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US drone warfare comes to court for the first time

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There is no way any court can hear a case involving US crimes in war, since the administration simply tells the judge, “National security,” and the case is dismissed. Thus none of those whom the US kidnapped and tortured—even though they were completely innocent—have been able to sue: the US government doesn’t allow itself to be sued for such things. And those whose families were “collateral” damage from a drone strike—e.g., the various wedding parties that were killed—can sue.

But Germany apparently is allowing a lawsuit. Cora Currier, Ryan Devereaux, and Jeremy Scahill report in The Intercept:

On Aug. 31, 2012, a top-secret U.S. intelligence report noted that “possible bystanders” had been killed alongside militants from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in a drone strike in eastern Yemen two days earlier. The source of the intelligence, a Yemeni official described in the cable as “reliable,” identified two of the dead as Waleed bin Ali Jaber and Salim bin Ali Jaber, “an imam of a mosque who had reportedly preached a sermon that had insulted AQAP.”

The source believed that Salim and Waleed “had been lured to the car by the two AQAP militants when the airstrike hit.”

Salim and Waleed’s deaths sparked protests in their village, and the incident was later well-documented by international media and human rights groups. Their family representative, Faisal bin Ali Jaber, has met with Yemeni and U.S. national security officials and members of Congress. But the United States still has not formally acknowledged or apologized for the incident.

The previously unreported intelligence report, viewed by The Intercept, indicates that the U.S. government knew soon after the strike that it had killed two civilians. It could add fire to a lawsuit that Faisal bin Ali Jaber has launched in Germany, as further evidence that U.S. strikes put innocent Yemenis at risk.

Jaber will testify next month in front of a German court, alleging that Germany is violating a constitutionally enshrined duty to protect the right to life by allowing the United States to use Ramstein Air Base as part of its lethal drone operations.

It is the first time a victim of a U.S. drone strike will air his grievances in court, lawyers for the case told The Intercept. The lawsuit could put Germany in the awkward position of having to publicly defend its role in the U.S. drone program.

As The Intercept reported today, the U.S. military sees Ramstein as an essential node in the technical infrastructure for its armed and unarmed drone operations. A budget request for the Ramstein station stated that without the facility, “weapon strikes cannot be supported.”

The administrative court in Cologne where Jaber’s suit is filed recently granted him the chance to present evidence, a sign that it will allow the case to move forward. At that hearing, scheduled for May 27, Jaber will describe the 2012 incident and argue that he and his family are still in danger from drone strikes.

“We’re asking the German government to take measures to stop the U.S. from using German soil in their illegal and immoral drone war,” said Kat Craig, legal director for Reprieve, an international rights group that is representing Jaber along with the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

Extending the constitutional right to life to a non-German citizen outside of Germany is untested legal ground. That Jaber will be allowed to testify is “quite remarkable,” said Craig, and shows “the court is taking it seriously.”

The German government has tried to get the suit tossed, arguing in a court filing that Ramstein’s role in the U.S. drone program is unproven, and that Jaber can’t tie Germany to his specific case.

The lawsuit, the government argues in the filing, is asking Germany to act as a “‘global public prosecutor’ towards other sovereign states” — namely, the United States and Yemen.

The German government also wrote that the U.S. has provided assurances that no drones are commanded or controlled from Germany, echoing what a Pentagon spokesperson told The Intercept: that the United States does not “directly fly or control any manned or remotely piloted aircraft” from Ramstein. As The Intercept explained, that language carefully evades the important technical role played by the base.

Any victory in Jaber’s case will likely be symbolic, said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s almost unimaginable that lethal counterterrorism operations would rupture a relationship with an ally like Germany. Ramstein is used for so many other things and is so important to the bilateral relationship,” Zenko said.

But it could have political ramifications in Germany, where drones are a particularly controversial issue. Zenko noted a recent survey that found 67 percent of Germans were opposed to U.S. drone strikes. Previous allegations of Ramstein’s role in the drone program led to parliamentary inquiries.

In its response, the German government “appears to be trying to avoid a situation where they have to justify their cooperation with the Americans,” said Craig. “That is why they won’t simply deal with the facts of the case.”

U.S. drone operations in Yemen have slowed in the months since Jaber filed his case, as the country has disintegrated into war. . .

Continue reading.

Jeremy Scahill has a lengthy report, “A Game of Drones,” published in The Intercept and also in Der Spiegel (in German). It’s worth reading, and begins:

This is a joint investigation with the German news magazine Der Spiegel.

