Boing Boing 

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)

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.

Byron Sonne is an innocent man

Twitter's #freebyron hashtag is alive with the news that Byron Sonne, the Toronto-area security expert who was incarcerated and treated as a terrorist for pointing out and making fun of the security flaws in the $1.2B security scheme for the Toronto G20 summit, has been found Not Guilty on all counts.

A moment of sanity from the Canadian judicial system, and all it cost was Sonne's marriage, house, and freedom.

Here's our earlier Sonne pieces.

#freebyron

US requests for secret spying warrants rose to nearly 2K in 2011, and not a single one was rejected

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) reports today that the US Justice Department made 1,745 requests last year to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) for permission to wiretap electronic communications or search for physical evidence in counter-terrorism cases.

That's up from 1,579 requests in 2010. Every single one of the requests submitted in 2011 were accepted, though 30 were modified by the court.

All of this is noted in a new annual report to Congress. More context from the FAS blog post today by Steven Aftergood:

The new report says that the government filed 205 applications for business records (including “tangible things”) for foreign intelligence purposes last year, compared to 96 in the previous year.

But the number of “national security letters” (a type of administrative subpoena) declined last year. In 2011, the FBI requested 16,511 national security letters pertaining to 7,201 U.S. persons, the new report said, compared to the 2010 total of 24,287 letter requests concerning 14,212 U.S. persons.

(via Associated Press)

Photo: Vladi/Shutterstock

America's decade of reverse-nation-building at home

In Sunday's NYT, EL Doctorow (no relation) with a remarkable polemic on how the USA has spent the past 12 years dismantling any justification for "American Execptionalism" with a series of domestic and international foolishnesses, evils, and crimes.

Using the state of war as justification, order secret surveillance of American citizens, data mine their phone calls and e-mail, make business, medical and public library records available to government agencies, perform illegal warrantless searches of homes and offices.

Take to torturing terrorism suspects, here or abroad, in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. Unilaterally abrogate the Convention Against Torture as well as the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war. Commit to indeterminate detention without trial those you decide are enemies. For good measure, trust that legislative supporters will eventually apply this policy as well to American citizens.

Suspend progressive taxation so that the wealthiest pay less proportionately than the middle class. See to it that the wealth of the country accumulates to a small fraction of the population so that the gap between rich and poor widens exponentially.

Unexceptionalism: A Primer

Brian Wood's DMZ: a critical look back


As the final volume of Brian Wood's brilliant anti-war graphic novel DMZ nears publication, Dominic Umile looks back on the series' 72 issue run of political allegory and all the ways that it used the device of fiction to make trenchant comic on the real world. DMZ is a story about the "State of Exception" that the American establishment declared after 9/11, a period when human rights, civil liberty, economic sanity, and the constitution all play second-fiddle to the all-consuming war on terror. Like the best allegories, it works first and best as a story in its own right, but it is also an important comment on the world we live in.

In DMZ #8, Matty Roth reviews a series of New York Times newspapers to reconstruct a timeline of the book’s war. Burchielli’s panels are nearly blacked-out. It’s as if Roth is squatting on a darkened stage: Nothing behind him is discernible outside of more yellowed newspapers, each slugged with copy that’s painfully close to our own real-life headlines. Brian Wood’s chief character is despondent and sounds like many of us do today in the era of Occupy Wall Street, hostilities in Afghanistan, the Obama administration’s drone campaign, and rampant corruption plaguing state and federal government, all amid an ever-theatric run-up to another presidential election.

Even as DMZ had another 64 issues and more than five years to go, Roth’s thoughts are rendered with an undeniable degree of both prescience and finality: “I never paid attention to politics. Never seemed to be a point. Politics happened the way it happened regardless of what anyone thought or did. So why bother?”

A "System" of Torture?: 'DMZ's' Argument Through Comment, and Comics

Tony Blair channels Ronald Reagan, "doesn't remember" sending dissidents to Libya for torture

When the Qaddafi regime fell in Libya, the headquarters of the secret police were occupied by the rebel forces, who retrieved a large quantity of memos and documents detailing the cooperation between western governments and the Qaddafi regime, including the sale and maintenance of network surveillance equipment, and, notoriously, the use of Qaddafi's torturers on suspected terrorists who were secretly rendered to Libya by western intelligence agencies.

One set of documents show that the UK intelligence service worked to kidnap and render Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his pregnant wife, Fatima Bouchar, for a horrific round of torture that was directly overseen by UK intelligence agents, with the knowledge of the CIA.

Now Tony Blair, who was prime minister of Britain at the time of the illegal kidnapping and torture, denies having any recollection of the programme, and insists that Libya was a fine partner in the war on terror.

