Tuesday, November 18, 2014

In September 2014, President Barack Obama ordered air strikes to be carried out against Syria. The goal of the air strikes was to weaken the militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The news article, “Islamic State Crisis: What force does international law allow?” by Marc Weller discusses the international legal ramifications of the air strikes that the United States launched against Syria. Before launching the strikes, President Obama did not seek the approval of the United Nations Security Council or the US Congress. The congressional approval is another complicated topic in its own right; however, this article is concerned with the international law behind the attack.

The situation that is currently unfolding in Syria and the Middle East is a complicated matter. In order to understand the situation, it is easiest to start with a basic hypothetical situation to create a simple picture. The variable that are currently active in the Middle East will then be introduced to portray a better picture of what is occurring in Syria.

Consider first the scenario where the US gains intelligence that IS has several major bases in Syria. The US, believing that ISIS poses a significant threat, decides to attack ISIS in Syria. There is no known imminent threat on the United States from ISIS, but there is a potential for a future threat. This type of attack would be a blatant violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. Article 51 of the Charter states that states may only use force for self-defense if an armed attack occurs or if the attack is approved by the UN Security Council. The attack in this situation is a violation of the national sovereignty of Syria. It is important to note due to the crimes of ISIS, such an attack may still be seen as legitimate, even if it is not legal.

The situation is made further complicated by the fact that ISIS is a non-state actor. The United Nations, in wake of the September 11 attacks, have recognized that non-state actors are capable of armed attacks, in the sense of Article 51. Thus, if non-state actors have shown the capability to launch armed attacks, they are also viable targets from a state. ISIS is such a non-state actor currently imposing themselves upon the lands in Syria that border Iraq and parts of Jordan. It is the job of the Syrian government to resolve such matters internally. Unfortunately, it would appear that Syria is unable to handle the situation. Unchecked, ISIS has threatened the border between Syria and Iraq. Iraq, under imminent threat of attack, now has full legal justification under international law to attack ISIS.

At this point, Iraq decided to call on the United States for help in protecting its territory from ISIS. It can then be argued that the US is able to attack Syria because it is assisting in the collective self-defense of Iraq, to use the words from Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Iraq had written a letter expressly asking for the aid of the United States in protecting its borders. As such, it can be said that the United States was able to launch the attacks in Syria. Additionally, the US invoked its own right of self-defense when the Khorasan group was brought up. Khorasan is a group that is affiliated with Al-Qaeda and is also based in Syria. The US claims that Khorasan does present an imminent threat, unlike ISIS, and was also targeted during the air strikes.

Another argument can be made that the US strikes were legal due to the crimes against humanity that were committed by ISIS on Syrian soil. Syria has an obligation to protect its people from such crimes committed on its own territory. However, as mentioned previously, Syria has been unable to resolve the situation on its own. As a result, it is possible that international intervention can be taken to stop said crimes against humanity. While there have been other cases of forcible humanitarian action, they have all had the legal cover of a United Nations mandate, which this attack does not.

The legality of the United States air strikes in Syria is questionable on two areas of law. The first being the ability of the president to launch attacks without approval from Congress. The second is the international law concerning the bombings in Syria. The international law relevant to the situation is difficult and is made more so by extenuating circumstances. Iraq’s call for aid and the inability of Syria to resolve the ISIS situation in their own borders contributes to the argument that the United States does have justification for the air strikes.

Reference article:

Monday, November 10, 2014

Drone Strikes in Pakistan: Ten Years and Counting

According to the research conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, only 12% of the victims of US drone strikes in Pakistan have been militants.  The Bureau has been compiling data for over a year on those killed in CIA strikes for their project “Naming the Dead.”  The project focuses on identifying the deceased dating back to when the attacks began and mapping their connections to determine whether ties to terrorist acts and/or groups exist.  The Bureau’s sources include “both Pakistani government records leaked to the Bureau, and hundreds of open source reports in English, Pashtun and Urdu.”

