Chinese investors have helped drive up the price of Bitcoin to dizzying heights. Now, the Beijing government is doing its best to drive enthusiasm for the cryto-currency back down.
The Chinese central bank warned consumers about the risks of Bitcoin and banned Chinese banks from trading the digital currency. The bank said that Chinese people could still invest in the currency, but they do so at their own risk.
Chinese regulators are the latest to issue rules for Bitcoin, as governments around the world struggle to come to terms with the anonymously-created currency's role. Authorities are stepping in to warn investors as the currency's meteoric rise in value has attracted more and more speculators and to crackdown on the illicit uses of the currency in online black markets such as Silk Road.
The announcement comes as the value of the currency has skyrocketed over the past month peaking at over $1200, according to popular Bitcoin trading site Mt. Gox. It's unclear yet what the ramifications of the announcement will be on that price, or whether traders' interest in Bitcoin will be dampened by the announcement. Some news reports Thursday pointed to the falling value of the currency as proof that investors are scared-off by China's move. Though the value was dropping at last look, Bitcoin is too volatile to attribute the drop to China's crackdown.
It's Wall Street's latest counterstrike against Washington and its attempts to rein in the financial industry after the crisis that plunged the U.S. economy into recession in 2008. And if the legal attack is successful, it could leave an opening for banks to return to some of the dangerous deals that were a Wall Street hallmark before the crash.
The trade groups, which represent U.S. and international banks, filed a lawsuit Wednesday aimed at one of the central parts of the regulatory overhaul intended to prevent another financial crisis like 2008. It's the latest step in a long campaign by global banks to push back on stricter U.S. regulation and oversight of trades done in other countries. If a judge agrees with the Wall Street groups, it could spell the end for a central plank of the law meant to curtail risky trading and make the banking system safer.
Wall Street's chief trade group, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, along with two international trade groups, sued to stop the United States from regulating deals American banks do abroad. In a complaint filed Wednesday, the trade groups ask the court to "halt an unprecedented and unlawful effort" by U.S. regulators to "regulate financial activity around the world."
Regulators have beat back some of Wall Street's legal challenges, like a suit by Bloomberg LLP over other trading rules. But this suit comes at a vulnerable time. The chief regulator who pushed for the provision is about to step down. If it's shot down, it's unlikely to be passed again in the same form.
The lawsuit challenges one of the most controversial aspects of the regulatory overhaul: rules for complex contracts called derivatives. Derivatives are financial contracts linked to the value of something else, like interest rates or currency exchange rates. Companies and financial firms use the contracts to offset risk in their business or to bet on the fluctuating values. After the financial crisis, lawmakers targeted derivatives as an accelerant to the financial crisis and decided to rein in the market with regulations aimed at making it more transparent and less risky.
Derivatives brought insurance giant American International Group to its knees during the financial crisis. Too many derivatives deals souring at the same time nearly killed the insurance giant, but they also linked the failing company to lots of other firms on Wall Street, threatening to bring them all down with it. The U.S. government opted to rescue the insurer, rather than face a possible financial market collapse.
Some of those AIG derivatives deals were done in London. That's been an oft-repeated talking point for the regulator charged with writing the new derivatives rules, Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler. Gensler has agued that if U.S. regulations don't apply to U.S. banks and hedge funds doing deals in other countries, you might as well "blow a hole out of the bottom" of the new oversight regime.
Gensler has faced pushback not only from Wall Street lobbyists, but also fellow Democrats and other U.S. regulators. But by far his most vocal critics have been European and Asian officials, who have argued that the United States is overstepping its jurisdiction. Gensler compromised with his critics in July, delaying part of the new regulatory regime, but now he faces a new challenge in court just as he is about to leave the agency at the end of the year.
A spokesman for Mr. Gensler's agency declined to comment.
U.S. and international banks, through their trade groups, are arguing that the agency is hurting global derivatives markets. The trade groups said regulators were "harming the business relationships of U.S. companies" by "dictating private parties' obligations through sudden and unpredictable regulatory fiat." Stephen O'Connor, chairman of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, said on a conference call that the rules would be "harmful to the global economy" because non-U.S. banks will stop doing business with American ones because they don't want to get roped into the U.S. regulatory system.
The lawsuit is the latest in a series of challenges to the financial overhaul law, which have targeted rules on everything from mutual funds to the labeling of products that contain minerals from conflict-torn countries. The suits have been successful in some cases and have forced regulators to move more slowly and carefully in rolling out the new rules. But if this challenge is successful, it'll be the biggest blow yet to the regulator that has moved swiftest in completing its post-crisis rules.
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If John Larkin, Northern Ireland's attorney general, has his way, crimes perpetrated before the end of the country's three-decade conflict between mainly Catholic Irish nationalists and Protestant loyalists will no longer be prosecuted. That conflict, better known as the Troubles, left 3,500 people dead and ended in 1998 with the Good Friday agreements. But 15 years after the conflict's end, over 3,000 killings remain unsolved and unprosecuted. In short, Larkin is proposing to the close the book on the darkest chapter of Northern Ireland's history.
On the heels of Larkin's announcement Wednesday to end pre-Good Friday prosecutions, the attorney general has come under a hailstorm of criticism. (Notably, the announcement came as former U.S. envoy to Northern Ireland Richard Haass visited Belfast for his own reconciliation project.) "Murder is murder, is murder. It has no sell-by date," said Jim Alluster, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party; Patrick Corrigan, a representative from Amnesty International, called the plan "an utter betrayal of victims' fundamental right to access justice."
If Larkin's plan is adopted, it could mean an end to prosecutions in such famous incidents as 1972's Bloody Sunday killings, the massacre of 13 Irish protesters by British soldiers; the alleged kidnapping and murder of Jean McConville, a mother of 10, at the hands of the Irish Republican Army later that year; the 1976 Kingsmills massacre, where 11 Protestant workers were gunned down by republican paramilitary members; and the unsolved murders of hundreds of "Disappeared," as those who were taken by the IRA and never heard from again are known.
As a result, Larkin's proposal has been roundly criticized as a de facto amnesty law. But that's only half true. According to Larkin and others involved in building pre-Good Friday cases, there are hardly any prosecutions to speak of, and there probably aren't going to be many more.
That reality raises a painful question for the people of Northern Ireland. Thousands of victims from the Troubles will likely never see justice, and Larkin's proposal is a surprisingly frank acknowledgement of that reality. But is that a reality the country is prepared to live with?
This is a guest post from Jan Cao, a U.S.-based writer and contributor to FP's Tea Leaf Nation
Xia Junfeng was once unknown, but his 2009 arrest for the murder of security officers -- who, he alleged, had savagely beaten him -- made him a symbolic figure in a national debate about human rights and reform in China. Yet many wonder whether this notoriety did more harm than good for Xia, who was executed on Sept. 25 for the murders.
A laid-off factory worker turned unlicensed street vendor, Xia was selling kebabs when he was approached and, he charged, beaten in broad daylight by two chengguan for selling street food without a license in Shenyang, one of China's largest cities. Chengguan are low-level civilian forces responsible for policing the quotidian aspects of urban life, including street vendors and construction sites. With their troubling reputation for bullying and abuse, chengguan are often portrayed in domestic and social media as petty villains.
Taken to an interrogation room, Xia stabbed two officers to death and injured another before fleeing. During his trial in May 2011, Xia and his lawyers argued that the officers' violence compelled him to act in self-defense. But the Shenyang Intermediate Court found him guilty of murder, and higher courts upheld his sentence on appeal.
Fueled by a pervasive mistrust of both chengguan and the Chinese legal system in general, netizens portrayed Xia as a hero who stood up to China's brutal urban enforcers. People compared Xia's case to another in which chengguan had beaten a street vendor to death, asking why a street vendor acting in self-defense against chengguan had to die while chengguan who killed a street vendor were only sentenced to 11 years in prison. Voices of discontent quickly went viral on the Internet.
