David Cameron

China Rivaling British in Crackdown on Critical Journalism

The American press is (rightly) outraged by the news that Chinese officials showed up unannounced to “inspect” Bloomberg’s Chinese bureaus.

In what appears to be a conspicuous show of displeasure, Chinese authorities conducted unannounced “inspections” at Bloomberg News bureaus in Beijing and Shanghai in the final days of November, Fortune has learned. The visits followed media reports that Bloomberg cancelled a year-long investigation on financial ties between a Chinese billionaire and government officials.

[snip]

Details of the inspections, conducted on the same day at the news bureaus in Beijing and Shanghai, are sketchy. It’s unclear how many officials were present or what government agency they represented. Different sources say, variously, that the visits were characterized as “security inspections” or “safety inspections.” But journalists inside Bloomberg view the appearance by civil government officials (they weren’t police) as an act of intimidation—precisely the reaction Bloomberg was eager to avoid.

And David Cameron told his Chinese hosts he was unhappy that Bloomberg reporter Robert Hutton was excluded from a joint press conference with him and Li Keqiang.

Downing Street has protested to the Chinese authorities about a “completely inappropriate” decision to bar a British journalist from a press conference in Beijing with David Cameron and his Chinese counterpart, Li Keqiang.

No 10 raised “deep concerns” on two occasions with Chinese officials after the foreign ministry excluded Robert Hutton, a political journalist with the US wire service Bloomberg, from the event at the Great Hall of the People on Monday.

Really, though, Cameron might have instead offered the Chinese tips about how satisfying it is to force a transnational journalistic outlet to destroy its hard drives with a power drill when shadowy figures show up in the name of “security.” For all the outrage directed at China, after all, the UK is not above aggressive censorship of damning information about its own government.

While the home of the Magna Carta chooses to use such persecution when a newspaper threatens to expose that it is really a surveillance state, the “Communist” leaders in China need to squelch stories of their own enrichment and corruption. But both are engaged in a similar paranoid suppression of news stories that goes to the heart of the fictions mobilized to rationalize their rule.

Which makes it rather telling that the Chinese example is getting so much more attention.

Peace Initiative Gains Momentum in Afghanistan Despite Lack of Participation by US

Last week, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Washington, DC for a series of meetings. The final press appearance by Sharif and Barack Obama was noted by the New York Times to be somewhat awkward as Sharif paid whispered lip service to Pakistani objections to drone attacks while Obama ignored the topic entirely. The joint appearance was quickly overshadowed by release of an article from Greg Miller and Bob Woodward leaking a number of documents relating to the drone program. Both Marcy and I commented on the release and what it could mean.

The concept of the end of the war in Afghanistan got a bit of a mention in the Times article on Sharif’s visit:

With the United States’ winding down the Afghan war, Mr. Obama reminded Mr. Sharif of the importance of a stable, sovereign Afghanistan. American officials have long been suspicious of links between the Pakistani military and militant groups like the Haqqani network, which has carried out attacks on Westerners in Afghanistan.

For its part, the Sharif government has signaled an interest in negotiating with the Pakistani Taliban, a process that analysts said the United States should encourage.

But heaven forbid that Afghanistan should attempt to talk with Pakistan’s Taliban. Recall that earlier this month, the US snatched a high-ranking figure of the Pakistan Taliban from Afghan security forces as they were bringing him to a meeting. The cover story at the time from Afghanistan was to suggest that they were attempting to start peace talks with Latif Mehsud. An article in yesterday’s New York Times suggests that Afghanistan actually intended to work with Mehsud to develop a sort of alliance with the Pakistan Taliban and to use them as a pressure point against Pakistan’s government. What intrigues me most about this possibility is that Afghanistan claimed that this tactic was merely an imitation of what the US has done repeatedly in Afghanistan:

Another Afghan official said the logic of the region dictated the need for unseemly alliances. The United States, in fact, has relied on some of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords to fight the insurgency here, the official tartly noted.

“Everyone has an angle,” the official said. “That’s the way we’re thinking. Some people said we needed our own.”

