Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fighting back against the CIA drone war

They call it "bug splat", the splotch of blood, bones, and viscera that marks the site of a successful drone strike.

To those manning the consoles in Nevada, it signifies "suspected militants" who have just been "neutralised"; to those on the ground, in most cases, it represents a family that has been shattered, a home destroyed.

Since June 18, 2004, when the CIA began its policy of extrajudicial killings in Pakistan, it has left nearly 250 such stains on Pakistani soil, daubed with the remains of more than 2,500 individuals, mostly civilians. More recently, it has taken to decorating other parts of the world.

Since the Pakistani government and its shadowy intelligence agencies have been complicit in the killings, the CIA has been able to do all this with complete impunity. Major human rights organisations in thrall to the Obama Administration have given it a pass. So have the media, who uncritically accept officials' claims about the accuracy of their lethal toys.

Two recent developments might change all this.

The unlawful combatant

On July 18, 2011, three Pakistani tribesmen, Kareem Khan, Sadaullah, and Maezol Khan, filed a formal complaint against John A Rizzo, the CIA's former acting General Counsel, at a police station in Islamabad. Until his retirement on June 25, 2009, Rizzo served as legal counsel to the program whose victims have included Kareem Khan's son and brother, Maezol Khan's seven-year-old son, and three family members of Sadaullah (who also lost both legs and an eye in the attack).

In an interview with Newsweek's Tara McKelvey, Rizzo bragged that he was responsible for signing off on the "hit list" for "lethal operations". The targets were "blown to bits" in "businesslike" operations, he said. By his own admission, he is implicated in "murder". Indeed, he boasted: "How many law professors have signed off on a death warrant?" And that is not the full extent of Rizzo's derring-do: he claims he was also "up to my eyeballs" in Bush's program of torture in black sites in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The detailed First Information Report (FIR) that barrister Mirza Shahzad Akbar prepared on behalf of the tribesmen was filed at the Secretariat Police Station in Islamabad, whose territorial jurisdiction includes the residence of Rizzo's leading co-conspirator Jonathan Banks, the CIA station chief who has since fled Pakistan. As a party to a conspiracy to commit murder in Pakistan, Akbar believes that Rizzo is subject to the country's penal code.

Clive Stafford Smith, the celebrated human rights lawyer best known as George W Bush's nemesis over Guantanamo, is leading the campaign to secure an international arrest warrant for Rizzo. Asked about the question of jurisdiction, Smith told me that that "there is no issue of jurisdiction - these are a series of crimes, including murder … committed on Pakistani soil against Pakistani citizens". The CIA, he says, is "waging war against Pakistan". He insists that "there is no question that [Rizzo] is liable for the crimes he is committing. The only issue is whether he will face the music or be kept hidden by the authorities".

Smith, who heads the legal charity Reprieve, is a practical man, uninterested in mere symbolic gestures. Earlier, he successfully sued the Bush administration for access to prisoners at Guantanomo and has so far secured the release of 65 of them. He is confident that once the Islamabad police issues a warrant, Interpol will have no choice but to pursue the case. Furthermore, he notes, depending on the success of this test case, they will broaden it to also include drone operators.

The US position so far is to either claim that it is engaged in legitimate self-defence, or to make the policy more palatable by downplaying its human cost. Neither argument is tenable.

The laws of war do not prohibit the killing of civilians unless it is deliberate, disproportionate or indiscriminate. However, Akbar and Smith reject the applicability of these laws to CIA's drone war. "The US has to follow the laws of war," Smith recently told the Guardian. But "the issue here is that this is not a war" - there is no declared state of conflict between the US and Pakistan. Moreover, Gary Solis of Georgetown University, an expert in the laws of war, told Newsweek that "the CIA who pilot unmanned aerial vehicles are civilians directly engaged in hostilities, an act that makes them 'unlawful combatants' and possibly subject to prosecution". More >>>


Friday, July 29, 2011

The Convoluted Debate on Drones

The same week U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta declared “we’re within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaeda”—an assessment that many believe reflects the efforts of seven years of CIA drone strikes—former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair called America’s “unilateral” drone war in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia a mistake.

“Because we’re alienating the countries concerned,” Blair said, “because we’re treating countries just as places where we go attack groups that threaten us, we are threatening the prospects of long-term reform.”

Given that our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president has drastically escalated the use of these flying, robotic hitmen, there seems to be some confusion at the White House.

Speaking to attendees at the Aspen Security Forum, Blair said drone strikes in Pakistan should be launched only when America had the full cooperation of the government in Islamabad and “we agree with them on what drone attacks” should target. As explained elsewhere, this author accepts the efficacy of America’s drone war, but with enormous reluctance. That said, part of Blair’s assessment seems wildly out of touch. Why would Washington wait for permission from Islamabad to hunt al Qaeda?

First, individuals either within or with ties to Pakistan’s spy agency have collaborated with insurgents that frequently attack U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan. That doesn’t speak well for Blair’s call for joint cooperation. Second, we’ve known for years that elements within Pakistan have thwarted—on several occasions—foreign-led attempts to find and take out terrorists. Even someone who is not wildly enamored with drones understands the argument for employing them unilaterally when confronted with uncooperative governments. Policymakers, however, should be weighing the ability to keep militant groups off balance against the costs of facilitating the rise of more terrorists, particularly in a country as volatile as Pakistan.

A statement even more out of step than Mr. Blair’s came from Michael E. Leiter, former head of the National Counterterrorism Center. Earlier this week at the Aspen Security Forum, Leiter contended that assessments that al Qaeda was on the verge of collapse lacked “accuracy and precision,” and that al Qaeda’s leadership and structure in Pakistan “is still there and could launch some attacks.” He also raised concerns about the possible long-term effects of intensive CIA paramilitary operations on conventional espionage and analysis for issues like China: “The question has to be asked: Has that in some ways diminished some of its strategic, long-term intelligence collection and analysis mission?” More >>>


Thursday, July 28, 2011

“In Gitmo I was punished with 30 days in darkness for feeding iguanas”

Guantanamo Bay continues to wreck lives, despite President Obama’s pledge to shut the notorious prison. RT spoke to one former prisoner, Murat Kurnaz, who says the US has not issued even a simple apology for his years of torment.

