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…]
Middle East Eye reports: The British foreign secretary expressed serious concerns about allegations of Egyptian security service involvement in the killing of a Cambridge University student in Cairo weeks before the UK government called for a “full and transparent” investigation into the case, Middle East Eye can reveal.
In a 24 March letter obtained exclusively by MEE, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron warning that reports that Egyptian security forces were involved in the death of Giulio Regeni would be an “extremely concerning development” if proved correct.
Regeni’s battered body was found in a ditch nine days after he had gone missing on 25 January, the anniversary of the Tahrir Square revolution.
The 28-year-old was in Egypt researching labour movements – a contentious subject in the country – as part of his doctoral studies at Cambridge.
The government led by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has faced accusations that its security forces were responsible for Regeni’s torture and death. It has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Relations between Italy and Egypt have soured in recent days over the investigation. Officials from Cairo refused to hand over what Rome saw as vital evidence, including mobile phone records and CCTV footage from the night Regeni went missing.
On Friday, Italy recalled its ambassador to Egypt for consultations in protest of the lack of progress in the probe.
Two weeks earlier in his letter to the prime minister whom he addresses as “David”, Hammond writes, “My officials have followed the case of Mr Regeni closely since his disappearance”.
“The UK is aware of reports of the Egyptian security forces’ involvement in Mr Regeni’s death. If substantiated, this would be an extremely concerning development,” the Foreign Secretary added. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The foreign minister of Italy said Tuesday that his government would take “immediate and proportional” measures against Egypt if it failed to help uncover the truth behind the death of an Italian graduate student in Cairo two months ago.
“We will stop only when we will find the truth, the real one,” Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told Parliament, adding that he would not accept any “fabrication.”
The threat by Mr. Gentiloni came the day before a team of Egyptian investigators was scheduled to land in Rome for meetings on the case of the student, Giulio Regeni, 28, a doctoral candidate, whose brutalized body was discovered on a roadside in February in Cairo. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Egypt has postponed a meeting in Rome at which a Cairo delegation was due to hand over evidence relating to the torture and murder of the Italian researcher Giulio Regeni.
The highly anticipated meeting was scheduled for Tuesday but is now expected later this week. There is a growing perception in Italy that cracks are beginning to emerge in Egypt over how the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has handled the murder investigation.
Italy’s foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, will outline the government’s position on the case in a parliamentary statement on Tuesday, his ministry said.
Regeni’s body was found in a ditch off a desert road on 3 February, more than a week after the 28-year-old – a Cambridge PhD student researching labour unions in Egypt – disappeared. [Continue reading…]
Borzou Daragahi reports: A pudgy, graying middle-aged man in a brown sweater vest sat quietly sipping tea in the hotel lobby. If you noticed him at all, you might have thought he was a businessman, or an engineer, maybe a mid-ranking civil servant. He frowned occasionally as he contemplated the messages on his smartphone.
He allowed a smile as two men approached. They greeted each other as old friends, exchanging embraces, asking after relatives. One of the men complained a little about the state of business in the region, and warned he might have to head off at some point: “My daughter has a ballet recital.”
The entourage moved to a darkly lit corner of the hotel, their voices dropping, sometimes to a whisper. They looked up with paranoid glares each time a waiter or hotel guest walked by. The three men knew they could never be too careful.
The newcomers were retired colleagues; the first, a balding man in his sixties, works for a charity that helps African migrants in Libya; the second, in his late forties, is a real estate developer, dividing his time between the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and Europe.
But this was no workaday meeting of middle-aged businessmen. The three men are operatives from one of the most feared institutions in the Middle East: Libya’s mukhabarat, or intelligence agency. Formed shortly after the Second World War, the mukhabarat has worked behind the scenes to monitor and manipulate Libya for decades. And they have now joined the war against ISIS, as well as al-Qaeda and loyalists to the former regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi. They have made many, many enemies over the years.
“Extremists are extremists,” said the man in the sweater vest, a senior ranking official of the agency’s counter-terrorism division. “It doesn’t matter if they’re government militias, ISIS, or Qaddafi loyalists. In my focus, I target them all. Political extremists are all the same. And I want stability.” [Continue reading…]
David Cole writes: On March 4, the United States used drones and other aircraft to drop precision bombs on Somalia, a country with which we are not at war, reportedly killing about 150 al-Shabab militants who were said to be preparing for an imminent attack on American and African Union forces. The US government asserted that no civilians were killed, although neither that claim nor the allegation of an imminent attack could be verified. What do we really know about how American officials decide to launch such strikes?
