Two recently released reports, one by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) and one by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), show that not only is the number of private contractors in Afghanistan increasing, but the Pentagon is also unable to tell what they are even doing there. Citing the reports, David Francis of the Fiscal Times points out that there are now 108,000 private contractors in Afghanistan (over 30,000 of whom are Americans), far more than the 65,700 U.S. troops still there, and the number was counted at 110,404 last month. That amounts to 1.6 contractors for every American soldier, roughly 18,000 of which are private security contractors.
Although the U.S. presence in Afghanistan is ostensibly winding down towards an eventual handover to Afghan security forces, as Francis argues, “the increase in the contractors to troop ratio is yet another indication that although the vast majority of troops are leaving Afghanistan, a private army will remain in the country for years.”
According to the CRS, the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show the increasing reliance of the military on private contractors. But replacing the military with private contractors is not necessarily a good thing. Highlighting the abuses committed by private military contractors, Angela Snell of the University of Illinois College of Law has called this trend a “convenient way for the U.S. government to evade its legal obligations, including the responsibility to protect the human rights of civilians in war and peace, by allowing private individuals, rather than official state actors, to perform services on behalf of the U.S. military.”
Not only does the growing use of private contractors give lie to the idea of a withdrawal from the country, but they are also very costly. Although still dwarfed by the ever-mounting total costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, CRS reports that “over the last six fiscal years, DOD [Department of Defense] obligations for contracts performed in the Iraq and Afghanistan areas of operation were approximately $160 billion and exceeded total contract obligations of any other U.S. federal agency.”
Moreover, Francis points out that the CRS and GAO did not just measure the number of contractors and the cost, but the reports also assessed the Pentagon’s ability to monitor the work of contractors. And the results are damning. According to Francis, taken together the reports:
“Amount to yet another indictment of how the Pentagon deals with private workers. CRS found that the Pentagon lacked the ability to document the work each contractor is performing. It also found even when the government has information on contractors, it’s often inaccurate and doesn’t reflect the actual work being done. This leaves the Pentagon unable to determine if the hundreds of billions it’s spending are leading to effective results.”
So despite the increasing number of private contractors being used and the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on them, the Pentagon is not even able to determine what they are doing or whether it is effective. As CRS reports, the information the Pentagon has on private contractors is probably not reliable enough to be used to make decisions “at the strategic level,” thus hindering its ability to tell whether the work of contractors is contributing to “achieving the mission.”
The U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been massive, and destructive, wastes of lives and money. Although the U.S. and its allies say that they plan to remove combat troops from Afghanistan by 2014, this will in no way be the end of the West’s presence in the country. Francis reports that much of the work currently done by the military will be done by the private contractors after the military leaves. So while the attention paid to Afghanistan is likely to continue to dwindle even further, as has been the case in Iraq, as the military withdrawal picks up, the foreign occupation, by what one analyst has called “a de facto army,” looks set to continue on.
Britain’s operating of killer drones in Afghanistan may be violating the international law, a legal firm representing peace campaigners has argued in an opinion piece.
The legal opinion by Public Interest Lawyers argues that the use of killer drones in Afghanistan is a breach of the international law under the European Convention for Human Rights (ECHR).
The document says that the ECHR’s article 2 requires the governments to use “no more [force] than absolutely necessary” during conflicts.
“Only when it is absolutely necessary to kill someone rather than arrest/disable them will the use of drones be lawful. And even then, drones may only be used for … self defence under 2(2)(c),” it says.
According to the Public Interest Lawyers, this means that the ECHR obliges Britain to the use of killer drones only in “situations in which there is an immediate threat to life” that “prevents the carrying out of ‘targeted killings’ and narrowly circumscribes their use even on ‘the battlefield’”.
“There is therefore a strong presumption that the UK’s drones programme is in breach of international law,” it adds.
The British Ministry of Defense announced back in April that they are operating killer drones in Afghanistan by remote-pilots from RAF Waddington base in Lincolnshire.
The ministry claims its operations are in accordance with applicable international humanitarian law.
