Posted on 06/08/2013 by Juan Cole
Posted on 06/07/2013 by Juan Cole
Bradley Manning, who spilled the beans on the US blowing away of unarmed Iraqi journalists and overlooking war crimes by the US military and allied Iraqi troops, released thousands of low-level cable messages. He has been charged by the US government with thereby being a traitor, giving aid and comfort to the enemy. It is not clear which enemy benefited from the catty remarks in some embassy cables, or how exactly their revelation harmed national security. What did happen was that millions of people in the US and around the world discovered some of the more egregious sins of commission and omission of the US government, especially with regard to Iraq. The treason charge against Manning is outrageous, and has been pursued because otherwise what he did is not obviously very serious and even a military judge might not return a severe sentence. While the scatter shot character of his revelations may be troubling, some of what he revealed was government crimes, for which Americans should thank him.
It turns out that Manning, in making government correspondence available for us to read, was just turning the tables on the US government, which The Guardian and the Washington Post today reveal has a back door called PRISM into all our internet communications (emails, over-the-internet phone calls, browser search history, etc.) with 9 major companies, including Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! (but not, interestingly, Twitter). The program is detailed in a Powerpoint slide presentation for initiating new NSA employees into its workings.
The sordid police states that have a paltry few tens of thousands of domestic spies monitoring the activities of ordinary citizens turn out to be minor players in this game compared to the home of the brave and the land of the free. Eat your hearts out, North Korean secret police and Baathist mukhabarat in Syria!
The NSA is supposed to use the back door only for communications going abroad or originating abroad, but it only has to be 51% certain that there is a foreign component. That is a low bar. But anyway nowadays how many of us have no email or social media communication with people living overseas? In practice, domestic communications will inevitably be swept up in this program. And, someone should explain to me why Americans’ correspondence going abroad is suddenly without Fourth Amendment protections? The FBI appears to be deeply involved in the operation, and how likely is it that, say, Occupy Wall Street activists or environmentalists haven’t been subject to surveillance? Apparently, unlike with the case of the Verizon phone call records, the NSA has access to the content of emails, not just records of to whom they were sent. In any case, meta data like who you are talking to is in most cases *more* important than content, as Jane Mayer explains.
Apparently the back door was installed under the provisions of the misnamed USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 that allow for requisition of “business records,” and the FBI and National Security Agency interpreted that language to allow installation of the equipment allowing direct access to the companies’ servers. The large internet companies’ spokespeople are puzzled by the news and denying it, but there is every reason to think that the CEOs and other authorities at these companies were strictly enjoined against revealing what had been done, and so the rest of the company and the world hadn’t known about it. One of the ways the anti-PATRIOTic Act subverted American norms of public life is that it allows the FBI to not only request your records without a warrant but to forbid the provider of the records from ever revealing that the request was made. In other words, it turned librarians and internet company officials into liars and stool pigeons and mafiosi, under a goonish seal of silence.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has known about PRISM for some time and been appalled, but could not speak openly about it because it is classified, and has pleas to fellow senators to do something about it were shamefully deep-sixed by his colleagues. Me, I have dark suspicions that PRISM and telephone record surveillance has allowed the FBI, NSA and other agencies to accumulate damaging information on our representatives’ private lives so as to be able to blackmail them into not rocking the boat. At least, these programs make such a way of proceeding entirely possible at any time.
It isn’t just the government. PRISM is only using the resources of private companies, and we cannot depend on them always being upright. We know that billionaire Rupert Murdoch has deployed his “news” organizations to hack into people’s voice messages and has attempted to use his known surveillance capacity to intimidate high-level politicians into accepting his policy diktats.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has made a timeline of NSA domestic spying and the EFF’s own so far fruitless attempts to get the courts to enforce the Constitution.
One reason Eric Holder should be fired is that his likely response to the revelation of PRISM will be to pull out all the stops to find and punish the NSA employee that turned the Powerpoint slides over to the Guardian and WaPo. Stepping back from this massive incursion against the Constitution? On past evidence, that won’t be on his agenda.
