News Datacide 17, Pt.1: Endless War

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Chelsea Manning, US army intelligence officer and whistleblower, received a commutation by President Barack Obama in January 2017 of her prison sentence after she served seven of the 35 years for convictions of espionage and related offenses. Manning leaked 750,000 classified military and diplomatic documents to Wikileaks, known as the Reykjavik 13, the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Diary, the Baghdad airstrike collateral murder video, Cablegate, the Guantanamo Bay files, the Grainai airstrike, and others. In May 2017, Manning, a trans-woman, who suffered torture and a myriad of other abuses while in US prison custody, was released, and she presently lives in New York City. She is involved with various protests and social justice actions, and maintains a presence in the media by writing columns in newspapers, as well as personal Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts. On September 13, 2017, Harvard University Kennedy School Institute of Politics named Manning a visiting fellow, however, in protest, former CIA deputy director Michael J. Morell resigned from his position as Senior Fellow at the Kennedy School. Harvard’s close ties to the CIA became even more apparent when CIA director Mike Pompeo cancelled his speaking visit to Harvard also in protest, leading the Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf on September 15 to cancel Manning’s appointment as visiting fellow (although she is invited to campus for a day to talk to students). Harvard’s actions can be seen within the larger context of fights over ‘free speech’ at American university campuses, and institutional support for CIA war criminals and tortures. Manning tweeted “honored to be the 1st disinvited trans woman visiting @harvard fellow. they chill marginalized voices under @cia pressure #WeGotThis”. On September 25, Manning took to Twitter, detailing that she had been barred from entry into Canada on September 22. Manning was unauthorized to enter Canada because of her felony conviction in the US. The Canadian immigration document states that “if committed in Canada, this offence would equate to an indictable offence, namely Treason…for which a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment may be imposed.” Manning stated she will formally challenge Canada’s refusal, and The Guardian reports that Manning was detailed by Canadian officials overnight before being sent back into the US.

After intense lobbying of the Trump administration, Erik Prince, founder of the private mercenary firm Blackwater, now called Academi, wrote an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal on May 31, 2017 in which he argued that the US government should privatise the 16-year-long war in Afghanistan by replacing US soldiers with his private force of 5,500, establish a ‘viceroy’ to oversee the entire colonial operation, remove all oversight, checks and auditing, and make contractors even further immune from war crimes and prosecution. This comes only a month after President Trump ordered the detonation of the largest ever non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan killing at least 90 people. In response to Trump ordering about 4,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, Prince wrote another op-ed in the New York Times on August 30, 2017, and continues to lobby for his plan with the help of his sister, Betsy DeVos, who is US Secretary of Education in the Trump administration.

In August 2017, a US federal appeals court ordered that three Blackwater security contractors, Dustin L. Heard, Evan S. Liberty, and Paul A. Slough should be resentenced for their convictions of voluntary manslaughter, and threw out their convictions of using machine guns to carry out a violent crime in the Nisour Square Bagdad massacre of 2007 that left 14 civilians dead and 17 injured. The fourth Blackwater mercenary, Nicolas A. Slatten, had his conviction of murder entirely thrown out, and now the Trump Justice Department will have to decide whether or not they will pursue a new trial. The defendants argued that the Justice Department had no jurisdiction to prosecute them for war crimes in Iraq, but the court disagreed, yet nevertheless found that the defendants’ three 30-year sentences and one life sentence were too harsh for the war crimes committed.

An unnamed US citizen fighting for the Islamic State is currently being held by the American military/Department of Defense as an ‘enemy combatant’ after having either been captured or surrendering to the Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria. It is unclear whether the Trump administration will file criminal charges in federal court or continue to use military detention against the person. A Pentagon spokesperson claimed incorrectly that, “There is nothing that prohibits detaining a US citizen as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo.”

In July 2017, Canadian citizen Omar Khadr received a $10.5 million settlement and official apology from Canada in response to his civil lawsuit over the government’s involvement of his imprisonment in 2002 at the age of 16, first at Bagram prison, and then at US Guantanamo Bay prison for 10 years. In January 2010, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the government had violated his rights during interrogations, and acknowledged he had been tortured at Gitmo. In October 2010, Khadr plead guilty to five charges including murder in violation of the laws of war for allegedly killing sergeant Christopher Speer with a grenade during fighting between the Taliban and the US Army in 2002, making Khadr the first person since World War II to be prosecuted in a military commission for war crimes committed as a minor. He was later transferred to Canada to serve the rest of his sentence, but was released on bail in May 2015, and has appealed his US conviction arguing he falsely pleaded guilty so he could get transferred out of Gitmo back to Canada. In August 2017, Tabitha Speer, the soldier’s widow, seeks to enforce a $134M wrongful death suit won in default in Utah against Khadr by appealing to the Ontario Superior Court.

In March 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against a Sudanese born naturalized British citizen, who had his citizenship stripped and was barred entry from the UK, over allegations of links to the terrorist group Al-Shabaab. In July it was reported that 150 suspected terrorists and other alleged criminals were stripped of their UK citizenship and banned from returning to the UK.

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