Muslim leader’s edict decries terrorism

The leader of a global Muslim movement issued on 2 March a religious edict (fatwa) condemning terrorism and denouncing suicide bombers as “heroes of hellfire” in an effort to help prevent the radicalization of young British Muslims.

Pakistan-born Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri said his 600-page fatwa, or religious ruling, was an “absolute” condemnation of terrorism without “any excuses or pretexts”.

“Terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence, and it has no place in Islamic teaching, and no justification can be provided for it, or any kind of excuses or ifs or buts,” Mr. Tahir-ul-Qadri said at a news conference in London. “Good intentions cannot convert a wrong into good; they cannot convert an evil into good.”

It was not clear how much influence the fatwa will have in the broad Muslim world or even outside the South Asian community whose members are Mr. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s most dedicated followers.

Timothy R. Furnish, a historian of Islam, said the fatwa may not carry significant weight for many Muslims because Mr. Tahir-ul-Qadri is a Sufi Muslim, and not a Koranic literalist, as are such Sunni groups as the Wahhabis and the Salafis, who form the core of groups such as al Qaeda.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley welcomed the fatwa, saying it is important that “Muslims themselves make their own judgment about the vision that al Qaeda and [Osama] bin Laden have propagated.”

Afghanistan update

1. NATO night raids alienate afghans

Afghan civilians have increasingly borne the brunt of the war in Afghanistan. Though insurgents have been responsible for most of the harm, the Afghan public has largely directed their frustration and anger at international forces.

International forces have made significant efforts to address this anger by improving their conduct, in particular reducing civilian deaths due to airstrikes. One practice, however, that has changed little is the search and seizure operations known as night raids.

Research conducted by the Open Society Institute (OSI) and the Afghan nongovernmental organization, The Liaison Office (TLO), shows that these raids are widely associated with abuse and impunity. Night raids cause tremendous trauma within Afghan communities, often alienating the very people whom international forces are supposedly trying to protect.

During night raids, international and Afghan soldiers force entry into local homes and search the premises after dark, often detaining many, if not all, of the men present. Given the international community’s commitment to stabilizing Afghanistan by winning local trust and cooperation, night raids present a serious stumbling block. Afghans’ negative perceptions of international military actors will not change as long as abuses associated with night raids continue.

2. Afghanistan bans coverage of Taliban attacks

Afghanistan announced a ban on news coverage showing Taliban attacks, saying such images embolden the Islamist militants, who have launched strikes around the country as NATO forces seize their southern strongholds. The Afghan National Directorate of Security intelligence agency on March 1 summoned journalists to its headquarters and threatened to arrest anyone filming while attacks are under way.

Journalists will be allowed to film only the aftermath of attacks, when given permission by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) spy agency.

The move was denounced by Afghan journalism and rights groups, which said it would deprive the public of vital information about the security situation during attacks.

Later a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, Wahid Omar, said the goal would be to prevent insurgents from using live media reports to get tactical information, and to keep journalists themselves out of danger at the scene of violence.

3. Afghanistan quietly brings into force Taliban Amnesty Law

Taliban fighters who have maimed and murdered but who lay down their weapons will be given immunity from prosecution according to a law that came into force without announcement in the weeks running up to last month’s London conference on Afghanistan.

The sudden implementation of the controversial law, which had been shelved for almost two years since it was passed by a slim parliamentary majority in 2007, has raised fears that the Afghan government is ignoring the rights of Taliban victims for the sake of President Hamid Karzai’s push for a quick peace deal with insurgents.

The reconciliation and general amnesty law also gives immunity from prosecution to all of the country’s warlords, the former factional leaders, many of whom are hated for the atrocities they committed during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s.

More info here.

4. Afghanistan Taliban “using human shields”

Gen Mohiudin Ghori, the senior commander for Afghan troops in the area of Marjah, said his soldiers had seen Taliban fighters placing women and children on the roofs of buildings and firing from behind them.

