Meldungen (Feeds)

Searching for Ground Truth in the Kunduz Hospital Bombing

The Intercept - Engl. - πριν από 2 ώρες 24 λεπτά

When the Taliban overran Kunduz last September after a monthlong siege, the northern Afghan city became the first to fall to the insurgency since the war began in 2001. A week earlier, many Kunduz residents had left town to observe Eid al-Adha, the sacrificial feast honoring Abraham’s act of submission to God. The heavy fighting sent the remaining Kunduzis fleeing as dead bodies littered the streets.

On Friday, October 2, the city lay quiet, with just one building lit up against the dark sky. Most other international organizations had evacuated when the fighting began, but the Kunduz Trauma Center run by Médecins Sans Frontières remained open throughout the battle for the city. It was one of the few buildings with a generator. Throughout the week, violence seemed to lap against the walls of the hospital without ever engulfing it. All around the 35,620-square-meter compound, the site of an old cotton factory, fighting ebbed and flowed. Doctors and nurses marked the intensity of battle by the freshly wounded who arrived at the gate. According to MSF, the hospital treated 376 emergency patients between September 28, when the city fell, and October 2.

The last week had seen much bloodshed, but Friday was uncharacteristically calm: no fighting nearby, no gunshots, no explosions. “I remember seeing a child flying a kite,” recalled Dr. Kathleen Thomas, “and thought to myself, today is a calm day.” That evening, while more than 100 MSF employees and caretakers slept in a basement below the hospital, several staff members remained awake, preparing for what the night might bring. There were 105 patients in the hospital, including three or four Afghan government soldiers and about 20 Taliban fighters, two of whom appeared to be of high rank. Hospital staff stepped outside to take in the bracing autumn air, something they’d lately refrained from doing for fear of stray bullets. The night sky was open and clear.

Some 7,000 feet above, an AC-130 gunship was preparing to fire. At 2:08 a.m., on October 3, a missile began its descent, gliding through a cloudless sky.

A young patient waits to be X-rayed with her father at the Kunduz Trauma Center run by Médecins Sans Frontières, May 20, 2015.

Photo: Andrew Quilty/Oculi

About two hours earlier, nurse Mohammad Poya lay down on the concrete floor of the hospital’s administrative office. Poya had a few hours for sleep, but instead dead bodies were on his mind. In the morning he had visited the morgue to find its refrigerators full. Earlier in the week, Poya had asked the orderlies to pack the dead in as tight as possible. When there was no more space, he asked the cleaners to scrub the front porch of the morgue so that the excess corpses could be stacked there. What Poya hated most was carelessness. Many died undignified deaths in Afghanistan; the least the hospital could do was to show the dead the respect that had eluded them in life.

Poya was especially worried about the fighting that had ensnarled the streets around the compound. With all major roads blocked, the hospital was running low on supplies. Corridors overflowed with the wounded, and a decision was made to triage patients earlier than usual to avoid wasting resources on those least likely to survive. The last thought Poya remembers having before finally falling asleep was that they would have to start turning away patients.

Guilhem Molinie during a press conference at the MSF office in Kabul on Oct. 8, 2015.

Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier that Friday, at 1 p.m., Guilhem Molinie, the head of MSF in Afghanistan, sat at his desk in Kabul to write an email to a contact in the U.S. 3rd Special Forces Group, which had been deployed to Kunduz after the fall of the city. “Questions in case things go bad,” the subject line read. It wasn’t the first time that week he had taken precautions. On Monday, when a Taliban victory seemed certain, Molinie called an insurgent contact to reaffirm the hospital’s neutral position. He did the same with the other side, sending a letter with GPS coordinates of the hospital to the Afghan National Security Council, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Public Health, the U.S. Embassy, USAID, and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the agency’s body tasked with responding to complex emergencies. The U.N. forwarded Molinie’s email to Col. Paul Sarat, the deputy commander of NATO’s mission in the north, as well as to Maj. Gen. Abdul Hamid, who headed the 209th Corps of the Afghan National Army, which is responsible for the country’s northern nine provinces. Molinie tried to reach out to Freedom’s Sentinel, the U.S. counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan, but was not successful; he assumed he had done enough.

Andres Romero, MSF’s head liaison with the U.S. government, forwarded the coordinates to Carter Malkasian, an old Afghan hand and an adviser to top U.S. military officer Joseph Dunford of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Malkasian emailed Romero to inquire whether the hospital had been overrun by the Taliban. Romero told him no, but this information appeared not to have traveled back to the special operations forces on the ground, since on Friday, according to the Associated Press, a senior officer with the 3rd Special Forces Group wrote in his daily report that the hospital was under Taliban control and that he planned to clear the grounds in the coming days.

Among the units accompanying the 3rd Special Forces Group were Afghan commandos and the 6th Special Operations Kandak, reporting to the Ministry of Interior; 222 and 333 national mission units, reporting to the Ministry of Interior; and a police special unit already based out of Kunduz. The men had not worked together before, and they were now in charge of leading the battle to take back Kunduz city. “They just got thrown up there, into an environment they didn’t know much about,” said a security analyst based in northern Afghanistan, who was formerly an adviser to the U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan. The security analyst asked not to be identified by name, as did many of the dozens of individuals who were interviewed for this article in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Some were not authorized to speak on the record; others, including residents of Kunduz and Afghan security personnel, feared retaliation for doing so.

The picture that emerges from these firsthand accounts, as well as from interviews with several high-ranking Afghan officials, is one of remarkable chaos and uncertainty, even by the standards of war. Those on the ground said it was not clear who was in charge, and those in charge seemed not to have had a clear understanding of what was happening on the ground at any given point before, during, and after the fall of the city.

Afghan special forces prepare to launch an operation to retake the city of Kunduz from Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, Sept. 29, 2015.

Photo: Chine Nouvelle/Sipa/Newscom

At 10 p.m., Molinie returned to his office to speak with Heman Nagarathnam, who was in charge of the hospital in Kunduz. It was a quiet night and Nagarathnam stepped out for a cigarette to take the call. The nightly check-ins had allowed Molinie to keep updated on the goings-on around the hospital. Molinie knew, for instance, that on Tuesday a local Taliban representative visited Nagarathnam to give his reassurance. He knew that the hospital lay in a Taliban-controlled area, but that Afghan soldiers were still crossing the front line to bring in patients. By Wednesday, however, worries of a Taliban takeover had pushed soldiers to the provincial hospital, which was in an area controlled by government forces.

At one point that week, government forces had regained the city’s central square, before losing it again to the Taliban. On Friday night, Nagarathnam relayed his concerns that the hospital was now located in an area vulnerable to counterattack. They discussed the 2,000 sandbags that he had ordered to defend the hospital against stray bullets. A little after 1:30 a.m., he went to bed.

For some time, Molinie told me, something had been bothering him. “It was never clear who was in charge of what,” he said, in reference to the metastasizing 15-year-old conflict. The current war in Afghanistan was being run by two distinct commands: NATO’s Operation Resolute Support (RS) and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan’s Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Resolute Support was a non-combat mission with a limited mandate to train, advise, and assist Afghan security forces. Freedom’s Sentinel, successor to Operation Enduring Freedom, was the latest version of America’s so-called war on terror. It was meant to hunt down al Qaeda remnants, but without the rigor of public scrutiny, Freedom’s Sentinel seemed to have spiraled beyond its already vague mandate.

