Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

How to reconcile black and white relations in Australia

My weekly Guardian column:

The humidity in Darwin slows everything down. Although it’s currently dry season, the temperature is still in the mid 30s and warm breezes linger late into the night.

The city, which sits at the top end of Australia, is troubled by excessive violence and alcohol abuse. The Northern Territory has one of thehighest rates of incarceration in Australia, particularly for Aboriginal men. An adult in the NT is close to eight times more likely to be in jail than an individual in the Australian Capital Territory.

I was invited to Darwin’s Wordstorm writer’s festival last week, and spent far more time listening than talking. I was warmly welcomed and attended many events where the gulf between white and black Australia was discussed. The proximity of both peoples in a small population forces daily interactions. None of this guarantees harmony, of course, as a piece by anthropologist Evelyn Enduatta on Darwin’s stark yet normalised racism recently highlighted.

In the south of the country, where I live, Aboriginal Australia can often seem abstract or removed from daily life. Most Australians never knowingly encounter an Aboriginal person. My major relationship with Indigenous communities was writing about the ultimately successful campaign in western Australia against a proposed onshore, Woodside gas plant at James Price Point. I spent time there and supported the Aboriginal groups and environmental activists who argued the plan was ill-conceived, and would not benefit those most in need of economic support.

In Darwin last week, on a panel titled, “Is home where the heart is? Can we all belong to this land?”, author and Miles Franklin finalist Alexis Wright, an Indigenous woman of the Waanyi people from the Gulf of Carpentaria, argued that Australia was far away from reconciling with its original peoples. She had no faith in the political process; Labor, Liberal and the Greens didn’t rate a positive mention.

Wright said that Eddie Mabo, a man from the Torres Strait Islands, had to fight a system that refused to accept Aboriginal ownership or rights over land until the high court in 1992 overturned the concept of Australia being an empty continent when the British arrived in 1788 – “a land without a people for a people without a land”. In Australia, Wright explained, obtaining justice will only come through the courts. It was an admittedly imperfect method of obtaining justice, she conceded, and fellow Indigenous writer Philip McLaren said that the state would simply keep changing the law to stymie any benefits from litigation. “We just have to keep on fighting”, Wright pithily responded.

One of the key themes throughout the festival was the Aboriginal connection to the land, and the whitefellas’ comparative absence of it. Indigenous poet Lionel Fogarty convincingly explained that the concept of ownership and property was foreign to many of his fellow brothers and sisters, and they therefore couldn’t understand why they needed to pay rent on land or even aim to buy it (which most can’t afford, anyway).

This made me reflect on my own sense of home and what it means when I’m Australian, Jewish, German, atheist, anti-Zionist and against nationalism and patriotism of all kinds. I have never felt a deep connection to the natural world or earth and I admire, though not romanticise, those who do. Although I have strong memories and understandings of certain places from different stages of my life, in Australia and globally, I don’t think there’s anywhere I couldn’t live without ever seeing again.

The refusal to accept the Aboriginal connection to land is one of this country’s eternal shames and the Wordstorm literary festival forced me to confront how far away reconciliation is in Australia after a litany of Indigenous writers, poets and authors documented what most of the population don’t see or hear. Their community isn’t defined by alcohol abuse or dysfunction, although that clearly exists – I saw many intoxicated Aboriginal men and women, some with visible mental issues, sprawled on Darwin streets – yet the vibrancy and diversity of Aboriginal Australia is invisible to white Australia.

Whatever reconciliation really means - constitutional recognition of the First Australians or an end to an ever-expanding NT intervention – it wasn’t hard to hear offered solutions and ideas in Darwin that displayed both weariness and enthusiasm. Mainstream politics is unlikely to bring any comfort in the foreseeable future, if ever.

I’ve long believed that white Australia has a moral responsibility to both recognise the attempted genocide against its First Australians and pay reparations. It’s an issue eloquently detailed in the US in this month’s Atlantic cover story by Ta-Nehisi Coates who argues that slavery and institutional racism in America requires state-sponsored compensation.

“More important than any single check cut to any African American”, he writes, “the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders.”

The writer told Democracy Now last week that there are many ways to imagine reparations being made, including sending cheques to African-Americans who have been affected. He strongly backs atoning for past wrongs because, “you actually can’t understand American history without understanding slavery.” Australia is little different.