In any case, the US Government has been gleefully getting access to your private correspondence and that gave the Government Class an inherent superiority over ordinary Americans. Manning announced that turnabout is fair play, and we should be able to see their correspondence, too, especially given the war crimes in Iraq. That’s why they’re trying to execute him.34 Retweet 237 Share 431 Google +1 6 StumbleUpon 1 Printer Friendly Send via email
Posted on 06/07/2013 by Juan Cole
Julie Poucher Harbin, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary, interviews two scholars on Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan:
A small demonstration against bulldozing a park in Turkey escalated into nationwide political unrest over the past week — reaching its peak over the weekend when police used unnecessary and excessive force against protestors…
“The first round of popular protests in Turkey knocked the AKP flat on its back. Round two of the ongoing protests will begin when Prime Minister Erdoğan returns Thursday,” said Duke University Assistant Professor of Turkish & Middle Eastern Studies and Turkish-American Erdağ Göknar in an interview with Julie Poucher Harbin, Editor, ISLAMiCommentary, following-up on his commentary on the situation published late Tuesday.
As Göknar explained, during Erdoğan’s absence — “he saw no need to reschedule his four-day diplomatic trip to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia” — Turkey had “erupted into a full-scale state of revolt.”
There has since been conciliatory gestures made by Turkey’s president and deputy prime minister.
“President Gül and Deputy Prime Minister Arinç, tripping over themselves in a fit of damage control, acknowledged mistakes, apologized for the excessive use of force, and agreed to negotiate with protestors,” said Goknar. “Oddly, they were trying to turn the protest into something of a celebration. The police were even handing out roses to some protestors in some locations of Turkey.”
But many of the protestors want more, including the resignation of the governors of Istanbul, Ankara and Antakya, as well as the chiefs of police of those cities. There have also been vocal calls for Erdoğan’s resignation.
“On Thursday, the prime minister returns to a country forever transformed, one that is demanding profound political changes from the ruling — and reeling — Justice and Development Party (the AKP),” said Goknar. “However this is not an Arab Spring moment. The government and the protestors are trying to work out their differences through the democratic process.”
Meanwhile, Göknar said, the protests are having their intended effect by hitting the Turkish economy hard, an economy that has climbed to 16th in the world over 10 years. There has been a 30 percent cancellation in planned tourism, a 10 percent drop in the stock market — the largest in 10 years, and union workers’ strikes were expected to continue through at least Wednesday.
Bahar Leventoglu, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Economics at Duke and a native of Turkey, told senior editor at Duke’s Office of News & Communications Steve Hartsoe that she “does not see the prime minister recovering from this as easily as Erdoğan expects.”
“Erdoğan has been the most popular prime minister in the history of modern Turkey,” she said. “His understanding of democracy is about ballot power. As his ballot power increased, he started to get more and more authoritarian thinking that more and more people gave him the mandate to do anything he wanted. Over time, the Erdoğan that was quite a reformer prime minister in his first term disappeared, and we got this angry, know-it-all, almost Putin-esque prime minister that we did not know as much before.”
“A lot of people now see Erdoğan’s policies as a ‘cultural war’ against their lifestyles, and see the government’s so-called ‘Taksim project’ as an extension of this cultural war. Taksim (where the protests were held) is a neighborhood whose lifestyle Erdoğan dislikes, with nightlife and drinking, and is not good for the ‘religious generations’ Erdoğan wants to raise.”
Leventoglu continued: “Erdogan also has no tolerance for criticism. He believes that he knows what is good and what is bad for citizens of Turkey, and so we have to obey him as if we are teenagers being disciplined by dad. I’m sure he was taken by surprise by the protests against the government, as Turkey does not have a long history of this. But times are changing, and Erdogan is behind the times in this one.”
