibility of reaching a cease-fire with a longer shelf life seemed to increase the likelihood of the sides reaching a cease-fire that would also be the prelude to a return to peace talks.

Khaled al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad official attending the Cairo talks, was the source of reports that on the possible cease-fire. But a senior Hamas official, Izzat al-Rishq, said the sides had yet to agree on a cease-fire in Gaza, according to Israeli daily Haaretz, while another Lebanon-based Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, would only confirm in a Hamas radio interview that “efforts are under way to stop the Israeli aggression.” Late Sunday, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling on Israel and Palestinian factions to agree to a cease-fire without a time limit attached and to return to the peace negotiations.

A senior Israeli official reached by TIME says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office is declining to comment on the rumors of a possible cease-fire and suggests “exercising caution” in giving credence to the reports. A report on Israel’s Walla! news site suggested that Egypt would make an announcement on a deal late Monday, one that would include a reopening the Rafah crossing between southern Gaza and Egypt and the expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone to 12 nautical miles, two of Hamas’ demands. If the cease-fire is maintained, the report says, Israel will allow more commercial products into Gaza, including construction materials.

Still, Israel and Hamas have very different visions about how the conflict should end — which makes it challenging to reach an agreement satisfactory to all sides. “The dilemma is that Israel is not willing to talk before reaching a cease-fire, while there is still shooting going on, and the Palestinian factions insist that they want achievements in exchange for agreeing to a cease-fire,” says Ghassan Khatib, a veteran Palestinian political analyst and the vice president of Birzeit University in the West Bank.

Adding intrigue about what the week may hold, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview Saturday with the Egypt’s Sada El Balad station that in the coming days he would introduce his own plan for solving the greater Israel-Palestine conflict. Many analysts here have speculated that this will likely be built on the Arab Peace Initiative — also called the Saudi Peace Initiative — first put forward in 2002. In the plan, moderate Arab states would recognize Israel in return for Israel recognizing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Any such plan would, naturally, including a program for rebuilding Gaza, but Israel is concerned that materials like cement and steel will be used refresh Hamas’ military capabilities — including the tunnels that became the focus of the Israel Defense Forces’ recent Gaza invasion.

Abbas said he would be discussing the initiative this week with other top Palestinian officials in Ramallah. “It will be an unconventional solution, but I’m not going to declare war on Israel,” Abbas said in the interview. “I have diplomatic and political solutions.” He suggested that he doesn’t expect Washington to support his initiative but added that “in the end, our Arab brothers will go with us.”

Khatib believes that Abbas’s statement indicates that Saudi involvement would play a key role in a peace deal. “Saudi and international parties are trying to bridge the gap by giving guarantees, meaning that they would set up a mechanism by which a third-party will guarantee freedom of movement to and from Gaza, but check that this cannot be used for the rearming of Gaza.” Egypt, he says, would like to play this role — or at least a pivotal one. The three key European players — France, Germany and Britain — all are offering assistance as well. The three countries are reportedly working on a proposal for a U.N. resolution to end the fighting, according to a report leaked to Haaretz, as part of a plan to return Gaza to Palestinian Authority control under international supervision — the territory has been run by Hamas since June 2007 — end the Israeli embargo on Gaza and resume peace talks.

The alternative, it seems, is continued war. Each side has made it clear other over the past week than they are ready to keep fighting indefinitely. With the conflict between Israel and Hamas already dragging on far longer than expected — it is now heading into its eighth week — politicians on both sides in the conflict have begun to refer to the possibility of war of attrition. That’s a reference to the ongoing fighting following the 1967 Six-Day War, one that continued for another three years, pitting Israel against Egyptian, Jordanian, Palestinian and even Soviet forces. Netanyahu and his Defense Minister told Israelis on Aug. 24 to expect a protracted war and “if necessary,” a delay of the start of the school year next week, at least for schools that are in the line of fire from Gaza.

