Category: Barack Obama

Syria: The Russian Monkey-wrench in US Plan

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Has Russia thrown a monkey-wrench into the US plan to bomb Syria? At a press conference in London, Secretary of State John Kerry, perhaps facetiously, suggested that if Syrian President Bashir al-Assad turned over Syria’s chemical weapons in a week, he could avoid having the a US  missile strike. Sec. Kerry added that he had no expectation that the Syrian leader would comply.

Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week – turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting.” He immediately dismissed the possibility that Mr. Assad would or could comply, saying: “But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done.”

Oops!

A seemingly offhand suggestion by Secretary of State John Kerry that Syria could avert an American attack by relinquishing all of its chemical weapons received a widespread, almost immediate welcome from Syria, Russia, the United Nations, a key American ally and even some Republicans on Monday as a possible way to avoid a major international military showdown in the Syria crisis. [..]

However, in Moscow, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, who was meeting with Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, said in response that Russia would join any effort to put Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons under international control and ultimately destroy them.

Mr. Lavrov appeared at a previously unscheduled briefing only hours after Mr. Kerry made his statement in London, seizing on it as a possible compromise.

Meanwhile, back on planer Washington, the White House is ramping up for an the attack by marching out National Security Advisor Susan Rice insisting that Assad must be punished because somehow he is a threat to national security. Of course she offered no proof that it was the Assad government that used the CW and completely ignored the Russian/Syrian offer to put whatever chemical weapons are in the governments possession under international control.

A saner minded Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she would “welcome” the offer.

“I believe that Russia can be most effective in encouraging the Syrian president to stop any use of chemical weapons and place all his chemical munitions, as well as storage facilities, under United Nations control until they can be destroyed,” Feinstein said in a statement Monday afternoon.

It would be nice to hear the same from the White House.

Syria: Looking for Support, Finding Little

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

President Barack Obama concluded his meetings at the G-20 in Moscow where he sought support for bombing Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons by President Bashir al-Assad. Unable to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pres. Obama took his lobbying to the G-20 dinner.

Syria divides deepen during Putin’s G20 dinner

by Patrick Wintour, The Guardian

Leaders fail to reach agreement over military action as UN called on to fulfil its obligations while Russia maintains position

The majority of leaders at a summit dinner on Thursday evening in Peterhof, near Saint Petersburg, were not in favour of any punitive action unless it was agreed by the UN security council, although strong calls for the UN to live up to its responsibilities were made by the Americans, the Turkish, Canadians, French and British. [..]

During the dinner, Putin told Barack Obama and François Hollande that the chances of reviving peace talks soon after a punitive bombing strike would be minimal.

The Russian leader won the support of the Chinese, a long-term ally of Putin on Syria, but backing also came from the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, Argentina, Brazil and several European leaders, including Angela Merkel. One German diplomat said “Putin did not need to toughen his tone at the dinner. There were enough sceptics.”

At his press conference after the closing of the summit, Pres. Obama would not say if he would strike it congress did not give him the authorization. Two of the more conservative Democratic senators, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), have drafted a resolution in a move to appeal to those senators  who are reluctant to either approve strikes or reject the use of force outright. The resolution, assuming that it was Assad who ordered the use of chemical weapons, would give President Bashar Assad’s regime a 45-day window to avoid a strike if it signs a chemical weapons ban.

President Obama’s major opposition lies in the House, where, if the vote on the Senate resolution were held today, it would fail.

Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) who is adamantly opposed to attacking Syria, appeared Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman and Juan González to discuss the US roll as the world’s police force and his website, DontAttackSyria.com, which is gathering signatures for a petition calling on Congress to deny permission to attack Syria



Transcript can be read here

“I am very disturbed by this general idea that every time we see something bad in the world, we should bomb it,” Grayson says. “The president has criticized that mindset, and now he has adopted it. It’s simply not our responsibility to act alone and punish this.”

Secretary of State John Kerry keeps repeating that drooping a few Tomahowk missiles on Syria is not a war. I suggest that Sec. Kerry not try to sell that to the Syrian civilians.

Obama Defends NSA Surveillance on the Way to the G-20

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

During his stop over in Stockholm, Sweden on the way to the G-20, President Barack Obama renewed his defense of unfettered surveillance

“I can give assurances to the publics in Europe and around the world that we’re not going around snooping at people’s emails or listening to their phone calls,” Obama said in response to a Swedish reporter’s question during a news conference with Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt as he began a whirlwind, 24-hour trip to Sweden. “What we try to do is to target very specifically areas of concern.”

Still, the president acknowledged that questions about privacy were likely to trail him in Europe – a continent that is protective of privacy rights – for some time. The issue also bubbled up during his trip to Germany in June, shortly after newspapers published reports based on documents leaked by former government contractor Edward Snowden.

