‘Abu Ghraib’-style images of children in detention in Australia trigger public inquiry

The Guardian reports: Australia’s prime minister has launched a public inquiry following the broadcast of footage of children in detention being abused, hooded and bound in a manner likened to Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay.

Malcolm Turnbull announced a royal commission hours after the national broadcaster aired shocking footage showing children in detention at the Don Dale facility outside Darwin in the Northern Territory.

Footage aired on the ABC’s Four Corners program on Monday showed one youth being stripped and physically held down by guards.

In another scene that the program compared with images from Guantánamo Bay or the Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad, 17-year-old Dylan Voller was shown hooded and tied in a restraint chair for two hours. [Continue reading…]

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How a modest contract for ‘applied research’ morphed into the CIA’s brutal interrogation program

The Washington Post reports: The architect of the CIA’s brutal interrogation program was hired for the job through a secret contract in late 2001 that outlined the assignment with Orwellian euphemism.

The agency “has the need for someone familiar with conducting applied research in high-risk operational settings,” the document said. The consultant would be in a unique position to “help guide and shape the future” of a vaguely described research project “in the area of counter-terrorism and special operations.”

In fact, the CIA already had a specific consultant in mind, and the agreement to pay $1,000 a day to psychologist James E. Mitchell subsequently expanded into an $81 million arrangement to oversee the use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other harrowing techniques against al-Qaeda suspects in secret agency prisons overseas.

The abuses of that program have been documented extensively over the past decade, but the initial contracts between the CIA and the psychologists it hired to design the torturous interrogation regimen were surrendered by the agency for the first time earlier this month as part of an ACLU lawsuit. [Continue reading…]

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Hundreds ‘disappeared’ by security forces in Egypt, says Amnesty

The Guardian reports: Hundreds of Egyptians have been forcibly disappeared and tortured in a “sinister” campaign to wipe out peaceful dissent in the most populous country in the Arab world, Amnesty International says in a new report.

Children as young as 14 as well as students, political activists and protesters have vanished without trace after security forces raided their homes. Many have been held for months at a time and kept blindfolded and handcuffed. At least 34,000 people are behind bars, the government admits.

Most of those who have “disappeared” are supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood president who was deposed in July 2013 and eventually replaced by president Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi.

Amnesty’s report also mentions the case of the Italian Giulio Regeni, the Cambridge graduate student who was found dead, with his body bearing signs of torture, in Cairo in February.

“The terrible injuries sustained by Giulio Regeni are similar to those suffered by numerous people interrogated by the Egyptian security forces – his case is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Amnesty’s Felix Jakens. [Continue reading…]

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Karen Greenberg on the making of the modern security state

Brian O’Neill writes: For people not intimately involved in national security debates, and who haven’t closely followed how we arrived at the modern security state, the decade-and-a-half following the surreal terror of September 11 have felt like an unmoored drift, a country floating aimlessly, if recklessly, down a river of indecision. The internet’s rising ubiquity, followed by the dominance of social media, allowed many of us to unwittingly shrug off privacy concerns, while simultaneously ignoring others’ indefinite detention, the torture of strangers, and sky-borne assassination overseas, until we looked around and the sky was speckled with revelations. It’s easy to feel like the new relationship we have with our government “only just happened.”

In Rogue Justice, Karen Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law, puts that feeling of aimless drift mostly to rest. This detailed and meticulously researched book shows how the willingness to make every citizen a suspect, and to give the executive branch immense powers to surveil, detain, torture, and murder were not just a product of collective fear and indifference, but the deliberate actions of a surprisingly small group of people. I say “mostly” because the decisions were made by officials within the Bush and (to a lesser extent) Obama administrations, but they were also enabled by the assumed (and granted) complicity of many others.

This complicity came from careerists worried about rocking the boat, politicians in both parties worried about being painted as weak on terror (with notable and noble exceptions), and to an uncomfortable extent, the general public. The terrorist attacks in 2001 made everyone realize that anyone could be a target, but we didn’t see — or didn’t want to see — that in a very real way, we also became a target of the government. Many of the policies enacted in the wake of 9/11 made everyone a suspect as much as a target. Through official secrecy aided by general indifference, we allowed ourselves to be passively dragooned into being on both sides of a war. [Continue reading…]

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Justice is indivisible

Gary Younge writes: In a country where it’s easier to obtain a semi-automatic gun than to obtain healthcare, a fragile mind can wreak havoc on a fragile political culture. So it was on Thursday night when a sniper opened fire on police at a Black Lives Matter demonstration killing five officers and wounding at least seven others.