A TOP-SECRET U.S. intelligence document obtained by The Interceptconfirms that the sprawling U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany serves as the high-tech heart of America’s drone program. Ramstein is the site of a satellite relay station that enables drone operators in the American Southwest to communicate with their remote aircraft in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other targeted countries. The top-secret slide deck, dated July 2012, provides the most detailed blueprint seen to date of the technical architecture used to conduct strikes with Predator and Reaper drones.

Amid fierce European criticism of America’s targeted killing program, U.S. and German government officials have long downplayed Ramstein’s role in lethal U.S. drone operations and have issued carefully phrased evasions when confronted with direct questions about the base. But the slides show that the facilities at Ramstein perform an essential function in lethal drone strikes conducted by the CIA and the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa.

The slides were provided by a source with knowledge of the U.S. government’s drone program who declined to be identified because of fears of retribution. According to the source, Ramstein’s importance to the U.S. drone war is difficult to overstate. “Ramstein carries the signal to tell the drone what to do and it returns the display of what the drone sees. Without Ramstein, drones could not function, at least not as they do now,” the source said.

The new evidence places German Chancellor Angela Merkel in an awkward position given Germany’s close diplomatic alliance with the United States. The German government has granted the U.S. the right to use the property, but only under the condition that the Americans do nothing there that violates German law.

The U.S. government maintains that its drone strikes against al Qaeda and its “associated forces” are legal, even outside of declared war zones. But German legal officials have suggested that such operations are only justifiable in actual war zones. Moreover, Germany has the right to prosecute “criminal offenses against international law … even when the offense was committed abroad and bears no relation to Germany,” according to Germany’s Code of Crimes against International Law, which passed in 2002.

This means that American personnel stationed at Ramstein could, in theory, be vulnerable to German prosecution if they provide drone pilots with data used in attacks.

While the German government has been reluctant to pursue such prosecutions, it may come under increasing pressure to do so. “It is simply murder,” says Björn Schiffbauer of the Institute for International Law at the University of Cologne. Legal experts interviewed by Der Spiegel claimed that U.S. personnel could be charged as war criminals by German prosecutors.

creech-pullA top-secret slide confirms the central role Germany plays in the U.S. drone war.

RAMSTEIN IS ONE of the largest U.S. military bases outside the United States, hosting more than 16,000 military and civilian personnel. The relay center at Ramstein, which was completed in late 2013, sits in the middle of a massive forest and is adjacent to a baseball diamond used by students at the Ramstein American High School. The large compound, made of reinforced concrete and masonry walls and enclosed in a horseshoe of trees, has a sloped metal roof. Inside this building, air force squadrons can coordinate the signals necessary for a variety of drone surveillance and strike missions. On two sides of the building are six massive golf ball-like fixtures known as satellite relay pads.

In a 2010 budget request for the Ramstein satellite station, the U.S. Air Force asserted that without the Germany-based facility, the drone program could face “significant degradation of operational capability” that could “have a serious impact on ongoing and future missions.” Predator and Reaper drones, as well as Global Hawk aircraft, would “use this site to conduct operations” in Africa and the Middle East, according to the request. It stated bluntly that without the use of Ramstein, drone “weapon strikes cannot be supported.”

“Because of multi-theater-wide operations, the respective SATCOM Relay Station must be located at Ramstein Air Base to provide most current information to the war-fighting commander at any time demanded,” according to the request. The relay station, according to that document, would also be used to support the operations of a secretive black ops Air Force program known as “Big Safari.”

The classified slide deck maps out an intricate spider web of facilities across the U.S. and the globe: from drone command centers on desert military bases in the U.S. to Ramstein to outposts in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Qatar and Bahrain and back to NSA facilities in Washington and Georgia. What is clear is that most paths within America’s drone maze run through Ramstein.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2015 at 4:15 pm

81% of Republicans support Net Neutrality; the GOP is trying to kill it

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The GOP really cares nothing about the will of the people—their concern is the will of corporations. Sam Gustin reports in Motherboard:

If anyone thinks that Republicans will roll over and con​cede defeat in the battle over net neutrality, they’re dead wrong.

On the contrary, GOP lawmakers are laying the foundation for a fierce, multi-pronged attack against the Federal Communications Commission’s new open internet rul​es, which are designed to preserve net neutrality, the principle that broadband giants shouldn’t be able to pick winners and losers online.

Rep. Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican, introduced a “​resolution of disapproval” this week under the Congressio​nal Review Act that would declare that the FCC’s new policy “shall have no force or effect.”

