Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Caesar Photos and Impunity in Syria



Western media are reporting headline claims that “new evidence supports claims about Syrian state detention deaths”, saying that “a leading rights group has released new evidence that up to 7,000 Syrians who died in state detention centres were tortured, mistreated, or executed”, noting that this information is a moral wakeup call and demanding that officials being held to account should be “central to peace efforts.”

However, as is usually so, not everything is quite as it seems.  So let’s take a look at the facts.

First the timing.  

As has been commonplace the timing of the reports like these have almost always coincided with important diplomatic meetings or just after important UN resolutions are passed.

For example, beginning in mid-March claims began to pour in that Assad had been using chlorine bombs against his opponents.  Media reports would cite the fact that only 2 months later the government had already been accused of using chlorine 35 times.  What they failed to mention however was that no claims were made for an entire 7 months before this.  So what changed after these 7 months?

Well, a UN resolution was passed condemning the use of chlorine, that’s what.

The governments alleged chlorine campaign “began just over a week after the UN security council passed a resolution under chapter 7 of the UN charter condemning its use,” the Guardian would report. For more than half of a year no claims are made and then a week after a UN resolution is passed, all of a sudden a total of 35 are made in just under 2 months. 

If Assad was really using chlorine, why would he wait a full 7 months only to use it at the exact time that it would prove to be the most disastrous for him?  

This, coupled with the fact that former OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) inspectors admit that there was insufficient evidence to prove the use of chlorine, let alone assign blame for who did it.  

And further troubling still is that the claims came from the “White Helmets” “civil defense group”, who have been notorious for producing false claims against the Syrian government.  In actuality the White Helmets are part of a slick propaganda campaign aimed at mobilizing support for foreign intervention and calling for a “no-fly zone” to oust the president.  They have financial links to Western-backed NGOs who relentlessly work towards furthering the US agenda in the region, and are themselves embedded with al-Qaeda and ISIS.  Their primary function is to demonize the Syrian government while acting as al-Qaeda’s clean-up crew, both literally and in terms of propaganda, as one video shows them waiting to clean up dead bodies moments after al-Qaeda commits summary executions against unarmed civilians.  They have produced numerous fake videos, fake photos, and fake narratives in order to manipulate public opinion towards their bias.(1)

Needless to say, their words aren’t credible.

In terms of the the Caesar photos, they too are published days before an important Syrian peace conference between the US and Russia, further raising questions as to whether the timing has anything to do with helping Syrian detainees or everything to do with political impact.

As noted by Human Rights Investigations, a previous report of the photos was done by Carter-Ruck and Co. Solicitors of London and published through CNN and the Guardian in January of 2014.  The Carter-Ruck report claims that the 55,000 images available show 11,000 dead detainees.  However, according to the recent HRW report only 28,707 of the photos are ones that they have “understood to have died in government custody” while the remaining 24,568 are of dead soldiers killed in battle.  That is, half of the alleged “torture victims” are actually dead soldiers.

Of the remaining half (6,786), HRW maintains that they “understand” the photos are of dead detainees, this is where the media is getting the “7,000” figure from, yet they themselves admit later on that they were only “able to verify 27 cases of detainees whose family members’ statements regarding their arrest and physical characteristics matched the photographic evidence.”

So, in other words, half of the original batch of photos aren’t torture victims, while of the other half only 27 can be verified by HRW.

There is also reason to doubt the reliability of these 27 cases.

Previous reports of the photos also coincided with important diplomatic events like the 2014 Geneva II conferences.  However, at that time, UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay admitted that the reports were unverified: “the report… if verified, is truly horrifying.”  While it was admitted by outlets like Reuters that they were unable “to determine the authenticity of Caesar’s photographs or to contact Caesar” while Amnesty International notes that they too “cannot authenticate the images.”

One wonders what happened during this time that allowed HRW to do what these others could not just a year prior.

Leaving that aside however, let’s say that they are true, that they do prove that the Syrian government tortured 27 individuals, and that holding the officials “to account should be central to any peace efforts.”

It follows then that the major offenders should be held to account.  Namely the United States.

Of the top 10 recipients of US foreign aid programs in 2014, all of them practice torture while at least half of them are reportedly doing so on a massive scale, according to leading human rights organizations.

For example, according to the UN torture in Afghanistan’s prisons continues to be widespread, while according to Human Rights Watch in Kenya police “tortured, raped, and otherwise abused and arbitrarily detained at least 1,000 refugees between mid-November 2012 and late January 2013.” 