But the national discussion about Xia's case took an unexpected turn in 2013, when some social media users began to criticize his lawyers, revealing deep and nuanced schisms in Chinese society.
On Saturday, U.S. Navy SEALs captured Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Anas al-Libi, in a brazen raid on his home in Tripoli, Libya. Libi was indicted in New York in 2000 for his role in al Qaeda's bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and is believed to have played a role in revitalizing al Qaeda's operations in North Africa in recent years. The SEALs whisked Libi to the USS San Antonio, which was waiting offshore, where he is "currently lawfully detained under the law of war" as an enemy combatant, according to the Pentagon.
"Warsame is the model for this guy," an unnamed official told the New York Times. That would be Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, an al-Shabab military commander seized in Somalia on April 19, 2011. He was then held and interrogated by a special American interrogation team comprised of representatives from the Department of Justice, the intelligence community, and the military aboard the USS Boxer for two months, before being read his Miranda rights and turned over to the FBI. After another week of interrogation, Warsame was indicted on June 30, 2011 and formally arrested on July 3. While only the testimony he gave the FBI was admissible in court, the intelligence he shared with U.S. interrogators before being read his Miranda rights could be used to inform U.S. military strikes or CIA operations against terrorist groups. Warsame later pleaded guilty and elected to cooperate with U.S. officials.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sabrina Fine/Released
The National Security Agency says that the telephone metadata it collects on every American is essential for finding terrorists. And that's debatable. But this we know for sure: Metadata is very useful for tracking journalists and discovering their sources.
On Monday, a former FBI agent and bomb technician pleaded guilty to leaking classified information to the Associated Press about a successful CIA operation in Yemen. As it turns out, phone metadata was the key to finding him.
The prosecution of the former agent, Donald Sachtleben, brings the number of leaks prosecutions under the Obama administration to eight, nearly three times the number prosecuted under all previous administrations. What's driving this record-breaking prosecution of leakers? Is it that this president especially despises loose talk with reporters and the time-worn culture of Washington backstabbing that they represent?
Not likely. The real reason the government is going after leakers is because it can. Investigators today have greater access to phone records and e-mails than they did before Obama took office, allowing them to follow digital data trails straight to the source.
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Late Wednesday evening, the lower house of Uruguay's legislature passed a bill providing for the establishment of a fully legal, regulated marijuana market. If the bill is approved by the Senate -- a likely outcome, given the ruling Broad Front's sizeable majority in the chamber -- the tiny Latin American country will become the first to fully legalize the growth, sale, and distribution of the world's most popular illegal drug.
The passage of the bill has been controversial inside and outside the country. Polls consistently show that the majority of Uruguayans are opposed to legalization, and Wednesday's vote only succeeded by a narrow majority of 50 votes to 44. Less than 24 hours after its passage, the legislation drew criticism from the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board, which warned of "serious consequences for the health and welfare of the population" should the bill become law. But the move has also drawn support from some drug policy activists, who praise its creation of a legal market as an important step toward a more sensible law enforcement paradigm.
Uruguay's marijuana bill differs from liberal drug laws in other countries like the Netherlands and Portugal in that it provides not only for decriminalization of personal possession and use, but also for the legalization and regulation of every aspect of the production and distribution process. The law establishes three categories of cannabis production: home cultivation for personal use, "membership clubs" where small numbers of individuals can establish growing and sharing cooperatives, and licensed private enterprises that will be allowed to grow marijuana commercially. All sales are to be conducted through state-run pharmacies, and a new government agency, the Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA), will be established to monitor and regulate consumption, production, and distribution. And -- sorry stoners the world over -- legal purchase is limited to Uruguayan citizens.
The downside (or upside) of creating a market for marijuana, however, is that in order to attract consumers, officially sanctioned marijuana will have to compete with the old illegal stuff in both price and quality. Which means -- you guessed it -- for this bill to work, the Uruguayan government is going to have to start distributing some quality weed on the cheap.
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On Wednesday, the story of Robert Seldon Lady, a former CIA station chief in Milan, Italy, took another improbable turn when he was arrested in Panama near the Costa Rican border. Lady has been living quietly in the United States since fleeing an Italian investigation that resulted in him and 22 other Americans being convicted in absentia for their roles in the 2003 abduction of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a radical cleric the CIA believed was helping recruit jihadists to fight in Iraq.
Nasr, who also went by Abu Omar, was pulled off a Milanese street during a daily noon-time walk. He was thrown into the back of a van, driven to Aviano Air Base, near Venice, and then flown to Egypt, where he was interrogated and tortured. The practice of seizing suspected terrorists and forcibly removing them to a third-party state for interrogation is often known as extraordinary rendition; in the eyes of the Italian judicial system, though, Nasr's abduction was kidnapping. After an investigation implicated a collection of CIA agents in Italy, tying their cell phones to the place and time at which Nasr was thrown into the van, the Italian government conducted a trial that sentenced 23 Americans to seven to nine years each in prison. The convictions were upheld last September by the Italian Supreme Court.
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In striking down a law Thursday that required organizations with funding from the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to pledge opposition to prostitution, the Supreme Court ruled that the provision violated NGOs' First Amendment rights. The justices drew a distinction between a federal funding program that prevents organizations from working with prostitutes and one that requires participating partners to go on the record opposing prostitution. The latter, the court reasoned, violates the Constitution, while the former would probably be fine.
But the NGOs that brought the suit made a different argument -- that a law requiring them to oppose prostitution would make it more difficult to reach sex workers, a population particularly at risk for HIV/AIDS. Which raises a question: How have the restrictions baked into PEPFAR affected the ability of aid groups to reach sex workers and carry out the federal program's larger mission?
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The list of oppressive countries legislating the wearing of masks keeps growing: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and now ... Canada.
Forget PRISM, the National Security Agency's system to help extract data from Google, Facebook, and the like. The more frightening secret program unearthed by the NSA leaks is the gathering and storing of millions of phone records and phone-location information of U.S. citizens.
According to current and former intelligence agency employees who have used the huge collection of metadata obtained from the country's largest telecom carriers, the information is widely available across the intelligence community from analysts' desktop computers.
The data is used to connect known or suspected terrorists to people in the United States, and to help locate them. It has also been used in foreign criminal investigations and to assist military forces overseas. But the laws that govern the collection of this information and its use are not as clear. Nor are they as strong as those associated with PRISM, the system the NSA is using to collate information from the servers of America's tech giants.
Metadata is not protected by the Fourth Amendment. Content of emails and instant messages -- what PRISM helps gather -- is. An order issued to Verizon by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court instructs the company to supply records of all its telephony metadata "on an ongoing, daily basis." Although legal experts say this kind of broad collection of metadata may be legal, it's also "remarkably overbroad and quite likely unwise," according to Paul Rosenzweig, a Bush administration policy official in the Homeland Security Department. "It is difficult to imagine a set of facts that would justify collecting all telephony meta-data in America. While we do live in a changed world after 9/11, one would hope it has not that much changed."
By comparison, PRISM appears more tightly constrained and operates on a more solid legal foundation. Current and former officials who have experience using huge sets of data available to intelligence analysts said that PRISM is used for precisely the kinds of intelligence gathering that Congress and the administration intended when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended in 2008. Officials wanted to allow intelligence agencies to target and intercept foreigners' communications when they travel across networks inside the United States.
The surveillance law prohibits targeting a U.S. citizen or legal resident without a warrant, which must establish a reasonable basis to suspect the individual of ties to terrorism or being an agent of a foreign power. In defending PRISM, administration officials have said repeatedly in recent days that the FISA Court oversees the collection program to ensure that it's reasonably designed to target foreign entities, and that any incidental collection of Americans' data is expunged. They've also said that press reports describing the system as allowing "direct access" to corporate servers is wrong. Separately, a U.S. intelligence official also said that the system cannot directly query an Internet company's data.
