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Bad Guys

White House wins fight to keep drone killings of Americans secret

© Reuters / Pascal Lauener
A federal judge issued a 75-page ruling on Wednesday that declares that the US Justice Department does not have a legal obligation to explain the rationale behind killing Americans with targeted drone strikes.

United States District Court Judge Colleen McMahon wrote in her finding this week that the Obama administration was largely in the right by rejecting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times for materials pertaining to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to execute three US citizens abroad in late 2011 [pdf].

Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both US nationals with alleged ties to al-Qaeda, were killed on September 30 of that year using drone aircraft; days later, al-Awlaki's teenage son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was executed in the same manner. Although the Obama administration has remained largely quiet about the killings in the year since, a handful of statements made from senior White House officials, including Pres. Barack Obama himself, have provided some but little insight into the Executive Branch's insistence that the killings were all justified and constitutionally-sound. Attempts from the ACLU and the Times via FOIA requests to find out more have been unfruitful, though, which spawned a federal lawsuit that has only now been decided in court.
Siding with the defendants in what can easily be considered as cloaked in skepticism, Judge McMahon writes that the Obama White House has been correct in refusing the FOIA requests filed by the plaintiffs.
Red Flag

The irony of joint FBI/private sector OWS policing

© Credit: Glynnis Jones / Shutterstock
The intractable fusion of Wall Street and government interests was a major focus of many Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011. There is some dark irony, then, that an FBI program specifically dedicated to the partnership between the FBI, DHS and the private sector monitored the protests, providing information and tips to corporate partners on interacting with and combating Occupy groups.

According to FBI documents obtained through FOIA by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, the Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC) - "a strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector" - produced a report specifically for the use of "the corporate security community" on the Occupy protests that aimed to shut down West Coast ports. DSAC also issued tips to corporate clients advising that they avoid "all large gatherings relating to civil issues." As Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) put it, such documents show "federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America."

The FOIA'ed FBI documents have garnered much attention from civil liberties advocates for highlighting the coordination between federal agencies, local police departments, fusion centers and hired corporate security firms in surveying, policing and ultimately cracking down on Occupy encampments and days of action. As a number of outlets have noted, PCJF's findings also show how the authorities had long framed Occupy as a potential terrorist or criminal threat.
Target

FBI classified information about OWS assassination plot

© AFP Photo / Andrew Burton
Protestors associated with Occupy Wall Street gather in Foley Square on the eve of the anniversary of the start of their movement
Only one month into the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations last year, plans were formulated to identify key figures in the movement and execute them with a coordinated assault using sniper rifles, new documents reveal.

The revelation - discussed in a heavily redacted FBI memo unearthed late last month through a Freedom of Information Act request - reveals that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was aware of plans for a violent assault on the peaceful protest movement but stayed silent on rumors of an assassination attempt only until now.

Information on the alleged plot to kill off protesters appears on page 61 of the trove of documents obtained recently by a FOIA request filed by the Partnership For Civil Justice Fund. On the page in question, marked "SECRET," the FBI acknowledges:
An identified [redacted] of October planned to engage in sniper attacks against protesters in Houston, Texas, if deemed necessary. An identified [redacted] had received intelligence that indicated the protesters in New York and Seattle planned similar protests in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, Texas. [Redacted] planned to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest groups and obtain photographs then formulate a plan to kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles.
Throughout the rest of the material obtained by the PFCJF, the FBI declines to mention any follow-up attempts at investigating or handling the rumored assassination plot.Page 61, where the plot is discussed, was redacted heavily before handed over to the PFCJF.

As RT reported when the documents were first published just before Christmas, other material released through the FOIA request shows the FBI and other law enforcement agencies labeling Occupy activists as criminal and domestic terrorists right from the early days of their anti-capitalism and anti-corporate greed protests that began in September 2011.
Radar

Myanmar military admits airstrikes on rebels

© DVB
A Kachin house burns after coming under attack from the Burmese army on 31 December 2012
Myanmar's military has acknowledged carrying out airstrikes against ethnic Kachin rebels in the country's north, and says it has captured a hilltop post from where the insurgents launched attacks on government supply convoys.

The statement broadcast on state television Wednesday contradicted government claims two days earlier that the military was not carrying out offensive air attacks on the Kachin, raising questions about how much control the elected government of reformist President Thein Sein has over the army.

