How U.S. officials can kidnap and threaten American citizens without legal risk

Patrick G. Eddington writes: At exactly 5 p.m. on March 13, 2007, just as I was preparing to leave my cubicle in Washington for the day, I got a phone call from the journalist Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers. To this day, I remember his exact words.

“One of your congressman’s constituents is being held in an Ethiopian intelligence service prison, and I think your former employer is neck-deep in this.”

The congressman was Rush Holt, then a Democratic representative from New Jersey, for whom I worked for 10 years starting in 2004. The constituent was Amir Mohamed Meshal of Tinton Falls, N.J., who alleges that he was illegally taken to Ethiopia, where he was threatened with torture by American officials. My “former employer” was the Central Intelligence Agency, but it soon became apparent that the agency “neck-deep in this” was the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Eight years after Mr. Meshal’s rendition, his case ended up before a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The questions hanging over the proceeding were: can the United States government allow, or even facilitate, the rendition of an American citizen to another country for interrogation? And can United States officials themselves conduct rendition and interrogations of American citizens, including threats of torture, on foreign soil?

According to a decision handed down last week, the answers appear to be yes. [Continue reading…]


How four federal lawyers paved the way for Obama to order the execution of Osama bin Laden

The New York Times reports: While the lawyers believed that Mr. Obama was bound to obey domestic law, they also believed he could decide to violate international law when authorizing a “covert” action, officials said.

If the SEALs got Bin Laden, the Obama administration would lift the secrecy and trumpet the accomplishment. But if it turned out that the founder and head of Al Qaeda was not there, some officials thought the SEALs might be able to slip back out, allowing the United States to pretend the raid never happened.

Mr. Preston wrote a memo addressing when the administration had to alert congressional leaders under a statute governing covert actions. Given the circumstances, the lawyers decided that the administration would be legally justified in delaying notification until after the raid. But then they learned that the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, had already briefed several top lawmakers about Abbottabad without White House permission.

The lawyers also grappled with whether it was lawful for the SEAL team to go in intending to kill Bin Laden as its default option. They agreed that it would be legal, in a memo written by Ms. DeRosa, and Mr. Obama later explicitly ordered a kill mission, officials said. [Continue reading…]


Sentenced to be crucified in Saudi Arabia

Nicholas Kristof writes: Any day now, our Saudi Arabian allies may behead and crucify a young man named Ali al-Nimr.

His appeals following his court sentence for this grisly execution have been exhausted, so guards may lead Nimr to a public square and hack off his head with a sword as onlookers jeer. Then, following Saudi protocol for crucifixion, they would hang his body as a warning to others.

Nimr’s offense? He was arrested at age 17 for participating in anti-government protests. The government has said he attacked police officers and rioted, but the only known evidence is a confession apparently extracted under torture that left him a bloody mess.

“When I visited my son for the first time I didn’t recognize him,” his mother, Nusra al-Ahmed, told The Guardian. “I didn’t know whether this really was my son Ali or not.”

Nimr was recently moved to solitary confinement in preparation for execution. In Britain, where the sentence has received attention, the foreign secretary says he does “not expect” it to be carried out. But Nimr’s family fears execution could come any day.

Saudi Arabia’s medieval criminal justice system also executes “witches,” and flogs and imprisons gay people.

It’s time for a frank discussion about our ally Saudi Arabia and its role legitimizing fundamentalism and intolerance in the Islamic world. Western governments have tended to bite their tongues because they see Saudi Arabia as a pillar of stability in a turbulent region — but I’m not sure that’s right.

Saudi Arabia has supported Wahhabi madrasas in poor countries in Africa and Asia, exporting extremism and intolerance. Saudi Arabia also exports instability with its brutal war in Yemen, intended to check what it sees as Iranian influence. Saudi airstrikes have killed thousands, and the blockading of ports has been even more devastating. Some Yemeni children are starving, and 80 percent of Yemenis now need assistance.