“Especially in the south of Marjah, the enemy is fighting from compounds where soldiers can very clearly see women or children on the roof or in a second-floor or third-floor window,” he is quoted by Associated Press as saying. “They are trying to get us to fire on them and kill the civilians.”

As a result, his forces were having to make the choice either not to return fire, he said, or to advance much more slowly in order to distinguish militants from civilians.

Gen Carter, commander of British forces in southern Afghanistan, confirmed on Tuesday 16 February a missile that struck a house outside Marjah on Sunday killing 12 people, including six children, had hit its intended target.

Gen Carter said the rocket had not malfunctioned and the US system responsible for firing it was back in use. Officials say three Taliban, as well as civilians, were in the house but the Nato soldiers did not know the civilians were there.

5. Suicide attacks seen as less effective

From January 24 to February 14, a total of 17 suicide bombers took aim at one coalition member after another but failed to kill any of them, according to a compilation of reports from Afghan police and military officials, and from the American-led International Security Assistance Force.

ISAF officials credit better training of Afghan forces, and disruption of the bomb-makers’ networks by NATO-led raids. Analysts say the Taliban no longer have foreign expertise in preparing suicide bombers, and have a hard time finding competent recruits in a society that until recent years had little history of suicide attacks.

6. … but roadside bombs taking bigger toll

Winter weather failed to deter insurgents from stepping up roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan, as both blasts and casualties among U.S. and allied troops in January more than doubled from a year earlier, Pentagon data show.

Western military intelligence officials have said most foreign troop deaths, which hit a record 520 last year, are caused by home-made bombs, known as improvised explosive devices or IEDs.  Coalition troops found 727 bombs in January compared with 276 in the same month of 2009.

The Taliban recently claimed to have developed a new bomb nicknamed Omar after their fugitive leader  (Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahed) and which they say is impossible Western mine sweepers to detect.

The United States promised to provide armoured vehicles, ground penetrating radar and other equipment to NATO allies to help protect their troops in Afghanistan from increasingly deadly roadside bombs.

7. US curtails use of airstrikes in assault on Majah

In the new way the United States and its NATO allies are waging the Afghan war, dropping a bomb on or near a house is forbidden unless troops are in imminent danger of being overrun, or they can prove that no civilians are inside.

The rejection of Bravo’s airstrike illuminates the challenges and complexity of waging a counterinsurgency mission that aims to protect Afghan civilians, while battling militants who appear determined to stand and fight for control of this farming district.

The issue has been brought into sharper relief because of the fierce fight the Marines have encountered in the first three days of their major offensive in Marja. Marines and their NATO and Afghan allies are facing heavy gunfire and deadly accurate sniper attacks from Taliban insurgents, who have seeded this area with scores of roadside bombs and set up a network of safe houses from which they are coordinating counterattacks on Marine units.

The Marines’ caution in authorizing airstrikes also follows an incident Sunday in which 12 civilians, many of them children, were killed when U.S. missiles struck a house near Marja.

8. Major-General Richard Barrons puts Taleban fighter numbers at 36,000

Reiterating the view that finding jobs for those fighting Western and Afghan forces was the key to ending the war, Major-General Richard Barrons said of the militants:

“Some are ideological full-time jihadis, some are linked to the insurgency for localised reasons, local grievances; some because it’s a way to make a living; some because they like to fight; some because their communities are hedging their bets between the Government and the insurgency.”

He added, pointedly, that the Karzai Government had done little to earn the trust of its people, while the Taleban had in some cases provided better basic governance.

Assessing the militants’ numbers, General Barrons said: “There are probably 900 in the leadership, counting very junior to very senior, and there are between 25,000 and 36,000 people who would call themselves fighters.”

More than 100,000 US and Nato forces, together with about 200,000 Afghan soldiers and police, outnumber the insurgents roughly ten-to-one. Instead of simply fighting them, General Barrons runs a Nato “reintegration cell” trying to understand what motivates the militants to fight and using that information to help Afghan officials to tempt them to swap sides.