Coates says that when a nation, such as the US, implements policies that “disproportionately injure black people…our policies should be structured in such a way that take that into account.” Land, housing and imprisonment discrimination are either addressed immediately or these festering sores will only deepen.

It’s a conversation that Australia desperately needs to begin and yet one that seems incredibly far away. This isn’t about victimhood or putting a hand out for endless welfare because of past wrongs. It’s about recognising profound, historical traumas that continue to do this day.

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How the world currently sees Australia

Champagne piece on the US comedy show by John Oliver, Last Week Tonight:

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Jeremy Scahill in Australia

Last week I had the honour to meet and spend time with US investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill. He was here for the Sydney Writer’s Festival (photos from the event here) – our panel together discussed the importance of indy journalism in the face of corporate reporting – and it was unique hearing somebody speak clearly about the human cost of the “war on terror”. Take this ABC interview:

Spending time together reinforced my belief that Scahill, and other humane journalists, aren’t obsessed with “objective” work but reporting on the cost of violent policies across the world in places away from prying eyes. We are all human beings and yet so many journalists prefer being close to power.

Scahill does not.

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ABC Radio discussion on faith, belief and politics

Last weekend I spoke at the Sydney Writer’s Festival and one of my panels was this fantastic event (recorded and played on ABC Radio’s Sunday Nights yesterday):

A Muslim-Christian-Muslim, a Jewish-Atheist and a Scientist-Atheist-Humanist walked into a room… for a conversation with John Cleary of Sunday Nights.

Writers Reza Aslan, Antony Loewenstein and Jim Al-Khalili have a diverse range of views on faith in a modern context, and on what it means to believe in something with or without religion.

They shared their perspectives with John Cleary at the Sydney Theatre Company on 22 May as part of the 2014 Sydney Writers’ Festival.

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Why there are growing corporate attacks on public broadcasting

My weekly Guardian column:

The war on public broadcasters by corporate media is currently enjoying a resurgence.

Britain’s Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre has long loathed the BBC, accusing it of supporting “cultural marxism”. In a 2007 lecture, he said the organisation attempted to undermine “the values of conservatism, with a small ‘c’, which, I would argue, just happen to be the values held by millions of Britons.” To Dacre, the BBC is a “closed thought system operating a kind of Orwellian Newspeak … perverting political discourse and disenfranchising countless millions”.

In reality, it would be hard to find any media group in Britain more polarising than the Daily Mail, constantly railing against refugees, Muslims, single women and anybody who threatens its view of the world. We can look forward to the same outlook when it formally launches in Australia this year.

Dacre’s comments on the BBC were little different to Rupert Murdoch’s Australian editorial last weekend on the ABC, that alleged managing director Mark Scott had “failed to address bias issues at the national broadcaster, lift standards or impose accountability.”

Furthermore (and Dacre would have been proud of this line), “the ABC has an endless list of progressive journalists and hosts sharing their perspectives and an absence of hosts or programmers who are mainstream or, heaven forbid, conservative”.

Corporate media’s solution isn’t to totally dismantle public broadcasters – there’s no public appetite for that – but to neuter, privatise, weaken, dismiss and delegitimise them. Despite the rhetoric suggesting otherwise, they aren’t really complaining of a lack of standards or diversity. Rather, they are conducting an ideological war against media outlets whose agendas aren’t set by corporate interests.

It’s a campaign that’s fundamentally failing. The ABC and BBC are still remarkably popular with the public. None of this means that there aren’t serious issues with both broadcasters. The BBC too often airs views expressed by the conservative British establishment over war and peace while, as George Monbiot recently investigated, rarely revealing the background and funding of think-tankers and other guests. The same goes for Australian think-tank guests, whose backers are not declared on air.

Last week’s Australian federal budget took an axe to the ABC-run Australia network and its ability to properly cover the Asia-Pacific. Managing director Mark Scott came out swinging (as much as a man in his position can do) and slammed the decision, thankfully defending the ABC’s independence and partnership with the Guardian over the stories related to NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

Opposition to the ABC from the Abbott government and Murdoch press will likely result in more cuts in the coming years. It’s heartening to see Scott resist pressure to transform the public broadcaster into a cheerleader for the home team.

