Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Torture Sites

This box (length 40 inches, width 30 inches and height 30 inches) is bigger than one of  the confinement  boxes  used for CIA torture which had length 30 inches, width 21 inches and height 30 inches based on the released by the US Senate CIA torture report.

The existence of the approximately 14,000 photographs will probably cause yet another delay in the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as attorneys for the defendants demand all of the images be turned over to them and the government wades through the material to decide what it thinks is relevant to the proceedings.  Defence attorneys said they have not yet been informed about the photographs and said it is unacceptable that they should come to light only now, more than three years after the arraignment of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other defendants accused of planing the September 11 attacks.

The electronic images depict external and internal shots of facilities where the CIA held al-Qaeda suspects after 9/11…They do include images of naked detainees during transport, …The pictures also show CIA personnel and members of foreign intelligence services, as well as psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, among the architects of the interrogation program. …Among the images are those of cells and bathrooms at the detention sites, including a facility in Afghanistan known as “Salt Pit“, where the waterboard was photographed.

A US official described the photographs of the Salt Pit as looking like a dungeon. The official added that many of the pictures appear to have been taken for budgetary reasons to document how money was being spent.  The bulk of the photographs depict black sites in Thailand, Afghanistan and Poland. There are fewer shots of prisons in Romania and Lithuania, which were among the last to be used before they were closed in 2006.  A US official said there are also photographs of confinement boxes where detainees such as Abu Zubaydah, who is now at Guantanamo, were forced into for hours.

Also among the photographs are images of Zubaydah shortly after he was captured in 2002; he was wounded in the leg during a shootout with Pakistani security forces. The pictures show his injury. Later shots show him wearing an eye patch. A former CIA official said Zubaydah had a pre-existing eye injury that was infected when the agency captured him. The eye was later removed.

Excerpts from Adam Goldman ,Photos of CIA ‘black sites’ come to light, Washington Post, June 28, 2015

How to Protect Marine Biodiversity in the Open Seas

deep blue sea

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on May 2015 (reissued on June 2015) aimed at drafting a legally binding international treaty for the conservation of marine biodiversity and to govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction.The resolution was the result of more than nine years of negotiations by an Ad Hoc Informal Working Group, which first met in 2006.

If and when the treaty is adopted, it will be the first global treaty to include conservation measures such as marine protected areas and reserves, environmental impact assessments, access to marine genetic resources and benefit sharing, capacity building and the transfer of marine technology.

The High Seas Alliance (HSA), a coalition of some 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), played a significant role in pushing for negotiations on the proposed treaty and has been campaigning for this resolution since 2011…The General Assembly will decide by September of 2018 on the convening of an intergovernmental conference to finalise the text of the agreement and set a start date for the conference….

A new treaty would help to organise and coordinate conservation and management [in the high seas].  That includes the ability to create fully protected marine reserves that are closed off to harmful activities. Right now there is no way to arrange for such legally binding protections, she added….In a statement released Friday, the HSA said the resolution follows the Rio+20 conference in 2012 where Heads of State committed to address high seas protection.The conference came close to agreeing to a new treaty then, but was prevented from doing so by a few governments which have remained in opposition to a Treaty ever since.

The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which is recognised as the “constitution” for global ocean governance, has a broad scope and does not contain the detailed provisions necessary to address specific activities, nor does it establish a management mechanism and rules for biodiversity protection in the high seas.  Since the adoption of UNCLOS in 1982, there have been two subsequent implementing agreements to address gaps and other areas that were not sufficiently covered under UNCLOS, one related to seabed mining and the other related to straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, she added. This new agreement will be the third implementing agreement developed under UNCLOS….

The “high seas” is the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) ‑ amounting to 64 percent of the ocean…

Excerpts from Thalif Deen, U.N. Takes First Step Towards Treaty to Curb Lawlessness in High Seas, IPS, June 19 2015

Drone Strikes: How to Deal with Surgically Implanted Explosive Devices

Menwith Hill  a Royal Air Force station near Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England has been described as the largest electronic monitoring station in the world.