In the last two weeks, the Obama administration has announced that it will for the first time make public a redacted version of the Presidential Policy Guidance outlining the standards for targeted killing and will also provide its own estimates of combatant and civilian deaths in drone attacks dating back to 2009. Yet much about these decisions remains opaque. In Eye in the Sky, a remarkably timely and important new film about a fictional drone strike against al-Shabab, South African director Gavin Hood offers a hypothetical window into such decision-making. The picture it paints is deeply disturbing, and raises fundamental questions about when, if ever, such attacks are justified. It may be the closest those of us on the outside ever get to the internal process behind the drone war.
In the film, Helen Mirren plays Katherine Powell, a steely British colonel charged with tracking terrorists in North Africa. The only travel Powell needs to do, however, is between her home in Surrey and her office in London, where she operates a top-secret drone program, in conjunction with American drone operators in Nevada and African agents in Kenya. As the film opens, Powell wakes to learn that a British woman, who has become a leader of al-Shabab, has been located in Nairobi along with her husband, an American citizen who is also an al-Shabab leader. What follows is a tense minute-by-minute depiction of one of the most daunting ethical and legal decisions a nation’s military and civilian leaders ever have to make—whether to kill a suspected enemy, even if innocent civilians may also die. Without taking sides, the film dramatically illustrates why technology, far from answering such questions, has only made them more difficult. [Continue reading…]
Nanjala Nyabola writes: One day in 2014, university students Felix Nyangena and Dennis Magomere, 21 and 22 years old respectively, were walking from the Globe Cinema roundabout in Nairobi’s central business district to the nearby offices of the Higher Education Loans Board, a government agency that oversees financial disbursements to students. The Globe Cinema roundabout is one of the Kenyan capital’s busiest bus terminals, and during the day it can be among the most densely populated parts of the city. There, in the gentle light of the still-rising sun, Nyangena and Magomere were gunned down by two plainclothes police officers attached to the city’s anti-mugging unit. Nyangena did not die immediately. So the officer stood over his body and fired twice more, killing the young man in broad daylight. The officer then calmly wiped his fingerprints off the gun, planted it on the young man’s body, and made a call — presumably to report a robbery.
We know all of this because unlike many other extrajudicial killings by police and security officials in Kenya, Nyangena and Magomere’s murder was captured on video. The crisp, high-quality footage of the crime, taken on a witness’s mobile phone, is the centerpiece of a recent documentary by noted Kenyan journalist Mohammed Ali on the epidemic of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances by security services. And perhaps as a result of both the video and the documentary, Kenya’s public prosecutor has announced that for the first time in recent memory, his office will charge a police officer for the unlawful killing of a civilian.
Unfortunately, the only unusual thing about this horrific story is the judicial outcome. Through a conspiracy of public apathy and sinister cover-ups, Kenyan security forces have essentially acquired carte blanche to kill and disappear citizens, particularly young ones, on the pretext of fighting crime and terrorism. The scourge of killings and disappearances has accelerated in recent years as the Somali militant group al-Shabab has trained its sights on Kenya, but abuse and impunity long have been the calling cards of the Kenyan security services. And while the discriminatory religious contours of the “War on Terror” would suggest that the problem is confined to northeastern and coastal Kenya, regions that are predominantly Muslim and have a high proportion of ethnic Somalis, the truth is that Kenyan authorities routinely commit violent crimes against young people all over the country. [Continue reading…]
Middle East Eye reports: The European Parliament on Thursday passed a resolution condemning “the torture and assassination” of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Egypt, describing the killing as not being isolated but taking place in a “context of torture, death in custody and enforced disappearances”.
The resolution called for a joint and transparent investigation into Regeni’s death by both Egyptian and Italian authorities and passed with a huge majority – 588 MEPs voted for it, just 10 voted against, and 59 abstained.
Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake, who supported the resolution, told Middle East Eye that Regeni’s killing has served as a “wake-up call” to European politicians about the seriousness of the human rights situation in Egypt.
“It is sad that it took the torturing to death of a European student to act as a wake-up call for some that still needed one,” she said. “This case, along with the structural repression of Egyptians, including through torture, imprisonment and disappearances, should much more strongly guide EU policies towards Egypt.”
Regeni, 28, was a doctoral candidate at the UK’s Cambridge University, and was in Egypt researching the development of Egyptian trade unions when he disappeared on 25 January – the same day as the fifth anniversary of Egypt’s uprising that overthrew long-time leader Hosni Mubarak.
On 3 February Regeni’s body was found on a road on the outskirts of Cairo bearing the hallmarks of severe beating and torture. There has been widespread speculation that Egyptian security services – known for their torture of detainees – were involved in the killing but the government of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has denied this. [Continue reading…]
Ars Technica reports: In 2014, the former director of both the CIA and NSA proclaimed that “we kill people based on metadata.” Now, a new examination of previously published Snowden documents suggests that many of those people may have been innocent.
Last year, The Intercept published documents detailing the NSA’s SKYNET programme. According to the documents, SKYNET engages in mass surveillance of Pakistan’s mobile phone network, and then uses a machine learning algorithm on the cellular network metadata of 55 million people to try and rate each person’s likelihood of being a terrorist.
Patrick Ball — a data scientist and the director of research at the Human Rights Data Analysis Group — who has previously given expert testimony before war crimes tribunals, described the NSA’s methods as “ridiculously optimistic” and “completely bullshit.” A flaw in how the NSA trains SKYNET’s machine learning algorithm to analyse cellular metadata, Ball told Ars, makes the results scientifically unsound. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Egypt’s forensics authority handed over to the prosecutor general’s office on Saturday its final autopsy report on the Italian student who was tortured and found dead in Cairo last week.
Giulio Regeni, 28, had been researching independent trade unions in Egypt and had written articles critical of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government – prompting speculation that he was killed at the hands of Egypt’s security forces.
Egypt’s interior and foreign ministers both dismissed the notion of security forces being behind Regeni’s murder.
The prosecutor general’s office said it would not publicly disclose the contents of the report as the investigation was ongoing. Reuters was not able to obtain a copy to verify the contents.
However, a senior source at the forensics authority told Reuters Regeni, a graduate student at Britain’s Cambridge University, had seven broken ribs, signs of electrocution on his penis, traumatic injuries all over his body, and a brain haemorrhage.
His body also bore signs of cuts from a sharp instrument suspected to be a razor, abrasions, and bruises. He was likely assaulted using a stick as well as being punched and kicked, the source added. [Continue reading…]
The Local reports: Italy on Monday warned Egypt it would not allow the fate of Giulio Regeni to be brushed under the carpet as anger mounted over the Cambridge University student’s torture and killing in Cairo.
With the media publishing gruesome details of Regeni’s treatment and pointing the finger at Egyptian security services, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was under pressure to authorize a state funeral for the slain 28-year-old.
Regeni disappeared on January 25th and was found dead on February 3rd. An Italian autopsy carried out following his corpse’s repatriation at the weekend concluded that he was killed by a violent blow to the base of his skull having already suffered multiple fractures all over his body.
Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that Egypt appeared to be collaborating with a team of Italian detective and forensic investigators dispatched to Cairo.
But he warned: “We will not settle for alleged truths.”
Gentiloni, in an interview with daily La Repubblica, added: “We want those really responsible identified and punished on the basis of law.”
La Repubblica reported that, as well as being systematically beaten, Regeni had his finger and toe nails pulled out in a pattern of torture which the daily said suggested that his “death squad” killers believed him to be a spy. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The furor surrounding the death of an Italian student whose body was discovered Wednesday on an Egyptian roadside grew Friday as Italian investigators flew to Cairo to help find his killers, and it emerged that the young man had secretly written from Egypt for a left-wing Italian newspaper.
The newspaper, Il Manifesto, published an article on Friday that the Italian student, Giulio Regeni, 28, had written under a pseudonym weeks before he was found dead that was sharply critical of the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, while describing faltering attempts by Egyptian unions to organize.
