Despite widely clearing both the state’s Senate and Assembly, California Governor Jerry Brown shot down a bill on Sunday that would have imposed restrictions on when law enforcement agencies can use drones for surveillance.
Brown, a Democrat, said in a statement over the weekend that he was vetoing the drone accountability act that, had it been signed into law, would require police agencies to obtain a warrant before using an unmanned vehicle, or drone, for aerial surveillance.
“There are undoubtedly circumstances where a warrant is appropriate. The bill’s exceptions, however, appear to be too narrow and could impose requirements beyond what is required by either the Fourth Amendment or the privacy provisions in the California Constitution,” Brown said on Sunday.
One of the bill’s authors, Republican Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, said in a tweet on Sunday that “The era of govt. surveillance continues” after the governor’s veto was announced.
As RT reported previously, the California State Senate voted 25-8 last month in favor of the bill, AB 1327, after it cleared the Assembly in January by a margin of 59-5.
“The potential for abuse of drones is high and we need to be vigilant to ensure our Constitutional rights are protected,” bill co-author and Democratic State Senator Ted Lieu told Reuters earlier this year.
“Drones are going to be extremely important for hot pursuit, which is allowed in this bill, for search and rescue and, when you get a warrant, for continuous surveillance” of a location, Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), another co-author, said similarly.
According to Brown, however, the efforts of the bill’s creators to try and curb potential drone abuses clash with what the California governor believes to be the rights of law enforcement officers.
Had Gov. Brown signed his name to the bill, it would have required a warrant for drone surveillance missions except in instances of environmental emergencies, such as oil or chemical spills, when aerial vehicles could be deployed at the drop of a hat. Additionally, the data recorded by the drones would in most instances have to be destroyed within one year.
“It’s disappointing that the governor decided to side with law enforcement in this case over the privacy interests of California,” Assemblyman Gorell told the Los Angeles Times.
Earlier this month, a group of law professors wrote Gov. Brown’s office urging him to sign the bill into law because, according to the educators, failing to do as much may have great consequences.
“Misuse of drones may chill First Amendment activity and lead to high-tech racial profiling,” the letter said in part. Separately, activists gathered in downtown LA last month to rally against the city’s police department’s plans to begin using drones of their own.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says that 20 states across the US have enacted laws pertaining to the use of drones by law enforcement agencies, and President Barack Obama is reportedly preparing an executive order that will require federal agencies that use unmanned aerial vehicles to disclose more details about how they are used.
Nine Bahraini protestors have been jailed for life and stripped of their nationality for allegedly smuggling arms to be used in “terrorist acts,” the prosecutor general of the country with the second highest prison population rate per 100,000 amongst Arab states in the West Asian and North African region announced on Monday.
A Manama court also found all nine guilty of having contacted an agent of an unnamed foreign country “to carry out acts hostile to Bahrain,” he said in a statement.
The case dates back to February 2013 when authorities in the country announced they had allegedly dismantled a “terrorist cell” with links to Iran.
This is the latest in a series of convictions that the Bahraini regime has imposed against protesters, including prominent rights activists.
Today, the Saudi-backed Manama regime has the distinction of being the country with the second highest prison population rate per 100,000 amongst Arab states in the West Asian and North African region. Authorities continue to detain over 2,000 Bahrainis who dared to challenge the Khalifa monarchy when the uprising erupted in February 2011.
Indeed, Bahraini authorities are rarely transparent about the actual number of prisoners, going as far as denying that any of the prisoners were arrested over their political stances, and claiming that they were apprehended for “conspiring to overthrow the ruling regime and communicating with foreign entities.”
Due to the fact that the Bahraini regime does not publicly share the total number of prisoners it has nor does it provide an accurate breakdown of the detainees’ crimes, most information regarding Bahrain’s prisons usually come from non-governmental sources.
According to Bahraini activists, there are presently at least 2,000-3,000 “political prisoners” who were arrested when the recent Bahraini uprising erupted in 2011.
They are held among 20 prisons dispersed throughout the archipelago nation, all but two are administered by the Ministry of Interior. Out of the 20, there are four main prisons, one of which is solely for women. They are: al-Qurain Prison, Dry Dock Detention Center, Jaw Prison, and the Isa Town Detention Center for women.
While the number of prisoners may seem inconsequential compared to other countries, for Bahrain – with a small population of 1.2 million, 570,000 of which are Bahraini – it is quite significant.
A report in regards to prisons by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights released in July says there are over 200 minors held within these prisons, forced to stay side-by-side with adults, and a few have faced torture and sexual abuses.
Similarly, the July report stated, “Children as young as 13 have been sentenced to prison on charges of terrorism in trials that lacked any evidence and despite the fact that the Bahraini law does not define prison punishment for children below the age of 15 in the event of a criminal conviction.”
Attorneys for the United States government say that an upcoming court hearing concerning the force-feeding practices used on a Guantanamo Bay detainee should be held almost entirely behind closed doors.
The motion, filed by US attorneys on Friday in District Court for the District of Columbia, asks that the preliminary injunction hearing for Gitmo detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab scheduled for early next month be conducted largely in secret over supposed national security concerns.
“As an initial matter, the hearing should be closed in order to prevent any unauthorized disclosure of classified or protected information,” the motion reads in part. “Furthermore, the hearing should be closed because, although portions of the materials in the record in this case are unclassified, conducting an open hearing in this case would impose significant burdens on the parties and the Court.”
Dhiab, a Syrian national, was cleared for release by the US in 2009 but remains in Pentagon custody at the Guantanamo Bay facility where he and dozens others engaged in a hunger strike last year to protest their continued confinement. To avoid having detainees die from malnourishment, the US has routinely subjected those individuals to force-feeding practices that their attorneys and human rights workers alike have raised concerns about.