In the meantime, both sides have continued their attacks. Israel has carried out 70 air strikes in the Gaza Strip over the past two days, the IDF said in its Twitter feed, while over the same period Israel was targeted by more than 230 rockets and mortars from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant factions in Gaza. On Sunday a 4-year-old Israeli boy was laid to rest after he was killed in a mortar attack from Gaza on Friday, triggering an exodus of Israelis from communities near the Gaza border, which are not protected by the country’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. The boy’s death brought the number of Israelis killed in the ongoing war to 68, including 64 soldiers. That same day a Palestinian mother and her four children were killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza. At least 2,120 Gazans have been killed in the conflict, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Barring a lasting cease-fire, both numbers will keep rising.

TIME Viewpoint

China’s Silent War on Terror

Chinese soldiers patrolling in old Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, July 30, 2014.
Chinese soldiers patrol in Kashgar, in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, on July 30, 2014 Kevin Frayer—Getty Images

A virtual media blackout makes it hard to know what's happening as China tackles unrest among its Uighur Muslim minorities

On a clear, sunny morning last October, an SUV carrying three people turned right on to Beijing’s Chang’an Avenue, plowed through crowds gathered near the entrance to the Forbidden City and burst into flames at the northern edge of Tiananmen Square. The wreck killed five people, including three in the vehicle and two bystanders. Dozens more were injured.

Almost immediately, eyewitnesses started posting pictures. The photographs showed scenes of chaos in the heart of China’s capital: a plume of smoke rising in front of a portrait of Chairman Mao; the charred carapace of the vehicle resting at the foot of the ancient Gate of Heavenly Peace. Almost as quickly as the images were posted, however, they started to disappear. It became clear that the Chinese government, and the government alone, would tell this story.

Nearly a year later, they are still pulling the strings. On Aug. 24, state-backed media announced that three masterminds behind the incident were executed, alongside five other convicted terrorists. The report listed their names and charges, but did not mention when or how they were put to death, where they were held, in what conditions, or whether they were offered legal counsel. (State broadcaster CCTV did note, however, that Usmen Hasan, the driver of the SUV, once beat a middle-school teacher and was “feared” by his wife.)

Though some elements of the official account may well be true, the reporting is clearly selective — and impossible to confirm. Hasan, his wife and his mother were killed in the crash, and the others were held out of public view. Maya Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong, says rights groups and foreign journalists have effectively been blocked from looking into the matter. “We are just as much in the dark about these individuals,” she says. “We have almost no independent information, except what the state press has released.”

The handling of the case is part of an effort to manage when, and how, China talks about terrorism. This past year has seen a wave of attacks, starting with the Tiananmen crash and moving, in bloody succession, to ambushes at train stations in Kunming and Urumqi in March and April, respectively. In late May, Urumqi was hit again, when attackers targeted a morning market, leaving dozens dead. Each was pinned, directly or indirectly, on “separatists” or “extremists” from Xinjiang. If and when details are released by state media, they tend to point toward a straightforward story of radicalization at the hands of overseas Islamic terrorist groups. And those reports are always followed by news of the government’s swift and effective response.

The reality is more complex. Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, which borders Russia, Pakistan and several Central Asian nations, is claimed as the traditional homeland of the Turkic Uighur people — and as part of China. Since coming to power in 1949, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has sent waves of military personnel and migrants west to settle the area they call New Frontier. Many Uighurs resent the influx of ethnic Han Chinese and worry they are getting cut out of the region’s resource-driven economic boom.

A small minority of the Uighur population, meanwhile, has waged a decades-long fight against the central government, often targeting symbols of state power including police stations and government buildings. There have also been direct attacks on civilians. The ruling party has responded by beefing up security and trying to forcibly integrate the mostly Muslim Uighur population. In recent months, entire cities have been sealed off by police checkpoints. Some areas are trying to discourage, or outright ban, certain types of beards and veils.