A UK parliamentary committee is attempting to investigate the matter, and filed a freedom of information request with the US government for documents on UK participation in illegal rendition programmes. The CIA objected to the request, and a US judge denied it on the grounds that it had been made by a "foreign government entity" (the UK's all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition). Deputy committee chair Tony Lloyd called the ruling "odd" and "an abuse of the spirit of freedom of information." He noted that the judge had not rejected the proposal on the grounds of national security, but because "a parliamentary body that was part of the British state was 'not acceptable.'" Richard Norton-Taylor has more in the Guardian.

The CIA's approach echoes that adopted by MI6 and MI5, which have fought to prevent the disclosure in British courts of evidence relating to the US practice of extraordinary rendition.

The parliamentary group, meanwhile, is fighting a refusal by the British government to disclose papers that, it says, would reveal UK complicity in the secret flights and subsequent abuse of individual suspects. The information tribunal in London is expected to give a ruling on the request soon.

Tony Blair has 'no recollection' of Libyan dissident's rendition

(Image: Tony Blair interviewed by Fortune, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from thenickster's photostream)

US government orders UK carriers to extend no-fly list Brits travelling to non-US destinations, even on flights that don't pass through US airspace

The Independent's Simon Calder reports that the US Department of Homeland Security has ordered air carriers to hand over the personal information of British people travelling to the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada, even for flights that don't fly over US airspace. What's more, they demand the right to order passengers to be yanked from flights right up to boarding time, without explanation. Essentially, they're extraterritorializing the No-Fly list, a list of thousands and thousands of people who are deemed -- for secret reasons -- to be so dangerous that they're not allowed to fly, but not so dangerous that they can be arrested.

Given that this is April 1, I'm slightly suspicious, as this is so blatantly evil that it's hard to believe that UK carriers would capitulate to it. On the other hand, everyone capitulates to the undemocratic absurdities of the American security-industrial apparatus.

Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, told The Independent: "The concern by the US for its own security is entirely understandable, but it seems to me it's a whole different issue that American wishes should determine the rights and choices of people travelling between two countries neither of which is the US."

...Any passenger who refuses to comply will be denied boarding. Those who do supply details may find their trip could be abruptly cancelled by the Department of Homeland Security, which says it will "take boarding pass determinations up until the time a flight leaves the gate ... If a passenger successfully obtains a boarding pass, his/her name is not on the No Fly list." In other words, travellers cannot find out whether they will be accepted on board until they reach the airport...

The US will have full details of all British visitors to Cuba, including business travellers, which could potentially be used to identify people suspected of breaking America's draconian sanctions against the Castro regime.

Neil Taylor, a tour operator who pioneered tourism to Cuba, said: "Imagine if the Chinese were to ask for such data on all passengers to Taiwan, and similarly if the Saudis were to ask about flights to Israel – would the US government understand?

"One also has to wonder how an American traveller in Europe would react if he were denied boarding on a flight from London to Rome because the German government had not received sufficient data from him."

Planning a trip to Canada or the Caribbean? US Immigration may have other ideas... (via /.)

(Image: Malleus Maleficarum (title page) by Heinrich Kramer, Wikimedia Commons)

Bruce Schneier hands former TSA boss his ass

As the Economist's debate between Bruce Schneier and former TSA boss Kip Hawley draws to a close, it's clear that Schneier has crushed Hawley. All of Hawley's best arguments sum up to "Someone somewhere did something bad, and if he'd tried it on us, we would have caught him." His closing clincher? They heard a bad guy was getting on a plane somewhere. The figured out which plane, stopped it from taking off and "resolved" the situation. Seeing as there were no recent reports of foiled terrorist plots, I'm guessing the "resolution" was "it turned out we made a mistake." But Hawley's takeaway is: "look at how fast our mistake was!" (Thanks, Dee!)

Matt Ruff discusses his alternate history novel The Mirage

Rick Kleffel's always-great Agony Column podcast interviews Matt Ruff about his extraordinary "golden rule" alternate history novel The Mirage, in which the Arabia is the cradle of democracy, the USA is a collection of basket-case Christian theocracies, Germany has been partitioned in a two-state solution that makes Berlin the capital of Israel, and a war on terror is launched when Christian "crusader" terrorists crash jetliners into Baghdad's Twin Towers. The Mirage is very likely to be the best novel I read in 2012, and Ruff is very coherent and interesting in discussing his work.

Matt Ruff is anything but a tortured soul himself, and that makes the creation of a novel like 'The Mirage' all the more remarkable. He's easygoing but clearly very meticulous, very particular about his writing. He's got a lot to say about his new novel, and what is refreshing is that he can sy it and still have the entire novel left for the reader as a fresh new experience.

Generally, I don't arrive at an interview with specific questions in mind, but my producer at KUSP had asked me, essentially, just what the heck did Matt think he was doing? Ruff of course knew exactly what he was doing and why. But he head a lot of new stuff to tell me about the novel, in ways I thought really opened up the book for me.

The origins of the book are not based in the politics. In fact to the degree it can be, this is not a very political novel. Even though this book sports a great plot, and a fully-fleshed alternate reality, this is really a book about perceptions, and that includes the reader's perceptions. Plus, it's fun.

