"In some countries a journalist can be thrown in prison for years for a single offending word or photo," points out Reporters Without Borders, a press advocacy group.
I imagine that had something else in mind... but a case today would fit: a journalist in Denmark was convicted of animal cruelty for killing fish with shampoo. Ouch?
The incident took place back in 2004, when Lisbeth Kølster wanted to demonstrate on TV that Terva shampoo was literally toxic enough to kill fish. Easy enough: she dumped a bottle of shampoo in a fish bowl, and killed 12 guppies over the next four days.
Well, the power of the press worked, and Tevra shampoo was booted off shelves. "Sometimes you need a serious eye-opener, and when we made the programme, we chose to say that we should illustrate this in addition to the experts and reports we had," Kølster was reported to have said.
Luckily, no need for free press activists to jump in and free Kølster. She was convicted but not fined -- her right to a speedy trial having been violated.
This afternoon, the Senate Democrats blocked the $80 million the Obama administration requested to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and relocate the people imprisoned there. The New York Times explains:
Mr. Obama, who on Thursday is scheduled to outline his plans for the 240 detainees still held in the prison, has faced growing pressure from lawmakers, particularly Republicans, to find a solution that does not involve moving the prisoners to the United States.While Democrats generally have been supportive of Mr. Obama's plan to close the detention center by Jan. 22, 2010, lawmakers have not stepped forward to offer to accept detainees in their home states or districts. When the tiny town of Hardin, Mont., offered to put the terrorism suspects in the town's empty jail, both Montana senators and its Congressional representative quickly voiced strong opposition.
This might be a good thing.
Why? Senators have a clear reason to withhold the funding. As members of Congress, they answer to their home districts -- and the detainees pose the ultimate case of NIMBY. Some are arguing that the detainees are highly dangerous and the Obama administration hasn't proven it can keep Americans safe. (I'm not so sure. If there's one thing the U.S. does well, it's incarceration.) The NYT again:
Senate Democratic leaders insisted that they still supported the decision to close the prison, were simply waiting for Mr. Obama to provide a more detailed plan, and had acted to avert a partisan feud that would only serve as a distraction and delay a military spending measure, which is needed to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and some other national security programs through Sept. 30. Mr. Obama had requested the $80 million be included in that bill.The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, indicated that the administration expected that Congress would eventually release the money to close the camp and he suggested that the concerns of lawmakers would be addressed on Thursday, when Mr. Obama presents a "hefty part" of his plan to deal with the detainees.
And I think, perhaps, the Senate might not be acting as a block to the Obama administration as much as an aide to its ambitions. It hasn't yet figured out where to send the Gitmo prisoners, or how to try them, or whether to repatriate them. That's going to take time. (The Thursday announcement will be particularly interesting now.)
If the Senate Democrats withhold this funding, the Obama administration gets to scapegoat Congress for any future delays, while also getting to figure out the best way to proceed -- the best way to ensure U.S. safety, use U.S. resources, and deal with this enormously complex problem.
Agim Ceku, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army who was attending a conference on demobilizing guerilla movments in Colombia, has been expelled from the country after he was placed on an Interpol "red list" at the request of Serbia:
The director of Colombia's DAS security agency, Felipe Munoz, told the AP that Serbia sought the expulsion after Ceku's arrival for the conference, which was organized by President Alvaro Uribe's peace commissioner and attended by Uribe himself as well as by Guatemala's president, Alvaro Colom.
The Interpol-issued notices alert member nations that a person is wanted for possible extradition but does not force them to arrest or expel the individual. Munoz said Colombian law compelled the Ceku expulsion.
During the 1998-99 Kosovo war Ceku was the military head of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army.
Ceku says Serbia wanted him expelled because he was the "hero of the conference" and getting too much attention.
This comes two weeks after Interpol redlisted Venezuelan opposition leader Manuel Rosales who has sought refuge in Peru after being charged with corruption by Hugo Chávez's government.
To my mind, these two cases raise the question of whether Interpol is allowing itself to be used by governments to crack down on political opponents. Interpol's constitution states:
It is strictly forbidden for the Organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.