But the administration has not explained why broadly and indiscriminately collecting the metadata records of millions of U.S. citizens and legal residents comports with a law designed to protect innocent people from having their personal information revealed to intelligence analysts. Nor have officials explained why the NSA needs ongoing, daily access to all this information and for so many years, particularly since specific information can be obtained on an as-needed basis from the companies with a subpoena.
Here's why the metadata of phone records could be more invasive and a bigger threat to privacy and civil liberties than the PRISM system:
1. Metadata is often more revealing than contents of a communication, which is what's being collected with PRISM. A study in the journal Nature found that as few as four "spatio-temporal points," such as the location and time a phone call was placed, is enough to determine the identity of the caller 95 percent of the time.
2. The Wall Street Journal reports that in addition to phone metadata, the NSA also is collecting metadata on emails, website visits, and credit card transactions (although it's unclear whether those collection efforts are ongoing). If that information were combined with the phone metadata, the collective power could not only reveal someone's identity, but also provide an illustration of his entire social network, his financial transactions, and his movements.
3. Administration officials have said that intelligence analysts aren't indiscriminately searching this phone metadata. According to two intelligence employees who've used the data in counterterrorism investigations, it contains no names, and when a number that appears to be based in the United States shows up, it is blocked out with an "X" mark.
But these controls, said a former intelligence employee, are internal agency rules, and it's not clear that the FISA Court has anything to say about them. In this employee's experience, if he wanted to see the phone number associated with that X mark, he had to ask permission from his agency's general counsel. That permission was often obtained, but he wasn't aware of the legal process involved in securing it, or if the request was taken back to the FISA court.
4. The metadatabase is widely available across the intelligence community on analysts' desktops, increasing the potential for misuse.
5. The metadata has the potential for mission creep. It's not only used for dissecting potential homegrown terror plots, as some lawmakers have said. The metadata is also used to help military forces overseas target terrorist and insurgent networks. And it is used in foreign criminal investigations, including ones involving suspected weapons traffickers.
For all these reasons, and probably more yet to emerge, it's the metadata that's of bigger concern. By comparison, PRISM is a cool name, a lame PowerPoint presentation -- and business as usual.
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President Obama is giving a much-hyped counterterrorism address this afternoon at the National Defense University in which he'll announce new restrictions on drone strikes and targeted killings, and renew his push to shutter the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. But this isn't the Obama administration's first big speech on drone policy -- current and former officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, former counterterrorism czar and current CIA chief John Brennan, former State Department legal adviser Harold Koh, and former Pentaon general counsel Jeh Johnson, have all delivered carefully crafted statements on the subject in recent years. Here's what we've learned so far.
The basics. Starting with the first major speech in March 2010 by Harold Koh, the Obama administration has sketched out a legal framework for drone strikes and other targeted killing operations -- though the fact that many of these strikes are conducted by remotely piloted vehicles wasn't acknowledged until a speech by John Brennan in May 2012. That justification rests on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force against al Qaeda, which, in the administration's interpretation, allows for the use of force against al Qaeda-affiliated targets that pose an imminent threat to the United States in countries that have either given permission to the United States or are unwilling or unable to take action against the targets on their own. This rubric has been refined a bit -- but not much -- in subsequent speeches by Brennan and Eric Holder.
Yes, U.S. citizens can be targeted. There's legal precedent for the government using lethal force against American citizens abroad who have taken up arms against the United States, but the Obama administration did not lay out the rationale for such a scenario until a speech by Holder in March 2012. "The president may use force abroad against a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war," Holder said in an address at Northwestern University, "even if that individual happens to be a U.S. citizen." Holder has since expanded on this in writing to indicate that the government does not have the authority to conduct targeted killings domestically. Additionally, in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee released on Wednesday, Holder revealed that targeted killings have killed four U.S. citizens since 2009, but that only one of them was the intended target of a strike.
Former officials would like to see more transparency -- to a point. Jeh Johnson has expressed concern about how limited public information about the drone program is affecting its reputation. "In the absence of an official picture of what our government is doing, and by what authority, many in the public fill the void by envisioning the worst," he said in a speech in March 2013. That sentiment was seconded by Koh; in a speech earlier this month, he told an audience at Oxford University that the administration "has not been sufficiently transparent to the media, to the Congress and to our allies." But Johnson wouldn't go so far as to endorse a court for approving targets, which he said could not provide the transparency and credibility its advocates suggest.
For every vague explanation that has been given in these drone speeches, though, there are more questions. Here are a few things we still don't know:
Who is the government really targeting? As Micah Zenko pointed out last month, internal government assessments obtained by McClatchy demonstrate that, in addition to members of al Qaeda, U.S. airstrikes have targeted hundreds of "Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists" from "the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals described only as 'foreign fighters' and 'other militants.'" That goes far beyond the limited scope that the Obama administration has outlined in a Justice Department white paper: that the United States can lawfully target a "senior operational leader of al-Qa'ida or an associated force" who "poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States." In his speech earlier this month, Koh stuck with what Zenko has called "the fundamental myth of the Obama administration's targeted killing program" -- that those targeted are clearly "cobelligerents" of al Qaeda. The administration has yet to discuss publicly the use of "signature strikes," in which groups are targeted based on a set of observed behaviors that are similar to those of terrorist cells.
Just how imminent is 'imminent'? What determines when capture isn't 'feasible'? That Justice Department white paper has a lot of fuzzy language in it. Targeted killings are authorized by "an informed, high-level official of the US government" when there is an "imminent threat of violent attack" and capture is deemed "unfeasible." But really, who qualifies to make that call? Does simply being a member of al Qaeda make someone an imminent threat, or does there have to be a specific plot associated with the individual or cell? Capture was feasible for Osama bin Laden in a safehouse just outside a military base in the heart of Pakistan, but not for men riding in an SUV bumping along a rural Yemeni road -- who makes that determination, and how? Rosa Brooks has written more about how the white paper said a lot by not saying very much at all.
Where and when does the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force not apply? In his February 2012 speech, Johnson called the AUMF "the bedrock of the military's domestic legal authority" for drone strikes and the broader war on terror -- but the AUMF was written to target individuals responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It's been a bit of a stretch for the administration to claim that this authorizes them to target organizations only tangentially affiliated with al Qaeda -- some of which didn't even exist in 2001, and some analysts and politicians have argued that it's time to revise the AUMF. Or, as Brooks has asserted, it might make more sense to scrap it altogether and start over with a new law that doesn't try to shoehorn new authorizations into an old law with more legalese.
But if past speeches are any indication, don't expect too many answers today.
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Ahead of President Obama's big counterterrorism speech tomorrow, Attorney General Eric Holder has written a letter, obtained by the New York Times, to the Senate Judiciary Committee disclosing the four American citizens killed by targeted strikes during the Obama administration, three of whom "were not specifically targeted by the United States":
Since 2009, the United States, in the conduct of U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qa'ida and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, has specifically targeted and killed one U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi. The United States is further aware of three other U.S. citizens who have been killed in such U.S. counterterrorism operations over that same time period: Samir Khan, 'Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Aulaqi, and Jude Kenan Mohammed. These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States.
The letter does not include the names of all Americans who have been killed in drone strikes. A fifth U.S. citizen, Ahmed Hijazi (a.k.a. Kamal Derwish) was killed in 2002 during the Bush administration in the first ever U.S. drone strike. That strike, in Yemen, was directed at Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, who was associated with the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. An unnamed FBI source told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer several years ago that another U.S. citizen was believed to have been killed by a U.S. cruise missile in Somalia sometime between 2006 and early 2009.
Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were propagandists for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and the U.S. government believes that Awlaki played a role in planning the attempted underwear bombing in 2009. His son, 'Abd al-Rahman, had reportedly linked up with AQAP members while looking for Awklaki when a drone targeted his vehicle. The three men were killed in a series of airstrikes in September and October 2011.
The only new name is Jude Kenan Mohammed, whose death in Pakistan was rumored in a February 2012 local news story in his hometown of Raleigh, N.C but had not been previously acknowledged.
With the letter, the Obama administration has now admitted killing more U.S. citizens than detainees the Bush administration admitted waterboarding. Hooray for transparency?
The full text of Holder's letter is included below:
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When a former Obama administration legal advisor delivers a tough criticism of the president's prosecution of the war on terror, what do you see? Evidence of the manifest illegality of the White House's drone program? An example of Obama's lack of political will? An invocation of frightening Bush-era legal theories of presidential power?
Welcome to the Rorschach test that is Harold Koh's recent speech to the Oxford Union.
On Tuesday, Koh, until January the chief legal advisor at the State Department, criticized the White House's lack of transparency with regard to its drone program, which Koh said has resulted in "a growing perception that the program is not lawful and necessary, but illegal, unnecessary and out of control." That jab was part of a three-part plan laid out by Koh to extricate the United States from the "Forever War" (1. Disengage from Afghanistan; 2. Close Guantánamo; 3. Discipline drones).
Prior to joining the administration, Koh was an outspoken critic of the Bush administration. But once inside government, he served as one of the chief legal architects of the Obama administration's national security policies, many of which bore a striking resembling to Obama's predecessor's. Now, Koh is firing back -- if rather gently -- at his former employer. But beyond his rather straightforward policy recommendations, it's not entirely clear how to interpret Koh's speech. And the varied responses it provoked offer something of a primer on the current state of thinking about Obama's prosecution of the war on terror.
Over at the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf sees the secrecy surrounding the drone program and Koh's call for its dismantling as proof positive of the program's illegality. In order to "discipline drones," Koh called on Obama to make public the legal rationale for drone strikes and targeting American citizens overseas, clarify its method for counting civilian casualties, and release the threat assessments behind individual drones strikes. Additionally, Koh called on the White House to send its officials before Congress to testify about the program. All in all, sensible reforms aimed at transparency.
But, as Friedersdorf argues, the fact that none of these things -- moves all within Obama's power to carry out -- have happened reveals the drone program's shaky legal basis, if not its outright illegality:
If Koh believes all that is what should happen, then he believes the Obama Administration's current approach is deeply wrongheaded, and not just because of its indefensible dearth of transparency. It is not "consistent with due process" to target American citizens. The way Team Obama counts civilian casualties is not "consistent with international humanitarian law standards." Obama can't demonstrate that its strikes were all directed against imminent threats. Being more transparent about any of those things will in fact be discrediting, not redemptive.
Hence the secrecy.
And although he precedes everything with, "as President Obama has indicated he wants to do," Koh knows that Obama could do everything Koh endorses, but has in fact chosen not to do it.
Writing for her blog Emptywheel, Marcy Wheeler interprets Koh's argument about how to close Guantánamo as evidence of Obama's lack of political will to finally erase this stain on America's human rights record. In his speech, Koh urged Obama to designate a senior White House official with sufficient weight to close down the prison. But that plan, Wheeler contends, bears remarkable similarities to Obama's failed effort to close Gitmo early in his first term:
Now, I'm all in favor of closing Gitmo and this might be one way to do it. Koh actually improves on the prior plan by admitting the indefinite detainees will have to be released as the war is over, which is legally correct but misapprehends why they're not being released and why we have to have a Forever War to justify keeping them silent and imprisoned forever.
But Koh's map for closing Gitmo also misrepresents why appointing Greg Craig himself to carry out the Gitmo task didn't work. As I traced in real time (see, here, here, and here), to get Obama's ear, Craig had to fight through Rahm Emanuel. And Rahm preferred to sell out Obama's human rights promises in exchange for an eventually failed attempt to appease Lindsey Graham. Rahm won that fight. After Rahm won that battle, he scapegoated Craig. Ultimately, when asked why he left, Craig pointed to Rahm.
It wasn't enough to appoint Greg Craig. Closing Gitmo either required appointing someone with the bureaucratic chops to beat Rahm or someone like him in battle, or someone whom Obama actually entrusts such a battle with. And Holder's fate - where Obama continues to have trust in him even while he ultimately reversed his decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in NYC - shows that's not enough. Heck, Koh stayed on for almost four years, but even battles he presumably thought he had won, like drone rules, he now appears to have lost. Ultimately, then, it's going to take a really shrewd fighter or ... it's going to take the President wanting to invest political capital in these things more than he did three years ago.
Koh's emphasis on the need to close Guantánamo reflects the degree to which the Bush administration's shadow still hangs over the Obama White House -- a fact highlighted in the blog Lawfare commentary on Koh's conception of presidential power. "Look who has discovered inherent presidential powers," Benjamin Wittes observes sarcastically (elsewhere on Lawfare, Steve Vladeck defends Koh against the charge of hypocrisy).
What do you see in this ink blot of a speech?
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Indonesia has a witchcraft problem. Belief in the supernatural is widespread in the Southeast Asian archipelago -- and not just among the underclasses. But like many post-colonial societies, its inherited legal system leaves victims of sorcery unable to seek judicial relief. That may be about the change, however, if the country's parliament OKs a number of amendments to its Dutch colonial-era criminal code. The Financial Times has more:
Indonesia would make it illegal for anyone to "declare the possession of mysterious powers" or "encourage others to believe that by their actions they can cause mental or physical suffering of another person." The crime would be punishable by a jail sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to Rp300m ($30,700).
The amendments, which have been in the works since 2008, would put an end to the perceived bias of the state in favor of witches and sorcerers (the difference: witches possess innate mystical powers, whereas sorcerers have come to acquire them). Critics have denounced this kind of bias not only in Indonesia, but also in numerous other post-colonial societies that have since moved to outlaw black magic. As Michael Rowlands and Jean-Pierre Warnier explained in a 1988 article about witchcraft in Cameroon:
Cases of sorcery were to be brought to court. But the courts dismissed them for lack of evidence against the accused. Once acquitted, the latter often sued the defendants for libel and won their case. The sorcerers were thought to go unchecked and the victim felt betrayed by the colonial authorities who appeared to side with the sorcerers.
Unchecked sorcery has become a major issue in Indonesia, where hundreds of people have been killed by anti-witchcraft vigilantes who have taken the law into their own hands. Even President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono claimed in 2009 that ''[m]any are practising black magic. Indeed, I and my family can feel it.''
But not everyone is in favor of outlawing the dark arts. Indeed, one of the country's best known warlocks has proposed harnessing the power of black magic to solve other, more pressing problems. "This is the heritage from our ancestors and we need to preserve it," he told the Financial Times. "Rather than banning it, we should use black magic to punish those who are corrupt."
Several news outlets, including the pro-reform Shargh daily, said French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre is in Iran for talks with officials over how and where to file the lawsuit. She is also the lawyer for notorious Venezuelan-born terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known as Carlos the Jackal.
This isn't the first time the Iranian government has complained about the film's portrayal of the Iranian people during the 1979 hostage crisis. In February, the government even organized a conference to highlight the anti-Iranian ideology behind Ben Affleck's film and other movies. The lawsuit was discussed on Monday during yet another conference in Tehran for Iranian cultural officials and movie critics entitled "The Hoax of Hollywood."
While the details of how (and if) Iran will go about suing Hollywood have yet to be released, one can't help but wonder: Does Iran actually have a case?
