Egypt two years after the military coup

Amnesty International: Generation Jail: Egypt’s youth go from protest to prison [Continue reading…]

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GCHQ spied on Amnesty International, tribunal tells group in email

The Guardian reports: The government’s electronic eavesdropping agency GCHQ spied illegally on Amnesty International, according to the tribunal responsible for handling complaints against the intelligence services.

Confirmation that surveillance took place emerged late on Wednesday, when the human rights group revealed that the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) sent it an email correcting an earlier judgment.

The extraordinary revision of a key detail in the ruling given on 22 June may alarm many supporters of Amnesty, who will want to know why it has been targeted.

In the original judgment, the IPT said that communications by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the South African non-profit Legal Resources Centre had been illegally retained and examined.

In the email sent on Wednesday, the tribunal made it clear that it was Amnesty and not the Egyptian organisation that had been spied on – as well as the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. to resume military aid to Bahrain despite human rights criticism

IB Times reports: The United States said on Monday that it would lift its ban on providing security and military aid to Bahrain, which was imposed after the Gulf state cracked down on Shia-led protests in 2011. U.S. officials said the decision was taken because Bahrain had made meaningful reforms since then.

However, Washington did not specify the weapons or military equipment that would be sent to the country.

Dozens of people died when the government clamped down on protesters in 2011, who were demanding that the ruling Sunni family end its discrimination against the country’s majority Shia population. [Continue reading…]

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CIA photos of ‘black sites’ could complicate Gitmo trials

The Washington Post reports: Military prosecutors this year learned about a massive cache of CIA photographs of its former overseas “black sites” while reviewing material collected for the Senate investigation of the agency’s interrogation program, U.S. officials said.

The existence of the approximately 14,000 photographs will probably cause yet another delay in the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as attorneys for the defendants demand that all the images be turned over and the government wades through the material to decide what it thinks is relevant to the proceedings.

Defense attorneys said they have not yet been informed about the photographs and said it is unacceptable that they should come to light now, more than three years after the arraignment of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other defendants accused of planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. [Continue reading…]

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A damning indictment of Syrian President Assad’s systematic massacres

The Daily Beast reports: For those looking at Syria’s four-year-long conflict from the outside, the slaughter has appeared to have little or no pattern, a barbaric struggle in which all are equally guilty. But a new survey of blood-curdling sectarian massacres perpetrated in Syria since the start of the civil war provides a very clear picture of the ultimate villain behind the carnage.

According to the survey by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, there have been 56 major massacres displaying obvious sectarian or ethnic cleansing traits. Of these 49 were carried out by Syrian government forces or local and foreign militia allies of President Bashar al-Assad, making a mockery of the Syrian leader’s frequent claim to foreign broadcasters that his soldiers would never harm their own people deliberately as a matter of policy.

In fact, three days before Assad sat down with the BBC for an especially chilling interview last February and lamented how war, alas, causes casualties, government-aligned militiamen stormed the As-Sabil neighborhood in the Syrian city of Homs and slaughtered three Sunni families, including four children and five women. [Continue reading…]

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The West’s betrayal of Egypt will reap a bitter harvest

Amr Darrag writes: When the former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to 20 years in April, in a trial internationally condemned as unconstitutional, unfair and deeply politicised, many saw it as a test of the international community’s resolve to stand up to the series of show trials currently under way in Egypt. For those who back democracy and human rights, the wall of silence from the international community was as predictable as it was tragic. At that time, I predicted that such silence would be interpreted by the Sisi regime as a green light to a death sentence for Morsi.

Where once politicians from Downing Street to the White House lauded the ideals and actions of the 2011 revolutionaries, now they were rendered mute as Egypt’s first democratically elected president was effectively sentenced to a life behind bars. Many also saw the sentence as a nail in the coffin for the ideals and dreams of the Arab Spring.

This week, the gradual purge of this first democratic government in Egypt took a darker turn. The Sisi regime, buoyed by the clear apathy of its international partners, upheld a death sentence handed down in May to Morsi and more than 100 people. The trial was nothing but a farce. Amnesty International called it a grossly unfair charade, which demonstrated a “complete disregard for human rights”. [Continue reading…]

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The plight of underage, undocumented children in U.S. Immigration custody

Pacific Standard reports: In July 2010, Susan J. Terrio, an anthropologist at Georgetown University, visited an immigration shelter in Southern California. The shelter’s staff were discussing the case of a 17-year-old Somali girl, Hanadi, who had been in their custody for seven months. In Somalia, Hanadi’s father had been killed by militants, and her brother had disappeared, likely a victim of fighters from Al Shabab. As a young teen, Hanadi fled to Kenya, and, eventually, with the help of a smuggler, to Panama. Immigration authorities in Panama detained her for six months, after which she traveled to the United States, where she was detained again by U.S. immigration authorities.