Earlier this year in May, US District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the Obama administration to temporarily stop force-feeding Dhiab and release his medical records and 34 of 136 videotapes of force-feeding sessions taken between April 9, 2013 and February 19, 2014.
“It’s 12 years late, but it’s fantastic, it’s the first time a federal court has started paying attention to the conditions of confinement in Guantanamo, that’s a huge step,” Clive Stafford Smith, the director of human rights group Reprieve said at the time.
Now as a District Court judge prepares to consider arguments from attorneys representing both the US government and Dhiab, federal attorneys are asking that the public be excluded from key elements of the hearing.
“It’s obvious what is really going on here,” Cori Crider, an attorney for Dhiab with Reprieve, said to The Guardian this week. “The government wants to seal the force-feeding trial for the same reason it is desperate to suppress the tapes of my client being hauled from his cell by the riot squad and force-fed. The truth is just too embarrassing.”
“There is no reason to close the upcoming hearing, other than the government’s intense desire to hide from public scrutiny the evidence we have managed to uncover over the past few months,” co-counsel Jon Eisenberg told POLITICO over the weekend. “This evidence, which consists of videotapes of Mr. Dhiab’s force feedings, his medical records and some key new admissions by military officials, vividly establishes that the force feeding at Guantanamo Bay is the opposite of humane. Its overarching purpose is to cause the hunger strikers a great deal of pain and suffering, in hopes that they are convinced to give up this peaceful protest of their indefinite detention without trial.”
“If, during any part of this hearing, the judge feels there is a need to protect national security information from public disclosure, she can simply close the courtroom for that part of the hearing. That’s how these sorts of cases are commonly handled, and that’s how this one should be handled,” he said.
According to the government, however, opening and closing the hearing because of classified information being presented would “interrupt the natural flow of the hearing, preventing full, frank and uninhibited discussion of the record necessary to conduct the hearing.” As a compromise, acting assistant attorney general Joyce Branda wrote for the government on Friday that “Respondents will create a public version of the transcript of hearing on an expedited basis and, consistent with the practice in many other Guantanamo Bay merits hearings, Respondents agree the parties should begin the hearing by delivering unclassified opening statements in public.”
According to the Guardian, several news organizations, including the British paper, plan to file a motion challenging the government’s request to keep the hearing largely secret.
Prisoner swaps in Ukraine are in danger of stalling as rebels say they will no longer tolerate Kiev’s practice of producing random people for exchange instead of actual members of militia and political prisoners.
Prisoner exchanges are a crucial part for consolidating the shaky truce in eastern Ukraine. The peace deal signed in Minsk, Belarus, on September 5 states that all captives must be eventually set free. So far the OSCE-monitored swaps had been done on a one-for-one basis, and Kiev is apparently lacking genuine rebel captives to offer and is substituting them with whoever it can procure.
But the rebels say they won’t have it anymore.
“We don’t reject further trade, but the rules of the game have changed now. The Ukrainian side will have to deliver lists and IDs of our supporters they offer in advance,” prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, told Interfax. “We will be checking the people brought for exchange against those lists. If they try to send us wrong people, we would reject them and would hold a corresponding number of their military.”
On Friday last week the rebels said they would suspend all exchanges unless Kiev stops sending them people who have nothing to do with the militias. Despite the threat, a new trade did happen on Sunday, as Kiev offered 60 prisoners in exchange for 30 army soldiers captured by the rebels. The willingness to double the number of released captives may indicate that Kiev is trying to make concessions.
But the Sunday trade may have been the reason for the latest demand, as some of those released by the Ukrainian government insisted that they had never been combatants, RIA Novosti reported.
One of the prisoners, who introduced himself as Aleksandr from the city of Kharkov, said he was just snatched from the street near his home.
“I came out for a smoke. Gunmen in a police car drove by, dragged me in took to a police station,” he told the Russian news agency. “They beat me and made me confess of murdering several people. Told me that I was a terrorist. I could barely comprehend what was happening.”
He added he wouldn’t go home because he fears he would be arrested again.
Another ex-prisoner said he was a music teacher and that he was arrested for telling a family member on the phone that he could see Ukrainian military vehicles from his window. Apparently he was suspected of giving intelligence to the rebels, but he denies any ties with the militias.
Yet another said he was arrested in Nikolayev, a city far from the conflict zone, for taking part in a peaceful anti-government protest.
“Ukraine is passing off the wrong people all the time. Of the 60 people they offered for the latest trade, 45 were just random folk,” Andrey Purgin, a senior DPR official told the news agency.
The allegations of foul play were corroborated last week by the New York Times, which covered a prisoner swap on September 21. The newspaper cited the prisoners released by Kiev as saying that only seven of the 28 were rebel fighters. Those released by the rebels all looked like military.
The problem is aggravated by a concern among the rebels that their fighters may have been killed in captivity. In preparation for the latest exchange the rebels made a list of 100 captive militiamen, but Kiev could find only 29 of them, said Darya Morozova, who heads the exchange committee for the DPR.
There has long been reluctance among Ukrainian officials over prisoner exchanges. For months the bulk of the work to release captives was shouldered by civilian activists rather than officials, and ensuring that the agreed terms of prisoners swaps were upheld by Kiev was always a major issue, according to Vladimir Ruban, a retired Ukrainian general who found himself in the position of a key negotiator once the conflict in the east escalated.
“Everything can be settled, a compromise can be found in any situation. But relying on the Ukrainian side to hold to the terms – that’s an issue,” he said in an interview to Vesti newspaper in early September. “The Donetsk side understands that the Ukrainian side may not deliver, and still they agree to big concessions because they realize the peculiarity of the state and its officials. We still make deals. This is both great and awful.”