Mirrored from IslamiCommentary0 Retweet 21 Share 35 Google +1 0 StumbleUpon 1 Printer Friendly Send via email
Posted on 06/07/2013 by Juan Cole
Excerpted from a report by Jack Serle and Chris Woods for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:
The only drone strike reported to hit Pakistan in May killed Wali Ur Rehman, second-in-command of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP). It was the first US attack in Pakistan for 42 days and came less than a week after President Obama set out his new drone policy. In a major speech, the president stipulated that a strike could only target individuals who posed ‘a continuing, imminent threat to US persons’, and that the US did not carry out revenge attacks.
Rehman was a prominent Taliban figure responsible for numerous bloody terrorist attacks within Pakistan. The US also blamed him for the December 2009 Khost bombing in which seven CIA officers were killed. An unnamed Pakistani intelligence officer said his death ‘is crippling for [the Taliban's] top command’. The TTP held Pakistan partially responsible for the attack, promising ‘revenge in the strongest way’ and pledging, ‘attacks in Pakistan will continue’.
This was the first CIA attack in Pakistan since the elections on May 11. Prime minister-elect Nawaz Sharif had started preparing the ground for peace talks with the TTP. However after Rehman’s death Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said: ‘The government has failed to stop drone strikes, so we decided to end any talks with the government.’
Rehman’s successor, Khan Said (38), was selected hours after Rehman’s death. The attack that killed the Taliban commander, hit a mud-built house in North Waziristan in the early morning. Up to six alleged militants were also killed. They were identified by the Nation as Nasarullah; Shahabuddin; Adil; Nasiruddinand Saeedur Rehman; and Fakhar ul Islam, Rehman’s aide.
Earlier in the month the Obama administration admitted killing four US citizens in covert drone strikes, three in Yemen and one, whose death had previously only been a rumour, in Pakistan. The strike in Pakistan killed Jude Kenan Mohammed on November 16 2011 (Ob255).
May 2013 actions
Total killed in strikes in May: 4-7, of whom 0 were reportedly civilians
The CIA conducted at least one drone strike in Yemen this month, reportedly killing Jalal Balaabed, described at a senior figure in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He commanded Abyan’s capital, Zinjibar, when the militant group controlled the province in 2011 and 2012. However al Mahfad district security chief Colonel Ahmed al Rab’i said he could neither confirm nor deny Balaabed’s death. The dead man’s relatives also reportedly denied he had been killed.
A second possible US strike killed alleged militants later named as Abd Rabbo Mokbal Mohammed Jarallah al Zouba and Abbad Mossad Abbad Khobzi by the Yemen defence ministry website. However Yemeni media could not independently verify their connection to al Qaeda.
Three additional airstrikes were reported in May. Two were labelled US drone strikes by a single source. The third, on May 24, was reported either as a US drone strike or as a Saudi Arabian airstrike. The attack hit an area close to the Saudi border in al Jawf province. While most local media sources attributed the strike to the US, several sources said the attack was carried out by Saudi jets. Responsibility remains unclear.
Also in May, a Yemen Air Force fighter-bomber crashed in Sanaa while on a training mission. The Russian-made Su-22 exploded in mid-air over a residential district. The pilot was killed and up to 22 people on the ground were injured. This was the third military plane to crash in the city in seven months. In February another Su-22 crashed in the capital, killing 12 people. And in November an Antonov M26 transport plane caught fire and crashed, killing all 10 on board.
The Air Force was the victim of ‘sabotage’, according to service chief General Rashed al Janad. The latest Su-22 was caused by ‘shots hitting the engine’ as it prepared to land he explained, adding ‘the black box of the aircraft was hit’. The Antonov crashed in 2012 after ‘shots caused a fire in one of its engines’, General al Janad said.
Also this month General al Janad said (Arabic) the US does not notify Sanaa before launching drone strikes. He told al Jazeera he had suffered personally from US attacks when a cousin of his died in a strike in Dhamar province. However an unnamed Yemen Air Force source said the country’s military high command is aware of any incursion by foreign military aircraft into its airspace. Yemeni analyst Saeed Obaid said al Janad appeared to be distancing himself from anger at civilian casualties.
