This Week in War. A Friday round-up of what happened and what’s been written in the world of war and military/security affairs this week. It’s a mix of news reports, policy briefs, blog posts and longform journalism. Subscribe here to receive this round-up by email.
- War deaths in Syria now top 100,000.
- The US plans to begin directly supplying arms to the opposition force within the month.
- Experts say that sarin gas use in Syria still cannot be genuinely proved, since the process can’t control for tampering.
- Fighting between rival armed militias in Libya’s capital have killed five and wounded nearly 100.
- Monday saw Israeli air strikes carried out against Gaza in retaliation for Palestinian rocket fire.
- At least 16 Lebanese soldiers were killed in fighting with Sunni militants in Sidon.
- A series of bomb attacks in Iraq on Monday killed at least 42.
- A Taliban attack on Kabul has put peace talks on edge.
- The annual report (PDF) from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime shows Afghanistan remains the world leader in opium cultivation and production.
- Pakistan’s former leader Pervez Musharraf’s treason trial has been adjourned indefinitely and a four-member committee has been created to probe treason charges.
- A video of two Czech women captured in Balochistan a couple of months ago surfaced, along with demands by their unidentified captors, that neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui be released by the US. It has not been verified.
- Head of NGO For Human Rights, Lev Ponomaryov, was forcibly evicted from his offices along with staff and beaten by Russian law enforcement.
- China will send peacekeeping troops to Mali.
- HRW says that China has resettled 2 million Tibetans over the past seven years.
- Violence and rioting in the Western region of Xinjiang left 27 dead.
- In response to US threats to end trade benefits over Snowden, Ecuador waived the benefits and offered the US $23 million worth of human rights training.
- Protesters continued to take to the streets in Brazil, facing off against police.
- Dzokhar Tsarnaev has been formally charged with killing four people and using a weapon of mass destruction.
- Marine Gen. James Cartwright, formerly the vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is apparently the target of a DOJ leak investigation regarding information leaked about Stuxnet.
- A new Guardian scoop revealed that the Bush administration email record collection continued for two years under the Obama administration.
- The administration insists anyway, that Bush era data collection ended in 2011, but as The Guardian went on to report, massive metadata mining continues through the program EvilOlive (what?).
- Here’s a pdf of a 2009 draft report of the NSA inspector general regarding the surveillance program, thanks to The Guardian.
- Leaks also reveal massive online data collection by the British counterpart to the NSA, the GCHQ, of information obtained by tapping fibre-optics cables. The info is shared with the US.
- The Army is restricting access to The Guardian’s website in an Armywide filter.
- McClatchy on how memories of Stasi affect Germans’ views of US surveillance practices.
- Glenn Greenwald addresses attempts to smear his reputation and attack his work. David Carr and Jay Rosen both came to his aid earlier this week.
- Two law school professors say the NSA data collection programs “violate both the letter and the spirit of federal law.”
- The Snowden leaks have brought WikiLeaks back into the news.
- A CIA inspector general’s report (PDF) reveals there have been four CIA embeds with the NYPD since 9/11 and raises questions about the limitations they had, the assistance they offered, and the relationship between the two organizations.
- Former US National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism Richard Clarke rather astonishingly acknowledged to the Huffington Post that the circumstances of Michael Hastings’ crash were “consistent with a car cyber attack.” He was careful to say that he was not saying he thought there had been such an attack.
- The Daily Beast profiles the life and work of incoming deputy director of the CIA, Avril Haines.
- A video interview with journalist and Dirty Wars author Jeremy Scahill on national security oversight, whistleblowers and the effect of surveillance on journalists and journalism.
- A military court overturned a Marine’s conviction in the murder of a retired Iraqi policeman because Sgt. Hutchins was held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer.
- The Army plans to cut 12 combat brigades and reduce force size by 80,000.
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Photo: Kabul, Afghanistan. An Afghan soldier stands guard at the presidential palace on June 25th following a Taliban attack. Shah Merai/AFP/Getty
More than 12 years after the September 11 attacks, and the US military establishes that the current american president, and his successors, do have all the authority they need to wage wars around the world, for many more years to come, and they can do so without approval from Congress.
After the attacks of September 11, Congress handed over the power to the Executive Branch to declare war. The Authorization to Use Military Force Act empowers the president to fight the ‘War on Terror’ anywhere on the global and is set for repeal. On Thursday, the Senate held a hearing over the 12 year-old legislation, but will this legislation remain unchanged or will Congress regain the authority? To discuss, RT’s Sam Sacks gives us his take on the AUMF.
