Message from Stéphane Hessel (1917-2013)

He died this week, a giant of the 20th and 21st century who co-wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

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Britain finds novel way to strip citizens of rights before America drones them

Disturbing evidence in the Independent that reveals yet another way Western states find ways to capitulate to unaccountable American demands in the “war on terror”:

The Government has secretly ramped up a controversial programme that strips people of their British citizenship on national security grounds – with two of the men subsequently killed by American drone attacks.

An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for The Independent has established that since 2010, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has revoked the passports of 16 individuals, many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups.

Critics of the programme warn that it allows ministers to “wash their hands” of British nationals suspected of terrorism who could be subject to torture and illegal detention abroad.

They add that it also allows those stripped of their citizenship to be killed or “rendered” without any onus on the British Government to intervene.

At least five of those deprived of their UK nationality by the Coalition were born in Britain, and one man had lived in the country for almost 50 years. Those affected have their passports cancelled, and lose their right to enter the UK – making it very difficult to appeal against the Home Secretary’s decision. Last night the Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader Simon Hughes said he was writing to Ms May to call for an urgent review into how the law was being implemented.

The leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce said the present situation “smacked of mediaeval exile, just as cruel and just as arbitrary”.

Ian Macdonald QC, the president of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, described the citizenship orders as “sinister”.

“They’re using executive powers and I think they’re using them quite wrongly,” he said.  “It’s not open government; it’s closed, and it needs to be exposed.”

Laws were passed in 2002 enabling the Home Secretary to remove the citizenship of any dual nationals who had done something “seriously prejudicial” to the UK, but the power had rarely been used before the current government took office.

The Bureau’s investigation has established the identities of all but four of the 21 British passport holders who have lost their citizenship, and their subsequent fates. Only two have successfully appealed – one of whom has since been extradited to the US.

In many cases those involved cannot be named because of ongoing legal action. The Bureau has also found evidence that government officials act when people are out of the country – on two occasions while on holiday – before cancelling passports and revoking citizenships.

Those targeted include Bilal al-Berjawi, a British-Lebanese citizen who came to the UK as a baby and grew up in London, but left for Somalia in 2009 with his close friend the British-born Mohamed Sakr, who also held Egyptian nationality.

Both had been the subject of extensive surveillance by British intelligence, with the security services concerned they were involved in terrorist activities.

Once in Somalia, the two reportedly became involved with al-Shabaab, the Islamist militant group with links to al-Qa’ida. Mr Berjawi was said to have risen to a senior position in the organisation, with Mr Sakr his “right-hand man”.

In 2010, Theresa May stripped both men of their British nationalities and they soon became targets in an ultimately lethal US manhunt.

In June 2011 Mr Berjawi was wounded in the first known US drone strike in Somalia and last year he was killed by a drone strike – within hours of calling his wife in London to congratulate her on the birth of their first son.

His family have claimed that US forces were able to pinpoint his location by monitoring the call he made to his wife in the UK. Mr Sakr, too, was killed in a US airstrike in February 2012, although his British origins have not been revealed until now.

Mr Sakr’s former UK solicitor said there appeared to be a link between the Home Secretary removing citizenships and subsequent US actions.

“It appears that the process of deprivation of citizenship made it easier for the US to then designate Mr Sakr as an enemy combatant, to whom the UK owes no responsibility whatsoever,” Saghir Hussain said.

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Welcome to your future; a drone university near you

The joys:

Touting unprecedented education “for the benefit of mankind,” Unmanned Vehicle University, America’s only school offering postgraduate engineering degrees in unmanned systems – ie: drones – is thriving. Since opening in Arizona in July with five students taking its largely online courses for an annual fee of $64,000, it now has 300 graduate drone wannabees, a number expected to double next fall. And the future otherwise looks bright: A trillion-dollar global industry with the U.S. market likely accounting for 77% of spending; three U.S. universities offering primary drone degrees and dozens of other colleges with aviation programs offering minor UAV courses; a possible 10,000 commercial drones operating in the US once domestic regulations are put in place. From Drones for America, a great new animated video, “Welcome to Your Future.”

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Hands up who deserves a drone medal?