The Yellow Book: The first document from the secret archives of the Army of El Salvador during the civil war comes to light September 28, 2014, International Right to Know Day
A 1980s-era document from the archives of El Salvador’s military intelligence identifies almost two thousand Salvadoran citizens who were considered “delinquent terrorists” by the Armed Forces, among them current President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former guerrilla leader. Other individuals listed include human rights advocates, labor leaders, and political figures, many known to have been victims of illegal detention, torture, extrajudicial execution, forced disappearance, and other human rights abuses.
Called the Libro Amarillo or Yellow Book, the report is the first-ever confidential Salvadoran military document to be made public, and the only evidence to appear from the Salvadoran Army’s own files of the surveillance methods used by security forces to target Salvadoran citizens during the country’s 12-year civil war. Now the Yellow Book has been posted on-line, along with related analysis and declassified U.S. documents, through a collaboration between the National Security Archive, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG).
According to the document’s introduction, the Yellow Book, dated July 1987, was compiled by the Intelligence Department (C-II) of the Estado Mayor Conjunto de la Fuerza Armada Salvadoreña (EMCFA, Joint Staff of the Armed Forces). It consists of a systematic list with 1,915 entries on targeted individuals, 1,857 identified by name, along with corresponding photographs, and notes on their alleged connections to suspect organizations including unions, political parties, and rebel groups of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). A hand-written note on its cover page indicates the report was intended to aid security forces in identifying the opposition. “Use it,” the note says, “Make copies of the photographs and put them on your bulletin board so you will know your enemies.”
Although analysis of the Yellow Book continues, preliminary research makes clear that some of the individuals listed in it were killed or disappeared and never seen again; others were captured, tortured, and later released. Under the direction of HRDAG Executive Director Patrick Ball, researchers cross referenced names listed in the Yellow Book with four historical databases of reports of human rights violations collected from 1980-1992. This process found 273 names in the Yellow Book, or 15%, that matched reports of killings or extrajudicial executions; 233 or 13% matching reports of forced disappearance; 274 or 15% matching reports of torture; and 538 or 29% matching reports of detention or arrest. In total, at least 43% of names listed in the Yellow Book correspond with these historical human rights databases. View the full report here.
A former U.S. military source who served in El Salvador during the 1980s, who declined to be named, has stated that the Yellow Book appears to be an authentic product of Salvadoran military intelligence, one of many related documents created to track and register perceived threats. The original document, a photocopy of an unknown master copy, was donated to a Salvadoran civil society organization by an individual who claimed to have found it in a house during a move. [...]
Research by the UWCHR and the National Security Archive explains the Yellow Book in relation to the Salvadoran intelligence services and their historical connection to the United States. Our analysis of the document, spreadsheet of the 1,857 of names, and a translated glossary are intended to serve future researchers as well as survivors and advocates seeking accountability for war crimes.
The appearance of the Yellow Book challenges years of stonewalling by El Salvador’s army and security forces about their role in the bloody civil war that left at least 75,000 civilians dead, and an estimated 8,000 missing or disappeared, according to the United Nations. The refusal of the Salvadoran government to release its official records was especially frustrating to the UN Truth Commission, established in 1992 by the peace accords. While the commission had access to survivor testimonies, evidence gathered from exhumations, published human rights reports, and thousands of declassified U.S. documents made available by the National Security Archive, its repeated requests to the Salvadoran government for access to state archives were ignored. The Yellow Book’s posting today is in recognition of International Right to Know Day, celebrated around the world to promote the right of all citizens to have access to information about their governments.
The publication of the Yellow Book also comes at a time when the Salvadorans are re-evaluating the history of human rights abuses committed during the conflict. Organizations such as the Human Rights Institute of the Central American University (IDHUCA), Asociación Pro-Búsqueda, and others have presented dozens of criminal complaints for crimes against humanity related to torture, forced disappearance, extrajudicial executions, and massacres, and are calling on the government to release the historical records of the security forces for a full accounting of the past.
In this charged climate, in which prominent organizations seeking justice have been shuttered and attacked, human rights advocates await a decision by the Supreme Court, which is reviewing the amnesty law passed in 1993, guaranteeing impunity for perpetrators of grave human rights violations. If the law is nullified or found unconstitutional by the Court, a major roadblock to accountability will be lifted. As a record of the Salvadoran state’s surveillance and persecution of its own citizens, the Yellow Book may serve as evidence in future claims for justice.
Local police shot and killed two students during a civil disobedience action in protest of their college’s underfunding.
A group of protestors from teacher-training college Normal de Ayotzinapa in Iguala, Guerrero privince, attempted to seize three buses on Friday night in an escalation of their campaign against their college´s poor conditions.
Representative of the Student’s Committee, Pedro David Garcia, said the protesters were unarmed and non-violent.
“We were trying to raise money, we took these measures because the government always ignores us. We spoke to the bus drivers and they agreed to give us the buses, but we did not threaten them, because we are students,” said Garcia.
According to the demonstrators, two of them tried to negotiate with police when officers arrived on the scene, but they were shot dead. The police continued firing at the protesters.
After the shootings, the students ran away. At least 25 of them have not yet been found.
Representatives of the Mexican Human Rights Commission went to Iguala to investigate allegations of police brutality and to support the victims of the attack.
Another shooting occured the same night near Iguala city’s highway. A teenage amateur football player traveling with his team in a bus was killed. The bus driver was badly injured and died some hours later. Another woman traveling in a taxi was also killed.
Members of Mexican federal police have come to Iguala to take charge of the city’s security while the incidents are investigated. The local police force has been detained, while their weapons were seized.
At least 25 students and four other football players were injured during the attacks.
Guerrero is one of the poorest states in Mexico, and violent episodes are frequent due to the presence of drug cartels in the state.
Cameron vows to ‘hunt down’ non-violent conspiracy theorists, demands international coordinated action
Cameron announces joint bombing plan after insisting on restriction of speech in universities. Intellectual enquiry to be banned as “incitement”.
