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Fri, 31 Mar 2023
The World for People who Think

Puppet Masters


Aaron Swartz: Cannon fodder in the war against internet freedom

© Photograph: Noah Berger/Reuters
Aaron Swartz, the US hacker and internet activist who killed himself earlier this month.
Governments are determined to control the internet, and if hackers like Swartz get in the way, they will be crushed.

On 11 January, a young American geek named Aaron Swartz killed himself, and most of the world paid no attention. In the ordinary run of things, "it was not an important failure", as Auden put it in Musée des Beaux Arts.

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along

But Swartz's death came like a thunderbolt in cyberspace, because this insanely talented, idealistic, complex, diminutive lad was a poster boy for everything that we value about the networked world. He was 26 when he died, but from the age of 14 he had been astonishing those of us who followed him on the internet. In 10 years he had accomplished more than most people do in a lifetime.

In the days following his death, the blogosphere resounded with expressions of grief, sadness and loss not just from people who had worked with him, but also from those who only knew him from afar - the users of the things he helped to create (the RSS web feed, social news website Reddit, the Creative Commons copyright licences, for example), or those who had followed his scarily open and thoughtful blogging.


Mali's army suspected of abuses and unlawful killings as war rages

© Photograph: Thibault Camus/AP
Malian soldiers on manoeuvres. Asked if troops were guilty of war crimes, justice minister Malick Coulibaly said: ‘No army is perfect.’
There are growing reports of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses in Mali, as troops battle Islamist militants in the west African country.

Residents of Mopti, in the centre of the country, told the Observer of arrests, interrogations and the torture of innocents by the Malian army of those mistakenly suspected of involvement in rebel activity. "One day my son just disappeared," said a woman from the Fulani ethnic group, who asked not to be named. "We looked for him there for two or three days, but couldn't find him. Then some people told us that on the day he left, the army shot two people and put them in a pit inside the military base."

The victim's cousin, who also asked to remain anonymous for fears of reprisals, said: "We are Fulani people, the soldiers can tell from our dress that we come from the north.

"Because of that, the army suspects us - if we look like Fulani and don't have an identity card, they kill us. But many people are born in the small villages and it's very difficult to have identification.

"We are all afraid," the cousin continued. "There are some households where Fulanis or others who are fair-skinned don't go out any more. We have stopped wearing our traditional clothes - we are being forced to abandon our culture, and to stay indoors."


Central America's tiny states caught in deadly crossfire of battle with cartels

© Photograph: John Coletti
The National Theatre in San José, Costa Rica. Even this tourist-friendly Central American country has become tangled in the drugs trade
President Otto Pérez Molina presides over a small nation at a major junction in the history of the Americas - and now of the drug war. Central America faces a menace from the conflict even greater, relatively, than that faced by its Mexican neighbours to the north, or by Colombians to the south.

For while Colombia, which has all but neutralised the major cartels, and Mexico, which fights all-out war against them, are strong societies with significant economies, the same cannot be said of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, which have become the passageway for the drugs to which the North American "gringo" is so determinedly addicted.

They are poor, hospitable and breathtakingly beautiful countries but frail, largely agrarian societies just recovering from decades of ideological "dirty wars" - on to which the narco cartels' battles now superimpose themselves.

There was, therefore, a bitter echo in the arrival of the US Marines' Operation Martillo in Guatemala last year, after 36 years of US-backed "dirty war" that left 200,000 dead, mostly indigenous Mayan peasant farmers.

Eye 2

Is Britain guilty of systemic torture in Iraq?

© Photograph: Reuters
A British soldier guards Iraqi prisoners in the city of Basra in April 2003.
In the Lebanese capital of Beirut, far from the theatre of war in Iraq and his office in Birmingham, one of Britain's leading civil rights lawyers has gathered some of the most damning allegations ever levelled against this country's armed forces - certainly since the worst days of Northern Ireland's Troubles.

As Britain's invasion of Iraq approaches its 10th anniversary in March, Phil Shiner - who founded the Public Interest Lawyers group - and members of his team have held face-to-face meetings with survivors of alleged abuse and torture by British soldiers and intelligence officers and with relatives of those unlawfully killed during and after the war that defined the premiership of Tony Blair.

The statements - 180 of them, with 871 to follow - go before a judicial review hearing at the high court in London next week in a claim seeking to demonstrate that Britain broke international laws of war by pursuing a policy of systematic torture.

The testimony is shocking, such as from "Khalid", a detained Iraqi civilian: "[A British soldier] then grabbed my penis and dragged me around the floor while holding it. He also made me squat up and down whilst naked and inserted his finger into my anus. I would have preferred to have been killed than subjected to this."

Bad Guys

British troops face fresh charges of Iraq war torture and killings

© Photograph: PA
A still from video of a British soldier screaming abuse at hooded Iraqi detainees played to the public inquiry into the death of of Baha Mousa.
Britain will face fresh charges of breaching international law over the alleged torture and killing of prisoners during the war in Iraq, which began almost exactly 10 years ago. The allegations will be unveiled in the high court, when Britain will stand accused of a "systemic" policy of abuse committed over five years, from 2003 to 2008.

At a hearing scheduled over three days from 29 January, lawyers for 180 Iraqis who claim they are victims of abuse, or that their family members were unlawfully killed, will place a file of statements before two judges presiding over the court in London accusing British soldiers and intelligence officers of unlawful interrogation practices. These include hooding and the use of "stress positions", sexual abuse, beating and religious abuse of illegally detained prisoners. In some cases, the testimonies allege, the torture led to the death of the prisoner.