The worst abuses of torture in government detention centers however were in Nigeria, which received $693 million of US taxpayer money.  There, according to Amnesty, nearly 1,000 people died in military custody in only the first 6 months of 2013.  This means that “Nigeria’s military has killed more civilians than (Boko Haram) militants did” within the same timeframe.  Recently, the Nigerian army, instead of fighting Boko Haram has massacred upwards of 1,000 Muslims belonging to a peaceful movement opposed to extremism. 

In terms of Israel, by far the leading recipient with $3.1 billion, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel accused the government of torturing and sexually assaulting Palestinian children suspected of minor crimes, while also keeping detainees in cages outside during winter.  “The majority of Palestinian child detainees are charged with throwing stones, and 74 per cent experience physical violence during arrest, transfer or interrogation.”

Not to mention our own widely publicized torture program.

According to the official narrative, the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programs began under Bush after 9/11 and were considered “rogue elements” and “aberrations” to normal CIA practice, they were approved at the highest levels of government, but were eventually ended under Obama in 2009.  

Yet as leading international security scholar Dr. Nafeez Ahmed found in a recent and thorough investigation “Obama did not ban torture in 2009, and has not rescinded it now. He instead rehabilitated torture with a carefully crafted Executive Order that has received little scrutiny.”  

It demanded interrogation techniques be brought in line with the US Army Field Manual, which is in compliance with the Geneva Convention.  However, the manual was revised in 2006 to include 19 forms of interrogation and the practice of extraordinary rendition.  “A new UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) review of the manual shows that a wide-range of torture techniques continue to be deployed by the US government,” Ahmed notes, “including isolation, sensory deprivation, stress positions, chemically-induced psychosis, adjustments of environmental and dietary rules, among others.”

In his book “Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation” the highly renowned Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Alfred McCoy shows that from the 1950s onward the CIA spent billions “improving” interrogation techniques.  

At the start, the emphasis was on electroshock, hypnosis, psychosurgery, and drugs, including the infamous use of LSD on unsuspecting soldiers, yet they proved ineffective.  It was later found that sensory disorientation and "self-inflicted pain", such as forcing a subject to stand for many hours with arms outstretched, were far more effective means of breaking individuals; the exact torture techniques it has been shown the US still employs to this day.(2)  

The CIA found that by using only the deprivation of the senses, a state akin to psychosis can be induced in just 48 hours.

They found that the KGB’s most devastating torture technique of all was not crude physical beatings, but simply forcing victims to stand for days on end.  “The legs swelled, the skin erupted spreading legions, the kidneys shut down, and hallucinations began” explains McCoy, “all incredibly painful.”

Refined through decades of practice, “the CIA’s use of sensory deprivation relies on seemingly banal procedures: heat and cold, light and dark, noise and silence, feast and famine,” yet this combines to form “a systematic attack on the sensory pathways of the human mind” for devastating effect.

These are not “aberrations”, but instead the fruition of over half a century’s work in the experimentation of the science of cracking the code of the human mind, of the perfection of psychological torture into its most sophisticated forms. 

“With the election and re-election of President Barak Obama, the problem of torture has not, as many of us have once hoped, simply disappeared, wiped away by sweeping executive orders,” McCoy explains, “Instead it is now well into a particularly sordid second phase, called impunity.”

Simply put, impunity is the political process of legalizing illegal acts.

“In this case, torture.”(3)

Instead of ending, US torture “continues to be deployed by the US government” in its most destructive forms.

It has been re-packaged and rehabilitated, codifying into law, and vanished from the general public consciousness.

Furthermore, not only does the US engage in torture on a mass scale, it and its allies as well “outsource” their torture to various regimes, utilizing their intelligence and security services to do their dirty work for them.

It was recently revealed by numerous Libyan dissidents that the UK government had entangled itself in a deep and sordid relationship with Muammar Gaddafi that amounted to “a criminal conspiracy”, as heard before the UK high court.

A conspiracy where the UK had become “enmeshed in illegality” and involved in “rendition, unlawful detention and torture.”

The victims claim that British intelligence routinely blackmailed them, threatened their families with unlawful imprisonment and abuse if they did not cooperate.  Information was extracted through torture in prisons in Tripoli and fed into the British court systems as secret evidence that could not be challenged.

