Tag Archives: America

Suspect Arrested in Chapel Hill Shooting

Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19 were shot in what is being described as an “execution style attack” in a suburb of Chapel Hill at 5pm on Tuesday.

The police have now charged a local man Craig Hicks 46 with first degree murder.

His face reveals strong atheist, anti-theist views and photographs of his gun.

US media has been accused of ignoring the shooting. At time of writing Fox news had mentioned the attack once on their twitter and CNN had yet to report on it.

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Ireland and CIA Torture

Since 2002 there has been concern over Ireland’s neutrality. US military aircraft have been using Shannon airport in the west of Ireland en route to conflict situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2002 over 2.25 million armed US troops have gone through Shannon Airport.

Many people were shocked by the realities of CIA torture revealed in a recently publicised report but for many other it was simply an official confirmation of what they have known was going on in secret CIA holding facilities and the infamous Guantanamo Bay. There is little the international community to stop the biggest military power from breaking international law, except condemn it.

What Irish people can and should be doing now is question the Irish state’s involvement in these “extraordinary rendition operations”. The Open Society Foundation produced a report called ‘Globalizing Torture’ in 2013 which dealt with many of the same practices confirmed in the “Torture Report” currently being circulated.

In particular this report highlights the complicity and facilitation of CIA torture by other states. Ireland is among these countries. Ireland permitted the use of its airspace and airports for flights associated with CIA extraordinary rendition operations.

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The number of countries complicit is frighteningly high (as you can see in the graphic above) abut it is often ignored that the international community does not only allow the USA’s frequently illegal actions but actively enables it.

“In December 2005, amid concerns that extraordinary rendition flights were landing in Ireland, the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) recommended to the Irish government that it seek agreement from U.S. authorities to inspect suspect aircraft. The Irish government responded that inspections were not necessary because it had received assurances from the United States that detainees had not been and would not be transported illegally through Irish territory. In 2007, the IHRC conducted a substantive review of the matter and concluded that “the Irish State is not complying with its human rights obligations to prevent torture or inhuman or degrading treatment [and that its] reliance on the assurances of the US Government is not enough.” […]In June 2011, the U.N. Committee against Torture stated that it was “concerned at the various reports of [Ireland’s] alleged cooperation in a rendition programme, where rendition flights use the State party’s airports and airspace,” and that it was “also concerned at the inadequate response by the State party with regard to investigating these allegations.” – ‘Globalizing Torture’ page 85

It is simply not good enough that other countries shake our heads and tut at “the American war on terror” but do little to nothing to curb our own involvement.

Ireland is a neutral country, we do not engage in military alliances and we did not join NATO. But to facilitate CIA torture is to have the blood of America’s wars on our hands as well.

There is No Post-Racial America

If there is one thing that events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri should make clear it is that there is no-racial America and there never was.

Conservatives and Liberals alike are guilty of assuming that because everyone is allowed on the same bus now that racism no longer exists, much like those who believe that gender-based discrimination ended when women gained suffrage.

Every 28 hours an African-American is killed by a police officer or vigilante.

A short documentary style video on the New York Times shows the fear and frustration of the people of Ferguson contrasted with the militarisation of its police force.

Mike Brown was 18, he was unarmed and he was shot six times by a police officer. Those are the facts. Regardless of whether he had weed in his system or was an excellent student or both, none of that is relevant to the fact that unarmed African-American people are seen as justifiable targets for police and vigilante violence.

Stand your ground legislation has shown over-whelming bias towards white men, leaving African-Americans, particularly women prosecuted for defending themselves. Florida woman, Merissa Alexander fired a warning shot into the ceiling above her violently abusive husband and was originally sentenced to 20 years in prison for assault. That case is still ongoing with a retrial planned for December.

The statistics on SYG shootings speak for themselves. White defendants are preferred over black victims in staggering percentages.

syg graph

This is compounded by a media that seeks to villainise black victims further. The Huffington Post ran a story called “When the Media Treats White Suspects Better Than Black Victims” highlighting the headlines that demonstrate this bias most clearly.

white suspect black victim huffington

The Economist ran an article discussing the frankly shocking numbers of civilians killed in the USA and the lack of transparency or accountability shown by law enforcement.