RT: Murat Kurnaz was held at Guantanamo Bay for five years before being released without charges. Mr. Kurnaz, have you ever been given apology or explanation by the Americans?

Murat Kurnaz: No they didn’t apologize and I don’t thing they will ever apologize for anything.

RT: You were arrested in Pakistan in 2001. Why were you there?

MK: Here in Germany I saw a group called Jamayat Tabliq. They are helping young people who have problems with drugs or homeless people who have problems at all. They originate from Pakistan. They have around 80 million members. It’s, I think, the biggest Islamic group. They are non-political. They are against war, of course. They are also hated by Al-Qaeda and [the] Taliban, because they are against war. When I went to Pakistan, I went to their school. They have each year, I think, between 30,000 and 40,000 students visiting that school. I was just one of them. So when I was captured and turned to the Americans, I was already on a bus close to the airport. I had already my plane ticket in my pocket. So I couldn’t understand why and what reason [I was stopped]. Jamayat Tabliq – everyone knows they are not interested in war and are against terrorism. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

An effective response to climate change

Foreign Secretary William Hague has delivered a speech titled 'The Diplomacy of Climate Change' to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Thank you Governor Whitman. I am most grateful for your generous introduction.

I am delighted to be here at the Council on Foreign Relations. In the modern networked world, diplomacy is no longer the sole preserve of diplomats. Instead, we all have a stake in global affairs. That is why the work of renowned bodies such as this is more valuable than ever.

Today I want to talk about why I believe we, as foreign policy practitioners, need to up our game in building a credible and effective response to climate change. Climate change is perhaps the twenty-first century’s biggest foreign policy challenge along with such challenges as preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. A world which is failing to respond to climate change is one in which the values embodied in the UN will not be met. It is a world in which competition and conflict will win over collaboration.

We are at a crucial point in the global debate on climate change. Many are questioning, in the wake of Copenhagen, whether we should continue to seek a response to climate change through the UN and whether we can ever hope to deal with this enormous challenge.

I will first argue that an effective response to climate change underpins our security and prosperity. Second, our response should be to strive for a binding global deal, whatever the setbacks. And third, I will set out why effective deployment of foreign policy assets is crucial to mobilising the political will needed if we are to shape an effective response. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Spouse English tests for migrants racist, court told

Immigration rules requiring people to speak English before joining their spouse in the UK are racist, a lawyer appealing against the policy has said.

The High Court, sitting in Birmingham, was told that the tougher language tests discriminated against British-Indian families and their traditions.

The Home Office now requires anyone entering the UK to join their spouse to speak a minimum level of English.

Three couples are challenging the rules which were introduced in November 2010.

Rashida Chapti, a British citizen, has been married for almost 40 years to her husband, Vali. The couple have six children and have divided their time for 15 years between Leicester and India. His wife now wants him to move permanently to the UK, but Mr Chapti does not speak, read or write English.

The immigration rules introduced last year require Mr Chapti to show a basic knowledge of English before he can be given permission to stay. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Monday, July 25, 2011

PAKISTAN: Study Rebuts U.S. Claims of "No Civilian Deaths" - IPS

WASHINGTON, Jul 22, 2011 (IPS) - As the Pakistani public grows increasingly outraged at the United States’ drone attacks in the northwest region of the country, a recent study by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism is contradicting U.S. officials’ insistence that “not a single civilian life” has been claimed in the covert war.

Led by British investigative journalist Chris Woods and Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai, the study found that at least 45 civilians, including six children, have been killed in 10 drone strikes since August 2010 alone, while another 15 attacks between then and June 2011 likely killed many more.

According to the study, civilians die in one out of every five Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-operated drone attacks in the tribal region, located on the border with Afghanistan, a statistic that the Bureau says can no longer be denied by the U.S. government.

The Woods-Yusufzai investigation was born in response to a statement made by the U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor and President Barack Obama’s assistant on counterterrorism, John Brennan, who told a press conference here last month that “the types of operations… that the U.S. has been involved in hasn’t [resulted in] a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.”

The Bureau’s investigation reveals Brennan’s statement to be baseless.

“What the study has done is show the public irrefutable proof of civilian casualties,” Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, a Pakistani sociologist at the University of Strathclyde who has frequently blasted the U.S.’s low body counts in Pakistan, told IPS.

“We know who died – we know their names, know some are children, we have their ID cards,” he added. “The CIA’s claims are totally false.” More >>>

Location: Islamabad

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The omnipotence of Al Qaeda and meaninglessness of "Terrorism"

For much of the day yesterday, the featured headline on The New York Times online front page strongly suggested that Muslims were responsible for the attacks on Oslo; that led to definitive statements on the BBC and elsewhere that Muslims were the culprits.

The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin wrote a whole column based on the assertion that Muslims were responsible, one that, as James Fallows notes, remains at the Post with no corrections or updates. The morning statement issued by President Obama -- "It's a reminder that the entire international community holds a stake in preventing this kind of terror from occurring" and "we have to work cooperatively together both on intelligence and in terms of prevention of these kinds of horrible attacks" -- appeared to assume, though (to its credit) did not overtly state, that the perpetrator was an international terrorist group.

But now it turns out that the alleged perpetrator wasn't from an international Muslim extremist group at all, but was rather a right-wing Norwegian nationalist with a history of anti-Muslim commentary and an affection for Muslim-hating blogs such as Pam Geller's Atlas Shrugged, Daniel Pipes, and Robert Spencer's Jihad Watch. Despite that, The New York Times is still working hard to pin some form of blame, even ultimate blame, on Muslim radicals. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A world in hunger: east Africa and beyond

The severe drought across much of east Africa is a human emergency that requires urgent attention. It also signals a global crisis: the convergence of inequality, food insecurity and climate change.