President Barack Obama at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, Dec. 15, 2014.

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Despite President Barack Obama’s 2014 announcement that America’s combat mission in Afghanistan would end in 2015, Molinie had noticed that many military operations seemed to be outside the bounds of both Resolute Support and Freedom’s Sentinel. It was never clear where one mission ended and another began. Long before January 2016, when President Obama expanded the counterterrorism mission of Freedom’s Sentinel to include the fight against the Islamic State, for instance, there were already airstrikes targeting ISIS in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

When I asked Col. Michael Lawhorn, spokesperson for both NATO and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, to explain the differing missions of the two commands, he said: “Think of it as a big box marked RS and inside that you have a small box marked Freedom’s Sentinel but inside that box you have two smaller boxes marked Resolute Support and another one marked counterterrorism.” When I inquired how we might tell all these different boxes apart, Lawhorn conceded, “It’s not always clear under what authority an action is taken.” The same was true, he said, of what happened in Kunduz.

The destroyed operating room of the MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Oct. 10, 2015.

Photo: Andrew Quilty/Oculi

Back at the hospital, Poya had finally fallen asleep when he was suddenly awakened by a terrible sound. Outside his window, the intensive care unit was on fire. He looked up and saw that a plane — called a boongana by locals because of the dull hum the plane emits — was orbiting the hospital. How to describe the barrage that followed? Poya experienced the bombing as an interminable terror, a series of deafening noises interrupted by terrifying silence. Death felt certain, so he called his father to describe where the family might find his remains. He saw a colleague, a 35-year-old pharmacist, shot dead while trying to escape the compound through its south gate.

Belly of an AC-130 gunship.

Photo: Wikipedia

An AC-130 is a plane built around a gun. Its pylon turns allow for the Gatling-style cannon to fire as many as 6,000 rounds per minute. It is the most lethal air weapons platform: It flies longer, carries more weapons, and is deadlier than any other aircraft. The same gunship was responsible for capturing Kunduz from the Taliban and al Qaeda in the early days of the U.S.-led NATO intervention in Afghanistan. Then, as now, up to 14 crew members on the plane would have been assisted by a joint terminal attack coordinator on the ground, who would have walked the crew through training the 105 mm howitzer on the target to aim, then fire.

At 2:09 a.m. Molinie woke up to a phone call. Nagarathnam was on the line telling him the hospital was on fire. Minutes later, another call informed him that the hospital was being attacked from the air. Molinie called his Special Forces contact at the J3 operations department who told him he didn’t know of any airstrikes in the area. Molinie then called the U.N., whose contacts at NATO said that RS was not aware of any operations either. Believing that it had to be an Afghan military operation, Molinie contacted the deputy interior minister and the operational commander with the Defense Ministry. Molinie charted the sequence of events in a logbook. The last item, at 2:53 a.m., reads, “Plane still around. Just bombed again.”

By the time the attack was over, the intensive care unit, the emergency room, and the operating theaters were burned to a husk. The corrugated tin roof had peeled off, and only the walls remained standing, pockmarked with cannon fire. The aircraft had fired 211 shells, killing 42 patients and staff who had trusted in the hospital’s neutral and protected status. Patients had burned in their beds. Six charred bodies awaited forensic investigation to determine their identity; they had been burned beyond recognition.

The AC-130 had destroyed the main building of the MSF hospital, but all other structures remained intact. The trajectory of the damage neatly matched the GPS coordinates that Molinie had sent around just three days earlier. It was evident that the Americans were involved, but in the early days, no one knew in what capacity or to what end.

Gen. John F. Campbell, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, stands beside a map of the city of Kunduz as he addresses a press conference at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul on Nov. 25, 2015.

Photo: Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images

 

From the beginning, the U.S. military struggled to keep its story straight. Officials initially denied that U.S. forces had attacked the MSF hospital at all, saying that the building might have sustained collateral damage from an adjacent airstrike. Gen. John F. Campbell, the top American commander in Afghanistan, stated that U.S. forces were taking fire when the airstrike was called in. On October 4, Ash Carter, the secretary of defense, admitted that “there was American air action in that area” and that “there was definitely destruction in those structures and the hospital.” The narrative shifted the next day when Gen. Campbell said Afghan forces had come under fire and called in the airstrike.

MSF called for an independent investigation, denouncing the attack as a war crime. After a six-week investigation, Gen. Campbell held a briefing in Kabul, on the day before Thanksgiving, and presented what was now the official version of the events: The attack was the result of a cascading series of human errors and mechanical failures.

On September 30, 2015, he said, the Afghan forces and their U.S. advisers established themselves at the provincial chief of police compound. The Afghan forces planned a clearing operation and the U.S. forces agreed to have support on standby.

According to Campbell, the aircrew believed they were coming to the rescue of ground forces that were taking fire, a “troops in contact situation.” They rushed to take off, skipping the pre-mission briefing.

Campbell said the crew was given a new mission after takeoff, an order to bomb a local office of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan government’s primary intelligence agency, that had been taken over by the Taliban. “During the flight,” he said, “the electronic systems onboard the aircraft malfunctioned, preventing the operation of an essential command and control capability and eliminating the ability of aircraft to transmit video, send and receive email, or send and receive electronic messages.” The crew entered GPS coordinates for the NDS facility, but the electronic system brought the plane to an empty field instead. From the empty field, they located the “closest, largest building” that matched the commander’s description. The internal NATO investigation found the aircrew did not observe hostile activity.

Gen. Campbell said that the military had not followed its own rules of engagement during the Kunduz airstrike. The U.S. commander who called in the strike did not have eyes on the target; he was several hundred meters away, in the visual range of neither the NDS nor the MSF hospital. Nor was the strike necessary for force protection.

In contrast to the U.S. military’s narrative, the Afghan government’s response has been more consistent. Immediately following the attack, Afghan authorities came out saying the strike was justified because the hospital was a Taliban stronghold.

Hanif Atmar, then Afghanistan’s interior minister, speaks during a press conference at the Ministry of Interior in Kabul on June 6, 2010.

Photo: Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images

Maj. Abdul Kabir, an Afghan air liaison officer who helped coordinate airstrike requests during the fighting in Kunduz, told me that no one had briefed government forces on a mission specific no-strike list. A NATO official who worked on the joint Afghan-NATO investigation said that the previous rules of engagement did not include the no-strike list, but that the item had since been added. Kabir and others said they had noted no difference in the rules of engagement after the Kunduz strike.

Sediq Sediqi, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior, said that 10 to 15 terrorists were hiding in the hospital. National security adviser Hanif Atmar said the government would take full responsibility, as “we are without doubt, 100 percent convinced the place was occupied by Taliban,” according to meeting notes reviewed by the AP. Acting Defense Minister Masoom Stanekzai also told AP that the hospital was used as shelter for insurgents.

MSF has repeatedly denied that armed Taliban fighters were present in the hospital, and no one has presented any credible evidence to support accusations to the contrary.

In his November briefing, Gen. Campbell said that the “individuals most closely associated with the incident have been suspended from their duty positions,” pending disciplinary measures. Yet the U.S. has steadfastly refused to countenance an independent investigation, which has led to suspicions of a cover-up. “Had the authorities said it is a terrible mistake from day one, then it would have been easier to believe that it was a mistake,” MSF’s Molinie told me. “But because in the beginning Afghan senior officials said the hospital was bombed because it was a Taliban base, it is difficult for us to swallow the 100 percent mistake scenario.”