The Pentagon will be giving awards to drone pilots for killing all these awful terrorists. Or civilians.

Cartoonist Matt Bors:

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What Zionist lobby leaders ignore at their peril over Ben Zygier

Savvy piece by JJ Goldberg in Forward:

Many community leaders view crises like the ones in Australia, Argentina and Washington as evidence of a new global anti-Semitism. Israel’s intelligence services conclude differently: that Israel’s continuing West Bank occupation and settlement expansion are fueling a rising frustration among Israel’s longtime friends, gradually morphing into hostility toward Israel and her staunchest defenders. Even veteran hard-liners like national security council chief Yaakov Amidror, once renowned as Israel’s most right-wing general, have begun voicing alarm over the problem.

Israel has been trying for 45 years to explain its right to settlements, and hasn’t convinced a single foreign government. Now the effort is merely discrediting the explainers.

Some Diaspora pro-Israel advocates still insist that settlements aren’t the cause of Israel’s problems, but they’re only spouting yesterday’s talking-points. Worse, they’re digging themselves — and their communities — into a hole.

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Al Jazeera’s The Listening Post on Prisoner X and Israeli censorship

The media’s role and responsibility in reporting Israel’s Prisoner X is central to understanding why the story reveals much about a journalistic establishment in Western countries that is far too close to government.

I was asked by Al Jazeera’s Listening Post for comment about this issue. I appear around 9:53 (previous appearances on the show are here):

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“5 Broken Cameras” shakes up Israeli consciousness?

The Israeli and Palestinian film 5 Broken Cameras didn’t win Best Documentary at this year’s Oscars (Searching for Suger Man, a fine film, did).

This piece by Barak Ravid in Haaretz is the perfect example of the liberal Zionist dilemma; frustrated by the occupation but seemingly incapable and/or unwilling to do anything about it:

There is nothing further from the reality in the West Bank than the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. Although they are a 16-hour flight apart, the two worlds were briefly brought together on Sunday night. On Israeli television, reports about the protests in Hebron, Nablus and Ramallah were intermingled with predictions of Dror Moreh,Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s Oscar prospects.

Perhaps this night – filled with tear gas in one place and tuxedos and evening gowns in the other – actually articulated the reality of the occupation better than most. For those who were paying attention, the red carpet blared a warning of the outbreak of the third intifada.

The local documentaries nominated for Oscars, “The Gatekeepers” and “Five Broken Cameras,” reveal the makeup of the occupation from which the next violent conflagration will erupt. Like a punch in the gut or a slap in the face, they try shock Israelis out of the escapist stupor we have allowed ourselves to drift into. They pry open our tightly shut eyes, making it hard for us to remain blind to the fact that the Palestinians exist and that conscripting ultra-Orthodox men into the army and bringing down housing prices are not our most pressing national issues.

“The Gatekeepers” offers a glimpse inside the Shin Bet security service machine that over the course of 46 years has been tuned to perfection. But while it is providing absolute security to Israelis it is grinding the Palestinians into a powder.

“Five Broken Cameras” shows the despair and the anger churned up by the same well-oiled juggernaut. It captures the futile struggle of an ordinary Palestinian citizen who has been robbed of his land so we can sleep without fear.

In “The Gatekeepers,” the legendary Shin Bet chief Avraham Shalom talks about how the Shin Bet sought out work for itself in the West Bank in the 1970s. He explains how, without anybody noticing, the organization became a mechanism that feeds itself by creating more and more terrorists, producing more and more assassinations and arrests.

Shalom’s words echo in the recent death, 40 years later, of the Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat in Megiddo Prison. Jaradat was not an arch-terrorist. He led into Israel’s interrogation cells by the circumstances of his life. When he was arrested last week, three months after his crime, he admitted to having thrown stones. True, stones kill. But is every stone-thrower a legitimate target for the Shin Bet? If he is a Palestinian, yes; if he is a “hilltop youth,” not necessarily.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not watched either of the Oscar-nominated film. He undoubtedly believes Burnat is a terrorist, Davidi is an anarchist and Moreh is a leftist commissar who – together with the Shin Bet chiefs in his movie and the hostile media – only wants to topple the regime. The truth is Netanyahu is simply afraid. If he watches the films, he might see the reality of the occupation, and worse, he might even agree, heavens forefend, with some of what he sees.