Afghan officials said those people included American military officers and C.I.A. operatives. Frustrated by their limited ability to hit Taliban havens in Pakistan, some Americans suggested that the Afghans find a way to do it, they claimed.

So Afghanistan’s intelligence agency believed it had a green light from the United States when it was approached by Mr. Mehsud sometime in the past year.

Just in case you’ve forgotten, the last time we checked, the most notorious warlord war criminal of them all, Rashid Dostum, was still getting about $100,000 every month from the US while also drawing a salary as Karzai’s Army Chief of Staff. Coupling that with the Petraeus plan of incorporating the worst militias directly into the death squads of the Afghan Local Police while providing them support from the CIA and JSOC, and we can see why Afghanistan would feel that there are zero moral constraints on working with groups having a violent tendency.

But apparently in the Calvinball playing field of Afghanistan, only the US is allowed to make shadowy alliances, and so the US snatched Mehsud away from Afghanistan before any alliance could be formed. But even if we chalk that move up to an honest move to take a noted terrorist out of action, US behavior on other fronts relating to Afghanistan and Pakistan still continue to illustrate that the only US priorities are more military action in Afghanistan and more drone strikes in Pakistan.

Sharif’s next stop after Washington was London. But instead of awkward public appearances, the UK has instead set up meetings for Sharif directly with Hamid Karzai: Continue reading

The Assange Diplomatic Standoff Exposes Precisely the Same Side of US/UK as WikiLeaks Cables

everywhere there’s a US post… there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed –Bradley Manning

Yesterday, in anticipation of Ecuador’s imminent (and now announced) official decision to offer Julian Assange, the British sent this letter to the Ecuadorans.

You should be aware that there is a legal basis in the U.K. the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act which would allow us to take action to arrest Mr. Assange in the current premises of the Embassy.

We very much hope not to get this point, but if you cannot resolve the issue of Mr. Assange’s presence on your premises, this route is open to us.
We understand the importance to you of the issues raised by Mr. Assange, and the strong public pressure in country. But we still have to resolve the situation on the ground, here in the U.K., in line with our legal obligations. We have endeavored to develop a joint text, which helps both meet your concerns, and presentational needs.

Then they sent several vans of police to the Ecuadoran embassy.

In short, the British are threatening to enter the Ecuadoran embassy, purportedly to carry out an extradition for a crime that Assange has not yet been charged with. Actually entering the mission would violate the Vienna diplomatic convention that holds that “The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.” Craig Murray reports [mirror] that the Brits have decided to do so, in response to American pressure.

I returned to the UK today to be astonished by private confirmation from within the FCO that the UK government has indeed decided – after immense pressure from the Obama administration – to enter the Ecuadorean Embassy and seize Julian Assange.

[snip]

The government’s calculation is that, unlike Ecuador, Britain is a strong enough power to deter such intrusions. This is yet another symptom of the “might is right” principle in international relations, in the era of the neo-conservative abandonment of the idea of the rule of international law.

Continue reading

The Brits Move Forward with Secret Court Plan–Because, We Claim, They Can’t Keep Secrets

There’s one more tangential detail to the UndieBomb plot that deserves mention.

The involvement of a Saudi-handled infiltrator in the plot was revealed by May 8. The Brits knew then that it was not just the Saudis and CIA whose operation had been exposed, but MI6 and MI5, who had been involved in recruiting the guy.

The spy who helped Western intelligence agencies thwart a plot to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner was a British national of Middle Eastern origin, sources tell NBC News.

The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, also say that British intelligence was “heavily involved” in recruiting the spy, who has not yet been identified publicly, and penetrating the plot by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to detonate a new, more sophisticated underwear bomb aboard a U.S. jetliner.

Mind you, we didn’t learn that until May 11. But the British government? They already knew it.

Which means they knew it before the Queen gave new emphasis to the plan to expand the use of secret courts in counterterrorism matters.

My government will introduce legislation to strengthen oversight of the security and intelligence agencies. This will also allow courts, through the limited use of closed proceedings, to hear a greater range of evidence in national security cases.

