Philippines asks court to outlaw Abu Sayyaf

The Philippine government has asked a court to outlaw the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist group and blacklist more than 200 of its Islamic fighters blamed for two decades of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings, officials said Monday.

The Justice Department recently lodged its petition against the al-Qaida-linked group with a trial court in southern Basilan province — the Abu Sayyaf’s birthplace — in the first known government attempt to ban a rebel group under a 2007 anti-terrorism law.If approved, the measure would criminalize membership in the Abu Sayyaf and allow authorities to freeze financial assets of militants more rapidly and limit their travel.

Washington has listed the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist group and deployed hundreds of troops to the southern Philippines in 2002 to provide combat training, weapons and intelligence to Filipino soldiers battling the militants.

ASEM conference on counter-terrorism conference papers

On 10 and 11 June 2010, the 8th ASEM Conference on Counter-Terrorism was held in Brussels, Belgium. It was hosted by the Belgian Federal Public Service of Foreign Affairs, with the support of the European Union, as part of the preparations for the ASEM 8 Summit on 4 and 5 October 2010.

Jean-Paul Laborde, Director of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF), opened the first session with an overview of the UN Global CT Strategy. The EU CT Coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, gave hereafter an overview of EU counter- terrorism policies. Counter-Terrorism in Asia was discussed during the next session on the basis of substantial contributions by the three co-sponsors China, the Philippines and Viet Nam, as well as from India, the Republic of Korea and Japan. The functioning and operational value of the Belgian Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis (CUTA) were explained by its Director, André Vandoren. On the second day of the conference, ways and means to protect critical infrastructures and advance aviation security were discussed. These were introduced by respectively the European Commission and Viet Nam, the latter with the support of China.


Abu Sayyaf founding member pleads guilty after plea arrangement

The US Justice Department announced on Wednesday that Madhatta Haipe, a citizen of the Philippines and founding member of Al-Harakat Al-Islamiyyah, also known as the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), pleaded guilty in federal court in the District of Columbia to four counts of hostage taking in connection with the 1995 abduction of 16 people, including four U.S. citizens, at a Philippine resort in Trankini Falls, Mindanao for ransom.

Haipe was indicted by a Federal grand jury in 2000 and he was extradited to the US in 2009 by Philippine authorities to stand trial there. At his sentencing on Dec. 14 he will face up to life in prison on each of four counts of hostage taking.

Haipe was a Professor of Islamic Studies at Mindanao State University and serving as the General Secretary of the ASG, or second-in-command of the organization.

“The FBI Honolulu Division has investigated this matter in close
coordination with the Philippine authorities for approximately 15 years,” said Charlene Thornton, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in
Honolulu. “Through this international cooperation, despite the time and distance, we have managed to bring to justice a defendant who had sought to harm our U.S. citizens abroad.”

Speech: Terrorist Use of the Internet

Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, deputy coordinator for counter-terrorism at the U.S. State Department, leaded off the discussion in a security conference in the Philippines on “Terrorist Use of the Internet”.

In her speech, she told delegates that the Internet presents a paradox for law enforcement.

“The challenge for open societies, therefore, is to maintain the free flow of information and respect for freedom of expression, while discouraging those who would exploit it to harm others,” she said.

Because Southeast Asia has one of the fastest growing rates of Internet usage in the word, the coordinator said, the region has a vital role to play in the international effort to monitor the Internet for cyberterrorism and cybercrime.

“Effective counter-terrorism policy requires strong international partnerships, as terrorism is too big a security threat for any one country to face alone,” she said.

She said geospatial imagery, such as that provided by Google Earth or Microsoft Bing, also present challenges.

 “While such geospatial information systems provide amazing opportunities for the general public to view the world, the risk for abuse by bad actors anywhere in the world – whether terrorists or criminals – in planning and executing attacks is extremely high.”

Read the transcript of the speech here.

Philippines will not meet deadline to crush rebels

The Philippine military announced Sunday that it could not meet a deadline this month to eradicate the Maoist rebellion, but said the number of rebels is at a historic low.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had ordered troops to crush the Maoist rebellion by the end of her term on June 30, but the military said about 4,000 New People’s Army guerrillas remain in five key regions nationwide. The military justified the failure by saying that the troops were also needed in other places. The Philippine army, despite being one Asia’s weakest, has also been battling Muslim guerrillas and al-Qaida-linked militants in the country’s south. Troops were also deployed to secure the May 10 presidential and local elections.

Peace talks between the rebels and the government brokered by Norway collapsed in 2004 after the rebels accused Arroyo’s administration of instigating their inclusion on U.S. and European terrorist blacklists.

UN experts conclude major study into use of secret detention in the fight against terrorism

Despite the fact that international law clearly prohibits secret detention, the practice is widespread and “reinvigorated” by the so-called global war on terror, several independent United Nations experts stated, outlining a series of steps aimed at curbing this human rights violation. In a 222-page study which will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March, the experts conclude that: “If resorted to in a widespread or systematic manner, secret detention might reach the threshold of a crime against humanity.” Read the unedited advance version here.