Moreh, Burnat and Davidi left the awards ceremony empty handed. The members of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loved their films but not enough to award them the cherished Oscar statuette. But the directors did leave the ceremony with one significant accomplishment. By means of five broken cameras and the six gatekeepers, they brought the bleeding conflict between us and the Palestinians back into Israeli discourse. These days, that is quite the prize.

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The travesty of “justice” at Guantanamo Bay

A new book by a Wall Street Journal journalist, Jess Bravin, features on Democracy Now! and explains the legal, ethical and moral black-hole that the Bush and Obama administrations have established on the Cuban prison island:

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TMZ interviews 5 Broken Cameras director held at LAX

A sign of the times. TMZ, a massive celebrity news service, interviews the Palestinian director of the wonderful documentary, 5 Broken Cameras, and brings the reality of Israeli occupation of Palestine to a mainstream US audience:

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Against normalising an Israeli marathon

Important and clever tactic, one that should be increasingly raised to highlight the insidious ways that the corporate world and the Jewish state attempt to whitewash occupation. The New York Times report:

A lawyer representing Palestinian government agencies sent letters this week to an American sneaker company and an international hotel chain threatening a boycott and legal action if they did not withdraw their sponsorship of the Jerusalem Marathon, which the Palestinians say violates international law.

The letters to New Balance, a footwear company based in Boston, and the InterContinental Hotel Group, which includes the Crowne Plaza hotel in Jerusalem, say that the marathon, scheduled for March 1, is a “serious breach” of international law because it runs through East Jerusalem, territory that Israel captured during the 1967 war and later annexed. The Palestinians, and much of the world, consider East Jerusalem occupied territory, but the Israelis see it as part of their capital city.

“As the marathon neither caters to the needs of Palestinian civilians nor serves any genuine military purpose, the marathon constitutes an illegal activity in occupied East Jerusalem under international humanitarian law,” read the letters, sent on behalf of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, Athletics Federation and Higher Council of Youth and Sport. Citing United Nations resolutions, the Fourth Geneva Convention and an International Court of Justice ruling, the letters warn: “If your company does not immediately withdraw sponsorship of this illegal activity, my clients will be forced to pursue this matter legally.”

The letters do not specifically mention the United Nations General Assembly vote on Nov. 29 that upgraded Palestine to a nonmember observer state, but a senior Palestinian official said the companies could be targets if Palestinians leaders decide to use the new status to pursue claims in international courts. Another possibility is action by the Arab League, whose 22 member states called for a boycott of Adidas over its sponsorship of the Jerusalem marathon last year.

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Rejecting hate speech spewed by Geert Wilders

I was proud to be involved in last night’s Sydney rally against far-right, anti-Islam racist Geert Wilders, raising my voice against his bigotry. I believe he has the right to free speech but opponents have a responsibility to challenge his bile.

Via AAP:

About 100 protesters are rallying outside a function centre in Sydney’s west where right-wing Dutch MP Geert Wilders is to deliver a speech.

Mr Wilders will address the conservative Q Society of Australia on Friday night on the third leg of his controversial tour of Australia.

The protesters, many carrying anti-Wilders placards, assembled outside the front of the function centre in the centre of Liverpool and chanted: “Muslims are welcome, racists are not.”

Police officers, including some on horseback, are ensuring guests invited to the event can make it through the crowd.

They are also blocking attempts by members of the media to enter the function centre and report on the speech.

In the lead-up to the speech, an anti-Wilders protester addressed the crowd over a loudspeaker.

“We have to make sure that these people are hounded if they try to do these things,” he said.

“Thanks for helping brand Geert Wilder what he really is.”

One protester, social commentator Antony Loewenstein, said Mr Wilders believed in dividing society.

“I think his message of division and hatred against Muslims is exactly the opposite of what Australians should be hearing,” Mr Loewenstein told AAP.

“It’s ignorant and shows a desire to exclude Muslims.”

Mr Wilders is the founder and leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, which holds 15 seats in the Dutch parliament.