At the time of Terrio’s visit, Hanadi had begun to show signs of “mental deterioration”: She cursed at another detainee, pounded on tables, and in one instance threatened suicide. The shelter’s staff believed she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and recommended that she take psychiatric medication, which she refused. They also suggested that Hanadi be transferred to a more sophisticated residential treatment center. Terrio had visited a similar center earlier that year, where she met heavily sedated detainees who were suffering from severe depression, schizophrenia, and other disorders.

Most immigration shelters fall on a spectrum between locked houses and prisons, and children like Hanadi are not free to leave. Hanadi wanted to stay with a cousin in the U.S. but had been unable to find him. Although she was a good candidate for a claim of political asylum, the government was entitled to hold her, with a few restrictions, until her case was resolved—simply because she was a minor. After the meeting, Terrio listened while Hanadi and a staff member discussed the idea of moving to a group home. Hanadi, Terrio writes in her new book Whose Child Am I?, “began to sob”:

I don’t want group home. I want freedom. Not fair. Two years. I have no life. In Somalia good life. Now not better life. Said what I wanted. Said I don’t want to be here. They say, “Be patient.” Why? They think if send me to another house, then OK. NOT OK. … I’m not crazy. I just want freedom.

Several days later, Hanadi was transferred to a therapeutic shelter, after which Terrio lost track of her. [Continue reading…]

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A rebuke to military tribunals

An editorial in the New York Times says: In 2008, Ali al-Bahlul, a propagandist for Al Qaeda who has been held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since early 2002, was convicted by the military tribunal there and sentenced to life in prison. But officials had no evidence that Mr. Bahlul was involved in any war crimes, so they charged him instead with domestic crimes, including conspiracy and material support of terrorism.

Last Friday, a panel of the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., reversed Mr. Bahlul’s conspiracy conviction because, it said, the Constitution only permits military tribunals to handle prosecutions of war crimes, like intentionally targeting civilians. (The court previously threw out the other charges on narrower grounds.)

The 2-1 decision, by Circuit Judge Judith Rogers, was a major rebuke to the government’s persistent and misguided reliance on the tribunals, which operate in a legal no man’s land, unconstrained by standard constitutional guarantees and rules of evidence that define the functioning of the nation’s civilian courts. [Continue reading…]

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Senate passes torture ban despite Republican opposition

The Guardian reports: More than 20 Republican senators rejected a ban on the use of cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners on Tuesday, voting against an ultimately successful measure to permanently prevent a repeat of the CIA’s once secret and now widely-discredited torture program.

The bipartisan amendment reaffirms President Barack Obama’s prohibition of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation, which were developed by the CIA under the administration of his predecessor, George W Bush.

The measure passed in the Senate, 78-21.

However Republican hawks, including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, opposed the amendment, despite an impassioned plea from their colleague, John McCain, who called on them to avoid the “dark path of sacrificing our values for our short-term security needs”. [Continue reading…]

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CIA torture appears to have broken spy agency rule on human experimentation

The Guardian reports: The Central Intelligence Agency had explicit guidelines for “human experimentation” before, during and after its post-9/11 torture of terrorism detainees, the Guardian has learned, which raise new questions about the limits on internal oversight over the agency’s in-house and contracted medical research.

Sections of a previously classified CIA document, made public by the Guardian on Monday, empower the agency’s director to “approve, modify, or disapprove all proposals pertaining to human subject research”. The leeway provides the director, who has never in the agency’s history been a medical doctor, with significant influence over limitations the US government sets to preserve safe, humane and ethical procedures on people.

CIA director George Tenet approved abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, designed by CIA contractor psychologists. He further instructed the agency’s health personnel to oversee the brutal interrogations – the beginning of years of controversy, still ongoing, about US torture as a violation of medical ethics.