This has not stopped the bloodshed. In July, violence broke out in Xinjiang’s Shache county (called Yarkand in the Uighur language). State media waited more than 24 hours before announcing the unrest. As soon as they did, conflicting accounts emerged, with the government saying the violence broke out after police foiled a terrorist plot, and exile Uighur groups saying police opened fire on demonstrators protesting against restrictions during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and against the alleged extrajudicial killing of a Uighur family. The state says 96 people were killed; Uighur groups claim the figure is much higher.

We might never know what happened there. The authorities moved quickly to restrict access to the area and pulled comments from the almost-always-out-of-service web. (In times of unrest, authorities slow, or stop, Internet traffic in Xinjiang; after the 2009 riots the entire region was without Internet for nine months.) Given China’s weak record on the rule of law — and the sensitivity of the case — it’s highly unlikely that there will be an impartial investigation, let alone a fair trial. People on the ground in Xinjiang are rightly frightened that they will be punished if they comment. According to Radio Free Asia, a nonprofit media group, one blogger was already arrested for “spreading rumors” about the number of deaths.

Perhaps in 10 months we will finally hear more about the people involved in the incident. Like those killed in Beijing, Kunming, and Urumqi, the people who died in Yarkand deserve justice. The question is, what kind of justice will it be?

— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME India

India’s ‘Untouchables’ Are Still Being Forced to Collect Human Waste by Hand

World's Dirtiest Job
Devi Lal, a 43-year-old manual scavenger, cleans drains in New Delhi on July 13, 2012 Sagar Kaul—Barcroft Media/Getty Images

They face violence, eviction and withheld wages if they do not take on the hazardous job of emptying private and public latrines

The practice of forcing low-caste people in Indian communities to remove accumulated human waste from latrines is continuing despite legal prohibitions and must be stopped, says a leading advocacy group.

In a report released Monday, the New York City–based Human Rights Watch (HRW) detailed the practice of “manual scavenging” — the collecting of excrement from latrines by hand. The job is done by those considered to be of the lowest birth. These Dalits, or untouchables, often face threats of violence, eviction and withheld wages if they attempt to leave the trade.

“The first day when I was cleaning the latrines and the drain, my foot slipped and my leg sank in the excrement up to my calf,” Sona, a manual scavenger in Bharatpur, a city in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, told HRW. “I screamed and ran away. Then I came home and cried and cried. I knew there was only this work for me.”

Laws exist to curb this form of subjugation, yet it remains widespread across India. Dalit women typically collect waste from private homes, while the men do the more physically demanding, and hazardous, maintenance of septic tanks and public sewers. Many suffer injuries and serious health problems.

“The manual carrying of human feces is not a form of employment, but an injustice akin to slavery,” says Ashif Shaikh, founder of Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan, a grassroots campaign to end manual scavenging. “It is one of the most prominent forms of discrimination against Dalits, and it is central to the violation of their human rights.”

HRW’s 96-page report, Cleaning Human Waste: ‘Manual Scavenging,’ Caste, and Discrimination in India, is based on more than 100 interviews with manual scavengers, and documents how these wretched people are coerced to collect human excrement on a daily basis, carrying it away in nothing more protective than a cane basket.

“People work as manual scavengers because their caste is expected to fulfill this role, and are typically unable to get any other work,” says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW. “This practice is considered one of the worst surviving symbols of untouchability because it reinforces the social stigma that these castes are untouchable and perpetuates discrimination and social exclusion.”

HRW called on the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to enforce existing legislation aimed at assisting manual scavengers to find alternative, sustainable livelihoods.

“Successive Indian government attempts to end caste-based cleaning of excrement have been derailed by discrimination and local complicity,” adds Ganguly. “The government needs to get serious about putting laws banning manual scavenging into practice and assisting the affected caste communities.”