The incentives for peace — expected to cost about $1 billion (£670 million) over the next five years — include jobs, money, training and sustainable development.9. Publication: UNAMA’s Role in Peacemaking, State-building and Coordination

The United Nations has been engaged in Afghanistan in various capacities ever since 1946. It has provided humanitarian and development aid, as well as playing a specific political role during the many wars in the country. In the 1980s the UN led a multi-party mediation effort that concluded the Geneva Accords, and in the 1990s it oversaw a series of agreements between the Afghan government and Mujahedin leaders. After the events of ‘9/11’, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) was mandated by the Security Council to take on a range of responsibilities – managing relief, recovery and reconstruction activities, holding elections, in addition to providing political and strategic advice for the peace process. At a time when policy and strategic reviews are being conducted in major Western capitals it is important to examine the role of UNAMA as well. This report focuses on its role in peacemaking, state-building and coordination.

Click here for the publication.

10. Publication: Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan

This report critically examines the relevance of the U.S. intelligence community to the counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. The authors – Major General Michael T. Flynn, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence in Afghanistan; his advisor Captain Matt Pottinger; and Paul Batchelor, Senior Advisor for Civilian/Military Integrations at ISAF – argue that because the United States has focused the overwhelming majority of collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the intelligence apparatus still finds itself unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate in and the people they are trying to protect and persuade.

Click here for the full text report.

11. US seeks boost for Afghanistan

The White House described strengthening governance in Pakistan and Afghanistan as one of its high-priority goals. Under the title, ‘High-priority performance goals,’ the White House Office of Management and Budget stressed that ‘strengthening Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s capacity to effectively provide services to citizens’ was one of the administration’s main goals for the next fiscal year.

The goal includes ‘enhancing the long-term sustainability of development efforts’ in these two countries by increasing the number of local implementers — both in government and private sectors — that ‘can achieve a clean audit to clear them to manage civilian assistance funds’. In its $3.8 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2011, the Obama administration is seeking a total of $3.1 billion for Pakistan. The request includes $1.9 billion of civilian and $1.2 billion of military aid.

12. Opinion: Why the US Afghanistan campaign is illogical

According to Brian Tamanaha, the purported link between the war in Afghanistan and reducing terrorism in the U.S is illogic.

Very few al Qaeda members are actually in Afghanistan today—the arrests Obama refers to are elsewhere around the world. More important, our continued military presence in Afghanistan (as well as in Iraq) provokes further radicalization. Perversely, his very policy in Afghanistan, which cannot achieve its stated goals, is having the effect of generating more terrorists.

President Obama’s military expansion in Afghanistan is making the terrorism problem in the U.S. worse. This policy is truly bad own its own terms–even without factoring in the many American soldiers and Afghans who will be killed and injured in this war, and the billions of dollars it will cost.

Privacy-related legal concerns for Google

1. Italian Courts convicts Google for privacy violations in video uploads

An Italian court on 24 February found three Google executives guilty of privacy violations for allowing a video depicting bullying to be posted on its website. The court in Milan found that the three men, David Carl Drummond, George De Los Reyes, and Peter Fleitcher, violated the privacy rights of a young man with Down’s Syndrome when they allowed a video showing his classmates bullying him to remain on the Google Italy website from September to November 2006. All three men were given a suspended sentence, though prosecutors had asked for a one-year imprisonment.

The legal basis for the charges, following the prosecutor’s theory of the case, was that those executives failed to exercise a pre-emptive control over the contents published by Google final users. The consequence is that under this interpretation of data protection law, every Internet Service Provider is requested to infringe its user privacy, to do a prior check on the legitimacy of the action performed by the users themselves. This interpretation of the law means that Google is co-responsible for the legality of content containing the images of persons, before anyone has complained about the content.

It is noteworthy that European law protects internet providers from responsibility if they remove illicit content as soon as they are informed of its existence – which is what Google did.  According to EDRI:

The consequence is that under this (odd) interpretation of data protection law, every Internet Service Provider is requested to infringe its user privacy, to do a prior check on the legitimacy of the action performed by the users themselves.

A nice Catch 22, and a goodbye to network neutrality and online privacy !

