News Datacide 15, pt.1: Endless War

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Endless War
In April 2015, three mercenaries (Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard) of the American private military contractor previously known as Blackwater Security Consulting (now Academi) were sentenced each to 30 years and one mercenary (Nicholas Slatten) to life in prison for the Nisour Square massacre of September 16, 2007 in Baghdad. The jury in this federal criminal case found that the Blackwater contractors opened fire indiscriminately into the busy square, killing 17 Iraqi civilians and wounding 20 others, and were not provoked or in danger as the defendants had claimed. The investigation into the massacre and the subsequent trial were riddled with problems, while the fifth Blackwater mercenary (Jeremy Ridgeway) co-operated with the government and testified against others, and was sentenced to twelve months in prison. This is one of the few court cases in which American mercenaries were found criminally liable for manslaughter of civilians during the second Iraq war, despite widespread abuses, torture and murder.

The Pentagon continues in late December 2015 to stonewall a federal judge’s ruling to release to the public 2,100 photographs of detainee abuse and torture committed by US soldiers and contractors. On February 4, 2016, the Pentagon released only 198 photos which mostly show close-ups of bruises or small wounds on detainees’ bodies. The withheld photographs document torture at Abu Ghraib prison and 23 other locations including ‘black sites’, and are said to be even more sadistic than those made public in 2003. The Pentagon has ‘re-certified’ the rest of the photographs as ‘secret’ to prevent their release, and the government has filed a motion to have the judge’s order vacated. The Obama administration continues the Bush administration’s policies to keep evidence of abuse and torture ‘secret’ despite claiming to be ‘the most transparent administration ever’.

In December 2014, the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a highly redacted executive summary (525 pages) of its full 6,700-page report on CIA abuse, torture and rendition programs. No one has been held legally or criminally liable for the abuse and torture detailed in the summary and the report, which included waterboarding; sleep depravation for long periods; forcing prisoners to stand on their broken legs/feet and/or in ‘stress positions’; non-stop interrogation for weeks; rape (including so-called forced ‘rectal feeding/hydration’); sexual abuse; death by hypothermia; the use of music/noise, light and darkness as torture; dragging on the floor naked, chained prisoners; stuffing naked prisoners into tiny boxes or coffins for days; threats of sexual abuse against relatives of the prisoners; conducting mock executions; ‘ice baths’, etc.

The US citizen Amir Mohamed Meshal was arrested in January 2007 in Kenya, interrogated by the FBI, rendered to Somalia and then to Ethiopia where he was imprisoned in a ‘black site’, questioned for information by the FBI and other US officials, threatened with torture, denied access to a lawyer and told that he must confess to being an al-Qaida operative or he would never be allowed back into the US. American diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks demonstrate that the U.S. embassy in Ethiopia told the Department of Justice to ‘not seek to prosecute Mr. Meshal at this time’, and he was allowed back into the US in May 2007. Meshal with the ACLU sued two FBI agents and two US officials for breaches of his constitutional rights and sought compensation through a Biven’s claim. In November 2015, the US Court of Appeals for DC handed down a decision that a US citizen unlawfully targeted by the US government for rendition, interrogation and detention with the help of local foreign governments will have no means to seek justice, compensation or hold anyone accountable in court because the actions were committed during a ‘terrorism’ investigation and concerned ‘national security’. The Court also stated that US citizens don’t have legal standing to sue for being wrongfully detained during the ‘war on terror’. Meshal will most likely appeal to the full Circuit Court of Appeals. Meshal also joined another lawsuit with other plaintiffs suing the US government for their places on the no-fly list, but the Department of Homeland Security wrote him a letter in November 2014 reiterating that the government sees him as a threat to ‘national security’ and civilian aviation. Meshal also alleges that the FBI said he would be taken off the no-fly list if he worked as an informant. Meshal has been constantly pulled over in his car by local Minnesota police, or other police when traveling within the US, and harassed. He appears to also be monitored by local police and national counter terrorism officials while investigating other people in the Twin Cities area. Meshal has never been charged with a crime.

Yemeni Faisal bin Ali Jaber filed a lawsuit in 2014 against the German government for its role in the drone killings of his relatives on August 29, 2012, but the case was dismissed by the German judges in May 2015. The news investigation by Jeremy Scahill in The Intercept and other reporters in Der Spiegel used classified documents to demonstrate how the Rammstein airbase in Germany serves as a crucial satellite relay station for US drones in the ‘targeting killings’ assassination program.