“Lies”, says Cameron, as he launches another war
Britain is again on the verge of war. Every time they say it’s different this time, and it never is. They say the first casualty of war is truth, but it’s not true; the truth is dead before the war even begins. War is the result of lies, and this war is no exception.
A 93-year-old said to me: “I’m getting confused on who’s fighting who”. I replied, “We’re all confused. It’s ludicrous”. Who is ISIS? No-one seems to know. Has a war ever been won by bombing alone? No-one seems to know. “What could be the purpose of posting videos of beheadings?” No-one seems to know. What is the long-term strategy for winning this war? No-one seems to know. It’s as if the political establishment together with mainstream political journalists have gone into premature dementure.
Clearly, the purpose of the public beheadings can only be to enrage public opinion in the West to such an extent that they will allow their governments to send in their armed forces into the areas said to be controlled by ISIS. Who would want to do that? Would Middle-Eastern Islamicists intent on setting up an Islamic State in Syria and Iraq want to provoke and enable the mightiest military force the world has ever known to move in and obliterate them? Of course not.
Many people now think that ISIS is in all probability a creation of the US, or at least of the Neoconservative-Likud-CIA-MI6 alliance that seems to be running the Military Industrial Complex. It is said to be an offshoot of Al Qaeda, which originated as a US database of fighters opposing the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The case for war is being fabricated, and David Cameron is every bit as bad as Tony Blair, when he fabricated the myth of Weapons of Mass Destruction in order to give a pretext to invade Iraq. He is every bit as bad as Tony Blair when he told the House of Commons that he had proof that Osama bin Laden was responsible for 9/11, but that he wasn’t going to tell them what that proof was, but would deposit it in the House of Commons Library; he didn’t. David Cameron is every bit as bad as Adolf Hitler when his men burned down the Reichstag and blamed it on the Communists. Mercifully we haven’t yet had a Kristallnacht in the UK, but I fear that’s where we’re heading.
On 24 September David Cameron made a speech to the UN Security Council, which was posted on the Prime Minister’s website under the title: “Only a coherent, coordinated response can tackle what is a truly global and indiscriminate threat”. It’s a rehash of the Policy Exchange stuff, in which he links Islam with terrorism through constant use of the word “extremism”. What, I wonder, is the “poisonous ideology of extremism” he refers to? Is it not extremist to go to war? Then he spews out the Policy Exchange stuff about non-violent extremism: “But as the evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist of offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by preachers who claim not to encourage violence, but whose world view can be used as a justification for it”. What evidence? After his Munich speech, saying that multiculturalism had failed, I gave a talk to our Keep Talking group in London, tracing his speech to Policy Exchange. I listed all those convicted of terrorist offences. I could see no evidence of these people being influenced by preachers. Look at the wording, “convicted of terrorist offences”. That has to exclude all alleged suicide bombers, the most notorious of which would be the four alleged Muslim terrorists behind 7/7 – the terrorist attacks on the London transport system of 7 July 2005. They were just declared guilty by the coroner before the inquest opened, and because they were guilty they were excluded from the inquest. Were they fanatical Muslim extremists? Well, no. This is pure deception on David Cameron’s part.
But then he accuses the truth movement of telling lies: “And we know what this worldview is–the peddling of lies: that 9/11 was a Jewish plot or the 7/7 London attacks were staged; the idea that Muslims are persecuted all over the world as a deliberate act of Western policy; the concept of an inevitable clash of civilisations. We must be clear: to defeat the ideology of extremism we need to deal with all forms of extremism – not just violent extremism. That means banning preachers of hate from coming to our countries. It means proscribing organisations that incite terrorism against people at home and abroad. It means stopping extremists whether violent or non-violent from inciting hatred and intolerance in our schools, in our universities and even sometimes in our prisons. In other words, firm, decisive action – to protect and uphold the values of our free and democratic societies”.
Who is making the allegation that 9/11 was a Jewish plot? Certainly evidence has been appearing that extremist Israeli nationalists were involved, but I have been at pains to point out in my newsletters, that it’s not “the Jews”; most British Jews were against the setting up of a Jewish state in Palestine, and many have been protesting more recently about the genocide in Gaza. David Cameron is putting out a straw man argument, in order to deflect from the blatent lies in the 9/11 cover-up. He is now maliciously using 9/11 in order to justify yet another post-9/11 war.
He accuses us of telling lies about 7/7. How could 7/7 not have been staged? Note the careful use of language here. The plain fact is that the government’s version of events just does not tie up. They even took a year to acknowledge that the train from Luton to London by which MI5 claimed the terrorists had travelled had in fact been cancelled that day. Are MI5 seriously incompetent, or was that blatent deception? How could the government simply dismiss that as a mistake, with no consequences?
Having gone to the UN Security Council to tell them that some of his own citizens are liars, when all they want is to know the truth about 9/11 and 7/7, he is now recalling Parliament on Friday 27 September, in order to get the go-ahead for war – or at least to pacify Parliament, because he doesn’t formally need Parliament’s approval; in the case of 9/11 there was just an adjournment debate, in which there was no substantive motion. Only the Prime Minister and the Queen can decide to take Britain into war. On the Prime Minister’s website there is no motion, but just a statement that the purpose of the recall is “to debate the UK’s response to the request from the Iraqi government for air strikes to support operations against ISIL in Iraq”.
I should have thought that any political journalist in the UK would be able to understand such elementary points. One has to wonder who their paymasters are.
Astounding events over the last several weeks have once again put U.S. torture in the spotlight. Evidence of spying by the CIA on Senate staffers investigating the Agency provoked an unprecedented apology from CIA director John Brennan, calls for his removal, and a response from President Obama at his August 1st press conference.