State television, quoting the Defense Ministry, said the military on Sunday occupied a Kachin Independence Army hilltop post during a mopping-up operation of the area where attacks had been launched against government supply convoys.

The government has been seeking to supply a base at Lajayang which is very close to KIA headquarters at Laiza, the rebel group's last major outpost.

The government delivered an ultimatum to the Kachin to clear a road by Christmas Day so it could supply its base. The Kachin rejected the ultimatum for fear of a government attack on their own outpost.

KIA spokesman La Nan charged Monday that the supplies being sent to government troops included ammunition as well as rice.
Arrow Up

Canada's indigenous movement gains momentum

Canada's Idle No More movement began as a small social media campaign - armed with little more than a hashtag and a cause.

But it has grown into a large indigenous movement, with protests and ceremonial gatherings held almost daily in many of the country's major cities.

The movement is spearheaded by Theresa Spence, the leader of the Attawapiskat, a small native band in northern Ontario.

Spence is now 22 days into a hunger strike on Ottawa's Victoria Island, just across from the Canadian parliament.

Spence and other First Nations groups are demanding better living conditions for Canada's aboriginals, and they are angry at the country's government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which they accuse of trying to erode their land and sovereignty rights.

Canada's aboriginal communities have long been disproportionately affected by poverty.

A recent study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that, in 2006, the average income for aboriginal people was just under $19,000, which is 30 percent lower than the $27,097 average for other Canadians.

Although that is a slightly narrower gap than 10 years previously, it would still take 63 years to achieve income parity.

The same study also found the annual income gap between other Canadians and aboriginals is $7,083 higher in urban settings, and $4,492 higher in rural settings.

Padlock

France's censorship demands to Twitter are more dangerous than "hate speech"

© Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images
French minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is demanding that Twitter aid the government in criminalizing hateful tweets.
Few ideas have done as much damage throughout history as empowering the government to criminalize opinions it dislikes.

Writing in the Guardian today, Jason Farago praises France's women's rights minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, for demanding that Twitter help the French government criminalize ideas it dislikes. Decreeing that "hateful tweets are illegal", Farago excitingly explains how the French minister is going beyond mere prosecution for those who post such tweets and now "wants Twitter to take steps to help prosecute hate speech" by "reform[ing] the whole system by which Twitter operates", including her demand that the company "put in place alerts and security measures" to prevent tweets which French officials deem hateful. This, Farago argues, is fantastic, because - using the same argument employed by censors and tyrants of every age and every culture - new technology makes free speech far too dangerous to permit:
"If only this were still the 18th century! We can't delude ourselves any longer that free speech is the privilege of pure citizens in some perfect Enlightenment salon, where all sides of an argument are heard and the most noble view will naturally rise to the top. Speech now takes place in a digital mixing chamber, in which the most outrageous messages are instantly amplified, with sometimes violent effects . . .

"We keep thinking that the solution to bad speech is more speech. But even in the widest and most robust network, common sense and liberal-democratic moderation are not going to win the day, and it's foolhardy to imagine that, say, homophobic tweets are best mitigated with gay-friendly ones.

"Digital speech is new territory, and it calls for fresh thinking, not the mindless reapplication of centuries-out-of-date principles that equate a smartphone to a Gutenberg press. As Vallaud-Belkacem notes, homophobic violence - 'verbal and otherwise' - is the No 1 cause of suicide among French teenagers. In the face of an epidemic like that, free speech absolutism rings a little hollow, and keeping a hateful hashtag from popping up is not exactly the same as book-burning."
Newspaper

Richard Falk: An open letter of response to CRIF

I am shocked and saddened that your organization would label me as an anti-Semite and self-hating Jew. It is utterly defamatory, and such allegations are entirely based on distortions of what I believe and what I have done. To confuse my criticisms of Israel with self-hatred of myself as a Jew or with hatred of Jews is a calumny. I have long been a critic of American foreign policy but that does not make me anti-American; it is freedom of conscience that is the core defining reality of a genuinely democratic society, and its exercise is crucial to the quality of political life in a particular country, especially here in the United States where its size and influence often has such a large impact on the lives and destiny of many peoples excluded from participating in its policy debates or elections.