Even as events in Dallas unfold there are three key things one can say. The first is that these murders are vile and should be unequivocally condemned. They can in no way be understood or excused as retaliation for the well-publicised recent incidents of police shootings of African Americans. Indeed the effect of such individual acts of violence is not to support the movement against racism but sabotage it. Its enemies will smear it by association; potential allies will be more wary; those within it will be more cautious. Those believed responsible should be found, charged and prosecuted. This is the appropriate response when people cavalierly and wantonly take the life of another. Anything less would lack justice.

Which brings us to the second point. Justice is indivisible. If it is accorded to some and not others it is not justice but privilege. That is why these horrific assassinations should in no way diminish the urgency or importance of the issue of police killings of African Americans or undermine the Black Lives Matter movement. [Continue reading…]

 

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Syria: Abductions, torture and summary killings at the hands of armed groups

Amnesty International reports: Armed groups operating in Aleppo, Idleb and surrounding areas in the north of Syria have carried out a chilling wave of abductions, torture and summary killings, said Amnesty International in a new briefing published today.

The briefing ‘Torture was my punishment’: Abductions, torture and summary killings under armed group rule in Aleppo and Idleb, Syria offers a rare glimpse of what life is really like in areas under the control of armed opposition groups. Some of them are believed to have the support of governments such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the USA despite evidence that they are committing violations of international humanitarian law (the laws of war). It also sheds light on the administrative and quasi-judicial institutions set up by armed groups to govern in these areas.

“This briefing exposes the distressing reality for civilians living under the control of some of the armed opposition groups in Aleppo, Idleb and surrounding areas. Many civilians live in constant fear of being abducted if they criticize the conduct of armed groups in power or fail to abide by the strict rules that some have imposed,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International. [Continue reading…]

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HRW and Amnesty call on UN to suspend Saudi Arabia from Human Rights Council

Human Rights Watch: The United Nations General Assembly should immediately suspend Saudi Arabia’s membership rights on the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. A two-thirds majority of the General Assembly may suspend the membership rights of any Human Rights Council member engaged in “gross and systematic violations of human rights.”

Saudi Arabia, as the leader of the nine-nation coalition that began military operations against the Houthis in Yemen on March 26, 2015, has been implicated in numerous violations of international humanitarian law. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented 69 unlawful airstrikes by the coalition, some of which may amount to war crimes, killing at least 913 civilians and hitting homes, markets, hospitals, schools, civilian businesses, and mosques. The two organizations have also documented 19 attacks involving internationally banned cluster munitions, including in civilian areas. Saudi Arabia should be suspended from the Human Rights Council until it ends unlawful attacks in Yemen and conducts credible investigations that meet international standards or agrees to and cooperates with an independent international inquiry. [Continue reading…]

 

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Uncovered: Dark new CIA torture claims

The Daily Beast reports: The CIA said it would only torture detainees to psychologically break them, according to a previously-unreported passage from a 2007 Justice Department memo. It’s a claim that’s at odds with how congressional investigators say the agency really handled captives in the early days of the war on terror.

And it’s not the only eye-opening assertion found in newly declassified portions of Bush-era documents on the CIA’s use of torture. A second document says that the CIA believed itself to be legally barred from torturing others countries’ detainees — but not from using so-called enhanced interrogations on its own captives.

In a passage from a 2007 memo by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the CIA said it would only subject detainees to harsh techniques, such as waterboarding, in order to break a detainee down to the point where he would no longer withhold information. The interrogations weren’t designed to get answers to specific questions; in fact, the agency interrogator “generally does not ask questions… to which the CIA does not already know the answers,” the memo states.

But that claim is contradicted by the agency’s actual record, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the government to disclose the portions of the document. [Continue reading…]

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Syria’s civil war: On Syria’s forgotten detainees

Al Jazeera reports: In early May, hundreds of detainees at Syria’s Hama central prison went into a week-long revolt to protest against the planned transfer of five inmates to the notorious Sednaya prison near Damascus, purportedly so that they could be executed.

The prisoners, many of whom are held without charge, rioted in solidarity.

Seven prison guards were taken hostage. Prisoners demanded “basic rights,” including a fair trial or release.

A deal, however, was soon reached resulting in the release of 83 prisoners held without charge.

Two weeks later, a similar scene played out again when inmates captured a high-ranking police officer to protest at what they say was the government’s reneging on an earlier deal to release several hundred political detainees.