The documents, provided to the Guardian by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and reported in partnership with the New York Times, discuss how a joint US, UK and Australian programme codenamed Overhead supported the strike in Yemen in 2012….

British officials and ministers follow a strict policy of refusing to confirm or deny any support to the targeted killing programme, and evidence has been so scant that legal challenges have been launched on the basis of single paragraphs in news stories.

The new documents include a regular series of newsletters – titled Comet News – which are used to update GCHQ personnel on the work of Overhead, an operation based on satellite, radio and some phone collection of intelligence. Overhead began as a US operation but has operated for decades as a partnership with GCHQ and, more recently, Australian intelligence.

The GCHQ memos, which span a two-year period, set out how Yemen became a surveillance priority for Overhead in 2010, in part at the urging of the NSA, shortly after the failed 2009 Christmas Day bomb plot in which Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate explosives hidden in his underpants on a transatlantic flight.  Ten months later a sophisticated plot to smuggle explosives on to aircraft concealed in printer cartridges was foiled at East Midlands airport. Both plots were the work of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemen-based al-Qaida offshoot.

One Comet News update reveals how Overhead’s surveillance networks supported an air strike in Yemen that killed two men on 30 March 2012. The men are both described as AQAP members.  In the memo, one of the dead men is identified as Khalid Usama – who has never before been publicly named – a “doctor who pioneered using surgically implanted explosives”. The other is not identified…

US officials confirmed to Reuters in 2012 that there had been a single drone strike in Yemen on 30 March of that year. According to a database of drone strikes maintained by the not-for-profit Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the only incident in Yemen on that date targeted AQAP militants, causing between six and nine civilian casualties, including six children wounded by shrapnel.  Asked whether the strike described in the GCHQ documents was the same one as recorded in the Bureau’s database, GCHQ declined to comment.

The incident is one of more than 500 covert drone strikes and other attacks launched by the CIA and US special forces since 2002 in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – which are not internationally recognised battlefields.  The GCHQ documents also suggest the UK was working to build similar location-tracking capabilities in Pakistan, the country that has seen the majority of covert strikes, to support military operations “in-theatre”.

A June 2009 document indicates that GCHQ appeared to accept the expanded US definition of combat zones, referring to the agency’s ability to provide “tactical and strategic SIGINT [signals intelligence] support to military operations in-theatre, notably Iraq and Afghanistan, but increasingly Pakistan”. The document adds that in Pakistan, “new requirements are yet to be confirmed, but are both imminent and high priority”….

By this point NSA and GCHQ staff working within the UK had already prioritised surveillance of Pakistan’s tribal areas, where the majority of US covert drone strikes have been carried out. A 2008 memo lists surveillance of two specific sites and an overview of satellite-phone communications of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, in which nearly all Pakistan drone strikes have taken place, among its key projects.

British intelligence-gathering in Pakistan is likely to have taken place for a number of reasons, not least because UK troops in Afghanistan were based in Helmand, on the Pakistani border.One of the teams involved in the geo-location of surveillance targets was codenamed “Widowmaker”, whose task was to “discover communications intelligence gaps in support of the global war on terror”, a note explains.

Illustrating the close links between the UK, US and Australian intelligence services, Widowmaker personnel are based at Menwith Hill RAF base in Yorkshire, in the north of England, in Denver, Colorado, and in Alice Springs in Australia’s Northern Territory.

Other Snowden documents discuss the difficult legal issues raised by intelligence sharing with the US….The UK has faced previous legal challenges over the issue. In 2012, the family of a tribal elder killed in Pakistan, Noor Khan, launched a court case in England in which barristers claimed GCHQ agents who shared targeting intelligence for covert strikes could be “accessory to murder”. Judges twice refused to rule on the issue on the grounds it could harm the UK’s international relations.

