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Doctors were compelled by US military and CIA to harm detainees, report says


A guard walks through a cellblock inside Camp V, a prison used to house detainees at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, March 5, 2013. Photo: Reuters.

Post-9/11 detainee interrogration policies of the US Defense Department and CIA forced medical professionals to abandon the ethical obligation to "do no harm" to the humans in their care, and engage in prohibited practices such as force-feeding of hunger strikers, according to a report out this week. "Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror" [PDF Link] was produced by 19-member task force of Columbia University's Institute on Medicine as a Profession and the Open Society Foundations. The LA Times has a summary here.

Short UK documentary about woman threatened with terrorism charges for videorecording cops while they stop-and-searched her boyfriend on the tube

Gemma sez, "You wrote a blog post about how I was assaulted by the police after filming my boyfriend being searched, back in 2009. The publicity we got from your post and the other press we got (Guardian and BBC) helped make thousands more people aware of this issue which led to the Metropolitan police eventually having to change their guidelines on photographing and filming the police. It was always my aim to get section 58a of the terrorism act clearer to all citizens in the UK and this hasn't changed. Today I'm releasing the animated short film about the case - It deals with broad issues of police accountability and citizen''s rights as well as the specifics of my case. We also hope it entertains you on its way."

Act of Terror

LibDems leave over support for secret trials; I resign from the party

Philippe Sands, a professor of international law and prominent practicing lawyer, has resigned from the UK Liberal Democrats party. He is the third well-known party member to leave the LibDems this month. Dinah Rose, a respected human rights lawyer who represented Guantánamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, quit last week, and Jo Shaw, who ran for the LibDems in 2010 resigned from the party after giving a speech at the party conference in Brighton last weekend.

These principled people have quit over the LibDems' support of the "justice and security bill," which establishes a system of secret courts in Britain in which people who sue the government over torture and kidnapping will not be able to see the government evidence offered against them. The LibDem leadership supported this law, whipped their MPs to vote for it, and all but seven of the sitting LibDem MPs did, despite the enormous public outcry against it, including a condemnation from Lord Neuberger, the country's most senior judge.

The Lords -- a chamber full of senior lawyers and judges -- has rejected this legislation and sent it back, calling for a system of safeguards to be put in place before upsetting the principle of open justice going back to the Magna Carta. Parliament has ripped up the Lords' amendments, refusing even the most basic of safeguards in this legislation.

We voted for the LibDems to be the "party of liberty," but they've been anything but. With this latest betrayal of party principles, the leadership has scuttled any credibility it had left. There is simply no case for this measure. The proponents of the law act as though there is a flood of baseless claims of torture and kidnapping that the government has had to settle in order to avoid revealing the secrets of Britain's spies. The truth is that the government has had to apologise for lying about its role in illegal torture and kidnapping, and that most of its victims are unable to get justice even today. Indeed, we don't know for sure that the practice has stopped, and we can't, because we've had more than a decade of "war on terror" nonsense that says that the public must be spied upon at all times, but that politicians and police must be able to operate in unaccountable secrecy.

Here is some of Professor Sands's resignation, published in the Guardian today:

This part of the bill is a messy and unhappy compromise. It is said to have been demanded by the US (which itself has stopped more or less any case that raises 'national security' issues from reaching court), on the basis that it won't share as much sensitive intelligence information if the UK doesn't rein in its courts. Important decisions on intelligence taken at the instigation of others are inherently unreliable. We remember Iraq, which broke a bond of trust between government and citizen.

There is no floodgate of cases, nothing in the coalition agreement, nor any widely supported call for such a draconian change. There is every chance that, if the bill is adopted, this and future governments will spend years defending the legislation in UK courts and Strasbourg. There will be claims that it violates rights of fair trial under the Human Rights Act and the European convention (no doubt giving rise to ever-more strident calls from Theresa May and Chris Grayling that both should be scrapped). Other countries with a less robust legal tradition favouring the rule of law and an independent judiciary will take their lead from the UK, as they did with torture and rendition.

I accept that there may be times when the country faces a threat of such gravity and imminence that the exceptional measure of closed material proceedings might be needed. This is not such a time, and the bill is not such a measure. Under conditions prevailing today, this part of the bill is not pragmatic or proportionate. It is wrong in principle, and will not deliver justice. It will be used to shield governmental wrongdoing from public and judicial scrutiny under conditions that are fair and just. The bill threatens greater corrosion of the rights of the individual in the UK, in the name of "national security".