Mirrored from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism0 Retweet 30 Share 13 Google +1 0 StumbleUpon 1 Printer Friendly Send via email
Posted on 06/06/2013 by Juan Cole
It turns out that the National Security Agency demanded and got Verizon phone records of all US telephone calls, mobile and otherwise, within the US and between the US and abroad, from mid-April of this year. The order, obtained by The Guardian and which I guess the government would say it is illegal for us to even look at, is being reprinted in the US press.
The secret demand, which itself was classified, was made under the so-called USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, which desperately needs to be repealed or struck down as unconstitutional.
Note that the NSA did not do wiretapping. It isn’t looking at the content of the calls. Nor is personal information attached, so it is just records of one number calling other numbers. They have been data-mining the millions of records. By now the NSA and CIA have databases of numbers used by suspected al-Qaeda operatives, against which the calls could be matched. If an interesting pattern emerged (30 US Chechens regularly calling a certain number in Daghestan, e.g.), the NSA would have to get a warrant to discover the identities of the callers. But of course they could easily arrange that, having established that a pattern exists that justifies further investigation.
This sort of fishing expedition can sometimes be useful to counter-terrorism, but fishing expeditions into private papers and records are a violation of the US constitution. The government should only be allowed to see private information if there is reasonable cause to think something illegal is going on. Going looking into private records to see if patterns emerge that suggest illegality is the action of a totalitarian government, not a democratic one. The USA PATRIOT Act was a Sovietization of American law and practice and 2001 was year one of the fall of the Republic, when the Fourth Amendment and aspects of the First Amendment were abrogated.
Unfortunately, as Joshua Foust points out, the US Congress has repeatedly shot down attempts to stop these fishing expeditions, most judges seem pusillanimous in the face of national security considerations, and public outrage outside the circle of human and civil rights activists is limited.
The problem is not focused data-mining for counter-terrorism purposes. It is the temptation of FBI, NSA and CIA officials to advance their careers by using the data to set in motion prosecutions they could not pursue if they had had to convince a judge to give them a warrant.
Say a US government official was in the circle of corrupt financiers who were afraid of a rising, upright public prosecutor threatening to investigate them, and say that official could get access to the NSA database and demonstrate that the prosecutor was dealing with a medical pot dispensary (illegal federally but not in some states). The official could leak the information to the press and ruin the young prosecutor’s career. The phone numbers involved might be public information, so no further warrant would have been necessary, just matching the numbers. (There are facilities where inter-agency sharing of databases is facilitated, so we can’t be sure it is only the NSA that has the records).
Annoying Congressmen could be targeted for unofficial investigation and then blackmailed to back off certain investigations or legislation. Access to millions of phone calls is potentially Mafia-like power.
The potential for insider trading is also enormous. It might be possible to data-mine the investment community in one’s spare time. We will be told that there are safeguards against that sort of thing, but we already know that the information has been used in ways Congress did not originally intend, and after the meltdown in 2008 one would have to be terminally naive to think that people who can use privileged information for private gain will not do so. Congress only recently made insider trading for congressmen an issue, and although it passed a reform it has subsequently attempted to make it difficult to enforce.
I believe I may have been targeted for inappropriate surveillance on political grounds, myself.
I just hope I live long enough to see the USA PATRIOT Act, the most un-American and anti-patriotic piece of legislation since the Alien and Sedition Act, repealed or struck down. Until then, I don’t really accept that I am living in the United States of America. We are living, folks, in the United States of Total Information Awareness.1 Retweet 56 Share 69 Google +1 2 StumbleUpon 1 Printer Friendly Send via email
Obama pledged investigation of Alleged Taliban Prisoner Massacre by US-Backed Afghan Warlords; Where is it? (Currier)
Posted on 06/06/2013 by Juan Cole
Cora Currier writes at ProPublica
In his first year in office, President Barack Obama pledged to “collect the facts” on the death of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Taliban prisoners of war at the hands of U.S.-allied Afghan forces in late 2001.
