Report slams Israel’s military law enforcement system

Al Jazeera reports: Citing a raft of deep systemic failures, human rights group B’Tselem has announced that it will no longer cooperate with Israel’s military law enforcement system.

For the past 25 years, B’Tselem, which documents Israeli human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories, has served as a “subcontractor” for the system by submitting complaints about soldiers’ alleged misconduct, gathering relevant documents and evidence, and requesting updates for affected Palestinian families.

While the goal was to help to bring justice to Palestinian victims and deter future misconduct, the reality has been the opposite, B’Tselem said in a scathing report released on Wednesday. [Continue reading…]

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The radical future of interrogation

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Robert Kolker writes: The trouble with modern interrogation technique… is that, despite its scientific pose, it has almost no science to back it up. Reid and Inbau [authors of Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, which in 1962 set the mold for police interrogations in America] claimed, for instance, that a well-trained investigator could catch suspects lying with 85 percent accuracy; their manual instructs detectives to conduct an initial, nonaccusatory “behavioral analysis interview,” in which they should look for physical tells like fidgeting and broken eye contact. But when German forensic psychologist Günter Köhnken actually studied the matter in 1987, he found that trained police officers were no better than the average person at detecting lies. Several subsequent studies have cast doubt on the notion that there are any clear-cut behavioral tells. (Truth tellers often fidget more than liars.) In fact, the more confident police officers are about their judgments, the more likely they are to be wrong.

But the scientific case against police interrogations really began to mount in the early 1990s, when the first DNA-based exonerations started rolling in. According to the Innocence Project, a group dedicated to freeing the wrongfully imprisoned, about a third of the 337 people who’ve had their convictions overturned by DNA evidence confessed or incriminated themselves falsely. These and other exonera­tions furnished scientists with dozens of known false-confession cases to study, giving rise to a veritable subfield of social psychology and the behavioral sciences. (At least one confession elicited by John Reid himself — in a 1955 murder case — turned out to be inaccurate; the real killer confessed 23 years later.)

Researchers have even broken down these false confession cases into categories. There are “voluntary” false confessions, like the many presumably unstable people who claimed credit for the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in order to get attention. Then there are “compliant,” or “coerced,” false confessions, in which people are so ground down by an intense interrogation that, out of desperation and naïveté, they think that confessing will be better for them in the long run. The third category, “persuaded,” or “internalized,” false confessions, may be the most poignant. Here, the interrogator’s Reid-style theming is so relentless, the deployment of lies so persuasive, that suspects — often young and impressionable or mentally impaired — end up believing they did it, however fleetingly. [Continue reading…]

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Monitor: 60,000 dead in Syria government jails

Al Jazeera reports: More than 60,000 people have been killed through torture or died in dire humanitarian conditions inside Syrian government prisons throughout the country’s five-year uprising, according to a monitor.

The numbers were obtained from Syrian government sources, the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday.

“Since March 2011, at least 60,000 people lost their lives to torture or to horrible conditions, notably the lack of medication or food, in regime prisons,” said the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman. [Continue reading…]

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Unholy alliance: Muslim countries join forces with America’s religious right

Brian Whitaker writes: The United Nations will hold a three-day meeting in New York next month in a move towards ending the worldwide Aids epidemic by 2030. But preparations for the meeting were thrown into disarray last week when Egypt blocked 11 gay and transgender advocacy groups from attending.

In a letter to the UN, Egypt gave no reason for objecting to the groups’ participation but said it was acting on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which represents 57 predominantly Muslim countries.

The UN responded by emphasising the need for “nongovernmental organisations working on the ground” to contribute to the discussion, and to hear “the voices of people living with HIV and people most affected by the epidemic, including women and girls, sex workers, people who use drugs, gay men and other men who have sex with men and transgender people”.

Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the UN, also complained about the blocking action by Egypt and the OIC. “Given that transgender people are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population, their exclusion from the high-level meeting will only impede global progress in combating the HIV/Aids pandemic,” she said.

It is the second time in less than two months that something of this kind has happened at the UN. In March, Saudi Arabia – where the OIC has its headquarters – objected to a report from Juan Méndez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, who had been asked to consider how the prohibition of torture in international law could be applied “to the unique experiences of women, girls, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons”. [Continue reading…]

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The real source of terror in Bangladesh

William B. Milam writes: On Friday, a doctor in western Bangladesh was hacked to death. Last weekend, it was a Buddhist monk, in southeastern Bangladesh. The week before, it was a Sufi Muslim leader, up north. Less than two weeks earlier, it was an L.G.B.T. activist. Just days before that, an English professor.