This comes as drone attacks normally come with extreme “collateral damage” to the civilian population even when taking the American and British claims that they are targeting terrorists by terror drones as true.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed the remote-controlled killer drones strikes on various parts of Afghanistan over the past years.
Civilians’ casualties have triggered widespread protests against killer drone attacks in the Asian country with the Afghan government repeatedly calling for an end to the deadly assaults.
In his first year in office, President Barack Obama pledged to “collect the facts” on the death of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Taliban prisoners of war at the hands of U.S.-allied Afghan forces in late 2001.
Almost four years later, there’s no sign of progress.
When asked by ProPublica about the state of the investigation, the White House says it is still “looking into” the apparent massacre. Yet no facts have been released and it’s far from clear what, if any, facts have been collected.
Human rights researchers who originally uncovered the case say they’ve seen no evidence of an active investigation.
The deaths happened as Taliban forces were collapsing in the wake of the American invasion of Afghanistan. Thousands of Taliban prisoners had surrendered to the forces of a U.S.-supported warlord named Abdul Rashid Dostum. The prisoners, say survivors and other witnesses, were stuffed into shipping containers without food or water. Many died of suffocation. Others were allegedly killed when Dostum’s men shot at the containers.
A few months later, a mass grave was found nearby in Dasht-i-Leili, a desert region of northern Afghanistan.
The New York Times reported in 2009 that the Bush administration, sensitive to criticism of a U.S. ally, had discouraged investigations into the incident. In response, Obama told CNN that “if it appears that our conduct in some way supported violations of the laws of war, I think that we have to know about that.”
A White House spokeswoman told ProPublica that there has indeed been some kind of review – and that it’s still ongoing: “At the direction of the President, his national security team is continuing its work looking into the Dasht-i-Leili massacre.” She declined to provide more details.
“This seems quite half-hearted and cynical,” said Susannah Sirkin, director of international policy at Physicians for Human Rights, the group that discovered the grave site in 2002 and since then has pushed for an investigation.
The group sent a letter to the president in December 2011, the tenth anniversary of the incident. In a follow-up meeting some months later, senior State Department officials told Physicians for Human Rights that there was nothing new to share.
“This has been a hot potato that no one wanted to deal with, and now it’s gone cold,” said Norah Niland, former director of human rights for the United Nations in Afghanistan.
Human rights advocates have long said the responsibility for a comprehensive investigation lies with the U.S., because American forces were allied with Dostum and his men at the time. Surviving prisoners have also claimed that Americans were present when the containers were loaded, though that’s never been corroborated.
A Pentagon spokesman told ProPublica that the Department of Defense “found no evidence of U.S. service member participation, knowledge, or presence. A broader review of the facts is beyond D.O.D.’s purview.” That initial review has never been made public.
At this point, say advocates, an investigation should address not just the question of U.S. involvement, but also what the U.S. did in the years that followed to foster accountability.
“I’m not saying Dostum ordered these people killed, and I’m not saying U.S. troops participated,” said Stefan Schmitt, a forensic specialist with Physicians for Human Rights. “All I’m saying is there are hundreds if not thousands of people that went missing. In a country that’s looking to have peace, to be under the rule of law, you need to answer these questions.”
Initially excited by Obama’s statement, researchers with Physicians for Human Rights peppered the administration with their findings. But the response was “murky at best,” said Sirkin.
“We were never very clear on who within the administration was delegated the task,” she said. Current and former administration officials interviewed by ProPublica couldn’t say which agency or department had the job.
Sirkin and others eventually resigned themselves to the fact that Obama, in his televised remarks, had not specifically called for a full investigation. With the U.S. now withdrawing from Afghanistan, many observers say it’s no surprise that investigating Dasht-i-Leili is no longer a priority.
Dostum still holds considerable sway in Northern Afghanistan, though he has fallen in and out of favor with the U.S. and with Afghan president Hamid Karzai. The Times recently reported Dostum is one of several former warlords to whom Karzai passes on thousands of dollars in cash he receives from the CIA each month. (We were unable to reach Dostum himself for this story.)