Collins, who represents a rural Northeast Georgia district, said his resolution would be the fastest way to thwart “heavy-handed agency regulations that would slow internet speeds, increase consumer prices and hamper infrastructure development,” according to his office. [If Net Neutrality is killed, you can bet that telecoms will slow internet speeds for everyone unwilling to pay a premium, passed along to customers. Not to put too fine a point on it, Collins doesn’t seem to be all that bright. – LG]

“Resources that could go to broadband deployment will go to federal taxes and fees,” said Collins, whose resolution has attracted 14 Republican co-sponsors and counting. “We’ll all be paying more for less.”

Collins and his colleagues face several hurdles before they can successfully cancel the FCC’s new rules, which are supported by 81 percent of voters nationwide, including 81 percent of Republicans, according to a rec​ent poll conducted by Vox Populi Polling.

But for the most conservative Republican lawmakers, vocal opposition to the FCC’s new policy amounts to great red meat for their core base of highly politically engaged supporters.

On the one hand, these lawmakers can demonstrate their ideological opposition to what they call “federal government overreach.” On the other hand, they can continue to exert reflexive opposition to any policy President Obama s​upports. Many GOP lawmakers accuse the White House of improperly influencing the FCC.

“The FCC likely forged its net neutrality solution under political pressure and will continue to attempt to grow its power in secret, despite Congress’ authority in this matter,” said Collins.

The Collins resolution is just one piece of the overall GOP attack. Last month, Marsha Blackburn, the Tennessee Republican, reintroduced legislation to block the FCC from implementing its new rules. Blackburn said her bill aims to “block the Obama Administration’s efforts to take over the internet.”

Many Republican lawmakers argue that the FCC’s new rules will stifle online innovation and raise prices for consumers. Last month, the GOP subjected FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to a marathon series of hearings on Capitol Hill. At one point, Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican and vocal net neutrality opponent, accused Wheeler of “playing God with the internet.”

The FCC’s new rules also face a fierce industry pushback in federal court. [And that’s no doubt why the GOP, always the handmaiden and servant of big business, opposes Net Neutrality. – LG] US Telecom, a national industry group, and Texas-based service provider Alamo Broadband, have already filed lawsuits calling the new rules “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion” by the FCC.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2015 at 12:09 pm

Targeted Killing: The New Questions

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David Cole writes in the NY Review of Books:

To kill or capture? That is the chilling question that US officials—and even members of Congress—reportedly ask behind closed doors these days, as they consider how best to deal with potential terrorist threats abroad. A New York Times account of the capture of a US citizen suspected of involvement in al-Qaeda suggests that the debate surrounding such decisions may be more robust than many had thought. At the same time, the story’s sparse details, all obtained from anonymous officials, underscore how little transparency there continues to be about the president’s targeted killing program.

The case involves Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, a twenty-nine-year-old US citizen born in Texas but raised in Jordan and Canada, who is believed to have left Canada for Pakistan in 2007, allegedly to train with jihadist groups affiliated with al Qaeda. If the CIA and Pentagon had had their way a couple of years ago, he would have been summarily killed with a drone strike in Pakistan. Instead, he was captured by Pakistani forces and handed over to the United States, where on April 2, he was indicted in a federal court in Brooklyn for conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. The fact that parts of our government wanted to kill, without a trial, a citizen who, even if convicted, will face a maximum of fifteen years in prison, illustrates the dramatic divide between the military and law enforcement models for addressing terrorism.

From what is suggested by the Times report, Attorney General Eric Holder and other Justice Department officials deserve credit for saving Al Farekh’s life. The United States had been actively monitoring Al Farekh in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan at least since 2012. By early 2013, both the CIA and the Defense Department requested approval to put him on a “kill list” of terrorism suspects. According to guidelinesadopted by the White House that spring, President Obama will authorize a targeted killing outside Afghanistan only if (1) an individual “pose[s] a continuing and imminent threat to the American people”; (2) “there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat”; (3) capture is infeasible; and (4) there is a “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.”

The CIA and Defense Department claimed Al Farekh met these standards. And in a closed hearing in July 2013, so did Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who apparently railed against the administration for not killing Al Farekh, claiming that “We’ve never seen a bigger mess.” But Justice Department officials doubted whether Al Farekh posed an imminent threat, whether he was a high-level al-Qaeda leader, and indeed whether his capture was infeasible. As a result, the authorization to kill was not granted.

The Justice Department was right. Evidently Al Farekh’s capture was feasible after all. And the rather routine terrorism charges he now faces suggest that the Justice Department’s doubts about the gravity of the threat he posed were also warranted.

In providing a glimpse of the administration’s internal debate about a possible targeted killing of a US citizen, the Brooklyn case points to the many questions about the program that remain unanswered. Here are some: . . .

Continue reading.