It is always difficult to negate irresponsible accusations of this kind. What follows is an attempt to clarify my honestly held positions in relation to a litany of charges that have been given currency by a campaign conducted by UN Watch ever since I was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to be Special Rapporteur for the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in 2008. What follows are brief attempts at clarification in response to the main charges:

Comment: For further reading check out UN Article 19: Human Rights and Revisionism

Brick Wall

Why Zero Dark Thirty won't settle the torture question or purge torture from the American system

On New Year's Eve 2003, Khaled el-Masri, an unemployed car salesman from Germany on vacation in Macedonia, was removed from a bus and kidnapped by the CIA due to a confusion of names. His evidently bore some similarity to an al-Qaeda suspect the Agency wanted to get its hands on. Five months later, after spending time under brutal conditions in an "Afghan" prison called "the Salt Pit" (run by the CIA), he was left at the side of a road in Albania. In between, his life was a catalogue of horrors, torture, and abuse.

Last week, the European Court of Human Rights finally rendered a judgment in his favor, confirming the accuracy of the story he's told for years about his sufferings, fining the Macedonian government for its role in his case, and concluding for the first time in a court of law that "the CIA's rendition techniques amounted to torture." El-Masri's attempt to bring a case in the U.S. legal system against "George Tenet, the former director of the C.I.A., three private airline companies, and 20 individuals identified only as John Doe" for his mistreatment was long ago thrown out, thanks to the "state secrets privilege" -- such a trial, so the government claimed, could compromise U.S. national security. In this way, American courts, including the Supreme Court, typically avoided the subject of Bush administration and CIA torture tactics.

El-Masri was one of more than 9,000 individuals who were then being held in a globe-spanning archipelago of injustice, a series of "black sites" and borrowed prisons (as well as borrowed torturers in many cases). Some of those prisoners were, like el-Masri, innocent of any crime whatsoever; some like him had been kidnapped by the CIA; most, whether reasonable suspects or not, were charged with nothing. The crown jewel of this system was, of course, the U.S. prison built in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which the present promised to close within a year of coming into office and which still couldn't be more open.
Bad Guys

Renditions continue under Obama, despite condemnation over lack of due-process

Obama
© Unknown
The three European men with Somali roots were arrested on a murky pretext in August as they passed through the small African country of Djibouti. But the reason soon became clear when they were visited in their jail cells by a succession of American interrogators.

U.S. agents accused the men - two of them Swedes, the other a longtime resident of Britain - of supporting al-Shabab, an Islamist militia in Somalia that Washington considers a terrorist group. Two months after their arrest, the prisoners were secretly indicted by a federal grand jury in New York, then clandestinely taken into custody by the FBI and flown to the United States to face trial.
Sheriff

Zero Dark Thirty -- Torture is the American way?

Zero Dark Thirty, Hollywood's version of how we killed Osama bin Laden essentially says that torture works. Torture is disturbing, but tough, and American heroes do it.

Do not be misled. Pay attention: The men and women who hunted, found, and killed Osama bin Laden -- and heroes they are -- did not need to use torture. Torture is un-American. It is evil. We found bin Laden using painstaking intelligence work, not waterboards.


Comment: Actually the entire narrative behind Zero Dark Thirty is based on a lie. Navy Seals did not hunt down and murder Osama bin Laden and then dump his body in the ocean. All of that is simply a story for the American public to accept as a just another chapter in the U.S. government's psy-op on the American people in the form of terrorism and "al-Qaida".


The shocking opening scenes and the underlying premise of Zero Dark Thirty, the latest fillip of the torture hagiography to afflict and pervert American society insidiously propagates the view that torture is necessary; tough men and women must make tough decisions, right? It becomes clear how deeply America's moral frames of reference have deteriorated when we realize that it was Kathryn Bigelow, a Hollywood director and power, and not a known shill for the Neoconservatives, whose film presents torture as having been instrumental in finding Osama bin Laden, and that "enhanced interrogation" is Americans doing what Americans must do to protect home and hearth.

Bigelow's views -- like those of so many millions of Americans -- seem to have been colored by the big lie about torture perpetrated by the Bush Administration, and now the Republican Party, for eight years and beyond: Americans must work on the "dark side, if you will" to protect ourselves. Torture is legal -- because, well, because a political hack in the Justice Department, at the behest of the vice president, says so. So, therefore, it is acceptable. A message not-so-subliminally enhanced by the zeitgeist-shaping avatars of pop culture like the execrable 24, which shows tough-guy Jack Bauer saving us all every week by torturing people, and doing what needs to be done, damn the law and all hand-wringers. Even left-wing Hollywood now weaves it into our national consciousness as part of our imagined reality. Even Hollywood filmmakers.
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