The backdrop is the long delayed but pending public release of the summary of the over 6000 page investigative report of the Senate Intelligence Committee on CIA torture. The investigation was initiated over five years ago. The report was approved by the committee 20 months ago and approved for release 5 months ago. As we move into autumn, the date of its official release is still in question.
I. The CIA
The CIA has done everything possible to undermine any investigation into its secret rendition, detention and interrogation program. There have been several facets to the CIA’s defensive strategy:
The Senate report will purportedly accuse the CIA of lying to the public and to Congress. That will be unsurprising to anyone who knows the long history of the CIA, first revealed in detail by the Church Committee in 1975. Secrecy and lying have been an Agency hallmark. The pre-9/11 history of CIA involvement with torture in Latin America and Southeast Asia is just one example.
In 2005, the CIA destroyed videotape evidence of interrogations involving torture. In 2009, the it orchestrated a media campaign warning of the consequences for national security of a criminal investigation, capped by a letter to Obama from seven former directors of the CIA warning that the extremely limited, preliminary investigation of CIA personnel who went “beyond guidance” would severely compromise the Agency. (The investigation eventually closed with no criminal charges filed.)
When the Senate committee began its work, the CIA insisted investigators use a special CIA facility for the review of documents. It then monitored Senate staff computers, read staffers’ emails and removed a damning internal report. Brennan denied that the CIA had spied on the Senate staff, calling the allegations “beyond reason” but in late July the CIA’s Inspector General’s investigation confirmed it. In March, the CIA countered the charges of spying along with a referral to the Justice Department by asking the DOJ to open an investigation of illegal behavior of committee staff. In response, Diane Feinstein, the normally hawkish chair of the Senate committee, gave an unprecedented, angry speech on the Senate floor about CIA bullying.
Further, CIA officials have publicly accused the committee of bias and the Agency will write a dissent that will be appended to the report. Not least, the CIA can virtually dictate redactions. It is extraordinary that the very agency being investigated by the Senate has the power to redact the Senate’s report of its investigation. The CIA’s redaction review took months and has now moved to the center of a controversy between Feinstein and the White House (which coordinated, participated in and approved the redaction process). Feinstein asserted that the proposed redactions “eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report’s findings and conclusions.” She further said that she will not make the report public “until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction.”
II. The President
At a news conference on August 1st, President Obama was asked about Brennan. First, Obama expressed “full confidence” in Brennan, referring to CIA spying on the Senate staff as a matter that “CIA personnel did not properly handle …” and “some very poor judgment was shown.” Given the enormous implications for a functioning democracy of the CIA’s unlawful misconduct, Obama’s language seems mild.
Second, the president acknowledged “we did some things that were wrong.” “We tortured some folks.” These comments were qualified by “in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.” Some commentators laud the president for using the word “torture” but others point out that his language actually minimized what happened. From 2002 to 2009, hundreds of people were tortured and hundreds more subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. There have been over 100 deaths of people in detention, many likely to be a direct result of torture. The torture and abuse went on for years. (I leave aside here continuing accusations of U.S. personnel being involved in torture since 2009.)
Third, Obama then claimed to “understand what happened.” His explanation emphasized “how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell,” “people did not know whether more attacks were imminent,” and national security officials felt “enormous pressure.” He told us that we should “not … feel too sanctimonious in retrospect,” given that officials had a “tough job.” This framing is a version of the fall-back position accompanying the more assertive claims that “enhanced interrogation” kept America safe. Whether or not torture was ineffective; whether or not it was, as the president said, “contrary to our values”; and whether or not it was illegal, in the end it was, Obama is suggesting, understandable—that is, excusable under the circumstances.
After all, Obama asserted, the acts in question were committed by “real patriots”—i.e., right-minded people who simply acted out of love of country. The implication is that the torture is pardonable and that it would be ungrateful to criticize patriots for anything more than misjudgment under extraordinary circumstances. The logic of this nationalist rhetoric is to place off limits the harder questions about what happened and why: Why did state institutions routinely operate outside the law, lie to Congress, destroy evidence, and adopt a “by any means necessary,” “gloves-off” approach to problems of national security? Whether CIA operatives or presidents, patriots cannot be held accountable for committing war crimes. For love of country, let’s just move on. As Andrew Sullivan put it, “We tortured. It was wrong. Never mind.”
Next, Obama—again using the word “torture” and saying that “we crossed a line”–called on the country “to take responsibility for that so that hopefully we don’t do it again in the future.” Certainly. Yet, the president might have been more explicit that the line crossed was not only moral; it was legal—and no amount of Office of Legal Counsel “guidance” (based on radically distorted interpretations of what is legally permissible) or even immunities provided by Congress can alter that fact. Moreover, the “we” who “crossed a line” remains purposefully vague. After all, specific officials crossed that line, acting through the CIA, the military, the executive branch, and with possible complicity by individual members of Congress.
Finally, what does Obama mean when he urges the “country” to take responsibility? Remember it was the same Obama who in 2009 urged the country to “look forward rather than look backward,” who refused to pursue criminal accountability or even a bipartisan commission of inquiry. It is the same Obama who appears to be supporting a redaction process that Feinstein says undermines the conclusions of the report. Obama’s statement that the country should take responsibility is contradicted by his own actions.
Obama is right that Americans should grapple with their government’s use of torture. Too many Americans have chosen simply to look the other way. However, the president has not fulfilled his own responsibility to exercise moral leadership. The task of getting to the real truth of U.S. torture is difficult. To own up to the moral and criminal failure of our national leaders is even more challenging. Meaningful accountability is impossible without genuine soul-searching among leaders in government, media and in civil society. The Senate torture report is a necessary step in that direction.
III. The Report
I offer five reasons why the Senate report is important:
1) To date, there has been no official report focusing on the CIA’s central role in carrying out the Bush-Cheney administration’s adoption of torture post-9/11. Although the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report will be compromised by the continued suppression of the full report, by extensive redactions, and by an inevitably limited analysis, it will be the most significant government report to date on U.S. torture. Torture will once again be given national prominence in the media.