The Obama administration has been cool toward him in recent years, saying ahead of Afghanistan’s elections in 2009 that the U.S. “maintains concerns about any leadership role for Mr. Dostum in today’s Afghanistan.”
Back in 2001, Dostum was far more important to the U.S. He was a U.S. proxy, fighting the Taliban as part of the Northern Alliance. American Special Forces famously rode on horseback alongside Dostum’s men, advising and calling in airstrikes. The alliance took the city of Mazar-i-Sharif from the Taliban in one of the first major victories of the invasion in early November 2001.
The shipping container deaths occurred a few weeks later, when Taliban fighters who had surrendered to the Northern Alliance at the city of Kunduz were en route to a prison about 200 miles away.
That winter, Physicians for Human Rights discovered a mass grave at Dasht-i-Leili. A preliminary investigation exhumed several bodies that appeared to have died from suffocation. Stories began to circulate in the region and Newsweek and others published detailed accounts from surviving prisoners, truck drivers, and other witnesses.
The Times also reported that an FBI agent interviewing new Afghan arrivals to Guantanamo Bay prison in early 2002 heard consistent accounts of prisoners “stacked like cordwood,” and death by suffocation and shooting. When the agent pressed for an investigation, he was reportedly told it was not his responsibility.
Dostum has said that he would welcome an investigation. He said that some 200 prisoners had indeed died in transit, but that the deaths were unintentional, the result of battlefield wounds.
Other estimates put the toll much higher.
A widely cited State Department memo from fall 2002 said that “the actual number may approach 2,000.”
Around the same time, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell tasked his Ambassador for War Crimes, Pierre-Richard Prosper, with looking into Dasht-i-Leili. Prosper told ProPublica that due to the U.S. alliance with Dostum, Washington felt the U.S. should not take the lead in an investigation.
“We were in the middle of fighting, and we thought we should keep the lines clear, let someone else, the U.N. or Afghans, handle this,” said Prosper.
But the newly installed Afghan government had neither the will nor the resources for a thorough investigation, and U.N. officials said they could not guarantee security. Witnesses and others involved in Dasht-i-Leili had already been killed and harassed, according to State Department memos.
A declassified Defense Department memo from February 2003 indicates the U.S. was not providing security for an investigation. The memo’s author, Marshall Billingslea, told the Times in 2009, “I did get the sense that there was little appetite for this matter within parts of D.O.D.” (Billingslea did not respond to our requests for comment.)
As the years went by, no one from the U.S., the U.N., or Afghanistan guarded the grave site. In 2008, reporters and researchers found empty pits where they had once found human remains. Satellite photos obtained later showed what appeared to be earth-moving equipment in the desert in 2006. Locals told McClatchy that Dostum’s men had dug up the graves.
After Obama pledged in 2009 to look into the case, a parallel inquiry was begun the next year in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by current Secretary of State John Kerry.
The fate of that investigation is also unclear. The lead investigator, John Kiriakou, was a former CIA officer who was caught up in a criminal leak prosecution and is now in prison. Other Senate staffers could not provide details on Kiriakou’s efforts. Physicians for Human Rights says contact from the committee fizzled out within a year.
New attention to Dasht-i-Leili had also been sparked within the U.N.’s mission in Afghanistan and the organization’s High Commission on Human Rights, former U.N. officials said.
However, Peter Galbraith, who was the U.N.’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan until the fall of 2009, told ProPublica that “an investigation would’ve required a push from the U.S. It required the cooperation of the coalition forces.” (Neither the U.N. mission in Afghanistan nor the office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights responded to our requests for comment.)
The mass grave at Dasht-i-Leili is one of many left unexamined in Afghanistan. In late 2011, the nation’s Independent Human Rights Commission concluded a massive report on decades of war crimes and human rights abuses, which reportedly documents 180 mass graves across the country. The region near Dasht-i-Leili is also believed to hold the remains of civilians massacred by the Taliban in 1998, in what Human Rights Watch called “one of the single worst examples of killings of civilians in Afghanistan’s twenty-year war.” In all, the report named 500 individuals responsible for mass killings – some of whom hold prominent government positions.