Excerpts from Alice Ross and James Ball,  GCHQ documents raise fresh questions over UK complicity in US drone strikes,  Guardian, June 24, 2015

70 Billion Dollars in Damages for BP Oil Spill

Beach clean up due to BP oil spill in Gulf of Mexico

The BP 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster could ultimately cost the company $60.2B-$68.2B, meaning the remaining legal entanglements including impending environmental fines and settlement payments could run up another $16B-$24B, Bloomberg Intelligence energy analyst William Hares says.Given how far oil prices have fallen, BP may have to sell off more assets, increase its debt load, strip more from its budget or, as a last resort, slash its dividend to deal with its liabilities, Hares says.Judge Barbier could rule on as much as $13.7B in potential Clean Water Act fines at any time, although another Bloomberg analyst believes he will trim the fines down to $5B-$8B, giving BP credit for its spill clean-up.However, five Gulf Coast states have sued BP for damages under the Oil Pollution Act, seeking a combined $35B in damages, billions are being paid out to Gulf Coast residents and businesses as part of a settlement, and courtroom battles with shareholders could amount to another $3.5B-$5.5B.

BP’s Gulf spill toll could run up to $68.2B, analyst says, seekingalpha.com
Jun 23 2015

Nuclear Embrace: the Saudi Arabia-Russia Deal

The the King of Saudi Arabia, and henceforth the relations witnessed remarkable growth…

Putin and Prince Muhammad Bin Salman discussed the latest developments in the region and reviewed the efforts being exerted to resolve major crises affecting the region….Al-Jubeir added that many agreements were signed on energy, space research and other fields…

According to sources, Russia will assist the Kingdom with technology and expertise in building nuclear reactors.The Kingdom has an ambitious plan to build around 16 nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes and generation of electricity.Since several months, the Russian nuclear experts were working along with K.A CARE officials to finalize the agreement.

Gen. Abdurahman Al-Binayan, chief of the Saudi General Staff, and Alexander Fomin, director of the Russian Federal Service for Military–Technical Cooperation, signed the agreement for cooperation in various military fields.  Saudi Ambassador to Russia Abdulrahman Al-Rassi said Moscow has an “important” role in implementing a Security Council resolution on Yemen.

Rassi said there was an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia on maintaining legitimacy of Yemeni President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi’s government, and that Moscow was key in implementing the resolution which demands that the Iran-backed Houthi militias withdraw from all areas seized during the latest conflict and relinquish arms seized from military and security institutions.

Excerpts  Russia -Saudi Arabia ties get a boost, Saudi Gazette, June  20, 2015

The Grinding War against the Islamic State

Islamic State (IS) insurgents, Anbar Province, Iraq. image from wikipedia

Excerpts from David A. Deptula,  How to Defeat the Islamic State, Washington Post

From the U.S. perspective, the most important goal is not the maintenance of the Iraqi government but the destruction of the Islamic State.  The current U.S.-led coalition is following the counterinsurgency model used in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade, but the Islamic State is not an insurgency. The Islamic State is a self-declared sovereign government. We must stop trying to fight the last war and develop a new strategy.
The Islamic State can be decomposed through a comprehensive and robust air campaign designed to: (1) terminate its expansion; (2) paralyze and isolate its command-and-control capability; (3) undermine its ability to control the territory it occupies; and (4) eliminate its ability to export ­terror.

But to do these things, air power has to be applied like a thunderstorm, not a drizzle. In the campaign against the Islamic State, we are averaging 12 strike sorties per day. During Operation Desert Storm in Iraq and Kuwait in 1991, the average was 1,241; in Operation Allied Force in Kosovo in 1999, it was 298; in the first 30 days of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, 691; during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001, 86.