Almost four years later, there’s no sign of progress.
When asked by ProPublica about the state of the investigation, the White House says it is still “looking into” the apparent massacre. Yet no facts have been released and it’s far from clear what, if any, facts have been collected.
Human rights researchers who originally uncovered the case say they’ve seen no evidence of an active investigation.
The deaths happened as Taliban forces were collapsing in the wake of the American invasion of Afghanistan. Thousands of Taliban prisoners had surrendered to the forces of a U.S.-supported warlord named Abdul Rashid Dostum. The prisoners, say survivors and other witnesses, were stuffed into shipping containers without food or water. Many died of suffocation. Others were allegedly killed when Dostum’s men shot at the containers.
A few months later, a mass grave was found nearby in Dasht-i-Leili, a desert region of northern Afghanistan.
The New York Times reported in 2009 that the Bush administration, sensitive to criticism of a U.S. ally, had discouraged investigations into the incident. In response, Obama told CNN that “if it appears that our conduct in some way supported violations of the laws of war, I think that we have to know about that.”
A White House spokeswoman told ProPublica that there has indeed been some kind of review – and that it’s still ongoing: “At the direction of the President, his national security team is continuing its work looking into the Dasht-i-Leili massacre.” She declined to provide more details.
“This seems quite half-hearted and cynical,” said Susannah Sirkin, director of international policy at Physicians for Human Rights, the group that discovered the grave site in 2002 and since then has pushed for an investigation.
The group sent a letter to the president in December 2011, the tenth anniversary of the incident. In a follow-up meeting some months later, senior State Department officials told Physicians for Human Rights that there was nothing new to share.
“This has been a hot potato that no one wanted to deal with, and now it’s gone cold,” said Norah Niland, former director of human rights for the United Nations in Afghanistan.
Human rights advocates have long said the responsibility for a comprehensive investigation lies with the U.S., because American forces were allied with Dostum and his men at the time. Surviving prisoners have also claimed that Americans were present when the containers were loaded, though that’s never been corroborated.
A Pentagon spokesman told ProPublica that the Department of Defense “found no evidence of U.S. service member participation, knowledge, or presence. A broader review of the facts is beyond D.O.D.’s purview.” That initial review has never been made public.
At this point, say advocates, an investigation should address not just the question of U.S. involvement, but also what the U.S. did in the years that followed to foster accountability.
“I’m not saying Dostum ordered these people killed, and I’m not saying U.S. troops participated,” said Stefan Schmitt, a forensic specialist with Physicians for Human Rights. “All I’m saying is there are hundreds if not thousands of people that went missing. In a country that’s looking to have peace, to be under the rule of law, you need to answer these questions.”
Initially excited by Obama’s statement, researchers with Physicians for Human Rights peppered the administration with their findings. But the response was “murky at best,” said Sirkin.
“We were never very clear on who within the administration was delegated the task,” she said. Current and former administration officials interviewed by ProPublica couldn’t say which agency or department had the job.
Sirkin and others eventually resigned themselves to the fact that Obama, in his televised remarks, had not specifically called for a full investigation. With the U.S. now withdrawing from Afghanistan, many observers say it’s no surprise that investigating Dasht-i-Leili is no longer a priority.
Dostum still holds considerable sway in Northern Afghanistan, though he has fallen in and out of favor with the U.S. and with Afghan president Hamid Karzai. The Times recently reported Dostum is one of several former warlords to whom Karzai passes on thousands of dollars in cash he receives from the CIA each month. (We were unable to reach Dostum himself for this story.)
The Obama administration has been cool toward him in recent years, saying ahead of Afghanistan’s elections in 2009 that the U.S. “maintains concerns about any leadership role for Mr. Dostum in today’s Afghanistan.”