Some of these attacks have not yet been claimed, but they follow a gruesome pattern: There have been at least 25 violent, sometimes public, killings of religious minorities, secularists and free-speech advocates in Bangladesh since February 2015. A dozen more people have been assaulted in similar ways and survived.

Of these attacks, more than 20 have been claimed by the Islamic State, about half a dozen by Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent and one each by the indigenous Bangladeshi extremist groups Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh and Ansar al-Islam.

The surge is worrying Western governments, which fear that local Islamist terrorists may now be competing for the attention of international jihadist networks or cooperating with them. Several Western countries have responded with antiterrorism measures: Japan is providing aviation security; the United States has called for strengthening cooperation with the Bangladeshi authorities to counter terrorism and violent extremism.

This is a predictable reaction, but it is misguided, and dangerous, because it proceeds from the wrong diagnosis.

The recent string of vicious killings in Bangladesh is less a terrorism issue than a governance issue: It is the ruling Awami League’s onslaught against its political opponents, which began in earnest after the last election in January 2014, that has unleashed extremists in Bangladesh. [Continue reading…]

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CIA internal watchdog ‘accidentally’ destroyed its only copy of Senate torture report

Michael Isikoff reports: The CIA inspector general’s office — the spy agency’s internal watchdog — has acknowledged it “mistakenly” destroyed its only copy of a mammoth Senate torture report at the same time lawyers for the Justice Department were assuring a federal judge that copies of the document were being preserved, Yahoo News has learned.

While another copy of the report exists elsewhere at the CIA, the erasure of the controversial document by the office charged with policing agency conduct has alarmed the U.S. senator who oversaw the torture investigation and reignited a behind-the-scenes battle over whether the full unabridged report should ever be released, according to multiple intelligence community sources familiar with the incident.

The deletion of the document has been portrayed by agency officials to Senate investigators as an “inadvertent” foul-up by the inspector general. In what one intelligence community source described as a series of errors straight “out of the Keystone Cops,” CIA inspector general officials deleted an uploaded computer file with the report and then accidentally destroyed a disk that also contained the document, filled with thousands of secret files about the CIA’s use of “enhanced” interrogation methods. [Continue reading…]

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In fight against Western decadence, Iranian prosecutor attacks ‘actions that run counter to the values of the establishment’

The New York Times reports: Iran’s judiciary unleashed one of its periodic crackdowns on social media permissiveness on Sunday, announcing the arrest of eight people involved in online modeling without a mandatory head scarf and questioning another woman, a former model, live on state television on Sunday.

A blogger, Mehdi Abutorabi, 53, who managed a publishing tool called Persian Blog, was also detained, the semiofficial student news agency ISNA reported Monday.

The former model, Elham Arab, 26, had been something of an Instagram star, posting pictures of herself in bridal gowns with eye-catching, dyed-blond hair. But on Sunday, months after her Instagram account had been shut down, she wore a pious black scarf and matching gloves as she was questioned by two prosecutors during a live television program.

In sharp contrast to the happy and glamorous images of herself posted online, Ms. Arab spoke of her “bitter experiences” in Iran’s technically illegal modeling industry and warned young women to think twice before posting pictures of themselves online. “You can be certain that no man would want to marry a model whose fame has come by losing her honor,” she said.

The head scarf issue often features prominently in the constant tug of war between powerful hard-liners and Iran’s increasingly urbanized and worldly society. Iran’s laws require that all women, even visiting foreigners, cover their hair out of a traditional respect for culture and morality. Many hard-liners view the obligatory veil as a last-ditch defense against what they say is an onslaught of Western cultural decadence.

But the main culprit was not Ms. Arab, Tehran’s public prosecutor, Abbas Jafar-Dolatabadi, concluded on the television program. No, the main offender was “the enemy,” Iran’s household label for the West and its unwanted influences.

“The enemy is investing in order to create a generation without any willpower,” the prosecutor said of social media. “We must refrain from any actions that run counter to the values of the establishment.” [Continue reading…]

IranWire reports: In March, Iran’s online authorities shut down the Instagram pages of several well-known models, as well as those of hair salons and photography workshops. In their place, online visitors found a large blue frame with the caption “These pages are blocked by the authority of Operation Spider 2 to open security cases by order of the judiciary.” They did not provide any details about the operation, which became known as “the spider attacks.”