The short answer? Not really. "The threshold for a defamation suit in this context is pretty steep," Cory Andrews, senior litigation counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, told FP. To prove defamation, you have to not only establish that what is presented as fact is actually false (a difficult task when dealing with a partially fictionalized movie), but also that the plaintiff's reputation was injured, causing financial damages. "I'm not sure how the current Iranian regime would go about proving damages," Andrews notes. "The film is loosely based on events from 1979, not 2013. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is dead, and as a general rule of law you cannot libel the dead."
Even if Iranian officials choose to pursue a case of group libel -- a controversial legal theory, typically raised in cases of racial hate speech -- they would still have to prove that the regime suffered an injury to reputation and measurable damages as a result of the film.
As for where Iran could file its lawsuit, Noah Feldman, a professor of international and constitutional law at Harvard, tells FP, "The Iranianans could bring suit in any place where the film is shown, I suppose, and rely on anti-defamation laws." Still, he adds, "it seems highly unlikely to go anywhere in any credible jurisdiction."
Then again, Andrews reminds us, "it's the easiest thing in the world to file a suit." So while Iran might have an exceedingly difficult time proving their case, that won't necessarily stop them from giving the makers of Argo a minor headache in the process.
© 2012 - Warner Bros. Pictures
As Yemen's National Dialogue approaches -- an ambitious effort to reconcile the country's many tribal, political, and sectarian factions as part of its transition from Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule -- Human Rights Watch has pushed a new issue onto an already crowded agenda: death sentences and executions of juvenile criminals in violation of Yemeni and international law.
In its new report, HRW notes that there are currently "at least 23 young men and women await[ing] execution under death sentences in Yemeni prisons despite having produced evidence indicating they were under 18 at the time of the crimes for which they were convicted." HRW cites an additional 15 potentially underage individuals executed by the government since 2007.
Just as disturbing as the reports of juvenile executions are the descriptions of the juveniles' treatment in prison, which included torture and forced confessions. One imprisoned Yemeni man sentenced to death, who claims he was falsely convicted of a murder he witnessed when he was 15 or 16 years old, told an HRW interviewer:
They beat me with their hands, sometimes they would electro-shock me until I fell down. At that point if they had asked me, "Did you kill one-thousand?" I would have said, "Yes," out of fear.
Another prisoner told HRW:
They'd shackle us like a chicken, put metal between our legs and do falaka. This means beating you with a wooden stick on the bottom of your feet. Of course you'd want to confess anything. They also broke my fingers ... So of course I told them I did it.
The National Dialogue is scheduled to begin on March 18, on the two-year anniversary of a massacre of protesters that inflamed Yemen's protest movement. With two weeks remaining before the Dialogue, concerns remain about the representation of various factions and whether or not enough groups will participate for the Dialogue to be considered credible by most Yemenis.
Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images
When the government of the Philippines announced last month it was taking China to court over territorial claims in the South China Sea, it was seen by some as a surprising but savvy move -- a first step toward establishing some sort of law and order in East Asia's waters, which, up until now have been a sort of aquatic Wild West, with nations planting flags on rocks, roping off shoals, and building up tiny reefs to stake their claims.
The hearing was to determine the validity of China's claims to a wide swath of ocean that encompasses waters near the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, among other countries. Manila even generated some buzz by hiring D.C. lawyer Paul Reichler to argue its case, a man who's made his name as a "giant-slayer" in the world of international law for his often-successful track record of suing the U.S. Russia, and Britain on behalf of countries like Nicaragua, Georgia and Mauritius.
Then, on Tuesday, China made clear it had no plans to participate in any international court arbitration. Though the hearing will go on without China's participation, the decision, some may think, doesn't bode well for hopes that China might abide by a ruling that doesn't go its way.
Still, Reichler, who was hired by the Philippines last year, thinks the rising power could come around.
"They're very smart people," he said in an interview last week. "And I think they might come to understand that in the long run their best interests are served by being a responsible member of the international community."
Reichler's faith in the power of international law to wrangle even the largest of powers comes from his success suing the United States. He took America to The Hague on behalf of the Sandinista government of Nicaragua in the 1980s, over U.S. support of the Contras, and won -- an effort that earned him the ire of figures like John McCain. As a result of the victory - and the international pressure that accompanied it -- he says, Congress cut off funding for Contra support.
"It's a very high cost to prestige to be branded as an international wrongdoer and then not comply," he said.
The decision not to take part in the arbitration is "unfortunate," Reichler said in an email (China has long said it doesn't want to its territorial conflicts "internationalized"). "They had an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the international legal order, to show respect for its procedures, and to agree to be bound by its rules. Had they seized this chance, they would have proven that they are not only a great power, but a responsible one."
But the pressure on Beijing to comply with an unfavorable ruling - even if it doesn't participate - will still be there, Reichler said.
"To me, China has always denounced imperialism, denounced unilateralism, has denounced violations of the U.N. Charter," he said. "This is an opportunity for China to really show its true colors."
We hear plenty about drugs and conflict diamonds; but the international black market for timber -- a global trade that has been plaguing the forests of South America, Central America, and Asia for years, and one that is estimated to be worth anywhere from 30 to 100 billion dollars a year -- gets a lot less attention.
Illegal wood had a rare moment in the spotlight on Feb. 19, when Interpol reported the results of its first international operation to target timber trafficking. "Operation Lead," which brought together law enforcement agencies from twelve Latin American countries, was carried out over a month late last year and resulted in the seizure of the equivalent of 2,000 truckloads of timber (worth millions of dollars) and the arrests of more than 200 people.
While individual countries in the region, such as Columbia and Brazil, have cracked down on the illegal trade in the past, the transnational nature of the crime makes it difficult for domestic law enforcement agencies, which are limited in their jurisdiction, to be very effective. An international approach has the potential to be more successful. According to the head of Interpol's Environmental Crime Program, Operation Lead has laid the foundations for future efforts to combat the global trade.
So why timber? It is not as lucrative as the drug trade, but it still brings in a fair amount of cash. According to a recent Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report, in Laos, rare rosewood logs can fetch $18,000 per cubic meter. The EIA also notes that traffickers can earn $1,700 for a high-quality mahogany tree on the Peruvian black market, and about $1,000 for a cedar tree. In 2006, illegal logging in Peru was bringing up to $72 million in profits per year. Some estimates put the yearly profits in Columbia as high as $200 million.
In Latin America, the drug and timber trades aren't mutually exclusive. Though the extent of the connection is not yet clear, timber trafficking overlaps with organized crime and the drug trade in interesting ways in countries like Colombia and Peru.
For one, it has been suggested that timber offers drug traffickers an opportunity to invest in a new illegal market -- to "diversify their portfolios" -- as some governments become more successful (however slightly) in cracking down on the drug trade.
In Peru, where an estimated 80 percent of total timber exports are illegal, the wood trafficking network has become so sophisticated that drug traffickers are now piggybacking on the timber trade -- literally. In 2006, a U.S. State Department cable (later released by WikiLeaks) reported that drug traffickers in the Andes moving coca paste and opium "appear to be getting involved in transport of illegal timber, for both its profitability and its utility as concealment." In 2010, Peruvian police seized nearly 400 kilos of cocaine and coca base hidden in a single shipment of Sinaloa cedar.
Logging may also be viewed as a profitable way to open land for the farming of coca. According to a 2011 UN report, since 1981, more than 3,000 square miles of Columbia's forests have been cut down illegally to make way for coca crops. In 2008, then Columbian Vice President Francisco Santos Calderon announced, "If you snort a gram of cocaine, you are destroying 4 square meters of rainforest."
All considered, it isn't surprising that the illegal logging trade has taken a violent turn in some countries. Last year in Cambodia, an anti-logging activist and a reporter covering the illegal trade were both murdered. Three Brazilian activists were killed in 2011 -- just three out of dozens that have been murdered over the past several years.
It should be noted that illegal logging is not entirely run by timber kingpins and "wood mafias." Local communities also cut down wood illegally (to use, not to sell), and have probably been doing so for generations.