I don't know enough about Ceku or Rosales to form an opinion on their guilt or innocence, but I think it's fairly indisputable that both indictments at least have a "political character." With Chávez requesting that a second political opponent be redlisted, it might be time for the organization to review its procedures.
In 2007, Kiriakou famously went on television to describe waterboarding, and discussed the single incidence in which Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded. After just 30 or 35 seconds, Kiriakou said, Zubaydah started singing and never needed to be tortured again.
But Kiriakou wasn't there for the waterboarding -- he was half a world away, in Langley -- and Zubaydah was waterboarded more than 80 times. The New York Times first noted the difference in the two stories.
I remember wondering at the time why Kirkiakou was allowed to come forward and talk about interrogations so sensitive the Bush administration created a special "top secret" designation for them. Why didn't the CIA revoke his pension and prosecute him for leaking?
The New York Times writes:
The C.I.A., which considered legal action against Mr. Kiriakou for divulging classified information, said last week that he "was not - and is not - authorized to speak on behalf of the CIA."
Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman, said: "This agency did not publicly disclose the frequency with which the waterboard was used, noting only that it was employed with three detainees. If reporters got that wrong, they weren't misled from here."
The CIA didn't do much to repudiate or discredit Kiriakou at the time, despite the fact that he broke a central covenant of his profession. Here's the CIA response, as reported by ABC News:
The former CIA intelligence official who went public on ABC News about the agency's use of waterboarding in interrogations, John Kiriakou, apparently will not be the subject of a Justice Department investigation, even though some CIA officials believe he revealed classified information about the use of waterboarding.
"They were furious at the CIA this morning, but cooler heads have apparently prevailed for the time being," a senior Justice Department official told the Blotter on ABCNews.com.
Gen. Michael Hayden, the CIA director, did sent out a classified memo this morning warning all employees "of the importance of protecting classified information," a CIA spokesperson told ABCNews.com.
Had they wanted to silence or punish him, surely they could have. It all seems a bit strange to me, and leads to one obvious possibility: John Kiriakou -- telegenic and well-spoken John Kiriakou, who never went to jail for blasting state secrets on television -- was told the story to tell and released onto an unsuspecting public. It's an impression the CIA will have difficulty dulling now.
For, Kirkiakou went on to act as a "paid consultant" for ABC news after the interview, Laura reports.
With the glut of new information about "enhanced interrogations" and the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody -- the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee reports especially -- it's been very hard to keep track of who knew what and when.
To help sort it all out, I created a timeline showing new information in italics.
Look for more today...
There's been a wealth of information released on the treatment and torture of detainees in U.S. custody in the past days. Here's a capsule of the new news:
A two-page complaint filed in New York State Supreme Court on April 20 seeks $10 million from the New Yorker's publisher, Advance Publications, claiming Diamond's story falsely accused Wemp and fellow tribesman Isum Mandigo of "serious criminal activity" and "murder."
Diamond is a best-selling author and winner of a National Science Medal and the MacArthur Foundation's "genius award." But Wemp has some academic backing of his own. Rhonda Roland Shearer, director of the New York City-based Art Science Research Lab, whose media ethics project, stinkyjournalism.org, will soon release a 40,000-word study on Diamond's story.
Shearer dispatched researchers to New Guinea and interviewed 40 anthropologists to fact-check Diamond's story with a fine-tooth comb. The result, as summed up by the report's working title: "Jared Diamond's Factual Collapse: The New Yorker's Papua New Guinea Revenge Tale Untrue."
TNY stands by the story. No word from Pulitzer-Prize winner Jared Diamond yet, though.
All of Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee's just-declassified memo on the interrogation of Al Qaeda commander Abu Zubayda makes for pretty chilling reading. But for me, the extensive discussion over the circumstances under which it would be permissible to lock him in a box with an insect (he apparently was known to have a fear of them) really stands out as evidence of officials having completely lost touch with reality:
In addition to using the confinement boxes alone, you also would like to introduce an insect into one of the boxes with Zubaydah. As we understand it, you plan to inform Zubaydah that you are going to place a stinging insect into the box, but you will actually place a harmless insect in the box, such as a caterpillar. If you do so, to ensure that you are outside the predicate act requirement, you must inform him that the insects will not have a sting that would produce death or severe pain. If, however, you were to place the insect in the box without informing him that you are doing so, then, in order to not commit a predicate act, you should not affirmatively lead him to believe that any insect is present which has a sting that could produce severe pain or suffering or even cause his death. [Redacted section] so long as you take either of the approaches we have described, the insect's placement in the box would not constitue a threat of severe physical pain or suffering to a reasonable person in his position.
