Torture common again in post-Saddam "democratic" Iraq

"Iraqi state security officers are systematically arresting people on trumped-up charges, torturing them and extorting bribes from their families for their release." Guardian UK via Richard Engel. Read the rest

Response to Boing Boing post on "Police Pad" gadgets in Georgia, from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia

Editor's Note: In response to an anonymously-sourced wisecrack we published about police corruption in former Soviet states, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs has responded with a statement, which we are more than happy to publish in full.

Georgian Police: Model for Successful Transformation

The article published on [Boing Boing on] January 12, 2012, about the initiative by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia to introduce new portable field computers (so called “Police Pads”) ends with an anonymous quote declaring that "100% guaranteed those crooked, fat, lazy cops will be using these devices primarily for porn and Russian gambling services."

Stereotypes like this are easy to toss out—but are quite simply incorrect. This quote does not reflect the productivity, effectiveness, transparency, and reliability of the police force in Georgia today, but rather the bygone era of the 1990s, a reality that has drastically changed thanks to an ambitious and successful reform process.

The reform process in Georgia began immediately after the 2003 Rose Revolution. The new government inherited a completely corrupt and bloated law-enforcement system. The systemic corruption and the high level of crime throughout the country resulted in a very low level of public trust: fewer than 10% of Georgians had confidence in the police, according to 2003 polls. And the very low average policeman's salary (approximately $68 per month) made the soliciting of bribes routine. 

Georgia has since made the creation of an efficient and modern police force a national priority, undertaking a series of reforms that sought to rebuild the national police force literally from the ground up. Read the rest

Muslim student claims sexual harrassment, school ignores, she's falsely reported as a terrorist, FBI shows up at her door

Balayla Ahmad, an observant African-American Muslim student at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, has filed a federal lawsuit claiming she was sexually harassed by a male student in 2009 for months on end, but that university officials showed "deliberate indifference" to her repeated complaints—and that she was then reported to the FBI in revenge for having complained. From the Associated Press:

When she complained to a teacher, she was told that the university generally doesn't get rid of students right away over such incidents, the lawsuit said. Another teacher asked her if she were married and asked her not to report it to the dean because he would speak with the harasser, the suit said.

Ahmad then reported the harassment and fears for her safety to the university's president and dean, who promised to meet with her. But she said when she met with the dean, he said, "My hands are tied. What do you suggest I do?"

After reporting the sexual harassment in April 2009, Ahmad said she was approached by two university security directors who told her someone had made allegations against her and they threatened to call the FBI and have her arrested.

Later, two FBI agents knocked on Ahmad's apartment door, questioned her and left a business card, according to the lawsuit. She said she learned that her harasser or his associates had fabricated a story falsely accusing her of being a terrorist in apparent retaliation for having made a sexual harassment complaint against him.

Read the rest

TSA's brags about not catching any terrorists, proves its own irrelevance

Bruce Schneier looks at the TSA's brag sheet, documenting the "Top 10 Good Catches of 2011" and finds "mostly forgetful, and entirely innocent, people. Note that they fail to point out that the firearms and knives would have been just as easily caught by pre-9/11 screening procedures."

That's right; not a single terrorist on the list. Mostly forgetful, and entirely innocent, people. Note that they fail to point out that the firearms and knives would have been just as easily caught by pre-9/11 screening procedures. And that the C4 -- their #1 "good catch" -- was on the return flight; they missed it the first time. So only 1 for 2 on that one.

And the TSA decided not to mention its stupidest confiscations:

TSA confiscates a butter knife from an airline pilot. TSA confiscates a teenage girl's purse with an embroidered handgun design. TSA confiscates a 4-inch plastic rifle from a GI Joe action doll on the grounds that it’s a "replica weapon." TSA confiscates a liquid-filled baby rattle from airline pilot’s infant daughter. TSA confiscates a plastic "Star Wars" lightsaber from a toddler.

Meanwhile, the TSA literally cites preventing snakes on a plane is one of its top-ten catches.

The TSA Proves its Own Irrelevance (via Beth Pratt)

(Image: Knilly and his Snakes on a Plane T-Shirt - Good Friday - The Angel on St. Giles High Street, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from charliebrewer's photostream) Read the rest

Testament of humanitarian aid worker who spent seven years being held and tortured in Gitmo

The NYT gives space to Lakhdar Boumediene, a humanitarian aid worker who was arrested on secret evidence that he was planning to blow up the US embassy in Sarajevo. Despite the fact that the case was found without merit by Bosnia's highest court, he was kidnapped to Guantanamo Bay by US forces and held for seven years, subjected to torture and isolation from his family. A US court finally freed him. You remember when they started releasing Gitmo prisoners and there was all that hand-wringing on how these dangerous,dangerous people couldn't possibly be released because they were all jihadis? Yeah, that.