This has not happened since 2009, a pivotal year in “the torture debate” when a series of shocking revelations unsettled the normal timidity of the media establishment. Then, editors provided space for opinions highly critical of Bush and Cheney’s interrogation program along with views defending the policies. Anxieties swelled among perpetrators and their defenders about how far Obama might go in revealing the full scope of the torture program or who might be held accountable and how. In a highly charged partisan atmosphere, Republican hawks, led by Cheney, attacked the new president’s change of torture policy and warned of serious consequences that would follow attempts to hold perpetrators accountable.
As it turns out, perpetrators had little to worry about. After changing torture policy, Obama quickly signaled that accountability was off the table and he remained largely silent in face of the barrage of justifications from Cheney and conservative media commentators. This silence allowed Cheney and his supporters to shape the narrative. Since 2009, there have been only a few brief moments—at least within the U.S media–where the torture issue resurfaced, most prominently concerning continuing claims that “enhanced interrogation” was effective in keeping America safe from another terrorist attack. At the very least, the Senate report will provide a refutation of this argument, although the CIA and defenders of the Bush-Cheney program will mount a vigorous counter-attack. The debate over the efficacy of torture is crucial.
2) Torture is a high crime under international and domestic law. Whether or not the Senate report names the crime or recommends legal solutions (not likely; leaks suggest that the report doesn’t even use the word “torture”), the truth of government lawlessness will be laid before the public and will re-energize calls for legal accountability for officials at the top of the political, military and CIA chain of command. Human rights organizations will recall that the legal prohibition of torture as reaffirmed in the UN Convention Against Torture (ratified by the U.S.) permits no exceptions whatsoever.
They will also remind Americans that their government is under legal obligation to investigate and prosecute those who authorized and carried out torture. They will emphasize that failure to assign responsibility for past wrongful acts creates a climate of impunity and that the rule of law means nothing if state crimes are exempted.
3) The Senate torture report will also present an opportunity for commentators to ask critical questions about threats to liberal democracy inherent to a national security state. Already critics are making parallels between the rogue behavior of the CIA and the NSA’s Orwellian, “collect it all” surveillance. The truth is that post-9/11 was not the first time that the security agencies (CIA, FBI, NSA, Special Forces, and other components of the secret state) have deliberately disregarded, or have been ordered by a president to disregard, legal and moral restraints. Open government groups are now citing the CIA’s conduct in relation to the Senate committee and its report as exhibit A in their case against unaccountable government agencies and how national security and presidential authority are used to justify the twin abuses of excessive secrecy and evasions of congressional or judicial oversight. Just as Watergate era revelations led to the Church Committee hearings and reforms, the renewal of the torture debate will raise fundamental questions about the dangers of unaccountable security agencies and the requirements for reassertion of democratic control.
4) Most commentators have focused on the substantial partisan differences over the use of torture and the struggle between those who are fighting for the release of the report with few redactions and those who want to bury it. These differences are politically significant. Which side prevails may shape public attitudes toward torture for years to come. However, I want to suggest another dimension. Powerful forces on both sides of the partisan divide want the torture issue to disappear altogether. Many military, security and political elites recognize that U.S. torture, approved at the highest levels of government, created an unsurpassed crisis of legitimacy for the country. Their foremost objective is to restore that legitimacy.
Arguably, this is the principal reason why Obama issued his executive order rejecting torture in 2009 (I believe that McCain would have likely done the same). It is why the new president counseled amnesia about torture and why he refused to initiate criminal investigations or even a commission of inquiry. It is why he has fallen mostly silent about the issue of torture. The U.S. relies on an image that it conducts its wars humanely and in accordance with international law. Brutality and illegality belong to the enemy. Occasionally, however, the brutal and unlawful exercise of state violence becomes public knowledge. The inhumanity of violence “shocks the conscience.” Legitimacy crises follow. For the U.S., the Abu Ghraib photos were a disaster but the disaster kept growing with a cascade of revelations that included documentation of torture of prisoners in Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan and CIA kidnapping, renditions, and torture in secret prisons. The reverberations are still being felt.
In 2014, national security elites in both political parties, including those who disagree about the permissibility of “enhanced interrogation,” are worried that the Senate report will further aggravate the prolonged crisis of legitimacy caused by U.S. torture—a crisis made worse by the government’s refusal to undertake criminal proceedings and support civil suits, and partisan politics resulting in continuing indefinite detention at Guantanamo prison camp and military commission trials that admit torture as evidence. Most Americans are still unfamiliar with the grizzly details of what their government authorized and which high officials did the authorizing. Globally, especially in the Middle East, the report will likely reactivate multiple resentments; and it may reinforce dismay among allies.
National security elites will disagree about the efficacy of torture and other aspects of the report, but they will be united in wanting to forestall public disclosure and critical examination of America’s use of coercive power, past and present. Torture, after all, is not the only inhumane use of state violence; nor is U.S. torture solely an aberration of the Bush-Cheney years. For the national security elite as a whole, the history of state violence is better left buried or forgotten and dissident voices about current inhumane operations ignored. Above all, the use of violence as an instrument of policy must remain unencumbered.
For these reasons, even though the CIA will be rebuked by liberal Democrats and perhaps some legislative reforms will be attempted, calls for accountability will continue to be opposed. For national security elites, the release of the Senate report summary will be treated as the end of the story—time to turn the page to narratives more consistent with the myth of American Exceptionalism. This closure will be opposed by some, especially by those who understand that post-9/11 torture was not a one-off event and that torture shares characteristics with other forms of state violence.
5) If torture is not wrong, nothing is wrong. If torture is not wrong, any degradation of human beings in the name of national security is permitted. The logic of torture not only reflects but also promotes acceptance of a “whatever it takes” paradigm of military power. Once torture is accepted, anything goes.