I've read each of these peoples' resignations with growing unease. I am a member of the LibDems, raised funds for them in the last election, campaigned for them, endorsed them, and voted for them.

I cannot, in good conscience, remain a member or supporter of the LibDems. There comes a point where the broken promises and corruption overwhelms the pretty words in the party manifesto. Deeds speak louder than words. The LibDems are the party of talking about liberty and voting in tyranny.

I resign from the party.


Update: Mark Thomspon sez, "Me and a Labour friend Emma Burnell record a weekly podcast called 'House of Comments' which is an informal chat about the week's (mainly UK) politics. I thought you might be interested in the latest one. I couldn't make it but Emma chatted to former Lib Dem Jo Shaw and current Lib Dem Linda Jack about Secret Courts and having edited it yesterday I think we got some very interesting insights into what has been going on behind the scenes on this issue."

This is a fascinating analysis of the bubble of unreality that the LibDem leadership now inhabits.


Philippe Sands quits Lib Dems in protest at support for secret courts

Matt Ruff's brilliant alternate history The Mirage is out in paperback today

Matt Ruff's alternate history novel The Mirage was one of my favorite novels of 2012, and it's out in paperback today. Here's my review from last February:

Also: the UK edition is £9.11. Yes, yes it is. (Thanks, Peter!)

This is Matt Ruff with the awesome turned up to 11. To 12. To 100.

The Mirage is an alternate history novel set in a world where Arabia, the United Arab States, are the world's historic superpower. It's Arabia that intervenes in WWII (outraged over Nazi incursions into Muslim North Africa), and after the war, Arabia partitions Germany and establishes a Jewish homeland, Israel, with Berlin as its capital ("Israelis" enjoy a special "right of return" entitling them to visas to visit Jerusalem, of course).

Arabia prospers, though it is not without its internal strife. A notorious crime-boss called Saddam Hussein earns a fortune through narcotics (AKA whiskey) smuggling, abetted by a tabloid newspaper publisher called Tariq Aziz; a hawkish senator called Osama bin Laden commands a secretive private intelligence service called Al Qaeda; and a clownish governor called Moammar Qaddafi is a sort of Sarah Palin figure, running a private fiefdom. On the other hand, Qadaffi is very good to Internet startups, like the group-edited encyclopedia called "The Library of Alexandria" (excerpts from this are sprinkled through the book, written in perfect Wikipediese).

But Arabia is a good place to live. A great place. Until a fateful day: November 9, 2001. That's the day that Christian extremists from the troubled theocracy America hijack four airliners and crash two of them into Baghdad's Twin Towers, triggering a War on Terror that results in widescale incursions on civil liberties, an invasion and interminable occupation of America, and a Gulf War in the Gulf of Texas as the independent republic is threatened by its looming American neighbor.

For Crusaders -- the Christian extremists who go on attacking Arabia -- 11/9 is a wake-up call. The insurgency spreads around the Christian world. As Crusaders are taken into custody by Arabian Homeland Security, they tell a strange story. They are all experiencing a shared dream. A dream of a different world. A topsy-turvy world. A world where a great power called America rules, where Arabia is a collection of squabbling dictatorships, where the atrocities of 11/9 happened on 9/11, and triggered a very different War on Terror. What's more, some of these Crusaders bear startlingly realistic artifacts from this strange world -- copies of an imaginary, long-defunct newspaper called The New York Times, military service records, Iraqi money bearing the likeness of the clownish mafioso Saddam Hussein.

It would be easy enough to laugh off as just another nutty conspiracy theory, except that the Crusaders are very sure of themselves. So sure, in fact, that they believe that this world, the real world, is actually a mirage ("The Mirage"), sent by the Christian God to punish them for their impiety. They must destroy this world to be returned to reality, the reality of America.

So goes this extraordinary novel, which transcends a gimmicky exercise in Arabifying America and vice-versa and becomes a top-rate war novel, a thoughtful and sly commentary on the war on terror, and a scathing critique of religious partisanship, all at once. This is no doubt partly due to Matt Ruff's extraordinary wife, researcher Lisa Gold, the best researcher I know (she was Neal Stephenson's researcher on The Baroque Cycle and other books). But it's also due to Ruff's sure and steady hand, able to steer a course through a narrow strait with mere parody on one side and tedious exercise on the other, finding the sweet spot right in the middle and coming through with a head of steam that's unstoppable.