Google’s Deputy General Counsel reacted to the news quickly, with a strongly-worded statement [Google Blog post] calling the decision an attack on “the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built,” and promising to appeal the ruling.

More info here.

2. Google’s relationship with the NSA

Under an agreement that is still being finalized, the National Security Agency would help Google analyze a major corporate espionage attack that the firm said originated in China and targeted its computer networks, according to cybersecurity experts familiar with the matter. The objective is to better defend Google — and its users — from future attack.

The partnership strikes at the core of one of the most sensitive issues for the government and private industry in the evolving world of cybersecurity: how to balance privacy and national security interests. Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair called the Google attacks, which the company acknowledged in January, a “wake-up call.” Cyberspace cannot be protected, he said, without a “collaborative effort that incorporates both the U.S. private sector and our international partners.”

The agreement will not permit the agency to have access to information belonging to Google users, but it still re-opens long-standing questions about the role of the agency.

The American Civil Liberties Union, among other civil liberties groups, is asking its members to contact Google executives and ask them not to work with the U.S. National Security Agency to investigate cyberattacks allegedly coming from China. Similarly, privacy advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the NSA asking for derails on the agency’s purported partnership with Google on cybersecurity issues.

3. Google’s relationship with China

In mid-December, Google detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on its corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property. Google claims to have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. The accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties.

The attack also targeted at least other 33 companies, from a wide range of businesses–including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors.

American intelligence and law enforcement officials have been alerted in order to assemble powerful evidence that the masterminds of the attacks were on the Chinese mainland.

But while much of the evidence, including the sophistication of the attacks, strongly suggested an operation run by Chinese government agencies, or at least approved by them, company engineers could not definitively prove their case. Today that uncertainty, along with concerns about confronting the Chinese without strong evidence, has frozen the Obama administration’s response to the intrusion, one of the biggest cyberattacks of its kind, and to some extent the response of other targets, including some of the most prominent American companies.

As a result of the attack, Google posted a surprising message on its official company blog that raised the possibility the search engine may leave the Chinese market rather than continue operations under oppressive Chinese censorship laws.

Unlike other companies like Yahoo! and MSN, Google was upfront to its Chinese users that the results were censored and did not move any of the infrastructure connected to email or personal information into the country, thereby shielding the data from Chinese laws. This compromise between profits and free speech protected the company from some of the fury human rights groups had for other American companies that kowtowed to Chinese business interests, but such protection was also limited to the conditions that Google had already laid down. The hack of the email accounts of human rights activists, information that Google went at lengths to protect from Chinese laws and officials, appears to be the final straw for Google.

4. Google Buzz privacy concerns

The new networking service issued by Google company called Google Buzz has met criticism and confusion from its users who complained that a list of people they frequently email or chat with has appeared on their profile.

Google moved quickly over the weekend to try to contain mounting criticism of Buzz, its social network, apologizing to users for features that were widely seen as endangering privacy and announcing product changes to address those concerns.

But Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said his organization still intended to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission this week pending its review of Google’s changes.

“Even with these changes, there is still the concern that Gmail users are being driven into a social networking service that they didn’t sign up for,” Mr. Rotenberg said.

Russia: amendments preventing suspected terrorists from receiving jury trial

(Eurasia Lift) The Russian Constitutional Court started hearing a case Tuesday 2 March over the disputed 2008 amendments that prevent suspected terrorists from receiving a jury trial. The case was launched after petitions were filed by the Sverdlovsk Regional Court and five individuals suspected of terrorism.

“The plaintiffs claim that the right to a jury trial is fixed by the Constitution, which guarantees equality of rights and freedoms,” the Constitutional Court said in a statement. “They believe that the ban on jury trials for terrorism charges violates the Constitution.”

In December 2008, President Dmitry Medvedev signed a law barring several categories of suspects, including those charged with terrorism and espionage, from being tried by a jury after several such trials in the North Caucasus failed to result in convictions. Lawyers and human rights groups believe that jury trials are the fairest form of justice in Russia.