The statements were compiled during meetings with victims and relatives, mostly in Lebanon, by human rights lawyer Phil Shiner of the Public Interest Lawyers group, based in Birmingham.

Cowboy Hat

West Point study on 'violent far right' shows 'dramatic rise' in attacks

© Shutterstock
Abortion Protesters At The Funeral Of Dr. George Tiller
A report published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point Military Academy on Jan. 15 discusses the potential dangers of "violent far-right" organizations, which has angered some conservatives that believe the military should focus on international threats.

The executive summary of the paper, "Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America's Violent Far-Right," claims that "since 2007, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of attacks and violent plots originating from individuals and groups who self- identify with the far-right of American politics."

Written by Arie Perliger, Director of Terrorism Studies at the Combating Terrorism Center and an Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Sciences at West Point, the paper asserts that three distinct ideologies exist in the "American violent far right." Those are "a racist/white supremacy movement, an anti-federalist movement and a fundamentalist movement," the last of which "includes mainly Christian Identity groins such as the Aryan Nations."

Treasure Chest

$240 billion amassed by 100 richest people enough to end extreme poverty four times over: Oxfam

Rich Pig
© iStockphoto
The vast fortunes made by the world's richest 100 billionaires is driving up inequality and hindering the world's ability to tackle poverty, according to Oxfam.

The charity said the accumulation of wealth and income on an unprecedented scale, often at the expense of secure jobs and decent wages for the poorest, undermined the ability of people who survive on aid or low wages to improve their situation and escape poverty.

Oxfam said the world's poorest could be lifted out of poverty several times over should the richest 100 billionaires give away the money they made last year.

Without pointing a finger at individuals, the charity argued that the $240bn (£150bn) net income amassed in 2012 by the richest 100 billionaires would be enough to make extreme poverty history four times over.

Bad Guys

Algeria: 32 militants killed, with 23 hostages

© AP Photo/Canal Algerie via Associated Press TV
Unidentified rescued hostages pose for the media in Ain Amenas, Algeria, in this image taken from television Friday Jan. 18, 2013.
In a bloody finale, Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the Sahara desert on Saturday to end a standoff with Islamist extremists that left at least 23 hostages dead and killed all 32 militants involved, the Algerian government said.

With few details emerging from the remote site in eastern Algeria, it was unclear whether anyone was rescued in the final operation, but the number of hostages killed on Saturday - seven - was how many the militants had said that morning they still had. The government described the toll as provisional and some foreigners remain unaccounted for.

The siege at Ain Amenas transfixed the world after radical Islamists linked to al-Qaida stormed the complex, which contained hundreds of plant workers from all over the world, then held them hostage surrounded by the Algerian military and its attack helicopters for four tense days that were punctuated with gun battles and dramatic tales of escape.

Algeria's response to the crisis was typical of its history in confronting terrorists, favoring military action over negotiation, which caused an international outcry from countries worried about their citizens. Algerian military forces twice assaulted the two areas where the hostages were being held with minimal apparent mediation - first on Thursday, then on Saturday.


Brookings' Bruce Riedel urges intensified US support for Saudi despots

© Photograph: Ho/REUTERS
Tony Blair meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
Every now and then, leading mavens of the Foreign Policy Community have an uncharacteristic outburst of candor.

When it comes to the US "foreign policy community", few if any people are more representative of it than Bruce Riedel. A 30-year CIA officer and adviser to the last four US presidents, he is now a senior fellow at the wing of the Brookings Institution funded by entertainment mogul Haim Saban (whom the New York Times described as "a tireless cheerleader for Israel" and who described himself this way: "I'm a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel"). In 2012, Riedel contributed to a book on Iran by Brookings "scholars" which argued that the US could launch a war against Iran by covertly provoking its government into responses that could then falsely be depicted by the US to the world "as an unprovoked act of Iranian aggression" - exactly what Brookings' Ken Pollack proposed be done in 2002 to deceitfully justify the attack on Iraq. According to Brookings, "in January 2009, President Barack Obama asked Riedel to chair a review of American policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan, the results of which the president announced in a speech on March 27, 2009."

When they speak publicly, the mavens of the Foreign Policy Community - whose primary function is to justify US militarism and aggression - typically disguise their real beliefs and objectives with specialized obfuscating jargon. But every now and then, they have an outburst of uncharacteristic candor that clarifies their actual worldview. Such is the case with a remarkably clear memorandum to President Obama that Riedel just authored and Brooking published regarding the extremely close US alliance with the regime in Saudi Arabia.


Algeria, Mali, and why this week has looked like an obscene remake of earlier Western interventions


Mali's Special Forces receive advice 'humanitarian aid and assistance' from US Special Forces
We are outraged not by the massacre of the innocents, but because the hostages killed were largely white, blue-eyed chaps rather than darker, brown-eyed chaps

Odd, isn't it, how our "collateral damage" is different from their "collateral damage". Speaking yesterday to an old Algerian friend in the aviation business, I asked him what he thought of his country's raid on the In Amenas gas plant."Brilliant operation, Robert," he shouted down the phone. "We destroyed the terrorists!" But the innocent hostages? What about their deaths, I asked? "Poor guys," he replied. "We had thousands of women and children killed in our war [in the 1990s] - terrible tragedy - but we are fighting terrorism."

And there you have it. Our dead men didn't matter in the slightest to him. And he had a point, didn't he? For we are outraged today, not by the massacre of the innocents, but because the hostages killed by the Algerian army - along with some of their captors - were largely white, blue-eyed chaps rather than darker, brown-eyed chaps. Had all the "Western" hostages - I am including the Japanese in this ridiculous, all-purpose definition - been rescued and had the innocent dead all been Algerian, there would have been no talk yesterday of a "botched raid".