Remember, British Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is ostensibly doing this primarily because the fact that the British told us Binyam Mohamed’s treatment might amount to torture was revealed in his suit against the British government.

Plans to expand secret hearings into civil courts have been accelerated by the government. Rather than moving to the preparatory white paper stage, a justice and security bill will be put through parliament this session.

The government has come under severe pressure from MI5 and MI6 to impose a system of secret hearings in courts ever since disclosures that the security and intelligence agencies had been involved in the brutal treatment, and knew of the torture, of UK residents and citizens detained by the CIA.
[snip]
Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, has said the powers are needed to reassure other countries, particularly the United States, that they can continue to share intelligence without fear of it being exposed in British courts. Continue reading

Trading Renditions for Oil Contracts

In September, Libyan rebels found a collection of documents that seemed as if they had been specially packaged to cause the US and–especially–the Brits a great deal of embarrassment. They detailed the rendition to Libyan torture of one of the leaders of the anti-Qaddafi uprising, Adul Hakim Belhaj. Today, the Guardian has a long, important article detailing the story behind that package of documents. Go read the whole thing–but here’s the chronology it lays out.

  1. In the lead-up to efforts to make friends with Qaddafi in 2002 and 2003, the Brits reversed their long-standing tolerance of members of the anti-Qaddafi Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG)
  2. As part of this effort, they tried to expel “M” in an immigration proceeding protected by their version of State Secrets (the form of tribunal the Cameron government is trying to expand)
  3. At the same time, they started working to deliver Belhaj to Qaddafi; in November 2003, the British assured Libya they were working with Chinese intelligence to capture him
  4. In March 2004, the secret court rejected “M’s” deportation from the UK, accusing the Home Office of deliberately exaggerating ties between LIFG and al Qaeda
  5. Also in March 2004, Belhaj and his four months pregnant wife, Fatima Bouchar, were held in a facility on or near the Thai airport for five days; Belhaj was tortured
  6. On March 8, they were then rendered to Libya; the rendition flight stopped for refueling in Diego Garcia (the plane would proceed from Libya to Iraq to render Yunus Rahmatullah–the US prisoner who won a habeas petition in the UK–to Afghanistan)
  7. Two weeks after Belhaj and Bouchar arrived in Libya, Tony Blair visited Libya and Shell announced a £110m deal for oil exploration off Libya’s coast
  8. Bouchar was released after four months–just before she delivered her first child; Belhaj and another LIFG leader, Abu Munthir al-Saadi, were held six years
  9. In early sessions with British interrogators, Belhaj and al-Saadi were told they would receive better treatment if they claimed LIFG had ties to al Qaeda [Note this was in a period when we had reason to want to have good reason to hold a bunch of Libyans we had captured in Afghanistan]
  10. In 2005 the British declared LIFG a terrorist organization and expelled members, including “M”; presumably they used intelligence gathered in Libya using torture

In short, the British appear to have traded a handful of LIFG members to lay the groundwork for an expanded oil relationship with Qaddafi–a relationship that would culminate, in 2009, with the exchange of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for some BP contracts [see chetnolian's correction on this point].

And along the way, in a process that parallels what has happened as we’ve killed off Taliban leaders with drone strikes, LIFG grew more extreme.

By early 2005, the British government had been forced to conclude that the capture of the more moderate elements among the LIFG leadership, such as Belhaj and al-Saadi, had resulted in a power vacuum that was being filled by men with pan-Islamist ambitions. Among a number of documents found in a second Tripoli cache, at the British ambassador’s abandoned residence, was a secret 58-page MI5 briefing paper that said “the extremists are now in the ascendancy,” and that they were “pushing the group towards a more pan-Islamic agenda inspired by AQ [al-Qaida]“.

Well then, if Libya ends up going sour or chaos continues to leach into Mali, I guess we’ll only have ourselves and Obama’s celebrated Libyan intervention to blame.

That and the crimes we committed 8 years ago all so the Brits could get Libyan oil.