Now, Dolatabadi has explained what the so-called “spider attacks” were all about. “In the past two years, a lot of good things have been done in the fight against hair salons and fashion workshops related to modeling,” he said. “In operations Spider 1 and Spider 2, around 50 hair salons, 50 fashion workshops, and 50 photography workshops were prosecuted. Individuals were arrested and pages were shut down by the supervisor of the Prosecution Office for Media Crimes.”

At the same time, the website Gerdab, which promotes news about Revolutionary Guards’ online activities, reported on what it called the successes of Operation Spider 2 over the past two years.

Gerdab’s report accused the “secret supporters and operators of Instagram” of attempting to subvert the “Islamic Iranian lifestyle.” It championed what it called an important achievement in combating “modeling and vulgarity.”

“The first phase resulted in the creation of an accurate database of more than 300 Instagram pages,” the report said, quoting the Organized Cyberspace Crimes Unit of the Revolutionary Guards. “The database is an intelligent collection of specifics about these pages such as postings, followers, those who are followed, the ‘likes,’ the comment writers, addresses of [account users on sites] such as Facebook, Line, and Telegram, and emails, phone numbers, addresses and bank account numbers.” [Continue reading…]

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Lack of plan for ISIS detainees raises human rights concerns

The New York Times reports: The Islamic State calls them “inghimasi” — zealous foot soldiers who intend to fight to their deaths. And as the American-backed coalition has reclaimed territory from the group in Iraq and Syria, that fervor has kept prisoners from being much of a problem: The shooting only stops when almost every Islamic State fighter has been killed.

But that could change as the coalition moves toward the Islamic State’s largest urban strongholds — Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria — raising a potential problem for the United States. If the coalition is successful and thousands of ordinary members of a collapsing Islamic State have nowhere left to retreat, will they start to surrender in greater numbers? And if so, who will be responsible for imprisoning them?

After the experiences of the past decade in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration is determined not to revive large-scale detention operations. But it is far from clear whether allies on the ground — especially rebels in Syria — are prepared to hold large numbers of prisoners, raising the prospect of an ugly aftermath to any victory.

“If they’re not killed but detained, we are concerned about the standards of care, who would do it and how it would be done,” Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in an interview. [Continue reading…]

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Michael Ratner, lawyer who won rights for Guantánamo prisoners, dies at 72

The New York Times reports: Michael Ratner, a fearless civil liberties lawyer who successfully challenged the United States government’s detention of terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay without judicial review, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 72.

The cause was complications of cancer, said his brother, Bruce, a developer and an owner of the Brooklyn Nets.

As head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner oversaw litigation that, in effect, voided New York City’s wholesale stop-and-frisk policing tactic. The center also accused the federal government of complicity in the kidnapping and torture of terrorism suspects and argued against the constitutionality of warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency, the waging of war in Iraq without the consent of Congress, the encouragement of right-wing rebels in Nicaragua and the torture at the Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq war.

“Under his leadership, the center grew from a small but scrappy civil rights organization into one of the leading human rights organizations in the world,” David Cole, a former colleague at the center and a professor at Georgetown Law School, said in an interview this week. “He sued some of the most powerful people in the world on behalf of some of the least powerful.” [Continue reading…]

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Aung San Suu Kyi’s cowardly stance on the Rohingya

In an editorial, the New York Times says: The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar that has been systematically denied the most elemental rights: citizenship, freedom of worship, education, marriage and travel. Tens of thousands of the Rohingya were driven from their homes by violence in 2012; last year many tried to flee persecution and deprivation in desperate sea voyages.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi — Myanmar’s leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate — does not want to call them Rohingya, the name they use, because nationalist Buddhists want to perpetuate the myth that they are “Bengalis” who don’t belong in Myanmar. She has also asked the United States ambassador not to use the term. Her advice is wrong and deeply disappointing. The Rohingya are every bit as Burmese as she is.

There are many possible reasons Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi — whose 15 years under house arrest made her one of the world’s best known and most respected political prisoners — might be reluctant to publicly embrace the Rohingya cause. It has been barely a month since she became leader of Myanmar’s first democratically elected government since 1962, with the title of state counselor, and she no doubt fears antagonizing the Buddhist nationalists who angrily demonstrated outside the United States Embassy in late April after the embassy referred to the “Rohingya community” in a letter of condolence for Rohingya victims of a boat sinking.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi may fear that publicly calling these people by their name would upset the national reconciliation process, as a Foreign Ministry official said, or worse: that it would rekindle the terrible violence that erupted in 2012 between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in western Rakhine State.