Taliban fighters hug each other a day after they overran the strategic northern city of Kunduz, Sept. 29, 2015.

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Gen. Campbell had just landed in Washington, D.C., when he heard the news from Kunduz. The fall of the city had apparently come as a surprise to everyone, including the Taliban. One exception was the governor of Kunduz, Omar Safi, who spent most of his short 10-month tenure sounding desperate alarm at the imminent fall of the city.

Safi told me he wrote 35 letters to the U.S. National Security Council, even breaching protocol and emailing Gen. John Campbell directly for air support. Campbell told Safi that the new mandate did not allow for close air support for Afghan forces. Even so, before departing for Washington, in an effort to decentralize command within forces, Campbell had deputized strike authority to a subordinate, a tactical level commander who would make decisions in the pitch of battle.

The city had been on the verge of collapse all through 2015, but had always managed to remain under government control. It nearly fell in April, when the Taliban began another bid for the city. Then came another scare in June, when the northeastern districts fell to the Taliban while the center held. By the fall, said the security analyst based in northern Afghanistan, “It was the third time everyone had seen that movie.”

“I don’t think anyone had any clue about what was going on on the ground,” said the security analyst, who monitored the fall of Kunduz closely. He remembers calling up the political adviser to Gen. Campbell to inform him that the city was about to fall. “I sent him a text saying the U.N. office had been overrun and that it was on fire. He wrote back, ‘We just checked and it’s only a couple of the outlying buildings that are on fire.’ If someone had said that about RS HQ, ‘No, it’s not the HQ. It’s just the PX that’s on fire,’ I don’t think it would have gone over so well.”

According to Brig. Gen. Ashraf Khan, Afghan air ops commander for the north, less than 24 hours after Kunduz fell, Gen. Campbell authorized the use of AC-130s by ground commanders.

In a telephone interview, Gen. Campbell said that he would not comment on rules of engagement, but said, “If somebody was under attack and they needed to use the AC-130, why would they have to wait until I landed to ask for permission to do that? You know what I’m saying? You always have the right to self-defense. I’m not talking Kunduz — I’m talking any time.”

“If they have to call their boss, who have to call their boss, who have to call their boss, who have to call their boss, who have to call their boss, who has to call me who’s on an airplane, by that time, the guys on the ground are dead.”

“There is always going to be somebody in charge,” Campbell said. “When you have changes in leadership, you lay out who has the authority to do what, in all cases.” He said that he had visited the site of a C-130 crash before he left Afghanistan, and then as soon as he landed in Washington, he found out about the Kunduz strike. “The initial reports said we had hit a hospital, and I know we don’t target hospitals so something had to go wrong.”

In an ordinary scenario, an Afghan force on the ground requests an airstrike through its chain of command at the Ministry of Defense, which in turn contacts NATO. A request requires an eight-line form including the grid location, threat level, and other details such as geographical or biographical information submitted via email, and takes two to three days for approval, according to flight coordinators. But in the heat of combat, strikes can be requested via an unencrypted mobile phone and may be approved in less than 20 minutes, according to an RS flight coordinator who spoke to The Intercept.

A former Afghan NDS official said that the initial raw report about insurgents being in the MSF hospital was corroborated with signals intelligence — phone or radio communications that were tracked back to the compound. These two streams of information, he said, along with eyewitness accounts, elevated the information into “finished intel,” indicating that the Taliban were inside the hospital. Yet according to a former Afghan government adviser, the aftermath of the hospital strike was marked by uncertainty. “Don’t forget intelligence is about information and misinformation.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during a press conference at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Oct. 1, 2015.

Photo: Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

According to the former government adviser, in the days following the hospital strike, the Afghans were under immense pressure from the U.S. military to stay in line. President Ashraf Ghani, who issued a statement expressing his “deep sorrow,” was sympathetic to MSF’s call for an independent fact-finding mission, but when the U.S. refused to participate, the Afghans were “put in a position of saying no.”

“The Americans put their foot down and said that’s not going to happen,” the former adviser said. “[They] made it very clear that that could result in a loss of support.” The threat of possible war crimes charges loomed over the discussion.

In the absence of an independent investigation, a joint Afghan-NATO Combined Civilian Casualty Assessment Team was deployed to Kunduz. President Ghani also assigned an Afghan-led commission overseen by former NDS head Amrullah Saleh, which ended up excluding the hospital strike from its investigation.

The MSF bombing brought to the surface the underlying tensions within the coalition government, led by President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. Discord between the two men had resulted in a standoff, which their political rivals cited as the reason for the fall of Kunduz. Indeed, the defeat came on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the national unity government, which according to its detractors had achieved nothing. Even amid deteriorating security, due to the persistent animus between the two leaders, Afghanistan did not yet have a permanent defense minister.

More than 20 Afghan government officials and members of security forces interviewed for this article held as an unassailable belief that the Taliban had attacked Afghan forces from inside the hospital. That deeply held conviction remained resolute even in the face of mounting counterevidence.

“[The fall of] Kunduz was a considerable loss of face for the government,” the former government adviser told me. National security adviser Hanif Atmar was “belligerent,” he said, on the issue of Kunduz. “He is a very thoughtful and intelligent person. He wouldn’t jump to conclusions. But in this case, it didn’t seem like he wanted to find the truth.”

“It was a very emotional time for everybody,” the former government adviser said. “It was a huge loss of prestige. Morale was zero.”

In this strategic and emotional nadir, according to Mark Bowden, the United Nations deputy special representative for Afghanistan, there arose a feeling that “things previously not legitimate became more legitimate.” The general sense among the Afghan forces was that the war was going nowhere good. In a losing battle, all becomes fair, including the bombing of a hospital that many had come to believe was harboring insurgents.

A police officer stands guard in front of the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital destroyed by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Oct. 11, 2015.

Photo: Omid/Xinhua/Newscom

On the night of the hospital strike, a unit commander with the Ministry of Defense special forces was at the police headquarters taking fire from the direction of the hospital. “Vehicles were coming out of there, engaging, then retreating,” he told me. When I pointed out that he couldn’t have seen the gate of the hospital from where he was, several hundred meters away, he said that he was sure because he had personally interrogated a cleaner who told him that the hospital was full of “armed men using it as a cover.” The cleaner told the commander that there were Pakistani generals using the hospital as a recollection point and that they had set up a war room there. When I challenged his line of vision again, he responded, “Anyone can claim anything. The truth is different.”

Saleh, the author of the 200-page Afghan commission report on the fall of Kunduz and head of one of the many informal political coalitions opposing the current government, believed that the “hospital sanctity had been violated” and held out as evidence 130 hours of recorded conversations with more than 600 interlocutors. “I spoke with the MSF country director,” Saleh told me recently. “They don’t deny that the hospital was infiltrated by the Taliban.”

MSF has consistently denied that armed fighters were present in the hospital.

Saleh claimed that Afghan forces had been taking fire from the southeastern wall of the hospital, used as a shield by the insurgents. Ismail Masood, chief of staff to the governor of Kunduz, who sat in on meetings with the NDS and other intelligence agencies, said he had also heard that “it was in the parking area to the east where the Taliban were present.”