“In 2012, according to data compiled by the FBI, 410 Americans were “justifiably” killed by police—409 with guns. That figure may well be an underestimate. Not only is it limited to the number of people who were shot while committing a crime, but also, amazingly, reporting the data is voluntary.”

They compare this with the relatively low levels of deaths by police officers in England.

But the problem with this article, and dozens like it that were published, is that they attempt to diminish the racial element to these deaths.

“The shooting of Mark Duggan, a known gangster, which in 2011 started riots across London, led to a fiercely debated inquest. Last month, a police officer was charged with murder over a shooting in 2005. The reputation of the Metropolitan Police’s armed officers is still barely recovering from the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent Brazilian, in the wake of the 7/7 terrorist bombings in London.”

Firstly to describe Mark Duggan as a “known gangster” is problematic and shows a disconnect from the youth culture of black youth in London who feel massively disenfranchised by British society. This atmosphere in Tottenham in North London that the police target young black men regardless of their criminality was a huge factor in those riots. They also ignore the fact that the “innocent Brazilian” Jean Charles de Menezes was shot for looking too brown in an area where the police were profile Muslims.

In the case of Mark Duggan we see the most parallels with the American media’s standard response. The Daily Mail called Duggan a “thug” who “lived by the gun”.

The image most commonly associated with Duggan in the media was one of him staring stony eyed at the camera.

mark duggan cropped

What most did not realise is that this photograph was cropped to hide the fact that Duggan was standing distraught at the grave of his daughter.

mark duggan full

This is exactly the kind of biased reporting the inspired the “IfTheyGunnedMeDown” hashtag on social media in the wake of Brown’s death. Young African-Americans showed two different sides of themselves to highlight the kind of editorializing that goes on behind the reporting of African-American deaths.

iftheygunnedmedown 1 iftheygunnedmedown 2

Race relations are bad in the US but it would be remiss of me to pretend that they are magically worse than the rest of the world. However America is so socially divided, heavily armed and filled with a culture of militarisation that the racism in its institutions are far more lethal than in other developed countries.

There are similarities between these cases and their media portrayal, one glaring difference remains. Duggan’s case, despite the fact that he was most likely involved in crime, sparked massive controversy and attention. It stands out as an example of attitudes that are problematic in British policing.

But it is not the norm.

The same cannot be said for Ferguson, where the difficultly for journalists to do their jobs has received more attention than the physical violence against unarmed civilians.

Mandela and Ireland, complexity and sacrifice

There is a tendency, when great and inspirational people die, to reduce them to just that: an inspiration.

But before Mandela was inspiration he was an angry young man, a lawyer, a freedom fighter, a prisoner and it is important to resist the urge to simplify him to an abstract idea of how he effected others. Many world leaders, and journalists have praised this man he held views and behaved in ways that they routinely condemn. Now an idealist might say that people are able to put aside their personal feelings in order to acknowledge the great work done by Mandela but more cynical people might call it disingenuous.

In a sea of journalistic obituaries by people who never met him I am not sure what I have to offer, hence my delay in writing, except maybe the Irish perspective.

As a freedom fighter against a left-over colonial regime in the 70s and 80s, Mandela captured a lot of good-will from the Irish public. A boycott of South African goods as a protest against apartheid was put in place by a number of groups and trade unions.

Catherine Bulbulia (Fine Gael), Niall Andrews (Fianna Fáil), Donal Nevin (Irish Congress of Trade Unions), Reg September (African National Congress), John Hume (SDLP), Ruairi Quinn (Labour Party), Tomás MacGiolla (Workers’ Party) and Kader Asmal (Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement) share a platform to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the African National Congress. (An Phoblacht)

In 1985, 12 retail workers from Dunne Stores in Dublin went on strike for 2 and half years (July 1985 to April 1987) for the right not to sell South African products while Apartheid was in effect.

Dunnes Stores strikers on an Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement national march through Dublin, November 1986. (An Phoblacht)

“We had made the decision as a company that we couldn’t allow people in the organisation to decide what goods to sell and what not to sell.”

– Ben Dunne, Former Director, Dunnes Stores

“Ben Dunne was saying he had the right to sell what he wanted to in his store. If Ben Dunne decided to sell stolen property it wouldn’t mean I had to handle it.”