A drought across much of east Africa in mid-2011 is causing intense distress among vulnerable populations, many of them already pressed by poverty and insecurity. The range of the affected areas is extensive: the two districts in Somalia that are now designated as famine-zones are but the most extreme parts of a much wider disaster that stretches from Somalia across Ethiopia into northern Kenya, and as far west as Sudan and even the Karamoja district in northeast Uganda.

The numbers put at risk in this, the worst drought in the region since the 1950s, are enormous. At least 11 million people are touched by the disaster. In the Turkana district of northern Kenya, 385,000 children (among a total population of about 850,000) are suffering from acute malnutrition (see Miriam Gathigah, “East Africa: Millions Stare Death in the Face Amidst Ravaging Drought”, TerraViva / IPS, 18 July 2011). In Somalia, the conflict between the Islamist Shabaab movement and the nominal government makes conditions even more perilous for those affected.

The world's largest refugee camp, at Dadaab in northern Kenya, offers a stark illustration of the consequences of the drought. The population of Dadaab, which was designed to cope with 90,000 people, has increased in recent months to 380,000 - and 1,300 more are arriving daily (see Denis Foynes, “Eleven Million at Risk in Horn of Africa”, TerraViva / IPS, 19 July 2011).

The lessons of crisis

But just as striking is that this is part of a recurring phenomenon. Major warning-signs of malnutrition and famine were already visible in April 2008; among them were climatic factors, steep oil-price increases, increased demand for meat diets by richer communities, and the diversion of land to grow biofuel crops (see “The world’s food insecurity”, 24 April 2008).
More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Friday, July 22, 2011

Threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts”

Statement by the President of the Security Council

At the 6526th meeting of the Security Council, held on 2 May 2011, in connection with the Council's consideration of the item entitled “Threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts”, the President of
the Security Council made the following statement on behalf of the Council:

“The Security Council recalls its resolutions regarding Osama Bin Laden, and its condemnation of the Al-Qaida network and other associated terrorist groups for the multiple criminal terrorist acts aimed at causing the deaths of numerous innocent civilians and the destruction of property. “The Security Council also recalls the heinous terrorist attacks which took place on 11 September 2001 in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania and the other numerous attacks perpetrated by the network throughout the world. “In this regard, the Security Council welcomes the news on 1 May 2011 that Osama bin Laden will never again be able to perpetrate such acts of terrorism, and reaffirms that terrorism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or group.

“The Security Council recognizes this critical development and other accomplishments made in the fight against terrorism and urges all States to remain vigilant and intensify their efforts in the fight against terrorism. “The Security Council expresses once again its deepest sympathy and condolences to the victims of terrorism and their families.

“The Security Council reaffirms the importance of all its resolutions and statements on terrorism, in particular resolutions 1267 (1999), 1373 (2001), 1624 (2005), 1963 (2010) and 1904 (2009), as well as other applicable international counter-terrorism instruments, stresses the need for their full implementation, and calls for enhanced cooperation in this regard.

“The Security Council further reaffirms its call on all States to work together urgently to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of terrorist attacks and its determination that those responsible for aiding, supporting or harbouring the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of these acts will be held accountable.

“The Security Council reaffirms that Member States must ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law.

“The Security Council stresses that no cause or grievance can justify the murder of innocent people and that terrorism will not be defeated by military force, law enforcement measures, and intelligence operations alone, and can only be defeated by a sustained and comprehensive approach involving the active participation and collaboration of all States and relevant international and regional organizations and civil society to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism and to impede, impair, isolate and incapacitate the terrorist threat.” More >>>

Location: Islamabad

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Kenyans given go-ahead to sue British government

A group of Kenyans who are suing the British government over claims they were horrifically beaten and tortured during British rule in Kenya during the 1950s will be able to take their lawsuit to trial, the High Court ruled on Thursday.

The four allege that they suffered torture by the British administration during the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya between 1952 and 1960. The Foreign Office says it is not legally liable for their treatment and had argued that the case ought to be struck out before it went to trial.
A High Court judge ruled on Thursday that the five cases, which include one Kenyan who has died since the claim was issued, can now proceed to trial as the claimants have “arguable cases in law”.
During the hearing in April, court documents described claims by one of the Kenyan men bringing the lawsuit that he had been arrested and brutally beaten by police and later by European and African officers and then castrated.
The High Court had also heard claims by another of the men that he had been arrested, threatened with hanging and beaten as well as allegations by two women involved in bringing the lawsuit that they were sexually abused and beaten at the hands of prison guards. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Israeli Officer Points Loaded Gun at Unarmed Palestinian

Yes, vaccinations are a CIA plot

BACK in 2000 I shared a train cabin from Amsterdam to Munich with an Afghan man who, when he learned I was a journalist, pleaded with me to communicate to the American public that the CIA had to stop destroying his country and rebuild it instead.

"They have so much power," I recall him saying. I reacted with the tolerant and condescending attitude of the Western liberal. The real sources of Afghan misery, obviously, were tribal, political and religious rivalry, and while it was tempting for people with lower levels of political understanding to blame a foreign mastermind for their troubles, such conspiratorial thinking was actually part of the problem in the Mideast, as in Eastern Europe. Right?

Afghanistan and Pakistan are where liberalism goes to die. In the years since, it's become increasingly clear that my traveling companion was at least partially right: when trying to explain a social or political event in Afghanistan or Pakistan, it's entirely rational to assume that it stems from a plot by an intelligence agency, quite likely the CIA. The sickest confirmation of this point was the recent revelation that the CIA ran an operation to verify Osama bin Laden's location by gathering DNA samples through a false-flag hepatitis B vaccination programme. As James Fallows notes, American officials are defending this operation, not denying it. This is despicable and stupid.
All over the world, poor people resist vaccination campaigns in the belief that they are part of a plot by powerful authorities to take advantage of them
More >>>

Location: Islamabad

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rising Seas, Corporate Greed, and the Plight of an Alaskan Village

Book Excerpt
For the Inupiat people of Kivalina in the Arctic of Alaska, the price of further climate change denial could be the complete devastation of their lives and culture. Their crumbling village must be relocated to survive. But neither the government, nor the fossil fuel giants who have helped speed up the destruction of their village seem to willing to take responsibility.