03-26-12: A 2012 Interview with Matt Ruff (MP3) (Thanks, Matt!)

FBI says paying cash for coffee is a sign of terrorist intent


Icecube sez, "Earlier this month, a flier was released by the FBI saying that TOR users might be terrorists. It seems that there is another article that was recently published that says that if you see someone paying for a cup of coffee in cash, they too could be a terrorist. I wonder how much longer it'll be before drinking a cup of water at home could be considered suspicious as well."

Using cash for small purchases like a cup of coffee, gum and other items is a good indication that a person is trying to pass for normal without leaving the kind of paper trail created using a debit or credit card for small purchases.

The most recent update asks coffee shop owners, baristas and other customer-service specialists to be on the lookout for the enemy who walks among us (who evidently has been reanimated from the graves of the 1950s Red Scare era of blacklisting and Communist-baiting or the KGB's constant witch hunt for capitalist sympathizers or people who resent being witch-hunted for their political beliefs).

Update: From the comments, kPkPkP nails it: "If you see anything, say anything"

How to avoid being tagged as a terrorist: Don't pay cash for coffee (Thanks, Icecube!)

(Image: Coffee Shop, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from dailylifeofmojo's photostream)

North Carolina town still protesting CIA rendition program, ten years later

Moms, priests, and peace-minded activists in a small North Carolina town haven't forgotten that a local aviation contractor was a key player in the CIA's “torture taxi” business. “I don’t want to live in a country that acts this way,” said Julia Elsee, 87, protesting at the Johnston County Airport.

Matt Ruff's The Mirage: spectacular alternate history of Arabian manifest destiny

I am a huge fan of Matt Ruff's novels, so when friends in the know started to spontaneously tell me about how fantastic the advance manuscript they'd just read for his next novel, The Mirage, was, I just assumed, yeah, it'd be more great Matt Ruff.

Read the rest

Report: North Carolina aviation company handled extraordinary rendition flights for CIA

From Physicians for Human Rights: "A report (PDF) prepared by professors and students at the University of North Carolina School of Law states that the CIA has been relying on Aero Contractors, Ltd., a North Carolina operated civil aviation company to transport detainees to international destinations for detention, interrogation and torture."

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. I had never — for a second — considered this.

My Guantánamo Nightmare (via Beth Pratt)

(Image: Capitol Rotunda & Statue Of Freedom, Orange Jumpsuit & Black Hood (Washington, DC), a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from takomabibelot's photostream)

DOJ to America: we won't reveal the circumstances under which you can be assassinated by us

The DOJ has rejected a Freedom of Information Act request from the New York Times that asked the agency to reveal the legal basis for the newly unveiled American program of strategic drone-attack assassinations of American citizens off the field of battle.

Summary:

* The government dropped a bomb on a U.S. citizen,

* who, though a total dick and probably a criminal, may have been engaged only in propaganda,

* which, though despicable, is generally protected by the First Amendment;

* it did so without a trial or even an indictment (that we know of),

* based at least in part on evidence it says it has but won't show anyone,

* and on a legal argument it has apparently made but won't show anyone,

* and the very existence of which it will not confirm or deny;

* although don't worry, because the C.I.A. would never kill an American without having somebody do a memo first;

* and this is the "most transparent administration ever";

* currently run by a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

For Christmas, Your Government Will Explain Why It's Legal to Kill You

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! And they put us in handcuffs. ‘Here are their guns!’ And they threw some Kalashnikovs onto the ground. ‘We’ve been fighting them, they killed a lot of people!’ All that was for cameras, which were held by men in uniforms. I was lying on the ground with the other prisoners. They brought dogs to scare us.

One day they started moving prisoners again. They picked you from your tent, put you naked, shaved your head and beard (I was too young to have a beard), then beat you. They dressed you with orange clothes, handcuffed you, and put gloves with no fingers on you, so you couldn’t open the handcuffs. ‘You guys are going to a place where there is no sun, no moon, no freedom, and you’re going to live there for ever,’ the guards told us, and laughed. They put you in completely black glasses and headphones, so that you couldn’t see or hear. With those on, you don’t feel the time. But I could hear when they were changing the guards, probably every hour. I must have spent five hours sitting on a bench, with another detainee in my back.

Then they put us in a plane – I don’t know what kind because I couldn’t see. As soon as you moved or talked, they beat you. They were shouting: IF YOU DON’T FOLLOW OUR ORDERS, WE’LL KILL YOU! I passed out. We had no water and no food. I woke up hearing voices shouting at me in different languages. They took me to my cell. I saw soldiers everywhere, and guns, like if it was war. There were big metal fences everywhere. We were in Guantánamo, in Camp X-Ray. It’s a prison without walls, without roofs – only fences. Nothing to protect you from the sun or the rain.

Mohammed el Gorani and Jérôme Tubiana (Thanks, Marktech!)

(Image: Guantanamo graffiti, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from burge5000's photostream)