Tag Archives: laws of war

Ingrained Sexual Violence in Sudan

Dinka girl by Richard Buchta late 19th century

Women in South Sudan have suffered unprecedented levels of sexual violence in the last two years, including abduction, rape, forced marriage and murder as civilians became targets of merciless ethnic warfare, the head of the Red Cross mission there has said.  “We went to one village to distribute aid and (our teams) were told they had been attacked some days earlier and 90 women had been abducted. After several days only about 60 of them came back,” said Franz Rauchenstein, the outgoing head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation.The latest turbulent chapter in South Sudan’s four years of independence erupted in December 2013, after a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, revived tensions between Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer people.

“Civilians have been directly targeted. The people are collateral damage of the attacks. Houses are burnt, properties destroyed and so the people are literally running for their lives,” Rauchenstein said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation in London.  “What is new in this conflict is that women have been attacked while they have been seeking refuge on the islands,” said Rauchenstein, referring to the remote hideouts in swamps where traumatised civilians hide during attacks….Human rights groups have also pointed to cases of gang rape, of pregnant women being cut open and of women being raped using wooden sticks or plastic bottles.

Scale of South Sudan sexual violence is unprecedented – Red Cross, Reuters, Oct. 8, 2015

Naming the Dead of the CIA Drone War

Naming the Dead is a project run by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a not-for-profit research organisation based in London. The project aims to identify those killed in CIA drone strikes on Pakistan.  Over the past nine years, the tribal region of Pakistan’s north west has been hit by hundreds of drone attacks as the CIA has sought to stamp out al Qaeda fighters and the militant groups that have given them shelter.  Missiles launched from these high-tech, unmanned aircraft have hit homes, cars, schools, shops and gatherings. At least 2,500 people have been killed, according to data already collected by the Bureau as part of our wider Covert Drone War research.

Senior US officials have described drones as highly precise weapons that target and kill enemies of the US. John Brennan, who oversaw the development of the drone campaign and is now director of the CIA, has called drone technology an ‘essential tool’ for its ‘surgical precision – the ability, with laser-like focus, to eliminate the cancerous tumour called an al Qaeda terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it.’

Those killed by drones include high-ranking militant leaders – figures such as Abu Yahya al Libi, al Qaeda’s feared second-in-command, or Baitullah Mehsud, commander of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP).  But according to credible media reports analysed by the Bureau, the dead also include at least 400 civilians. Some were unlucky enough to be nearby when militants were attacked. Others were killed alongside their husbands or fathers, who were believed to be militants. Still others were mistaken for terrorists by drone operators sitting thousands of miles away.

In most cases, there is little information available about who the drones are really killing. Most of the dead – an estimated four-fifths of those killed – are believed to be militants. But their deaths are typically reported as a number – their names, origins and livelihoods remain a mystery.  For so many people to die in obscurity, unnamed and unacknowledged, is a tragedy. But it is a further tragedy that the public, and even policy makers, are unable to properly test whether drones are ‘highly precise weapons’ when so little is known about who is actually dying.

Through Naming the Dead, the Bureau aims to increase the transparency around this conflict and inform the public debate. Initially this project will record all names published in open-source material – in credible reports by journalists, in legal documents presented in court, in academic studies and in field investigations carried out by human rights groups.  In the future, the Bureau aims to identify more of the dead on a regular basis, and to uncover more details of those who have been killed. Where possible we will provide further identification – where they were killed, and their occupations, full names and ages. In the remote areas of Pakistan where drone strikes take place, official identification is rare. Few people possess identification cards, birth certificates, or even documents recording their relatives’ deaths. But wherever possible this project will provide documentation recording a person’s death.

Photographs of the destruction of a particular site are included in the database. Affidavits, photos, hospital records, student identification and transcripts of interviews with researchers are all provided when available. Over time, the Bureau aims to build on such currently scarce records in an attempt to properly scrutinise the little that is reported, and the claims being made – on all sides.

Bureau of Investigative Journalism

The South Sudan Blow Up

Jonglei,_South_Sudan

More than 300 people were killed and thousands sent fleeing into bush during two weeks of fighting between South Sudan’s army, rebels and rival tribes in the east of the country last month, officials said.  South Sudan’s army is grappling with a rebellion led by politician David Yau Yau in vast Jonglei state and new clashes have broken out between the Lou Nuer and Murle tribes. More than 1,600 people have been killed in a cycle of tribal violence in Jonglei since the break-up of Africa’s largest country.