The study, which took almost a year to complete, involves responses from 44 States to a detailed questionnaire, as well as interviews with 30 individuals – or their family members or their legal counsel – who were victims of secret detention, and in many cases may also have been subjected to torture.

It provides an historical overview of the use of secret detention, noting that it is not a new phenomenon in the context of counter-terrorism. From the Nazi regime to the former USSR with its Gulag system of forced labour camps, States have often resorted to secret detention to silence opposition, according to the report.

The study goes on to address the use of secret detention in the context of the ‘global war on terror’ following the events of 11 September 2001, describing “the progressive and determined elaboration of a comprehensive and coordinated system of secret detention” of persons suspected of terrorism, involving not only United States authorities, but also other States in almost all regions of the world. The study says, inter alia,

143.Given the prevailing secrecy regarding the CIA’s rendition programme, exact figures regarding the numbers of prisoners transferred to the custody of other governments by the CIA without spending any time in CIA facilities are difficult to ascertain. Equally, little is known about the amount of detainees who have been held at the request of other States such as the United Kingdom and Canada.While several of these allegations cannot be backed up by other sources, the Experts wish to underscore that the consistency of many of the detailed allegations provided separately by the detainees adds weight to the inclusion of Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, the Syrian Arab Republic, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Djibouti as proxy detention facilities where detainees have been held on behalf of the CIA. Serious concerns also exist about the role of Uzbekistan as a proxy detention site.

It also highlights that secret detention in connection with counter-terrorism policies remains a serious problem on a global scale, either through the use of secret detention facilities; through declarations of a state of emergency, which allow prolonged secret detention; or through forms of “administrative detention,” which also allow prolonged secret detention.

The study was issued by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin; Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (represented by its Vice-Chairperson, Shaheen Sardar Ali); and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (represented by its Chairperson, Jeremy Sarkin).

Philippines: Freedom of Information Act Approved by Senate

On December 14, 2009, the Senate of the Philippines approved a Freedom of Information Act designed to allow access to key public documents, including those related to projects where corruption has been an issue. The Act, found in Senate Bill No. 3308, requires government agencies to allow public review and copying of all official information; officials who block public access are subject to a term of imprisonment of from one to six months. However, access to info can be denied intert alia when the information must be kept secret under executive order guidelines and when the data is related to internal and external defense or law enforcement and its public scrutiny would compromise anti-crime activities or put the safety of a protected source, witness, law enforcement or military officer, or family member of those officers in danger.  More info here.

Manila to press terror charges against alleged Abu Sayyaf founder

The Philippines government will prosecute an alleged founder of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) on terror charges, following his arrest and extradition from Indonesia based on Federal Bureau of Investigation inputs, an investigator told Gulf News.

62 people arrested in Philippines using sweeping martial-law powers

Philippine troops used sweeping martial-law powers Sunday to arrest at least 62 people and dig up an arms cache in the troubled south, as they continued a push to restore order to the region after the massacre of 57 political activists and journalists last month.President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo imposed martial law late Friday in parts of the southern Philippines after the country’s worst act of political violence yet, easing the way for the arrest Saturday of the patriarch of a powerful political clan in connection with the killings.

Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera defended the imposition of martial law Sunday. She said the judiciary in Maguindanao province, where the killings took place, was no longer functioning, and warned that local political leaders were planning a rebellion against the government.

Many politicians have objected to the measure, in large part because of the civil-rights abuses that occurred during the Marcos dictatorship. Opposition Senator Benigno Aquino III — a leading presidential candidate in next May’s national elections and the son of prodemocracy leader Benigno Aquino Jr. and former President Corazon Aquino — said he was against imposing martial law on the basis that it might be excessive, and raised the possibility of challenging the measure in the Philippines’ Supreme Court.

Mrs. Arroyo faces growing international pressure to dismantle a longstanding government policy of using clan leaders and local militias to hem in Muslim and Communist insurgencies in the Philippines. In some cases, the government has allowed clans to raise and command militias, while in other cases the clan leaders have co-opted militias nominally under police or army control.

More at WSJ and NYT.

Philippines Declares State of Emergency in Mindanao, habeas corpus suspended

The government of the Philippines has declared a state of emergency in parts of the south after a massacre of at least 46 people, including 12 journalists. Press freedom groups have condemned the attack as the worst in history and express skepticism that those responsible will be brought to justice.

As more bodies were uncovered from the location of a massacre on the southern island of Mindanao Tuesday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a state of emergency. “There is an urgent need to prevent and suppress the occurrence of several other incidents of lawless violence,” Mrs. Arroyo stated in Proclamation 1946, issued following a closed-door meeting with security officials in Malacañang.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the state of emergency declaration would allow the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to undertake measures to prevent a possible full-blown war between the followers of the two political families in the region, including through imposing a curfew and conduct random searches. The state of emergency would also allow the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in the region, according to Cabinet Secretary Silvestre Bello III.

She also directed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to place any witnesses under the Witness Protection Program (WPP).

Speaking on national television, Mrs. Arroyo said she is sending military leaders and the head of the national police to oversee the operation.