In February 2008, a tiny Alaska Native village named Kivalina filed suit against twenty-four fossil fuel companies for contributing to the village’s erosion through large greenhouse gas emissions, and for creating a false debate around climate change. The lawsuit was filed in conjunction with environmental justice and indigenous rights organizations as one of several steps in a broader push for climate justice, aiming to help Kivalina residents draw attention to their situation and call for action from government and corporate officials that had so far largely ignored them.

The media gave the lawsuit brief attention that quickly faded, and the judge’s ruling was issued with little discussion or notice outside of certain legal circles. Meanwhile, the people of Kivalina are still in danger from the effects of climate change, in a situation that is going to become more common throughout the world.

For roughly the past ten thousand years we have enjoyed a relatively stable climate that has allowed for the development of agriculture and civilization. Such stability is the exception, not the norm, when it comes to the earth’s 4.54 billion-year history. The Earth has oscillated between long periods of cooling (glaciations) and shorter periods of warming (interglacials), sometimes undergoing radical climate variations within the span of a century or even a decade. Evidence suggests that later glaciations correspond with periodic shifts in the earth’s orbit, tilt, and precession (movement of the axis), which can reduce the amount of energy received at the poles. This small temperature perturbation, in turn, can kickstart a glaciation through feedbacks: as ice builds, greenhouse concentrations within the oceans are sequestered and reduced in the atmosphere, and the ice reflects a greater amount of sunlight back to space (the “albedo effect”). These processes maintain the cooling, and can create the conditions for layer upon layer of cumulative ice sheets. 

Gaza ‘flotilla’ blocked by Israeli navy

The Israeli navy on Tuesday boarded a boat carrying a small group of pro-Palestinian activists, thwarting the latest attempt to break Israel’s maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip.
There was no resistance by the 10 passengers and three crew members, the Israeli military said. Passengers and crew would be taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod and handed over to the border authority, it added.
The French-flagged ship, known as the Dignite-Karama, sailed from the Greek island of Kastellorizo on Saturday. It was originally scheduled to make the journey as part of a flotilla heading for Gaza, but all the other ships were either damaged – raising accusations of sabotage – or were blocked from leaving port by the Greek authorities.
Platform Palestine, the French group that co-organised the voyage, said Israel’s move “clearly shows the military logic of Israeli politics, which only speaks the language of force”. More >>>

Monday, July 18, 2011

Yemen’s Dangerous Hunger Crisis

The embattled nation is struggling to find food and water while the world focuses on ending President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s violent campaign to keep power.

In one of the cities at the center of Yemen’s revolution, tanks and soldiers of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s loyalist forces occupy the main hospital, turning away the civilian sick and wounded, and using the hospital as a vantage point to shell residential neighborhoods at night.

Prices of water as well as food have soared amid Yemen’s political crisis, so that ever more poor families are resorting to drinking water from rain and other contaminated sources, and new reports of cholera outbreaks are reaching the capital, Sana’a. Yemeni cities are emptying of day laborers and other poor, aid officials and residents told me, as men return with their families to their villages in hopes of escaping hunger.

Months of violent political crisis are depleting the savings and stockpiles of more and more Yemenis, so that not only beggars, but neighbors, come round to quietly ask for food.

“There’s no work, no water, no electricity, no security. When we sleep, my family and I are not sure if we will live until morning, because of the shelling on the houses, and the bullets all night,” says Ali Qassim Abdullah, a 44-year-old father of three young children. Abdullah spoke in Yemen’s southern city of Taiz, where loyalist units commanded by the son of Yemen’s president are accused of nightly—and sometimes random—artillery fire.
“The whole world is watching this happen to us in Taiz. And no one speaks or objects,” Abdullah told a Yemeni reporter in Taiz who helped me talk to civilians. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Israel Rules Out Non-Violence

Nazareth: It was an Arab legislator who made the most telling comment to the Israeli parliament last week as it passed the boycott law, which outlaws calls to boycott Israel or its settlements in the occupied territories.

Ahmed Tibi asked: “What is a peace activist or Palestinian allowed to do to oppose the occupation? Is there anything you agree to?”

The boycott law is the latest in a series of ever-more draconian laws being introduced by the far-right. The legislation's goal is to intimidate those Israeli citizens, Jews and Palestinians, who have yet to bow down before the majority-rule mob.

Look out in the coming days and weeks for a bill to block the work of Israeli human rights organisations trying to protect Palestinians in the occupied territories from abuses by the Israeli army and settlers; and a draft law investing a parliamentary committee, headed by the far-right, with the power to veto appointments to the supreme court. The court is the only, and already enfeebled, bulwark against the right's absolute ascendancy.

The boycott law, backed by Benjamin Netanyahu's government, marks a watershed in this legislative assault in two respects. More >>>

Human Rights Report: Doctors targeted in Bahrain

Bahraini security forces attacked doctors and nurses, lay siege to hospitals and clinics, detained protesters who sought treatment, and arrested and prosecuted dozens of medical personnel after unrest hit the island kingdom in February, a prominent human rights organisation has alleged.

Since mid-March, when the government stifled the uprising, the government has arrested more than 70 medical professionals, including several dozen doctors, and has put 48 on trial in a special military court, Human Rights Watch alleged in a 24-page report released on Monday.

The organisation called on Bahrain to stop harrassing medical personnel, withdraw all security forces from health centres and release all those facing minor charges, while providing due process to those accused of more serious crimes.