But the revelation of the guidelines has prompted critics of CIA torture to question how the agency could have ever implemented what it calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” – despite apparently having rules against “research on human subjects” without their informed consent. [Continue reading…]

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Video: John Oliver on torture

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Torture, false information and the Iraq war

David Abramowitz writes: In 2002, I was the chief counsel for the Democratic members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. At the time, the committee was considering legislation authorizing the use of force against Iraq. The central justification raised by the George W. Bush administration revolved around Iraq’s suspected and continued possession of weapons of mass destruction.

In the fall of 2002, the committee received a briefing on Iraq from the intelligence community. I remember thinking that almost all of the details presented to us by the Bush administration were old and familiar. It was concerning but not alarming. In fact, I felt a growing sense that there was no new information to suggest that Iraq was a real threat, and certainly not one that could justify U.S. military action.

Then the CIA briefer dropped a bombshell. With the great confidence that was this briefer’s hallmark, he stated that Iraq had provided chemical and biological weapons training to Al Qaeda members.

I remember the jarring impact of this revelation. I thought to myself that if we knew that, perhaps there was even more information we didn’t know, including a possible transfer of such weapons to Al Qaeda. I looked over to one of the senior staffers who shared my reaction: This was serious.

I had attended hundreds of briefings in my 10 years of working on Capitol Hill, but very few resulted in such an immediate change in my thinking or had such an emotional impact. Until that day, I had been dubious that the regime of Saddam Hussein would cooperate in any meaningful way with jihadists. Afterward, when lawmakers or staffers asked me about my own view, I would point to this intelligence as an important consideration. And I believe that lawmakers very much took the CIA briefer’s dramatic revelation into account when deciding whether to vote to use military force against Iraq.

We now know that this information was obtained from a single source. According to the New York Times, the individual, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, was captured in Pakistan, transferred to a military base in Afghanistan and then rendered to authorities in Egypt, where he claims he was tortured. Indeed, even at the time, his statements on Iraq were disputed within the intelligence community, and the Senate report on prewar intelligence indicates that no corroborating evidence was ever found. Once back in U.S. custody, Libi recanted his statements, and the CIA withdrew intelligence based on these remarks.

I am not writing to re-litigate the reasons we went to war with Iraq. And I recognize that this information was coerced by a foreign intelligence service, not by the CIA.

But we need to remember that nearly 4,500 U.S. service members lost their lives in a conflict that was justified, in part, using unreliable information obtained via torture. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also lost their lives. And we are still dealing with the ramifications of our intervention there. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. government starts to unmuzzle the CIA’s torture victims

Huffington Post reports: For years, Guantanamo Bay prisoners’ memories of their time in CIA custody have been considered classified state secrets. Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers can’t talk publicly about how he lost his left eye. Lawyers for Mustafa al Hawsawi, who can now only sit on a pillow, can’t tell the press or the public about anal feedings that left him with a rectal prolapse. And until recently, Majid Khan’s lawyers couldn’t bring up the time he was hung from a pole for two days, naked and hooded, while interrogators threw ice water on him.

The government argued that by talking about what had happened to them, the CIA’s former prisoners, who are now detained at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility, would risk revealing classified information about the agency’s torture program.

But as James Connell, a lawyer who represents detainee Ammar al Baluchi, wrote more than three years ago in a motion to declassify the prisoners’ accounts, “A person’s own experiences — whether the smell of a rose or the click of a gun near one’s head — are what make them a person, and the government can never own or control them.”

The notion that a torture survivor’s memories can be classified, Connell wrote, “contravenes the most basic principles of human rights.” He added that detainees “were exposed to classified interrogation techniques only in the sense that Hiroshima was exposed to the classified Manhattan Project.”

Now, the government is starting to change course. A Senate Intelligence Committee report, which began to pull back the curtain on the CIA’s use of torture in secret prisons known as “black sites,” compelled the government to change its rules about keeping former CIA prisoners’ memories secret. Khan became the first to successfully test the new rules by going public with his account of his imprisonment, which included details not previously disclosed in the Senate report. Citing the success of Khan’s team, defense attorneys for other Guantanamo detainees are now cautiously optimistic that they can bring their clients’ memories of their time in CIA black sites to light. [Continue reading…]

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Documenting evil: Inside Assad’s hospitals of horror

Adam Ciralsky reports: On a stifling day in August 2013, a police photographer with chiseled features and a military bearing moved hurriedly about his office in Damascus. For two years, as Syria’s civil war became ever more deadly, he lived a double life: regime bureaucrat by day, opposition spy by night. Now he had to flee. Having downloaded thousands of high-resolution photographs onto flash drives, he snuck into the empty office of his boss and took cell-phone pictures of the papers on the man’s desk. Among them were execution orders and directives to falsify death certificates and dispose of bodies. Armed with as much evidence as he could safely carry, the photographer—code-named Caesar—fled the country.

