European court finds Poland complicit in torture at CIA secret prison

(By Deutsche Welle) Poland enabled human rights violations by allowing the CIA to run a secret prison on its territory, according to a European court ruling. Warsaw has been ordered to pay two suspected former al Qaeda operatives damages.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Thursday that the Polish government was complicit in human rights abuses carried out by CIA operatives at a so-called “black site,” shedding further light on a network of secret prisons built by the US in Eastern and Central Europe after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

According to the court, Poland’s government allowed the CIA to operate a secret prison, where two suspected al Qaeda operatives were subjected to torture among other rights violations. The black site was located on a Polish military facility in a village called Stare Kiejkuty, located 180 kilometers (111 miles) north of Warsaw.

Suspected al Qaeda operatives Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Zayn Al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn – also known as Abu Zubaydah – brought the case against Poland, accusing Warsaw of aiding and abetting in their rendition and mistreatment in 2002-2003. They are currently being held by the US at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Although the judges said that “it was unlikely that the Polish officials had witnessed or known exactly what happened inside this facility,” they had enabled the CIA to commit human rights abuses by allowing the facility to operate, making them culpable.

“For all practical purposes, Poland had facilitated the whole process, had created the conditions for it to happen and had made no attempt to prevent it from occurring,” the court wrote in its ruling.

According to Crofton Black, who has been investigating the CIA’s now closed secret prisons in Europe, Thursday’s ruling makes attempts by the Polish government to whitewash its involvement look increasingly “ridiculous.”

“It’s the first time there’s been a ruling by any court on the CIA’s black sites in Europe, and it confirms what we and other legal organizations have been saying for years, which is the evidence that such sites existed and suspects were tortured in them is overwhelming,” Black, who works for the advocacy group Reprieve, told DW.

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NATO moves to apply armed conflict law to cyber warfare

(By Deutsche Welle) The NATO alliance is pushing for a more robust cyber defense strategy ahead of its September summit in Wales. The allies are likely to express their support for applying the law of armed conflict to cyber warfare.

After operating for years without a clear legal framework, NATO’s 28 member states are moving closer to officially applying the law of armed conflict to cyber warfare, a move that would have far-reaching consequences on how military operations are conducted in the digital age.

“The allies will be in a position to express themselves in a sense that international law applies to cyberspace,” Christian Lifländer, a policy officer with the Cyber Defense Section at NATO headquarters, told Deutsche Welle at the Global Media Forum in Bonn this Wednesday (02.07.2014). He was responding to a question about what the alliance will propose at its September summit in Wales.

“NATO cannot make laws – but the allies can express their support for international law,” Lifländer said, specifically mentioning the law of armed conflict.

Applying the law of armed conflict to cyber warfare would provide greater clarity to the member states’ militaries on how to conduct cyber operations, according to Michael Schmitt, director of the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law at the United States Naval War College.

“It’s a very important move and one that’s overdue,” Schmitt told DW.”The notion of going to war without understanding what law applies and how it applies to your cyber operations in an era when cyber operations are central to armed conflict is, to me, very troubling.”

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US attempts to strike balance in ties with Uganda

(By Deutsche Welle) The US has agreed to bolster its military presence in Uganda to help hunt down fugitive warlord Joseph Kony, despite Washington’s tense relations with Kampala over the East African nation’s draconian anti-gay law.

The Obama administration this week sought to strike a balance in its increasingly complicated relationship with Uganda, announcing the deployment of military reinforcements to help hunt down Joseph Kony, while also diverting aid money in response to Kampala’s anti-gay law.

In a statement on Monday, the White House announced the deployment of CV-22 Osprey vertical lift aircraft, refueling planes, and 150 Air Force personnel to Uganda. That’s in addition to the 100 US special operations troops who’ve been advising African forces in the hunt for Kony since 2011.

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for crimes against humanity and war crimes. He’s accused of recruiting child soldiers, using girls as sex slaves, and intentionally attacking civilians. Kony is thought to be hiding somewhere in Central Africa.

But Washington’s increased military support for the hunt comes at a delicate time in US-Ugandan relations. In February, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill into law that would punish people for their sexual orientation. Under the legislation, adult homosexual partners can be sentenced to life in prison for having consensual sex. Among other provisions, people who “promote” homosexuality can be sentenced to seven years in prison.

“All legitimate human rights advocacy work that involves anything related to the discussion on LGBT rights is now criminal,” Maria Burnett, a senior researcher with the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told DW.

“So there’s a lot of practical public health programs that are now operating in an environment in which their work is potentially at risk of criminal prosecution,” Burnett said.

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Haunted by Halabja, US seeks Syrian solution

(By Deutsche Welle) In 1988, the US turned a blind eye to the gassing of Iraqi Kurds by Saddam Hussein. Decades after the attack at Halabja, Washington now seeks to enforce the global prohibition on chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war.

UN chemical weapons inspectors have confirmed that the nerve agent sarin was used “on a relatively large scale” in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta last month, in what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the worst attack of its kind since Iraq deployed poison gas against the Kurds in the late 1980s.

“This is a war crime and a grave violation of the 1925 Protocol and other rules of customary international law,” Ban told reporters in New York on Monday. “It is the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988 – and the worst use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century.”

But a quarter century ago, Washington turned a blind eye to what happened at Halabja. On March 16, 1988, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein unleashed poison gas against the Kurdish city, killing more than 3,200 people, according to a 1993 Human Rights Watch report.

“The lesson of Halabja is unfortunately that the condemnation came to late – two months later – but also it came six years too late,” Joost Hiltermann, the author of Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq and the Gassing of Halabja, told DW.