Neighbors, however, remembered something different. Abdul Wahab, a gatekeeper working across the street from the hospital, told me that the Taliban regularly brought their injured to the trauma center, but that he never saw any armed insurgents enter it, nor did he recall seeing any weapons fire coming from the hospital. Abdul Maroof, whose warehouse shares its north wall with the hospital, said he saw “as many as a hundred” Taliban fighters entering the NDS office across the street, but never the hospital.

MSF, for its part, stated that on the day of the strike, “No fighting was taking place around the hospital, no planes were heard overhead, no gunshots were reported, nor explosions in the vicinity of the hospital.”

“I have all my sympathies with the victims,” Saleh said. “But it doesn’t serve the purpose of the survivor to say, yes, there was fighting. They have to show themselves as victims, which they are anyway.” Saleh said the hospital was “part of the tragedy but not the whole tragedy.” In a war that has seen a box of propaganda leaflets dropped from a plane crush a 5-year-old girl to death, and wedding parties assaulted by aircraft, a hospital bombing did not appear to him to be out of the ordinary.

A former Afghan special forces captain was indignant at what he considered unwarranted media coverage of the hospital strike. “This is going to limit airstrikes,” he told me. “And without airstrikes, we would have lost Kunduz. We need the Americans to stand with us,” he said. “Stories like these are going to hurt innocent people. When Daesh take over Afghanistan, the first person to be raped or killed will be you, the foreigner.”

“Afghans have little consideration for the Geneva Conventions,” a former senior Western official told me. “Their main concern is continuing to have U.S. backing and aerial support. Their biggest fear after the strike was that this would put a chill on their being able to request U.S. air support when shit hits the fan.”

Maj. Abdul Kabir, the air liaison officer, wanted me to understand how difficult war can be. “Will you let your men get killed because of a silly rule? Are you saying fighting is easy?” I said that I had never been in such a situation but could imagine the challenge. “From one side, you have the Taliban attacking you, and from another side, you have your soldiers saying they are just meters away. And then we have these international rules that make it difficult to fight the enemy.”

“Have you tasted fear?” Kabir asked. Before I could answer, he pulled out a pistol. We were sitting in a hotel room in Mazar-e-Sharif, waiting to board a helicopter to Kunduz. “When I put this pistol to your head, do you feel afraid?” I told him that I understood the point he was making. “In war, you don’t feel too kind for your enemy. You don’t show kindness because you want to kill him so that you can save your own life.”

Others who could not fully imagine the American military’s capacity for failure simply subscribed to ex post facto reasoning. “They cannot believe this is a mistake, and so they work backwards,” Molinie said. They clung to “an ideological vision of facts” and “saw things through the prism of their own beliefs.”

Afghan security forces walk past a Taliban fighter’s dead body after retaking Kunduz from the Taliban, Oct. 4, 2015.

Photo: Jawed Dehsabzi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Lt. Abdullah Gard, who heads the Ministry of Interior’s Quick Reaction Force, said he had been unhappy about the hospital ever since the MSF opened a clinic in Chardara district, a Taliban stronghold. MSF had noticed that the patients were experiencing delays that resulted in loss of limb, or life, and so last June, the group opened the stabilization post on the other side of the front line. To Gard and his men, that sealed the fate of the hospital. In the eyes of the besieged Afghan military fighting a losing war, MSF had veered too far to the other side. In the binaries that dictate the conflict, in which only two positions are made possible, being a neutral player was an untenable position. War makes monsters of the other; those who do not stand with us become those who stand against us. “They are seen as belligerents in the fight rather than an impartial group,” the security analyst based in northern Afghanistan told me. “In the government’s eyes, Chardara went too far.”

Gard spoke of MSF with the personal hatred reserved for the truly perfidious. He accused the group of “patching up fighters and sending them back out,” a line I heard repeatedly. Cmdr. Abdul Wahab, head of the unit that guarded the provincial chief of police compound, told me he could not understand why in battle an insurgent could be killed, but the minute he was injured, he would be taken to a hospital and given protective status. Wouldn’t it be easier, he asked, wouldn’t the war be less protracted or bloody if they were allowed to march in and take men when they were most compromised? He had visited the MSF hospital three times to complain. Each time a foreign doctor explained the hospital’s neutral status and its no-weapons policy, which mystified him.

The destroyed Médecins Sans Frontières hospital after a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Oct. 11, 2015.

Photo: Omid/Xinhua/Newscom

The Kunduz attack was neither the first nor the last attack on a hospital run by an international organization. On February 17, a Swedish-run clinic in Wardak province was raided by the Afghan special forces. The troops barged into the 10-bed clinic as helicopters circled above. Accompanying them were English-speaking mentors who did not participate in the raid but were in the vicinity when the Afghan forces grabbed two patients and a caretaker who appeared to be underage, and dragged them to an abandoned shop. Twenty minutes later, gunshots rang out. Later, all three were found executed. Officials from Resolute Support informed the Swedish Committee that an investigation had been opened.

This was at least the eighth time a medical facility supported by the Swedish Committee had been raided or searched by international forces in four years. Nearly all of the clinics the group operates are in Taliban-controlled or contested territories, where need is greatest. One particular raid in 2009 in a Swedish Committee-run clinic in Wardak came days after a NATO airstrike had killed as many as 125 near Kunduz. In 2009, as in 2016, the airstrike inspired outcry from international observers, but that raid, also a possible violation of international law, did not garner much attention.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, between 2014 and 2015 there was a 50 percent increase in the number of threats or attacks on medical facilities in Afghanistan that were reported to the organization. Unlike the headline-grabbing Kunduz strike, many of these small slights and violations go unnoticed, even as they chip away at something much more integral. “There are clearly strong feelings within government [that] the Taliban are legitimate targets wherever they are,” the U.N.’s Mark Bowden told me.

After the Kunduz strike, Emergency, an international NGO, built a 40-foot bunker beneath its trauma center in Helmand.

A patient — later identified as 43-year-old Baynazar Mohammad Nazar, a husband and father of four — lies dead on an operating table inside the MSF Kunduz Trauma Center, Oct. 10, 2015.

Photo: Andrew Quilty/Oculi

 

On March 2, Gen. Campbell left his position without a promotion, raising suspicion that his involvement, or at least his culpability, in the Kunduz strike may be much larger than has been publicly revealed. He will retire on May 1. Campbell had been rumored to be next in line to head U.S. Central Command, the “heir apparent.” But the MSF incident appeared to have “played a role in Campbell being put out to pasture,” a former Western official said.

Asked about being passed over for the Central Command position, Gen. Campbell replied, “It’s not that people sit and think, ah shoot, I want to be the next CENTCOM commander. I didn’t do that. We do whatever job we are assigned.” His retirement, however, resulted from being offered a job he didn’t care to take. “I mean, there are all sorts of rumors. I don’t know what goes on there, but the secretary called me up and asked me to take up another command position. I was very honored and thanked him for his trust and confidence, and to the president as well, but for me at this point in time, it is not something I want to do so I respectfully declined. That’s all.”

Campbell reiterated his November statements about the Pentagon’s investigation, which may be released in redacted form tomorrow. About the initial claims of collateral damage, he responded, “I would not authorize anybody to say collateral damage. That’s stupid. All it does is upset people.”