– Cathryn O’Reilly, former striker

The Irish government would go on to ban the sale of all South African good in Ireland until the end of the Apartheid regime. They officially called for his unconditional release in 1988. Mandela met with some of the strikers when he visited Ireland in 1990 after his release.

When Mandela spoke in Dublin on that visit he thanked the strikers as a source of comfort and inspiration to him during his imprisonment. “For more than a quarter of a century your country has had one of the most energetic and effective anti-apartheid movements in the world. Irishmen and women have given wholehearted and often sacrificial support for our struggle in the fields of economic, cultural and sports relations.”

Because it was a sacrifice to get involved. In the 1980s Ireland was in the grip of an economic depression with unemployment higher than even in the more recent financial crisis. But two of Ireland’s most significant trade partner the UK and America were not in favour of political support for Mandela’s ANC. Margaret Thatcher called them terrorists and the CIA sent money and arms to the apartheid regime. The government ran a risk of retaliation for their strong stance of support.

Not only that but the strikers themselves ran a personal risk and sacrifice of stable employment at a time when emigration from Ireland was very high due to the unemployment epidemic.

“The outstanding Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, has written that too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart…We understood that to emulate the barbarity of the tyrant would also transform us into savages. We knew that we would sully and degrade our cause if we allowed that it should, at any stage, borrow anything from the practices of the oppressor. We had to refuse that our long sacrifice should make a stone of our hearts.”

– Nelsom Mandela (Dublin 1990)

The willingness to sacrifice your own livelihood for what is right is a sentiment that is lost in politics today. Individualistic philosophy, a lazy apathetic amoralism has been a trend that even a new financial crisis could not shake.

Injustice in other countries does not inspire reactions like this again. Despite what I’ve said, I must admit that I feel like waxing lyrically on Mandela as a near spiritual figure. I feel like quoting Yeats’ ‘September 1913’ where he bemoans his own generation and longs for the heroes gone. I’ll try not to give in to the defeatist romanticism just yet.

My earliest memories of my parents and political activism involve my mother suddenly laughing in a supermarket that she could buy South African products again, my father’s copy of Mandela’s autobiography on the shelf, learning to spell boycott with the correct number of Ts. When angry teenage activist me sulked that all politicians were liars and con-men, there was an unspoken “except Mandela” at the back of my brain. So in a strange way I am mourning a man a never met.

But what worries me most is that I look around the world and cannot see anyone on the stature or  with drive and clarity Mandela had. I do believe that the world is not change by leaders but by communities but all the same, leaders with vision and influence can rally people to action in ways a group cannot. The world could use its next Mandela.

US Drone Strikes Not as “Limited” as Obama’s UN Speech Claims

In his address to the UN last night in the 68th Session of the General Assembly, President Barrack Obama claimed much in support of his country’s human rights efforts.

However much of what he claimed was either disingenuous or simply untrue. Putting aside the fact he claims that his administration is “working” to close Guantanamo Bay (05:00) which after 5 years of promises seems quite a stretch, or the bizarre statement that the international coalition had “achieved its mission” in Afghanistan (04:25), though I am not certain what war President Obama has been watching or even how he brought up reviewing how the US gathers intelligence, ie mass surveillance by the NSA, (05:20) as though this was their idea not something they were forced into by the Snowden revelations.

I could even overlook the insane and baseless claim that the world is “more stable” now than it was 5 years ago (05:32) and lump it and all those other claims in with the usual American political rhetoric that we have grown to disdain quietly if he had not attempted to downplay and justify the American use of drone strikes in the middle east.

Screen grab of Live Address 24/9/2013
Screen grab of Live Address 24/9/2013

“We have limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing imminent threat to the Unite States, where capture is not feasible and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties.” – Barrack Obama (04:40 )

This statement concerns me because this is apparently the limited stance. Does that mean that they were used in situations outside of these perimeters before? Even aside from that, how do you define a “threat”? What gives the US the right to kill indiscriminately those they consider a “threat” without any trial in a court of law.

And those legal and ethical concerns are only under the assumption that it is true that the US work not to injure civilians in their drone strikes which is not supported by the evidence, particularly in Yemen and Pakistan which have born the brunt of US drones.