The rest of the memos are here.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai doesn't have the best record of passing laws to protect the people in his country, but that's not to say that he's doing nothing. Radio Free Europe/Radio Libery reports that Karzai just signed a degree to, among other things, bans the use of hand grenades for fishing:
In the decree, Karzai appeals to the public to help protect wildlife and the environment. He also called on high-ranking provincial officials to strictly apply the orders and penalize violators.I have no idea how common this practice is, but it certainly does sound like something that shouldn't be allowed.
It's been a tense day for constitutional lawyers, national security reporters, and foreign policy wonks. Why? This afternoon, the Obama administration intends to release memos relating to the controversial "enhanced interrogation" policies of CIA officers in overseas prisons.
There have been careful negotiations between the CIA, Justice Department, and White House over the contents of the release, and it seems the officers involved have been granted immunity from prosecution as a result.
The full set of documents should be released here sometime within the hour.
Update: The only redactions are the officers' names.
Update: Read the memos here.
Thailand's efforts to extradite former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and charge him with corruption were made quite a bit harder last night, thanks to Nicaragua of all places:
The Nicaraguan government announced late Wednesday it had named Thaksin a "Nicaraguan ambassador on a special mission" to bring investment to the Central American country and issued him a passport in January.
The announcement came just hours after the Thai government said it had revoked Thaksin's personal passport, accusing him of stoking the unrest that paralyzed the Thai capital earlier this week.
If you're wondering what Nicaragua has to with any of this you're not alone. Thai authorities seem to have been taken off guard by this development as well. Thaksin has spent some time in Nicaragua since he was exiled so it's conceivable he simply payed for a passport, though he claims to be short on money since the Thai military seized his assets.
This isn't the first time in recent months that Nicaragua has stuck its nose into an international dispute that seemingly doesn't concern it at all. Last September it became the first (and so far only) country other than Russia to recognize the breakaway Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Granted it's only two examples, but it will be interesting to see if President Daniel Ortega continues to offer his country as a one-stop-shop for conferring (albeit dubious) legitimacy on international scofflaws.
Writing in the Washington Times, Audrey Hudson and Eli Lake report that the Department of Homeland Security has produced and disseminated a nine-page report on the threat of "rightwing extremist activity," spurred by the global economic crisis, election of a black president, and the return of "disgruntled war veterans."
The nine-page document was sent to police and sheriff's departments across the United States on April 7 under the headline, "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment."
It says the federal government "will be working with its state and local partners over the next several months" to gather information on "rightwing extremist activity in the United States"....
"Most statements by rightwing extremists have been rhetorical, expressing concerns about the election of the first African American president, but stopping short of calls for violent action," the report says. "In two instances in the run-up to the election, extremists appeared to be in the early planning stages of some threatening activity targeting the Democratic nominee, but law enforcement interceded."
In producing the report, the United States joins numerous European countries facing possible right-wing nationalist activity. But Europe's long-struggled with nationalism stoked by immigration from ethnic minorities; it has right-wing anti-immigration political parties, mainstreaming sentiment which might otherwise be considered or become extremist.
Sen. Russell Feingold sent an interesting letter to Barack Obama about Somalia yesterday, cc-ing Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and Dennis Blair. The senator, a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, urged the U.S. president to engage Somalia, but carefully: work with the Somali government; improve support for the country's internal security apparatus. No quick fixes here:
[There is an] essential need to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy to stabilize Somalia and support effective governance. With the strategic review now underway, I reiterate my belief that expanded U.S. support for the new unity government must be a central component of that strategy. Furthermore, we must seize the opening that lies before us by publicly declaring our commitment to high-level, sustained engagement that could help Somalia overcome the many challenges to peace and stability."