Australia’s wannabe culture warriors are copying a playbook that’s been honed for decades in Britain and the US. Public broadcasting in America, such as NPR and PBS, is theoretically paid for by the tax payer but in reality is now funded by both public and private monies. NPR has been accused of unimaginative thinking over the most contentious issues such as Israel/Palestine, and is prone to massive pressure from lobby groups.

One of the richest men in the country, David Koch, has heavily invested in these organisations. In 2013, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer investigated the extent of Koch’s influence of WNET, a New York channel he sponsors (WNET is part of the PBS network). After the station decided to air a documentary on inequality by Oscar-winning film-maker Alex Gibney, that included a profile of the Koch family, Mayer found the station’s channel managers and producers were scared for their jobs. The documentary went to air but with craven caveats and post-screening rebuttals by critics.

The fact that Koch could even have influence over the screening schedule at WNET reveals the massive financial short-fall from public funds and perceived need for corporate donors. This isn’t a future Australia should ever want.

PBS has often been a target for conservatives who believe it has “left-wing bias”. American journalist David Sirota, writing in Pando Daily, exposed the funding arrangements behind a two-year WNET series called The Pension Peril. The series was to be financed by billionaire former Enron trader John Arnold, a man committed to reducing pension options for millions of Americans. PBS initially denied any impropriety by taking Arnold’s money, but soon returned the funds after public outrage.

I asked Sirota what this scandal said about American public broadcasting. “PBS faces a crisis”, he told me:

“It’s billed and branded as a public-minded and publicly funded entity but it doesn’t receive an adequate amount of public funding to do purely public minded journalism and content. Instead, it has to rely on private funders who can try to attach ideological strings to their money. The end result is that content branded as public under the PBS banner is potentially being shaped by private special interests.”

It’s not an accident, he argues, that the US receives a tiny amount of public funding per capita compared to most other industrialised nations, because “well-resourced public media would be a threat to the corporate and political establishment.”

“It would have the ability to do independent journalism. Because that’s a threat to the corporate and political establishment, that establishment has drained public media of resources,” Sirota said.

Public broadcasting in Europe remains far healthier than in America (though France and Greece have seen far better days) and the BBC is currently undergoing one of its perennial discussions about who should pay for its services. Some BBC luminaries argue that the institution is too big and unfairly restricts private business. Such an argument seems absurd at a time when publicly funded media remains the most trusted in Britain and Australia.

The ABC is full of inadequacies, insider journalism and parochialism but the sheer range of its content across multiple platforms, reaching millions of Australians every day, is a key reason it must be defended against its opponents.

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Noam Chomsky speaks at launch of Glenn Greenwald’s new book

The following event took place this week at Harvard and contains a discussion of Greenwald’s latest book, No Place to Hide:

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My #MarchinMay speech to thousands in Sydney

Yesterday thousands of Australians marched around the country to reject the extremism of Tony Abbott’s government. I was asked to speak in Sydney to a crowd of around 10,000 people (some great photos by Jaroslaw L Gasiorek here).

This video features 15 minutes of highlights (I appear at 7.24):

A slightly expanded version of my speech has been published by The Hoopla today:

Extremism is a danger to us all and it’s rampant in the political and media class.

But let’s be clear, these problems didn’t start with last year’s election. We have been experiencing a corporate government, both Labor and Liberal, for decades. We have politicians happy to do the bidding of their corporate mates while speaking of fairness. It’s the great, unspoken lie, rarely challenged by our docile media.

There has been privatisation and outsourcing by Labor and Liberal and it’s been accelerating for decades in areas of immigration, indigenous affairs, transport, education, health, child-care and defence.

Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have furthered this trend because Labor assisted the groundwork, sharing the same neo-liberal agenda. These politicians mostly go to the same parties, attend the same think-tank events and romance the same reporters. It’s a cosy club that gets a warm reception in the US and Israeli embassies.

Don’t be fooled by Labor leader Bill Shorten’s fighting words; judge what his party did in government under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. Growing privatisation and gifts to their corporate mates was their real agenda, masked behind class rhetoric.

Vulture capitalism is now the ideology of our age, defended and encouraged by vast swathes of the mainstream media.

During last week’s budget coverage, how often did we hear ABC journalists ask Labor politicians and critics about the “budget emergency”, mindlessly repeating Abbott government spin? There is no budget emergency .