I left Algeria in 1990 to work abroad. In 1997 my family and I moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina at the request of my employer, the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates. I served in the Sarajevo office as director of humanitarian aid for children who had lost relatives to violence during the Balkan conflicts. In 1998, I became a Bosnian citizen. We had a good life, but all of that changed after 9/11.

When I arrived at work on the morning of Oct. 19, 2001, an intelligence officer was waiting for me. He asked me to accompany him to answer questions. I did so, voluntarily — but afterward I was told that I could not go home. The United States had demanded that local authorities arrest me and five other men. News reports at the time said the United States believed that I was plotting to blow up its embassy in Sarajevo.

Read the rest

Bush-era whistleblower faced even more intense harassment under Obama

Jesselyn Radack is a former US government lawyer, blew the whistle on the US Justice Department when her advice that John Walker Lindh request to have access to a lawyer during questioning should be allowed was sealed, and then Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that Lindh had not requested a lawyer. She was given a blistering performance review, fired, and placed under criminal investigation and intense surveillance. She was also added to the nation's No Fly list.

When the Obama administration assumed office, they continued and amplified the Bush-era harassment of Radack. Her 10-minute speech on her plight is a chilling reminder of how hostile the US government is to workers who point out its criminal failings, lies, and misdeeds, no matter who is in office.

Obama’s War on Whistleblowers « naked capitalism Read the rest

LOLcats and the Arab Spring - human rights and the Internet

On the CBC Ideas podcast, a lecture by Ethan Zuckerman on the connection between LOLcats, Internet activism and the Arab Spring:

In the 2011 Vancouver Human Rights Lecture, Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, looks at the "cute cat" theory of internet activism, and how it helps explain the Arab Spring. He discusses how activists around the world are turning to social media tools which are extremely powerful, easy to use and difficult for governments to censor. The Vancouver Human Rights Lecture is co-sponsored by the UBC Continuing Studies, the Laurier Institution, and Yahoo.

The Vancouver Human Rights Lecture - Cute Cats and The Arab Spring

MP3 link Read the rest

ACLU fights Kafkaesque secret Occupy Boston Twitter subpoena

The ACLU of Massachusetts is representing an anonymous Twitter user who has been targetted by an Assistant DA who is trying to build a case related to Occupy Boston; the court and the ADA have sealed the proceedings, so no one -- not even some of the ACLU staff working on the case -- is allowed to know what is going on:

I had gone to court to listen to our legal team argue a case to protect the First Amendment rights of our client, Twitter user @p0isAn0n, aka Guido Fawkes. That user, who wishes to remain anonymous throughout the proceedings, was the target of a Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney’s administrative subpoena to Twitter, dated December 14, 2011. As we wrote last week, the subpoena asked Twitter to hand over @p0isAn0n’s subscriber information, including our client’s IP address, which can be used to help track down someone’s physical residence...

The known knowns: the scrum of lawyers, defense and prosecution, addressed the judge. I saw the judge speak to the lawyers. Then I saw our attorneys return to their bench, closer to where I was sitting, out of earshot of the sidebar. But the ADA stayed with the judge. He spoke to her, with his back to the courtroom, for about ten minutes. Our attorneys didn’t get to hear what he said to her, didn’t have a chance to respond to whatever the government was saying about our client, about the case. It was frankly shocking.

After those ten minutes of secret government-judge conversation, our attorneys were invited back to the sidebar, whereupon the scrum of lawyers spoke with the judge for another ten or fifteen minutes.

Read the rest

War on General Purpose Computing auf Deutsch

Christian Wöhrl has produced a German translation of my 28C3 talk, The Coming War on General Purpose Computing. Thanks, Christian! Read the rest

Danish company helped Iran with surveillance program that identified journalist who was arrested and tortured

RanTek, a Danish company, is reportedly supplying Iran with censor/spyware technology, which was part of a larger effort that was used to identify a dissident journalist who was arrested and tortured.

Until he was arrested, he worked for Mehr, the official Iranian news agency. He received information from all over the country about protests and demonstrations, information too controversial to be used in the news agent's official work. Instead he published it through other channels, e.g. Facebook. However, after the elections in June 2009, when people took to the streets in protest against Ahmadinejad's election victory, it was clear to the Iranians that the Internet is in no way safe.