Since the strikes began in June of 2004, 2,379 people have been reported dead from the 400 attacks.  As of October of this year, only 704 victims have been identified and 295 of these “were reported to be members of some kind of armed group.”  Within this subset, almost 30% were not linked to any specific group.  Only 84 of those identified as militants could be connected to Al Qaeda.  This amounts to less than 4% of the total victims.  In addition, the Bureau’s report alleges that there was an inadequate amount of detail used to quantify those listed as militants.

The US government claims that confirmed terrorists of the “highest level” are the only targets for the drone strikes.  While this may be the intended idea, it is evident that these attacks are conducted before sufficient evidence is collected.  The lack of information on the victims shows a lack in consideration as well.  Without said careful consideration, the killings are considered extrajudicial, and therefore are unlawful.

These drone strikes can also be seen as a violation of one of the basic principles of warfare: prohibiting unnecessary harm.  Although the strikes keep US soldiers out of direct harm, they cause unnecessary damage in Pakistan by killing potentially innocent civilians.  In regards to general law for a commander issuing an attack, if it is known that civilians will be harmed, the attack is not to be conducted.  Civilian casualties are only lawfully accepted when the harm done to the civilian(s) is proportional to military necessity.  Incidental drone strikes are not possible; the technology allows for ample information to be collected on each potential terrorist.  The fault in not having sufficient evidence lies with those controlling the drones, not with the drones themselves.

In conclusion, it is not to say that the drone strikes are not at all beneficial.  The US soldiers can conduct matters of war in a safe environment without the risks that derive from flying a plane, and numerous confirmed terrorists have been successfully terminated; however, although the Bureau has only identified so many of the victims thus far, their findings demonstrate a critical lack of transparency about certain affairs conducted by the US Government.


When U.S. Drones Strike Back

Iran successfully test piloted a replica of a U.S. fallen drone, the RQ-170 Sentinel, this week. This news comes as a surprise to the United States because they were quoted claiming that the unmanned drone had been “protected as to prevent the removal of valuable data.” The successful test flight only means that more drones will come and on a larger scale. Iran says that they are working on “replicating the technology on a wider scale.” The U.S drone was captured three years ago after it was seen in Iranian air space, before which it was conducting surveillance in Afghanistan. Iran had previously claimed to seize several drones before this instance, but this is the first instance where something has actually come from it.
The controversy that stems from this article is that Iran now possesses the capabilities of drones, and at the fault of the United States. This creates several international issues for not only neighboring countries, but also the United States. The U.S.’s own technology fell into the wrong hands and will now most likely be used against other nations. This creates even more sovereignty issues, which the U.S. has been accompanied to as of late. This is not the first time that U.S.’s technology/weapons has been used against the United States and other nations worldwide. Ever since the atomic bomb and nuclear weapons other nations have been trying to catch the U.S. and drones are looking like a familiar situation. It creates problems in terms of international law because someone has to take the blame for these issues. The accountability issue has been raised several times when it comes to drones and will continue to be raised until something is done about them. Internationally they intrude on state sovereignty, injure or kill civilians without even an apology or acknowledgement, and just creates civil panic in lands that drones operate. If Iran controls drones in our airspace, it will open the United State’s eyes as to what it's like to have their sovereignty ignored.
Although the drone that was replicated was only a surveillance drone, it does not bode well because the Iranians could always militarize them. Since they had claimed to capture several other drones, one of which could already be militarized, and then it is only a matter of time until they can reverse engineer the technology. This will only further our surveillance on Iran and its neighbors to see what drones they will create and where they will occupy them. By giving them the technology unwillingly it creates tensions between our two governments as we try to peacefully work together so that both nations can have drones.
The U.S. could also face legal repercussions internationally because it was in fact their drone that was replicated and thus places the blame on them as to why Iran now owns a drone. The military technology that was gained from the drone could also help to create other advanced weaponry, depending on how much there is to be gained from the drone itself. The U.S. is already under the crosshairs for their use of drones, and the fact that we have now helped another nation get their hands on drones will not go over well. The U.S. needs to work quickly with the Iranian government to ensure that if the drones will be used, which they undoubtedly will, that they are used peacefully and are not militarized.
This undoubtedly will only further the question of the legality of drone strikes and the use of drones as surveillance. It will come a point where it begs the question whether or not they can be used peacefully and for the greater good. The U.S. has skirted its way across the issue by saying that they are only used against terrorists and perpetrators of 9/11. Once other nations, like Iran, start to manufacture drones it is only a matter of time until they are seen in U.S. air space. We cannot question the sovereignty of drones because we ourselves send them into other nations without their knowledge. Since the U.S. will continue to survey other nations and conduct drone strikes, they cannot question other nations when they start to do the same. You cannot hold someone accountable for using drones, if you at first are not accountable for doing the same action.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Cyber-espionage: Sandworm and Taidoor