Despite Obama’s assertions of a more narrow-scope effort, the Snowden-leaked documents show the NSA collects and stores all kinds of data traveling through the Internet, including emails, video chats and instant messages. Under one such classified program, known as Prism, the government can obtain secret court orders and gather mass amounts of data from major Internet companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook.

The ACLU is challenging the constitutionality of the intelligence agency’s action filing a complaint in the Southern District of New York against James Clapper in June. An up date on that lawsuit was posted today on their web site. (please note that the link contains an interesting but really annoying gif).

An impressive array of organizations and individuals filed amicus briefs yesterday in support of the ACLU’s constitutional challenge to the government’s collection of the call records of virtually everyone in the United States. The range of voices joining the protest against mass government surveillance-not to mention the bipartisan storm that has swept Congress since the recent NSA disclosures – is a real testament to the fact that the government’s dragnet surveillance practices are offensive to Americans from across the political spectrum.

Among the groups supporting our lawsuit are the National Rifle Association, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the PEN American Center. Philosophy Professor Michael Lynch submitted a brief arguing that privacy is fundamental to human dignity. Our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation submitted a brief on behalf of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), one of the authors of the Patriot Act. Rep. Sensenbrenner has decried the now-public call-records program as outside the scope of the law he authored.

Yes, you’re reading that right, the NRA and Rep. Sensenbrenner.

NSA surveillance: National Rifle Association backs ACLU challenge

by Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian

Anger at US government’s data trawling creates unlikely alliance in court between NRA and American Civil Liberties Union

The NRA, in an amicus brief in support of the ACLU, argues that the mass surveillance programme provides “the government not only with the means of identifying members and others who communicate with the NRA and other advocacy groups, but also with the means of identifying gun owners without their knowledge or consent”.

EFF Files Brief on Behalf of Rep. Sensenbrenner in NSA Spying Case

Press release from Electronic Freedom Foundation

Original Patriot Act Author Says Call-Data Collection Exceeds Congressional Intent

San Francisco – The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today filed a brief on behalf of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the author of the original USA PATRIOT Act, in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the National Security Agency (NSA). In the brief, Sensenbrenner argues that Congress never intended the Patriot Act to permit the NSA’s collection of the records of every telephone call made to, from and within the United States. Sensenbrenner urges the court to deny the NSA’s motion to dismiss and grant the ACLU’s motion for a preliminary injunction, which would halt the program until the case is decided.

In another development today, hundreds of pages from NSA spying documents are to be released in response to an FOIA request by EFF:

In a major victory in one of EFF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits, the Justice Department conceded yesterday that it will release hundreds of pages of documents, including FISA court opinions, related to the government’s secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the law the NSA has relied upon for years to mass collect the phone records of millions of innocent Americans. [..]

While the government finally released a white paper detailing its expansive (and unconstitutional) interpretation of Section 215 last month, more important FISA court opinions adopting at least part of that interpretation have remained secret. The results of EFF’s FOIA lawsuit will finally lift the veil on the dubious legal underpinnings of NSA’s domestic phone surveillance program.

This victory for EFF comes on the heels of another FOIA success two weeks ago, when the Justice Department was also forced to release a 2011 FISA court opinion ruling some NSA surveillance unconstitutional.

Now to that gif. It is visualization demonstrating the staggering scope of the NSA’s surveillance. Click on the image to view.

ACLU NRA photo blog-3hops-500x280-v01_zpsa00e2a91.jpg

Syria: Push For War With Little Evidence

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

There still no hard evidence that Syrian President Bashir al-Assad used an unknown chemical weapons, possibly an organophosphate, on his own people in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21. Yet, the Obama administration and some hawkish members of congress are pushing for air strikes to take out strategic targets, swearing that it wi.l be limited, not target the civilian population or require American troops on the ground. The purpose as stated by Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is to send a message to Assad to not use chemical weapons again without any evidence that he did. There are no guarantees that this will even work or that Assad will not strike back as is his right according to the UN Charter.

Chief of correspondents for McClatchy Newspapers and co-author of a recent article, Mark Seibel joined Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman and Nereem Shaikh to discuss the holes in the evidence.



TRanscript can be read here

“When it came to questions of the efficacy of a U.N. investigation, or the number of people killed in the conflict, or even the U.S. rendition of what happened in what order, there are contradictions,” Seibel says. The United States has claimed it had “collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence” that showed the Assad government preparing for an attack three days before the event. “That claim raises two questions,” Seibel writes. “Why didn’t the U.S. warn rebels about the impending attack and save hundreds of lives? And why did the administration keep mum about the suspicious activity when on at least one previous occasion U.S. officials have raised an international fuss when they observed similar actions?”

Syria: Kerry Says Obama Can Act Without Congress

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

On  Friday President Barack Obama, citing “proof” that the Assad government used chemical weapons on his own people, said that he will go to congress for approval for authorization to use military force in Syria. The purpose, according to the president, is to send a message to Syrian President Bashir Assad not to do that again.  