Inmates have previously demanded the restoration of electricity and water amid food shortages and serious medical conditions among prisoners, according to to UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Both incidents highlighted the plight of thousands of detainees who are languishing in government prisons in appalling conditions. Both rights groups and opposition negotiators had hoped the first Hama standoff would push Syria’s forgotten detainees back to the forefront of the Syria peace talks. [Continue reading…]

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After Orlando, gay rights moves off diplomatic back burner

The New York Times reports: For years, diplomats were more comfortable talking about nuclear warheads than sexual orientation.

Sexual orientation was one of those subjects burdened with too many cultural sensitivities. American officials, even if they wanted to advance it on the diplomatic agenda, were wary of offending their allies, not least in the Islamic world.

The attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., moved the needle.

In its aftermath, the United States corralled an unlikely group of countries to support a United Nations Security Council statement that condemned the attack for “targeting persons as a result of their sexual orientation.” Even Egypt and Russia — not known for embracing their gay and lesbian citizens — signed on, after what diplomats called intense consultations.

Earlier in the day, the United States delivered a pointed rebuke to countries that block gay rights at the United Nations, urging them to “contribute more than condolences and condemnations” after the Orlando attack.

And American embassies in several countries, including India, which still has an anti-sodomy law on the books, draped themselves in the colors of the rainbow flag that signifies gay pride.

The Security Council statement, which was drafted by the United States and issued Monday, carries no legal weight. But it is the first time that the powerful institution, with the capacity to authorize wars, weighed in on sexual orientation.

Homosexuality is still a crime in 73 of the world’s 193 countries, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association; in 13, the death penalty can be applied. In some countries, like Egypt, laws against “debauchery” are used to target gays. Russian law prohibits what it calls “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships,” which critics call a thinly veiled measure to harass gay men and lesbians.

“We’re hopefully moving into an era when gross acts of violence are condemned by global leaders rather than when violence motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity” is “dismissed as irrelevant or unworthy,” said Jessica Stern, the executive director of OutRight Action International, an advocacy group.

Still, she said, the United States will be able to sway others only if it can protect its own citizens. “The more we demonstrate respect for Muslim Americans and the more violence we prevent domestically by passing meaningful gun control, the more credible we are likely to be as a global leader,” she said. [Continue reading…]

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Let’s not give in to fear after the Orlando shooting

Steven W Thrasher writes: For generations, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have turned to night clubs and bars like Orlando’s Pulse – the scene today of the deadliest shooting in American history – as places of refuge. They have been our sanctuaries.

When our homes would kick us out for being queer, there was the bar. When we were at risk of getting beaten up, as men, for wearing drag on the street, there was the club. When our places of employment might fire us for being queer (as they legally still can in most states), there were leathers bars and glam dance clubs where we could shake our moneymakers.

Bars offered us the illusion of a freedom from terror as queer people, the illusion that there was a place where our sexual desires and our communal need to gather with fellow queers would not be under attack.

This illusion was a lie, of course. Bars were not, and never have been, safe places. This should especially obvious every June when we celebrate Pride month. It’s when we remember the Stonewall riots, when all kinds of queers from all kinds of backgrounds were attacked by police inside a New York City dive bar 47 years ago, in June of 1969.

The police were violent to the queer people there. They thought they could do anything they wanted to them, because they knew queer people lived in fear. The police didn’t see the Stonewall as a sanctuary, but as a disgusting cage. They thought the patrons were sick and would be too ashamed of who they were to make a fuss.

But the brave queers at the Stonewall fought back against that. In finding the best spirit of themselves, they started what would become a worldwide movement – a movement that would evolve to fight legal oppression, challenge homophobia, organize around the holocaust of HIV/Aids, and lead to marriage equality many decades later. [Continue reading…]

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The Orlando massacre: A reminder of the dangers LGBT people live with every day

Michelangelo Signorile writes: We still know very few details about the horrific, heartbreaking mass shooting in an Orlando gay club, Pulse, where 50 people have been killed and over 50 more were injured. Omar S. Mateen of Port St. Lucie, Florida, is reported to have entered the club and soon went on a shooting rampage. It’s not yet been confirmed as a hate crime, a terror attack or random shooting.

Whatever the case, a Pride month night of celebration and fun — the weekly Latin Night at the popular club, focused on Latin music, performances and dancing — turned into a morning of mass death and devastation. It happened in an area where LGBT people feel welcome and accepted. Orlando has a large and diverse LGBT community, one in which, like so many across the country, many LGBT people surely feel comfortable and safe.

But the brutal reality that jarred Orlando’s LGBT community, and the entire nation, is something that LGBT have always experienced, as gay and lesbian bars and clubs have been targeted in the past by those who harbor hate toward LGBT people. And it’s a reminder — whatever the motives — of the animus against us, and the ever present danger, with which we still live. [Continue reading…]

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