Recently, NATO officials, the Ukrainian government, EU governments, and others have received emails with compromised attachments containing spyware and other malicious code. Cyber-threat intelligence group iSight called this attack Sandworm. Similar emails with malware and spyware have been discovered in Taiwan. In both these cases, malicious code that exploits weaknesses in the Windows operating system and in Microsoft Office was found in Office documents, mainly PowerPoint, by iSight, or by McAfee and Google researchers. The code uses a “zero-day vulnerability” and takes advantage of the Object Linking and Embedding mechanisms in Office files, which allow, for example, Excel graphs to be shown in PowerPoint. Rather than embed a graph, however, the hackers embedded code that spied on the recipients. A similar case in August called Epic Turla, also from Russia, included malware that searched the recipient’s computer for phrases relating to sensitive documents. If the phrases were present, more code could be remotely enabled that would do more thorough searches and report what it found to its creator. This case used compromised websites rather than email attachments.

In the case of Sandworm, the documents used were written in Russian and were usually interesting to the target, such as falsified lists of pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists. In Taiwan, very similar Chinese code was discovered. The malware used in Taiwan is called Taidoor, and has been previously linked to Chinese cyber-espionage. Due to the nature of the compromised documents and the code, the researchers believe they are linked to or controlled by the Russian and Chinese governments, respectively, rather than originating from civilian black-hat hackers. However, there is currently no way to know for sure. Without proven government involvement, the international community can take no effective action against the attackers.

Even if government involvement was proven in either case, there is still not much the international community can really do. Although spyware sent from a government to foreign officials might be a violation of international law and could be considered a violation of state sovereignty, it cannot be classified as a cyber-attack and therefore is not an act of war or controlled by the law of war.

As we read in Sanger, an example of something that could be considered a cyber-attack is the Stuxnet virus. Stuxnet, like Sandworm, exploited four “zero-day vulnerabilities.” Unlike Sandworm, however, Stuxnet was introduced by USB drives and was used initially to disrupt and damage Iranian nuclear facilities by affecting data and computer networks and then destroying nuclear centrifuges. Sandworm and the similar Chinese threat were spyware; they only reported data and did not alter data or disrupt or take control of the computer.

In class, we defined a cyber-attack as something that has force similar to an armed attack or that undermines the function of the network. Since Stuxnet caused the destruction of nuclear facilities, it is clear that it was a cyber-attack. Sandworm and the Chinese code are obviously some kind of intrusive and malicious program, but they do not have the ability to cripple systems like Stuxnet, so they cannot be called a cyber-attack. In Hathaway et.al. (2012), their recommended definition of a cyber-attack states that the program must “undermine the function” of a system. This is typically done by adding or modifying information and is not done by just observing the computer or network. Programs that simply observe, as Sandworm does, are considered cyber-espionage instead. Since cyber-espionage does not have any force similar to an armed attack or undermine the function of the network, it cannot be considered an act of war. Therefore, it is not governed by the law of war, and Article 51 of the UN Charter governing self-defense does not apply.

