Spain accuses Venezuela to be linked to terror groups

Accusations by Spanish authorities that Venezuela aided an alliance between Basque and Colombian terror groups that plotted joint attacks in Colombia and Spain have revived a debate over Venezuela’s possible role as a state sponsor of terrorism.

A February 24 indictment issued by Judge Eloy Velasco of Spain’s anti-terrorism court specifically cites “Venezuelan governmental cooperation” with 12 members of the Basque separatist group ETA and guerrillas of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The groups have been accused of training together to make sophisticated bombs and of plotting to assassinate Colombian President Alvaro Uribe with the support of Venezuelan officials.

Venezuela’s leftist President Hugo Chavez has reacted angrily to the latest charges. He called the court findings “daring accusations without the slightest proof.”

Mr. Chavez did not deny, however, that indicted ETA militant Arturo Cubillas Fontan has been on the Venezuelan government payroll. He said he would not be surprised if Spain was seeking his extradition and explained that Mr. Fontan had been given asylum in Venezuela by a previous government.

In statements released last weekend, the Venezuelan and Spanish governments said they had “surpassed difference,” and vowed to cooperate against terrorism.

Mr. Chavez publicly called on Spain to keep a “closer eye on its court system.”

Mr. Fontan has been employed as a deputy director for administration and services in Venezuela’s Ministry for Land and Agriculture since 2005.

Spanish authorities describe Mr. Fontan as a murder suspect who is “responsible for the ETA collective in this zone of Latin America since 1999, in charge of coordinating relations with FARC.”

The 26-page indictment presented by Judge Velasco is based on intercepted electronic messages between FARC commanders, corroborated by police interrogations of FARC defectors and testimonies from captured members of ETA. The report also draws on past intelligence reports about contacts between ETA and FARC representatives in Cuba.

Venezuela is accused of providing protection for joint training programs arranged by Mr. Fontan. The report describes a 20-day course on weapons and explosives handling given at a jungle hide-out inside Venezuela, based on testimonies from FARC defectors who say they participated in the training at the time.

According to the Spanish indictment, e-mails between FARC leaders also mentioned the possibility of using ETA to mount assassinations against Colombian officials living in Spain, including former President Andres Pastrana and Colombian Ambassador Noemi Sanin.

UK bans Al Shabaab, Al Shabaab bans UN food agency amidst difficulties in providing humanitarian aid

The British government had issued Monday 1 March an order banning Somali terrorist organization al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked Islamist group fighting the anarchic country’s transitional government.

The ban would make membership in al-Shabab a criminal offense and bar Britons from raising money for the group. The order must be approved by Parliament before it goes into force, but that is largely a formality.

The day before, Al Shabaab announced it will stop the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) operations in Somalia. The group argued that it had received complaints from Somali farmers that the quantity of the WFP food aid prevented them from selling their own products at a fair price. It also warned that anybody found working with WFP will be branded a sympathizer.

Ironically, in recent months, the United States has withheld millions of dollars in funding to Somalia, citing concern that some humanitarian aid, including by the WFP, was being diverted to Al Shabaab. U.S. officials say they had to stop food assistance to Somalia because contractors operating on behalf of aid agencies were forced to pay “tolls” to al-Shabab to gain access to many areas. An investigation by the U.N. World Food Program concluded that there was no evidence that the agency’s Somalia staff had diverted food supplies to al-Shabab fighters, said Peter Smerdon, the agency’s spokesman in Nairobi.

However, it holds true that because of complex internal and transnational challenges, including the spread of militant Islam and al Qaeda involvement, a lack of governance and rule of law, an increase in piracy and other criminal activity, and a rise in internal displacement due to the dangers of ongoing conflict, humanitarian assistance to Somalia has been decreasing.

Click here for a summary report of the meeting of the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement , which held a panel discussion on the changing security context in Somalia and its implications for humanitarian action.

David Luban on DoJ lawyers


Today’s news brought two op-eds making the same bad argument and drawing opposite conclusions. The argument is that anyone who criticizes the DOJ lawyers who wrote the torture memos, but rejects criticism of current DOJ lawyers who once represented detainees, is a hypocrite.