This is one of those books that you read while walking down the street and long after your bedtime, a book you stop strangers to tell about.

The Mirage

Ex-CIA officer Kiriakou, who fought torture, sentenced in leak case

John C. Kiriakou, a former CIA officer whom the government spent five years trying to convict for disclosing classified information, was today sentenced to 30 months in jail.

He is the first CIA officer in history to face prison for a leak.

From the NYT report by Michael S. Schmidt:

Read the rest

Death of a Prisoner: short documentary by Laura Poitras on Guantánamo detainee Adnan Latif

Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Laura Poitras, who is my colleague on the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, has a powerful short-form documentary film out today, via the New York Times' "op doc" series.

"Death of a Prisoner: The Tragic Return Home of a Guantánamo Bay Detainee" follows a journey to Yemen, to return the body of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif to his family. In 2012, he "died in solitary confinement at Guantánamo at age 36, after nearly 11 years of imprisonment there, despite never having been charged with a crime."

Read the rest

"Zero Dark Thirty" not good enough to justify torture fantasies

"Zero Dark Thirty," director Kathryn Bigelow's truthy-but-not-a-documentary-but-maybe-it-kinda-is thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, opened in New York and Los Angeles this week. I watched a screener last night. I thought it kind of sucked. There's a lot of buzz about what a great work of art ZDT is. I don't get it. In reviews of ZDT, fawning critics reflexively note that she directed Oscar-winning "Hurt Locker." Guys, she directed "Point Break," too.

Read the rest

CIA 'tortured, sodomized' terror suspect, European human rights court rules

09kidnap.xlarge1.jpg In a landmark ruling for human rights in the war on terror, the European court of human rights this week found that CIA agents tortured German citizen, Khaled el-Masri. The agents sodomized, shackled, and beat him, as Macedonian state police observed.

Read the rest

Understanding the NDAA, a US law that makes it possible to indefinitely detain people without charge or trial

Omems sends us, "ProPublica's point-by-point discussion of why this year's NDAA might not allow for the indefinite detention of US citizens. As clear and concise a summary as I've seen, and provides a bit of hope that our rights aren't completely irrelevant to our representatives."

I don't know that I'd got that far. ProPublica concludes that some of the senators who voted for NDAA clearly believe (and intend) that it will be used to lock up American citizens and lawful residents forever, without a trial or any meaningful due process. And all of them expect that the NDAA will allow for indefinite detention without charge or trial for foreigners who are captured abroad, or who happen to visit the USA (tourists beware). As one of those foreigners who often visits the USA on a work-visa, I'm not exactly comforted by this news.

What about people detained in the U.S. who aren’t citizens or permanent residents?

They could still be indefinitely detained.

Human rights and civil libertarian groups criticized the amendment for falling short of the protections in the constitution under the Fifth Amendment, which says that any “person” in the U.S. be afforded due process.

In the floor debate, Feinstein said she agreed with critics that allowing anybody in the U.S. to be detained indefinitely without charges “violates fundamental American rights.” Feinstein said she didn’t think she had the necessary votes to pass a due-process guarantee for all.

Cutting through the Controversy about Indefinite Detention and the NDAA (Thanks, Omem!)

Congress: The DHS's "fusion centers" full of bad intelligence, lies, and imaginary buildings

A bipartisan report on the DHS's much-vaunted, scorchingly expensive "fusion centers" that were supposed to be the future of American security. The Congressional investigators who wrote the report don't mince words, and accuse the DHS of uncontrolled spending, poor, false and even lying intelligence reporting, illegal intelligence gathering, and even making up four imaginary fusion centers that were never built, but were reported to Congress as open for business and bustling with activity. (via Techdirt) Cory

EU working group produces the stupidest set of proposed Internet rules in the entire history of the human race


An EU working group that's been charged with coming up with recommendations for a terrorist-free European Internet has been brainstorming the stupidest goddamned ideas you've ever read, which are now widely visible, thanks to a leaked memo. The group, CleanIT, which is composed of cops, governments, and some NGOs from across Europe, has been given €400,000 to make its recommendations, and a document dated August 2012 sets out some of the group's thinking to date. As mentioned, it's pretty amazingly bad. Like, infra-stupid, containing strains of stupidity so low and awful they can't be perceived with unaided human apparatus. Here's Ars Technica's summary of the ideas in the memo:

* "Knowingly providing hyperlinks on websites to terrorist content must be defined by law as illegal just like the terrorist content itself"
* "Governments must disseminate lists of illegal, terrorist websites"
* "The Council Regulation (EC) No 881/2002 of 27 May 2002 (art 1.2) should be explained that providing Internet services is included in providing economics instruments to Al Qaeda (and other terrorist persons and organisations designated by the EU) and therefore an illegal act"
* "On Voice over IP services it must be possible to flag users for terrorist activity."
* "Internet companies must allow only real, common names."
* "Social media companies must allow only real pictures of users."
* "At the European level a browser or operating system based reporting button must be developed."
* "Governments will start drafting legislation that will make offering... a system [to monitor Internet activity] to Internet users obligatory for browser or operating systems...as a condition of selling their products in this country or the European Union."

Ars Technica's Cyrus Farivar tracked down a CleanIT spokesman on his home planet. But Klaasen is the Dutch national coordinator for counterterrorism and security programme manager of the office of the Dutch national coordinator for counterterrorism and security*, and he is really upset that we can read this stupid, stupid document full of recommendations that would be illegal in European law. He also can't believe that European Digital Rights, the NGO that published the leaked stupid, stupid document, didn't honor the confidentiality notice on the stupid, stupid cover-page.

* Update Cyrus sez, "Klaasen has corrected his title calling himself now the 'programme manager of the office of the Dutch national coordinator for counterterrorism and security'. Here's his LinkedIn page. He's referred to as the 'project manager,' which as far as I can tell, makes him in charge of the whole thing."

"I do fully understand that the publishing of the document led to misunderstandings," he told Ars. "If we publish like this, it will scare people—that’s the reason that we didn’t publish it. It’s food for thought. We do realize these are very rough ideas."

..."You can compare [this situation] to taking pictures of what someone buys for dinner with how a dinner tastes—you don’t have the complete picture," he added.

..."We really didn’t expect that people would publish a document that clearly says ‘not for publication’—that really surprised us," he said. "I don’t know if it’s naive. Why can’t I trust people?" [Ed: Oh, diddums]

Proposed EU plan to stop terrorist sites even more ridiculous than it sounds

(Image: Clown, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from manc's photostream)

Terrorists suck

"The Terrorism Delusion," a paper by John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart in this summer's issue of International Security, argues that terrorists basically suck at their jobs. They report that the best US intelligence puts the whole al Qaeda weapons of mass destruction R&D budget at US$4,000; that Americans who are "radicalized" and brought to terrorism training camps return disgusted and disillusioned and determined to put future recruits off (and then get arrested anyway); that Iraqis were so alienated from loony al Qaeda fighters that bin Laden proposed renaming the group; and that terrorists who are busted are basically dolts, fools, bumblers and delusional loonies.

But, as Mueller and Stewart write, the counter-terror forced continue to present terrorism as a grave risk brought about by super-criminal masterminds who threaten the safety of all of us, every day.

Terrorists have proven to be relentless, patient, opportunistic, and flexible, learning from experience and modifying tactics and targets to exploit perceived vulnerabilities and avoid observed strengths.”8

This description may apply to some terrorists somewhere, including at least a few of those involved in the September 11 attacks. Yet, it scarcely describes the vast majority of those individuals picked up on terrorism charges in the United States since those attacks. The inability of the DHS to consider this fact even parenthetically in its fleeting discussion is not only amazing but perhaps delusional in its single-minded preoccupation with the extreme.

In sharp contrast, the authors of the case studies, with remarkably few exceptions, describe their subjects with such words as incompetent, ineffective, unintelligent, idiotic, ignorant, inadequate, unorganized, misguided, muddled, amateurish, dopey, unrealistic, moronic, irrational, and foolish.9 And in nearly all of the cases where an operative from the police or from the Federal Bureau of Investigation was at work (almost half of the total), the most appropriate descriptor would be “gullible.”

In all, as Shikha Dalmia has put it, would-be terrorists need to be “radical- ized enough to die for their cause; Westernized enough to move around with- out raising red flags; ingenious enough to exploit loopholes in the security apparatus; meticulous enough to attend to the myriad logistical details that could torpedo the operation; self-sufficient enough to make all the preparations without enlisting outsiders who might give them away; disciplined enough to maintain complete secrecy; and—above all—psychologically tough enough to keep functioning at a high level without cracking in the face of their own impending death.”