August 1st on the very day that President Obama sat down in talks with Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi in Washington, four Yemeni citizens were killed in Hadhramout providence who appear to have been civilians. One of the victims was 21-year-old Saleh Saed bin Ishaq, who was survived by his wife and a young daughter, on his way home from buying his family new clothes for Eid.

These attacks occur within weeks of the anniversaries of two high profile civilian deaths by US drone strike from August 2012. One of them, Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, was a prominent anti-al-Qaeda preacher. Just two days before his death he denounced the group publicly. The other was his nephew, a young policemen Waleed Abdullah bin Ali Jaber. They were also killed in Hadhramout province.

Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber

Many commentators, including Baraa Shiban, a writer for al Jazeera from whom I got the dates and names above, argue that these strikes rather than curbing al-Qaeda’s activities simply grow their support base by giving them legitimate grievances to cite against the US.

Abdul-Ghani Al Iryani who founded Tawq, Yemen’s Democratic Awakening Movement two years ago is also a political analyst. He said in a statement to Alternet journalists:

“In the fight against al-Qaeda and the extremism it represents, we can do it the easy way, by killing, and thus have to do it again and again, or the hard way and really solve the problem. To truly fight al-Qaeda and similar groups, we must deal with the root causes of its growth – poverty, injustice, lack of rule of law…and drone strikes.”

Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference, a group of diverse political opinions brought together to work on a new Yemeni constitution voted 90% in favour of banning drone strikes. Delegates said that the US were violating Yemeni sovereignty and undermining the rule of law which was completely counter-productive in combating militant groups such as al-Qaeda.

Yemen protest Feb 2011 Washington DC (Colin David Anderson/ Flickr)
Yemen protest Feb 2011 Washington DC (Colin David Anderson/ Flickr)

Pakistan has seen 110 people killed by US drone strikes in this year alone despite the Pakistani government’s numerous protests to Washington that this was a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

It is difficult to really know how many civilians are killed in drone attacks as the US government has proven in the last year that they feel no obligation to disclosed such information. The cover up of the deaths of the Reuters journalists in Iraq uncovered through WikiLeaks begs the question how we can trust the US military to disclose accurate information.

During the election campaign in 2012 PolicyMic reported that the CIA wanted to increase the use of drones despite independent reports stating that: “estimates as high as 98% of drone strike casualties being civilians (50 for every one “suspected terrorist”). The Bureau of Investigative Journalism issued a report detailing how the CIA is deliberately targeting those who show up after the sight of an attack, rescuers, and mourners at funerals as a part of a “double-tap” strategy eerily reminiscent of methods used by terrorist groups like Hamas.” This tactic of killing those who arrive after the initial attack was also seen in the WikiLeaks video.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism then released a leaked CIA document which estimated that civilians killed in Pakistan since drone strikes began there were much higher than previously realised. The document details 75 drone attacks carried out in Pakistan between 2006 and 2009 by the CIA and a further 5 attacks by Nato or other unspecified forces.

Of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes outlined in the document, at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated to be civilian victims, 94 of those are said to be children.

Which begs the question how and why we should trust the assurance of an administration that has continuously disregarding international law, executes foreign citizens without trial or cooperation from the nation in question and yet use the rhetoric of human right while aping a grotesque pantomime of diplomacy.

World News Roundup 19/9/2013

Philippine forces have claimed to have won back 80% of the led held by rebels after 11 days of conflict. The conflict began with a stand off between the army and fighter from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) a separatist group that wants an independent state for Moro people. The MNLF opposed a peace deal being struck with a rival rebel faction the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who broke away from the MNLF because they felt they had lost a Muslim spiritual focus. The southern city of Zamboanga became a battle group between the MNLF and state forces. 

Riots have broken out in Greek cities of Athens and Thessaloniki following public sector strikes. Anti-fascism protests and anarchist groups joined the protests calling for the banning of far-right group the Golden Dawn. The Golden Dawn was a lot of support within the Greek police force.

This follows on from the murder of anti-racist rapper Killah P (Pavlos Fyssas) who was stabbed to death on Tuesday by an alleged member of the Golden Dawn.

Photo: RT Lucy Kafanov via Twitter

A well known Sri Lankan journalist has left Sri Lanka after her family were threatened at knifepoint. Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema is the associate editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper and led a trade union for journalists. She has received death threats in the past. Sri Lanka’s reputation for intimidating journalists has only gotten worse in recent months and we have covered some of those cases here before.