“I don’t think the story changed,” he said. “I think we learned from the investigation more and more. We just couldn’t talk about it until the investigation was finished. Once the investigation was finished, then you have to let all the disciplinary action play out.”

On March 16, U.S. defense officials indicated that more than a dozen ground-level U.S. military personnel had been disciplined for misconduct leading to the strike.

Deliberately targeting a hospital is a war crime, after all, but so is the indiscriminate killing of civilians outside a hospital. And it’s worth noting, according to a Western security analyst who is an expert on Kunduz, that “even if they had struck the NDS headquarters, there still would have been civilian casualties.” The NDS office, which the U.S. military has said was the intended target, stands in a residential neighborhood, as do the private home and the tea factory that were also bombed on the night of the MSF hospital strike. An AC-130, the analyst pointed out, is a disproportionate and indiscriminate weapon, not appropriate for use in civilian areas in the dead of night.

A former Afghan special forces commander who was at the command and control center in Kunduz during the fight assured me I would never get to the bottom of the attack. The reason why I couldn’t figure out exactly what had happened, he said, was the fog of war. “Ground truth is impossible to know. Even those who were there wouldn’t be able to tell you what they saw.” Not the MSF internal investigation, not the joint Afghan-NATO inquiry, not the Saleh commission, and certainly not the 5,000-page military investigation by U.S. Central Command would tell us what happened that night, he assured me. “Have you ever been in a fire fight? It passes like a dream.” The final sentence of the Saleh report echoed his sentiment. “Facts are never solid and we cannot feel them and they will remain this way.”

What is solid, however, are the 211 shells that were fired at a hospital in northern Afghanistan one night last October, and that those shells were felt by the 42 men, women, and children who were killed, and that they will remain that way, victims of incompetence or prejudice or both. Ground truth may be elusive, but it exists; someone along the military chain of command gave an order, which directly resulted in the loss of innocent lives.

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The post Searching for Ground Truth in the Kunduz Hospital Bombing appeared first on The Intercept.

Letter Details FBI Plan for Secretive Anti-Radicalization Committees

The Intercept - Engl. - πριν από 3 ώρες 53 λεπτά

Of the plans put forward by the federal government to identify and stop budding terrorists, among the least understood are the FBI’s “Shared Responsibility Committees.”

The idea of the committees is to enlist counselors, social workers, religious figures, and other community members to intervene with people the FBI thinks are in danger of radicalizing — the sort of alternative to prosecution and jail time many experts have been clamoring for. But civil liberties groups worry the committees could become just a ruse to expand the FBI’s network of informants, and the government has refused to provide details about the program.

The Intercept has obtained a letter addressed to potential committee members from the FBI, outlining how the process would work. While the letter claims that committees will not be used “as a means to gather intelligence,” it also makes clear that information from the committees may be shared widely by the FBI, including with spy agencies and foreign governments, and that committee members can be subpoenaed for documents or called to testify in cases against the people they are trying to help. At the same time, committee members are forbidden even from seeking advice from outside experts without permission from the FBI.

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The letter implies that Shared Responsibility Committees (or SRCs) would emerge organically, as “multidisciplinary groups voluntarily formed in local communities — at the initiative of the group and sometimes with the encouragement of the FBI.” The FBI would refer “potentially violent extremists” to the SRC, whose members would design an intervention plan, possibly including mental health or substance abuse treatment and help with education or housing.

According to the letter, the FBI “may or may not” inform the committee of any ongoing investigation, and law enforcement could also decide to arrest or charge the referred individual without telling the SRC. If committee members give information to the FBI, “the FBI may share any information the SRC provides with other law enforcement agencies, members of the U.S. intelligence community, and foreign government agencies as needed.”

SRC members, in contrast, must sign confidentiality agreements, and cannot consult outside experts on treatment plans. The committee members get no special legal protection, raising concerns they could be held liable if an individual they are helping turns violent as feared.

“Our society has established a number of protective zones where you’re allowed to be candid: with your doctor, your religious clergy, even to a certain extent within a school system, with student privacy laws,” said Mike German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. “This program that the FBI is setting up seems not to acknowledge those privileges, and in fact, seems to be intent on undermining them.”

The FBI declined to comment for this story.

But the letter closely echoes draft memoranda of understanding that were shown to activists in meetings with the FBI last summer and fall.

“The FBI seems to be outsourcing its intelligence gathering and surveillance to the community.”

 

People who attended the meetings, alarmed by what they saw as an inappropriate commingling of law enforcement with mental health and education, complained to the Justice Department, and SRCs were reportedly put on hold.

Abed Ayoub, legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, was one of those who attended the initial meetings, and has been critical of the program.

“There are many reasons why we feel the SRC program is problematic, but the main reason is that the FBI seems to be outsourcing its intelligence gathering and surveillance to the community,” Ayoub told The Intercept. “There are issues with liability and information sharing, particularly with foreign governments. But it is also troubling that the people on these committees would be ordinary civilians with little training, who may well have their own personal biases.”

Following the initial backlash, SRCs drew attention again late last month, after the ISIS attacks in Belgium, when Politico ran a piece describing SRCs as part of the “FBI’s secret Muslim network” to spot would-be terrorists. But the FBI would not give examples of groups that were part of the program nor even specify in which cities it would be tested.

In a March letter in response to questions from Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, a Justice Department official said that “the FBI is in the process of rolling out a limited pilot of the [SRC] concept,” in order to “assess its viability and effectiveness.”

Countering Countering Violent Extremism

The controversy over SRCs is part of a broader debate about other government “countering violent extremism” (or CVE) efforts and about the surveillance of Muslim communities by various law enforcement agencies.

Federal CVE initiatives in Los Angeles, Boston, and Minneapolis and St. Paul have been criticized by Muslim community groups as stigmatizing and ineffective. They have also proven divisive. In Minnesota, for example, there has been a debate within the Somali-American community over whether taking much-needed funds for youth and educational programs paints Somali youth as particularly prone to extremism.

Arun Kundnani, a lecturer on terrorism studies at New York University, said the SRCs, as described in the letter, resemble a highly controversial British anti-radicalization program called Channel.

“Like in the U.S., the program began as a voluntary arrangement between community organizations, high schools, and law enforcement. But it has since become compulsory for all public sector agencies,” said Kundnani. (A wide range of public entities, including police, schools, and local government, must “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism” under a U.K. counterterrorism law passed in July 2015. Government officials refer to the requirement as the “Prevent duty,” a reference to the Prevent anti-radicalization program to which Channel belongs.)

“In Britain, a lack of transparency has meant that questions and concerns about the program have remained unanswered,” Kundnani added. “Accordingly, there is little trust in the program at community level.”

German said one of his biggest concerns about SRCs is the secrecy surrounding their rollout.

“It’s a public-facing program, so one would think that everyone should have access to the same information,” he said. But like other CVE programs, “it seems they are being pushed to certain groups to the exclusion of others. That tends to be very divisive. It causes alienation of the ‘out’ group, and suspicion of the ‘in’ group.”

An overarching problem with CVE initiatives is that there is little evidence of a reliable set of indicators that someone is likely to become violent. As the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Counterterrorism and Human Rights stated in a recent report, “Many programs directed at radicalization are based on a simplistic understanding of the process as a fixed trajectory to violent extremism with identifiable markers along the way.”