“Because Halabja was the culmination, the climax of a steady increase in the use of chemical weapons in quantity and in quality, meaning more lethal agents over time,” said Hiltermann, also the chief operating officer at the International Crisis Group in Brussels.

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Washington faces Kenya dilemma

(By Deutsche Welle) Kenya has elected a president accused of crimes against humanity by the ICC. The US now walks a tightrope in its relations with Nairobi, a key ally in the war against Islamist militants in Somalia.

Should Uhuru Kenyatta survive a legal challenge by his defeated opponent and assume office as Kenya’s fourth president, his term will begin with a trial before the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity. Kenyatta is accused of facilitating murder, deportation, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts. His vice president, William Ruto, faces similar charges.

Washington has followed the election with concern. Nairobi is a key player in the US-backed fight against al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants in neighboring Somalia. Kenya currently has some 4,000 troops engaged there in the fight against al-Shabab.

“Kenya has been a major ally of the United States whenever it comes to conflict in the region whether it be genocide in Rwanda or it be problems in Somalia or humanitarian relief that is required somewhere in the region,” David Shinn, former US director for East African affairs, told DW.

“You need to have Kenya on board for logistical purposes in both Mombasa and Nairobi,” Shinn said. Mombasa hosts a port critical for East African trade and Nairobi is a regional financial center.

Prior to the Kenyan election, the US State Department made a veiled threat that a Kenyatta victory would carry consequences for the relationship between Washington and Nairobi.

“We live in an interconnected world and people should be thoughtful about the impact their choices have,” said US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson.

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UN takes proactive role in world politics after Arab Spring

(Deutsche Welle) After fading from the international limelight when the US unilaterally invaded Iraq in 2003, the UN Security Council has returned to center stage by demonstrating a renewed willingness to use force to protect civilians.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has adopted a more proactive role in international politics in recent months as the world has been rapidly confronted with one crisis after another. In the civil wars in both Libya and Ivory Coast, the UN mandated the use of “all necessary means” to protect civilian life.

This willingness to decisively confront international crises comes after years of a post-Iraq malaise in which the Security Council largely took a back seat as the United States unilaterally pursued its national interests around the world.

But as popular uprisings have rapidly spread from one Arab country to another, the Security Council has become the focal point of international efforts to adopt common positions on crises that impact global stability.

The council has demonstrated itself willing and capable – under the right political circumstances – of using military force and economic sanctions in order to enforce international law and human rights.

“In many ways the [Security] Council has become more active on all those fronts in terms of coercive instruments,” Edward Luck, Special Advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told Deutsche Welle.

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ICC’s Gadhafi probe could empower neighbors more than Libya

(By Deutsche Welle) The international criminal investigation against Gadhafi may have limited impact on the Libyan conflict. But it could give protesters in other Arab countries new momentum in their bid to force democratic reforms.

In a period of two weeks, the world community stripped Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi of his status as rehabilitated dictator, relegating him to the rank of international pariah and possible war criminal.

On February 26, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to refer Gadhafi’s violent crackdown on peaceful protesters to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. It was the first unanimous referral in the Security Council’s history.

But in the weeks since the Security Council’s historic vote, the international response to the conflict in Libya has floundered. As world powers debate the pros and cons of military intervention, heavily armed and well-trained Gadhafi loyalists have regained momentum and pushed deeper into rebel-controlled territory, closing in on the opposition stronghold of Benghazi.

So while the Security Council’s vote to investigate the Gadhafi regime may lend moral support to the embattled rebels, it has little practical impact on the balance of power in Libya. However, holding the Gadhafi regime legally accountable for alleged crimes could give renewed momentum to other opposition movements throughout the Arab world.

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Obama unlikely to close Guantanamo as ‘War on Terror’ continues

(By Deutsche Welle) The politics of war and terrorism have put President Obama’s order to close Guantanamo on hold. In America, the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists remains an accepted cost of waging a global war.

Just two days into his first term, US President Barack Obama ordered the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to be closed. However, his initial earnestness has given way to a painstaking implementation process fraught by the politics of war and terrorism.

Last December, Congress blocked funding to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo. The move came a month after the surprisingly narrow conviction of Ahmed Ghailani for his role in the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa. Ghailani’s controversial trial raised concern about the unpredictability of prosecuting terrorism suspects in civilian courts.

This politically charged environment has stalled the closure of the Guantanamo camp by a year. Although President Obama came to power promising to end what he called “a sad chapter in American history,” it appears that this chapter is still being written. Indefinitely detaining suspected terrorists without trial, a policy developed during the Bush administration, remains an accepted cost of waging a global war.

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US truce with International Criminal Court paves way for cooperation

(By Deutsche Welle) After years of open hostility, the US and the International Criminal Court have agreed to an uneasy truce. Can the only military superpower forge a partnership with the world’s most ambitious war crimes tribunal?

In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, the United States severed its already strained ties with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. In spite of the critical role Washington played in prosecuting crimes against humanity during the 1990s, America’s political establishment harbored a bipartisan suspicion of the ICC.

Under President Barack Obama, the US has dropped its outright hostility toward the world’s first permanent war crimes court and is re-evaluating its confrontational stance. Washington is now seeking a sort of strategic partnership with the Court – rooted in the pursuit of common interests. However, even as relations warm, the prospects of US membership are slim.

The ICC meanwhile soberly continues its task of prosecuting widely condemned war criminals. The next major trial begins on November 22 against Jean-Pierre Bemba, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s former vice-president.

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