Abeywickrema receiving the Investigative Journalist of the Year award in 2009/ Photo: The Sunday Times.lk

US poverty rate remains at 15%. That’s 46.5 million people and 16.1 million of them are children. Which is 1 in 3. 1 in 3 of America’s poor are children.

Jordan is constructing a new Syrian refugee camp which will be able to hold more than 100,000 people. More than half a million people have crossed into Jordan since the conflict began.

Why the Trial of Barrett Brown Should Scare You

Barrett Brown (32) is an American freelance journalist who has written for the Guardian, Vanity Fair and the Huffington Post. He is facing the prospect of a 105 year jail sentence.

In 2009, Brown set up Project PM which was “dedicated to investigating private government contractors working in the secretive fields of cybersecurity, intelligence and surveillance”. Then in 2010 the actions of Wiki Leaks and the brutal treatment of Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning inspire Brown to dedicate himself to online activist and transparency projects.

It was through this that he came into contact with the ‘hacktivist’ collective Anonymous. Not as a hacker, but as someone who discussed and defended the group to the media, without actually being a member.

brown

Then in 2011 Anonymous hacked the computer systems of private intelligence firm HB Gary Federal and released thousands of incriminating emails such as the firm trying to persuade Bank of America to hire them to discredit Wiki Leaks supporters. This was followed by the 2012 leak of emails from Stratfor, another private security firm.

It was ultimately Brown’s investigations of these two firms that led to his harassment by the FBI. In March 2012 his apartment was broken into and searched for information pertaining to HB Gary and Stratfor, various documents were seized but they did not have a warrant for his arrest at this point. Ultimately the FBI found Brown at his mother’s house where they demanded his laptop, which he denied having. Over the months that followed, agents continued to harass Brown and threatened to arrest and indict his mother for “harbouring” Brown or helping him conceal documents.

Then in September, Brown posted a YouTube video in which he talked about how FBI agents had threatened to ruin his life. In the emotional video he threatened to “destroy” one of his harassers FBI agent Robert Smith, who had threatened his mother. There were no physical threats issued.

This allowed the FBI to arrest Brown on the charge of threatening a Federal agent. Once he was in custody they found other charges to hold him on such as trafficking in stolen goods for sharing a URL to the leaked emails with some of his colleagues, as well as the more ludicrous charge of credit card fraud as some of the emails contained credit card information which it was clear he had never used.

Brown has now spent a year in prison awaiting trial.

These are the facts that are widely known by those who support him but have been mostly ignored by mainstream media. Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian, has been consistent in his support of Brown. Greenwald himself as faced harassment due to his work with whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“Both prongs of prosecutorial abuse are clearly present in Brown’s case. There is no evidence that the link he posted to already published documents resulted in any unauthorized use of credit cards, and certainly never redounded in any way to his benefit. More important, this prosecution is driven by the same plainly improper purpose that drove the one directed at Aaron Swartz and so many others: the desire to exploit the power of criminal law to deter and severely punish anyone who meaningfully challenges the government’s power to control the flow of information on the internet and conceal its vital actions…What the US government counts on above all else is that the person it targets is unable to defend themselves against the government’s unlimited resources” – Glenn Greenwald

What should be highlighted here for everyone, not only journalists, is the implication that linking to stolen information could be deemed illegal, by extension making investigations into many kinds of clandestine activities also illegal.

The prospect of the American government giving itself the authority to control what the public should and should not know is not new.

However the idea that you can be charged simply for reading something available to the public online is incredibly worrying.

This particularly should worry any American readers but given recent revelations about the NSA have made it clear that the US government believe it has the right to monitor citizens of other countries as well this is a matter which affects everyone.

Think about your Facebook profiles, your Twitter feeds, your Tumblr dashboard and think of all the links you click on or share every week. This trial has the potential to create legal precedent to have you be legally responsible for information you find online.

Even outside of the bigger picture, the charges still do not make sense. How can the prosecution argue that Brown is legally culpable for the information he possessed and not the dozens of other journalists, from various media outlets such as the New York Times, who reported on the information, most of whom must have read the material as well?