The example itself is evidence of how the Obama Administration does not (in the CIA) follow its own guidelines.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2015 at 11:42 am

The FBI information who mounted a sting operation against the FBI

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Very interesting report by Trevor Aaronson in The Intercept. From the report:

. . . And here’s where (T)ERROR brings viewers into a previously unseen world—as the FBI sting unravels.

The agents, apparently frustrated that Torres couldn’t build a case on al-Akili, bring in a second informant, Shahed Hussain, and tell Torres to make the introduction. Hussain is a con artist from Albany, New York, who was convicted of participating in a scam to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. He came to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1994, after being arrested in Karachi on a murder charge. Hussain had been used by the FBI before—he was the bureau’s undercover informant in an Albany terrorism case as well as in a sting that targeted the so-called Newburgh Four—four poor black men who plotted with Hussain to bomb synagogues in the Bronx and to fire Stinger missiles at airplanes, though only after Hussain had offered the lead defendant, a mentally troubled man named James Cromitie, $250,000 if he participated in the plot. (The four suspects received lengthy jail sentences.)

There’s no shortage of embarrassing moments for the FBI in its dozens of counterterrorism stings since 9/11. In Boston, an FBI informant who was working a counterterrorism case was caught on an FBI camera purchasing heroin, which wasn’t part of his assignment. In case after case, the FBI experiences so-called “recorder malfunctions”—usually at the most unfortunate time for the defendant, such as at the very beginning of the sting or, as in an operation involving a Baltimore teenager, when the target was attempting to back out of the plot. More recently, FBI agents accidentally recorded themselves calling the subject of their undercover investigation a “retarded fool” whose terrorist ambitions were “wishy-washy.”

As soon as Hussain is introduced into the al-Akili case, the FBI’s work is revealed as similarly ham-handed. Hussain blows the introduction by being overeager, giving al-Akili reason to suspect Torres and Hussain are government agents. Hussain hands al-Akili his business card, and a suspicious al-Akili subsequently Googles the phone number. His search brings up an FBI document from the Newburgh Four case—one that I had obtained and posted online as part of a story for Mother Jones. The FBI had never bothered to change Hussain’s cell phone number. Al-Akili discovers the story I wrote about Hussain—“The Making of an FBI Superinformant”—and realizes he’s the target of an FBI investigation.

Instead of cowering, al-Akili emails dozens of lawyers and journalists, including me.

“I would like to pursue a legal action against the FBI due to their continuous harassment, and attempts to set me up,” al-Akili wrote in the March 9, 2012 email.

What no one knew—not even the FBI—was that Cabral and Sutcliffe began filming al-Akili’s side of things after he sent the email, which a lawyer who received it happened to forward to them. The documentary then becomes a house of mirrors, with each side of the FBI’s counterterrorism operation being reflected onto the other, revealing a mash-up of damaged people being exploited by overzealous government agents, with no sign at all of anything resembling terrorism or impending danger to the public. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2015 at 9:27 am

Punishment in secret: The No-Fly List

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The way that the no-fly list is handled is reminiscent of the way the Soviets handled things, with no reasons given. Cora Currier reports at The Intercept:

Since the “no fly” list was formalized in 2001, the only way to know if the U.S. government would allow you to get on a plane was to show up at the airport and try to board a flight. The government would generally neither confirm nor deny that you were on the list, let alone tell you why.

On April 14, the government announced a new procedure for blacklisted travelers to try to clear themselves. Passengers who are denied boarding can lodge a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security, which will provide confirmation of their “No Fly List status,” and an unclassified summary of the reason why — unless providing that information would go against “national security and law enforcement interests.” The passengers can then appeal their status.

The notice of the new procedures came in court filings in several caseswhere plaintiffs have challenged their inclusion on the list.

Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, called the new procedures “grossly inadequate” and said her organization is already challenging them in court. The ACLU is representing thirteen U.S. citizens who sued over the no fly list in 2010.

Last year a federal judge found that the government’s old redress process—which never confirmed or denied anyone’s status—was unconstitutional. The government’s response was the new procedures, which Shamsi says still doesn’t go far enough.

“One of our clients was provided a single cryptic sentence saying he had traveled to a particular country in a particular year. There are incomplete reasons, no evidence provided, and no hearing at which our clients can present their own evidence and cross-examine the government’s witnesses,” she said.

The inadequate process the government provided to our clients is what it’s now formalizing for everyone else,” she added.

Gadeir Abbas, an attorney for Gulet Mohamed, a U.S. citizen who in 2011 was barred from flying home to Virginia from Kuwait, called the new redress process “entirely one-sided.”