Even without this definition, it makes sense to classify Sandworm as espionage; it only looked at data on the infected computers and did not contain the ability to destroy documents, take over the computers, or spread more malicious code over a network. As sensitive as the information might have been that was retrieved or observed by the programs, Sandworm is not a cyber-attack. Those affected by the virus could take diplomatic measures against the suspected hackers, but there is a good chance they will not be effective, because of lack of proof, government denials, the risk of further worsening relations, or the threat of further attacks or intrusions. There is nothing effective the affected parties can do but tighten their own internet security policies and wait for Microsoft to release a patch to the operating system or to Office.

Hathaway et. al., California Law Review: http://www.californialawreview.org/assets/pdfs/100-4/02-Hathaway.pdf

Friday, October 31, 2014

When it comes to torture, sunshine is the best disinfectant

On Monday, National Security Council Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan confirmed that the White House received a letter signed by 12 Nobel Peace Laureates calling on the administration to declassify information on the methods of torture used on detainees following the 9/11 terror attacks, including a long-awaited Senate Intelligence Committee report that has been resisted by the CIA. The letter urges the administration to verify the closure of so-called “black sites” abroad, where US officials sent detainees to be tortured outside the jurisdiction of US law, and to provide the world with a coherent plan to close the naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

The letter emphasizes the authors’ experiences with torture in their own national contexts, like the South African apartheid regime and the conflicts in Northern Ireland. The letter says, “Many of us among the Nobel Peace Prize laureates have seen firsthand the effects of the use of torture in our own countries. Some are torture survivors ourselves. Many have also been involved in the process of recovery, of helping to walk our countries and our regions out of the shadows of their own periods of conflict and abuse.”

In her statement responding to the matter, Meehan emphasized the president’s commitment to ensuring that torture and rendition programs never again be utilized by the US government, as evidenced by the issuance of Executive Order 13491, which prohibited US officials from using torture on detainees. Meehan did not mention the administration’s decision to not prosecute US officials who had engaged in torture, many of whom could be implicated by the information this letter asks be released.

In class we have discussed how the courts, American society, and the international community have struggled to confront the use of torture in the context of a highly secretive national security apparatus. Even today, five years after the issuance of Executive Order 13491, human rights activists are struggling to get the US government to properly acknowledge and hold to account those egregious violations of international and domestic law.

At the heart of this story is a conflict between the lofty rhetoric of the Obama administration on issues of torture, detention, and rendition and their inability to provide substantial measures for legal accountability. The refusal thus far to bring this information to the light of day is totally illegitimate. By embracing the state secrets doctrine in civil courts and by fighting the release of information surrounding the use of torture as a matter of policy, the administration has obstructed justice, ensuring that the laws, both international and domestic, that were brazenly violated in the aftermath of 9/11 cannot be duly enforced. As the esteemed authors of this letter remind us, truth and openness are the foundation of any recovery from a period of state-sponsored brutality. Ducking the issue will only cause the institutional culture in the security and intelligence bureaucracies that permitted these abuses to fester unchecked. One can only hope that Mr. Obama, a Nobel Peace Laureate in his own right, will sign on to the letter too by addressing this issue more substantially before he leaves office.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Looking forward: Post-Afghanistan Detainees

 The United States is planning on leaving Afghanistan in a war capacity by the end of this year. However, there are many foreign nationals in their custody. Many of these foreign nationals might not be in their custody legally. Jessica Donati focuses on a secret prison located in Bagram used by the U.S. This prison is used to house foreign nationals from many nations, not just Afghanistan. There is a large question remaining in the face of U.S withdrawal from combat in Afghanistan. What will happen to the prisoners in Bagram? The prisoners have been brought unlawfully and outside the use of proper legal channels. Many of them have not been charged with a crime. It is against U.S policy to turn over detainees to nations in which these prisoners could be treated improperly or even executed. Another issue arises when one thinks about the issue of national security versus transparency. The United States refuses to disclose the identities of the prisoners they have detained. This means there is less third-party insight about how to properly deal with releasing the prisoners. Furthermore, if allied nations are left in the dark about practices the United States is using in combat, that could lead the U.S to be somewhat isolated. This isolation would undercut the legitimacy of alliances for the United States. The options for dealing with the detainees are also limited. The author mentions that if a crime committed by a detainee oversees is also a crime according to U.S law, the detainee can be prosecuted in the States. Another option is transferring the detainees to Guantanamo. This option worsens Obama's position that Guantanamo Bay was supposed to be closed years ago, yet still holds "155 detainees". Previous detainees have been returned to their home nations after a decade or more without charge. This happens rarely from the Bagram "secret prison".