He cancelled a media conference and speaking engagement in Perth on Wednesday after a four-star hotel scrubbed his booking.

He received a standing ovation on Tuesday in Melbourne, where several hundred people dodged a large group of protesters to hear the first speech in his Australian tour.

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When the Saudis strike Yemen don’t expect Washington or MSM to care

The “war on terror” remains as murky as ever. Interesting post by Sheila Carapico for Middle East Research and Information Project:

Senate hearings to confirm John Brennan as the Obama administration’s appointment to be director of the CIA brought to light a heretofore clandestine American military facility in Saudi Arabia near the kingdom’s border with Yemen. While journalistic and public attention rightly focused on extrajudicial executions of Yemenis and even American citizens, the new revelations suggest a larger covert Saudi-American war in Yemen. There’s almost certainly more to this story than what Saudi Arabia fails to confirm.

Information about the base was long withheld from the public by both the government and the media. NBC News, theNew York Times and the Washington Post reported on February 5 and 6 that the US built a secret airfield in Saudi Arabia over two years ago, primarily as a staging ground for strikes in Yemen. Both flagship newspapers acknowledged keeping this fact under wraps in deference to the Obama administration’s request for secrecy on national security grounds. Reportedly, the first operation conducted from the base was the one that killed the Yemen-American preacher Anwar Nasir al-Awlaqi.

Bing aerial photographs from 2012 appear to show a facility in southeast Saudi Arabia, north of the Yemeni border and west of the Omani frontier, in the remote expanse of sand dunes called the Empty Quarter.
 
There also seem to be launching pads for unmanned Predator drones and/or Hellfire missiles at al-Anad Airbase near Aden. Al-Anad is an established installation on Yemen’s southern coast near the Bab al-Mandab, a crucial waterway connecting the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. Now evidence has surfaced of yet another US base in the Hadramawt, in eastern Yemen, not far from the base in Saudi Arabia.

As more sleuths inspect more maps, we could learn of more military construction in the Peninsula, and of more Saudi engagement than has been acknowledged.

A reporter for the Guardian quoted journalism professor Jack Lule of Lehigh University, who called the media’s complicity in secrecy about the drone program “shameful.” Lule added, “I think the real reason was that the administration did not want to embarrass the Saudis — and for the US news media to be complicit in that is craven.”

Gee, why would the Saudis be embarrassed? US-Saudi security cooperation has a history dating to the 1950s. Saudi Arabia offered facilities for the American-led Desert Storm campaign to restore Kuwaiti sovereignty after Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion. Yet the massive positioning of foreign forces in the land of the Islamic holy places, Mecca and Medina, later stirred controversy. When Osama bin Laden and his jihadi followers decried the presence of “infidel” armies on sacred territory, and used these boots on the ground as a pretext for the September 11 attacks on the United States, the Saudi defense minister ruled that bases inside the kingdom could not be used for attacks on Afghanistan’s Taliban or other Muslim targets. Accordingly, American installations, including the King Sultan airbase in Khobar province, were relocated to other Gulf spots such as Qatar.

There’s more, perhaps lots more. There have been many “targeted” attacks purportedly conducted by the US military or the CIA against suspected militants in Yemen in the past two or three years. There have also been “signature strikes.” These are not aimed at persons who intelligence agencies have identified as enemies of the US. Instead, “signature strikes” are robotic attacks triggered by evidence of “suspicious activities” or “patterns of movement” observed, by drones, from the air, such as loading rifles onto pickup trucks. Although lethal targeted attacks, especially against al-Awlaqi, his teenaged son, and at least two other American citizens have attracted the most attention of late, the signature attacks are even scarier. Yemenis are extraordinarily well armed, ranking alongside the US in number of firearms per capita. And gun-toting Yemenis almost certainly pack more firepower than their American counterparts: Markets in the northern part of the country sell bazookas and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Further, Toyota pickups are ubiquitous in Yemen; four-wheel drive vehicles are a logical choice for navigating the country’s unpaved mountain roads. Grenade launchers in Yemen pose no credible threat to the American homeland. But they might, conceivably, be a menace to Saudi Arabia.

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