Feingold proposes stronger U.S. engagement with the Somali government -- not only to stamp out piracy but to "establish security and functional, inclusive governance within the country." Obama, he suggests, should start by calling Somali President Sheikh Sharif.
Most interesting of all, though, is Feingold's reference to the last time that piracy was notably halted in Somalia -- under the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. That regime, later ousted by Ethiopian troops (with U.S. support...) brought the only calm to the seas that the country has seen in recent years.
The ultimate solution to the problem of piracy, then, is the establishment of a functional government that can enforce the rule of law. During the rule of the Council of Islamic Courts in 2006, there was a notable decline in piracy that can be attributed, in large part, to the rise of a central authority in southern Somalia.
Without replicating the repressive rule of the Courts, we must keep in mind that establishing a central governing structure in Somalia is critical to resolving, not just stopping, the problem of piracy."
Now that's an idea, unlike airstrikes, that I feel militantly supportive of.
Scott Horton reports that Spanish prosecutors will indict high-ranking members of the Bush administration over allegations of detainee abuse and torture.
The six are: former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; former head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee; former OLC lawyer John Yoo; former Defense Department lawyer William J. Haynes II; David Addington, a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney; and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith.
Horton explains the context of the case:
The case arises in the context of a pending proceeding before the court involving terrorism charges against five Spaniards formerly held at Guantánamo. A group of human-rights lawyers originally filed a criminal complaint asking the court to look at the possibility of charges against the six American lawyers. Baltasar Garzón Real, the investigating judge, accepted the complaint and referred it to Spanish prosecutors for a view as to whether they would accept the case and press it forward. [They found sufficient evidence.]
The case won't come before Judge Real, though; he also was involved in a terrorism case against the five Spaniards held in Guantanamo.
What does it all mean?
Well, John Yoo won't be vacationing on the Costa del Sol this summer. Were any of the Bush Six to step foot in Spain, they would be arrested.
More importantly: Spain has said that it would drop the cases if the United States would investigate the claim. Thus far, the U.S. Department of Justice and the White House haven't responded. But the indictment may force the administration's hand, spurring a response to the allegations.
For, ultimately, the issue may have more political potency than judicial importance. It's up to U.S. President Barack Obama to dictate whether and how the strong allegations of legal abuses in the Bush administration will be resolved.
Mike Allen of Politico's Playbook fame seconds our idea of renaming the pirates. "Pirates go from curiosity to crisis for 1600 and the Pentagon," his headline screamed, the suggestion of renaming them "maritime terrorists" within.
Matt Yglesias criticizes the letter of the suggestion, if not the spirit, with the rather unimpeachable logic that pirates are...pirates.
The point I made last week -- that calling pirates "pirates" allows for a certain romanticization and fueled a media frenzy which too often overlooked the realities of the situation and the circumstance of failed-state Somalia -- thankfully seems passe.
This weekend's rescue, which involved U.S. naval warships, millions of dollars, and pirate and civilian deaths, spurred an examination of the why and how behind the pirates. The sheen's worn off. They're criminals and a security concern. They redouble Somalia's problems.
Or, as someone will inevitably put it somewhere on the internet: pirates totally jumped the shark.
There's a lot of competition for top crises these days -- what with Somali pirates going overboard, Pakistan and Afghansitan looking increasingly perilous, Mexico's chaos scarily peering over the border...
But I vote for adding Nigeria to that very pressing list of concerns.
A new report released today, puts last year's death toll from unrest in the oil-producing Niger Delta region at 1,000. The almost-guerrilla war dragged the economy down by $20.7 billion in lost oil revenue, with little sign of abating in 2009. With oil prices already lower, government revenues are falling. More worrisome -- the rebels in that region who earn most of their cash from oil bunkering will be short on dough, inspiring more of the kidnappings-for-ransom that already breached the 300 mark in 2008. NGO workers on the ground tell me that things will really heat up if the prices (or the oil production levels) drop much lower.
To add another twist, the main rebel group in the region, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), today e-mailed a statement rejecting an amnesty offer that members of the ruling party allegedly proposed. In classic form, the rejection is colorful:
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta rejects this evil agenda by the [ruling party] PDP and its cohorts and vow never to sell our birth right [to Nigeria's oil] for a bowl of porridge."