          There are many legal and ethical issues raised by U.S withdrawal from Afghanistan and the impact this action has on detainees in Bagram. The United States is under legal obligation to not turn detainees over to nations that would prosecute them for crimes they did not commit or would treat them inhumanely. Detainees held in Bagram are from Pakistan, Yemen, Russia and Saudi Arabia, nations not generally known as models for acceptable human rights practices, according to Donati. This practice would violate the Conventions Against Torture, which has been signed and ratified by the United States. Transference of prisoners from Bagram to Guantanamo only continues the unethical practices of the U.S. The United States loses the right to hold detainees in Afghanistan after their withdrawal in 2014. If the detainees have not committed crimes to warrant their detainment in the first place, any subsequent prison transfer would also be unlawful. Next, even if the prisoners are released to their home nations, what is there remedy? How can the U.S "make-up" for taking years of their lives away without due process? By operating outside its own law, the United States has created a black hole around itself. The U.S wanting to be exempt from its fair practices that are in place on its own soil has opened the nation up to multi-level scrutiny. Lastly, there is a "tough-to-predict" repercussion from operatives within the prisoner's home nations. Actions by the U.S in secret prisons in Bagram, as well as all over the world might be inspiring to those considering joining forces against the U.S.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

State Secrets in Restis v. UANI

The decision in the current case Restis v. United Against Nuclear Iran could potentially give the government even more power in the state secrets privilege than before. According to Sudha Setty of Just Security, the United States government intervened in the civil suit on the grounds that proceeding would cause the declassification of documents pertaining to national security. This is the first case of its kind, Setty asserts, because not only is the government intervening in a private suit (like Mohamed v. Jeppesen), but UANI is not associated with any government entity. Jeppesen was contracted by the government and therefore it is plausible for them to use the state secrets privilege in a suit involving that company. The controversy here is obvious: how did a supposedly private company obtain documents that contain state secrets and how does the government know? As Lauren Bateman of Lawfare points out, government intelligence agencies cannot attempt to sway public opinion. So how is it possible that a private group that clearly has a political motivation can be protected by this government intervention?
On Wednesday, October 8th, Judge Ramos of the Southern District Court of New York heard arguments from the government and from Restis’ representation to determine whether state secrets could be invoked. Restis immediately opened with the controversial topics mentioned above, also adding that in no other state secrets case has the government refused to issue a public affidavit addressing what kind of secrets are being protected. Restis’ representation also asserts that application of the 2009 Holder memorandum would evaluate the case in support of Restis. This is because, at least on the surface (since the government will not disclose anything but the surface level), the privilege claim does not seem to meet the requirements of the Holder memo. What is more is that UANI has not stopped making the claims that Restis is involved in business in Iran (the original purpose of this defamation suit).
After the plaintiffs have made a compelling argument that this case is indeed unique from other state secrets cases, the representative for the government essentially just says that every case is unique and so their argument isn't valid. When asked if it would be possible to have an in camera case including the plaintiff’s representation (he has security clearance such that he currently works in various SCIFs), the defendant simply says that that is “not done.” To me, this argument is simply not sufficient. It seems abundantly clear that the government is hiding some sort of illegal activity, or else why would they even become involved in this case?
If the state secrets privilege is upheld in this case, it could set an extremely dangerous precedent. The privilege is already intensely powerful: in a large majority of the cases where it is invoked, it is upheld. If Judge Ramos supports it here, that could mean that the government could start surreptitiously doing business with anyone they want, then invoking state secrets to hide it, and never see the consequences of this corruption.
Setty points out that this case has the potential to set another precedent too--if Judge Ramos allows the invocation of state secrets but does not dismiss the case and finds that Restis’ claims are valid, there are no guidelines as to what kind of remedy Restis could receive. Judge Ramos would have to come up with a new way to evaluate civil suits like this or dismiss the case altogether. Luckily for Restis, Judge Ramos seems to be actively seeking out ways that the case can be settled while keeping national security and the remedies in mind.