In the past two decades, several strategic victories were brought about by air power operating in conjunction with indigenous ground forces — none of which were better than the Iraqi army. Robust air power, along with a few air controllers, carried the Northern Alliance to victory over the Taliban, at minimal cost in blood and treasure to the United States. Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya similarly involved airstrikes well in excess of those being used against the Islamic State.
Complicating the effort to defeat the Islamic State is an excessive focus on the avoidance of collateral damage and casualties. In an armed conflict, the military establishes rules of engagement designed to balance the moral imperative to minimize damage and unintentional casualties against what’s required to accomplish the mission. Recently reported by pilots actually fighting the Islamic State is that the current rules — which far exceed accepted “Law of War” standards — impose excessive restrictions that work to the advantage of the enemy. The ponderous and unnecessary set of procedures in place is allowing the Islamic State to exploit our desire to avoid civilian causalities to commit atrocities on the ground…

The best way to improve our force effectiveness while still minimizing collateral damage and casualties is to allow them to use their judgment. This is called “mission command,” and the Pentagon should empower our aviators to employ it.

The fastest way to end the inhumanity of war is to eliminate its source — in this case, the Islamic State — as quickly as possible. Gradualism doomed the effectiveness of air power in the “Rolling Thunder” air campaign from 1965 to 1968 during the Vietnam War. The current gradualist approach is worsening the suffering and increasing the loss of innocent life. While unintended casualties of war are regrettable, those associated with airstrikes pale in comparison with the savage acts being carried out by the Islamic State. What is the logic of a policy that restricts the use of air power to avoid the possibility of collateral damage while allowing the certainty of the Islamic State’s crimes against humanity?

This does not have to be a “long war,” as has been claimed by those whose politics benefit from that assertion, as well as those whose experience is rooted in counterinsurgency. The counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan went on for eight and 14 years, respectively. Desert Storm took 43 days; Bosnia’s Operation Deliberate Force, 22 days; Allied Force, 78 days; the decisive phase of Enduring Freedom took 60 days. A robust air campaign can devastate the Islamic State to the point where Iraqi and Kurdish forces can end the occupation.

Excerpts from David A. Deptula How to defeat the Islamic State, Washington Post, June 5, 2015

Why Nuclear Weapons are Here to Stay

 More details A Soviet inspector examines a BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missile in 1988 prior to its destruction. Image from wikipedia

[D]espite the establishment in 2009 of [a process to] discuss multilateral disarmament, not much has happened. The main reason is the chilling of relations between Russia and the West, which predated Russia’s annexation of Crimea. An offer by Mr Obama in 2013 of new negotiations to reduce each side’s stock of warheads by a third was met with stony silence.

More recently Russia has, according to America, violated both the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty, by testing a banned missile, and the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 that guaranteed Ukraine’s security when it gave up the nuclear weapons it had inherited on the break-up of the Soviet Union. The Russians are also refusing to attend next year’s Nuclear Security Summit, a meeting to prevent fissile material falling into the wrong hands.

Without further cuts in American and Russian nuclear forces (which account for more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons), China, the most opaque of the P5 power (US, UK, Russia, China, France), will block attempts to get multilateral disarmament talks going. However, Rose Gottemoeller, America’s under-secretary of state for arms control, praises China for its leading role in producing a common glossary of nuclear terminology. This may not sound much, but it is seen within the P5 as essential for future negotiations.

Ms Gottemoeller is also keen to stress that, despite the Russian impasse, America has tried to meet its obligations. It is eliminating “excess” warheads at the rate of almost one a day and closing down old bits of nuclear infrastructure. …It is doubtful whether these modest, incremental efforts will cut much ice with the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons Initiative, a movement supported by civil-society groups and championed by Austria, Norway and Mexico. Faced with what they see as foot-dragging by the P5 (which are modernising their nuclear forces to maintain their long-term effectiveness), the initiative’s backers, some of which want to make nuclear weapons illegal, may question whether working through the NPT serves any purpose…

Another source of friction is the failure to hold the conference on creating a WMD-free zone in the Middle East that was promised in 2010. Israel,…insists that regional security arrangements must precede any talks on disarmament, whereas Egypt says the first step is for Israel to accede to the NPT—a non-starter.