Western powers are worried the violence will escalate into full-blown civil war, undermining stability in the young African country, which is awash with arms after decades of conflict with Khartoum that led to its secession from Sudan in 2011, Reuters reports.  A team of local chiefs travelling around Pibor County in Jonglei had reported 328 deaths so far – all Murle members and some of them women and children, according to Jodi Jonglei Boyoris, a senior state representative. The number of Lou Nuer killed and wounded remained unknown. Boyoris said he expected the death toll to rise although the fighting had died down this month…

The United Nations has said thousands of people are hiding in the bush outside Pibor town in Jonglei to avoid the conflict between the army and Yau Yau, who says he is fighting corruption, army abuses and one-party rule in South Sudan.  The United Nations estimates 100,000 people have been affected by the conflict, with many fleeing to the bush and cut off from humanitarian access

Excerpt, Over 300 killed, thousands uprooted in bout of South Sudan fighting, Reuters, Aug. 12, 2013

Secret Document: 94 children killed by US drones in Pakistan

Armed Predator Drone, Image from wikipedia

A secret document obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism  reveals for the first time the Pakistan government’s internal assessment of dozens of drone strikes, and shows scores of civilian casualties.  The United States has consistently claimed only a tiny number of non-combatants have been killed in drone attacks in Pakistan – despite research by the Bureau and others suggesting that over 400 civilians may have died in the nine-year campaign.

The internal document shows Pakistani officials too found that CIA drone strikes were killing a significant number of civilians – and have been aware of those deaths for many years.  Of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes outlined in the document, at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated to be civilian victims, 94 of those are said to be children.

The confidential 12-page summary paper, titled Details of Attacks by Nato Forces/Predators in FATA was prepared by government officials in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).  Based on confidential reports from a network of government agents in the field, it outlines 75 separate CIA drone strikes between 2006 and late 2009 and provides details of casualties in many of the attacks. Five attacks alleged to be carried out by Nato or other unspecified forces are also listed.

The numbers recorded are much higher than those provided by the US administration, which continues to insist that no more than 50 to 60 ‘non-combatants’ have been killed by the CIA across the entire nine years of Pakistan bombings. New CIA director John Brennan has described claims to the contrary as ‘intentional misrepresentations‘.  The document shows that during the 2006-09 period covered, when Pakistan’s government and military were privately supporting the CIA’s campaign, officials had extensive internal knowledge of high civilian casualties.

Excerpt, Chris Woods, Exclusive: Leaked Pakistani report confirms high civilian death toll in CIA drone strikes, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, July 22, 2013

The Hunter and Killer Algorithmic Drones

Drone Aladin of the German army 2008. Image from wikipedia

The Pentagon is discussing the possibility of replacing human drone operators with computer algorithms, especially for ‘signature strikes’ where unknown targets are killed simply because they meet certain criteria. So what characteristics define an ‘enemy combatant’ and where are they outlined in law?

Drone strikes and targeted killings have become the weapon of choice for the Obama administration in their ongoing war against terrorists. But what impact is this technology having, not only on those who are the targets (both intended and unintended), but on the way we are likely to wage war in the future?

John Sifton is the advocacy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch, and says that while drones are currently controlled remotely by trained military personnel, there are already fears that the roving killing machines could be automated in the future.  ‘One of the biggest concerns human rights groups have right now is the notion of a signature strike,’ he says. ‘[This is] the notion that you could make a decision about a target based on its appearance. Say—this man has a Kalashnikov, he’s walking on the side of the road, he is near a military base. He’s a combatant, let’s kill him. That decision is made by a human right now, but the notion that you could write an algorithm for that and then program it into a drone… sounds science fiction but is in fact what the Pentagon is already thinking about. There are already discussions about this, autonomous weapons systems.’‘That is to human rights groups the most terrifying spectre that is currently presented by the drones.’

Sarah Knuckey is the director of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions at New York University Law School and an advisor to the UN. She says the way that drones are used to conduct warfare is stretching the limits of previous international conventions and is likely to require new rules of engagement to be drawn up…The rules of warfare built up after World War II to protect civilians are already hopelessly outdated, she says. The notion of border sovereignty has already been trashed by years of drone strikes, which she estimates have targeted upwards of 3,000 individuals, with reports of between 400 and 800 civilian casualties.

Excerpt from Annabelle Quince, Future of drone strikes could see execution by algorithm, May 21, 2013

Lethal Operations Directed Against US Citizens are Lawful: secret memo

Underground facility detection and characterization. Image from wikipedia.  See http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DARPA_Strategic_Plan_(2009).pdf

A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects abroad, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes….The undated memo is entitled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qa’ida or An Associated Force.” It was provided to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees in June by administration officials on the condition that it be kept confidential and not discussed publicly.

Although not an official legal memo, the white paper was represented by administration officials as a policy document that closely mirrors the arguments of classified memos on targeted killings by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provides authoritative legal advice to the president and all executive branch agencies. The administration has refused to turn over to Congress or release those memos publicly — or even publicly confirm their existence. A source with access to the white paper, which is not classified, provided a copy to NBC News.