We are told that the budget was fair for all but the Abbott government looks to the US  and UK with admiration – two societies with massive inequality and a huge underclass. Privatised education and health-care, along with private universities and hospitals are moving those countries down a path of apartheid. Access is uneven, the poor are suffering and the rich are enjoying the spoils of buying public assets at an ever-increasing rate.

Latest figures from the UK, released last week, find that the top 1% own as much as 55% of the population put together.

We are badly served by a media class that often works and plays in a bubble. They rarely go further than their offices unless on official, government visits to the US, UK or embedded with “our boys” in Afghanistan. They don’t see or hear from average citizens, and don’t want to. They talk to each other and re-publish press releases as “news” and sanctioned leaks as “exclusives”. Very few serious news stories in our press are independently discovered.

The Canberra press gallery should never be in parliament house because it guarantees subservience to an insider political message. ABC TV’s The Insiders personifies this sickness, a weekly showing of journalists happy to be close to power while providing “insights” gleaned from talking to their small coterie of friends and colleagues who are sustained by the same insularity.

Alternative voices are needed and all of you need to make yourself heard. Independent media has never been more important, fresh voices, non-white voices, multicultural voices and non-old and male voices.

I’ve spent the last years researching in Australia and globally the privatisation bonanza of public services. The rhetoric is that services will improve and efficiency will increase. The opposite is true.

In immigration detention, both Labor and Liberal have outsourced all our detention centres and services to unaccountable corporations such as G4S, Serco and Transfield. Their sole goal is profit, making money from the misery of asylum seekers.

Resistance works. Take this year’s revolt against the Biennale arts festival taking money from Transfield, a company that won a $1.2 billion contract to run Manus Island and Nauru. Artists, activists, journalists and concerned citizens convinced the Biennale that it wasn’t worth its ongoing association with Transfield. The elite response was furious, from Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to Attorney General George Brandis.

Artists with an opinion who dare oppose repressive policies? That’s what great art has always been.

I stood in solidarity with this campaign. We should all examine where our money is invested, from superannuation to banks, and make sure we aren’t subsiding human rights abuses in Australia or around the world. Demand your super fund or bank tell you if they invest in Transfield or other profiteers.

Let’s build a movement of justice, equality and human rights for all. Labor and Liberal aren’t the answers; we need independent politics free from corporate interests. The Greens and others should capitalise on this public demand for clean politics and policies that will make the wealthiest Australians pay their fair share.

A political revolution is necessary, but equally a compliant media needs major change to its position as supporting the individuals, parties and corporations causing the environmental and social damage in the first place.

Reject corporate politics. Another world is possible.

*This is an edited version of a speech delivered to the March in May protest in Sydney’s Belmore Park yesterday. Tens of thousands of people gathered in cities around Australia to protest last week’s budget.

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Why journalism is broken part 432554

Fascinating and disturbing results (via The Wire) that reveals how so few US reporters want to seriously challenge the power, reach and illegality of the state:

Compared to ten years ago, today’s journalists believe exposing government hypocrisy is more important than ever. Yet, they are less approving of the use confidential documents to expose that hypocrisy, according to a study from Indiana University School of Journalism [PDF]. 

That aversion to revealing unauthorized secrets is just one of the many intriguing conclusions from the online survey of more than 1,000 journalists who work across print, digital news, TV, and radio. The survey dates back more than 40 years, asking journalists a series of questions in 1971, 1982, 1992, 2002, and 2013, giving a good overview of the trends in the journalism culture and business.

One of the most surprising developments over that period over the past ten years, is the steep decline in the percentage of journalists who say that using confidential documents without permission “may be justified.” That number has plummeted from about 78 percent in 2002 to just 58 percent in 2013. In 1992, it was over 80 percent.

That’s even more notable given that the survey took place from August to December of last year, not long after Edward Snowden became a household name for stealing classified documents that revealed the extent of NSA surveillance. The journalists who worked with him to share that information with the public won the Pulitzer Prize last month.

Plenty of changes in the world in the past ten years might explain this sweeping change in opinion, including the post-9/11 surveillance state and the rise of WikiLeaks, which is often credited (or accused?) of taking the responsibility for those documents out of the hands of journalists. The Obama Administration’s unprecedented targeting of whistleblowers, too, likely has played a role in turning opinions against the use of secret documents. That lack of approval may have played a role in the many media hit pieces on Glenn Greenwald, for one. 