Back in 2001, Dostum was far more important to the U.S. He was a U.S. proxy, fighting the Taliban as part of the Northern Alliance. American Special Forces famously rode on horseback alongside Dostum’s men, advising and calling in airstrikes. The alliance took the city of Mazar-i-Sharif from the Taliban in one of the first major victories of the invasion in early November 2001.
The shipping container deaths occurred a few weeks later, when Taliban fighters who had surrendered to the Northern Alliance at the city of Kunduz were en route to a prison about 200 miles away.
That winter, Physicians for Human Rights discovered a mass grave at Dasht-i-Leili. A preliminary investigation exhumed several bodies that appeared to have died from suffocation. Stories began to circulate in the region and Newsweek and others published detailed accounts from surviving prisoners, truck drivers, and other witnesses.
The Times also reported that an FBI agent interviewing new Afghan arrivals to Guantanamo Bay prison in early 2002 heard consistent accounts of prisoners “stacked like cordwood,” and death by suffocation and shooting. When the agent pressed for an investigation, he was reportedly told it was not his responsibility.
Dostum has said that he would welcome an investigation. He said that some 200 prisoners had indeed died in transit, but that the deaths were unintentional, the result of battlefield wounds.
Other estimates put the toll much higher.
A widely cited State Department memo from fall 2002 said that “the actual number may approach 2,000.”
Around the same time, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell tasked his Ambassador for War Crimes, Pierre-Richard Prosper, with looking into Dasht-i-Leili. Prosper told ProPublica that due to the U.S. alliance with Dostum, Washington felt the U.S. should not take the lead in an investigation.
”We were in the middle of fighting, and we thought we should keep the lines clear, let someone else, the U.N. or Afghans, handle this,” said Prosper.
But the newly installed Afghan government had neither the will nor the resources for a thorough investigation, and U.N. officials said they could not guarantee security. Witnesses and others involved in Dasht-i-Leili had already been killed and harassed, according to State Department memos.
A declassified Defense Department memo from February 2003 indicates the U.S. was not providing security for an investigation. The memo’s author, Marshall Billingslea, told the Times in 2009, “I did get the sense that there was little appetite for this matter within parts of D.O.D.” (Billingslea did not respond to our requests for comment.)
As the years went by, no one from the U.S., the U.N., or Afghanistan guarded the grave site. In 2008, reporters and researchers found empty pits where they had once found human remains. Satellite photos obtained later showed what appeared to be earth-moving equipment in the desert in 2006. Locals told McClatchy that Dostum’s men had dug up the graves.
After Obama pledged in 2009 to look into the case, a parallel inquiry was begun the next year in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by current Secretary of State John Kerry.
The fate of that investigation is also unclear. The lead investigator, John Kiriakou, was a former CIA officer who was caught up in a criminal leak prosecution and is now in prison. Other Senate staffers could not provide details on Kiriakou’s efforts.
Posted on 06/06/2013 by Juan Cole
Democracy Now! considers the Bradley Manning trial in the context of attempts to intimidate and punish government whistle blowers. That the world general reading public that can now see low-level cable traffic is depicted by government lawyers as the nefarious ‘enemy’ is a sign of this mindset.
“The military trial of Army whistleblower Bradley Manning at Fort Meade, Maryland, began Monday with the defense and prosecution presenting starkly contrasting accounts. Manning is accused of giving a cache of diplomatic cables and government documents to WikiLeaks in the largest leak of state secrets in U.S. history. The military prosecutor, Captain Joe Morrow, accused Manning of “dumping” hundreds of thousands of documents “into the lap of the enemy,” and painted a picture of close ties between Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Manning’s defense lawyer, David Coombs, said Manning wanted to reveal the human cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “He believed [the leaked] information showed how we value human life,” Coombs said. “He was troubled by that. He believed that if the American public saw it, they too would be troubled.” We’re joined by Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a lawyer to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Ratner attended the opening session of Manning’s trial.”
For liveblogging of the trial, see the always excellent and indispensable Firedoglake0 Retweet 10 Share 17 Google +1 0 StumbleUpon 1 Printer Friendly Send via email