There is no question that Rakhine State, one of the poorest in Myanmar, is a complex tinderbox of sectarian resentments that requires the most cautious of political approaches. But these simply cannot be based on a perpetuation of the systematic persecution and marginalization of the Rohingya in Myanmar’s social and political life. They certainly cannot be based on denying the Rohingya even their name. [Continue reading…]

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Egyptian court seeks death penalty against three journalists

Reuters reports: An Egyptian court has recommended the death penalty for three journalists and three others charged with endangering national security by leaking state secrets to Qatar, in a ruling condemned by the Doha-based al-Jazeera channel as shocking.

Jordanian national Alaa Omar Sablan and Ibrahim Mohammed Helal, who both work for al-Jazeera, and Asmaa al-Khateeb, a reporter for Rassd – a pro-Muslim Brotherhood news network, were sentenced in absentia. They can appeal.

The sentence is the latest since a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood after an army takeover stripped former president Mohamed Morsi of power in 2013 following mass protests against his rule.

Al-Jazeera said the ruling provoked “shock and anger” and called for international action to safeguard journalists’ rights to report news freely.

“The death sentence against journalists is unprecedented in the history of world media and amounts to a real stab against freedom of expression around the world,” the satellite channel said in a statement posted on its website. [Continue reading…]

In an editorial, the New York Times says: In addition to leading a repressive and abusive regime, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt also appears to be running an increasingly incompetent one. On Tuesday, the Interior Ministry accidentally released confidential guidelines to stop critical reporting by the news media, including instructions not to admit mistakes and a proposed rule to stop all coverage related to the torture and murder of an Italian student.

The leak, which the ministry explained as a “technical malfunction,” offered evidence, if more was needed, of the military government’s brutal and destructive approach to the wave of discontent sweeping Egypt.

Mr. Sisi, the former chief of the Egyptian armed forces, came to power in the political struggle that followed the Arab Spring protests of 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi, elected after the ouster of the dictatorial former president, Hosni Mubarak, was overthrown by the military in 2013, and in short order Mr. Sisi began a crackdown on the Brotherhood as well as any form of criticism, including that of human rights activists and independent journalists.

The intensification of political repression has been accompanied by one crisis after another, including an outcry in Italy over the torture and murder of an Italian graduate student, which the Italians believe was carried out by Egyptian security services. The unlikely trigger for the current spate of protests was the transfer of two uninhabited Egyptian islands to Saudi Arabia. With political passions running high, the transfer provoked a furious reaction from Egyptians who believed the government was peddling Egyptian land for Saudi dollars. The ensuing demonstrations led to mass arrests and confrontation with journalists, who rallied again in Cairo on Wednesday, demanding the dismissal of the interior minister.

With the government largely hidden from public view, it is not even clear whether Mr. Sisi has full control over the political repression, abductions, torture and other human-rights violations ascribed to the security services. President Obama has not concealed his frustration with Middle Eastern allies like Saudi Arabia. It’s time for him to make clear to Egypt’s rulers that the United States will not continue pumping military aid into a regime at war with its own people. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s drone war is a shameful part of his legacy

James Downie writes: Father Daniel Berrigan died Saturday at 94. The longtime peace activist gained national attention in 1968 when he and eight others, including his brother Philip (also a priest), burned draft records taken from a Selective Service office in Maryland. Decades later, he remains a powerful example of a man who never wavered in his beliefs, standing up time and again for the poor and oppressed. In his last years, Berrigan no longer had the energy to protest as frequently. But if he had been a few generations younger, can there be any doubt that he would have been at forefront of those protesting the expansion of the drone war under President Obama?

There have long been policy, constitutional and moral questions about the drone program — all made more difficult to answer by the Obama administration’s refusal to even acknowledge the program until 2013. As Obama’s presidency comes to an end, we have stunning new details about how the program works — first released in October on the Intercept website, now updated and collected in the book “The Assassination Complex” by Jeremy Scahill and Intercept staffers. “The Assassination Complex” is in large part built around the revelations of an anonymous whistleblower who leaked documents about U.S. use of drones in Somalia, Libya and Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013. What he or she reveals further confirms the practical, legal and moral failings of Obama’s expanded drone war.