Last year The Intercept published a questionnaire, developed by the National Counterterrorism Center, which police, social workers, and educators could use to score people based on risk factors for extremism, including poverty, depression, poor health, and isolation. Many of the indicators were highly subjective, while others were so commonplace as to be meaningless.

The FBI has its own controversial record of mixing counterterrorism and community engagement. In recent years, the American Civil Liberties Union uncovered cases in California where FBI agents attended events at mosques and Ramadan dinners and kept records on the participants. In 2009, an FBI initiative, which the FBI claims was quickly scrapped, used outreach to collect information on communities and build a “baseline profile of Somali individuals that are vulnerable to being radicalized.” And then there is the FBI’s widespread use of informants, believed to number at least 15,000 domestically. That figure, revealed in a 2008 budget request, is roughly 10 times the number of informants active during the era of J. Edgar Hoover and COINTELPRO.

More recently, the FBI previewed a website called “Don’t Be A Puppet,” which offered a series of games challenging players to spot signs of radicalization. Groups asked by the FBI to give input on the program worried that it focused heavily on Islamic terrorism and would lead to stigmatization of Arab and Muslim youth.

FBI’s Efforts in the Dark

Last fall, when Thompson, the congressman, sent a letter to the Justice Department demanding more information about the committees and other CVE initiatives, he highlighted a recent report by the 9/11 Review Commission that argued the FBI’s “fundamental law enforcement and intelligence responsibilities do not make it an appropriate vehicle for the social and prevention role in the CVE mission.”

As Thompson was likely aware, SRCs are not the FBI’s first attempt to try and intervene with potential future criminals. “The whole premise [of SRCs] is to professionalize a process that has been ad hoc for a long time,” an unnamed law enforcement official told Politico.

After the September 11 attacks, the FBI reportedly worked with “deradicalizers,” members of the Muslim-American community who helped locate and dissuade youth who had joined or were at risk for joining terror groups. The FBI’s “Behavioral Analysis Unit,” meanwhile, has worked to divert people who appear to be plotting gun violence toward counseling. This program successfully disrupted nearly 150 shootings and violent attacks in 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder has claimed. FBI Director James Comey last year said of the unit, “I have these people who spend all day long thinking dark thoughts and doing research at Quantico, my Behavioral Analysis Unit. They have an incredibly important role to play in countering violent extremism.”

This January, the FBI released a presentation on “Preventing Violent Extremism in Schools,” which notes that many schools already have teams in place to handle troubled and potentially violent youth, teams that could “expand their scope to include violent extremism-specific concerning behavior.” The model of intervention and creation of an “off-ramp” described in the presentation echoes the SRC letter, although without precisely outlining the FBI’s role.

With SRCs, “the FBI has been unclear about what the threshold would be for even opening a case against an individual,” said Hoda Hawa, director of policy and advocacy at the Muslim Public Affairs Council. “The lack of transparency has been a challenging thing to overcome. At the moment, it’s not clear why an agency tasked with arresting people would also be handling community interventions.”

Have you received one of these letters or been contacted by the FBI about SRCs? Contact reporter Cora Currier or Murtaza Hussain. Here are instructions on how to contact us securely and anonymously. 

Related:

 

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Was in Brasilien wirklich geschieht

Hintergrund.de - πριν από 5 ώρες 4 λεπτά

Unter dem Vorwand der Korruptionsbekämpfung will Brasiliens Elite Präsidentin Rousseff aus dem Amt drängen – und greift damit die Fundamente der jungen Demokratie an –

Von GLENN GREENWALD, 28. April 2016 –

Für Außenstehende ist es nicht einfach zu durchschauen, was es mit der gegenwärtigen politischen Krise in Brasilien und den Bemühungen auf sich hat, die vor achtzehn Monaten mit 54 Millionen Stimmen wiedergewählte Präsidentin Dilma Rousseff aus ihrem Amt zu entfernen. Um den wahrlich antidemokratischen Charakter der Anti-Rousseff-Kampagne zu verstehen, ist es nötig, den Blick auf die Person zu fokussieren, die die brasilianischen Oligarchen und Medienkonzerne als neuen Präsidenten installieren wollen: 

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New Study Shows Mass Surveillance Breeds Meekness, Fear and Self-Censorship

The Intercept - Engl. - πριν από 5 ώρες 52 λεπτά

A newly published study from Oxford’s Jon Penney provides empirical evidence for a key argument long made by privacy advocates: that the mere existence of a surveillance state breeds fear and conformity and stifles free expression. Reporting on the study, the Washington Post this morning described this phenomenon: “If we think that authorities are watching our online actions, we might stop visiting certain websites or not say certain things just to avoid seeming suspicious.”

The new study documents how, in the wake of the 2013 Snowden revelations (of which 87% of Americans were aware), there was “a 20 percent decline in page views on Wikipedia articles related to terrorism, including those that mentioned ‘al-Qaeda,’ “car bomb’ or ‘Taliban.'” People were afraid to read articles about those topics because of fear that doing so would bring them under a cloud of suspicion. The dangers of that dynamic were expressed well by Penney: “If people are spooked or deterred from learning about important policy matters like terrorism and national security, this is a real threat to proper democratic debate.”

As the Post explains, several other studies have also demonstrated how mass surveillance crushes free expression and free thought. A 2015 study examined Google search data and demonstrated that, post-Snowden, “users were less likely to search using search terms that they believed might get them in trouble with the US government” and that these “results suggest that there is a chilling effect on search behavior from government surveillance on the Internet.”

The fear that causes self-censorship is well beyond the realm of theory. Ample evidence demonstrates that it’s real – and rational. A study from PEN America writers found that 1 in 6 writers had curbed their content out of fear of surveillance and showed that writers are “not only overwhelmingly worried about government surveillance, but are engaging in self-censorship as a result.” Scholars in Europe have been accused of being terrorist supporters by virtue of possessing research materials on extremist groups, while British libraries refuse to house any material on the Taliban for fear of being prosecuted for material support for terrorism.

There are also numerous psychological studies demonstrating that people who believe they are being watched engage in behavior far more compliant, conformist and submissive than those who believe they are acting without monitoring. That same realization served centuries ago as the foundation of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon: that behaviors of large groups of people can be effectively controlled through architectural structures that make it possible for them to be watched at any given movement even though they can never know if they are, in fact, being monitored, thus forcing them to act as if they always are being watched. This same self-censorsing, chilling effect of the potential of being surveilled was also the crux of the tyranny about which Orwell warned in 1984:

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You have to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

This is a critical though elusive point which, as the Post notes, I’ve been arguing for years, including in the 2014 TED talk I gave about the harms of privacy erosions. But one of my first visceral encounters with this harmful dynamic arose years before I worked on NSA disclosures: it occurred in 2010, the first time I ever wrote about WikiLeaks. This was before any of the group’s most famous publications.

What prompted my writing about WikiLeaks back then was a secret 2008 Pentagon Report that declared the then-little-known group a threat to national security and plotted how to destroy it: a report which, ironically enough, was leaked to WikiLeaks, which then published it online. (Shortly thereafter, WikiLeaks published a 2008 CIA report describing (presciently, it turns out) how the best hope for maintaining popular European support for the war in Afghanistan would be the election of Barack Obama as President: since he would put a pretty, popular, progressive face on war policies.)