Since then, the images that Caesar secreted out of Syria have received wide circulation, having been touted by Western officials and others as clear evidence of war crimes. The pictures, most of them taken in Syrian military hospitals, show corpses photographed at close range — one at a time as well as in small groupings. Virtually all of the bodies — thousands of them—betray signs of torture: gouged eyes; mangled genitals; bruises and dried blood from beatings; acid and electric burns; emaciation; and marks from strangulation. Caesar took a number of these pictures, working with roughly a dozen other photographers assigned to the same military-police unit.

But Caesar himself, like the intelligence operation of which he became a part, has remained in the shadows. He appeared only once in public, last summer, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he wore a hood and spoke through a translator. He spoke briefly, and in a restricted setting, though I have been able to obtain a copy of his complete testimony. He sought and was granted asylum in a Western European country whose name Vanity Fair has agreed not to disclose, for his personal safety. [Continue reading…]

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World Bank’s business-lending arm backed palm oil producer amid deadly land war

ICIJ and the Huffington Post report: Glenda Chávez walks between the orange trees of her family’s grove, approaching a low wire fence that divides her property from Corporación Dinant’s Paso Aguán plantation. On Dinant’s side of the fence, rows of spiky palm oil trees stretch for miles across the green landscape of northern Honduras.

“Here,” she says in a soft, determined voice, pointing to a spot on her side of the fence where a search party found the last traces of her father’s life.

Gregorio Chávez, a preacher and farmer, disappeared in July 2012. Hours later, men from their peasant community found the machete he’d taken with him to tend to his vegetables. The men also found drag marks in the dirt leading toward Dinant’s property, Glenda says.

Four days after Gregorio Chávez disappeared, searchers discovered the preacher’s body on the Paso Aguán plantation, buried under a pile of palm fronds. He had been killed by blows to his head, and his body showed signs that he may have been tortured, according to a government special prosecutor investigating his death. Glenda and the other villagers immediately suspected he had been killed for speaking out from the pulpit against Dinant, their adversary in a battle over ownership of land that the company long ago incorporated into its vast palm oil operations.

“These plantations are bathed in blood,” Glenda Chávez says. “Not only has my father died, but more than 100 peasants have died in defense of the land.”

Special prosecutor Javier Guzmán says security guards employed by Dinant are “the leading suspects” in Gregorio Chávez’s killing, but no one has been charged in the case. The company vigorously denies it had anything to do with his death.

The preacher’s death was one of 133 killings that have been linked to the land conflicts in Honduras’ Bajo Aguán valley, according to Guzmán, who was appointed by the federal government to investigate the wave of violence that has ripped through the area in recent years. The circumstances of these deaths remain fiercely disputed in a struggle that has pitted Dinant and other large corporate landholders against peasant collectives, with both sides involved in violence that has at times turned gruesome.

The conflict has drawn international scrutiny in part because Dinant, one of its central protagonists, has been financed by the World Bank Group.

Dinant was backed by the International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank conglomerate that lends to private companies. The IFC supported Dinant, one of Central America’s biggest palm oil and food producers, throughout the recent land conflicts. It provided $15 million directly to Dinant in 2009 and later channelled $70 million in 2011 to a Honduran bank that was one of Dinant’s largest financiers.

In doing so, the IFC aligned itself with one of the key players in a deadly civil conflict, staking its money and reputation on a powerful corporation with a questionable history. The IFC ignored easily obtainable evidence that should have warned it away from doing business with Dinant, the lender’s internal ombudsman later found. [Continue reading…]

Last December, Jeff Conant reported: As one of the fastest growing global commodities, palm oil has recently earned a reputation as a major contributor to tropical deforestation and, therefore, to climate change as well.

About 50 million metric tons of palm oil is produced per year – more than double the amount produced a decade ago – and this growth appears likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Because oil palm trees, native to West Africa, require the same conditions as tropical rainforests, nearly every drop of palm oil that hits the global market comes at the expense of natural forests that have been, or will be, burned, bulldozed and replaced with plantations.