The countries affected are going to have to take strong action if they want to save their forests, because the problem is not going to fix itself. The world's appetite for high-value wood is high and is only getting higher. In its report entitled "Appetite for Destruction: China's Trade in Illegal Timber," the EIA states that between 2000 and 2011, the quantity of global log imports tripled, with a value that increased fivefold. China -- with wood product exports that have increased almost sevenfold in the past decade, with new construction projects beginning every day, and with a new bourgeoisie that covets fancy rosewood lounge sets (which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars), cars with wood-embellished interiors, and yachts -- comprises a large part of that demand. According to the EIA, China is the world's top importer of illegal timber. "More than half of China's current supplies of raw timber material are sourced from countries with a high risk of illegal logging and poor forest governance," including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Madagascar, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea.
Nicaragua in particular has seen enormous growth in its illegal timber market thanks to Chinese demand. In 2008, Nicaraguan exports of granadillo totalled about $127,000. In 2011, after other Central American countries enacted stricter wood export regulations, that number grew fifty fold, to $6 million.
China Photos/Getty Images
Egypt's increasingly influential Salafis won a victory this week by pressuring the government to finally implement a 2009 court ruling, enacted under former President Hosni Mubarak, to ban pornography. On Wednesday, Egyptian Prosector Abdel Maguid Mahmoud instructed authorities to "to take the necessary measures to block any corrupt or corrupting pornographic pictures or scenes inconsistent with the values and traditions of the Egyptian people and the higher interests of the state."
There are already strong reactions, with many on twitter using #EgyPornBan to either advocate mass downloading before the ban is enacted or to question the legitimacy of restricting freedom of expression.
While it has not been made public how and when the ban will actually be enforced, there are those like journalist and presidential advisor, Ayman El-Sayad, who think that the government should be "more concerned about the drafting of Egypt's new constitution" and other more pressing issues.
The ban does have serious consequences, however, as it upholds the ruling that the "freedom of expression and public rights should be restricted by maintaining the fundamentals of religion, morality and patriotism." How Egyptians decide to tackle the issue of who gets to decide what their values are, could have far reaching consequences down the road. There is also the dangerous precedent set by countries such as Russia, China and the United States, who have been accused of using anti-child-pornography laws to implement web censorship.
Egypt's porn ban will make it harder to spread "harmful" content on the internet, but for the Islamist's moral purposes, it probably won't work.
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
The recently deposed president of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed was scheduled to be tried Monday, Oct. 1, under charges of abuse of power. Instead of making an appearance, he skipped his trial and left in a fishing boat to campaign for the upcoming 2013 election. Nasheed was previously put under "island arrest," on Sept. 25, which restricts his travel to Malé, the 2 square mile capital of the 1,192 island archipelago. The current government cites this as standard procedure following charges where Nasheed has been accused of misusing his office to order the arrest of a senior judge, Abdullah Mohamed in January.
Nasheed, a former democracy activist who was arrested over 20 times as an opposition leader, became president in 2008. His presidency marked the end to 30 years of rule by autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed claims that his resignation and Feb. 7 transfer of power was a politically motivated coup d'état orchestrated by Gayoom supporters. In a March article for Foreign Policy, Nasheed detailed the violent situation prompting his resignation and how his warrant for judge Mohamed's arrest was made on charges of corruption in an effort to overhaul the governance of Maldives. He was replaced by former Vice-President, Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, who was involved in the "coup" but will hold elections in 2013. Nasheed's recounting of his coerced resignation directly contrasts with a Commonwealth supported government inquiry which has accepted the resignation as legal though does acknowledge the occurrence of a police mutiny. The United States also accepts the transfer of power as legal.
Prior to the abuse of power charges filed in July, the "Mandela of the Maldives" took a trip to the United States where he made a case for efforts to combat climate change, while also trying to bring attention to the political situation in Maldives. In a particularly frank exchange on The Daily Show in April, Nasheed joked that with coverage by Jon Stewart, "hopefully they won't murder me." With the travel ban in place, it will very difficult for Nasheed to campaign for the upcoming 2013 election. Members of Nasheed's legal team have also claimed that the three judges presiding over the trial have been picked in violation of legal norms. A conviction would also bar him from being a presidential candidate.
In addition to criminal charges he also faces two defamation lawsuits to be tried in the future. Nasheed's party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has taken the stance that it will not adhere to court rulings till there is a reform of the judiciary system in accordance with international recommendations.
Photo by AFP/Stringer/Getty Images
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir stands accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. But on Sunday, he met with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy in Cairo, where he received a dignified welcome at the presidential palace. A number of human rights organizations including Amnesty International urged Morsy to cancel the meeting -- which covered regional concerns as well as important bilateral issues like livestock trade and water rights in the Nile basin -- or arrest the Sudanese leader upon his arrival. "If Egypt welcomes Omar Al-Bashir it will become a safe haven for alleged perpetrators of genocide," Amnesty wrote in a press release.
Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March 2009 for crimes against humanity and then again in July 2010 for three counts of genocide, cannot travel in much of the world for fear of being extradited to the Hague. But Egypt is not a signatory to the Rome Statute -- Jordan, Djibouti, and Comoros are the only members of the Arab League to ratify the ICC's founding charter -- and U.N. Security Council 1593, which referred the Sudanese crisis to the ICC's special prosecutor, merely "urges" non-signatories to "cooperate fully" with the criminal investigation.
In theory, Bashir should fear extradition from all 121 parties to the Rome Statute, but in practice he has been able to travel more or less freely in Africa and the Middle East. Here's a look at the genocidal jet-setter's travel itinerary since he was indicted back in 2009.
ERITREA - March 2009
Only weeks after the ICC issued its first arrest warrant for Bashir, the Sudanese president ventured to Eritrea to visit President Issaias Afeworki, who had invited Bashir in a display of anti-Western solidarity. In his invitation, Afeworki declared the ICC "anti-people" and the indictment a "defamatory conspiracy on the part of external forces."
EGYPT - March 2009
Two days after his visit to Eritrea, Bashir touched down in Cairo for a state visit with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "There is an Egyptian, Arab, African position that rejects the way the court has dealt with the status of the president of Sudan," said Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in a press conference.
QATAR - March 2009
Following his visit to Cairo, the Sudanese leader traveled to the annual Arab League summit in Qatar, where Arab foreign ministers endorsed a draft resolution rejecting the ICC's arrest warrant. The week before, Amr Moussa, then the secretary general of the Arab League, had cleared the way for Bashir's arrival when he said, "We in the presidency of the Arab League have a clear position on this request and we totally reject it."
SAUDI ARABIA - April 2009
CHAD - June 2010
Bashir travelled to Chad -- the first Rome Statute signatory to host the Sudanese president since the arrest warrant was issued -- in June 2010 in an attempt to mend relations with its eastern neighbor. Khartoum had previously accused Chad of aiding anti-government rebels fighting in Darfur, but Bashir declared the problem "solved" during his visit, adding that he and Chad's President Idriss Deby "are brothers."
KENYA - August 2010
Kenya, which ratified the Rome Statute in 2005, invited Bashir to witness the signing of its new constitution. An assistant foreign minister later defended Kenya's decision to defy the ICC warrant on the grounds that "Sudan's stability is vitally linked to Kenya's continued peace and well being."
DJIBOUTI - May 2011
After Ismail Omar Guelleh won a third term as Djibouti's president, Bashir attended his inauguration ceremony in May. Djibouti, which was the third Rome Statute signatory to flout the ICC arrest warrant, was referred, along with Chad and Kenya, to the U.N. Security Council for failing to arrest the Sudanese leader.