Nearly 4000 people were arrested solely on the basis of monitoring of their private internet traffic«, says Farahani.

Now it seems that the Danish company RanTek helps the Iranian regime with the monitoring of the Iranian population. The day before Christmas the Bloomberg news agency reported that the Danish IT company re-packages and sells surveillance equipment to Iran. Ironically, the equipment originally comes from the Israeli manufacturer Allot Communications, which means that the Israelis through a Danish intermediary have helped their mortal enemies.

Eksperter: Dansk firma hjælper med iransk overvågning (Danish)

Danish company helps Iran spy on citizens (English)

(Thanks, Henrik!) Read the rest

Guide for bloggers who worry that they'll be imprisoned by their governments

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Global Voices Advocacy have produced a guide for bloggers who believe that their work is liable to get them arrested or kidnapped by the authorities:

All bloggers should:

* Consider providing someone outside the country with the following information: - Login credentials to your social media, email, and blog accounts - Contact information of family members - Information about any health conditions * Regularly back up their blog, Facebook, email, and other accounts * Consider mirroring your website if you want to ensure it remains up without your attention to it * Encrypt sensitive files and consider hiding them on a separate drive * Consider using tools like Identity Sweeper (for Android users) to secure/erase your mobile data * Consider preparing a statement for release in case of arrest-- This can be helpful for international news outlets and human rights organizations * Consider recording a short video identifying yourself (biographical info, scope of work) and the risks that you face and share with trusted contacts * Develop contacts with human rights and free expression organizations* * Think about a strategy/contingency plan for what to do if you're detained (see below)

For Bloggers at Risk: Creating a Contingency Plan Read the rest

UPDATED: Danish human rights activist arrested in Bahrain, faces torture: will Danish foreign minister intervene?

Update: Zainab is back home!

Carstenagger sez, "The blogger and human rights activist Zainab Alkhawaja has been detained since Thursday, December 15th, where she was detained after being teargassed while participating in a peaceful demonstration. Her husband and her father are imprisoned, her father sentenced to life in prison and allegedly hideously tortured. Zainab is in *great danger* of being tortured, given the present climate in Bahrain. Zainab is a very courageous activist, which prompted NY Times reporter Nicholas Kristof to tweet: 'I suggest that Bahrain officials avoid torturing and imprisoning @AngryArabiya. Some day she could be their president.' Here is how YOU can help: Zainab is a Danish citizen. Our new Minister of Foreign Affairs is all too fond of photo ops with Hillary Clinton, but he will succumb to pressure and hopefully create a diplomatic incident to protect one of his citizens. Please drop him a line on and express your concern for Zainab Alkhawaja and ask him to use his influence to demand her release [Ed: see above -- she's back home]."

Dansk aktivist anholdt i Bahrain (Thanks, Carsten!)

(Photo: @mazenmahdi) Read the rest

Boing Boing Charitable Giving Guide, 2011 edition

It's time again for Boing Boing's guide the charities we support in our annual giving. As always, please add the causes and charities you give to in the comments below!

Electronic Frontier Foundation The EFF's mission has never been more important: as laws like SOPA are rammed through Congress, as bloggers around the world are arrested and tortured with the collusion of American network-surveillance companies, and as the FBI's unconstitutional, warrantless use of surveillance technology like GPS bugs comes to light, EFF is poised to be center-stage in the fight for a free and open world with a free and open Internet. —CD

Creative Commons Creative Commons has permeated my life in a thousand ways -- on Boing Boing and in my writing, Creative Commons is responsible for how I get the job done and how I get paid for it. CC's advocacy of a nuanced, intelligent position on creativity and sharing changes the lives of creators, educators, scientists, scholars, and kids, all over the world. —CD

Read the rest

Internet Engineers to Congress: SOPA censorship will harm Internet security

83 of the Internet's most prominent inventors, founders, and engineers have penned an open letter to Congress in opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act, which is slated for markup in the House today. The signatories warn that the bill will compromise fundamental Internet infrastructure and undermine the security of the net.

Censorship of Internet infrastructure will inevitably cause network errors and security problems. This is true in China, Iran and other countries that censor the network today; it will be just as true of American censorship. It is also true regardless of whether censorship is implemented via the DNS, proxies, firewalls, or any other method. Types of network errors and insecurity that we wrestle with today will become more widespread, and will affect sites other than those blacklisted by the American government.