He appeared to acknowledge some potential pitfalls when he called on members of Congress to “consider that some things are more important than partisan differences or the politics of the moment”.

The president did not say whether he would launch a military attack without congressional approval.

The question of whether a US president can launch military action without congressional backing is subject to dispute. While it is argued a commander-in-chief cannot constitutionally declare war without Congress, in recent decades presidents have used executive powers to sanction military action. When running for president in 2007, Obama said the president “does not have power under the constitution to unilaterally authorise a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation”. He added that “in instances of self-defence, the president would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent”.

Obama came under serious criticism for attacking Libya in 2011 that led to the overthrow and assassination of Moammar Gaddafi.

On this morning talk shows, Secretary of State John Kerry told the talking heads that the US has evidence that sarin gas was used but could not cite precise evidence that it was the Assad government that used it or that Assad had ordered its use. Kerry also said that the president has the right to act regardless of the congressional vote:

Less than a day after the president vowed to put an attack to a congressional vote, secretary of state John Kerry said the administration was determined to act against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and did not need the backing of Congress to do so.

Kerry, one of the leading advocates of a military assault on dictator Bashar al-Assad, claimed the US had identified the type of nerve agent used in the 21 August attacks on 12 neighborhoods outside Damascus. [..]

The secretary of state stressed that President Obama had the right to take action “no matter what Congress does”. He said he could “hear the complaints” about presidential abuse had Obama not gone to Congress, but that its backing would give any military action greater credibility: “We are stronger as a nation when we act together.” But he added: “America intends to act.”

Incredibly, there are some congress critters who believe the president should attack Syria. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) clearly stated that Obama was “undermining the authority of future presidents”;

“President Obama is abdicating his responsibility as commander-in-chief and undermining the authority of future presidents. The President does not need Congress to authorize a strike on Syria. If Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians deserves a military response, and I believe it does, and if the President is seeking congressional approval, then he should call Congress back into a special session at the earliest date,” King said in a statement. “The President doesn’t need 535 Members of Congress to enforce his own redline.”

While his rhetoric may be the most charged, King is not alone in calling for Congress to come back immediately. House Foreign Affairs ranking Democrat Eliot L. Engel of New York said something similar in his own statement.

“The President has laid out a strong and convincing case to the American people for action in Syria. However, I understand his desire to seek explicit authorization to do so from Congress,” Engel said. “I call on the Speaker to immediately recall the House back from its August recess and debate this critical issue as soon as possible.”

So just who it that’s abdicating his Constitutional responsibilities?

One of the biggest problems with the justification for the action is the assertion that it is the Assad government that used the weapons. After the lies told by the Bush administration and the faked intelligence of yellow cake, there is little confidence in the integrity of the intelligence community not to tell the truth and do the bidding of an administration determined to start another war.

The ghost of “Curveball” is haunting the Obama administration and undermining its efforts to marshal strong foreign and domestic support for military strikes on Syria.

Curveball was the code name given Iraqi defector Rafid Ahmed Alwan, who claimed in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had deployed mobile biological weapons labs to evade international detection of his manufacture of weapons of mass destruction. His testimony, even though viewed as dubious, was used by the George W. Bush administration to justify the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

As Americans and their allies debate the wisdom of making military strikes against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the phony pretext for the Iraq invasion is being dredged up by those fearful of being lured into another protracted Middle East war.

Asia Times roving Correspondent, Pepe Escobar has covered the Syrian conflict since it began almost two and a half years ago. He appeared on RT news to discuss Obama’s determination to attack Syria

Obama Set For Holy Tomahawk War

By Pepe Escobar

The ”responsibility to protect” (R2P) doctrine invoked to legitimize the 2011 war on Libya has just transmogrified into ”responsibility to attack” (R2A) Syria. Just because the Obama administration says so.

On Sunday, the White House said it had ”very little doubt” that the Bashar al-Assad government used chemical weapons against its own citizens. On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry ramped it up to ”undeniable” – and accused Assad of ”moral obscenity”.

So when the US bombed Fallujah with white phosphorus in late 2004 it was just taking the moral high ground. And when the US helped Saddam Hussein to gas Iranians in 1988 it was also taking the moral high ground.

The Obama administration has ruled that Assad allowed UN chemical weapons inspectors into Syria, and to celebrate their arrival unleashed a chemical weapons attack mostly against women and children only 15 kilometers away from the inspectors’ hotel. If you don’t believe it, you subscribe to a conspiracy theory.

Evidence? Who cares about evidence? Assad’s offer of access for the inspectors came ”too late”. Anyway, the UN team is only mandated to determine whether chemical weapons were deployed – but not by who, according to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman.