There’s also an underlying hypocrisy in Saudi behavior. This is a country that sentenced a 74-year-old British man to 350 lashes for possessing alcohol (some British reports say he may be allowed to leave Saudi Arabia following international outrage), yet I’ve rarely seen as much hard liquor as at Riyadh parties attended by government officials.

A Saudi prince, Majed Abdulaziz al-Saud, was just arrested in Los Angeles in a $37 million mansion he had rented, after allegedly drinking heavily, hiring escorts, using cocaine, terrorizing women and threatening to kill people.

“I am a prince,” he declared, according to an account in The Los Angeles Times. “And I do what I want.” [Continue reading…]


Diplomatic opening has not led to any improvement in Iran’s human rights record

Foreign Policy reports: It has been a bumper year for capital punishment in Iran.

Tehran hanged at least 694 people between Jan. 1 and Sept. 15, the highest rate of executions in the Islamic Republic in some 25 years, according to a report released Tuesday by a U.N. human rights monitor.

The pace of executions is likely driven by a surge in drug crimes, which accounted for 69 percent of the executions in the first half of 2015, according to the 26-page report.

The report’s findings present a decidedly harsh image of the country at a time when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his American-educated foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have been promoting a more moderate vision of Iran to the outside world.

Since signing a landmark nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers in July, Tehran has been hosting a procession of Western officials and business leaders looking to do business with a newly sanctions-free Iran. But even if the country has seen a diplomatic opening of sorts since Rouhani came to power in the summer of 2013, that hasn’t translated into any improvement in other sensitive areas.

“In terms of human rights, there has been no sign of improvement in the country,” Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, told reporters at a press conference Tuesday at U.N. headquarters. [Continue reading…]


UAE: Where rape victims routinely get jailed

BBC News reports: In the United Arab Emirates, migrant women are routinely jailed for having sex outside marriage. Desperate to leave the country, one Filipina maid who was raped found a dramatic way to escape.

There wasn’t much in the village Monica left behind. No clinic, no school, no street lights – just a crossing of dirt roads and a few concrete houses roofed with tin. What really troubled her, though, was the lack of prospects.

She had three young children and a husband who barely made enough to feed them. If she could work in the Gulf for even a few years, she thought, perhaps she’d be able to give those kids a different kind of life.

It took 10 hours for the bus to reach the capital of the Philippines, Manila. There, Monica signed up to an employment agency and flew to the United Arab Emirates, where she began work as a maid for an Emirati family.

The malls and skyscrapers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi were a world away from the rural poverty of her village, and at first Monica was excited to have a job. Gradually, though, she began to miss her children, and to feel ground down by the drudgery of the work and the meanness of her employers. [Continue reading…]


Torture by another name: CIA used ‘water dousing’ on at least 12 detainees

The Guardian reports: At least a dozen more people were subjected to waterboard-like tactics in CIA custody than the agency has admitted, according to a fresh accounting of the US government’s most discredited form of torture.

The CIA maintains it only subjected three detainees to waterboarding. But agency interrogators subjected at least 12 others to a similar technique, known as “water dousing”, that also created a drowning sensation or chilled a person’s body temperature – sometimes through “immersion” in water, and often without use of a board.

New lawsuits, recently released documents and the Senate’s landmark torture report indicate that at least 13 men in total experienced “water dousing”. Those familiar with their cases and an interrogator cited in the Senate report consider water dousing’s departure from waterboarding to be “a distinction without a difference”.

Water dousing, however, added an element of hypothermia. Some detainees reported their CIA captors dousing them with “cold or refrigerated” water, then wrapping them in similarly frigid sheets of plastic, keeping their temperatures low. [Continue reading…]


Mother of Saudi man sentenced to crucifixion begs Obama to intervene

The Guardian reports: The mother of a Saudi protester sentenced to death by beheading and crucifixion has begged Barack Obama to intervene to save her son’s life.