There was no indication that Mr. Regeni’s writing led to his death, but the article contributed to the broader Italian outrage over Mr. Regeni’s injuries as news outlets pointed an accusatory finger at the Egyptian security forces. Egyptian officials said on Thursday that Mr. Regeni had been tortured extensively and probably died from a brain hemorrhage.
“Giulio, Egyptian police under accusation,” read the headline of La Stampa, a Turin-based daily newspaper.
Hoping to defuse a potentially damaging crisis with a relatively close European ally, Egyptian officials promised cooperation and vowed to find Mr. Regeni’s killers. The Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, spoke with Mr. Sisi by telephone and both agreed to cooperate to “unravel the mystery,” Mr. Sisi’s office said in a statement. [Continue reading…]
Human Rights Watch reports: Nine months of research reveals some of the human stories behind the more than 28,000 photos of deaths in government custody that were smuggled out of Syria and first came to public attention in January 2014.
The 86-page report, “If the Dead Could Speak: Mass Deaths and Torture in Syria’s Detention Facilities,” lays out new evidence regarding the authenticity of what are known as the Caesar photographs, identifies a number of the victims, and highlights some of the key causes of death. Human Rights Watch located and interviewed 33 relatives and friends of 27 victims whose cases researchers verified; 37 former detainees who saw people die in detention; and four defectors who worked in Syrian government detention centers or the military hospitals where most of the photographs were taken. Using satellite imagery and geolocation techniques, Human Rights Watch confirmed that some of the photographs of the dead were taken in the courtyard of the 601 Military Hospital in Mezze.
“Just about every detainee in these photographs was someone’s beloved child, husband, father, or friend, and his friends and family spent months or years searching for him,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “We have meticulously verified dozens of stories, and we are confident the Caesar photographs present authentic – and damning – evidence of crimes against humanity in Syria.”
Countries meeting about possible peace negotiations in Syria – including Russia, as the Syrian government’s biggest backer – should make the fate of the thousands of detained people in Syria a priority, Human Rights Watch said. Concerned countries should insist that the Syrian government give international monitors immediate access to all detention centers and that Syria’s intelligence services must stop forcibly disappearing and torturing detainees. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: It was one of the most shocking events in one of the most brutal periods in Iraq’s history. In late 2005, two years after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, U.S. soldiers raided a police building in Baghdad and found 168 prisoners in horrific conditions.
Many were malnourished. Some had been beaten.
The discovery of the secret prison exposed a world of kidnappings and assassinations. Behind these operations was an unofficial Interior Ministry organisation called the Special Investigations Directorate, according to U.S. and Iraqi security officials at the time.
The body was run by militia commanders from the Badr Organisation, a pro-Iran, Shi’ite political movement that today plays a major role in Baghdad’s war against Islamic State, the Sunni militant group.
Washington pressured the Iraqi government to investigate the prison. But the findings of Baghdad’s investigation – a probe derided by some of its own committee members at the time as a whitewash – were never released.
The U.S. military conducted its own investigation. But rather than publish its findings, it chose to lobby Iraqi officials in quiet for fear of damaging Iraq’s fragile political setup, according to several current and former U.S. military officials and diplomats.
Both reports remain unpublished. Reuters has reviewed them, as well as other U.S. documents from the past decade.
The documents show how Washington, seeking to defeat Sunni jihadists and stabilise Iraq, has consistently overlooked excesses by Shi’ite militias sponsored by the Iraqi government. The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have both worked with Badr and its powerful leader, Hadi al-Amiri, whom many Sunnis continue to accuse of human rights abuses.
Washington’s policy of expediency has achieved some of its short-term aims. But in allowing the Shi’ite militias to run amok against their Sunni foes, Washington has fueled the Shia-Sunni sectarian divide that is tearing Iraq apart.
The decade-old U.S. investigation of the secret prison implicates officials and political groups in a wave of sectarian killings that helped ignite a civil war. It also draws worrying parallels to the U.S. government’s muted response today to alleged abuses committed in the name of fighting Islamic State.
Those accused of running the secret prison or of helping cover up its existence include the current head of the Iraqi judiciary, Midhat Mahmoud, Transport Minister, Bayan Jabr, and a long revered Badr commander popularly referred to as Engineer Ahmed. [Continue reading…]
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…]