Watching the Shadows

Human Rights Watch: ban killer robots

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report (PDF) on May 12 finding that the use of fully autonomous weapons by militaries or law enforcement would be an affront to basic human rights and should be preemptively banned by international convention. The report, entitled "Shaking the Foundations: The Human Rights Implications of Killer Robots," was jointly authored by HRW and Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic . It questions the ability of autonomous weapons to comply with international humanitarian law. According to the report, robots could not be pre-programmed to handle every circumstance, and thus fully autonomous weapons would be prone to carrying out arbitrary killings when encountering unforeseen situations. Because it is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future that robots could be developed to have human qualities such as judgment and empathy, fully autonomous weapons will not be able to effectively comply with human rights laws.

Benghazigate and Internet freedom

Republicans are continuing to bleed "Benghazigate" dry, shamelessly exploiting the four men who died at the consulate in the Libyan city on Sept. 11, 2012 for political ends, even as they accuse the White House of having betrayed them to their deaths. The House of Representatuves has now authorized creation of a select committee to investigate the already exhaustively investigated affair, seizing upon the release of supposedly damning e-mails from a White House aide. As the LA Times notes in an editorial: "The administration should have released the Sept. 14, 2012, email from deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes long ago. That said, it's anything but a smoking gun. Referring to protests over the video throughout the Muslim world, Rhodes suggested that [then-US ambassador the UN Susan] Rice stress that 'these protests were rooted in an Internet video and not a broader failure of policy.'" The video in question is of course the notorious Innocence of Muslims pseudo-film, produced as a provocation by Islamophobes. That the White House sought to "spin" the consulate attack as a protest against the video that got out of hand, rather than a pre-planned act of "terrorism" that the administration failed to stop, is plausible. (Although the distinction also points to the elastic nature of the word "terrorism.") Now, all too predictably, right-wing commentators like American Thinker are arguing that the video had nothing to do with the attack, while lefty outlets like Mother Jones are insisting that yes it did after all. (The question of whether the attackers were linked to al-Qaeda has been similarly politicized.)

Panel calls for transfer of Yemeni Gitmo prisoner

The Periodic Review Secretariat, a national security panel under the authority of the US Department of Defense (DoD), on April 24  recommended (PDF) the release of a Yemeni prisoner currently held at Guantánamo Bay. The prisoner, Ali Ahmad Mohamed al-Razihi, was suspected of acting as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and has been held at Guantánamo since 2002. The Periodic Review Secretariat determines whether certain individuals detained at Guantánamo represent a continuing significant threat to the security of the US such that their continued detention is warranted. In making the determination, the security review panel considered the detainee's plans for the future and the level of his involvement with al-Qaeda, including his behavior throughout detention. The journalist and Guantánamo expert Andy Worthington released a copy of al-Razihi's statement  delivered before the review board of the Periodic Review Secretariat on March 20.

Net neutrality and the extinction of journalism

Daily Kos is currently pushing a petition warning of the imminent demise of "net neutrality." It reads: "FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed a new set of rules that will allow Internet service providers to charge web publishers extra for preferential treatment. Large websites like Fox News could pay for priority service to ride in the fast lane and reach more people online—while independent blogs like Daily Kos, nonprofits, small businesses and any website that can’t afford it will be left out in the cold. The FCC will consider this 'pay-to-play' rule on May 15th, so let's nip it in the bud now." OK, we encourage readers to sign the petition, by all means. But we have little faith that online petitions really make much difference, or that this eventuality (inevitability?) can be nipped in the bud...

Judge dismisses Yemen drone strike lawsuit

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit (PDF) on April 4 brought against officials of the Obama administration for the 2011 drone strikes that killed three US citizens in Yemen. The lawsuit was specifically brought against former defense secretary Leon Panetta, former CIA director David Petraeus and two commanders in Special Operations forces. Judge Rosemary Colleyer found that there were serious constitutional issues in the case but that "this case would impermissibly draw the court into 'the heart of executive and military planning and deliberation.'" Three US-born alleged al-Qaeda leaders and propagandists, Anwar al-Awlaki, his son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, and Samir Khan, were killed by the drone strikes in 2011. The elder al-Awlaki has been linked to several attacks on the US, including an attempt on Christmas Day 2009 on a Detroit-bound airplane.

Bin Laden son-in-law found guilty of conspiracy

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, was found guilty on March 26 of both conspiring to kill Americans and providing terrorists with material support, following a jury trial in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Abu Ghaith, who was convicted for his role as spokesman for al Qaeda, is the highest ranking al Qaeda figure to face trial on US soil. At trial, the jury heard recordings of Abu Ghaith's voice on propaganda videos and saw a video where he appeared next to bin Laden. Abu Ghaith also unexpectedly took the stand and described in detail his conversation with bin Laden hours after the 9-11 attacks. Abu Ghaith faces possible life in prison for conspiring to kill Americans and a maximum of 15 years for each additional count that he was convicted of.

Uruguay agrees to take five Guantánamo prisoners

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica announced on March 20 that his country has agreed with US President Barack Obama to take five inmates at Guantánamo Bay, reportedly stating that they would be "welcome to work and stay with their families in Uruguay." Obama is attempting to live up to his promise to release the remaining prisoners at the camp and to close the facility, but there are still 154 remaining detainees. The five prisoners will be granted refugee status in Uruguay, and though Mujica reportedly agreed to the proposal for humanitarian reasons, he has also acknowledged the possibility of some reciprocal action from the United States, reportedly stating, "I don't do favors for free." Mujica has some personal connection to the prisoners' scenario, having been detained for fourteen years as a guerrilla fighter by the 1973-1985 Uruguayan dictatorship.

US repatriates Algerian Guantánamo detainee

The US Department of Defense on March 12 announced the transfer of Guantánamo detainee Ahmed Belbacha to Algeria. Belbacha, a native Algerian who was detained in Pakistan in 2002, had been held at Guantánamo for 12 years without a trial or formal charges. Algeria tried Belbacha in absentia in 2009, convicting him of belonging to an "overseas terrorist group," and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Belbacha has resisted repatriation until recently after beiong cleared for transfer by the Guantánamo Review Task Force. After the transfer, 154 detainees remain at Guantánamo Bay.

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