As far as the Obama administration and UK Prime Minister David ”of Arabia” Cameron are concerned – supported by a barrage of corporate media missiles – that’s irrelevant; Obama’s ”red line” has been crossed by Assad, period. Washington and London are in no-holds-barred mode to dismiss any facts contradicting the decision. Newspeak – of the R2A kind – rules. If this all looks like Iraq 2.0 that’s because it is. Time to fix the facts around the policy – all over again. Time for weapons of mass deception – all over again.

h/t Edger at Docudharma

Joining the Party

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

It was announced last week that The Guardian and The New York Times had formed a partnership to report on the documents the were leaked by Edward Snowden in relationship to the involvement of the UK’s GCHQ. The arrangement came after the British government demanded that The Guardian hand over the NSA files in their possession. Instead, The Guardian choose to destroy the records that were in their UK offices.

Journalists in America are protected by the first amendment which guarantees free speech and in practice prevents the state seeking pre-publication injunctions or “prior restraint”.

It is intended that the collaboration with the New York Times will allow the Guardian to continue exposing mass surveillance by putting the Snowden documents on GCHQ beyond government reach. Snowden is aware of the arrangement.

The collaboration echoes that of the partnership forged in 2010 between the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel in relation to WikiLeaks’s release of US military and diplomatic documents.

In a more quiet arrangement, ProPublica, a unique nonprofit investigative reporting group of former journalists, has also partnered with The Guardian but it is not yet known on they will focus. ProPublica has won two Pulitzer Prizes for its reporting on national and investigative reporting.

Charles Pierce, at Esquire’s Politics Blog has been following the NSA story and the unique poutrage over Snowden and The Guardian‘s journalist Glenn Greenwald that ignited a laughable mini blog war. He offered a couple of amusingly precise observations on the Snowden effect:

The current state of play seems to be centered on the new family fun game, How Much Of A Dick Is Glenn Greenwald Anyway? I decline to play. It is a stupid, wasteful exercise because, frankly, the vessel doesn’t matter to me. The information that it carries is the only thing that matters. What has Edward Snowden, International Man Of Luggage, revealed that isn’t true? I don’t want to hear that we all knew it already. I don’t want quibbling about how the data sweeps work, and how they might not be as horrible as they’re being made out to be because I don’t trust the people making that argument. I don’t to hear about how the fudging of the details of David Miranda’s arrest somehow lessens the credibility of what we now know. I don’t want to hear how it may have inconvenienced our all-too-human-mistake-prone heroes in the NSA, who are they all, all honorable men. What do we know now because of the revelations that is not true? The fact remains that we do not know any of this without Snowden’s revelations to Greenwald and, thereby, to the world. The national conversation is not even happening. The NSA is not owning up to its all-too-human mistakes. The FISA Court isn’t retroactively flexing to prove it isn’t the intelligence community’s poodle. The authoritarian impulse has not even been given the brief pause we currently enjoy. None of this happens without Snowden and Greenwald and, as a citizen, I could care less that people think Glenn Greenwald is full of himself. Don’t invite him to dinner.

Charles then jogs the memories of those who care to have forgotten how Iran/Contra began:

For the benefit of anyone for whom reading is perhaps not fundamental, Glenn Greenwald’s personality, and the peripatetic globe-trotting of Edward Snowden, are not the story here. If you decide to make them the story, then you are taking yourself off the real story, and that’s your fault, not Greenwald’s or Snowden’s. Unless, of course, you think the Times, and now ProPublica, are acting the way Lyndon LaRouche’s people did. I remind folks who get caught up in the vessel and miss what’s inside that, on November 3, 1986, there was an oddball story in an obscure Lebanese weekly newspaper called al-Shiraa about arms transfers in the Middle East. This story was flatly denied by everyone in this country — including President Ronald Reagan — and al Shiraa was treated as though it was being put out by two guys with a mimeograph machine in their mother’s basement. This, boys and girls, was how the Iran-Contra scandal began. The government “hit back.” It didn’t matter. The story remained the story. And, it could be argued, the country never really caught up with what al Shiraa reported.

The country and the world have Snowden and Greenwald to thank for holding the current administration to its promise of transparency, their personal lives and beliefs are irrelevant.  

A Heavy Price for Our Freedom

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

David Coombs, attorney for Army Private Bradley Manning, read Pvt. Manning’s statement to the press after his sentencing to 35 years in prison. Immediately after the sentence was read, Pvt. Manning turned to Mr. Coombs telling him, “It’s okay. It’s alright. I know you did your best. I’m going to be okay. I’m going to get through this.”

Bradley Manning: “Sometimes You Have to Pay a Heavy Price to Live in a Free Society”



Transcript can be read here

Just after the court adjourned and after the press conference, Mr. Coombs  was interviewed by independent journalist Alexa O’Brien which aired exclusively on Democracy Now!