As a result of that 2008 report, I researched WikiLeaks and interviewed its founder, Julian Assange, and found that they had been engaging in vital transparency projects around the world: from exposing illegal corporate waste-dumping in East Africa to political corruption and official lies in Australia. But they had one significant problem: funding and human resource shortfalls were preventing them from processing and publishing numerous leaks. So I wrote an article describing their work, and recommended that my readers support that work either by donating or volunteering. And I included links for how they could do so.

In response, a large number of American readers expressed – in emails, in the comment section, at public events – the fear to me that, while they support WikiLeaks’ work, they were petrified that supporting them would cause them to end up on a government list somewhere or, worse, charged with crimes if WikiLeaks ended up being formally charged as a national security threat. In other words, these were Americans who were voluntarily relinquishing core civil liberties – the right to support journalism they believe in and to politically organize – because of fear that their online donations and work would be monitored and surveilled. Subsequent revelations showing persecution and surveillance against WikiLeaks and its supporters, including an effort to prosecute them for their journalism, proved that these fears were quite rational.

There is a reason governments, corporations, and multiple other entities of authority crave surveillance. It’s precisely because the possibility of being monitored radically changes individual and collective behavior. Specifically, that possibility breeds fear and fosters collective conformity. That’s always been intuitively clear. Now, there is mounting empirical evidence proving it.

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Nerd-Offensive: Der Cyberspace als militärischer Operationsraum

IMI Tübingen - πριν από 10 ώρες 51 λεπτά
Um der gewachsenen Bedeutung des Bereiches Rechnung zu tragen, veröffentlichte die Bundeswehr am 26. April 2016 den „Abschlussbericht Aufbaustab Cyber- und Informationsraum“, in dem weitreichende Umstrukturierungen vorgeschlagen werden. In ihm wird der Cyber- und Informationsraum als fünfter Bundeswehr-Teilstreitkräftebereich etabliert: „Der (…)

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Verboten Verfolgt Vergessen - Kalter Krieg in Deutschland.

Indymedia antimil - πριν από 11 ώρες 6 λεπτά
von: Roadside Dokumentarfilm am: 28.04.2016 - 11:50

 

 

 

Link zum Video / Stream: https://vimeo.com/1332604...

Die Staats-Sicherheit des Dr. Schäuble

Rationalgalerie - πριν από 20 ώρες 56 λεπτά
Der Mann mit dem Koffer bringt seinen Vertrauten in Stellung : Aus dem Finanzministerium kommt der neue Chef des Bundesnachrichtendienstes (BND). Ob er den Dienst privatisieren soll? Denn Privatisierung war bisher der Job von Ministerialdirektor Bruno Kahl, dem engen Vertrauten von Wolfgang Schäuble, dem Mann mit dem Koffer. Bruno Kahl hat...

Traditionspflege (II)

German Foreign Policy - πριν από 22 ώρες 56 λεπτά
(Eigener Bericht) - Das Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT) würdigt einen vom NS-Regime vielfach ausgezeichneten Vorstand des IG Farben-Konzerns. Während des Zweiten Weltkriegs gehörte Carl Wurster, den das KIT als "Ehrensenator" führt, dem Leitungsgremium des Unternehmens an und war in dieser Funktion sowohl für die chemische Kriegsproduktion des Deutschen Reiches als auch für die Ausplünderung besetzter Länder und die Ausbeutung von Zwangsarbeitern verantwortlich. Zudem zählte Wurster zu den Aufsichtsratsmitgliedern der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Schädlingsbekämpfung (DEGESCH), die das Giftgas "Zyklon B" produzierte, mit dem in den deutschen Konzentrations- und Vernichtungslagern Millionen von Menschen, insbesondere Juden, ermordet wurden. Erst Ende vergangenen Jahres musste sich das 2009 aus dem Kernforschungszentrum und der Universität Karlsruhe hervorgegangene KIT nach massiven Protesten öffentlich von einem seiner "Ehrensenatoren" distanzieren: Der von 1956 bis 1974 amtierende Geschäftsführer des Kernforschungszentrums Karlsruhe, Rudolf Greifeld, hatte sich während des Zweiten Weltkriegs im von der Naziwehrmacht okkupierten Paris an antisemitischen Maßnahmen der deutschen Besatzungsmacht beteiligt, die in die Deportation der jüdischen Bevölkerung in die NS-Vernichtungslager mündeten.

Email Privacy Bill Passes House Unanimously

The Intercept - Engl. - Τετ, 27/04/2016 - 22:33

The House voted unanimously, 419-0, on Wednesday to bring the law that protects the privacy of Americans’ e-mails into the 21st century.

The Email Privacy Act would reform the 1986 Email Communications Privacy Act by requiring all federal agencies (with few exceptions) to get a warrant before searching old digital communications stored in the cloud by companies like Google and Facebook.

“In 1986, the assumption was that if you left your email on a server it was abandoned, like trash on a street corner,” said Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., one of the bill’s authors, during a GOP press conference Wednesday morning. He said it “restores the Fourth Amendment, and treats email with the same protections as paper mail.”

Technology companies and privacy advocates alike immediately took to the Twitterverse to celebrate—because the bill will protect innovation in cloud computing just as much as it will protect Fourth Amendment rights.

Now they are urging the Senate to take action.

It's not often the House passes something 419–0 but it just happened on email #privacyreform. On to Senate. https://t.co/gpqBlGAg62 #ECPA

— ACLU National (@ACLU) April 27, 2016

Today's unanimous passage of #ECPA reform is a huge victory for Internet users. We urge the Senate to take action: https://t.co/tTdGeDRNwU

— Google Public Policy (@googlepubpolicy) April 27, 2016

Glad to see #HR699, the #EmailPrivacyAct pass, #ECPA was so outdated, when it was written I was using a 512k Mac! pic.twitter.com/zXYCQuyZ5x

— Blake Farenthold (@farenthold) April 27, 2016

#ECPA reform just passed the House 419-0. The Senate should take up the Email Privacy Act immediately

— Jake Laperruque (@JakeLaperruque) April 27, 2016

holy shit. 419-0 for ECPA reform. Word up.

— Joseph Lorenzo Hall (@JoeBeOne) April 27, 2016

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Big Money ..

Amazonas-Box/Frieden-etc. - Τετ, 27/04/2016 - 22:05
Big Money in Politics Doesn’t Just Drive Inequality. It Drives War.

Die Superreichen Sponsoren sorgen nicht nur für eine Poplitik der Ungleichheit - sie fördern Krieg!

Rüstungsfirmen gaben über 1 Million $ aus für die US-Präsidentschaftskandidaten 2016 - alleine für Hillary Clinton über 200000 $.

Tolle Investition!

Bei uns funktionieren die Zusammenhänge vordergründig anders, aber im Ergebnis sehr ähnlich ...

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Luxembourg Puts Journalist and Whistleblowers On Trial for Ruining Its “Magical Fairyland” of Tax Avoidance

The Intercept - Engl. - Τετ, 27/04/2016 - 21:32

LUXEMBOURG IS TRYING to throw two French whistleblowers and a journalist in prison for their role in the “LuxLeaks” exposé that revealed the tiny country’s outsized role in enabling corporate tax avoidance.