Not only that but the US Department of Justice have now issued a gag order on Brown and his legal team, preventing them from talking to other journalists or “members of any television, radio, newspaper, magazine, internet (including, but not limited to, bloggers), or other media organization about this case”.

Brown’s lawyer, Ahmed Ghappour, has stated that this gag order is a violation of Brown’s 1st Amendment rights as a writer who has continued to work from behind bars on issues not pertaining to his own case or his prosecution.

Now not only can journalists be punished for critical writing about their government but once arrested cannot speak to other members of the press. The ways in which this threatens the right to freedom of expression are obvious and deeply concerning.

The General Secretary of Reporters Without Borders came out in defense of Brown saying:

Above all, Barrett was an investigative journalist who was merely doing his professional duty by looking into the Stratfor emails, an affair of public interest…Threatening a journalist with a possible century-long jail sentence is a scary prospect for journalists investigating the intelligence government contractor industry”.

From start to finish this has been a targeted attack on a journalist who did his job. The US attorney’s office have made claims they know do not hold weight in attempts to discredit, bankrupt and silence Brown. I would go so far as to say that Barrett Brown is a political prison of the US state.

To learn more detail about the trial or to donate to Brown’s legal fund go to Free Brown Brown dot org. The persecution of investigative journalists puts all civil liberties at risk and must not be ignored.

Orla-Jo

Freedom of the Press

The internet has allowed greater freedom of the press than ever before in human history but many governments have shown tendencies to try to combat this freedom wherever they can.

Reporters Without Borders is an NGO dedicated to protecting journalists and the rights of the press.

“Every year, some 500 journalists are arrested, 1,000 assaulted or threatened, and over 500 media outlets censored. All of these violations have serious consequences which need to be tracked in order to better counteract them.” – RSF

They also campaign against internet censorship, teach about online security and provide support for online journalists.

“Netizens now play an essential role in the vanguard of news coverage worldwide. However, more and more often, they are becoming victims of threats and censorship by governments who fear this new cyberspace of freedom.”

Organisations like this are becoming increasingly necessary with the climate of censorship and harassment of the press that appears to be growing more prevalent in countries that would have previously supporting a free media.

UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré
UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

The US have traditionally taken great pride in their press freedoms but in recent years have found ways to undermine any attempts at investigative journalism.

In May this year the US Department of Justice seized the calls records of the Associated Press (AP) without being given warning or told why the records were needed, no warrant was issued. Whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden or Barrett Brown have all mean met with severe punishment or been forced to flee the country.

Not only that but one of the documents that Chelsea Manning is accused of having passed to WikiLeaks is a video proving that a US helicopter was responsible for the killing of two Reuters reporters as well as multiple Iraqi civilians.

Barrett Brown is facing charges that could add up to 105 years in federal prison for simply investigating the actions of a private security company. Jeremy Hammod, pleaded guilty to hacking the email account of Stratfor and released hundreds of emails that contained sensitive information including discussions of possible assassinations. Brown linked colleagues to a public URL that contained the emails. This is the reason he is being charged with “trafficking” in stolen goods.

“Barrett Brown is not a hacker, he is not a criminal…He did not infiltrate any systems, nor did he appear to have the technical expertise to do so. Above all, Barrett was an investigative journalist who was merely doing his professional duty by looking into the Stratfor emails, an affair of public interest. The sentence of 105 years in prison that he is facing is absurd and dangerous” – Reporters Without Borders General Secretary, Christophe Deloire.

In the last week, a gag order has been placed not only on Brown himself but on all his lawyers forcing them to refrain from: “any statement to members of any television, radio, newspaper, magazine,  internet (including, but not limited to, bloggers), or other media organization about this case”.

In response to trends like these, Pieter Omtzigt of the European People’s Party has tabled a motion for a resolution regulating surveillance programmes and protecting whistleblowers on July 31th in the Council of Europe. 

The proposed resolution would call on member states to regulate and control surveillance, protect whistleblowers on a national level and spark an investigation by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. This committee has previously shed light on CIA inference and secret detention centres.

All over the world, journalists continue to be at risk. A month ago journalists were attacked by soldiers in Sri Lanka for covering a protest against the pollution of a local water source. Four atheist bloggers were arrested and one imprisoned in Bangladesh. Authorities in Myanmar have consisted sought to curb the media and have now banned Time magazine for it’s discussion of militantly, radical Buddhist groups.