“He Wanted To Help America”: Manning Attorney in First Extended Interview After 35-Year Sentence



Transcript can be read here

Coombs talks about the government’s use of classified evidence, Manning’s reaction to the sentence and how much of the court record was hidden from the public. “I can’t believe that was actually the sentence he received,” Coombs tells O’Brien. “Anyone who sat through the hearing and heard all the evidence, even in the closed sessions, there is not evidence there where you would think 35 years would be the appropriate sentence. I wonder now if there had actually been damaged or if he had really intended to harm the United States or wanted to obtain personal gain from selling classified information, just what the sentence would have been. Because this was a person who had true intentions. He wanted to help America. He wanted to get people to think about what was going on in Iraq. He didn’t have an evil motive in what he did.”

Bradley Manning Sentenced to 35 Years

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Pfc. Bradley Manning was sentenced this morning to  35 years in prison for passing classified documents to Wikileaks that exposed war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. None of the those crimes have been investigates and no one has been charges in their commission.

The sentence was more severe than many observers expected, and is much longer than any punishment given to any previous US government leaker.

The 25-year-old soldier was convicted last month of leaking more than 700,000 classified documents and video. The disclosures amounted to the biggest leak in US military history.

He was found guilty of 20 counts, six of them under the Espionage Act, but was acquitted of the most serious charge of “aiding the enemy”. [..]

The 1,294 days Manning has already spent in military custody, since May 2010, will be deducted from his sentence. The figure includes 112 days that is being taken off the sentence as part of a pre-trial ruling in which Lind compensated Manning for the excessively harsh treatment he endured at the Quantico marine base in Virginia.

He has to serve a minimum of a third of his sentence, meaning he will be eligible for parole in just over eight years, and, at the very earliest, could be released under parole soon as 2021. He can earn 120 days per year off his sentence for good behaviour and job performance.

Manning faced a maximum possible sentence of 90 years, although few legal experts expected he would receive anything near that amount.

The sentence will automatically be appealed.

The Center for Constitutional Rights condemned the sentence and praised Manning  as a whistleblower who never should have been prosecuted. This is part of their statement:

We are outraged that a whistleblower and a patriot has been sentenced on a conviction under the Espionage Act. The government has stretched this archaic and discredited law to send an unmistakable warning to potential whistleblowers and journalists willing to publish their information. We can only hope that Manning’s courage will continue to inspire others who witness state crimes to speak up.

There are calls for President Barack Obama to pardon Manning or commute his sentence to time served. Considering Obama had declared Manning guilty before the trial started, there are serious doubts that will happen.  

Journalist Are Not Terrorists

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In her opening segment on her show, Rachel Maddow took the US and Great Britain to task for harassing journalists like Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda.

Apparently, when Rachel went on the air she was not aware of this latest development.

UK Authorities Destroy Guardian’s Hard Drives, Force Journalists to Report NSA Stories In Exile

by Trevor Timm, Freedom of the Press Foundation

Fresh off the news that UK authorities detained the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald for nine hours yesterday, Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger has published [an extraordinary report http://www.theguardian.com/com… of government pressure and intimidation that should send chills down the spine of anyone who cares about a free press.

Rusbridger, who up until recently was based in the UK, recounts being approached by UK government officials multiple times and threatened with legal action unless he returned or destroyed the Edward Snowden documents the Guardian had in its possession. Officials from GCHQ, Britain’s NSA counterpart, eventually entered Guardian headquarters and destroyed the hard drives that contained copies of the Snowden documents.

David Miranda, schedule 7 and the danger that all reporters now face

by Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian

As the events in a Heathrow transit lounge – and the Guardian offices – have shown, the threat to journalism is real and growing

During one of these meetings I asked directly whether the government would move to close down the Guardian’s reporting through a legal route – by going to court to force the surrender of the material on which we were working. The official confirmed that, in the absence of handover or destruction, this was indeed the government’s intention. Prior restraint, near impossible in the US, was now explicitly and imminently on the table in the UK. But my experience over WikiLeaks – the thumb drive and the first amendment – had already prepared me for this moment. I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations and the way in which, these days, media organisations could take advantage of the most permissive legal environments. Bluntly, we did not have to do our reporting from London. Already most of the NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York. And had it occurred to him that Greenwald lived in Brazil?

The man was unmoved. And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. “We can call off the black helicopters,” joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.

Whitehall was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age. We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won’t do it in London. The seizure of Miranda’s laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald’s work.

The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that. But I wonder how many have truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance, when or if it comes – and, increasingly, it looks like “when”.

I wonder if the White House was given a “head’s up” on this action.  