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How the US war in Afghanistan has protected a torturer

A stunning investigation by the Washington Post on what the American war in Afghanistan has supported; one of the most brutal thugs in the country:

In Afghanistan, his presence was enough to cause prisoners to tremble. Hundreds in his organization’s custody were beaten, shocked with electrical currents or subjected to other abuses documented in human rights reports. Some allegedly disappeared.

And then Haji Gulalai disappeared as well.

He had run Afghan intelligence operations in Kandahar after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 and later served as head of the spy service’s detention and interrogation branch. After 2009, his whereabouts were unknown.

Because of his reputation for brutality, Gulalai was someone both sides of the war wanted gone. The Taliban tried at least twice to kill him. Despite Gulalai’s ties to the CIA and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, United Nations officials and U.S. coalition partners sought to rein him in or have him removed.

Today, Gulalai lives in a pink two-story house in Southern California, on a street of stucco homes on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

How he managed to land in the United States remains murky. Afghan officials and former Gulalai colleagues said that his U.S. connections — and mounting concern about his safety — account for his extraordinary accommodation.

But CIA officials said the agency played no role in bringing Gulalai into the country. Officials at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security would not comment on his relocation or immigration status, citing privacy restrictions. Gulalai and members of his family declined repeated inquiries from The Washington Post.

As the United States approaches its own exit from Afghanistan, Gulalai’s case touches on critical questions looming over that disengagement. What will happen to thousands of Afghans seeking to accompany the American exodus? And how will U.S.-built institutions in that country — particularly its intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) — treat those left behind?

Despite a substantial record of human rights abuses, Gulalai was able to bypass immigration barriers faced by Afghans whose work for the United States made them potential targets of the Taliban. Many have been turned away because of security objections submitted in secret by U.S. spy agencies.

Since its inception, the NDS has depended on the CIA to such an extent that it is almost a subsidiary — funded, trained and equipped by its American counterpart. The two agencies have shared intelligence, collaborated on operations and traded custody of prisoners.

Gulalai was considered a particularly effective but corrosive figure in this partnership. He was a fierce adversary of the Taliban, officials said, as well as a symbol of the tactics embraced by the NDS.

“He was the torturer in chief,” said a senior Western diplomat, who recalled meeting with a prisoner at an NDS facility in Kabul to investigate how he had been treated when Gulalai entered unannounced. The detainee became agitated and bowed his head in submission. “He was terrified, which made sense,” the diplomat said. Gulalai was “a big wheel in a machine that ground up a lot of people.”

U.S. officials said the CIA has taken measures to curb NDS abuses, including training its officers on human rights and pushing the organization to allow access to the International Committee of the Red Cross and other monitoring groups. But even after Gulalai’s departure, U.N. reports have documented widespread mistreatment of prisoners by the NDS.

Retired Marine Gen. John R. Allen, who was commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan until last year, warned that “human rights is going to be a weakness for some period of time.” Allen, who suspended prisoner transfers to the NDS after reports of abuse, said the organization has made progress but described its reliance on torture as an institutional “reflex.”

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We know too little about US drone attacks

My weekly Guardian column:

The news that the US had killed two Australian “militants” in a drone strike was announced in mid-April. Christopher Havard and “Muslim bin John”, who also held New Zealand citizenship, were allegedly killed by a CIA-led airstrike in eastern Yemen in November last year.

Readers were given little concrete information, apart from a “counter-terrorism source” who claimed that both men were foot soldiers for Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, though they may also have been collateral damage (the real target being other terror heads).

The Australian government claimed ignorance of the entire operation. “There was no Australian involvement in, or prior awareness of, the operation”, a spokesman said. New Zealand prime minister John Key released some more details, saying that the country’s GCSB spies had been authorised to spy on him. “I knew that he had gone there [to Yemen] and gone to a terrorist training camp”, he stated.

Since publication of these bare facts, little new information has emerged from the government or other sources – except for some reporting in The Australian about Havard’s apparent transformation after he converted to Islam in his early 20s and went to Yemen to teach English. The paper editorialised in support of the strike: “to be killed in this way is regrettable”, it wrote, but obliterating civilians without a trial was acceptable because “such attacks have done much to stop the terrorists committing even more atrocities.” There was no condemnation of the scores of civilians killed by drones since 9/11.