The deal itself was even more interesting: the government would provide fighter amnesty, prisoner release, and huge payouts to MEND in exchange for a rebel promise to help rig the coming elections in favor of the ruling party. That offer may well be an exaggeration on the part of the rebel spokesman. Then again, given Nigeria's rather wretched election history... it might not.
Why should this mess end up in the top echelon of global worries? Don't forget: Nigeria is the third largest oil supplier to the United States. And when regional powerhouses go down in flames, it can't bode well for any of the unlucky neighbors -- many of whom are recovering from their own bouts of conflict.
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP
The United States is scrambling this morning to save a hostaged captain from Somali pirates -- calling in back up that includes FBI hostage negotiators, more warships, and just about every high-profile military and diplomatic figure who will reassure the American press. The drama is being scrupulously reported elsewhere (most recent update: the pirates want booty), so I'll save you the repetition.
I'm interested in a different question: Just how exactly have pirates managed to out-scramble the world's top navy? If neither the U.S. Navy, nor the EU, NATO, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian vessels were able to spot this pirate attacker coming on the vast seas... how do the Somali pirates find the ships they hijack? In theory, the sea is equally vast and equally sparsely populated on both sides of the looking glass.
One interesting theory comes from NightWatch:
Several commentators highlighted the changed tactics by which some Somali pirate groups manage to seize ships far from the coast. What they do not provide is the hypothesis that this proves the existence of a well organized criminal syndicate with modern communications that link pirates to agents in port authorities from
Kenyato the Suez Canal. The business is too big and rich to fail simply because modern frigates are present.
It makes good sense. Why? Pirates have money and they can pay for tips. Port authorities, particularly in Kenya, are likely paid irregularly and poorly (particularly in comparison to pirate rates). The pirates have also shown that they are willing and able to infiltrate government authorities -- as they often do in their home in Puntland, Somalia.
No good news there. Cracking down on internal corruption among port authorities would be about as easy as, say, stopping a piracy epidemic in the Gulf of Aden.
Photo: U.S. Navy
But might the EU actually have the right idea? As Robert Templer of International Crisis Group writes on The Argument today, police are exactly what both Pakistan and Afghanistan need. The forces today are corrupt and poorly utilized. Street-patrollers could restore security and confidence to chaos-wracked cities and towns. That most basic level of calm is no military task.
Still, critics would have a point that the EU's proposal is far too feeble given the task ahead. Even with the doubling of police trainers, that will put just 400 on the ground. How about a octopoling? Then, I'll be impressed. Read Templer's full piece to understand why.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
It's the rumor that continues to haunt U.S. South Asia envoy Richard Holbrooke: that in 1996 he promised then Bosnian Serb leader, now genocide defendent Radovan Karadzic that he would never face prosecution.
Karadzic makes the claim every time he appears in court -- claiming that Holbrooke offered him the deal in exchange for stepping down after the Bosnian war -- but he hasn't been taken to seriously. Now, it seems some others are talking:
Two of the people cited anonymously in the new study, a former senior State Department official who spent almost a decade in the Balkans and another American who was involved with international peacekeeping there in the 1990s, provided additional details in interviews with The New York Times, speaking on condition that they not be further identified.
The former State Department official said he had been told of the offer by people who were close to Mr. Holbrooke's team at the time. The other person said Mr. Holbrooke had personally and emphatically told him about the deal on two occasions.
While the two men agreed, as one of them put it, that "Holbrooke did the right thing and got the job done," the recurring story of the deal has dogged Mr. Holbrooke.
Holbrooke continues to deny that any such deal was ever made. Here's what he had to say in a "Seven Questions" interview with FP from right after Karadzic's arrest:
Let me just say that Karadzic should have been captured in the first few months after [the signing of the] Dayton [Peace Accords], in early 1996. Even though everybody knew where he was, he was not brought to justice because the NATO commander, Adm. Leighton Smith, failed to exercise his authority. Smith said it was not a mission of his command, which was a terrible thing to do. Had Karadzic been arrested back then, the history of the Balkans would have been much easier during the last 13 years, because Karadzic wouldn’t have been able to actively try and undermine political stability and reconciliation in the Balkans.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Though it's a comparatively minor offence when you consider her husband's crimes, it's still a little disappointing that Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe will not be charged for punching Times photographer Tim O'Rourke in the face with her diamond ring while shopping in Hong Kong:
The Department of Justice in the territory issued a statement saying: “Grace Mugabe is not liable to arrest or detention, and enjoys immunity from prosecution.” These rights come under Chinese regulations on diplomatic immunity and privileges, the department said.