Excerpts from Nuclear weapons: Fractious, divided but still essential, Economist, May 2, 2015, at 54

Blowing Up Poaching Fishing Boats

Airline

The tiny Pacific nation of Palau, fighting a rising tide of illegal fishing in its waters, has set fire to four boats of Vietnamese caught poaching sea cucumbers and other marine life in its waters. Palau’s president, Tommy Remengesau Jr., said..he hopes to turn most of the island nation’s territorial waters into a national marine sanctuary, banning commercial fishing and exports apart from limited areas to be used by domestic fishermen and tourists. “We wanted to send a very strong message. We will not tolerate any more these pirates who come and steal our resources,” Remengesau said in a phone interview with The Associated Press from Washington, D.C., where he was visiting.

The country created the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009, but until recently had only one patrol boat to help protect its great hammerheads, leopard sharks and more than 130 other species of shark and rays fighting extinction.

The four boats destroyed  were among 15 Palau authorities have caught fishing illegally in their waters since 2014  with loads of sharks and shark fins, lobsters, sea cucumbers and reef fish. Several of the boats that it seized, stripped of their fishing gear, are due to carry 77 crew members of the boats back to Vietnam.  Remengesau said that the stream of poachers showed that just stripping the rogue boats of their nets and confiscating their catches was not enough”I think it’s necessary to burn the boats,” he said.

Palau, about 600 miles miles east of the Philippines, is one of the world’s smallest countries, its 20,000 people scattered across a tropical archipelago of 250 islands that is considered a biodiversity hotspot. In 2012, its Rock Islands Southern Lagoon was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Driven by rising demand from China and elsewhere in Asia, overfishing threatens many species of fish. ..[A]bout a fifth of the global market for marine products caught and sold, or about $23.5 billion, is caught illegally.  Advances in telecommunications and vessel tracking technology have improved surveillance, but enforcing restrictions on unauthorized fishing is costly and difficult, especially given the many “pockets” of high seas in the area….From Palau to Japan is a vast expanse of seas that nobody controls and nobody owns, areas that serve as refuges for illegal fishing vessels.

One way to counter that tactic is to create a “geofence” using vessel identification systems that could trigger alerts when vessels cross into national waters.

Nearby Indonesia also is taking harsher action, recently blowing up and sinking 41 foreign fishing vessels from China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, as a warning against poaching in the country’s waters.

In Hanoi, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh recently told reporters the government was seeking to protect the rights of the fishermen. He urged other governments to “render humanitarian treatment toward the Vietnamese fishing trawlers and fishermen on the basis of international law as well as humanitarian treatment toward fishermen who were in trouble at sea.”  While burning and sinking such ships seems drastic, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has backed such moves, ruling that countries can be held liable for not taking necessary measures to prevent illegal, unreported or unregulated, so-called IUU, fishing operations by their vessels in the waters of other countries.

In a report on IUU fishing last year, the Indonesia government outlined a slew of tactics used by poachers, including fake use of Indonesian flags on foreign vessels, forgery of documents and use of bogus fishing vessels using duplicate names and registration numbers of legitimate ships.

Excerpts from Elaine KurtenbachPalau burns Vietnamese boats caught fishing illegally, Associated Press, June 12, 2015

When the U.N. Sits on its Hands: Chlorine Attacks in Syria

Ghouta massacre, Aug. 21, 2013 Syria. Use of chemical weapons

The U.N. Security Council should make sure that the people allegedly responsible for chlorine attacks in Syria are brought to justice, Russia’s U.N. ambassador said on June 3, 2015….The United States has been promoting Security Council action to assess blame for alleged chlorine attacks, which Syrian activists and doctors say have been increasingly used in recent weeks.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the global chemical weapons watchdog based in The Hague, Netherlands, has condemned the use of chlorine in Syria as a breach of international law. But the OPCW does not have a mandate to determine responsibility for the use of chemical weapons.  In its latest report, the OPCW said a fact-finding team would visit Syria to look into recent allegations of attacks using toxic chemicals. Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari told The Associated Press that the team had arrived and would visit areas that the two parties agreed on.