In her first interview with foreign media, Nusra al-Ahmed, the mother of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, whose case has made headlines around the world, described the intended punishment as savage and “backwards in the extreme”.

Human rights groups including Amnesty International and Reprieve, the US talkshow host Bill Maher and the British prime minister, David Cameron, have all weighed in with calls for clemency to stop Nimr, who was 17 at the time of his arrest, from being beheaded and then crucified. [Continue reading…]


GCHQ’s surveillance hasn’t proved itself to be worth the cost to human rights

By Fiona de Londras, University of Birmingham

The release of yet more of Edward Snowden’s leaked files reveals the still-astonishing scale and breadth of government surveillance after more than a year of revelations. These recent papers revealed to The Intercept website discuss a programme within Britain’s GCHQ known as “Karma Police”, in which the intelligence agency gathered more than 1.1 trillion pieces of information on UK citizens between August 2007 and March 2009.

Spurred on by the expansion of intercept warrants under the Terrorism Act 2006, this information is users’ internet metadata – details of phone calls, email messages and browser connections that includes passwords, contacts, phone numbers, email addresses, and folders used to organise emails, but not the actual content of messages or emails.

Metadata can help identify people of interest, build profiles, and assist with decisions to start or escalate surveillance of individuals. All this information can be collected often at a fraction of the cost of doing this through traditional methods. In other words, metadata is not insignificant – and this is precisely why governments are so committed to collecting and processing it. However, bulk metadata collection – where information is collected from everyone whether a “person of interest” or not – is rightly a source of deep anxiety from both security and human rights perspectives.

[Read more…]


Anti-interventionist Donald Trump: Middle East would be more stable with Hussein and Gadhafi

NBC News reports: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, when asked if he believes the Middle East would be better today if Moammar Gadhafi of Libya and Saddam Hussein of Iraq were still in power, responded, “It’s not even a contest.”

He related the situations in both of those countries with what is currently happening in Syria and seemed to endorse a stronger President Bashar Assad, even while admitting that he is “probably a bad guy.”

“You can make the case, if you look at Libya, look at what we did there — it’s a mess — if you look at Saddam Hussein with Iraq, look what we did there — it’s a mess — it’s [Syria] going to be same thing,” the real estate mogul said. [Continue reading…]

This is a point of view that appeals to a lot of liberals and peace activists these days, but it begs at least two questions:

How sustainable is stability when it derives from political oppression?

And what is the long-term price of torture?

Without exception, authoritarian regimes across the Middle East have relied on the same techniques for suppressing political opposition: torture.

Torture has the virtue of silencing critics without turning them into martyrs.

The streets can remain quiet when the screams of those having their fingernails ripped out are muffled by heavy prison doors.

But torture doesn’t just scar bodies — it scars minds, feeding a desire for vengeance that has inspired many a terrorist.

Is this what peace and stability really looks like?

Maybe the real lesson of the last decade has not been that regime change is itself such a terrible idea, but rather that the methods employed to achieve that goal have been worse than useless.

The issue is not one of intervention vs non-intervention but rather a question of what might actually lead to the desired goal.

The insular perspective of those who posture as realist defenders of national interest, suggests that it’s none of our business what happens within the borders of other states, but the reality is that sooner or later the misery of every dysfunctional state will spill out across its borders.


As Saudis block a human rights inquiry in Yemen, America stays quiet

Vice News reports: A Dutch-led effort to create a human rights mission for Yemen was abandoned Wednesday amid intense Saudi opposition at the UN, but human rights experts are laying blame in part at the feet of the United States, which failed to vigorously back the Netherlands — and may have worked behind the scenes to head off the independent investigation.

A Saudi-led coalition has bombed Yemen since late March in an attempt to push back Houthi rebels and their allies and reinstate the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. The US (and UK) offers logistical support for the coalition, in addition to selling billions of dollars in weapons to its members, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. US officials say American personnel are also involved in providing targeting assistance for airstrikes, which the UN says are responsible for the majority of the more than 2,300 civilian deaths in the conflict in the past six months.