The Forest and the Trees

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In another assault on the freedom of the press and a naked attempt at intimidation, journalist Glenn Greenwald’s Brazilian partner, David Miranda was detained at Heathrow Airport and questioned for nine hours under Great Britain’s Terrorism Act:

David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, was returning from a trip to Berlin when he was stopped by officers at 8.05am and informed that he was to be questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The controversial law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals.

The 28-year-old was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual. According to official figures, most examinations under schedule 7 – over 97% – last less than an hour, and only one in 2,000 people detained are kept for more than six hours (pdf).

Miranda was released, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. [..]

While in Berlin, Miranda had visited Laura Poitras, the US film-maker who has also been working on the Snowden files with Greenwald and the Guardian. The Guardian paid for Miranda’s flights.

This was the reaction of Widney Brown, Amnesty International’s senior director of international law and policy:

“It is utterly improbable that David Michael Miranda, a Brazilian national transiting through London, was detained at random, given the role his partner has played in revealing the truth about the unlawful nature of NSA surveillance.

“David’s detention was unlawful and inexcusable. He was detained under a law that violates any principle of fairness and his detention shows how the law can be abused for petty, vindictive reasons.

“There is simply no basis for believing that David Michael Miranda presents any threat whatsoever to the UK government. The only possible intent behind this detention was to harass him and his partner, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, for his role in analysing the data released by Edward Snowden.”

Of course the White House denies ordering the detention or the confiscation of Mr. Miranda’s property, but considering the lies that have been told and the use of “national security” as a reason to cover up the lies and crimes of two administrations, there is certainly good reason to question the veracity of any statements from the White House. Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest admitted that the White House was notified in advance of the action.

The detention has caused some outrage in Britain with  condemnation and calls for an explanation from the police of why Mr. Miranda was held under the anti-terroism law since there was no little evidence that he was involved in, or connected to terrorism.

Keith Vaz (chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee) called the detention of Miranda “extraordinary” and said he would be writing immediately to police to request information about why Miranda was held under anti-terrorism laws when there appeared to be little evidence that he was involved in terrorism. [..]

“It is an extraordinary twist to a very complicated story,” Vaz told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday. “Of course it is right that the police and security services should question people if they have concerns or the basis of any concerns about what they are doing in the United Kingdom. What needs to happen pretty rapidly is we need to establish the full facts – now you have a complaint from Mr Greenwald and the Brazilian government. They indeed have said they are concerned at the use of terrorism legislation for something that does not appear to relate to terrorism, so it needs to be clarified, and clarified quickly.”

Vaz said he was not aware that personal property could be confiscated under the laws. “What is extraordinary is they knew he was the partner [of Greenwald] and therefore it is clear not only people who are directly involved are being sought but also the partners of those involved,” he said. “Bearing in mind it is a new use of terrorism legislation to detain someone in these circumstances […] I’m certainly interested in knowing, so I will write to the police to ask for the justification of the use of terrorism legislation – they may have a perfectly reasonable explanation. But if we are going to use the act in this way … then at least we need to know so everyone is prepared.”

The British anti-terrorist legislation watchdog, David Anderson QC, also called for an explanation from called on the Home Office and Metropolitan police over what is being called a “gross misuse” of the terror law.:

The intervention by Anderson came as the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, called for an urgent investigation into the use of schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to detain Miranda. Cooper said ministers must find out whether anti-terror laws had been misused after detention caused “considerable consternation”.

Cooper said public support for schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act could be undermined if there was a perception it was not being used for the right purposes. “Any suggestion that terror powers are being misused must be investigated and clarified urgently,” she said. “The public support for these powers must not be endangered by a perception of misuse.

Laura Poitras, with whom Mr. Miranda was visiting in Berlin and whose work usually involves sensitive national security issues, had recently relocated to Berlin, Germany because of the harassment at US airports.

Glenn Greenwald called the detention of his partner a failed attempt at intimidation:

This is obviously a rather profound escalation of their attacks on the news-gathering process and journalism. It’s bad enough to prosecute and imprison sources. It’s worse still to imprison journalists who report the truth. But to start detaining the family members and loved ones of journalists is simply despotic. Even the Mafia had ethical rules against targeting the family members of people they felt threatened by. But the UK puppets and their owners in the US national security state obviously are unconstrained by even those minimal scruples.

If the UK and US governments believe that tactics like this are going to deter or intimidate us in any way from continuing to report aggressively on what these documents reveal, they are beyond deluded. If anything, it will have only the opposite effect: to embolden us even further. Beyond that, every time the US and UK governments show their true character to the world – when they prevent the Bolivian President’s plane from flying safely home, when they threaten journalists with prosecution, when they engage in behavior like what they did today – all they do is helpfully underscore why it’s so dangerous to allow them to exercise vast, unchecked spying power in the dark.

The press and the supporters of police state tactic of the US and Britain focused on the individuals involved completely miss the heart of this matter, the world wide freedom of the press, the free flow of information and the rights of people’s property and privacy. They are missing the forest for the trees.