The report also called on the United Nations to conduct an independent investigation into the government crackdown.

"The Bahraini government's violent campaign of intimidation against the medical community and its interference in the provision of vital medical assistance to injured protesters is one of the most egregious aspects of its brutal repression of the pro-democracy protest movement," the report stated. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Arrest of ex-CIA lawyer sought over drone use

Human rights lawyers in the UK and Pakistan are seeking the arrest of the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) former legal director for approving drone strikes that killed hundreds of people.

John Rizzo, who served as the acting general counsel for the agency, has admitted approving drone attacks inside Pakistan, beginning in 2004.
In February, Rizzo, who left the CIA more than a year ago, told Newsweek magazine he agreed to a list of people to be targeted by drone strikes, which started under the Bush administration.

"It's basically a hit list," Rizzo said. "The Predator is the weapon of choice, but it could also be someone putting a bullet in your head." A study by the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, said 42 drone attacks were approved in four years.

The report said that the amount of strikes has quadrupled under the administration of US President Barack Obama and estimates about 2,500 people were killed in attacks on targets in Pakistan since 2004.

Arrest warrant

"There has clearly been a crime committed here," Clive Stafford Smith, a British human rights lawyer who is leading the effort to seek a warrant for Rizzo, told Al Jazeera.

"The issue here is whether the United States is willing to flaunt international law. More >>>

Location: Islamabad

Monday, July 11, 2011

Aguan Biogas Project linked to serious Human Rights

Violations in Honduras One of the CDM projects currently seeking registration is the “Aguan biogas recovery from Palm Oil Mill Effluent ponds and biogas utilisation” (Project 3197).

The company behind the project, Grupo Dinant subsidiary Exportadora del Atlantico, is implicated in assassinations and other serious human rights abuses in Honduras and there are grave concerns that additional funding through the CDM, could be used to to pay for more armed paramilitaries.

A second CDM application by the same project participants – Exportadora del At-lantico and EDF Trading, authorised by the UK government – is awaiting validation by TUV SUED, which also wrote the validation report for the Aguan project. That project is called “Lean Biogas recovery from Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME) ponds and biogas / biomass utilisation”. The Aguan and Lean projects would, if approved, generate around 23,000 and 25,500 CERs annually, generating about €276,000 and €306,000 respectively.

Following the registration request, a review related to concerns about additionality was requested by Board members. Indeed, additionality concerns seem valid: the validation report accepts assertions made in the PDD according to which the com-pany had only obtained a private bank loan, not loans or grants from international development banks. Yet in 2009, Exportadora del Atlantico obtained a $30 million loan from the World Bank‘s International Finance Corporation and a $7million loan from the Inter-American Investment Corporation. Both loans were partly granted for biogas production from palm oil residues but are not mentioned in the PDD. However, a letter to the CDM Executive Board by Biofuelwatch, Salva la Selva/Rettet den Re-genwald and CDM Watch outlines additional concerns that should also be addressed when reviewing the project. More [PDF] >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Knesset outlaws political dissent

The Knesset has just passed into law the anti-boycott initiative bill of MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), by a majority of 47 to 38. A lot of members, including Shas, top Likud members and all of Atzmaut (Ehud Barak’s faction) were absent. Netanyahu was absent from the vote. We hope to have the names of the MKs for you and for posterity soon.

As Roi Maor wrote here earlier,
….the law seeks to penalize those who call for boycotting Israel, the settlements, or anyone related to the occupation. If a person, for example, calls for a boycott of academic institutions that participate in the occupation, he could be sued in civil court, and ordered to pay compensation. If a company agrees not to purchase products manufactured in the settlements, it could be barred from government contracts. If an NGO joins the global BDS call, it could be stripped of its non-profit status, and compelled to pay taxes as if it was a commercial firm.

The legal advisor of the Knesset already voiced grave warnings regarding the constitutionality of law, and Adalah and Association for Civil Rights Israel already announced they will petition the Supreme Court to strike it down. Their petitions are expected to be filed in the coming days. Meanwhile, the Attorney General, Yehuda Weinstein, informed the government he is ready to defend the law at the Supreme Court.
The vote was preceded by a heated debate, with opposition members accusing the coalition of an attack on Israeli democracy. “I know of nothing that causes more de-legitimization for Israel abroad than these acts of legislation,” said MK Ilan Gilon of Meretz. MK Nino Abessadze (Kadima) accused the government of taking Israel back to the Stalinist Bolshevism of the 1930’s. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) defended the law on behalf of the government, claiming that boycott in itself is an undemocratic act:
“It’s a principle of democracy that you don’t shun a public you disagree with by harming their livelihood. A boycott on a certain sector is not the proper manifestation of freedom of expression. It is an aggressive move meant to force a sector that thinks a different way to capitulate. Boycotts are aggressive and wrong.”

Yet it is important to note that Israel didn’t ban all boycotts tonight – just those directed against the country’s 44 years of occupation.

I would add two observations:
One, this law will obviously do more to “de-legitimize” Israel as a “normal” western-style democracy than any action by the BDS movement could ever be dreamt to.
Two: This is the first of an entire barrage of anti-democratic bills being pushed for legislation that actually went through. Tonight may be the night when the coalition, up to and including its wackiest members, will finally realize it is in power, it is in control – and the parliamentary left can do very little to stop them. Unless the Supreme Court strikes it down – and the Court has been very cautious in recent years, knowing full well it’s also being targeted for crippling and/or decommission – we should brace ourselves for more laws like that, coming fast and furious over the next few months. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Political Sustainability and Human Security

Economic Revival Requires a Revival of our National Community

New York - As the nation's debt deadline approaches, and the political and media gamesmanship in our nation's capital increases in intensity, I find myself thinking more and more about community. The value with which we hold each other, and our relationship to those with whom we share our living space. The political parties blame each other for the stubborn persistence of unemployment, now over 9% officially and over 16% when we count those who have given up on the job market or are underemployed.