Hong Kong’s legal system is separate from that of China under terms of its reversion to Beijing rule in 1997, but it must apply China’s laws in cases involving foreign relations or defence.
Another Times photog got throttled by guards a month later when he tried to take a peek at the Mugabes' new Hong Kong pad.
McClatchy's Tim Johnson worries about the damage to Hong Kong's reputation if it becomes the destination of choice for Mugabe and his ilk.
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images
In a press release, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice announce the withdrawal of the "enemy combatant" definition of Gitmo detainees. The memo says that, under President Obama's orders, the department is reviewing detention policy:
In a filing today with the federal District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice submitted a new standard for the government’s authority to hold detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The definition does not rely on the President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congress’s specific authorization. It draws on the international laws of war to inform the statutory authority conferred by Congress. It provides that individuals who supported al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was substantial. And it does not employ the phrase "enemy combatant."
The Department also submitted a declaration by Attorney General Eric Holder stating that, under executive orders issued by President Obama, the government is undertaking an interagency review of detention policy for individuals captured in armed conflicts or counterterrorism operations as well as a review of the status of each detainee held at Guantanamo. The outcome of those reviews may lead to further refinements of the government’s position as it develops a comprehensive policy.
The memo states that the government will no longer detain combatants who provided "insignificant or insubstantial" support to al Qaeda or the Taliban. (The Bush administration came under fierce criticism for holding persons with little or no connection to the terrorist organizations.) More than 200 remain incarcerated at Camp Delta; it's unclear if any -- or how many -- will be released under the new legal standards.
Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
Don Kraus at the Global Solutions Blog and Mark Leon Goldberg at U.N. Dispatch report that Rep. Nita Lowey and Sen. Patrick Leahy managed to cut the Nethercutt Amendment out of the omnibus appropriations bill that Congress passed this week.
The Nethercutt Amendment -- named for former Rep. George Nethercutt and bundled in a 2004 appropriations bill -- cut economic support funds to nations that ratified the International Criminal Court without signing a Bilateral Immunity Agreement with the Bush administration.
Global Solutions says the law affected funding to more than 20 countries, including:
Latin American allies in the war on drugs, including Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Brazil, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Uruguay.
The Balkan countries of Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro, which rely on U.S. military assistance to maintain stability and reform their armies.
Caribbean countries, whose hurricane disaster assistance is tied to the affected programs: Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
African allies with which the U.S. partners to help maintain regional security, including South Africa, Kenya, Mali and Tanzania.
Photo: Paul Vreeker/AFP/Getty Images
The Special Rapporteur remains deeply troubled that the United States has created a comprehensive system of extraordinary renditions, prolonged and secret detention, and practices that violate the prohibition against torture and other forms of ill-treatment. This system required an international web of exchange of information and has created a corrupted body of information which was shared systematically with partners in the war on terror through intelligence cooperation, thereby corrupting the institutional culture of the legal and institutional systems of recipient States.
While this system was devised and put in place by the United States, it was only possible through collaboration from many other States. There exist consistent, credible reports suggesting that at least until May 2007 a number of States facilitated extraordinary renditions in various ways. States such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Georgia, Indonesia, Kenya, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Pakistan and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have provided intelligence or have conducted the initial seizure of an individual before he was transferred to (mostly unacknowledged) detention centres in Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Thailand, Uzbekistan, or to one of the CIA covert detention centres, often referred to as “black sites”. In many cases, the receiving States reportedly engaged in torture and other forms of ill-treatment of these detainees.