Tit For Tat Diplomacy

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This week after much hinting, President Barack Obama cancelled his private meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin that was to take place before the G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg in early September. The primary reason for the snub (yes, despite what you are hearing in the American msm, in the international community this is a snub) is Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In a statement, the White House said that it had concluded there was “not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda” to hold a US-Russia summit. It cited a lack of progress on arms control, trade, missile defence and human rights, and added: “Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship. Our co-operation on these issues remains a priority for the United States.” [..]

The decision to cancel the meeting was greeted with little surprise in Moscow, where analysts and lawmakers have been predicting such a step. Presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said the Kremlin was disappointed that Obama cancelled the meeting with Putin, state news agency RIA-Novosti reported. “It’s obvious that this decision is connected to the situation with the American intelligence services employee Snowden, which was not created by us,” he said.

Nonetheless, the invitation to Obama to visit Moscow remains open, and Russia is prepared to co-operate with the United States on pressing issues, Ushakov said.

Nationalist Duma deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky, perhaps the most rabid of the many critics of the United States in parliament, said the decision shows “disrespect” towards Russia.

“If you postpone or completely cancel meetings between heads of state under the pretext of the refusal to hand over one person, then relations between countries will quickly reach zero,” Zhirinovsky said.

Pres. Obama has no room to criticize Russia for giving Snowden asylum considering the fact that the US has given shelter to internationally wanted criminals and refused to investigate or prosecute Americans accused of war crimes

In his opinion article, Glenn Greenwald high lighted the most glaring cases:

New York Times, February 28, 2007:

U.S. to refuse Italian request for extradition of CIA agents

BRUSSELS – A senior U.S. official said Wednesday that the United States would refuse any Italian extradition request for CIA agents indicted in the alleged abduction of an Egyptian cleric in Milan, a case investigated by the European Parliament.

“We’ve not got an extradition request from Italy,” John Bellinger, a legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, told reporters after meeting in Brussels with legal advisers to EU governments.

“If we got an extradition request from Italy, we would not extradite U.S. officials to Italy.”

Washington Post, July 19, 2013:

Panama releases former CIA operative wanted by Italy

A former CIA operative detained in Panama this week at the request of Italian authorities over his conviction in the 2003 kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Milan was released Friday and had boarded a flight to the United States, U.S. officials said.

Robert Seldon Lady’s release from Panama appeared to avert the possibility that he would be extradited to Italy, where he faces a sentence of up to nine years in prison for his role in the CIA capture of a terrorism suspect who was secretly snatched off a street in Milan and transported to Egypt.

Lady, who left Panama on Friday morning, was “either en route or back in the United States,” Marie Harf, State Department deputy spokeswoman, told reporters at a midday briefing.

It was not immediately clear what steps the United States had taken to secure Lady’s release.

The Guardian, September 9, 2012:

America’s refusal to extradite Bolivia’s ex-president to face genocide charges

Obama justice officials have all but granted asylum to Sánchez de Lozada – a puppet who payrolled key Democratic advisers

[US refuses Bolivia’s request to extradite its former CIA-supported president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, to stand trial on charges of genocide and other war crimes after de Lozada hires Democratic lobbyists to represent him]

El Paso Times, December 30, 2010:

Luis Posada Carriles won’t be extradited to Venezuela

The US constantly refuses requests to extradite – even where (unlike Russia) they have an extradition treaty with the requesting country and even where (unlike Snowden) the request involves actual, serious crimes, such as genocide, kidnapping, and terrorism. Maybe those facts should be part of whatever media commentary there is on Putin’s refusal to extradite Snowden and Obama’s rather extreme reaction to it. [..]

At his blog Informed Consent, Juan Cole notes that Russia has denied visas to US officials who have been accused of war crimes:

A less remarked-on round in this game of tit for tat (which so far doesn’t rise to the level of being very serious) is the government’s decision last April to deny visas to American officials and former officials who had something to do with torture at Guantanamo, where Russian citizens have been held.

The Moscow Times reports

   “The list of banned officials released by the Foreign Ministry in April included former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington, former U.S. Justice Department adviser John Yoo and various other Justice Department officials alleged to have violated Russian citizens’ human rights. United States Admiral Jeffrey Harbeson, the former head of the Guantanamo prison, was denied a Russian visa in January, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported.”

Professor of international law at Princeton University, Richard Falk explained in an article in Al Jazeera, that the granting of asylum to Snowden wasn’t just within Russia’s rights, but was legally compelled.

The most influential media in the United States has lived up to its pro-government bias in the Snowden Affair in three major ways: firstly, by consistently referring to Snowden by the demeaning designation of ‘leaker’ rather than as ‘whistleblower’ or ‘surveillance dissident,’ both more respectful and accurate.