TIME Ukraine

Civil War Hangs Heavy Over Ukraine During Its Independence Day Celebrations

Ukrainian forces parade during a military ceremony marking the 23rd anniversary of Ukraine's independence in Kiev on Aug. 24, 2014.
Ukrainian forces parade during a military ceremony marking the 23rd anniversary of Ukraine's independence in Kiev on Aug. 24, 2014. Sergei Supinsky—AFP/Getty Images

Marches in Kiev take place amid new reports of Russian hardware finding its way into rebel hands

The increasingly bloody war carving up Ukraine was in the thoughts of many Sunday as the embattled nation observed a somber Independence Day.

In Kiev, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko gave an impassioned address, praising the “warriors” fighting against foreign aggression.

“Never in 23 years has this day been so majestic as today. People have never celebrated it as sincerely as today,” said Poroshenko, as honor guards and battle-primed infantry, preparing to deploy to the front, stood ramrod straight.

“Ukraine will never again celebrate this holiday under [the] military-historical calendar of the neighboring country. We will honor defenders of our motherland, not someone else’s!” roared Poroshenko.

Following the speech, a military band led a column of troops, missile launchers and armor through Kiev’s Maidan Square in a pointed message to Moscow, days ahead of a meeting between Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Further east, in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, an entirely different scene played out, as pro-Russian separatists marched captured Ukrainian soldiers at gunpoint through the streets of Donetsk city.

Pedestrians responded to sight of the haggard prisoners of war with cries of “fascists” and some threw bottles at the POWs, according to Reuters.

“This is no independence day. This is a plague on our land, the fascists who have taken control of Kiev who are now shooting at hospitals and morgues,” one Donestk resident told the news agency.

Ukraine has been locked in bitter civil war for months in the wake of a pro-Moscow uprising in the country’s far east, following the Russian military’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula in March.

Kiev and Washington have accused the Putin Administration of providing arms and supplies to the separatists, including a sophisticated surface-to-air missile system that could have downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 in July with the loss of 298 lives.

On Friday, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes confirmed to reporters that forces within Russia were firing artillery into Ukraine and moving heavy weaponry across the border into rebel hands.

TIME infectious diseases

2 People Die of Ebola in Democratic Republic of Congo

But the deaths are not related to the current outbreak in West Africa, health officials in Congo say

Two people have died of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, though the cases may be unrelated to the outbreak in West Africa that has killed more than 1,400 people.

Of eight samples taken in the Boende region of Congo’s northwest Equateur province, two came back positive, Health Minister Felix Kabange Numbi said Sunday, the Associated Press reports. Eleven people are sick and in isolation, and 80 contacts are being traced.

“This epidemic has nothing to do with the one in West Africa,” Kabange said.

Ebola has killed 13 people in the region, including five health workers. The current cases are part of the seventh outbreak of Ebola in Congo, where the disease was first discovered in 1976.

[AP]

TIME Iraq

ISIS Lays Siege to Iraqi Turkmen Village

IRAQ-UNREST-AMERLI
An Iraqi Turkmen Shi‘ite fighter holds a position on Aug. 4, 2014 in Amirli, Iraq Ali Al-Bayati—AFP/Getty Images

The Turkmen of Amirli, Iraq, have been fending off Islamist fighters for months

In June, when fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) attacked the Iraqi village of Amirli, 45-year-old teacher Qasim Jawad Hussein was one of hundreds of villagers who rushed to pick up their weapons to fight alongside police and other Shi’ite Turkmen villagers as they clashed with the Sunni extremists.

“We tried to leave the village and we saw [ISIS’] Hummers and their black flags. We were taken by surprise,” said Hussein on a crackly cell phone from Amirli, which remains under siege. “Then I heard fire from the next village over. They were fighting with ISIS. So we went back to get our guns.”

But their collection of aging Soviet rifles has been no match for ISIS’ looted arsenal of American weapons and armored vehicles. Amirli has been under siege for more than two months, and supplies are dwindling.

“We are asking Muslims, Christians, anyone — what we really need is milk for the children,” said Hussein.