One op-ed, by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, supports both sets of lawyers, and denounces the Liz Cheney “Keep America Safe” conspiracy theories about them. The other, by Washington Post columnist and torture cheerleader Marc Thiessen, enthusiastically backs Cheney’s character assassinations. For Mukasey, criticizing either set of lawyers “is all of a piece, and what it is a piece of is something both shoddy and dangerous” — criticizing lawyers for the arguments they make on behalf of clients. Thiessen, rejecting the charge that Cheney’s group are McCarthyites, asks “Where was the moral outrage when fine lawyers like John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Jim Haynes, Steve Bradbury, and others came under vicious personal attack?” Thiessen has no use for moral equivalence: for him, torture lawyers are good and detainee lawyers are the equivalent of mob lawyers. But, like Mukasey, he sees a parallel between the two sets of criticisms, and agrees that those who criticize the torture lawyers but not the detainee lawyers are using a double standard, probably for illicit political reasons.

That would include me, since I called the Cheney attacks McCarthyism and have criticized the torture lawyers for years.

But in fact, the parallel is completely bogus. What makes the Cheney attacks McCarthyism is guilt by association, wrapped in innuendo, and cynically appealing to paranoia: Because you represented a detainee, you very likely sympathize with Al Qaeda, and we need to smoke you out.

Nobody ever criticized the torture lawyers because of who they represented, and nobody questioned their loyalty. The criticisms were on three completely different grounds: first, that they made frivolous arguments to get around the law; second, that they violated their ethical and constitutional obligation to give candid, independent advice to the president; and third, that they facilitated a misbegotten plan to torture captives. My own writing focused on the first two arguments; other critics focused on the third. Obviously, many people reject these criticisms on the merits, but that isn’t the point. Whether the criticisms are right or wrong, they don’t traffic in guilt by association, they don’t blame lawyers for who their clients are, and they don’t hint at treason.

There is simply no parallel between criticizing lawyers for violating the law and assassinating their characters for representing the “wrong” clients. (To be clear: I am not objecting to Mukasey’s defense of the current DOJ lawyers. His willingness to put his considerable authority on the line deserves applause. I’m objecting only to his “moral equivalence” argument.)

And, speaking of McCarthyism: Thiessen approvingly cites Andrew McCarthy’s fatuous argument that there is no “great American tradition in which everyone gets a lawyer and their day in court,” because the Sixth Amendment right to counsel applies only to persons accused of crimes. Forget John Adams and Kenneth Royall, not to mention the tens of thousands of lawyers who do pro bono work because of the great American tradition that McCarthy seems not to have heard of. On MCarthy’s and Thiessen’s logic, there is no great American tradition of helping people in need, because people in need have no constitutional right to it. (Actually, even the constitutional point is wrong: the Supreme Court has held that in some circumstances, the Due Process clause guarantees counsel to people in non-criminal matters. Those circumstances are that the person’s legal interest is a vital one, the risk of error without counsel is high, and the government interest in denying counsel is small. That pretty much describes the situation of the detainees.)

Eritrean pleads not guilty to aiding terrorists

An Eritrean citizen has been brought to the United States from Nigeria to face charges that he provided money to a Somali terrorist group, linked to Al Qaeda — and that he received military training from that group.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan unsealed an indictment on Monday 8 March accusing the man, Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed, of conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, Al Shabab, which has declared its intent to harm the United States. Mr. Ahmed, 35, is also charged with providing that support, conspiring to receive training from a foreign terrorist organization, and receiving the training.

Mr. Ahmed was transferred to United States custody by Nigerian authorities on Saturday 6 March. Communicating with the help of an Arabic interpreter, he indicated that he understood the charges against him. On Tuesday 9 March, the lawyer representing him, Sabrina Shroff, entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Prosecutors said that they believed that the defendant was a citizen of Eritrea and a resident of Sweden.

The indictment charges that in 2009 he bought a Kalashnikov rifle and two grenades and provided about 3,000 euros (about $4,470) to Al Shabab. In addition, the indictment states, he received training at Shabab paramilitary camps in Somalia that included lessons in making bombs, and was found to possess bomb-making instructions in Nigeria in November 2009.