Chinese Cyber Intrusion Into Apple iCloud


The article in question examines a recent cyber attack that is alleged to have been launched against Apple customers by the Chinese government. According to reports, the Chinese government, known for using aggressive computerized tactics against the United States, has hacked into Apple Inc.’s databases and retrieved username and password data associated with the online iCloud accounts of Chinese customers. They did this by creating a replica of the popular cloud program’s login page and fooling users, who believed that it was the true login portal, into entering their usernames and passwords, thus capturing that information. This, allegedly, has enabled officials to “gain access to all information stored in iCloud, including photos, iMessages, contacts, emails, and more.” For an authoritarian government seeking to suppress dissent, like the one in Beijing, this could be a valuable tool in harsh measures intended to do just that. It may be related to the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong, where citizens are rallying for democratic reforms that will give them a more expansive voice in determining who occupies the city’s government.

Of course, this raises issues insofar as it constitutes an attack by one country upon another. It also calls into question whether or not the actions here are actually cyber attacks, rather than cyber exploitation, which, as a form of espionage, is not illegal under international law.

As to how this intrusion can be classified, Michael Gervais (from our reading for the October 24 lecture) references the U.S. Army’s definition, which calls cyberattacks “the premeditated use of disruptive activities, or the threat thereof, against computers and/or networks, with the intention to cause harm or to further social, ideological, religious, political or similar objectives. Or to intimidate any person in furtherance of such objectives.”

China’s actions here could, therefore, very well be defined as a cyber attack, because it disrupts the normal functionality of Apple’s iCloud platform for those who were targeted, and the knowledge that their information might have been compromised by an authoritarian government may incidentally cause effects similar to those arising from more direct coercion, or the information might directly be used to coerce Chinese citizens. Furthermore, the fact that Apple’s systems have been compromised can be construed as a form of pressure directed against the company, with China implicitly declaring that it will penetrate the firm’s systems when that would further national interests.

The most obvious legal objection to China’s actions here is the fact that, because Apple is an American corporation, cyber attacks by foreign states represent an intrusion upon American sovereignty.

It is also an attack upon civilian interests. As Apple is neither a military target nor a civlian arm of the United States government, and as it does not constitute a threat to Chinese interests in and of itself, we can find in international law many condemnations of Beijing’s actions in this case. However, it should be noted that, as expressed in Michael Gervais’ piece, the absence of a state of war between China and the United States makes the application of laws of war more difficult than would otherwise be the case.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cyber Warfare: The War Of Zeros And Ones

The Popular Science article, "The War Of Zeros And Ones" by Peter Singer explains an early example of cyber warfare before moving on to current government programs and exploring possible uses and implications of cyber warfare. In 2006, Israel discovered Syria's nuclear weapons program through the information collected from a Trojan horse they installed on a Syrian official's laptop. Israel's bombing of the nuclear facility was supported by a cyber-attack on Syria's military network which prevented Syria's air defense operators from detecting and responding to Israel's fighter jets. Because of the age of the field, and the wide variety of actors, goals, and methods used, the precise meaning of the terminology used for cyber warfare and cyber attacks remains poorly defined. The article cites the US Air Force definition of the goals of cyber operations: to "destroy, deny, degrade, disrupt, [and] deceive," while also defending against the enemy's like-minded use of cyberspace.

An important point made by the article, which was also made by others when analyzing the legal implications of cyber warfare, is that cyber weapons should be treated the same way as conventional weapons when used in war. However, the article is not written from a legal background and does not apply any consideration of the laws of war to the proposed uses of cyber warfare.

