US will offer legal justification for Predator Drone Program

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports that State Department official Harold Koh stated that the Obama administration has considered legal objections to its predator drone program and suggested that the administration would release a detailed legal justification for the controversial program at an undetermined date.

ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the State Department and other agencies demanding that the government disclose the legal basis for its use of unmanned drones to conduct targeted killings overseas. In particular, the lawsuit asks for information on when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, the number and rate of civilian casualties, and other basic information essential for assessing the wisdom and legality of using armed drones to conduct targeted killings.

Jonathan Manes, legal fellow with the ACLU National Security Project, said:

“We welcome reports that the Obama administration is seriously considering the legality of the drone program, and are encouraged to hear that the rationale behind the program may be made public. We urge the State Department and other agencies to quickly disclose their positions, including on the program’s legal justification and the limits on where and against whom drones can be used. We also urge the administration to disclose other basic facts about the program, including information about the program’s oversight and the number of civilians that have been killed in drone strikes.

“The use of drones to conduct targeted killings raises complicated legal, moral and policy issues, and the public needs this kind of information in order to engage meaningfully in the debate over these questions.”

AI: Legal loopholes allow european companies to trade in ‘tools of torture’

European companies are participating in the global trade in types of equipment widely used in torture or other ill-treatment, according to evidence presented in a new report by Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation.

Fixed wall restraints, metal “thumb-cuffs”, and electroshock “sleeves” and “cuffs” that deliver 50,000V shocks to detained prisoners are amongst the “tools of torture” highlighted in the report, From Words to Deeds, which was published on Wednesday 17 March.  

Such activities have continued despite the 2006 introduction of a Europe-wide law banning the international trade of policing and security equipment designed for torture and ill-treatment.

The 2006 law also regulates the trade in other equipment widely used in torture around the world.

The report will be formally discussed at the meeting of the European Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Human Rights in Brussels on 17 March. Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation are calling on the European Commission and EU Member States to close legislative loopholes highlighted in the report, and for EU Member States to adequately implement and enforce the regulation.

“The introduction of European controls on the trade in ‘tools of torture’, after a decade of campaigning by human rights organizations, was a landmark piece of legislation. But three years after these controls came into force, several European states have failed to properly implement or enforce the law,” said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s EU office.

“Our research shows that despite the new controls, several Member States, including Germany and the Czech Republic, have since 2006 authorized exports of policing weapons and restraints to at least nine countries where Amnesty International has documented the use of such equipment in torture,” said Brian Wood, Amnesty International’s Military Security and Police manager.

“Moreover, only seven states have fulfilled their legal obligations to publicly report their exports under the Regulation. We fear that some states are not taking their legal obligations seriously.”

Loopholes in the legislation also permit law enforcement suppliers to trade equipment which has no other use but for torture or ill-treatment.

“As part of their commitments to combat torture wherever it occurs, Member States must now turn their words into deeds. They must impose truly effective controls on the European trade in policing and security equipment, and ensure that such goods do not become part of the torturer’s toolkit,” said Michael Crowley, a researcher for the Omega Research Foundation.

U.N. Drops Muslim Brotherhood Figure From ‘Terrorist Finance’ List

The U.N. Security Council has dropped Youssef Nada, a prominent financial and diplomatic representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, from an international sanctions list directed at curbing the activities of alleged terrorist financiers.

The delisting of Nada, by the Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee, was announced by an official notice posted on the Security Council’s Web site. In addition to Nada himself, the notice declares that two businesses associated with him, Waldenberg AG of Liechtenstein and Youssef M. Nada & Co. GMBH of Vienna, also have been removed from the U.N. sanctions list.

The Security Council’s announcement does not explain why the Council decided to drop financial sanctions against Nada and his companies.

Victor Comras, a former adviser on financial sanctions to the U.S. State Department and, later, an adviser to the committee that produced the sanctions lists, says he find the U.N. action troubling. When Nada was put on the U.N. sanctions list, it was done with great public fanfare, Comras said. But when the U.N. decided to take his name off, it was done with a minimum of public discussion.

In an e-mail, Comras added:

“Even though Nada may no longer be involved in funding Al Qaeda, he has made it clear a number of times that he will continue as a major financial supporter of Hamas . . . As you know, Nada never really suffered from the [U.N. listing]. He continued to live well, travel, and, most likely, to access and manipulate his assets through his family and others.”

Comras also noted that given the fact that all listing and delisting decisions by the U.N. sanctions committee have to be unanimous, at some point, in his view, the Obama administration would have had to signal that it was willing to go along with Nada’s delisting. Nada and his companies were placed on a terrorist-finance sanctions list maintained by the U.S. Treasury before they were added to U.N.’s list; according to  the list currently available on the Treasury Department’s Web site, Nada and his companies are still on it.

The Bush administration added Nada, his companies, and a key business associate to the U.S. terrorist-finance sanctions list in the wake of 9/11 after examining intelligence suggesting that a network of Islamic investment companies called Al-Taqwa, based in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and the Bahamas, had handled money for people believed to be associates of Osama bin Laden.

A European diplomat, who also asked for anonymity, suggested that the U.N.’s decision to drop Nada from its sanctions list may have been prompted by recent political developments in Switzerland. Earlier this month the Swiss Parliament’s foreign-relations committee approved a proposal to create a mechanism under which the Swiss government would have to stop enforcing international financial sanctions against people on the U.N. list in circumstances where little had been proved against them. Swiss authorities conducted their own lengthy criminal investigation of Nada and his financial network but ultimately “suspended” it without issuing any criminal charges.