Yet, the opposite is also possible. It is not a big jump from abhorrence of torture to revulsion to what other forms of military violence do to human beings. If the U.S. adoption of torture has shattered the myth of American humane warfare, other aspects of military policy that contravene that myth may come under greater scrutiny. I do not underestimate the power of nationalist blindness to the suffering of “enemy” others or the misleading language of “precision targeting,” “accidental” civilian casualties and “collateral damage;” but, there are simply too many examples of both global and domestic responses to the inhumane violence of war to be ignored. In fact, threats to legitimacy stemming from that violence, as I have contended, are a principal concern of national security elites.
If a “by any means necessary” paradigm of national power is the problem rather than officials working under “enormous pressure” in a terrorist emergency, the Senate report–in criticizing claims of efficacy and CIA malfeasance—will fall short. Nonetheless, the report will lay bare a core contradiction for any state that relies on violence as an instrument of foreign policy: the clash between an inhumane logic of war that resists moral and legal restraint and humane responses to the terrible consequences of that logic. The best hope for modifying unrestrained violence emerges directly from such a response.
Thus, with the release of the Senate report, human rights and other civic organizations, dissenting journalists, religious organizations, the newly radicalized legal profession, and humane people everywhere have an opportunity to work against the semi-coerced silencing of critical debate not only about torture but also about the link between torture, militarism and all inhumane acts of war.
Rob Crawford is Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences University of Washington, Tacoma.
Israel on Friday imposed restrictions on the entry of Palestinian worshipers into the Al-Aqsa Mosque in annexed East Jerusalem for the third consecutive day.
Israeli police stepped up security around the mosque, deploying 2,000 troops in Jerusalem and erected roadblocks at entrances to Jerusalem’s Old City.
“Police prevent men under 50 and West Bankers from entering Al-Aqsa compound or Friday prayers,” Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, director-general of the Organization for Muslim Endowments and Al-Aqsa Affairs, told the Turkish Anadolu Agency.
Jews celebrated the start of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) on Wednesday evening, the first day of new Jewish year of 5775.
Israel typically imposes restrictions on Muslim worshipers’ access to Al-Aqsa during Jewish holidays
The Israeli authorities also closed the Ibrahimi Mosque to Muslims in the West Bank city of Hebron on Wednesday and Thursday for Rosh Hashanah.
Israel is also closing the Gaza Strip’s only functioning commercial crossing – the Kerem Shalom border terminal – for four days starting Thursday for the Jewish holiday.
Khatib said that while Israel restricts the entry of Palestinians into Al-Aqsa mosque compound, it facilitates the entry of Zionist settlers into the holy site.
He said that at least 300 Zionist settlers and 120 Israeli soldiers had forced their way into the compound in the past three days.
In recent months, groups of extremist settlers – often accompanied by Israeli security forces – have repeatedly forced their way into the flashpoint compound.
The frequent violations anger Palestinian Muslims and occasionally lead to violent confrontations.
For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third holiest site.
Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the “Temple Mount,” claiming it was the site of two prominent Jewish temples in ancient times.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East War. It later annexed the city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the Zionist state – a move never recognized by the international community.
In September 2000, a visit to the site by controversial Israeli leader Ariel Sharon sparked what later became known as the “Second Intifada” – a popular uprising against the Israeli occupation in which thousands of Palestinians were killed.
Produced by Rinaldo Francesca.
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Music by Kevin McLeod, available at http://incompetech.com/
This US-engineered Coalition is in for some surprises. With few common goals, it has thrust itself into battle against the most determined players in the region and beyond.
The airwaves are still heaving with spin two days after US airstrikes against Syria.
Undoubtedly the attacks were timed to occur on the eve of the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, so ‘Coalition’ partners could cluster behind the decision to bomb a sovereign state, uninvited.
The irony, of course, is that they are doing so at the UN – the global political body that pledges to uphold international law, peace and stability, and the sanctity of the nation-state unit.
The goal this week will be to keep the ‘momentum’ on a ‘narrative’ until it sinks in.
On day one, heads of state from Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, the UK and France were paraded onto the podium to drum in the urgency of American strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Jabhat al-Nusra and other militant groups inside Syria.
Every American official – past and present – in the White House rolodex was hooked up to a microphone to deliver canned sound bites and drive home those ‘messages.’ In between, video-game-quality footage of US strikes hitting their targets was aired on the hour; clips of sleek fighter jets refueling midair and the lone Arab female fighter pilot were dropped calculatingly into social media networks.
The global crew of journalists that descends annually on the UN for this star-studded political event, enthused over US President Barak Obama’s ability to forge a coalition that included five Arab Sunni states – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain and the UAE.
Few mentioned that these partners are a mere fig leaf for Obama, providing his Syria campaign with Arab and Muslim legitimacy where he otherwise would have none. Not that any of these five monarchies enjoy ‘legitimacy’ in their own kingdoms – kings and emirs aren’t elected after all – and two of these Wahhabi states are directly responsible for the growth and proliferation of the Wahhabi-style extremism targeted by US missiles.
Even fewer spent time dissecting the legality of US attacks on Syria or on details of the US ‘mission’ – as in, “what next?”
But with a mission this crippled at the outset, it didn’t take long for an alternative view to peek through the thick media fog.
On the ground in Syria, dead civilians – some of them children killed by US bombs – muddied the perfect script. Confused Syrian rebels – many who had called for foreign intervention to help crush the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – demanded to know how these airstrikes were meant to help them.
Sunni Arabs would be radicalized by these strikes, they warned, as ideologically sympathetic citizens of the Arab coalition states took to their information channels and swore revenge for airstrikes against ISIL and al-Nusra.