It is the purpose and responsibility of journalists to critically report on world events but far greater protections for these reporters need to be implemented.

Tanzanian radio broadcaster Phot credit: UNESCO /Jonathas Mello
Tanzanian radio broadcaster Photo credit: UNESCO /Jonathas Mello

Why are chemical weapons the “red line” of intervention?

Just over a year ago at a White House press conference, American President Barrack Obama stated that:

a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” the president said a year ago last week. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

Now that the use of chemical weapons has come up many feel that the president has trapped himself into responding. But the original comment does not promise military intervention and a question some journalists are asking is why were chemical weapons the ‘red line’ to begin with?

UN Photo/Marco Castro

Over 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began over two years ago with bullets and bombs. Conventional weapons are just as capable of mass death as chemical ones so why this line in the sand?

Obama defended this distinction to CNN last week:

“When you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale… that starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region.”

Phrases such as “National interests”, “protect our allies” and  especially “weapons of mass destruction” cannot help but call some of Bush’s rhetoric to mind.

But Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official argues that chemical attacks if proven, must be taken more seriously than conventional attacks because chemical agents disperse to affect large numbers of people and “can produce horror for a lifetime.” He goes on to say that “it’s a slippery slope”, if a chemical weapons attack goes unchecked, what about some other form of weapon of mass destruction – a biological or nuclear attack?

But it can hardly be said that cluster munition or drone strikes are somehow less devastating or that they could not just as easily lead to weapons escalation.

Arguments could equally be made that intervention increases the likelihood of retaliation. Al Jazeera’s White House correspondent, Patty Culhane, questions the Obama administration’s assumptions. She writes:

“The administration says the US National Security is threatened by the possibility that the Assad regime will use chemical weapons on allies or US bases – do you have any evidence that they plan to take that step? You’ve warned chemical weapons could be given to “terrorist groups that would harm the US” – how does a military intervention make that less likely and not more?”

The US are not the only country saber rattling in the direction of Syria. British PM David Cameron however lost his parliamentary vote on military intervention. France is also threatening a military role. French PM Jean-Marc Ayrault said “France is determined to punish use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.”

The Arab League however issued a statement that they believed that no intervention should take place that is not UN led.

A question that should also be asked at this point is whether a military intervention by US or France or any nation’s army would reduce the suffering of the people of Syria or even reduce the risk of chemical weapons being used again.

Also another question that is not being ask is what would the US government do if it was discovered that the rebels were responsible? Will the US military still intervene in the country? Will they intervene on behalf of the government?

That seems unlikely.

“There are few things more bizarre than watching people advocate that another country be bombed even while acknowledging that it will achieve no good outcomes other than safeguarding the “credibility” of those doing the bombing. Relatedly, it’s hard to imagine a more potent sign of a weak, declining empire than having one’s national “credibility” depend upon periodically bombing other countries.”
   —  Glenn Greenwald

Human Rights in the Land of the Free

In the discussion of intervention in Syria, much US political rhetoric on the support of human rights has been used. America publically campaigns for holding governments accountable for human rights violations, in fact that is the first point made on the State Department’s human rights goals. However the human rights landscape in the United States of America is far from static and uncontested. America today faces grave charges of human rights violations both from critics within the country and from the international community.

It has been over 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948, yet human rights violations continue to cause controversy on a global scale. It has been over 50 years since The Great March on Washington, which is credited with spurring legislation to end racial discrimination in the United States of America, yet racial discrimination is still a major source of controversy there though views on prevalence vary.

March2013CivilRights

The second Article of the UDHR states that “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”. Regardless,  in 1996 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Armstrong that racial profiling (where race is used as a distinguishing feature in identifying a suspect’s tendency to be involved in crime) is constitutional in the absence of data that “similarly situated” defendants of another race were disparately treated despite opposition based on the Fourth Amendment  of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the right to be safe from search and seizure without a warrant (which is to be issued “upon probable cause”), and the Fourteenth Amendment which requires that all citizens be treated equally under the law.

Racial profiling is condemned by the Government of USA and allegations of such taking place are usually denied but Amnesty International reports that:

“Approximately eighty-seven million Americans are at a high risk of being subjected to future racial profiling during their lifetime”.