The Republicans blame the declining economy on over-taxation. The Democrats blame job loss on Republican resistance to additional stimulus. Twice this year the Republicans have been willing to "play chicken" with the President and the nation's well being: first over the budget by threatening a government shutdown, and now by holding the entire economy hostage while threatening to default on our debt. Ideology is dominating debates that should be settled by data, not wishful thinking. People in America need work. Our community has work that needs to be done. It's time to close that loop.

The creation of a global economy and communication network has placed the American economy and our society in uncharted territory. We do not really understand the complex economic, political, ecological, social and cultural forces that drive the world economy. We don't really know the answers to the problems we face. Like FDR during the New Deal we need to pragmatically experiment. We need to learn what works and what doesn't. What collective community responses are needed? What private entrepreneurial forces need to be unleashed? In March of 1933, as FDR assumed the Presidency in the depths of the Great Depression, some of his speeches and articles were collected in a book entitled Looking Forward. At the dawn of the New Deal, Roosevelt wrote:
"The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." Franklin D. Roosevelt, Looking Forward, chapter 2, p. 51 (1933). More >>>

Going forward into this century all states need to have all political parties work together for the benefit of their country and people. To deal with the perfect storm that we are faced with, climate change, sea level rise, energy shortages, and a rapidly rising population it is imperative that political stalemate becomes a thing of the past. Editor

Location: Cayman Islands

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Human Rights Watch: Syrian forces ordered to shoot unarmed protesters

Syrian security forces were commanded to shoot unarmed protesters, according to military and security agency defectors interviewed by a human rights watchdog.

Human Rights Watch said Saturday that they "described receiving, and following, orders to shoot on protesters to disperse them."
Efforts to reach the Syrian government for comment were not immediately successful.
The group said they interviewed eight soldiers and four members of the security agencies in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan who defected over the last four months of anti-government protests.
"The testimony of these defectors provides further evidence that the killing of protesters was no accident but a result of a deliberate policy by senior figures in Syria to use deadly force to disperse protesters," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, quoted in the report. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Saturday, July 9, 2011

In Israel, a Tsunami Warning

July 08, 2011 -In May, in a closed meeting of many of Israel’s business leaders, Idan Ofer, a holding-company magnate, warned, “We are quickly turning into South Africa. The economic blow of sanctions will be felt by every family in Israel.”

The business leaders’ particular concern was the U.N. General Assembly session this September, where the Palestinian Authority is planning to call for recognition of a Palestinian state.

Dan Gillerman, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, warned participants that “the morning after the anticipated announcement of recognition of a Palestinian state, a painful and dramatic process of Southafricanization will begin”—meaning that Israel would become a pariah state, subject to international sanctions.

In this and subsequent meetings, the oligarchs urged the government to initiate efforts modeled on the Saudi (Arab League) proposals and the unofficial Geneva Accord of 2003, in which high-level Palestinian and Israeli negotiators detailed a two-state settlement that was welcomed by most of the world, dismissed by Israel and ignored by Washington.

In March, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned of the prospective U.N. action as a “tsunami.” The fear is that the world will condemn Israel not only for violating international law but also for carrying out its criminal acts in an occupied state recognized by the U.N.

The U.S. and Israel are waging intensive diplomatic campaigns to head off the tsunami. If they fail, recognition of a Palestinian state is likely.

More than 100 states already recognize Palestine. The United Kingdom, France and other European nations have upgraded the Palestine General Delegation to “diplomatic missions and embassies—a status normally reserved only for states,” Victor Kattan observes in the American Journal of International Law.

Palestine has also been admitted to U.N. organizations apart from UNESCO and the World Health Organization, which have avoided the issue for fear of U.S. defunding—no idle threat. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Friday, July 8, 2011

Court ruling 'paves way for UK Iraqi abuse hearings'

A court ruling that UK troops in Iraq were bound by human rights law should pave the way for a public inquiry, lawyers have said.

Judges at the Strasbourg court said soldiers overseas were bound by the European Convention on Human Rights. The decision came after relatives of six Iraqis - who it is alleged were ill-treated by British troops - took the UK to court. The UK argues the convention does not apply to troops serving outside Europe. Four years ago, the House of Lords - now the UK Supreme Court - ruled there was no UK human rights jurisdiction surrounding the deaths or wrongful detention of six civilians.

'Historic day'
But it accepted UK responsibility under the convention in the case of hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, because he was in a British military building in Basra at the time of the alleged brutality which led to his death.

This is a monumental judgement. Today is a historic day for human rights in Europe and beyond” The judges said that in the "exceptional circumstances" when UK forces assume responsibility for security in parts of Iraq, they remained under rules obliging signatory member states to safeguard the right to life and liberty.

The relatives of those who died - apart from Baha Mousa - were awarded £15,200 (17,000 euro) each in damages, and a total of £44,700 (50,000 euro) in costs and expenses. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Thursday, July 7, 2011

On Flotillas and the Law

Civil Society Movements vs. Corrupt Politics

July 07, 2011 "Information Clearing House" --- When it comes to the struggle against Israel’s policies of oppression there are two conflicting levels: that of government and that of civil society. The most recent example of this duality is the half dozen or so small ships held captive in the ports of Greece. The ships, loaded with humanitarian supplies for the one and half million people of the Gaza strip, are instruments of a civil society campaign against the inhumanity of the Israeli state. The forces that hold them back are the instruments of governments corrupted by special interest influence and political bribery.

Most of us are unaware of the potential of organized civil society because we have resigned the public sphere to professional politicians and bureaucrats and retreated into a private sphere of everyday life which we see as separate from politics. This is a serious mistake. Politics shapes our lives whether we pay attention to it or not. By ignoring it we allow the power of the state to respond not so much to the citizenry as to special interests. Our indifference means that the politicians and government bureaucrats live their professional lives within systems largely uninterested in and sometimes incapable of acting in the public good because they are corrupted by lobby power. The ability to render justice is also often a casualty of the way things operate politically. The stymying of the latest flotilla due to the disproportionate influence of Zionist special interests on U.S. and European Middle East foreign policy is a good example of this situation.