The Syrian government, for the most part, remained mute – whether to save face or because they could ‘smell’ the gains coming. Contrary to Washington’s prevailing narrative, privately the story was that the US had informed the Assad government of both the timing and targets of the attacks in advance.
Sources say that the US even provided ‘guarantees’ that no Syrian military or government interests would be targeted. A Reuters exclusive claiming that the US went so far as to provide assurances to Iran, suggests this version is closer to the truth. When US airstrikes against Syria were on the table a year ago, the various parties went through a similar game of footsies. Last September, the Americans backed off – allegedly because of communications from their adversaries that even a single US missile would trigger a warfront against Israel. This time, Washington needed to know that scenario was not going to be activated, and this week they offered the necessary guarantees to ensure it.
Although the Russians and Iranians have publicly lashed out at the illegality of US strikes, they do not seem too worried. Both know – like the Syrian government – that these air attacks could be a net gain for their ‘Axis.’
Firstly, the United States is now doing some useful heavy-lifting for Assad, at no real cost to him. The Syrian armed forces have spent little time on the ISIL threat because their focus has traditionally been on protecting their interests in Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, Hama – and the countryside in these areas – as well as towns and cities around the Lebanese and Jordanian borders. That changed when ISIL staged successful attacks on Mosul and created new geopolitical urgency for Assad’s allies – which triggered some major Syrian strikes against ISIL targets.
But to continue along this path, the Syrians would have to divert energy and resources from key battles, and so the American strikes have provided a convenient solution for the time being.
Secondly, the Syrians have spent three years unsuccessfully pushing their narrative that the terrorism threat they face internally is going to become a regional and global problem. The US campaign is a Godsend in this respect – Obama has managed to get the whole world singing from the same hymn sheet in just two months, including, and this is important, the three states – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – most instrumental in financing, weaponizing and assisting ISIL and other extremist militias inside Syria.
Syria, Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and a host of like-minded emerging powers are pleased about this new laser focus on jihadi terror and for the accompanying resource shift to address the problem.
Thirdly, the US has now been placed in the hot seat and will be expected to match words with action. For three years, Washington has overlooked and even encouraged illegal and dangerous behaviors from its regional Sunni allies – all in service of defeating Assad. With all eyes on America and expectations that Obama will fail in his War on Terror just like his predecessors, the US is going to have to pull some impressive tricks from its sleeves.
Ideally, these would include the shutting down of key border crossings (Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon); punishing financiers of terror and inhibiting the flow of funds and assistance from Washington’s regional allies; cutting off key revenue streams; tightening immigration policies to stem the flow of foreign fighters; disrupting communications networks of targeted terrorist groups; broader intelligence sharing with all regional players; and empowering existing armies and allied militias inside the ‘chaos zone’ to lead and execute ground operations.
Thus far, there are signs that some of these things are already happening, with possibly more to come.
Now for the fun part. The Syrians, Iranians and Russians do not fundamentally trust Washington or its intentions. The suspicion is that the US is on another one of its regime-change missions, displaying its usual rogue-state behavior by violating the territorial integrity of a sovereign state under false pretenses, and that it will shortly revert to targeting the Syrian government.
While they can see clear gains from the current level of US intervention – as distasteful as they find it – they are watching carefully as events unfold.
If there is the slightest deviation from the ‘guarantees’ provided by the US, this trio has plenty of room to maneuver. Iran, for one, has dallied with the Americans in both Iraq and Afghanistan and they know how to cause some pain where it counts. The Russians, for that matter, have many playgrounds in which to thwart US ambitions – most urgently in Ukraine and in Afghanistan, from which the US hopes to withdraw billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment by the end of 2014.
All understand that Washington has just assumed a risky public posture and that many, many things can go wrong. The Sunni Arab fig leaf can disappear in a nano-second if domestic pressures mount or revenge attacks take place internally. Information could leak about continued assistance to terrorist militias from one or more of its coalition partners – a huge embarrassment for Washington and its wobbly Coalition. ISIL will almost certainly act against coalition partner soft-targets, like carrying out further kidnappings and executions. Continued airstrikes will almost definitely result in a growing civilian casualty count, turning those ‘hearts and minds’ to stone. Syrian rebels could swiftly turn against the US intervention and radicalize further. Massive displacement caused by airstrikes could exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. And as in all other past US military War-on-Terror adventures, terrorism could thrive and proliferate in quantum leaps.
As Moscow-based political analyst Vladimir Frolov noted to the Washington Post : “The United States has underestimated the complexity of the situation before, so let’s just wait until they run into problems.”
The idea that US military engagement could continue for the long-term is unlikely given the myriad things that can go wrong fast. Obama is going to be reluctant to have his last two years in office defined by the hazardous Syrian conflict – after all, he was to be the president who extracted America from unessential wars.
But the most compelling reason that this Coalition will not pass the first hurdle is that its key members have entirely different ambitions and strategic targets.
Over a decade ago, these US-engineered coalitions were wealthier, less-burdened and shared common goals. Today, many of the coalition members face domestic economic and political uncertainties – and several states are directly responsible for giving rise to ISIL. How can the Coalition fight ISIL and support it, all at once?
What’s missing is a formula, a strategy, a unified worldview that can be equally as determined as the ideological adversary it faces.
Down the road, we will discover that the only coalition able and willing to fight extremism does indeed come from inside the region, but importantly, from within the conflict zone itself: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran. For starters, they are utterly vested in the outcome of their efforts – and would lead with political solutions alongside military ones. Those elusive boots-on-the-ground that everyone is seeking? They live it. Pit that group against Obama’s Coalition-of-the-Clueless any day and you know which side would win handily.
The question is, can this Coalition stomach a solution it is working so hard to avoid? Will it partner with vital regional players that were foes only a few months ago? It is doubtful. That would require a worldview shift that Washington is still too irrational to embrace.
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