American and Afghan officials reportedly discouraged publication of the report, and the commission has still not made it public. “It’s going to reopen all the old wounds,” an American Embassy official told the New York Times last year. Afghanistan also recently adopted an amnesty law offering blanket immunity for past war crimes.
Nader Nadery, the commissioner responsible for the report, told ProPublica: “I haven’t seen any political or even rhetorical support of investigations into Dasht-i-Leili or any other investigation into past atrocities, from either Bush or Obama.”
A History of Inaction
Nov. 24, 2001: As Taliban forces surrender to the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, several thousand prisoners of war are transported in shipping containers. Survivors and witnesses later allege as many as 2,000 prisoners died — some suffocated while others were shot — and are buried in a grave site at Dasht-i-Leili.
February 2002: Physicians for Human Rights visits the graves at Dasht-i-Leili. That spring, under the auspices of the U.N., PHR conducts an initial forensic investigation of the graves, exhuming a number of recent remains that indicated death by suffocation.
Spring and Summer 2002: Media reports detail eyewitness allegations about deaths in the containers.
Fall 2002: U.S., U.N. and Afghan authorities say that a full investigation is warranted, but none gets off the ground.
2006: Satellite photos show disturbances at the grave sites at Dasht-i-Leili.
2008: Researchers and reporters find empty pits where graves had once been.
July 10, 2009: The New York Times reports that Bush administration officials had discouraged U.S. government investigations into Dasht-i-Leili.
July 13, 2009: Obama tells CNN, “I’ve asked my national security team to… collect the facts for me that are known.”
Early 2010: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee begins an inquiry into Dasht-i-Leili. The scope and result of that investigation is not clear.
May 2013: A White House spokesperson says that the president’s “national security team is continuing its work looking into the Dasht-i-Leili massacre.”
Nine years ago a German drone nearly collided with a passenger plane over Afghanistan. The classified drone camera footage drew public attention after the German defense ministry scrapped a drone program for its lack of anti-collision technology.
Footage taken by an EMT Luna X-2000 reconnaissance drone as it passed mere meters under the left wing of an Airbus A300 passenger plane surfaced on YouTube several years ago. After the encounter, the drone was caught in the plane’s wake turbulence, lost control, and crashed over the Afghan capital Kabul, Der Spiegel reported.
The Ariana Afghan Airlines plane was carrying about 100 people on board, the magazine said. The manufacturer of the 40kg drone has claimed that the near-collision occurred after the passenger jet veered off-course without informing ground control.
The video was leaked a week after German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière decided to scrap the $652 million EuroHawk program – meant to be a replacement for existing reconnaissance aircraft – including the Luna drones. EuroHawk is part of the NATO Global Hawk project, under which Germany was to buy Northrop Grumman RQ-4B drones and fit them with customized sensors.
However, the German military would not be able to certify the drone for use in European airspace without an anti-collision system, which would make the aircraft too expensive, de Maizière said, adding that even with such a system installed certification would not be guaranteed. German media also reported that EuroHawk suffered from technical problems and cost overruns.
Germany has bought one drone from the US manufacturer of the EuroHawk program, and was expected to purchase four more. If given the green light, the contract would be worth $1.3 billion.
De Maizière came under criticism recently for the drone program after a leaked defense ministry report showed that the drone’s flaws were apparent as early as 15 month ago. Critics have accused the minister of failing to act and continuing to spend taxpayer money on the doomed project. De Maizière will appear before the German Parliament this week to report on the issue.
Advancements in unmanned weapons systems have become a global controversy in recent years. Militaries have praised the weapons for not endangering the lives of operators, and for being generally more cost-effective than older manned hardware.
But critics are expressing increasing concerns over the collateral damage caused by drone strikes, the vague legal justifications for their use, and the potential creation of weapons that would remove human judgment altogether from the decision to pursue a target.
There is also the perception that nations with advanced drone technology – specifically the US and Israel – have an unjust capability to enforce their policies on other countries.
Some human rights groups, especially Amnesty International, seem to have forgotten an important human right: peace. A petition has been launched to remind them.