One final comment. As it becomes increasingly clear how our former partners in crime can make life difficult if they lose their power, I wonder if it changes US willingness to back our old partner in torture in Egypt?

Is Obama Threatening the “Special Relationship” to Hide Torture?

I noted, when David Cameron was in town, that his Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, was pushing to expand “closed material proceedings” as a way to better protect secret information. The effort was a response, Clarke claimed, to courts forcing the government to release information about Binyam Mohamed’s torture, which ended up revealing the US was using some torture techniques before the Bybee Memo purportedly approved torture.

Now, Cameron’s government is ratcheting up the fear-mongering, claiming that the US withheld information about a terrorist threat 18 months ago because of the the Mohamed release.

The CIA warned MI6 that al-Qaeda was planning an attack 18 months ago, but withheld detailed information because of concerns it would be released by British courts.

British intelligence agencies were subsequently forced to carry out their own investigations, according to Whitehall sources.

Several potential terrorists were identified with links to a wider European plot, but it is still not known whether the British authorities have uncovered the full extent of the threat.

I flew through London 18 months ago during what I suspect was this terror threat. It was the kind of threat where one airline–American–had rolled out the full heightened security theater, but another–Delta–had nothing special, both on the same day.

That kind of terrorist threat.

If it is true the CIA is withholding such information (I’m not saying I buy that the US withheld information from a serious threat), then consider what this means. Back in August 2006, the US (specifically, Dick Cheney and Jose Rodriguez) betrayed the “Special Relationship” by asking the Pakistanis to arrest one of the plotters in the liquid planes plot, which in turn forced the Brits to roll up their own investigation before they had solidified the case against the plotters. Several of the plotters had to be tried two times to get a conviction. The Bush Administration did all this as an election stunt.

And yet we’re the ones purportedly complaining about information sharing?

Continue reading

Karzai, Taliban Begin Angling for Afghanistan Dominance, Confirming Failure of US Mission

The Ides of March has not been kind to the US mission in Afghanistan. Despite Barack Obama and David Cameron putting their best spin on the situation yesterday and claiming that NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will not be accelerated by the recent atrocities perpetrated by US forces, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban both took moves today indicating that they are now angling for dominance in an Afghanistan that is soon to be rid of occupation by western troops. These moves by Karzai and the Taliban appear to me to be signalling that they independently have come to the conclusion that the COIN strategy of “training” Afghan security forces to take over by 2014 as NATO forces are drawn down is no longer viable.

Karzai’s move is to call for western troops to withdraw from their smaller operating outposts in villages back onto large bases. From the Washington Post:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded Thursday that the United States pull back from combat outposts and confine its troops to military bases, an apparent response to Sunday’s shooting rampage by a U.S. staff sergeant.

/snip/

Foreign troops in Afghanistan must withdraw from village outposts and return to large NATO bases, the president’s statement said. Karzai also said he wants Afghan troops to assume primary responsibility for security nationwide by the end of next year, ahead of the time frame U.S. commanders have endorsed.

The Post then goes on to play into the hands of the Taliban (see below) by painting Karzai as powerless to affect US actions in Afghanistan:

Karzai does not have the authority to enforce a pullback of foreign troops, however. And the United States has rebuffed previous demands that it halt night raids, ban private security companies and immediately transfer control of prisons to the Afghan government.

Virtually simultaneously with Karzai’s demand for withdrawal from villages, the Taliban announced that they have ended their preliminary talks with the US that many hoped would lead to a negotiated end to hostilities in Afghanistan. From Reuters:

U.S. and Taliban negotiators were believed to have had preliminary contacts aimed at establishing an office for the Taliban in the Gulf state of Qatar to launch peace negotiations.

“The Islamic Emirate has decided to suspend all talks with Americans taking place in Qatar from (Thursday) onwards until the Americans clarify their stance on the issues concerned and until they show willingness in carrying out their promises instead of wasting time,” the group said in a statement.