U.S. authorities would likely welcome any information Ahmed can provide about al-Shabaab.

An indictment charging Ahmed with providing material support to the organization and receiving training from the group said a former leader of al-Shabaab who trained with al-Qaida in Afghanistan prior to 2001 had called for foreign fighters to go to Somalia to join al-Shabaab in a “holy war” against the Ethiopian and African Union forces in Somalia.

The indictment said al-Shabaab’s recruitment efforts had led men from other countries including the United States to go to Somalia to engage in violent jihad — holy war.

The indictment said al-Shabaab was believed to have provided protection and safe haven for al-Qaida operatives wanted for a 2002 hotel bombing in Kenya and the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that resulted in 224 deaths, including 12 Americans.

It said al-Shabaab in April declared it was responsible for mortar attacks against a U.S. congressman visiting Somalia. A year before that, al-Shabaab leaders declared that their fighters would “hunt the U.S. government” and warned that the U.S. and Ethiopia should keep its citizens out of Somalia, the indictment said.

Al-Shabaab is the most active group of violent extremists targeting Somalia’s weak U.S.-backed transitional government. The indictment said it has carried out assassinations of civilians and journalists and had distributed a videotape depicting the slow decapitation of an accused spy.

Federal prosecutors said al-Shabaab, hoping to impose strict Islamic law throughout Somalia, has claimed responsibility for suicide bombing attacks in recent years, including five simultaneous suicide bombings targeting government, Ethiopian and United Nations facilities in October 2008.

Pentagon study critiques 2003 transition in Iraq

The transition of U.S. military forces in Iraq to post-major combat operations in 2003 was marred by failures in leadership and planning, according to an internal report (“Transitions in Iraq: Changing Environment, Changing Organizations, Changing Leadership”) prepared for the Pentagon that was partially declassified and released in March under the Freedom of Information Act.

“The transition that occurred was not the one that was planned,” the 2006 report delicately stated.

“Insufficient and untimely availability of resources impeded effectiveness of post-combat operations and contributed to a difficult transition.”  Intelligence support, joint command and control, and communications infrastructure all “fell short of expectations or needs.”

The newly disclosed report was cited in a 2008 book by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.  According to Gen. Sanchez’s account, the report had been suppressed at the direction of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who did not welcome its critical findings.

In 2008, U.S. Joint Forces Command told TPM Muckraker that the report had been completed but was classified and not publicly available. Now portions of it have been released.

Another newly declassified report found no corroboration of allegations that the DoD Joint Forces Intelligence Command (JFIC) had withheld information from the 9/11 Commission.  The DoD Inspector General said there was no basis for such a claim.  But the 2008 IG report, formerly classified Secret, provides some new details on the operation of the JFIC.  See “Review of Joint Forces Intelligence Command Response to 9/11″, September 23, 2008.

European Court of Justice strenghtens indipendent position of data protection authorities

On 9 March the Court of Justice decided that data protection authorities in the German Länder which supervise the processing of personal data in the private sector are not acting with “complete independence” as required by the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC.

The case was brought by the Commission which argued that since these data protection authorities are part of the regional administration and subject to State scrutiny, they were not acting in complete independence. The German government stated that sufficient independence was ensured by making these authorities independent from the parties they supervise. The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) intervened in the case in support of the arguments of the Commission.

The Court confirmed the position of the Commission. It considered that “complete independence” means that the supervisory authority should be able to make decisions independently from any direct or indirect external influence. An authority must not only be independent from the parties it supervises, but must also not be part of government since the government itself may be an interested party.

The German government argued that the State scrutiny in Germany sought only to guarantee the legality of the acts of the data protection authorities and not to exert any political influence. However, the Court considered that the existence of such State scrutiny means that the possibility remains that the authorities are not able to act objectively.

In its judgment the Court stated clearly that supervisory authorities are “an essential component of the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data”.

The EDPS is very pleased with the judgment. Peter Hustinx, EDPS, stated:

“The judgment of the Court is of great importance. It strengthens and clarifies the position of data protection authorities as part of the fundamental right to data protection. This judgment is relevant for all supervisory authorities in all EU Member States.”