Yet this merely represents a wider trend whereby Western governments commit horrendous crimes in collusion with foreign states, and then use those same acts as justification for aggression against them.

The United States attempted to justify the invasion of Iraq on non-existent WMD’s after it had supplied the same weapons to the country decades prior to wage war on Iran.

As well it was Gaddafi’s alleged brutality and use of torture that was invoked to justify the devastating attack on Libya that has left the country in shambles and overrun with suffering and terrorism.

And so too with Syria.

Not only is the United States by degrees of magnitude more culpable for the crime of torture, it also was intimately involved in offshoring its crimes to Syrian jails.

A key participant in the CIA’s covert rendition program, Syria was one of the “most common destinations for rendered subjects.”

So while torture in Syria is all too real, what is commonly left out is 3 little words: “with our support.”

First we utilize, exploit, and propagate the atrocities, and then proceed to bask in our own moral righteousness as we denounce others for the crimes that we helped commit, utilizing them to justify further atrocities and aggressions for shortsighted geopolitical aims.


If “officials being held to account” are really “central to any peace effort” in regards to torture, we know exactly where to find them: right here at home in Washington and London.


            Notes:
2.)   Alfred McCoy, Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation.
3.)   Alfred McCoy giving a lecture on his book “Torture and Impunity” at Madison’s Overture Center, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgazW9sRrW4.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

CISA: Mass Surveillance Shows The Primary Enemy of the Government is its Own Population



The US Congress has decided to try and slip in the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) into the omnibus spending bill.  The omnibus is the bill that will fund the government for the 2016 fiscal year and thus prevent a government shutdown.  So in other words, it has to be passed.  It includes a bunch of other provisions and bills and packages them all up into one.  What usually happens though is that lawmakers will try and attach other pieces of legislation onto it, taking advantage of the necessity of its passing. 

As Representative Lloyd Doggett puts it “Usually on these omnibus budget bills, we learn what’s in it the week after it passes.”

And this is exactly what they are trying to do with CISA.

CISA is a bill that’s main function is to increase the government’s ability to surveil the public and collect civilian information without a warrant or any pretext for probable cause.  It does this by “encouraging” companies to spy on their customers and increase the data they collect by blocking the publics ability to bring lawsuits against them for violations of privacy.  It then encourages the businesses to share the information directly with the government without any warrant and absent the knowledge of those that are being surveilled.  

It allows businesses a free hand to spy on their customers and takes away our ability to challenge their doing so, and allows the government easy access to that info.

A version of the bill had already been passed in the House, and was then amended and passed in the Senate in a much weaker state.  The Senate and the House have to come to an agreement before it can make its way to the president’s desk for approval, and have been working on reconciling the two versions.  However the current, separate version being attached to the spending bill is even worse than the others; it essentially drops any pretense of being used for anything other than surveillance.  

It directly removes restrictions put in place against using the information for “surveillance” activities, removes restrictions that guarantee the government can only use the information for cybersecurity purposes, and removes the requirement to erase personal information unrelated to a cybersecurity threat before sharing the information with the government.

It is being packaged as a way to help provide the intelligence community with “the tools it needs to identify, disrupt and defeat threats to the homeland and our infrastructure”, but that’s a bad joke.

Massive surveillance of the entire population does not make the population safe and has not been shown to disrupt threats.  

University of Chicago Professor John J. Mearsheimer writes that “The Obama administration, not surprisingly, initially claimed that the NSA's spying played a key role in thwarting 54 terrorist plots against the United States, implying it violated the Fourth Amendment for good reason.

"This was a lie, however. Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director, eventually admitted to Congress that he could claim only one success, and that involved catching a Somali immigrant and three cohorts living in San Diego who had sent $8,500 to a terrorist group in Somalia."

Not only has NSA spying not been shown to stop terrorism, in actuality it is our own federal agencies that are responsible for most of the terrorist plots within the country.

In the pursuit of terrorism convictions, presumably to justify “anti-terror” policies like surveillance, an extensive report by Human Rights Watch found that “all of the high-profile domestic terrorism plots of the last decade, with four exceptions, were actually FBI sting operations,” meaning that the plots were directly carried out with the instrumental aid of US government officials.  The officials were so involved in fact that in one case the government “came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles,” and had, in the process, made a terrorist out of a man “whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”  

In another case, the person convicted only became a terrorist “after the FBI provided the means, opportunity, and final prodding necessary to make him one.”