In a clear signal that the Taliban believe US influence in Afghanistan is about to end and that they are in a struggle with Karzai’s government for future control of the country, they attacked Karzai as a US puppet. Returning to the Post article: Continue reading

While Celebrating “Special Relationship,” Cameron’s Government Pushes for Secret Law

David Cameron is in town.

Which means, amid much pomp and circumstance (and jokes about the Brits burning DC in 1812), the leader of Britain and the leader of the US will reaffirm the “special relationship.”

Meanwhile, across the pond, Cameron’s Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke is pushing to expand “closed material proceedings”–a system of secret trials–to civil trials involving national security information.

Effectively, he proposes to use secret hearings with separate lawyers in cases like those of Binyam Mohamed, so rather than settling with a man who had been tortured with British complicity, they can introduce hearsay in their effort to win the case.

And, of course, they’re proposing to do this because the US has threatened–but not acted on threats–to withhold intelligence from the UK because they let it be known that Mohamed was tortured at the hands of the Americans.

The lawyers who have worked CMPs in the past released a scathing indictment of the idea, noting that it sacrifices the foundations of British justice.

Closed material procedures (CMPs) represent a departure from the foundational principle of natural justice that all parties are entitled to see and challenge all the evidence relied upon before the court and to combat that evidence by calling evidence of their own. They also undermine the principle that public justice should be dispensed in public.

[snip]

Contrary to the premise underlying the Green Paper, the contexts in which CMPs are already used have not proved that they are “capable of delivering procedural fairness”. The use of SAs may attenuate the procedural unfairness entailed by CMPs to a limited extent, but even with the involvement of SAs, CMPs remain fundamentally unfair. That is so even in those contexts where Article 6 of the ECHR requires open disclosure of some (but not all) of the closed case and/or evidence.

It is one thing to argue that, for reasons of national security, the unfairness and lack of transparency inherent in CMPs should be tolerated in specific areas – such as deportation appeals and control order proceedings. It is quite another to suggest that Government Ministers should be endowed with a discretionary power to extend that unfairness and lack of transparency to any civil proceedings, including proceedings to which they are themselves party.

The introduction of such a sweeping power could be justified only by the most compelling of reasons. No such reason has been identified in the Green Paper and, in our view, none exists.

I hoped when the British courts granted Yunus Rahmatullah’s habeas petition, that the Brits might remind us of all the good law they gave us. Sadly, rather than releasing Rahmatullah, the US has stalled.

It appears, then, that things are going in the wrong direction: because we refuse any accountability for the torture and other abuses committed in the name of counterterrorism, we’re trying to corrode not just our own legal system, but Britain’s as well.

Welcome to America, David Cameron. Let’s hope you remind Obama that one “special” part of our common heritage is the system of law we seem so intent on dismantling.

 

The End of the American Empire

I write about our dying empire just about every day in my links posts. But given the debt limit debate and Friday’s S&P downgrade, I wanted to look at four pieces that examine where we are more closely (note, all of these are well worth reading in full–do click through to read them).

There are two issues to grapple with: first, with the undeniable evidence that our government has become a clusterfuck, we have become incapable of taking obvious steps–like taking the profit motive out of our health care system or taxing the wealthy that just got a giant government bailout–that we need for the well-being of the country. At this level, S&P’s downgrade makes sense.

But then there’s the question of why we let a thoroughly discredited entity like the S&P be the one to dictate whether we merit our world leadership position or not. That’s not just a question of letting one of the agencies that created the bubble retain any position of authority in the world afterwards (though, again, the fact we left the rating agencies in place after the crash is another sign our governance has failed), but also why a nation-state would let a corrupted entity like S&P do so in the first place.

Therein lies the paradox here: the downgrade is at once a real measure of the collapse of our governance, one of the best symptoms of it, and a key piece of evidence of why our governance is failing. So what’s going on?

This column at Spiegel Online looks on this as a problem of culture. It argues the US has left “the West.”

America has changed. It has drifted away from the West.