The special rapporteur, Martin Scheinen, states that British intelligence officers interviewed detainees in "so-called safe houses where they were being tortured" and that they "conducted or witnessed just over 2,000 interviews in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq." He calls for whistle-blower protections and the revision of numerous policies to safe-guard human rights. The revelations aren't that revelatory, given past reports on the participation of European countries in rendition and "enhanced interrogation." But the tone's especially fire-and-brimstone in this iteration.
And, the report comes as concern over the Britain'ss collusion in the mistreatment of detainees comes to a fever pitch. Last month, Binyam Mohammed, a British national arrested in Pakistan, returned to the U.K. after seven years of detention. He told papers, "Mentally right now, the result of my experience is that I feel emotionally dead....When I realised that the British were co-operating with the people torturing me, I felt completely naked. They sold me out."
Additionally, members of parliament are calling for the government to release classified documents which detail its cooperation and participation with U.S. interrogators. And the country is considering accepting more prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, to hasten its closure.
All in all, it's an issue that's received an extraordinary amount of attention and garnered extraordinary public debate in Great Britain -- even more so than in the United States. And it isn't good news for poor Prime Minister Gordon Brown, just coming off the worst week ever.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
You know where the Obama administration shouldn't send any Gitmo detainees? Greece.
That's the only conclusion one can draw from the above video of two convicts escaping from a maximum security prison in Athens by rope ladder and helicopter. What makes it worse is that the same two guys -- armed robber and kidnapper Vassilis Paleokostas and his Albanian sidekick Alket Rizai -- escaped from prison in the exact same Jerry Bruckheimerish fashion in 2006.
All in all, it's not a great showing for the Greek justice system. This may even top the great jihadist toilet paper jailbreak that shocked Singapore last year.
Over a month since the United States launched its own counter-piracy effort, details of the operations are emerging. The U.S. coalition is deploying technological and legal creativity to get the job done.
The first tactic: drones. After a report surfaced last week that U.S. unmanned aircraft vehicles were watching the Somali skies, I wrote to Navy Lt. Nate Christensen, who replied: "I can confirm that UAVs are being used aboard U.S. Navy ships to conduct counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. They bring the ability to stay airborne for long periods and cover hundreds of square miles of ocean during the course of one mission." The resulting intelligence is shared among allies. A good start to tackling the surveillance conundrum of patrolling miles and miles of high seas.
Perhaps even more interesting, the U.S. is now detaining and holding pirates -- there are 16 in custody now. As Derek Reveron pointed out in "Think Again: Pirates," that's no small feat. Most countries have been nervous about touching the pirates, let alone keeping them in custody. Britain, for example, instructed its patrols not to pick up any of them. There is no mandated court to try the offenders, and many fear that amnesty requests would be the result of naval arrest. No such fears plague the U.S. Navy, apparently. "They will remain aboard Lewis and Clark until information and evidence is assembled and evaluated and a decision is made regarding their further transfer," reads a military press release.
Good effort, team, but it looks like the pirates haven't lost their edge yet. A coal carrier was taken hostage today, just one of the 24 attacks so far in 2009. (Navies have stopped nine others). At that rate, this year would bring in about 100 less attacks than last. Alas!
Photo: U.S. Navy
The three men accused of playing a role in the 2006 murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya were acquitted today. While it would be great to see Politkovskaya's killers brought to justice, that clearly wasn't going to happen at this trial anyway. None of the three Chechen men on trial were accused of actually killing the journalist, who was known for her fearless and critical coverage of Russia's war in Chechenya. The L.A. Times' Megan Stack wrote shortly before the verdict:
There is a pervasive sense that the trial is tangential, that the evidence is patchy and that the Russian government has only skimmed the edges of the crime rather than dug at its roots.
Conspicuously missing from the cramped courtroom is anyone accused of pulling the trigger or ordering or paying for the slaying. Lawyers say evidence has linked the crime to the FSB, domestic successor of the KGB, but has failed to reveal how far up the ranks of intelligence services the plan to kill Politkovskaya reached.
Whether these men played a role or not, a conviction in this "chaotic, confused and even farcical" trial would probably have actually set back the campaign to find and prosecute the actual killers. Politkovskaya's newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, is currently conducting its own investigation. That one may aim a little higher.