Hussein said the militants are just few kilometers from the village, and the residents have organized watches of 200 men each working in shifts, fearing that the militants will storm Amirli.

“The situation of the people in Amirli is desperate and demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens,” the U.N. Secretary-General’s special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a statement Saturday.

The Turkmen, who have linguistic and cultural ties to Turkey, have lived in northern Iraq for centuries and are both Shi‘ite and Sunni Muslims. They stake claim to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and populate villages throughout the Kirkuk governorate and further south. In June, many of those villages came under attack by ISIS. Residents told troubling stories of their own Arab neighbors turning on them.

“For two months, ISIS has targeted the Turkmen areas, starting with Tal Afar, Mosul, Tuz Khormato and now Amirli. So I’m worried for the future of the Turkmen people,” said Ali Mehdi, a spokesperson for the Iraqi Turkmen Front, a political organization that seeks to represent the interests of the Turkmen minority in Iraq.

The fear now is that Turkmen residents of Amirli will suffer the same fate as the Yezidis of Sinjar, a minority religious group in Iraq who recently fled to a mountaintop in fear of ISIS fighters, creating a potential humanitarian catastrophe before international efforts were launched to come to their aid. As Shi‘ite Muslims, Amirli’s Turkmen are seen as apostates by ISIS militants, who practice a strict — some say distorted — version of Sunni Islam. Like all those who don’t practice ISIS’ version of the faith, the Shi‘ite Turkmen are a target, and as a small and unique minority, they are particularly vulnerable. Some Iraqi Shi‘ite militias have said they will mobilize to help Amirli, but if the militias do try to rescue the residents of Amirli, they will likely be no match for ISIS. On top of that, most of the Shi‘ite militias are Arab, not Turkmen, and are organized to protect their own neighborhoods, leaving the Turkmen largely on their own.

“Shi‘ite militias are organized as local defense forces. Not like ISIS, which is one coherent military organization. There’s one guy at the top” of ISIS, says Christopher Harmer, a senior analyst with the Washington, D.C.–based Institute for the Study of War, who served several tours with the U.S. Army in Iraq.

“Is it possible that the Shi’ite militia could go up there and try a rescue operation, yeah, sure, but the fact is that if the Shi‘ite militia went head-to-head with ISIS, they would get crushed. And I think they know that,” said Harmer.

Both Mehdi and Hussein are calling on the U.S. to intervene. However, as of yet, there have been no air strikes like those carried out by American warplanes in Sinjar. Those strikes allowed local Kurdish forces to open a corridor, allowing many Yezidis to escape.

“Why didn’t the U.S. do anything for this village? Why does the U.S. Air Force go to [the] Mosul Dam, Erbil, but they don’t come here?,” asked Mehdi. “That makes us think the U.S. doesn’t care about the Turkmen.”

But the Americans also have a long-standing relationship with the Kurdish forces, which operated around Sinjar, and it would be difficult for U.S. Special Forces to coordinate with Shi‘ite militias, some of which were sometimes lined up against American forces during the U.S. occupation of Iraq. On top of that, the plight of the Shi‘ite Turkmen may simply not have the appeal of the Yezidis, whose little-known faith and desperate isolation on a besieged mountaintop sparked broad sympathy and interest. Harmer says that could change with the U.N.’s recent statements, but it would be a tough decision for Washington to make.

“America took quite a while to decide to intervene [with ISIS]. And once we decided to intervene, we decided to intervene in Sinjar. I think there was sort of this feeling that these are such a unique religious minority,” said Harmer. The U.S. has now hit ISIS across northern Iraq, focusing on the area around the Mosul Dam. “With the Shi‘ites, it just gets lost in the Sunni-Shi‘ite conflict. There’s nothing unique about ISIS targeting a Shi‘ite village.”