The current bills -- SOPA explicitly and PIPA implicitly -- also threaten engineers who build Internet systems or offer services that are not readily and automatically compliant with censorship actions by the U.S. government. When we designed the Internet the first time, our priorities were reliability, robustness and minimizing central points of failure or control. We are alarmed that Congress is so close to mandating censorship-compliance as a design requirement for new Internet innovations. This can only damage the security of the network, and give authoritarian governments more power over what their citizens can read and publish.

This is the last chance to tell your representative to keep the Internet free before the markup: have you phoned DC yet? Read the rest

Global Voices on CNN: SOPA will hurt global human rights struggles

James from New America Foundation sez, "Ivan Sigal and Rebecca MacKinnon, respectively executive director and co-founder of Global Voices, describe how copyright enforcement legislation must respect Internet freedom. (Remember when CarrierIQ tried to silence Trevor Eckart's research?) The precedent the U.S. sets poses greater dangers abroad:"

In countries whose judicial systems are less independent and where legal defense for bloggers is rare, abuse of copyright law to stifle activism is much easier. The Russian government last year used a crackdown on software piracy as an excuse to confiscate activists' computers. The Chinese government used copyright claims to crack down on critics of the 2008 Beijing Olympics who sometimes used modified images of the Olympic mascots in their critiques.

In China 'copyright' is one of many excuses to crack down on political movements," a Chinese blogger, Isaac Mao, told us. "If a new law like SOPA is introduced in the U.S., the Chinese government and official media will use it to support their version of 'anti-piracy.'"

Online piracy laws must preserve Web freedom Read the rest

Memoir of a child kidnapped to Guantanamo Bay, tortured for six years, and released

When Mohammed el Gorani was a boy in Saudi Arabia, he found that he could not find good work or education because his family was from Chad. A friend from Pakistan offered to connect him with relatives there who would help him get educated. He took his work savings and flew to Pakistan, where he was kidnapped by local thugs and sold to the US Army as an Al Qaeda operative. He was tortured by the thugs, then tortured by the Army, then sent to Guantanamo for six years, where he was tortured further. He was eventually released and exonerated, but a confidential agreement between the government of Chad and the US State Department prohibits him from rejoining his family in Saudi Arabia. He suffers lasting health problems. Here is his story.

We landed at another airstrip. It was night. Americans shouted: ‘Terrorists, criminals, we’re going to kill you!’ Two soldiers took me by my arms and started running. My legs were dragging on the ground. They were laughing, telling me: ‘Fucking nigger!’ I didn’t know what that meant, I learned it later. They took off my mask and I saw many tents on the airstrip. They put me inside one. There was an Egyptian (I recognised his Arabic) wearing a US uniform. He started by asking me: ‘When was the last time you saw Osama bin Laden?’ ‘Who?’ He took me by my shirt collar and they beat me again. During all my time at Kandahar, I was beaten. Once it was like a movie – they came inside the tent with guns, shouting: WE CAUGHT THE TERRORISTS!

Read the rest

Blackwater and co Iraq data-dump: mercenaries shot a judge with impunity, used bullets as hand signals, were not disciplined as this "would lower morale"

Four years after their initial Freedom of Information Act request, Gawker has received and published 4,500 pages' worth of detail on the way that mercenaries from Blackwater and other defense contractors conducted themselves in Iraq. Their basic procedure appears to have been to shoot any car that attempted to pass or tailgate any of the convoys they guarded, especially if the driver was a "military aged male." Then, with no followup (or very little), they would conclude that the driver was unharmed and drive on, filing a report later. One victim of a Blackwater mercenary shooting was a judge, who was wounded in the leg (though the mercs' report claimed he was unharmed). The State Department backed the mecenaries on this; in Gawker's words, 'The State Department determined that shooting at judges for driving too fast in their own country is "within the established Department of State policy for escalation of force."' Other drivers were shot because they carried passengers with "devices" in their hands -- such as mobile phones.

When Blackwater teams were caught lying about their roadside battles and executions, they faced little or no discipline. The State Department officials supervising the mercenaries' behavior were told that discipline "would lower morale" among the mercenaries, and seemed to accept this at face value.

A July 2007 email from one State Department official to several colleagues—apparently in reference to the judge's shooting—openly worried about contractor teams indiscriminately shooting their way around Iraq:

When was the last time we...looked into all the other contractor PSD elements running around Iraq?

Read the rest

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