Those affected encompassing  “Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Arab Americans, Persian Americans, American Muslims, many immigrants and visitors, and, under certain circumstances, white Americans.”

Racial profiling also seems to have a large degree of popular support, as indicated by polls from organisations and media outlets like USA Today. Furthermore, the potential for racial discrimination among other human rights violations has exploded with the introduction of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001.

The USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act is an Act of Congress that was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. Opposition to the Act has focused on provision for indefinite detention of immigrants, the permission given law enforcement officers to search homes or business premises without the owner or occupants’ consent or knowledge, and the expanded use of National Security Letters which allegedly:

allows investigators to demand that businesses turn over sensitive financial records, without specifying the investigation’s target or why the files are needed“.

On May 26, 2011, President Barack Obama signed the PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011, extending some of the most controversial provisions for a further four years past the original expiry date: roving wiretaps, searches of business records and conducting surveillance of so called “lone wolves” (suspected terrorists not linked to larger groups).

Far more notorious than even the expansion of surveillance under the USA PARTIOT Act is the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detention camp in Cuba, established in January 2002used by the USA to hold potential terror suspects. One issue debated is that of whether those imprisoned as part of the War on Terror are prisoners of war and thus deserving of protection under the rules of war.

The Geneva Convention’s rules for dealing with prisoners of war are only violated if the prisoners are deemed to be soldiers involved in a war. Defenders of the prison may echo Jim Phillips of The Heritage Foundation, who has said that “some of these terrorists who are not recognized as soldiers don’t deserve to be treated as soldiers.”

However, the conditions at Guantanamo Bay are held to violate more than the rules of war; international commentators have condemned it as violating universal human rights. Amnesty International has called the detention camp a scandal and it is widely considered to violate international laws, earning the condemnation of figures as diverse as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the United Nations, the Red Cross and former president of the USA Jimmy Carter.

On 22 January 2009, President Barack Obama signed an order with a view to suspending proceedings at the Guantanamo military commission for a period of 120 days and decommissioning the detention facility later that year.  Nevertheless, on 7 January 2011, Obama signed the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill, placing restrictions on the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to the mainland or to foreign countries, impeding the closure of the facility, which is still open today.

These expansions of surveillance and detention have been kept out of public eye to the extent that the American government could keep it. However, individuals and organisations inside and outside the system have leaked thousands of documents to expose the reality of human rights abuses undertaken by the United States of America and elsewhere.

The largest set of restricted documents ever leaked to the public was largely a result of the actions of Chelsea Manning (born Bradley Manning), then an intelligence analyst with the US Army (she has since received a dishonourable discharge as a result of the leaks).

Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky/U.S. Army

Manning was ultimately charged with 22 offenses, of which she pleaded guilty to 10. The trial on the remaining charges began on June 3, 2013, and on July 30 she was convicted of 17 of the original charges and amended versions of four others, but was acquitted of aiding the enemy (the most serious charge). She will serve her sentence at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.

While her actions have been debated as either heroic exposure of corruption or villainous endangerment of lives, her status as a transgender woman has been a source of further controversy. Journalist Anne Russell has noted that media outlets differ on whether to represent her as Chelsea with feminine pronouns (as she requested) or as Bradley with masculine pronouns. At the time of writing, Manning is held in a male prison, raising questions of whether she has been wrongly-gendered or correctly sexed with regard to her imprisonment.

In June 2013, Edward Snowden was charged under the same Espionage Act, when he released several documents exposing the NSA’s PRISM Surveillance Program along with details of other top-secret United States and British government mass surveillance programs to the press. Like Chelsea Manning, he too has been hailed as both a hero and a traitor.

As the USA has struggled with how human rights apply to human criminals and terrorists on the one hand nonhuman corporations have become recognised as people with legally protected human rights such as the right to own property and the right to free speech, which may absolve human persons from legal liability for actions which have been taken by corporations under their control. A relatively recent phenomenon, it has already attracted much opposition from groups such as Reclaim Democracy and individuals such as Noam Chomsky.

More than sixty years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, the United States of America is still deeply confused and divided on who is a human person and how universal and inalienable that human person’s rights are.

– Ian