MALAWI - October 2011
Malawi, which signed the Rome Statute in 1999, hosted the Sudanese president for a trade summit last October. When the ICC demanded an answer for why Bashir had not been arrested, President Bingu wa Mutharika said that it was not his country's "business" to enforce the ICC's ruling. Malawi's new president, Joyce Banda, apparently does not share her predecessor's zeal for flouting international law, and denied Bashir permission to attend the African Union summit in Lilongwe in July 2012.
CHINA - June 2011
Chinese President Hu Jintao welcomed the Sudanese president to Beijing in June 2011. There, in a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People, he gushed about the two countries "traditionally friendly relations" before diving into talks with Bashir about how to keep the oil flowing to China following Sudan's impending partition. Interestingly, Bashir's flight to Beijing was delayed because he was forced to avoid Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, both of which denied him access to their airspace. China is not a signatory to the Rome Statute.
LIBYA - January 2012
Bashir traveled to Libya to meet with Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) officials last January in order to discuss immigration, among other issues. Libya is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, but the visit sparked outrage from human rights activists who called it "disturbing" and questioned the NTC's "commitment to human rights and the rule of law."
IRAQ - March 2012
Bashir attended the Arab League summit in Baghdad in 2012.
IRAN - August 2012
Bashir made an appearance at the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran in August, where, in one of the event's least-publicized moments of irony, he met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Correction: Omar al-Bashir has also travelled to Ethiopia several times, the most recent being for the funeral of Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi in September.
Early this morning, Hungarian law enforcement detained accused Nazi war criminal Laszlo Csatary. The judge in the case ordered him placed under house arrest.
Csatary was a commander for the Royal Hungarian police force in Kassa, in modern-day Slovakia, where he served as commander of the Jewish ghetto during the Second World War. While in this capacity he was allegedly responsible for the deportation of 15,000 Jews to concentration camps. Csatary is also accused of assaulting prisoners.
In 1948, Csatary was convicted in absentia and sentenced to death in Czechoslovakia, but fled to Canada where he obtained citizenship. He remained there until 1997 when he escaped back to Hungary after his Canadian citizenship was revoked for providing false information to immigration authorities and deportation hearings were underway.
Csatary was identified and located by Hungarian authorities almost a year ago using information provided by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, but further investigation was required to make the arrest possible. Csatary had been living in Budapest under his real name for 15 year.
The attention his identification drew forced Csatary to move apartments in the past year, according to his attorney, but authorities worried this might be an effort to evade capture. During questioning, Csatary, who is now 97 years old, claimed innocence and insisted that he had only been carrying out orders.
In 2011, the Simon Wiesenthal Center reported that there are over 800 investigations underway and 21 new indictments filed against suspected Nazi war criminals in 2010. Csatary was one of the top-ten most wanted. Last year, Hungary arrested the top name on the most-wanted list, Sandor Kapiro, for his role in a massacre in Serbia during the War, but later acquitted him of all charges shortly before his death in September.
If he is indicted, Csatary's trial would take place in Hungary and could involve testimony from survivors, if they can be located.
Fifty years after Kenya's independence, the British high court opened the second part of a case brought by three Kenyan nationals against the British government today. The trial sheds light on Kenya's gulags, a largely forgotten dark corner of England's colonial legacy.
The plaintiffs -- Paulo Muoka Nzili, Wambuga Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara -- were formerly rebels during the Mau Mau uprising against colonial rule. They allege that they were the victims of torture and brutality at the hands of the British administration during the "Kenya Emergency" that lasted from 1952-1960.
According to the BBC, the "claimants' lawyers allege that Nzili was castrated, Nyingi severely beaten and Mara subjected to appalling sexual abuse in detention camps during the rebellion."
The fourth claimant in the original case, Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua, died in the interim between when the test case was ruled arguable in July 2011 and the opening of the trial.
The lawyers for the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) have argued that the case should be struck down because the lapse in time between the end of the insurgency and the current proceedings is too great. However, a new cache of secret British documents unveiled in April 2012 has shed new light on crimescommitted in Kenya, as well as other former colonies -- and the decades-long effort to cover them up.
The files - which had been purposely withheld from the National Archives and illegally hidden at Hanslope Park, an intelligence station -- were uncovered by historians working on the Kenyans' case. Subsequently, the Foreign Office released all of the records.
The documents include accounts of British officials "roasting detainees alive" in Kenya. The colony's attorney general in 1953, Eric Griffith-Jones, described the internment camps as "distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia" -- yet nevertheless endorsed British policy, claiming that "if we are going to sin, we must sin quietly."
The Kenyans first requested the release of these documents in 1967, according to an internal FCO review from February 2011 that was made public in May. The review, which explains how the Kenyan request served as a blueprint for refusing such information to all former colonies, details that the files were consciously concealed by the government. They reasoned that releasing any information would set "a dangerous precedent" which would make it "difficult to withhold un-reviewed and potentially sensitive papers from other former colonies."
The Guardian confirmed that the most incriminating of the documents were systematically destroyed. Nevertheless, the remaining incriminating files -- known within the FCO as the 'migrated archives' because they were whisked out of colonial territories before the post-independence administration could take power - total 8,800 files. The Kenyan documents alone total 294 boxes.
As the trial progresses, government fears of "a dangerous precedent" may prove well-founded: this case might very well open up avenues for other colonies to bring legal cases against the former empire.
SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images
The International Criminal Court handed down its first sentence on Tuesday to Congolese war criminal Thomas Lubanga for the use of child soldiers. After over three years at trial, and following his conviction in March of this year, the court issued a 14-year sentence, with one judge dissenting on the grounds that the nature of the crimes warranted a longer sentence. The court has not yet decided where Lubanga will serve out his term.
This is the court's first conviction and sentencing after nearly a decade in existence. But others are in the works, including the first head of state to be tried, Cote D'Ivoire's former president, Laurent Gbagbo, who was transferred to the ICC for trial in November 2011. (Sudan's current president Omar al-Bashir has also been indicted but has yet to be arrested). Gbagbo is charged with crimes against humanity, including murder and rape, for acts committed after the 2010 election when electoral disputes erupted into violence as Gbagbo refused to relinquish the presidency. The next step in his trial, the confirmation of charges, is expected in August 2012.
Under the tenure of Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo -- who was replaced earlier this month by new Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda -- the court has issued open (public) indictments against 28 individuals from seven countries -- all in Africa. The list is a who's who of notorious political leaders, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Saif al-Qaddafi, and military officials. The Court relies on national law enforcement, Interpol and the UN to arrest those charged, and only five of those indicted are currently in custody. 15 cases are currently before the Court, though trials are only scheduled for those in the Court's custody (some pre-trial proceedings are underway in absentia).
The Court's summer schedule shows proceedings will continue against the Central African Republic's Jean Pierre Bemba accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes; Sudan's Abdallah Banda and Saleh Jerbo for war crimes, including attacks on peacekeepers, and Gbagbo. Nearly a decade elapsed between Lubanga's crimes and his sentencing by the court, so don't expect speedy proceedings for any of them.
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
The first plane carrying South Sudanese "returnees" out of Israel arrived in Juba, South Sudan, on June 19.
Amidst escalating tensions over African migration to Israel, Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai described the eventual "return to their homes and countries" of [migrants] as "inevitable." Of Israel's 60,000 African migrants, the majority come from Eritrea and the two Sudans.
Greeting the plane in Juba, Joseph Lual Achuil, South Sudan's minister of humanitarian affairs, claimed that the process of return was voluntary: "People are not being deported. We have agreed with the Israeli government for our people to be peacefully and voluntarily repatriated," he said. While ‘returnees' are being offered a stipend of $1300 per adult and $500 per child by the Israeli government, the degree to which repatriation is truly a matter of choice is debatable.