“This is a chilling document,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, which is suing to obtain administration memos about the targeted killing of Americans. “Basically, it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen. … It recognizes some limits on the authority it sets out, but the limits are elastic and vaguely defined, and it’s easy to see how they could be manipulated.”…..

The completeness of the administration’s public accounts of its legal arguments was also sharply criticized last month by U.S. Judge Colleen McMahon in response to a lawsuit brought by the New York Times and the ACLU seeking access to the Justice Department memos on drone strikes targeting Americans under the Freedom of Information Act. McMahon, describing herself as being caught in a “veritable Catch-22,” said she was unable to order the release of the documents given “the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws while keeping the reasons for the conclusion a secret.”  In her ruling, McMahon noted that administration officials “had engaged in public discussion of the legality of targeted killing, even of citizens.” But, she wrote, they have done so “in cryptic and imprecise ways, generally without citing … any statute or court decision that justifies its conclusions.”……..

“A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination,” the white paper reads. “In the Department’s view, a lethal operation conducted against a U.S. citizen whose conduct poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States would be a legitimate act of national self-defense that would not violate the assassination ban. Similarly, the use of lethal force, consistent with the laws of war, against an individual who is a legitimate military target would be lawful and would not violate the assassination ban.”

Excerpts from Michael Isikoff. EXCLUSIVE: Justice Department memo reveals legal case for drone strikes on Americans, NBC News, Feb. 6, 2012

What is the High Energy Liquid Laser?

HELLADS 2

From the DARPA website

Enemy surface-to-air threats to manned and unmanned aircraft have become increasingly sophisticated, creating a need for rapid and effective response to this growing category of threats. High power lasers can provide a solution to this challenge, as they harness the speed and power of light to counter multiple threats. Laser weapon systems provide additional capability for offensive missions as well—adding precise targeting with low probability of collateral damage. For consideration as a weapon system on today’s air assets though, these laser weapon systems must be lighter and more compact than the state-of-the-art has produced.

The goal of the High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) program is to develop a 150 kilowatt (kW) laser weapon system that is ten times smaller and lighter than current lasers of similar power, enabling integration onto tactical aircraft to defend against and defeat ground threats. With a weight goal of less than five kilograms per kilowatt, and volume of three cubic meters for the laser system, HELLADS seeks to enable high-energy lasers to be integrated onto tactical aircraft, significantly increasing engagement ranges compared to ground-based systems.

The program has completed laboratory testing of a fundamental building block for HELLADS, a single laser module that successfully demonstrated the ability to achieve high power and beam quality from a significantly lighter and smaller laser. The program is now in the final development phase where a second laser module will be built and combined with the first module to generate 150 kW of power.

The plan is for the laser to be transported to White Sands Missile Range for ground testing against rockets, mortars, surface-to-air missiles and to conduct simulated air-to-ground offensive missions.

High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS)

What is an Entrenched War—Iraq

Car bomb Iraq

On the last day of 2012, a year after the last American troops left Iraq, ending nearly nine years of military occupation, at least 36 Iraqis perished in a wave of bombings and shootings across the country that targeted policemen, government officials and ordinary people of varied sects. According to Iraq Body Count (IBC), a meticulous mainly American and British monitoring group, the overall toll in deaths of civilians due to political violence last year was 4,471, slightly more than the year before. On average, there were 18 bombings and 53 violent deaths a week. Iraq is hardly a country at peace.Yet the monthly toll in 2012 fell steadily and markedly after June. ..

Yet few Iraqis are celebrating. That extra money has yet to improve public services or to raise family incomes appreciably. The underlying violence still amounts to what the IBC terms “an entrenched conflict”. Worse, the factors that feed the strife are still at play. In particular, Nuri al-Maliki, the tough Shia Muslim who has been prime minister since 2006, shows increasingly authoritarian, sectarian and democracy-sapping tendencies, ruthlessly ousting or outmanoeuvring rivals, and using underhand methods to impose his will…Sunni grievances go deep. Long dominant until Saddam Hussein’s fall (he was executed in 2006) and having suffered the brunt of violence during America’s occupation, Iraq’s Sunni Arabs reckon they are now deliberately marginalised. Addressing a crowd in the town of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, Mr Issawi complained that Sunnis were being “ghettoised”. Districts where they still predominate in Baghdad had, he said, been turned into “giant prisons ringed by concrete blocks.”