TIME Syria

American Held Captive by al-Qaeda Affiliate Freed After Nearly 2 Years

Still frame taken from video shows U.S. journalist Peter Theo Curtis, who has been freed by kidnappers in Syria
U.S. journalist Peter Theo Curtis is shown in this undated still frame taken from video courtesy of al-Jazeera on Aug. 24, 2014 Al Jazeera/Reuters

Peter Theo Curtis' release comes days after the execution of American photojournalist James Foley

An American journalist kidnapped and held by an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria has been freed, the U.S. said Sunday, ending his nearly two years in captivity.

Peter Theo Curtis was abducted in Antakya, Turkey, from where he planned to enter Syria in October 2012, al-Jazeera reports. He was being held by Al-Nusra Front in Syria before his release.

The U.N. facilitated Curtis’ release, it said Sunday, though it remains unclear where Curtis was exchanged.

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Sunday that Curtis “will be reunited with his family shortly.” In a separate statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that “for two years, this young American has been separated from his family. Finally he is returning home.”

“Theo’s mother, whom we’ve known from Massachusetts and with whom we’ve worked during this horrific period, simply refused to give up and has worked indefatigably to keep hope alive that this day could be a reality,” Kerry added.

Curtis’ mother Nancy said in a press release Sunday: “My heart is full at the extraordinary, dedicated, incredible people, too many to name individually, who have become my friends and have tirelessly helped us over these many months.”

“Please know that we will be eternally grateful,” added Nancy, who also asked for privacy for her family.

Curtis was imprisoned along with American photojournalist Matthew Schrier, who was held for seven months before escaping in July 2013. Schrier has said he was tortured and starved by his jailers, and described being beaten on the soles of his feet until he could no longer walk.

Curtis’ release comes days after the beheading of American photojournalist James Foley, who was executed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS. The U.S. revealed this week it attempted a military rescue mission to save Foley and other Americans but failed to bring them back.

Kerry said in his statement that the U.S. tried many different avenues to obtain Curtis’ release, and that Washington continues to use “every diplomatic, intelligence and military tool” to bring American citizens home.

“Over these last two years, the United States reached out to more than two dozen countries asking for urgent help from anyone who might have tools, influence, or leverage to help secure Theo’s release and the release of any Americans held hostage in Syria,” Kerry said.

TIME russia

Russia Lashes Out at U.S. ‘Monopoly’ on Humanitarianism With Aid Convoy to Ukraine

Russian aid convoy crosses border into Ukraine
A Russian convoy crosses the Russian-Ukrainian border at the Izvarino checkpoint on Aug. 22, 2014 Rogulin Dmitry—ITAR-TASS Photo/Corbis

Russia's convoy to Ukraine was not meant to help the separatists or deliver aid. It was meant to hijack the West's narrative about humanism over sovereignty

On Friday morning, as hundreds of Russian trucks trundled across the border into Ukraine, Russian ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin gave a briefing to explain why Moscow was sending the convoy without permission from the government in Kiev. The decision had caused such panic in the West that an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council had been scheduled Friday afternoon to discuss what Ukraine called a “direct invasion.” Churkin batted these concerns away, and only once gave a hint as to convoy’s larger purpose.

The telling moment came in response to a question from Voice of America, whose correspondent asked Churkin about the claim that the trucks were being used to resupply pro-Russian rebels fighting against government forces in Ukraine. “With baby food?” Churkin countered. In Russia’s version of the story, the trucks are loaded with humanitarian aid, nothing more dangerous than power generators, buckwheat and medicine. But Churkin wasn’t finished. “You are from Voice of America,” he told the reporter, who began to say her press affiliation is irrelevant. “Please, wait for me to say the next thing,” Churkin interjected. “The United States do not have monopoly to humanism, you know? We are all human. So if you are trying to question our humanism, I would resent that.”