While those who left Israel on the first plane volunteered to do so, the crackdown, known under the code name "Operation Going Home," has rounded up and arrested hundreds of migrants so far. The usually bustling neighborhood of ‘Little Africa' in South Tel Aviv is reportedly deserted. New laws allowing migrants to be jailed for up to three years without trial or deportation came into effect on June 3. In addition, any Israeli citizen harboring or helping migrants can now face jail time of up to 15 years.
The current government campaign to stem the flow of African migrants has begun with newly independent South Sudan -- the only one of the top three source countries which maintains diplomatic relations with Israel.
Many South Sudanese fled to Israel to escape the ongoing violence at home, often crossing the Sinai desert from Egypt by foot to reach Israel. Last week, an Israeli court ruled that 1,500 South Sudanese are no longer at risk in their homeland and can be returned home, giving the government the legal right to deport them.
Recent months have seen protests and acts of vandalism targeting African communities in Israel, an atmosphere that many claim has been instigated by the comments of some politicians. The deportation drive is also creating immense discomfort amongst many Israeli citizens, who are acutely of aware of their own identity as an immigrant nation founded by Jews fleeing persecution in Europe after World War II.
The subtext beneath the deportation process is a racial argument that cuts to the core of competing views about what Israel's identity as a ‘Jewish state' should entail. For the current government, identity is clearly framed by ethno-religious demographics. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu argues:
"If we don't stop their entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a Jewish and democratic state. This phenomenon is very grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity."
Whether such a view can be justified as commensurate with Jewish values remains to be decided.
Just days after announcing that it would back deputy leader Khairat El-Shater as a presidential candidate in Egypt's upcoming election, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party made a pit stop at Georgetown University on Wednesday as part of a "charm offensive." FJP representatives repeatedly emphasized the Islamist party's commitment to fulfilling "the demands of the young people who revolted in Tahrir Square" through promoting democracy, justice, freedom, and human dignity, and insisted that they intend to be "as inclusive as possible."
"With the new Egypt, it doesn't matter anymore what the party wants," said businessman and FJP adviser Hussein El-Kazzaz. "Our compass is not a movement that's internally inward-looking, our compass is now with the revolution.... Our distinct belief is that the country cannot be be run by one faction."
That's why, he explained, the Muslim Brotherhood flip-flopped on its decision to field a presidential candidate:
"We didn't want to nominate someone ... because we didn't want to be monopolizing positions of power at that time..... It's a very different reality now than it was 10 months ago."
Even though the FJP holds over 47 percent of the seats in Egypt's parliament, Member of Parliament Abdul Mawgoud Dardery from Luxor acknowledges that the parliament itself hasn't exactly been smooth sailing:
"It's very tough [to negotiate].... All of a sudden now we are expected to decide ... the fate of our country through a very, very democratic process from which traditions and figureheads are and history and so on are being created as we go."
He added that the members have tried to do "traditional things," like holding meetings and using mediators, but that it's not working "100 percent."
El-Kazzaz also argued that the Freedom and Justice Party seeks to take a "middle ground" when it comes to the existential struggle between secular liberalism and traditionalism:
"We have a tradition that needs to be respected ... but we cannot ignore human civilization ... Europe has great things to offer, the United States has great things to offer, let's look at them and choose what we like, leave what we don't like."
If only it were that easy. Unfortunately for the FJP's philosophies of inclusion and finding a middle ground, it appears that Islamists are set to dominate Egypt's constitutional committee, a crisis that's already alienating the country's minority groups.
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Just one week after the acquittal of fiery far-right politician Geert Wilders, the Dutch parliament struck another blow against multiculturalism in the Netherlands yesterday with the passage of a bill banning ritual animal slaughter. The bill requires that all animals be stunned before being slaughtered, a requirement that conflicts with halal and kosher stipulations that animals be fully conscious.
The bill was initially proposed by the Party of the Animals, which holds two seats in the 146-seat Dutch parliament and maintains that ritual methods of slaughter are inhumane. It gained support from centrists on similar grounds, but Wilders's Freedom Party has also been a longtime proponent. In fact, it was Wilders who first raised the issue in 2007 when he objected to halal meat being served at a public school in Amsterdam.
The ban has provoked a furious reaction from Jewish and Muslim leaders in the Netherlands and Europe. From Reuters:
"The very fact that there is a discussion about this is very painful for the Jewish community," Netherlands Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs told Reuters. "Those who survived the (second world) war remember the very first law made by the Germans in Holland was the banning of schechita or the Jewish way of slaughtering animals."
It should be noted that a last-minute amendment attached to the bill states that halal and kosher slaughterhouses will be able to apply for special permits if they can show that their methods do not cause more pain than non-ritual methods. But some are skeptical of the permit process's efficacy, and the European Jewish Congress is already considering challenging the law in court.
The bill awaits confirmation in the parliament's upper house, though it passed easily in the lower house and enjoys widespread public support. If passed, it will put the Netherlands in the company of a handful of countries that have outlawed ritual animal slaughter. Revisions to New Zealand's animal welfare code made kosher slaughter illegal as of this May, while bans in a number of Scandinavian and Baltic countries date back to anti-Semitic measures passed before World War II.
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While Ai Weiwei's surprising release dominated the headlines yesterday, the Chinese government took the chance to detain one of China's most important civil rights lawyers, Xu Zhiyong. Rumors of his disappearance on Wednesday were confirmed first on Twitter and then in a Financial Times article today. However, a post on his Twitter feed suggests that he has since been released. A rough translation:
Thanks everyone for your concern. I've returned home. Last night I was taken away in order to prevent me from taking non-registered permanent residence parents in Beijing to the Ministry of Education to petition for the 12th time.
The last sentence refers to his recent efforts to push for reforms in China's hukou (residency permit) system, which makes it extremely difficult for children of migrant workers to attend schools in the cities to which their parents have moved.
Xu first gained fame as a legal reformer in 2003, when he successfully pushed to end China's extrajudicial system of "black jails." As the head of the Open Constitution Initiative, his clients have included the families of the victims of the China's recent tainted-milk scandal. This spring, he has also been providing legal assistance to the independent candidates' movement gathering steam in China. He himself mounted successful runs in 2003 and 2006 as an independent candidate for a seat in the People's Congress of his home district in Beijing.
Two down, 130 to go.
The old saw goes that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. Omar Bakri seems to have leapfrogged over that first step.
The radical Sunni Islamist sheikh, who fled to Lebanon after being banned from Britain in 2005, was just sentenced to life in prison by a Lebanese court on charges of inciting murder. Bakri was tried in absentia, and has 15 days to appeal the verdict before being arrested.
Sheikh Omar currently lives in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli and, as it happens, hasn't changed his phone number in three years. "I will never, ever give myself up to any non-Islamic court," he told FP. "They have no evidence, not a shred of proof."
Bakri also said that he has an escape plan. "If worse comes to worse, I will go to Beirut and ask Hezbollah for protection," he said. He added that he was planning to leave for Beirut tonight to discuss with Hezbollah the terms of any protection that they would be willing to offer him.
This may all sound very nefarious, but it's actually rather difficult to take seriously. Bakri likes to talk a big game -- particularly to Western journalists in nice Beirut cafes -- about his admiration for Osama bin Laden, but his actual influence among Sunni youth in Tripoli is suspect. Given his vocal statements, it was inevitable that a Lebanese court would eventually pin charges on him, but among the many cause of instability in the country, Bakri is small potatoes.
Bakri insisted that Hezbollah would be willing to ensure his safety because he shared their anti-Israel and anti-American bona fides. Perhaps, but I'm not so sure. The Party of God is allowed to operate outside the normal rules of society because many Lebanese think it serves as a necessary defense against the threat posed by Israel and their other enemies. Many Lebanese are already chafing at Hezbollah's current impunity; if the party extends their security umbrella to a loudmouth with no obvious constituency, it will make the status quo even more difficult to justify.
Bakri and Hezbollah may share some political views, but there is one important difference -- only one of them is able to put their words into action.
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