CHRGJ Data Analysis Confirms Poland Complicit in CIA Secret Detentions

New flight data analysis confirms Poland’s involvement in the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition program, said the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at New York University School of Law on the 9th of March as it submitted its findings to Polish prosecutor, Robert Majewski. 

Prosecutor Majewski launched an inquiry into Poland’s role in the CIA’s secret detention program more than two years ago.

The Center’s detailed analysis of data tracking the movements of suspected CIA rendition flights shows that the flights landed in Szymany, Poland in June and September 2003. It also reveals that the planes in question traveled with the express authorization of both the United States and Poland and that Polish authorities knowingly facilitated them.

“Our analysis of flight data confirms our suspicions that the CIA’s secret detention program relied on the complicity of a wide network of actors, including Polish authorities,” said CHRGJ Faculty Director, Margaret Satterthwaite. “As the evidence grows, so does the need for a thorough accounting of exactly how this program worked.  Armed with this new information, Prosecutor Majewski’s investigation could make significant strides toward justice, which is long overdue.”

New report in Nokia Iran surveillance technology case

A journalist from Finnish daily Fifi got his hands on the “Nokia Lawful Interception Gateway” (LIG) manual, which confirms that the technology enables surveillance of mobile internet usage. It seems now that Nokia exported at least three separate systems to Iran. Nokia built a GSM network; the GSM network was provided with the LIG system; and the LIG has been upgraded with an “add-on”, called  Monitoring
Centre.

The commotion caused by the NSN trading with Iran has been mostly about the Monitoring Centre. The actual problem now seems to be the more extensive LIG, which gives users extensive power to monitor citizen mobile phone as well as mobile internet usage.

Fifi comments:

And this is where it gets interesting, even for the ordinary Western mobile phone user normally untouched by Iran’s political storms. LIG, with its extensive monitoring capabilities, or a comparable system by a different manufacturer, is monitoring all mobile voice and data networks around the world, including here in Finland.

In fact, it is precisely because of us Europeans that these extensive monitoring systems first became legal and then mandatory worldwide. Europe has spearheaded the transition from more restricted surveillance methods to extensive systems like the LIG: systems that store all of the target’s communications data during surveillance for future investigation.

Importantly:

NSN doesn’t seem to have broken any laws or export regulations while delivering the LIG to Iran. On the contrary, it has complied with the demands of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute that the potential for surveillance by law enforcement agencies should be expanded. The minimum standards of surveillance capacity that the EU demands from telecommunication carriers are almost as broad as the ones that the Gateway provides.

Read the leaked  documents. A good place to start is the product description (PDF).

The European Parliament passed a resolution strongly condemning the NSN Iran deal.

European Union: New Rules on Air Safety Proposed

On March 11, 2010, the European Commission unveiled new legislation on safety in civil aviation at a meeting of the European Union transport ministers in Brussels. The proposed regulation takes into account the experience gained in investigating airplane accidents since the adoption of Directive 94/56/EC Establishing Fundamental Principles Governing the Investigation of Civil Aviation Accidents and Incidents. (Council Directive 94/56/EC, Nov. 21, 1994, 1994 OFFICIAL JOURNAL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION (L 319) 14-19)

Some of the key objectives of the draft regulation include:

· strengthening the  implementation of safety recommendations. For the first time, Member  States must ensure that every recommendation adopted at the end of an  air accident investigation must be assessed within a 90-day firm  deadline and acted upon if needed. The Commission intends to establish a database containing a list of all safety recommendations.

·  establishing investigation resources. The proposal calls for the  establishment of a European Network of Civil Aviation Safety  Investigation Authorities. The primary responsibility for investigating air accidents still lies with the national authorities, but the network  will provide support, training, and resources to improve and strengthen  the investigation capabilities of national authorities.

· improving the rights of victims of air accidents. Airlines will be  responsible for providing within an hour of the time of an accident a  complete list of all those aboard. EU Members will be required to  provide swift and efficient assistance in case of an accident. Families  of victims are guaranteed the right to accurate information regarding  the progress of investigations.

· clarifying the role of the  European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA), established in 2002. EASA,  which is responsible for certifying airplanes in the EU, will have  prompt access to the facts of and all pertinent information resulting  from an accident investigation to enable it to take essential safety  measures. Direct involvement of EASA in investigations will be limited,  in order to avoid conflict-of-interest issues.

· being more  proactive to prevent accidents from occurring. The proposal calls for  EASA and EU members to collaborate in analysis of risk information data  indicating the existence of a potential problem, to minimize hazards and avoid accidents to the extent possible.

Five Americans charged of terrorism in Pakistan, allege abuse

Five American students caught in Pakistan last year were charged Wednesday 17 March with terrorism-related offenses, and they will face a full trial and the prospect of a jail sentence.

The Five US jihadis pleaded “not guilty” before a Pakistani court to charges of plotting terrorist attacks inside the country and neighboring Afghanistan. Charges include conspiracy to commit terror attacks in Pakistan, planning to commit terror acts against friendly countries, and funding banned jihadi groups. If convicted, the five Americans could face life in Pakistani prison. US embassy officials have reportedly visited the men in prison and attended the trial proceedings but have struck a public posture of minimal interference.

The five young men – in their late teens and early 20s – left their homes in suburban northern Virginia in November and traveled to Pakistan, where they were arrested in December, police say. Reporters have no access to the trial, but allegedly received a note from the men at an earlier hearing that they had been tortured while in Pakistani custody, with the complicity of American intelligence agents. Khalid Khawaja , a former Pakistani intelligence agent turned human rights activist, who’s championed the cause of the men and obtained legal representation for them, also asserted that the young men had been “tortured and had false cases registered against them.” Pakistani officials deny the claims and ruled out extradition.