The United States has been pressing for “an accountability mechanism” to attribute blame and has been discussing council action with the Russians and other council members.  A Security Council diplomat… said there is no single view yet on how best to achieve accountability. The diplomat said Russia favors a weaker approach while Western council members are insisting on a resolution that puts accountability under the Security Council, in consultation with the OPCW.

EDITH M. LEDERER , Russia Wants Accountability for Chlorine Attacks in Syria, Associated Press, June 3, 2015

A Golden Opportunity: Russia and China Collaboration

china-russia-map (1)

Relations between China and Russia have been growing closer since the end of the cold war. Both, for different reasons, resent America’s “hegemony” and share a desire for a more multipolar world order. Russia, a declining great power, is looking for ways to recover at least some of its lost status; whereas China, a rising power, bridles at what it sees as American attempts to constrain it…..

But there have been occasional tensions. Russia played a key role during the 1990s in helping China to modernise its military forces. Russia was able to preserve a defence-industrial base that would otherwise have withered from lack of domestic orders. But since the middle of the last decade, irked by China’s theft of its military technology and its consequent emergence as a rival in the arms market, Russia’s weapons sales to its neighbour have slowed.

Russia is also wary of becoming little more than a supplier of natural resources to China’s industrial machine—a humiliating position for a country that until recently saw China as backward. As long as Russia could sell to Europe all the gas required to keep the Russian economy growing, it could put deals with China on hold. These included plans for two gas pipelines from Siberia into China that were announced in 2006 and then quietly dropped as the two sides bickered over prices.

All that has changed. The Ukrainian crisis is, as Russian media put it, forcing Russia to “pivot” its economy towards Asia in an effort to lessen the impact of Western sanctions by finding alternative markets and sources of capital. For China it is a golden opportunity to gain greater access to Russia’s natural resources, at favourable prices, as well as to secure access to big infrastructure contracts that might have gone to Western competitors and to provide financing for projects that will benefit Chinese firms.

But China abstained from voting on the UN Security Council resolutions condemning Russia, while Chinese media have given Russia strong support. China has quietly welcomed a new cold war in Europe that might distract America from its declared “rebalancing” towards Asia.

Striking evidence of the new closeness between China and Russia was a $400 billion gas deal signed in May 2014 under which Russia will supply China with 38 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas annually from 2018 for 30 years. At China’s insistence, the gas will come from new fields in eastern Siberia and will pass through an as yet unbuilt pipeline—the better for ensuring that it will not be diverted elsewhere. Other deals have followed. The biggest was a preliminary agreement signed in November 2014  for Russia to sell an additional 30 bcm a year through a proposed pipeline from western Siberia. In every instance it is probable that China was able to drive a hard bargain on price.

Russia’s weakness was also clear in its recent decision to resume high-tech arms exports to China. In April it agreed to sell China an air-defence system, the S-400, for about $3 billion. This will help give China dominance of the air over Taiwan and the Senkaku islands (Diaoyu to the Chinese, who dispute Japan’s claim to them). In November 2014 Russia said it was prepared to sell China its latest Sukhoi-35S combat aircraft. Initially it had refused to sell any fewer than 48, in order to make up for losses it calculated it would suffer as a result of China’s inevitable pilfering of the designs. Now it has meekly agreed to sell only 24.

But problems ahead are discernible. One is that both countries are competing for influence in Central Asia, once Russia’s backyard (Mr Xi was due to head there before proceeding to Moscow). Mr Putin wants to establish his Eurasian Economic Union partly to counter growing Chinese economic power in Central Asia, through which China wants to develop what it calls a Silk Road Economic Belt. China is using the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), of which Russia and Central Asian nations are also members, to boost its security ties in the region as well: it often holds counter-terrorism exercises with its SCO partners.

Russia and China: An Uneasy Friendship, Economist, May 9, 2015, at 37.