BORYANA KATSAROVA/AFP/Getty Images
Guess things are already changing. Yazeed Essa, an Ohio doctor who stands accused of murdering his wife four years ago and fleeing to Cyprus, has decided to return to the United States to stand trial. And it's all thanks to Barack Obama. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports:
Essa left the country because he feared his Arab-American heritage would preclude him from getting a fair trial, his lawyer said. Essa chose to return to fight the charges after Barack Obama was elected president because he sensed a shift in the political climate, Bradley said. If a man named Obama could be elected president, Essa reasoned, perhaps he could be judged fairly.
I certainly hope that's true. Though if I were Dr. Essa, I'd be a bit more worried that police found cyanide in the "calcium" pills that he had been insisting his wife take.
(Hat tip: TD)
Chuckie Taylor, the son of former Liberian warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor, was sentenced to 97 years in prison today for convictions of conspiracy, torture, and firearm possession by a federal judge in Miami. He was "lucky" to get just 97 -- prosecutors were seeking 147 years.
Name doesn't ring a bell? The case of Chuckie Taylor was one of our "Top Ten Stories You Missed in 2008", and his trial is important for two reasons. First, Taylor's trial is the first conviction from a 1994 law allowing the U.S. to prosecute American citizens and anyone on U.S. soil for torture committed abroad. Taylor is a U.S. citizen, (he was born while his father lived in the United States) and tortured hundreds of Liberians during as commander of the so-called "Demon Forces," a special security unit meant to protect his father, the President, from 1999 to 2003. The precedent is now set for more cases to follow.
Chuckie Taylor's trial is also important for Liberia. This is the first and only conviction in a war crimes trial for the war in Liberia; no tribunal has been setup in that country. Like father like son -- Charles Taylor Sr. is on trial in the Hague for crimes against humanity, as well.
So don't miss the Chuckie Taylor story this time around. And catch-up our other missed stories from 2008 before they crop up again.
As my colleague Laura Rozen just reported on The Cable, Jeh Johnson is Obama's pick for DoD general counsel. It's a fantastic choice. I worked for Jeh when he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the New York City Bar Association, and found him to be nothing less than brilliant, incredibly fair, and an all-around nice guy.
Johnson brings a long resume to the job. He spent three years as federal prosecutor, was general counsel for the Air Force under Clinton, and was the first black partner at New York firm Paul, Weiss. He was also special counsel to John Kerry's campaign in 2004 and served as an advisor and fundraiser to Obama from beginning of Obama's run.
Johnson "is an exceptional legal mind," says one former Pentagon intelligence official in an e-mail. Congrats to Johnson. This is a great pick from the transition team in a week that could use a few more.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, threw a U.S. military tribunal into turmoil on Monday by announcing that he and four compatriots being held at Guantanamo Bay wanted to plead guilty to coordinating the attacks. The move seems designed to force the government to make good on its stated intention to execute the prisoners.
There is little doubt that Mohammed wants to turn the tribunal into a soap box for his anti-American statements. The Washington Post speculated that the timing of the announcement may be related to Bush's imminent departure from office. The Obama Administration has not yet made clear if it will press for the death penalty, and would likely transfer the inmates to a federal detention center in the United States -- a far less dramatic fate than the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison. Indeed, when the military judge speculated that a guilty plea could complicate their chances for a death penalty, the detainees withdrew their plea until the issue had been clarified.
The true danger of Mohammed's ploy is his attempt to turn the military tribunals into a mockery. In the courtroom, Mohammed declared that "[a]ll of you are paid by the U.S. government...I'm not trusting any American." In questioning the legitimacy of our system of military detention, Mohammed may, sadly, have a point.
Only 80 of the 255 men currently held at Guantanamo face domestic criminal charges, and only two full trials have been completed under President Bush's military tribunals. Furthermore, the Bush Administration has reserved the right to continue holding indefinitely those acquitted in its military tribunals, or even those who were convicted and have served their sentences, indefinitely. This is hardly a system that builds respect for the rule of law.
If Mohammed wants to hurry along his "martyrdom," the United States government should oblige him. But it should do so with a judicial system that has clear rules and standards that apply to all prisoners captured in the war on terror.
Sketch by Janet Hamlin-Pool/Getty Images
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