It’s of course morally convenient to believe that the death of these men will make the world a safer place by removing “threats” without the need to place western soldiers in harm’s way – this is, after all, the apparently compelling logic of drone warfare. But it’s a myth challenged by the former drone pilots featured in the recently released documentary Drone, in which ex-Air Force pilot Michael Haas explains that:

‘You never know who you’re killing, because you never actually see a face. You just have a silhouette. They don’t have to take a shot. They don’t have to bear that burden. I’m the one that has to bear that burden.”

Yet, uncertainty be damned, the Australian government seems to keep on supporting the CIA killings with most of the media following without question.

Fairfax Media headlined one story “Abbott government defends drone strike that killed two Australian Al-Qaeda militants” without challenging that the two men were, indeed, militants or affiliated with Al-Qaida – they may or may not have been, but innocent civilians have been killed by drones before. The sentence “alleged militants, according to the government” never appeared in the article (this is a relatively common habit in journalism – see for example this essential take-down of a New York Times report on drone killings in Yemen).

I’ve reported independently from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and accurate journalism requires finding reliable sources on the ground (or corresponding with individuals through email, phone, encryption or Twitter) who can confirm or challenge the official version. It’s not rocket science, though definitive information can be scarce in a war zone.

In the last days I’ve reached out to various sources in Yemen (some of the best are herehere and here) and asked Sanaa-based Baraa Shiban to comment. His answer is revealing. “The lack of transparency has became a fixed strategy for the US in its drone war. The US announced recently the death of almost 30 militants in a training camp in Abyan, south of Yemen, but can’t release a single name; this tells it all.”

Taking the word of security sources and the state, when this information is so often wrong or deliberately skewed by anonymous officials who strategically leak to justify their counter-terrorism policies, is sadly all too common. “We don’t know the facts” is not a shameful statement. To be skeptical shouldn’t be a flaw, but an asset.

The desultory lack of debate over this latest drone attack is a sadly familiar tale (former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser lent a rare voice of criticism, saying Australians assisting the US drone program could face crimes against humanity charges). The Lowy Institute’s Rodger Shanahan, former army officer and Australian diplomat, offered a commonly-held view of the deaths: “If it is confirmed that these Australian citizens were members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and were not deliberately targeted”, he wrote, “then I don’t think either the Australian government or public will lose much sleep over their passing.”

This misses the point entirely. The two men are dead, so arguments about the legality of their assassination should surely have happened before the US fired its missiles. Shanahan expressed confidence without evidence that Australia “would not allow the deliberate targeting of one of its citizens by another power.” This is a familiar refrain echoed by governments, too: that if you’re standing, sitting or socialising with militants, with or without your knowledge, your life could be in jeopardy.

The effect of this random violence, along with the devastating signature strike policy – drone attacks based on “suspicious” behaviour without knowing names or identities of people – is well documented. In Yemen, hatred of the US, along with major social and political tensions, is growing amongst a poor and scared population.

Although the Yemeni regime works openly alongside Washington in its war against perceived enemies (unlike Pakistan, which many say behaves in a similar way but feigns opposition to appease the angry masses) the death of dozens of alleged Al-Qaida militants and civilians at a major base in the remote southern mountains last week will only inflame tensions in the nation.

Let us not forget that the US drone program, massively accelerated under the Obama administration, is mired in secrecy. Earlier this month, a US federal appeals court ordered the government to release legal advice relating to the killings of three US citizens in Yemen in 2011. The American Civil Liberties Union correctly argued that it was unacceptable for the US to both claim the program was classified and yet leak selective information to favoured journalists to “paint the program in the most favourable light.”

The latest killing of two Australian citizens is not the end of the conversation, but the beginning. If these men were threats to national security, then the public deserves to know why and the legal backing behind it. The countless lies during the “war on terror” warrants skepticism of official claims.

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The NSA wants to spy on everything and everybody

Former head of the NSA Keith Alexander (a man who proudly designed a system, with full political backing, to spy on citizens in America and globally) is interviewed by John Oliver in a witty and revealing way; yes, he wants you to feel comfortable with mass surveillance:

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How to solve the Middle East crisis in eight minutes

Rap News have been producing sensational political videos for years. Their latest, on Israel/Palestine, is a cracker:

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