In September, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for an independent, international inquiry into crimes committed in Yemen in the preceding year. Shortly after, the Netherlands, supported by several European countries, presented a draft resolution to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). Among other elements, it called for a human rights mission, commissioned by Zeid, to be sent to Yemen, and for that team to be allowed access to all areas of the country.

Multiple sources familiar with negotiations in Geneva, where the HRC is located, said the Dutch initially encountered objections from the Yemeni government, as well as from the Saudis, Qataris, and Emiratis — all three of whom currently sit on the council.

The Saudis and other Arab members of the council then introduced an alternative text, which called for the UN to only assist an existing national inquiry in Yemen, established by the government in exile in Riyadh, which supports the Saudi-led intervention. Human rights and civil society groups considered it unacceptable, both due to its content and because it was introduced by a belligerent in Yemen’s war. They offered public support to the Dutch.

Largely quiet on the matter was the United States. After multiple requests for comment on whether the American government supported an international, independent human rights inquiry for Yemen, US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power released an ambiguously worded statement on September 24. [Continue reading…]


‘They were torturing to kill’: Inside Syria’s death machine

Garance le Caisne writes: For two years, between 2011 and 2013, the former Syrian military photographer known only as Caesar used a police computer in Damascus to copy thousands of photographs of detainees who were tortured to death in Bashar al-Assad’s jails. The media have run numerous stories about the man who managed to smuggle astonishing evidence of crimes against humanity out of the country – at great risk to himself and his family – but he had never been interviewed.

Month after month, for two years, this man, who has remained anonymous, took photographs of tortured, starved and burnt bodies. His orders were to photograph the bodies in order to document prisoners’ deaths. He then secretly made copies and transferred them on to USB keys so that he could smuggle them out of his office, hidden in his shoes or his belt, and pass them to a friend who could get them out of the country.

The terrorists of Islamic State proclaim their atrocities on social networks; the Syrian state hides its misdeeds in the silence of its dungeons. Before Caesar, no insider had supplied evidence of the existence of the Syrian death machine. And these photos and documents were damning.

I had to find Caesar. The spectacular advances made by Isis, and the growing number of terrorist attacks by its followers, were drowning out revelations about the Syrian regime’s atrocities. The conflict had already left more than 220,000 dead. Half of all civilians had been forced out of their homes, others had been shelled, their towns and villages besieged by Assad’s army. Caesar’s pictures could put Damascus’s abuses centre stage again. He had to be found. Journalists from all over the world were already looking for him. I knew it would be hard – and it was. Twice I almost gave up. But I kept going, because it was imperative that this man should talk. His testimony was essential if we were to understand the horror at the heart of the regime. [Continue reading…]


Israel rearrests Palestinian hunger striker after his health improves

Al Jazeera reports: Israeli authorities detained a Palestinian man on Wednesday, just hours after he was discharged from an Israeli hospital for treatment after a two-month hunger strike to protest his earlier detention.

Mohammed Allaan’s condition had improved enough for him to be discharged, the Barzilai hospital in southern Israel said earlier in the day.

His lawyer, Jamil Khatib, said that shortly after Allaan left the hospital he was detained again by Israeli authorities. Allaan was originally detained in November 2014 and held without charges.

Israel accuses the 31-year-old Allaan of links to Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian armed group. Allaan denies the affiliation. [Continue reading…]


Citizens of the world

By John Keane, University of Sydney

Two things are especially striking about the massive movement of refugees into Europe: running for their lives from the fear and famine, rape and killing of the wider region, people seeking sanctuary are being greeted by the stinginess of states (“open door” Germany is the exception) and the warm hospitality of European citizens.

People crossing the border from Greece into Macedonia, en route to Hungary through Serbia.