The following day, when all the trucks packed up and drove back across the border into Russia, it became clear that breaking the West’s “monopoly” on “humanism” (Churkin meant to say “humanitarianism”) had a lot to do with the convoy’s objectives from the start. It was not meant to resupply the rebels in Ukraine; Russia has been doing that for months without resorting to elaborate diversions and decoys. Nor was the convoy’s sole mission to deliver aid, as many of the trucks were mostly empty. It was rather meant to show that Russia, much like the West, now claims the right to violate the sovereignty of another nation on humanitarian grounds, and there’s not much anyone can do to stop it.

Russia’s been couching its invasion of Ukraine in these terms from the start. On March 18, the day Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed the region of Crimea, he argued in a speech before the Russian legislature that the move was necessary to protect the peninsula’s ethnic Russians, who he claimed were under threat from the “nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites” who took power in Ukraine in February. It was, in other words, a humanitarian mission to protect an ethnic minority, Putin said, much like the Western bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 carried out to protect the people of Kosovo from slaughter and persecution.

But Putin’s argument was thin. While Kosovo had indeed been the site of a vicious ethnic conflict, there was not a single documented case of persecution against Russians in Crimea, nor of neo-Nazis taking power in Kiev. But Putin insisted on the parallel. For the West to claim that Kosovo and Crimea are different, he said, “is not even double standards; this is amazing, primitive, blunt cynicism. One should not try so crudely to make everything suit their interests, calling the same thing white today and black tomorrow.”

As the convoy of Russian trucks prepared to cross into Ukraine on Friday, Moscow brought similar arguments to bear. Churkin pointed out that the U.N. Security Council in July had passed a resolution allowing for humanitarian aid to be delivered to rebel-controlled parts of Syria without the government’s consent. “We cooperated with that,” Churkin said. “So I don’t see how with a straight face they can argue against this move of Russia.” The convoy to Ukraine, he argued, was simply following the precedent that the West had set in Syria a month ago.

The apparent pleasure Russia takes in calling out such double standards was, of course, not the only purpose of the convoy. Many civilians in eastern Ukraine are indeed desperate for humanitarian assistance, having been cut off from electricity and water supplies for weeks and often running short on food. So the Russian aid was certainly welcome in the besieged city of Luhansk, which Ukrainian forces have been bombarding for weeks.

But the suspected military aims of the convoy were badly overblown. On Saturday, the Ukrainian security council claimed that before returning to Russia, the trucks were being used to haul away equipment from Ukraine’s weapons plants, including a bullet factory in Luhansk. This wouldn’t make a lot of sense. Not only does Russia have little need for Ukrainian bullets, but pro-Russian rebels have been in control of those factories for months. If they wanted to dismantle and send them away to Russia, they could have done that easily and quietly, without attracting the scrutiny that has followed Russia’s humanitarian convoy all along its winding path to Ukraine.

If the convoy did have a military purpose, it would likely have been to act as a tripwire for the Ukrainian military. Russia could simply have parked the trucks near the rebel positions in Luhansk, and if Ukraine’s cannons had destroyed them, Russia would have a fresh excuse to invade. The risk of triggering such a counteroffensive would have discouraged the Ukrainian army from firing its favorite weapons in the area — the notoriously inaccurate multiple rocket launchers it has been using to fight this war. The army’s advance on the city could thus have been halted, and the conflict temporarily frozen in place. But by ordering the trucks to pull out of Ukraine on Saturday, Russia robbed the rebel fighters of this vital military advantage.

Instead, Russia has decided to use the trucks to set another precedent. If the West can cite humanitarian concern as the reason for bombing Yugoslavia, then Russia will use it as an excuse to invade Crimea. If the West can send aid to Syria without asking the government, then Russia will do the same in Ukraine. It hardly matters that these crises and conflicts bear little resemblance to one another or that Russia has done a great deal to fuel Ukraine’s crisis in the first place. What matters to Russia is the ability to hijack a well-worn Western narrative that Russia has both resented and envied for years. Now, with this convoy of half-empty trucks, Putin has once again shown that he can harness the language of humanitarianism in excusing interventionism. It isn’t his first time, and it probably won’t be his last.

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