“If you don’t know why the government has placed you on the list in precise terms, you’re never going to be able to rebut it,” he said. “So, the promise of confirming someone’s placement on the ‘no fly’ list and including the tautology that the government believes justifies it is just totally inadequate.”

The Intercept reported last summer that there were 47,000 people on the no fly list in 2013, a more than ten-fold increase since President Barack Obama took office. [Obama promised greater transparency in government, you may recall. – LG]

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2015 at 9:21 am

Feds Quietly Admit Pot Helps Cancer Patients

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Apparently even the Federal government is changing its mind: the National Institute on Drug Abuse now states that cannabis might be useful as a medicine, which means that it definitely should not be Schedule I drug; a drug is Schedule I if it meets the following 3 criteria:

  1. The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
  2. The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
  3. There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

Cannabis does not meet the criteria—not that the Federal government cares. Or, more specifically, not that President Obama cares, since he could remove cannabis from Schedule I with a stroke of the pen.

Here’s the story by James Joiner in The Daily Beast:

As the movement to end marijuana prohibition continues to steamroll its way through the United States, a formerly bitter rival may be softening its stance. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, a government agency tasked with researching and combatting drug abuse, has offered a subtle change to the language on its page dedicated to marijuana.

On their website, drugabuse.gov, in the language under “How Might Cannabinoids Be Useful As Medicine,” they have noted:

“For instance, recent animal studies have shown that marijuana extracts may help kill certain cancer cells and reduce the size of others. Evidence from one cell culture study suggests that purified extracts from whole-plant marijuana can slow the growth of cancer cells from one of the most serious types of brain tumors. Research in mice showed that treatment with purified extracts of THC and CBD, when used with radiation, increased the cancer-killing effects of the radiation (Scott, 2014).”

Viewed on archive.org’s Wayback Machine, the agency’s former stance is much less positive. For example, a section visible last month titled “Misperceptions of Safety”—including a chart that the agency says “could indicate that use of marijuana could begin to rise again in future years” based on a poll of high schoolers’ views of marijuana—has been deleted.

Still, NIDA spokesperson Kathryn Kaplan says any changes to the fact sheet don’t necessarily reflect a policy shift. . . [God forbid that a Federal agency ever admit that it was wrong. – LG]

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2015 at 9:46 am

Legal Advocacy Group Says U.S. Drone Program Sets Dangerous Example

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Scott Shane reports in the NY Times:

An investigation of American drone strikes in Yemen concludes that the Obama administration has not followed its own rules to avoid civilian casualties and is setting a dangerous example for other countries that want to use unmanned aircraft against terrorists.

The study, by the Open Society Justice Initiative, a legal advocacy group based in New York, is being released at a time when Yemen has been engulfed in violence and American drone strikes have been slowed or halted. But its observations about the performance of American counterterrorism strikes from 2012 to 2014 remain relevant for assessing a novel weapons system that the United States has used in several countries and has now approved for export to a limited number of allies.

Despite promises of greater openness about drone strikes, the Obama administration has continued to guard their secrecy closely and says nothing publicly about strike targets and results. [As we observe repeatedly, Obama’s promises are absolutely worthless—he doesn’t even seem to make the slightest effort to live up to his promises. – LG] The resulting information vacuum has been partly filled by independent studies by groups like the Open Society Justice Initiative, which worked with the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, a Yemeni group that conducted interviews with witnesses.

In May 2013, in a long-planned speech on the targeted killing of terrorists, President Obama described a rigorous standard that he said guided all drone strikes. “Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set,” he said.

Mr. Obama said that some civilian casualties were unavoidable, adding, “For me, and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live.”

But the new report questions how careful the strikes have been, based on the analysis of nine strikes in Yemen, where strikes are carried out by both the C.I.A. and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command. Each of those strikes killed civilians, the study found, with a total of 26 civilians killed, including five children, and 13 others injured.

“We’ve found evidence that President Obama’s standard is not being met on the ground,” said Amrit Singh, senior legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative and primary author of the report. “There’s a real question about whether the near-certainty standard is being applied in practice.” [Thus another Obama promise bites the dirt. – LG]

Asked about the report’s findings, a National Security Council spokesman, Ned Price, said he was “not in a position to comment on specific cases” because of secrecy rules, but said the standard Mr. Obama described in 2013 is still in place.

“In those rare instances in which it appears noncombatants may have been killed or injured, after-action reviews have been conducted to determine why,” he said, adding that condolence payments are sometimes given to those injured and families of those killed. [But usually not? – LG] . . .

Continue reading. Map at the link.

It’s strange how some countries hate the US. I wonder why.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2015 at 2:22 pm

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