The country’s social disintegration is breathtaking. Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz recently described the phenomenon. The richest 1 percent of Americans claim one-quarter of the country’s total income for themselves — 25 years ago that figure was 12 percent. It also possesses 40 percent of total wealth, up from 33 percent 25 years ago. Stiglitz claims that in many countries in the so-called Third World, the income gap between the poor and rich has been reduced. In the United States, it has grown.

Economist Paul Krugman, also a Nobel laureate, has written that America’s path is leading it down the road to “banana-republic status.” The social cynicism and societal indifference once associated primarily with the Third World has now become an American hallmark. This accelerates social decay because the greater the disparity grows, the less likely the rich will be willing to contribute to the common good. When a company like Apple, which with €76 billion in the bank has greater reserves at its disposal than the government in Washington, a European can only shake his head over the Republican resistance to tax increases. We see it as self-destructive.

The same applies to America’s broken political culture. The name “United States” seems increasingly less appropriate. Something has become routine in American political culture that has been absent in Germany since Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik policies of rapprochement with East Germany and the Soviet Bloc (in the 1960s and ’70s): hate. At the same time, reason has been replaced by delusion. The notion of tax cuts has taken on a cult-like status, and the limited role of the state a leading ideology.

Now, it is true that America’s political culture has been hijacked, and that those who have hijacked it used hatred as a way to convince others to act against self-interest. But that’s what (perhaps) distinguishes us from Europe; that’s what explains why we, a country with our own currency, can be in as dire a situation as Europe with its common currency. Moreover, I’m skeptical whether, mere weeks after the terrorist attack in Norway, Europe should really be lecturing the US about hate.

Craig Murray looks elsewhere–at the military we feed at the expense of feeding our own people. Continue reading

Guardian: Andy Coulson to Be Arrested in Hacking Scandal

The Guardian is reporting that former News of the World editor and David Cameron flack Andy Coulson received notice today to show up at a London police station to be arrested tomorrow.

Andy Coulson has been told by police that he will be arrested on Friday morning over suspicions that he knew about, or had direct involvement in, the hacking of mobile phones during his editorship of the News of the World.

The Guardian understands that a second arrest is also to be made in the next few days of a former senior journalist at the paper.

Leaks from News International forced police to speed up their plans to arrest the two key suspects in the explosive phone-hacking scandal.

The Guardian knows the identity of the second suspect but is witholding the name in order to avoid prejudicing the ongoing police investigation.

[snip]

Evidence leading to the two imminent arrests has come from a cache of emails recently uncovered during NI’s internal investigation into phone hacking.

[snip]

The Guardian understands that NI had promised the police not to reveal the existence of evidence identifying Coulson and the other journalist, but that detectives began to fear the information would be leaked, after reports appeared suggesting that Coulson approved payments to police officers.

So not only has News International known that Coulson was in trouble, but someone has leaked tidbits of it.

I’m not sure closing News of the World is going to help News Corp–or Scotland Yard–avoid this much longer.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @K_isanasshole @JasonLeopold @johnknefel See, this is what I get for hanging out with Marcy and Jason. Thought everyone was talking.
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bmaz @brahmresnik @MontgomeryforCA Actually, I know a fair amount about the FBI, and I think Brahm is smarter.
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bmaz RT @DuffelBlog: Operation: Strike ISIS And Help Moderate Rebels But Don’t Actually Topple Assad Because Oh Fuck It, We’re Doing It Live
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bmaz @rgoodlaw @SarahKnuckey @rdevro ...instead of just issuing a multiple choice pick the one you like sheet. But I am pretty cynical.
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bmaz @rgoodlaw @SarahKnuckey @rdevro Well, fair question! Okay, you got me on that one. I am always surprised when they actually pick one...
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bmaz @JasonLeopold @joshgerstein Nice ride though.
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bmaz @Ali_Gharib Off with your head!
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bmaz @rgoodlaw @SarahKnuckey @rdevro Question not "why not" but why would it? How is ISIL a threat to US? Even US officials say its not currently
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bmaz @azcapmedia @DanCBarr Wow. Not sure how much that helps at this point in Symington's career, but didn't see that coming.
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