The author proposes "information warfare" attacks where "the objectives might be highly strategic, such as planting false orders that appear to come from top leaders, or more tactical insertions, like when the Israelis co-opted the Syrian air-defense network." In addition to the immediate consequences of such attacks, in the long term they could corrupt users' trust in electronic communication, slowing decision making and potentially leading to abandoning technology for critical communication. There are multiple legal issues with such attacks. While this type of attack would often be categorized as a ruse de guerre, care must be taken not to resort to perfidy, which would include planting false orders. Even if individual attacks would be considered legal, if they are part of a larger campaign aimed at destroying the enemy's trust and ability to operate they could be considered illegal under the laws of war.

Other proposed attacks targeting military systems, such as disabling the engine systems of an enemy's navy or taking control of an enemy's drones would generally be permissible under the laws of war. Robotic weapon systems such as the Predator and Reaper drones create new vulnerabilities whereby the drone's control system could be compromised, allowing an attacker to use the drone against its owners. Not limited to drones, these "digital battles of persuasion" for control of weapons systems could become a major part of modern warfare and an example of the effective combination of cyber and traditional attacks.

Although the author proposes the possibility of using a cyber attack to destroy a dam to flood enemy territory, such attacks are unlikely because they are explicitly forbidden in international law by Article 56 of Additional Protocol I. The final section of the article, titled "Cyberwar Is Civilian War," proposes a variety of attacks targeting the civilian infrastructure that supports military operations. Citing historical examples such as the bombing of civilians in WWII, the author makes the case that cyber warfare may take a similar course with the targeting of civilians. However, the treaties codifying customary international law for the protection of civilians were not yet written at the time of the cited examples, and the international policy climate is keener on the protection of civilians so attacks targeting civilians may be less likely. Unfortunately, the often covert nature of cyber attacks and the difficulty attributing them to particular states makes enforcement of policy much more difficult. With little to no international law addressing cyber warfare directly and with cyber warfare still in relatively early development, it is impossible to predict exactly what its impact will be.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Omar Othman's Extraordinary Rendition and Release

Like many other cases we have studied in class, When the truth's held captive: Omar Othman's release and Britain's Shame, by  Victoria Britain is an article about Omar Othman, a UK resident who was a victim of extraordinary rendition, subjected to torture, and held without trial for years.  Othman was initially allowed into the UK as a refugee "fleeing despots and torturers." Without any concrete evidence, not only was Othman held captive for years and  tortured but his entire family had to face embarrassment and public harassment.  Othman was a respected scholar and clerk and the Muslim community looked up to him and his principles and even the prison guards at the UK prison respected him. Furthermore, the only time that Othman was ever heard from was when "he came to the aid of the authorities by making public appeals for the lives and release of two British men held as hostages."  Prior to 9/11, the UK had seen a refugee in Othman but post 9/11 he was seen as an increasing threat that needed to be taken care of. Othman was imprisoned for years without trial and the two times that his lawyers did manage to get him out, he had to remain in house arrest. This was the man that Bob Quick, the former head of counter terrorism, described as " very dangerous....with extreme views." There is much in the media about how Othman cannot, under any circumstances, ever return to the UK. Other controversies around the case include his condemnation of ISIS.  Very little is said about holding the government accountable for what he endured.  It is appalling that this is what the media and the public focuses on as the issue of human rights, torture and discrimination is brushed aside, to keep the British government's involvement in the rendition and other such operations shrouded.  This is interesting, when taken into consideration that Britain has a sizable population that is radically anti-Islam.         
                It no longer amazes me that Othman, like many others we have read about, was held without trial and had to tolerate the horrors of torture, public defamation, indefinite detention, and separation from his loved ones. What does amaze me is that without any evidence or charges, not only him but his entire family and even his friends endured so much. His acquaintances were captured and tortured in Guantanamo, as officials sought more information on Othman. They were only released after threats of dragging the government along with its involvement in torture and other horrors of Guantanamo were made. Even the European Court of Human Rights denied Othman's appeal against deportation.