With deforestation garnering headlines due to forests’ crucial role in regulating the climate, global commodity producers, from Nestle and Unilever in Europe, to Cargill in the United States to Wilmar International in Indonesia, are recognizing the need to provide products that are “deforestation-free.” Other corporate-led initiatives like the public-private Tropical Forest Alliance that promises to reduce the deforestation associated with palm oil, soy, beef, paper and pulp, and the recent New York Declaration on Forests signed at the UN Climate Summit in New York, suggest that saving the world’s forests is now squarely on the corporate sustainability agenda.

But what is being left behind is the other significant impact of palm oil and other agro-industrial commodities – namely human rights. Commitments to protect forests and conservation areas can, if well implemented, address environmental concerns by delimiting the areas of land available for conversion to palm oil. But natural resource exploitation is inextricably linked to human exploitation, and such commitments do little to address this.

A case in point is Grupo Dinant, a Honduran palm oil company that declared last month that it has been awarded international environmental certifications for its achievements in environmental management and occupational health and safety. Dinant has also been making overtures toward joining the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), including hosting the RSPO’s 4th Latin American conference in Honduras in 2013. But, Dinant, which produces about 60 percent of the palm oil in Honduras, is at the center of what has been called “the most serious situation in terms of violence against peasants in Central America in the last 15 years.” [Continue reading…]

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‘Stripped, beaten, humiliated’ and barred from her own trial in Egypt

The New York Times reports: During the early days of the revolution against President Hosni Mubarak, a sense of shared purpose and community made Tahrir Square feel like the safest place in Cairo, for women and men. But that collapsed almost the moment Mr. Mubarak left office, on Feb. 11, 2011. Sexual assault and the harassment of women in public, an epidemic problem in Egypt for decades, became alarmingly common again.

The security forces have long used sexual assault as a weapon against political dissent. In a notorious episode in 2005, security officers watched pro-government thugs sexually assault four female demonstrators outside the journalists’ syndicate in Cairo. Prosecutors declined to bring charges, and state and private media outlets blamed the women for exposing themselves.

After Mr. Mubarak’s ouster, military forces trying to disperse demonstrators detained a group of women and subjected them to “virginity tests.” A military intelligence officer named Abdel Fattah el-Sisi publicly defended the practice, arguing that it was necessary to protect soldiers from rape allegations. He is now Egypt’s president. [Continue reading…]

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As youth mysteriously disappear, Egypt more and more resembles Pinochet’s Chile

Egyptian Streets reports: A quite troublesome rise in the number of reported cases of enforced disappearances has swept Cairo and other governorates across Egypt. According to a report released by Human Rights Monitor on Saturday, 44 cases of enforced disappearances have been recorded until May 2015, with 31 taking place in May, in addition to 13 more reported during March and April.

“Over the last four years, there were cases of enforced disappearances, but it was not the default, it was more rare… one among other violations,” said Mona Seif, a human rights activist working closely with political detainees. [Continue reading…]

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How a 29-year-old Saudi prince has accumulated more power than any prince has ever held

The New York Times reports: Until about four months ago, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 29, was just another Saudi royal who dabbled in stocks and real estate.

He grew up overshadowed by three older half brothers who were among the most accomplished princes in the kingdom — the first Arab astronaut; an Oxford-educated political scientist who was once a research fellow at Georgetown and also founded a major investment company; and a highly regarded deputy oil minister.

But that was before their father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, 79, ascended to the throne. Now Prince Mohammed, the eldest son of the king’s third and most recent wife, is the rising star.

He has swiftly accumulated more power than any prince has ever held, upending a longstanding system of distributing positions around the royal family to help preserve its unity, and he has used his growing influence to take a leading role in Saudi Arabia’s newly assertive stance in the region, including its military intervention in Yemen.

In the four months since his coronation, King Salman has put Prince Mohammed in charge of the state oil monopoly, the public investment company, economic policy and the ministry of defense. [Continue reading…]

BBC News reports: Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has upheld the sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years of imprisonment on blogger Raif Badawi, despite a foreign outcry.

Speaking from Canada, his wife Ensaf Haidar told news agency AFP, “this is a final decision that is irrevocable.”

In March, the kingdom expressed “surprise and dismay” at international criticism over the punishment.

At the time, the foreign ministry issued a statement saying it rejected interference in its internal affairs.

In 2012, Badawi was arrested and charged with “insulting Islam through electronic channels”. [Continue reading…]

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