These organizations are not the warmongers. They do tremendously great work addressing some of the symptoms of warmaking, including imprisonment and torture. But, because they avoid taking any position on war, and because of an apparent bias in favor of U.S. military intervention, they sometimes find themselves effectively promoting war and all the horrors that come with it. At Nuremberg to initiate a war of aggression was called the supreme international crime “encompassing the evil of the whole.” Yet human rights groups are often on the wrong side of the fundamental question of war.
Amnesty International (AI) promoted the babies-taken-from-incubators hoax that helped launch the 1991 war on Iraq. AI has upheld the pretense that the US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan is about women’s rights. And now Amnesty International is highlighting warmaking in Syria’s civil war by one side only:
“Our team of researchers on the ground found evidence that government forces bombed entire neighborhoods and targeted residential areas with long-range surface-to-surface missiles,” said an AI fundraising email on April 29th that made no mention of abuses committed by Syrian rebels supported by the U.S. and its allies.
This one-sided treatment by a group supposedly dedicated to all humans fuels the fires of a wider war from which the people of Syria can only suffer.
The email continued: “Amnesty has a strong track record of using our on-the-ground findings to pressure governments and the United Nations Security Council to hold those responsible for the slaughter of civilians accountable.”
Does it? When the United States kills civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan or Libya, AI’s silence has often been deafening. Shouldn’t a human rights group press for an end to the killing of all humans by all parties?
While many good individuals who work for human rights groups like AI oppose wars, these organizations officially ignore President Eisenhower’s warning and a half-century of evidence regarding the power of the military industrial complex — and they ignore the criminality of war under the U.S. Constitution, the U.N. Charter, the Kellogg-Briand Pact and other laws.
These groups accept the existence of war (when not encouraging it) and then focus on specific crimes and abuses within the larger war-making enterprise. They promote the idea that human rights are governed by two sets of laws, one in peace and another weaker set in war. Voices for the human right to peace are missing and badly needed, as “humanitarianism” and “the right to protect” are used as excuses for war and intervention.
Amnesty International opposes imprisonment without trial and other abuses unless they adhere to the “laws of war,” which is why AI is not opposing the outrageous charges leveled against Bradley Manning. Killing is opposed unless it adheres to the “laws of war.” Under this standard, we pretend not to know whether blowing families up with drones is legal or not as long as the memos purporting to legalize it are kept hidden.
Groups like Amnesty oppose particular weapons, including the development of fully autonomous weapons (drones that fly themselves). No one in their right mind would oppose that step. But surely the human right not to be blown up does not vanish if the button is pushed by a person instead of an autonomous robot. Other organizations are pushing to ban all weaponized drones from the world.
Human rights groups should join the peace movement in targeting war and militarism itself, rather than just some of its symptoms. Amnesty International and all groups favoring human rights should be asked to oppose a U.S. escalation of war on Syria.
London-based human rights group Amnesty International has got a bashing from anti-war initiative RootsAction that says Amnesty is applying double standards on human rights and war with a bias in favor of the US-led military interventions.
RootsAction has launched an online petition saying Amnesty is reporting a one-sided story from Syria, refusing to make any mention of the Syrian anti-government terrorists’ crimes apparently because they are backed by the US and its allies.
“We are concerned that you seem to have forgotten to oppose all violations of human rights — by all sides — in war,” the online petition read.
“You are highlighting war-making in Syria’s civil war by one side only. This one-sided treatment by a group avowedly dedicated to all human rights is fueling the fires of a wider war from which the people of Syria can only suffer,” it added.
The group called on Amnesty to report all instances of human rights violations in the conflicts and avoid whitewashing the situation in favor of the US.
“We urge you to assertively expose and condemn all wartime violations of human rights — without downplaying or ignoring the violations committed by the U.S. government and its allies,” it said.
Amnesty has a record of making things easier for the US.
It promoted the false reports that the Iraqi soldiers removed 312 babies from their incubators and left them to die on the fold hospital floors of Kuwait city before the Persian Gulf war in 1991.
Recently, it has been also campaigning to pretend the US-led invasion of Afghanistan had to do with upholding women’s rights.