People with children on their backs and bottles of water and lumps of bread in their hands are facing untold episodes of state harassment, and state inaction. At Keleti train station in Budapest, the Hungarian government, lovers of barbed wire, “relocation camps” and border checks, in effect tried to impose martial law on several thousand stateless people hurt by torture, rape and barrel-bombing. That’s an obscenity. “Every state has the right to protect its borders,” tweeted the ill-named Justice Minister of the Orban government. Its spokesman, Zoltan Kovacs, said coldly that Budapest isn’t planning to send any more buses to Austria. Janos Lazar, government chief of staff, weighed in by emphasising that Hungary had to work to complete its new border fence, to stop further “illegal” entry of refugees. Otherwise, he added, many more such people would be encouraged to come the way of the motherland.

The shameless behaviour of governments extends well beyond the front lines from where desperate peoples are fleeing for their lives. Throughout the European Union, most governments are hiding behind the so-called Dublin Regulation, which places the burden of settlement and hospitality on the state in which refugees first arrive. Signed 25 years ago, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Dublin Regulation is now a broken arrangement, even though you wouldn’t think so from the miserly statements and inaction of many heads of government. Saturday’s meeting of European foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg produced no agreement. The group’s foreign policy boss, Federica Mogherini, said the talks were “difficult” and Europe’s refugee crisis is “here to stay”. In Britain, where the government is deeply implicated in the state failure, violence, social chaos and human tragedy in the Middle East region, Prime Minister David Cameron has prevaricated. At first, he suggested Britain should not take refugees currently making their way through Balkan states or across the Mediterranean to Europe because this would help prevent others making the “hazardous journey”. Now he says Britain has a “moral responsibility” to accept up to 20,000 refugees from Syria – but over the next five years.

For several years, on the margins of Europe, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and other local states have been shouldering the massive refugee burden. You would think that richer states well beyond the region, especially those deeply implicated in Middle East dynamics, would be pitching in, especially given the scale of the developing catastrophe. Think twice. So far, the uncivil war in Syria alone has produced more than four million refugees. Many more people are coming. Yet how many Syrian citizens have so far been accepted as refugees by the United States and its allies at war with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq? The figures are shocking, and shameful: 4,980 in the United Kingdom; 1,500 in the United States; 1,074 in Stephen Harper’s Canada; and 2,200 in Tony Abbott’s Australia. Up until last year, Australia was still trying to return asylum seekers to Syria. Now the Abbott government, under mounting public pressure, says it “will step up to the plate”. The fine words are fabulations: its talk of an increased intake of Syrians is contradicted by plans to reduce refugees from other parts of the world, to ensure Australia’s overall refugee intake would remain unchanged.

In striking contrast to this hypocrisy and pusillanimity (invade Iraq and Afghanistan, bomb Syria, refuse entry to its fleeing victims), European citizens on the ground have taken the lead in welcoming the homeless. Rising xenophobia throughout Europe has for some time been the only mainstream media story considered newsworthy by journalists. Now we’re seeing a different and more charitable side of Europe: churches, trade unions, mosques, community groups and families are springing into action. Citizens hold welcome signs in English, German and Arabic at train stations. Bystanders clap. There are handshakes, flowers, smiles. Citizen volunteers offer food, hot drinks, toys for children. More than a few are offering their homes to the homeless. Petitions call upon the EU and its member states to act decisively, for instance by setting up a special ferry service from the Turkish cities on the Aegean Sea to Greece and a direct special train service from Thessaloniki to northern Europe. A week ago, 20,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Vienna in support of refugees now on the move; a few days before, a similar march took place in Dresden. And six days ago, a petition directed at the Westminster website hit 100,000 signatures, enough to require a parliamentary debate on increasing the number of people granted refuge in the UK. A few hours later, the number of petitioners had doubled, to nearly 200,000.