The civil war next door in Syria, with its increasingly bitter sectarian flavour, has not helped. While Iraqi Sunni groups, including some tied to al-Qaeda, lend arms and fighters to Syria’s rebels, Mr Maliki’s government quietly aids Bashar Assad’s embattled regime. Sunni Iraqi insurgents who once attacked Americans are targeting Iraqi Shias and people connected to Mr Maliki’s government. The recent Sunni protests have also gained sympathy from Muqtada al-Sadr, a fiery Shia cleric whose powerful popular movement has grown increasingly critical of Mr Maliki.

Iraq is still a violent mess. Its democracy, imposed by the Americans, looks fragile. And the prospect of real harmony between the three main ethnic and sectarian components—Arab Shias, Arab Sunnis and Kurds—looks as distant as ever.

Iraq: Still bloody, Economist Jan. 5, 2013. at 35

Kurdistan Independence

 

Torture in Afghanistan: following the master

Image from wikipedia

The UN report (2013), titled “Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghan Custody,” offered a grim tour of Afghanistan’s detention facilities, where even adolescents have reported abuse like beatings with hoses and pipes and threats of sodomy.

In the case of the intelligence service, the United Nations reported a lower incidence of torture. But it was not clear whether that finding reflected improved behavior as much as it did a decrease in the number of detainees handed over to the intelligence service by the international military coalition. And some detainees have alluded to new secret interrogation centers.

The Afghan government rejected the report’s specific allegations but said that there were some abuses, and that it had taken numerous steps to improve the treatment of detainees. The government gave United Nations officials access to those held in all but one detention facility.Among the questions raised by the report is whether the pervasiveness of torture will make it difficult for the American military to hand over those being held in the Parwan Detention Facility, also known as Bagram Prison, as required under the agreement reached last week in Washington between President Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.  The United Nations did not look at the Parwan Detention Facility, in part because it is not yet wholly under Afghan control….

After a United Nations report on torture in 2011, the international coalition suspended transfers of battlefield detainees to 16 Afghan detention sites. ISAF resumed transfers to most of those centers after certifying that they were complying with human rights protocols. Then, in October 2012, the coalition received new reports of torture and abuse and halted some of the transfers that it had restarted only months before, the United Nations report said. The United Nations has briefed ISAF at several points in the course of its research, which included interviews with more than 600 detainees as well as employees of the Afghan intelligence service, the Afghan police, judges and prosecutors….The Afghan government’s 20-page response, which is included in the United Nations report, rejected all specific allegations, including “beating with rubber pipes or water pipes, forced confession, suspension, twisting of the detainees’ penises and wrenching of the detainees’ testicles, death threats, sexual abuse and child abuse.”

ALISSA J. RUBIN, Anti-Torture Efforts in Afghanistan Failed, U.N. Says, NY Times, Jan. 20, 2012

See also Convention against Torture

 

One Thug Gone, One Too Many Remain: Libya

Hours after taking control of Bani Walid, a former stronghold of Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan militias from the rival city of Misrata fired ferociously at its empty public buildings.  Fighters yelling “Allahu akbar (God is greatest) and “Today Bani Walid is finished” sought to make their mark with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades on a town they say still provides a refuge to many of the overthrown Libyan leader’s followers.  The chaotic, vengeful scenes demonstrated the weakness of the new government’s authority over former rebel militias which owe it allegiance but essentially do what they like, Reuters reports…After days of shelling that sent thousands of families fleeing from the hilltop town in scenes reminiscent of last year’s war, militias aligned with the defence ministry, a grouping known as Libya Shield, seized Bani Walid on Wednesday (Oct. 24, 2012.)  he latest fighting, in which dozens of people were killed and hundreds wounded, erupted over a government demand that Bani Walid hand over those who had kidnapped and tortured Omar Shaaban, the former rebel fighter who had caught Gaddafi hiding in a drain in his hometown of Sirte last year.  Shaaban, from Misrata, a city that underwent a harsh siege by Gaddafi’s forces, died in a Paris hospital last month from injuries inflicted during two months of captivity in Bani Walid.   The United Nations had called for restraint as militias gathered menacingly around Bani Walid, whose residents had baulked at turning over the wanted men to unruly armed groups, while Libya’s justice system remains in disarray….Many people in Bani Walid belong to the powerful Warfala tribe, which was mostly loyal to Gaddafi.  The town and its now-displaced inhabitants, long isolated from the rest of Libya, fear retribution and wonder what fate awaits them in the post-Gaddafi era.

A disquieting example is offered by Sirte, whose residents feel neglected by Libya’s new rulers, saying they are paying the price for being the last bastion of Gaddafi, who was killed there on October 20, 2011. His death has yet to be investigated…

“Where is the international community?” Bani Walid tribal elder Mohammed al-Shetawi said by phone after leaving the town.  “Where is the United Nations and the European Union and the other people in the world, why have they forgotten us?”…

Excerpt, Capture of Libyan town smacks of revenge, not reconciliation, Reuters, Oct. 26, 2012