The group has, however, refused to condemn the killing of civilians by the US and its allies in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya.
- A Contender for Dumbest Statement Ever by Amnesty USA? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Turkmenistan is persevering with efforts to persuade an international oil major to join the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, according to reports in India, despite being unwilling to give up a stake in its gas fields to potential investors.
A series of road shows in New York, London and Singapore in the autumn, aimed at attracting international oil and gas companies to the project, ended in failure, even though companies including Chevron, Exxon Mobil, BP, BG Group, RWE and Petronas attended. That disappointment flew in the face of claims from Turkmen officials that they had all expressed an interest in the project, which carry gas from the secretive Central Asian state via Afghanistan to the Indian sub-continent.
Ashgabat’s refusal to allow participating companies to take a stake in the Turkmen hydrocarbons fields that would fill the pipeline has been cited as the main reason for the flop, although the continuing instability in Afghanistan is another factor.
India’s Economic Times cites an unnamed Indian government official as saying that, as the four participating countries prepare for a meeting on May 15, Turkmen officials continue trying to persuade an unnamed international oil major to take part. “Our understanding is that [Turkmenistan is] quietly working with international oil companies to work a way around the question of upstream stake,” the official said.
However, he also noted that the ban on sales of stakes in Turkmen fields to foreign buyers remains a sticking point. “They have told us that they have passed a law after the Chinese were given a stake and this now does not allow them to give a stake to anybody else in the gas fields,” the official said. It’s unclear to which deal he was exactly referring.
Ashgabat is secretive over its agreements in the oil and gas sector. In 2007, China’s CNPC was given the right to develop the Bagtyyarlyk gas field, which supplies the Central Asia-China (CAC) gas pipeline exporting to China. However, the level of access Bejing enjoys to the Galkynysh (previously South Yolotan) gas field remains unknown after the Chinese State Development Bank pledged $4.1bn to help develop it in 2010. On the one hand, it’s thought Turkmenistan may have signed over a stake. Other speculation suggests Ashgabat has offered no more than a firm commitment that CAC is filled.
Either way, India is clearly pushing for a similar level of security. It has been pushing for an equity stake in the massive Galkynysh for itself, to ensure supply issues do not compromise the massive financial commitment needed to build TAPI. Indian officials say that since CNPC has been given access to upstream assets in Turkmenistan, India’s state owned GAIL should have the same privilege.
At the same time, the four states participating in TAPI have maintain that they aim to start construction of the pipeline, which has support from the Asian Development Bank, by the end of 2013. However, on top of the jockeying between themselves, they are trying to drum up support from international oil companies to invest in the project, which may cost as much as $12bn.
Agreements on the price of gas exports to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan have already been signed. In September, the four participating governments agreed to proposal from Turkmenistan to set up a company with shared capital of $20m to carry out a feasibility study and design the pipeline.
Tehran: In a strategically significant move to counter China’s presence in the region, India has announced that it will upgrade Iran’s crucial Chabahar port that gives a transit route to land-locked Afghanistan.
India’s decision was conveyed by Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid in Tehran today during his meeting with his counterpart.
An expert team from India will visit Iran to assess investment needed for the upgrade of the port on the Iran-Pakistan border facing the Arabian Sea. Sources say an investment to the tune of $100 million is required for the upgrade.
The move comes despite strong pressure from America, which doesn’t want any investment in developing infrastructure in Iran to put pressure on the Western Asian country over its covert [sic] nuclear programme. But India has been worried and keen to open an alternative route to Afghanistan ever since China took over Pakistan’s Gwadar port in the region, which is just 76 km from the Chabahar port.
Chahbahar port, which is surrounded by a free trade zone, is crucial particularly since Pakistan does not allow transit facility from India to Afghanistan.
India will also discuss ways to increase trade with Iran as it is concerned over the “grave” imbalance. The two-way trade is around US $15 billion, out of which Indian exports account only for around US $2.5 billion.
Oil is the biggest item of Indian import from Iran but India feels there is a lot of scope for increasing Indian exports to the Persian country particularly in pharmaceuticals and food.
However, efforts to enhance trade have been facing hurdles because of sanctions imposed by the UN and European Union, which make payment difficult.