The latest objective estimate for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is between $3.7 trillion and $4.4 trillion, according to the research project “Costs of War” by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies. Prominent American economist Joseph E. Stiglitz put the total cost to the United States of the Iraq war at $3 trillion dollars in 2008. In September 2010 he said that our estimate “was if anything too low.” The United States is to spend more than $6 billion in Iraq in 2012 even though its forces are to withdraw from the country by the end of this year.
by Christie Thompson ProPublica, April 22, 2013, 4:04 p.m.
Among the news that ended up being buried in the events last week: A nonpartisan think tank, the Constitution Project, released a scathing, 577-page report on the U.S.’s treatment, and torture, of detainees in the aftermath of 9/11. The investigation began in 2009, after Obama opposed creating a “truth commission.”
With a Senate investigation of detainee treatment still classified, the report from the bipartisan task force is the most comprehensive public review to date. The 11-member panel interviewed more than 100 former military officials, detainees and policymakers.
Among their findings: There is no compelling security reason to keep classified details about the CIA’s now-shuttered black prisons. The task force hopes their report will spur more government transparency on the treatment of detainees, starting with the release of the Senate investigation.
Here’s a rundown of previous claims skewered by the report:
Claim No. 1: The U.S. didn’t use torture.
“Perhaps the most important or notable finding of this panel is that it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture,” the report concludes. The task force says that despite overwhelming evidence of torture, both government officials and many in the media have continued to present the issue as a two-sided debate.
The task force measured confirmed reports on detainee treatment against several international and domestic legal definitions of torture. The U.S.’s tactics unequivocally amount to torture, they found, under definitions the U.S. itself has used to accuse other countries of the same crime.
Former UN ambassador John Bolton rejected the task force’s findings, telling the Associated Press the report is “completely divorced from reality.” Bolton said a team of lawyers scrutinized the policies to ensure interrogation never crossed the line.
Claim No. 2: When torture happened, it was because of a few low-level “bad apples.”
The report details how the decisions to use “enhanced interrogation” techniques were not rogue entry-level soldiers, but rather came from decisions made at the top of the administration. As a former Marine general told the task force, “Any degree of ‘flexibility’ about torture at the top drops down the chain of command like a stone 2014the rare exception fast becoming the rule.”
Claim No. 3: Only three terror suspects were waterboarded by the CIA.
The task force’s findings support and elaborate on a Human Rights Watch report, which detailed how the CIA tortured at least two Libyans with water and abused several others to “win favor with el-Gaddafi’s regime,” the task force found.
The testimonies of the two Libyans undermine the Bush administration’s repeated claims that the CIA only waterboarded against three people.
Claim No. 4: Torture definitely worked.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney and others have claimed that abusive treatment saved “thousands of American lives.” But the report found no evidence that torture itself was actually useful. As Obama’s former National Director of Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair wrote, as quoted in the report, “There is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means.”
The movie Zero Dark Thirty, which gets a shout out in the report, has fueled the debate about whether torture ultimately helped the U.S. find Osama bin Laden. Officials have pointed to the tips provided by one detainee, Hassan Ghul, who was beaten and deprived of sleep while held in a secret CIA prison.
But the report is skeptical of the connection. As the report notes, Senator Dianne Feinstein and other officials said key information Ghul provided was “acquired before the CIA used their enhanced interrogation techniques against the detainee.”
Claim No. 5: A third of released Gitmo detainees have returned to terrorism.
Many lawmakers have used the supposedly high rate of detainee recidivism to justify keeping detainees at Gitmo. The government has claimed that nearly a third of released detainees returned to terrorism. But the report noted that Gitmo prisoner shouldn’t be counted as “returning to the battlefield” if they were never there in the first place. A former Guantanamo commander told the panel that up to half of detainees “were mistakes.”
Government stats also include both confirmed and suspected reports of “re-engagement.” Nor, the report notes, does the government have “firm guidelines” on what counts as a return to terrorism.
Claim No. 6: It’s all behind us.
“We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” Obama said in 2009. But the report details how the ongoing lack of transparency and oversight leaves the door open for abuse. The CIA’s prisons have been closed, but the report notes that the current Army Field Manual on Interrogation contains amendments made in 2006 allow for sleep deprivation, separation and stress positions to be used in interrogation.
The bipartisan task force also concluded that current treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, such as force-feeding hunger striking inmates and keeping them in indefinite detention, could qualify as torture under international law. The committee couldn’t come to a consensus on whether the prison at Guantanamo should be closed.
Photo: Detainee escorted by guards at US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba by Getty Images