Which brings up another question: just what exactly is the magnitude of the “terror” threat?

Well, in actuality, it’s not much. 

As Stephen Walt notes in a recent article for Foreign Policy “As numerous scholarly studies have shown, the actual risk of terrorism to the average American is remarkably low. In their new book Chasing Ghosts, John Mueller and Mark Stewart estimate the odds that an American will be killed by a terrorist are about one in 4 million each year.”

The United States is “an extraordinarily secure country” writes Professor Mearsheimer, so why the elaborate, multi-billion-dollar surveillance apparatus?  The fact is that protection for the population is not a high priority for policymakers, whereas protection for corporate interests and state power, is.

For example, US intelligence explicitly warned that a war in Iraq would increase the threat of terrorism prior to the invasion.  Former CIA Director George Tenet quotes a paper by CIA analysts prepared 3 weeks before the invasion which states that the war will lead to “anarchy and the territorial breakup of Iraq” along with “a surge of global terrorism against US interests fueled by (militant) Islamism.”  

And as predicted, that’s exactly what happened.  

A study by Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank found that the war “generated a sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks.”

Furthermore, Obama’s drone program, the most extensive terrorism campaign on the planet, is also a terrorism-generating campaign.  

Last year the Guardian reported on an extensive study which found that of 41 people targeted in Yemen and Afghanistan, a total of 1,147 people were killed.  

Given these numbers, it’s no wonder that high level officials like the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency agree that drones create more terrorist than they kill.  “When you drop a bomb from a drone” Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn says “you are going to cause more damage than you are going to cause good.”  

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, explained that “for every innocent person you kill [with drones], you create 10 new enemies.”

Adding to this is the fact that it is US policy that has directly aided these very same radical extremist “enemies.”

Back in 2014, Vice President Joe Biden admitted that in Syria there “was no moderate middle” rebel force that the US and its allies were supporting.  Instead, the Turks, the Saudis, and the Emiratis were “so determined to take down Assad” that they “poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against him, except that the people being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.” 
 
In actuality, it was the CIA that was facilitating those weapons transfers and giving intel on which rebels to support.  According to the CIA’s own classified assessments, most of those arms shipments were going to “hard-line Islamic jihadists.”

The rise of the Islamic State was a direct result of this policy.  

By August of 2012 the opposition in Syria had taken a “clear sectarian direction”, “the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq]" were "the major forces driving the insurgency”, and it was “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey" that "support the opposition", according to the best assessments by the Defense Intelligence Agency.  DIA analysts warned that if support for the opposition continues, “there is a possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria,” and that “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”
 
Then DIA head, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, himself validated the credibility of this assessment, and went on to state that it was not the case that the administration had just turned a blind eye to these reports, quite the contrary, it was instead a “willful decision” for the US to continue a policy that they knew was aiding extremists and that would result in the rise of ISIS.  

After all, “this is exactly” what they wanted. 

So when intelligence chiefs testify that Syria is becoming a hotbed for terrorists, it is the result of our very own doing.  Consideration of threats to the public, are very far from concern.

Protection for state power, on the other hand, is a very high priority.

After all, Edward Snowden was forced into exile for revealing that the government was massively spying on its population, calling him a traitor in the process.  When the government calls someone a traitor when they expose state crimes in protection of the publics civil liberties, that shows that in their eyes the population is an enemy that needs to be contained- and thus you have the true rationale for why it is NSA policy to “collect it all.”  

In actuality, we are much less safe from surveillance due to the fact that we are faced with an added threat- that of government tyranny.

So not only is the “threat” that supposedly justifies the takeover of our basic rights incredibly low, not only are federal authorities’ instrumental in fomenting terror plots to justify convictions, not only is our foreign policy fundamentally predicated upon increasing and supporting the threat of terrorism, and not only is it that massive surveillance has never been shown to decrease the threat of terror while it makes us less safe through being overburden with information, we are as well led to believe that we need even more protection, and should turn a blind eye when these kinds of bills are slipped through Congress.

As extensively documented by a coalition of civil liberty groups and security experts, and warned by Senator Ron Wyden, this CISA bill is nothing more than “a surveillance bill by another name.”

It is merely another attempt to justify further government power, wrapped in a mirage of “protection” with no justification behind it- furthering the proof that to the government, the primary enemy that needs to be guarded against, is its own population.