The hospitality, the big-hearted openness to the world, the cosmopolitanism of these citizens of the world is remarkable. It’s a reaffirmation of the principle of citizenship famously outlined just over two centuries ago by the English political writer Thomas Paine (1737 – 1809), in an exchange with his friend Benjamin Franklin. “Where liberty is, there is my country,” Franklin reportedly said. “Where liberty is not, there is my country,” Paine quipped in reply. Citizenship of any country implied for him the duty of citizens to take an interest in the fate of others. [Read more…]


Torture in Tunisia


U.S. citizen, once held in Egypt’s crackdown, becomes voice for inmates

The New York Times reports: Mohamed Soltan knew he had one thing going for him when the Egyptian police came to his door: He was a United States citizen, raised primarily in Ohio.

It did not mean much in the moment. The police had come looking for his father, Salah Soltan, an outspoken member of the Muslim Brotherhood. But when they found only Mohamed Soltan and three friends, the police arrested them instead, along with tens of thousands of others thought to be Islamists or liberal dissidents who were rounded up after the military takeover here two years ago.

But his American citizenship helped embolden Mr. Soltan, then 25, to carry out a hunger strike for 16 of his 21 months in prison, shedding more than 160 of the original 272 pounds on his 5-foot-11-inch frame and risking organ failure in the belief that the United States government might come to his aid. [Continue reading…]


‘I have become a body without a soul’: 14 years detained in Guantánamo

Pardiss Kebriaei writes: I feel like there is a heavy weight on my chest – it’s as if I’m breathing through a needle hole. And then I ask myself, “If I write or say something, is anybody going to listen to me? Is it really going to make any difference?”

Zaher Hamdoun is a 36-year-old Yemeni man who has been detained in Guantánamo without charge since he was 22, one of 116 prisoners still detained there six years after Obama promised to close the facility. After I visited him earlier this summer, he followed up with a letter filled with questions.

Will there be a day when I will live like others live? Like a person who has freedom, dignity, a home, a family, a job, a wife and children?

Hamdoun is not among the 52 men approved for transfer from Guantánamo, nor is he in a dwindling group of detainees the government plans to charge. He is in a nebulous middle category of people the Obama administration has determined it is not going to charge but doesn’t know if it is ever going to release. [Continue reading…]


Prominent Iranians launch campaign calling on Congress not to kill Iran deal

The Guardian reports: Dozens of high-profile Iranians, many of whom have been jailed for their political views, launched a video campaign calling on the American people to lobby Congress not to jeopardise the landmark nuclear agreement.

The campaign includes messages from celebrated film-maker Jafar Panahi, Nobel peace prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, and British-Iranian activist Ghoncheh Ghavami.

Many of the campaign’s participants have been persecuted in Iran for their beliefs or activism, sentenced to lengthy prison terms or even solitary confinement. But they have expressed support for the Vienna nuclear agreement struck in July between Iran and the world’s six major powers, calling it a good deal which could avert threats of war.

Mohammadreza Jalaeipour, one of the organisers of the campaign, said the video was intended to show “that those who have paid the highest prices for the cause of democracy and human rights in Iran are supporting the deal”.

The video messages were gathered, to show to the world “that not only the overwhelming majority of Iranians, but also almost all the leading human rights and pro-democracy activists, prominent political prisoners and the independent voices of Iran’s society are wholeheartedly supporting the Iran deal,” the activist, who spent five months in solitary confinement in Iran, said. [Continue reading…]


Only three of 116 Guantánamo detainees were captured by U.S. forces

The Guardian reports: Only three of the 116 men still detained at Guantánamo Bay were apprehended by US forces, a Guardian review of military documents has uncovered.

The foundations of the guilt of the remaining 113, whom US politicians often refer to as the “worst of the worst” terrorists, involves a degree of faith in the Pakistani and Afghan spies, warlords and security services who initially captured 98 of the remaining Guantánamo population.

According to an analysis of long-neglected US military capture information, 68 of the residual Guantánamo detainees were captured by Pakistani security forces or apparent informants. Another 30 were sent to the notorious wartime facility by forces from Afghanistan – mostly warlords and affiliates of early US efforts to topple the Taliban after 9/11. [Continue reading…]