The Terrorism Delusion (PDF) (Thanks, Nicolas!)

UK high court experiences flash of sanity, decriminalizes sarcastic aviation tweeting

In a rare and welcome moment of sanity, the UK High Court has ruled that guy who made a snarky tweet about bombing an airport is not a criminal. The judge's written opinion is not kind to the cops and prosecutors who spent years chasing Paul Chambers, the tweeter in question, pointing out that no one at any point believed that Chambers was serious, that no one was credibly alarmed, and that they were all, basically, total idiots. Wired UK's Mark Brown has more.

"Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed," his infamous tweet read. "You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I am blowing the airport sky high!"

A week later, he was arrested by anti-terror police for making a bomb threat. In May 2010, the Doncaster magistrates court found him guilty "of sending, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message of a menacing character." He was fined and lost his job.

After a lengthy appeal process, Chambers has finally been acquitted. In the judgement document, the high court said, "the appeal against conviction will be allowed on the basis that this tweet did not constitute or include a message of a menacing character; we cannot usefully take this aspect of the appeal further."

UK High Court overturns conviction for Twitter joke

Bruce Schneier explains security to a neurologist who believes in profiling Muslims at airports

Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, challenged Bruce Schneier to a debate on whether Muslims should be singled out for additional screening at airports. Schneier patiently, and repeatedly, explains why (apart from the unconstitutionality and moral repugnance of this), it would be bad security practice. Harris changes the subject. A lot. But Schneier presents a model of how to use dispassionate reason to demolish intellectual laziness and xenophobia dressed up as "common sense."

There are other security concerns when you look at the geopolitical context, though. Profiling Muslims fosters an “us vs. them” thinking that simply isn’t accurate when talking about terrorism. I have always thought that the “war on terror” metaphor was actively harmful to security because it raised the terrorists to the level of equal combatant. In a war, there are sides, and there is winning. I much prefer the crime metaphor. There are no opposing sides in crime; there are the few criminals and the rest of us. There criminals don’t “win.” Maybe they get away with it for a while, but eventually they’re caught.

“Us vs. them” thinking has two basic costs. One, it establishes that worldview in the minds of “us”: the non-profiled. We saw this after 9/11, in the assaults and discriminations against innocent Americans who happened to be Muslim. And two, it establishes the same worldview in the minds of “them”: Muslims. This increases anti-American sentiment among Muslims. This reduces our security, less because it creates terrorists—although I’m sure it is one of the things that pushes a marginal terrorist over the line—and more that a higher anti-American sentiment in the Muslim community is a more fertile ground for terrorist groups to recruit and operate. Making sure the vast majority of Muslims who are not terrorists are part of the “us” fighting terror, just as the vast majority of honest citizens work together in fighting crime, is a security benefit.

Like many of the other things we’ve discussed here, we can debate how big the costs and benefits I just described are, or we can simplify our system and stop worrying about it.

One final cost. Security isn’t the only thing we’re trying to optimize; there are other values at stake here. There’s a reason profiling is often against the law, and that’s because it is contrary to our country’s values. Sometimes we might have to set aside those values, but not for this.

To Profile or Not to Profile? (Thanks, Deborah!)

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to return their medals to protest war on terror at Chicago NATO summit this weekend

Iraq Veterans Against the War is bringing veterans to the NATO summit in Chicago on May 20 to ceremonially return the medals they were awarded for serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. The group's statement -- which will be reiterated to NATO's representatives -- is:

We were awarded these medals for serving in the Global War on Terror, a war based on lies and failed polices. This endless war has killed hundreds of thousands, stripped the humanity of all involved, and drained our communities of trillions of dollars, diverting funds from schools, clinics, libraries, and other public goods.

They are calling on supporters to rally with them:

Iraq Veterans Against the War calls on fellow service members, veterans, Chicagoans, and everyone who believes in justice, dignity, and respect for all peoples to join us in the streets on May 20th. On this day, we will hold a nonviolent march to the site of the NATO summit where we will ceremoniously return our military service medals. We will demand that NATO immediately end the occupation of Afghanistan and relating economic and social injustices, bring U.S. war dollars home to fund our communities, and acknowledge the rights and humanity of all who are affected by these wars. We wish to begin a process of justice and reconciliation with the people of Afghanistan and other affected nations, fellow service members, veterans, and the American people.