There are also problems like re-insurance of oil refineries and transportation of consignment from Iran because of the sanctions.
- India to sign pact with Iran soon to ship goods to Afghanistan (en.trend.az)
- Iran, India to discuss gas pipeline extension (news.in.msn.com)
- Iran, India set to ink economic co-op MOUs (alethonews.com)
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman doesn’t understand how on earth the Boston bombers could rationalize their act of violence–and believes that some aspects of Muslim culture must answer for it.
According to reports of the interrogation of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the brothers were motivated in part by the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And this has the Times columnist scratching his head about the problem with Muslims:
This is a popular meme among radical Muslim groups, and, to be sure, some Muslim youths were deeply angered by the U.S. interventions in the Middle East. The brothers Tsarnaev may have been among them.
But what in God’s name does that have to do with planting a bomb at the Boston Marathon and blowing up innocent people? It is amazing to me how we’ve come to accept this non sequitur and how easily we’ve allowed radical Muslim groups and their apologists to get away with it.
A simple question: If you were upset with U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, why didn’t you go out and build a school in Afghanistan to strengthen that community or get an advanced degree to strengthen yourself or become a math teacher in the Muslim world to help its people be less vulnerable to foreign powers? Dzhokhar claims the Tsarnaev brothers were so upset by something America did in a third country that they just had to go to Boylston Street and blow up people who had nothing to do with it (some of whom could have been Muslims), and too often we just nod our heads rather than asking: What kind of sick madness is this?
Friedman goes on to claim that we “must ask a question only Muslims can answer,” which is: “What is going on in your community that a critical number of your youth believes that every American military action in the Middle East is intolerable and justifies a violent response?”
It is worth asking questions about how different communities or societies react to violence. After the 9/11 attacks, the United States bombed and occupied Afghanistan, based on the argument that the government of that country had tolerated the presence of Al-Qaeda and thus must bear the retribution. As a result, many thousands of people who had nothing to do with terrorism were killed.
Or on to the invasion of Iraq, which was sold as part of a “Global War on Terror” following the 9/11 attacks as well, even though there was never a connection between Iraq and the terrorist attacks. So why did the United States invade Iraq? Tom Friedman explained it to Charlie Rose on May 30, 2003.
To Friedman, there was a “terrorist bubble” in that part of the world, and “we needed to go over there and take out a very big stick…and there was only one way to do it.” He added:
What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying: “Which part of this sentence don’t you understand? You don’t think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we’re just gonna to let it grow? Well, Suck. On. This.” That, Charlie, is what this war is about. We could have hit Saudi Arabia; it was part of that bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.
What kind of sick madness is this?
Yesterday I wrote about Dayton Ohio’s plan for an aerial surveillance system similar to the “nightmare scenario” ARGUS wide-area surveillance technology. Actually, ARGUS is just the most advanced of a number of such “persistent wide-area surveillance” systems in existence and development. They include Constant Hawk, Angel Fire, Kestrel (used on blimps in Afghanistan), and Gorgon Stare.
One of the problems created by these systems—which have heretofore been used primarily in war zones—is that they tend to generate a deluge of video footage. A 2010 article says that American UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan produced 24 years’ worth of video in 2009, and that that number was expected to increase 30-fold (which would be 720 years’ worth) in 2011. Who knows what that’s up to this year, or where it will be by, say, 2025. The human beings who operate these systems can’t possibly analyze all that footage.
In an attempt to solve this problem, Lawrence Livermore Labs has created a system for the military called “Persistics.” It can be used in conjunction with drone (or manned) camera systems such as ARGUS to help manage the vast oceans of video data that are now being generated. The system is
designed to help the Department of Defense and other agencies monitor tens of square kilometers of terrain from the skies, with sufficiently high resolution for tracking people and vehicles for many hours at a time.
That’s from a May 2011 report that I recently came across with the faintly ominous title “From Video to Knowledge.” Produced by Livermore Labs, it contains a lot of interesting detail about Persistics and the problems and solutions involved in massive aerial video surveillance.