There are small but growing elements of society which understand this problem and have moved to remedy it through organizing common citizens to reassert influence in the public sphere. Their efforts constitute civil society movements. Not all of these efforts can be deemed progressive. The “Tea Party” phenomenon in the United States is a radical conservative movement that aims at minimizing government to the point of self-destruction. But other movements of civil society, in their expressions of direct action in the cause of justice, are much healthier. The worldwide movement for the boycott, divestment and sanctioning (BDS) of Israel, of which the flotilla movement is an offshoot, is one of these.

The Forum of International Law

The resulting struggle between the corrupt politics that keeps the West aligned with the oppressive and racist ideology that rules Israel and the civil society movement that seeks to liberate the victims of that ideology goes on worldwide and in many forums. One is the forum of international law. Presently, the debate revolves around the legality of Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the effort of the flotilla movement to defy it. Let us take a look at this aspect of the conflict. Full Article >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Palestine's Last Village Faces Bulldozers

On a rocky slope dropping steeply away from the busy main road at the entrance to West Jerusalem is to be found a scattering of ancient stone houses, empty and clinging precariously to terraces hewn from the hillside centuries ago.

Although most Israeli drivers barely notice the buildings, this small ghost town -- neglected for the past six decades -- is at the centre of a legal battle fuelling nationalist sentiments on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.

Picking his way through the cluster of 55 surviving houses, their stone walls invaded by weeds and shrubs, Yacoub Odeh, 71, slipped easily into reminiscences about the halcyon days in Lifta.

He was only eight years old in January 1948 when the advancing Jewish forces put his family and the 3,000 other Palestinian villagers to flight.

Over the coming months, as the Jewish state was born, they would be joined by 750,000 others forced into exile in an event that is known by Palestinians as the "nakba", or catastrophe.

Despite the passage of time, Lifta's chief landmarks are still clear to Mr Odeh: the remains of his own family's home, an olive press, the village oven, a spring, the mosque, the cemetery and the courtyard where the villagers once congregated.

"Life was wonderful for a small child here," he said, closing his eyes. "We were like one large family. We played in the spring's waters, we picked the delicious strawberries growing next to the pool.

"I can still remember the taste of the bread freshly baked by my mother and coated with olive oil and thyme."

The village not only occupies a unique place in Mr Odeh's affections. It has also come to symbolise a hope of eventual return for many of the nearly five million Palestinian refugees around the world.

In the words of Ghada Karmi, a British academic whose own family was forced from their home close by, in the Jerusalem suburb of Katamon, Lifta "remains a physical memorial of injustice and survival". Full Article >>>

Campaign to Save Lifta

Location: Cayman Islands

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Court Says the Dutch Are to Blame for Srebrenica Deaths

It's been a long road to justice for Hasan Nuhanovic.

The former U.N. interpreter for Dutch peacekeepers who were stationed in Srebrenica in 1995, at the end of the Bosnian war, has been battling the Dutch state in civil court for nine years, trying to force it to take responsibility for the murders of his father and brother by Bosnian Serb forces. When a ruling Tuesday by an appeals court in the Hague placed the blame squarely on the Dutch government's shoulders, Nuhanovic was rendered virtually speechless. "I really don't know what to say," he told journalists outside the courtroom. "I prepared myself for a negative outcome, I didn't prepare myself for a positive outcome." He then added that he felt "relieved."

On July 11, 1995, the Bosnian Serbs overran Srebrenica, which had been designated a UN safe haven. By July 13, outnumbered and poorly equipped, Dutch U.N. peacekeepers — or Dutchbat — bowed to General Ratko Mladic's demands and forced the many Muslim families who had sought refuge on their base out of the compound. The women were separated from the men, who were driven away and murdered by Bosnian Serb troops. In total, some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed over the course of one week that July, more than 200 of whom had been thrown off the Dutch base.. Full Article >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Warming Ocean Layers Will Undermine Polar Ice Sheets, Climate Models Show

Warming of the ocean's subsurface layers will melt underwater portions of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets faster than previously thought, according to new University of Arizona-led research. Such melting would increase the sea level more than already projected.

The research, based on 19 state-of-the-art climate models, proposes a new mechanism by which global warming will accelerate the melting of the great ice sheets during this century and the next.

The subsurface ocean layers surrounding the polar ice sheets will warm substantially as global warming progresses, the scientists found. In addition to being exposed to warming air, underwater portions of the polar ice sheets and glaciers will be bathed in warming seawater.

The subsurface ocean along the Greenland coast could increase as much as 3.6 °F (2 °C) by 2100.

"To my knowledge, this study is the first to quantify and compare future ocean warming around the Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets using an ensemble of models," said lead author Jianjun Yin, a UA assistant professor of geosciences.

Most previous research has focused on how increases in atmospheric temperatures would affect the ice sheets, he said.

"Ocean warming is very important compared to atmospheric warming because water has a much larger heat capacity than air," Yin said. "If you put an ice cube in a warm room, it will melt in several hours. But if you put an ice cube in a cup of warm water, it will disappear in just minutes."
Full Article >>>

Location:Cayman Islands

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Real Preachers of Hate

He is an Islamic "preacher of hate" whose views reflect "virulent anti-Semitism" and who has funded Hamas terror operations, according to much of the British media.

The furore last week over Sheikh Raed Salah, described by the Daily Mail newspaper as a "vile militant extremist", goaded the British government into ordering his late-night arrest, pending a fast-track deportation. The raid on his hotel, from which he was taken handcuffed to a police cell, came shortly before he was due to address a meeting in the British parliament attended by several MPs.