Secondly, they are completely ignoring the degree to which Russia’s grant of temporary refugee status to Snowden for one year was in full accord with the normal level of protection to be given to anyone accused of nonviolent political crimes in a foreign country, and pursued diplomatically and legally by the government that is seeking to indict and prosecute. In effect, for Russia to have turned Snowden over to the United States under these conditions would have been morally and politically scandalous considering the nature of his alleged crimes.

Thirdly, the media’s refusal to point out that espionage, the main accusation against Snowden, is the quintessential ‘political offense’ in international law, and as such is routinely excluded from any list of extraditable offenses. That is, even if there had been an extradition treaty between the United States and Russia, it should have been made clear that there was no legal duty on Russia’s part to turn Snowden over to American authorities for criminal prosecution, and a moral and political duty not to do so, especially in the circumstances surrounding the controversy over Snowden.

And as Mark Weisbot noted

Meanwhile, Snowden and Glenn Greenwald and Wikileaks are winning. At the outset Snowden said his biggest fear was that people would see “the lengths that the government is going to grant themselves powers unilaterally to create greater control over American society and global society and that ‘nothing will change'”. But his disclosures have already created a new debate, and political change will follow. [..]

The spectacle of US attorney general Eric Holder trying to offer Russia assurances that his government would not torture or execute Snowden speaks volumes about how far the US government’s reputation on human rights – even within the United States – has plummeted over the past decade.

Legally, morally and ethically, Pres. Obama has no room to criticize Russia on it human rights violations.  

John & Lindsey’s Not So Excellent Adventure

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

What was Barack Obama thinking when he gave his blessing to a these two clods to represent the US in Egypt, for any reason. Apparently, Republican Senators John McCain (AZ) and Lindsey Graham (SC) not only managed to fail at whatever it was they were sent to accomplish but managed to insult everyone in the military led interim government.

First, didn’t anyone in the State Department brief McCain to put a sock in it and not use the word “coup”?

McCain (R-Ariz.) and Graham (R-S.C.) had used the word “coup” at an afternoon press conference to describe the manner in which Egypt’s military had seized power from the Muslim Brotherhood’s elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in early July. [..]

In a statement later on Tuesday, distributed by Egypt’s Middle East News Agency and reported by Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, a top media advisor to Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, offered a stronger rebuke. The statement accused McCain of twisting facts, and dismissed his remarks as “clumsy,” or “irresponsible,” depending on the translation. (On Twitter, bilingual Arabic speakers debated the best translation for the word, “kharqa,” which also could be interpreted as “moronic” or “irrational.”)

Pres. Mansour went to call McCain’s comments “an unacceptable interference in internal policies”. When later asked by journalists whether the pair really meant that the military-backed overthrow was a coup, a term the US State Department has avoided using, McCain’s response was,  “I’m not here to go through the dictionary. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”

These two dolts went on to lecture the Egyptian leadership on ways to reach an accord with the Muslim Brotherhood, urging General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in a Tuesday meeting to release all political prisoners as a starting point for holding free elections. In a press conference after the meeting, Graham further stepped in the diplomatic mire the two had created

“In democracy, you sit down and talk to each other. It is impossible to talk to somebody who is in jail.” [..]

“The people who are in charge were not elected. The people who were elected are in jail. The status quo is not acceptable.”

Really? Could Pres. Obamba sent two worse representatives into such a volitile situation? Maybe he could have sent Bill and Ted, from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Middle East expert and historian Juan Cole weighed in on why McCain and Graham the lack of credibility to talk to the Egyptians:

1. McCain and Graham are urging the interim Egyptian government to engage in dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood. But in winter of 2011 just after the fall of Mubarak, this is what McCain said:

   ” SPIEGEL: What is your assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood?

   McCain: I think they are a radical group that first of all supports Sharia law; that in itself is anti-democratic – at least as far as women are concerned. They have been involved with other terrorist organizations and I believe that they should be specifically excluded from any transition government. “

The phrase “they have been involved with other terrorist organizations” suggests that McCain considered the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, just as Gen. Sisi does. One of the pretexts on which Sisi has jailed several Muslim Brotherhood leaders is their ties to Hamas and “terrorism.” So how would McCain argue him out of that stance.  [..]

2. McCain insisted that there was in fact a military coup in Egypt on July 3, and called for political prisoners (the former Muslim Brotherhood elected government) to be released. But McCain supported the military coup of 1999 by Gen. Pervez Musharraf against the elected government of Muslim League leader Nawaz Sharif.

3. Graham doesn’t like people to win elections if he doesn’t like them. When the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, won the Palestine Authority elections in early 2006, Graham rejected their legitimacy [..]

If this mission was meant to help resolve the crisis the crisis in a country that is instrumental in Washington’s Middle East policy, it was a miserable failure that may have actually harmed the US relationship with Egypt.

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