The Persistics system consists of algorithms that “analyze the streaming video content to automatically extract items of interest.”
Its analysis algorithms permit surveillance systems to “stare” at key people, vehicles, locations, and events for hours and even days at a time while automatically searching with unsurpassed detail for anomalies or preselected targets.
With Persistics, the report boasts, “analysts can determine the relationships between vehicles, people, buildings, and events.” Among the capabilities touted in the report are:
- “Seamless stitching” together of images from multiple cameras to create “a virtual large-format camera.”
- Stabilizing video (“essential for accurate and high-resolution object identification and tracking”).
- Eliminating parallax (the difference in how an object appears when viewed from slightly different angles).
- Differentiating moving objects from the background.
- The ability to automatically follow moving objects such as vehicles.
- Creating a “heat map” representation of traffic density in order to “automatically discern if the traffic pattern changes.”
- Comparing images taken at different times and automatically detecting any changes that have taken place.
- Super-high “1,000-times” video compression.
- The ability to provide all the locations a particular vehicle was spotted within a given time frame.
- The ability to provide all the vehicles that were spotted at a particular location within a given time frame.
Technologically, according to the report, the Persistics program relies heavily on the explosion in the power of consumer Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) used in video games and the like.
The report also says that the system “is being further enhanced” to work with ARGUS, and includes new details about that system:
Persistics can simultaneously and continuously detect and track the motion of thousands of targets over the ARGUS-IS coverage area of 100 square kilometers. ARGUS-IS can generate several terabytes of data per minute, hundreds of times greater than previous-generation sensors.
Previous reports said that ARGUS could cover 15 square miles; here it reports 100 square kilometers, which is 38.6 square miles. (I suppose we should expect Moore’s Law-like expansion in the capabilities of these systems.)
Of course, the system is designed to store and retrieve all the records and data about everything that it surveils:
Persistics supports forensic analyses. Should an event such as a terrorist attack occur, the archival imagery of the public space could be reviewed to determine important details such as the moment a bomb was placed or when a suspect cased the targeted area. With sufficiently high-resolution imagery, a law-enforcement or military user could one day zoom in on an individual face in a heavily populated urban environment, thus identifying the attacker.
As with every privacy-invading technology designed and/or sold as helping foil terrorists, we have to wonder how long it will be before it’s applied to tracking peace activists.
Future work on Persistics is focused on the kind of behavioral analytics that have been discussed in the context of programs such as “Trapwire.” Livermore scientists, according to the report, are now working on automated methods for identifying “patterns of behavior” that could indicate “deviations from normal social and cultural patterns” and “networks of subversive activity.”
Also under development are efforts to allow the three-dimensional viewing of targets, as well as “methods to overlay multiple sensor inputs—including infrared, radar, and visual data—and then merge data to obtain a multilayered assessment.”
Of course, much of this is unobjectionable from a domestic civil liberties point of view when it’s used as originally intended: on foreign battlefields. The problem comes when the government brings the technology home and turns it inward upon the American people. In fact, at the close of the report, Livermore contemplates exactly that:
Unmanned aircraft have demonstrated their ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] value for years in Afghanistan and Iraq. As U.S. soldiers return home, the role of overhead video imagery aided by Persistics technology is expected to increase. Persistics could also support missions at home, such as monitoring security at U.S. borders or guarding ports and energy production facilities. Clearly, with Persistics, video means knowledge—and strengthened national security.
Among the federal agencies most interested in the technology, the report says, is DHS.
- Drone ‘Nightmare Scenario’ Now Has A Name: ARGUS (alethonews.wordpress.com)
This important documentary explores the decade long war in Afghanistan. It was produced as part of Hizb ut Tahrir Australia’s recent campaign on the decade anniversary of the war. It is high time for a honest and rigorous assessment of this war and, in the Australian context, continued involvement in it. The politicians, from both sides, have regurgitated the same platitudes, built on false narratives, for ten years, as more soldiers have died, more civilians have perished and more of Afghanistan has been destroyed.
- Top Israel Lobby Senator Proposes Permanent US Air Bases For Afghanistan (alethonews.wordpress.com)