For starters, although drones may be quite good at killing people (even if not always the intended targets), it’s not clear that they are an effective tool in the war on terrorism. Obama’s embrace of drones has led to a preference for killing rather than capturing terrorists. The documents include a study from the Defense Department’s Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Task Force, which concluded that “kill operations significantly reduce the intelligence available from detainees and captured material.” And as retired Gen. Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said last year, “When you drop a bomb from a drone . . . you are going to cause more damage than you are going to cause good,” including more radicalized terrorists. [Continue reading…]

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Solitary confinement is ‘no touch’ torture, and it must be abolished

Chelsea E Manning writes: Shortly after arriving at a makeshift military jail, at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, in May 2010, I was placed into the black hole of solitary confinement for the first time. Within two weeks, I was contemplating suicide.

After a month on suicide watch, I was transferred back to US, to a tiny 6 x 8ft (roughly 2 x 2.5 meter) cell in a place that will haunt me for the rest of my life: the US Marine Corps Brig in Quantico, Virginia. I was held there for roughly nine months as a “prevention of injury” prisoner, a designation the Marine Corps and the Navy used to place me in highly restrictive solitary conditions without a psychiatrist’s approval.

For 17 hours a day, I sat directly in front of at least two Marine Corps guards seated behind a one-way mirror. I was not allowed to lay down. I was not allowed to lean my back against the cell wall. I was not allowed to exercise. Sometimes, to keep from going crazy, I would stand up, walk around, or dance, as “dancing” was not considered exercise by the Marine Corps.

To pass the time, I counted the hundreds of holes between the steel bars in a grid pattern at the front of my empty cell. My eyes traced the gaps between the bricks on the wall. I looked at the rough patterns and stains on the concrete floor – including one that looked like a caricature grey alien, with large black eyes and no mouth, that was popular in the 1990s. I could hear the “drip drop drip” of a leaky pipe somewhere down the hall. I listened to the faint buzz of the fluorescent lights.

For brief periods, every other day or so, I was escorted by a team of at least three guards to an empty basketball court-sized area. There, I was shackled and walked around in circles or figure-eights for 20 minutes. I was not allowed to stand still, otherwise they would take me back to my cell. [Continue reading…]

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Turkish journalists accuse Erdoğan of media witch-hunt

The Guardian reports: Can Dündar appears in good spirits for a man facing espionage charges and a possible life sentence.

The editor of Cumhuriyet, one of the last remaining bastions of media opposition to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had appeared in court that morning over a documentary he produced on government corruption. It is one of two cases against him – in February, he was released from prison pending a spying trial over a story on arms shipments to Syria.

“Turkey has never been a paradise for journalists but of course not a hell like this,” he said in an interview in his office. “Nowadays being a journalist is much more dangerous than ever and needs courage and self-confidence.

“It’s a kind of witch-hunt … like McCarthyism in the US in the 1950s.”

Turkish journalists say local media outlets are facing one of the worst crackdowns on press freedoms since military rule in the 1980s. Prosecutors have opened close to 2,000 cases of insults to the president since Erdoğan took office in 2014, prominent journalists appear in court two or three times a week, Kurdish journalists are beaten or detained in the country’s restive south-east and foreign journalists have been harassed or deported. [Continue reading…]

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The CIA kidnapper facing jail in Italy

The Daily Beast reports: Former CIA employee Sabrina De Sousa, now fighting extradition from Portugal to Italy, was skiing on a mountainside far away from the action, on Feb. 17, 2003, when Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr was snatched off a street in Milan on his way to the mosque. The cleric, known as Abu Omar, was first flown by executive jet to Germany and then to Cairo, where he was tortured for nearly seven months, according to his own testimony and Amnesty International accounts.

The kidnap was part of the infamous “extraordinary rendition” program being run at the time by the United States. The CIA was grabbing suspected terrorists from all over the world and shipping them to various countries, including Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, and Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, to suffer the tortures of the damned and in some cases execution.

Begun under President Bill Clinton, the rendition program developed with a vengeance under President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in America. And Abu Omar’s kidnapping took place only weeks before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, when the Bush administration was anxious to prove some link between Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. (None existed.)

Abu Omar was believed to have funneled jihadists into the ranks of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was then operating out of northern Iraq and later founded the organization Al Qaeda in Iraq, that evolved into the so-called Islamic State. Italian authorities, backed by the CIA, believed he was plotting to blow up a busload of American students who attended an international high school in Milan. [Continue reading…]

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