                It seems like those who condemned him were afraid  that he was a man of "significant influence" or that he had the ability to "influence views of others and their conduct." Yes, he was so influential that his prison guards treated him properly. He was so influential that officials thought him worthy enough to use him to make a public plea for the life of British nationals. Similarly, he was well respected by young British Muslims and the general Muslim community in Britain. Somehow, being a well-respected and religious Muslim has become the only criteria needed to condemn a well-respected man as "Al Qaeda's European ambassador." Ultimately, Othman was deported after officials in UK and Jordan came to a consensus that information that was retrieved by torture would not be used against him in trial.  His release by the Jordanian court has many implications. Beyond highlighting the British government's inadequacy in dealing with such cases, it paints a dim picture of what awaits ahead of us for the US and the UK. It is also in the hands of the civilian to be aware of these issues and to not let such gross ignorance impact our decision making process. We must educate ourselves on both side of an issue and question our government and demand accountability.  It is scary to think that ignorance has proliferated so widely, even among the most respected members of the government-- the people we trust to make the right decisions. As the article correctly points out, the U.S and the UK have no idea what they are getting into in the middle east. If we continue to hide behind the cloak of ignorance, self-deception, and ethnocentrism, the wars will never end. 


Drone Strikes Back

Drones. You can't live with em', you can't live without em', or so goes the narrative many Americans have chosen to believe. I remain unconvinced, and a well-read 2013 Washington Post article is yet another reason why. Whitlock's article presents the findings of two established human rights organizations on U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly their numbers contradict even the ever-ambiguous claims of the administration.

Perhaps most strikingly, by examination of local reports and personal interviews, Human Rights Watch found that 57 of 82 people killed by six drone strikes in Yemen since 2009 were civilians. Similarly, Amnesty International found that 30 civilians were killed in four of nine suspected U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. Whitlock suggests these findings match a report put together by a U.N. human rights investigator who listed 2,200 confirmed drone strike deaths in Pakistan. He listed 400 of that total as civilians and an additional 200 as “probable noncombatants.”

The Washington Post article admits that these numbers come from a variety of sources and that their exact quantities often vary greatly. In this admission, Whitlock addresses an important issue concerning drone-related estimates: The people responsible for the strikes will not yield specific information. The American people is left to assume why the administration refuses to publish who, where, and by what legal grounds they are targeting individuals. The United States' targeted killing of American citizens, refusal to address legal grounds, and general incompetence leave us with a host of possible reasons.

In 2011 the United States targeted and killed three American citizens: Anwar Al-Aulaqi, Samir Khan, and Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi at a restaurant in Yemen. The ACLU sued the government of the United States claiming the targeted killing deprived the American citizens of their lives without due process of law. Their accusation is, of course, incontrovertible, and it sheds some light on why the United States government is so unwilling to talk specifically about drone strikes.

In Whitlock's article, he reminds us of several quotes from the administration which display its commitment to nebulous language. Supposedly the only people who are targeted by the administration are those who pose a “continuing, imminent threat” to the U.S., and only the strikes in which zero civilian casualties would be “a near-certainty” would be carried out. Again, a White House spokeswoman, in reference to an Obama speech, said “As the President emphasized, the use of lethal force, including from remotely piloted aircraft, commands the highest level of attention and care.” Of course the only appropriate response to a comment as transparently embarrassing as that could be “no duh.”

Whitlock's article also includes a report from Amnesty International that displays the United States' incompetence regarding drone strikes. On July 6, 2012, two errant strikes killed 18 civilians, some of whom were medics, in a single location. Human Rights Watch released a report of a September 2, 2012 strike in which a bus carrying a number of civilians, including a pregnant woman and three children, was targeted and destroyed.

And so despite the administration’s best efforts, the less than savory details regarding drone strikes have been made public to the world. Their unintended consequences include civilian deaths, violations of state sovereignty, violations of American citizens' basic rights, and perhaps worst of all stupid comments by obnoxious White House spokespeople. Drones. You just might be able to live with em', but your freedoms certainly won't.