The outcry in Britain against Sheikh Salah has shocked Israel's 1.3-million Palestinian citizens. For them, he is a spiritual leader and head of a respected party, the Islamic Movement. He is also admired by the wider Palestinian public. The secular Fatah movement, including Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority's prime minister, were among those condemning his arrest.

Many Palestinians, like millions of Muslims in the Middle East, revere Sheikh Salah for his campaign to protect Muslim and Christian holy places from Israel's neglectful, and more often abusive, policies. They struggle to recognise the British media's characterisation of him as an Osama Bin Laden-like figure.

Most in Israel's Jewish majority would not have been aware of Sheikh Salah's supposed reputation as a Jew hater either, despite their hyper-vigilance for anything resembling anti-Semitism. True, he is generally loathed by Israeli Jews, but chiefly because they regard his brand of Islamic dogma as incompatible with the state ideology of Jewish supremacism. They fear him as the leader of a local Islam that refuses to be tamed. Those Israelis who conclude that this qualifies him as an anti-Semite do so only because they class all pious Muslims in the same category.

Israeli officials detest Sheikh Salah as well, but again not for any alleged racism. His long-running campaign to prevent what he regards as an attempted Israeli takeover of Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound – part of a wider "Judaisation" programme in the occupied areas of the city – has made him a thorn in their side. Full Article >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

The Flotilla embodies the Arab Spring spirit

Earlier this year we watched with amazement as hundreds of thousands of Arabs charged into the streets of their cities demanding reform.

The uprisings led to the departure of several leaders who had ruled for decades and also tested (and continue to test) several others.

But what led to this outpouring is much the same as the motivation behind the flotilla initiative which seeks to challenge the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

When fundamentally unjust situations are left unaddressed by states, the people must step in. That is precisely what happened in Tahrir square when hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Egyptians lost all faith in the government's ability to reform.

That is also precisely what drives the flotilla and the activists aboard it. They have watched as the collective punishment of 1.5 million civilians lingers with no objections coming from states that can change the situation. In fact, the siege of Gaza has been supported by Israel, the United States and Mubarak's Egypt (though post-Mubarak Egypt promises to be different).

The blockade of Gaza is just one part of a multilayered siege on the Gaza Strip. The layers include control of land entry and exit points for commercial and humanitarian goods, control over the amount of electricity and water available to the people of Gaza, control of the air and sea lanes, and so on.

The vast majority of water in Gaza is not fit for human consumption. The vast majority of people live on less than $2 a day and rely on daily handouts from aid organisations due to rampant unemployment. Full Article >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Biofuels land grab in Kenya's Tana Delta fuels talk of war

Kenya’s Tana Delta is disappearing and its inhabitants evicted to make way for foreign biofuels.

Gamba Manyatta village is empty now, weeds already roping around the few skeletal hut frames still standing. The people who were evicted took as much of their building materials as they could carry to start again and the land where their homes stood is now ploughed up.

Mohamed Abdi, 13, points out where his hut used to be. His was the last of the 427 families to leave. “They told us we would be burned out if we didn’t go,” he said. “They drove machinery round and round the village all day and all night to drive people out. No one understood why, as the village had been there for more than 25 years.”

The eviction of the villagers to make way for a sugar cane plantation is part of a wider land grab going on in Kenya’s Tana Delta that is not only pushing people off plots they have farmed for generations, stealing their water resources and raising tribal tensions that many fear will escalate into war, but also destroying a unique wetland habitat that is home to hundreds of rare and spectacular birds.

The irony is that most of the land is being taken for allegedly environmental reasons – to allow private companies to grow water-thirsty sugar cane and jatropha for the biofuels so much in demand in the west, where green legislation, designed to ease carbon dioxide emissions, is requiring they are mixed with petrol and diesel. Full Article >>>

Location: Islamabad

Friday, July 1, 2011

United States Knesset Resolution 185 Reconsidered: To be or Not To Be American

This week the United States Senate unanimously adopted a resolution drafted by its masters, the State of Israel and AIPAC, to prevent the United Nations, of which the United States is a member, from exercising its constitutional rights to free speech to deliberate on the recognition of a Palestinian State .

The resolution is an exercise in coercion since its intent is to withhold funding from the Palestinian Authority should the UN deliberate on such a resolution of recognition, making the UN responsible for depriving the Palestinian people of America's support.

Given the reality of what is euphemistically called “negotiations for peace” or the “Israeli/Palestinian peace process,” that have been on-going for approximately 50 years with no results: no peace, no Palestinian state, no equity of living conditions, no acceptance of proposals to enforce terms negotiated, no borders established for either state, and no expectation of results, it would appear to most people of common sense that the process is flawed. To have America act as a broker for peace limiting the participants to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators is futile at best since the US is not an objective broker nor could it be. Delay benefits the partner in the process that wields the power; that is Israel . Palestinians suffer and die as the years go by and the world waits, wonders and watches with indifference.

It occurred to me, therefore, that Senate Resolution 185 needs some alterations, alterations that might be possible if our Senators were not shackled by their masters to unanimously adopt a continuation of the idiocy that maintains a status quo demanded by the Israelis but not their negotiating partners, the Palestinians. Hence I offer the following changes as a small measure of sense into a process marked by ceaseless nonsense.
Full Article >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

US extends drone strikes to Somalia

The US has conducted its first drone strike on Islamist militants in Somalia, marking the expansion of the pilotless war campaign to a sixth country.

The missile strike on a vehicle in the southern town of Kismayo, reported last week as a helicopter assault, wounded two senior militants with al-Shabab and several foreign fighters according to the Washington Post.

Armed Predator and Reaper drones already operate in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, where they are controlled by the US military or the CIA.

The CIA-run programmes are controversial. Although they provide the Obama administration with a low-risk weapon against Islamist militants, they stir intense anti-American hostility among the local population.

Opposition is most vociferous in Pakistan, where the government said on Wednesday it was shutting down a big CIA drone base, and had ordered US personnel based there to leave. Full Article >>>

Location: Cayman Islands