On August 21, 2015, the British government for the first (known) time assassinated in a drone strike two British citizens (Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin), who were Islamic State fighters in Syria.

The human rights group Reprieve released a study in November 2014 of drone assassinations based on publicly available information finding that when the US targeted 41 specific individuals for assassination, they killed an estimated 1,147 people. For example, when 24 specific people were targeted in Pakistan, 874 people were killed including 142 children; in Yemen, in the targeting of 17 men, 273 people were killed including at least 7 children. The data examined in this report only covers a fraction of drone assassinations. For example, it excluded drone killings of unnamed, unspecified people in so-called ‘signature strikes’ in which patterns of behavior are targeted rather than a named, known individual.

In January 2015, the new Canadian ‘Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015’ (Bill C-51) was enacted, dramatically expanding the Canadian national security apparatus including information sharing among agencies with few limits. The law greatly enhances the powers and reach of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service; enshrines secrecy powers of the government; creates numerous new ‘terrorism’ criminal offenses; gives police new powers to detain, interrogate and restrict ‘terror suspects’; and codifies the already operating Canadian no-fly list. Liberals are seeking to ‘amend’ the law, and the new Prime Minister claims he will attempt to repeal the law. This relates to the new June 2015 ‘Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act’ (Bill C-24), which enacted a two-tiered system of Canadian citizenship: dual Canadian citizens or immigrants who have attained Canadian citizenship can be stripped of citizenship for ‘terrorism offenses’. Canadians born in Canada who do not have dual citizenship are exempt from being stripped of citizenship except in cases of treason, espionage or some instances of ‘terrorism’. Affected people would be exiled from Canada, and could become stateless.

In 2015, the UK government passed the new ‘Counter-Terrorism and Security Act’ enhancing the so-called ‘Prevent’ strategy to target, report, surveil, arrest, interrogate and imprison people suspected of ‘extremism’, which is being aggressively used against British and non-British Arabs and Muslims. The Act bans thousands of Britons from traveling; makes it harder to attain citizenship; allows parents to file to have the passports of children under 18 cancelled; limits asylum seekers; gives the government power to shut down mosques and to sanction media outlets for airing ‘extremist messages’. According to the Act, the ‘Prevent’ strategy must be implemented as a ‘legal duty’ by all public sector workers including teachers, child care givers, doctors, dentists, college teachers, students, government employees, and others.

Immediately after the terrorist attacks in Paris, French President Hollande declared a state of emergency (SoE), which lasted 12 days, and was extended by a vote of parliament for 3 months to February 26, 2016. Parliament will again vote to extend the SoE for another 3 months, and the Prime Minister has said that this could become permanent and be extended as long as possible due to the threat from the Islamic State. The SoE extends the powers of various government authorities, including the police, which has conducted 3,289 raids and put 350-400 people under house arrest. Any website can also be blocked if it is deemed ‘problematic’. The SoE has also been used to target environmental and political activists for protest activities including during the COP21 Paris climate conference. In February 2016, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International published reports about documented abuses committed by the government during the SoE. Separately, the lower house of parliament is debating a bill (N. 3381) that would modify the French constitution concerning the conditions for declaring a state of emergency. Another bill proposes to amend the constitution to give judges the ability to strip dual citizens of French citizenship if they are convicted of ‘terrorism’ offenses. Another proposed bill would increase the powers of antiterrorism officials, security forces and the police by allowing bag and car searches near ‘sensitive’ sites, allow the police to hold people for up to four hours during an identity check if they seem ‘suspicious’, allow police to fire their guns at suspects who had committed or intend to commit murder, and place people under house arrest for a month who are returning from ‘terrorism operating fields’ like Syria and Iraq. Also discussed, but now not part of the proposed increased security powers, was a ban forbidding free and shared Wifi connections, a ban of the anonymous network Tor, and requiring service providers to give security forces access codes to spy on Skype, Whatsapp and Viber users. In July 2015, parliament enacted and the highest court approved a sweeping new mass surveillance law that enables the spying, gathering and storing of data on the vast majority of people in France; authorities can install recording and filming devices in people’s house, cars and private spaces, and bug their digital devices; people associated with other people under surveillance can also be surveilled, as well as any person in France communicating with someone outside the country; and forces internet companies to run ‘black boxes’ that flag and store patterns of online behavior, which is available to the government.

Compiled by Nemeton

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