The trial of Antoine Deltour and Raphael Halet, two former employees of the international accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, and journalist Edouard Perrin began Tuesday.

Deltour and Halet were charged in connection with theft of PwC documents. Perrin is charged as an accomplice for steering Halet toward documents that he considered of particular interest.

Perrin, a reporter with Premières Lignes Television in Paris, produced the first LuxLeaks reporting. PwC documents were later obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and, together with records from other accounting giants, formed the basis for the 2014 “LuxLeaks” series involving over 80 journalists across the world.

Among the many prominent supporters of the defendants, France’s Finance Minister Michel Sapin told the French parliament Tuesday that Deltour was “defending the general interest” and that he “would like to offer him all our solidarity.” Almost 175,000 people have signed a petition in support of Deltour.

The European Federation of Journalists has demanded that Luxembourg drop the charges against Perrin. EFJ general secretary Ricardo Gutierrez called Perrin’s prosecution “shameful,” saying that Luxembourg “is going after a journalist who has acted entirely in the public interest.” Reporters Without Borders criticized Luxembourg for being “more concerned about deterring investigative journalism than protecting the public’s right to information.”

So why has Luxembourg’s behavior been so ferocious?

The answer can be found, appropriately enough, in a publication of PricewaterhouseCoopers itself.

According to PwC’s January 25, 2016 “Global Regulatory Briefing,” its international client base now faces “new far reaching developments” on matters including “corporate governance and tax.” Among these are “various initiatives aiming to adapt the EU’s tax laws in the aftermath of Luxleaks” and “the release of the OCED/G20 Base Erosion and Profits Shifting (BEPS) Project.”

Here’s what that means for Luxembourg, translated into English:

The LuxLeaks series exposed Luxembourg as a “magical fairyland” for multinational corporations trying to avoid taxes, and now other countries are trying to shut it down.

The government of Luxembourg made sweetheart deals with over 340 multinational corporations that enabled the companies to claim much of their profits had been generated by Luxembourg subsidiaries, which were then taxed at rates as low as 1 percent.

Among the well-known beneficiaries of Luxembourg’s special arrangements were Pepsi, FedEx, IKEA, AIG, Walt Disney, the Carlyle Group, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Procter & Gamble and, via its one-time ownership of Skype, eBay. [Disclosure: Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay and longtime chairman of its board of directors, founded The Intercept’s parent company First Look Media.]

Tax avoidance by U.S.-based multinational corporations alone has been estimated to cost governments approximately $130 billion each year, and tax havens such as Luxembourg are crucial to this process.

They take a slice of the dodged taxes that’s small from the perspective of multinationals but enormous from the perspective of the countries themselves. In 1970, finance accounted for 2 percent of the Luxembourg economy; today it’s over 40 percent.

That’s why Luxembourg is behaving like this: LuxLeaks was a mortal threat to its current cushy way of life. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, representing 34 countries with the world’s preponderance of economic power, had already begun its “Base Erosion and Profits Shifting” project in 2012 to minimize the most egregious forms of corporate tax avoidance. However, the LuxLeaks revelations generated significant, additional momentum for the OECD to go further and faster.

What will happen in the end still remains to be seen. However, according to that PwC Global Regulatory Briefing, Europe “appears intent” on creating an “anti-tax avoidance package” largely “in line with the OECD’s BEPS recommendations.”  There will even, PwC says, be “mandatory consolidation across the EU according to the CCTB and an apportionment based on certain formulas to individual Member States” — a lot of gobbledygook which means Europe may move to a “formulary apportionment” corporate tax system which would make most current tax avoidance schemes there pointless. This in turn would force a whole lot of lawyers, bankers and accountants in Luxembourg to start looking for honest work.

Related:

Top photo: People hold a banner reading “thank you Antoine” as they demonstrate outside the courthouse in Luxembourg, on April 26, 2016, in support of whistle-blower Antoine Deltour.

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The post Luxembourg Puts Journalist and Whistleblowers On Trial for Ruining Its “Magical Fairyland” of Tax Avoidance appeared first on The Intercept.

Drohende Staatspleite: Athen fordert EU-Sondergipfel

Hintergrund.de - Τετ, 27/04/2016 - 17:50

(27.04.2016/hg/dpa)

Nach dem vorläufigen Scheitern der Gespräche über das griechische Kürzungsprogramm will Regierungschef Alexis Tsipras bei EU-Ratspräsident Donald Tusk einen Sondergipfel der Euroland-Staaten beantragen. Dies bestätigte ein Sprecher der Regierung in Athen der Deutschen Presse-Agentur. „Das Gespräch mit Tusk wird am Nachmittag stattfinden“, hieß es aus Regierungskreisen dazu. Unklar blieb, ob und wann ein Sondergipfel stattfinden soll. Tusk äußerte sich zunächst nicht zu den Spekulationen.

Die Sozialisten im Europaparlament unterstützten die Forderung nach einem Treffen auf höchster Ebene. Vor dem britischen Referendum über die EU-Mitgliedschaft am 23. Juni müsse eine neue Krise in Griechenland verhindert werden, forderte Fraktionschef Gianni Pittella in Brüssel.

Die

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Bundesinnenminister warnt vor Übertreibungen beim Datenschutz

Hintergrund.de - Τετ, 27/04/2016 - 17:50

(27.04.2016/hg/dpa)

Bundesinnenminister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) hat im Zusammenhang mit der Terrorabwehr vor übertriebenem Datenschutz gewarnt. Er kritisierte am Mittwoch noch einmal das jüngste Urteil des Bundesverfassungsgerichts zum BKA-Gesetz. Die Befugnisse des Bundeskriminalamts (BKA), um die es in Karlsruhe ging, seien seit 2009 in nur achtzehn Fällen ausgeübt worden. Lediglich achtzig Personen seien davon betroffen gewesen.

„Ist das ‚Massen-Überwachung‘? Ist das ‚Daten-Sammel-Wut‘? Ist das ‚grenzenlose Überwachung Unschuldiger‘?“, fragte de Maizière laut vorab verbreitetem Redemanuskript. „Ich glaube, wir brauchen auch beim Datenschutz ein Bewusstsein für Übertreibungen“.

De Maizière sprach vor dem Europäischen Datenschutzkongress in Berlin. Selbstverständlich werde die Bundesregierung die Vorgaben aus Karlsruhe umsetzen.

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Am 8.4.76 hat sich ...

BIFA München - Τετ, 27/04/2016 - 17:49

Former Tax Lobbyists Are Writing the Rules on Tax Dodging

The Intercept - Engl. - Τετ, 27/04/2016 - 16:14

The secret tax-dodging strategies of the global elite in China, Russia, Brazil, the U.K., and beyond were exposed in speculator fashion by the recent Panama Papers investigation, fueling a worldwide demand for a crackdown on tax avoidance.

But there is little appetite in Congress for taking on powerful tax dodgers in the U.S., where the practice has become commonplace.

A request for comment about the Panama Papers to the two congressional committees charged with tax policy — House Ways & Means and the Senate Finance Committee — was ignored.

The reluctance by congressional leaders to tackle tax dodging is nothing new, especially given that some of the largest companies paying little to no federal taxes are among the biggest campaign contributors in the country. But there’s another reason to remain skeptical that Congress will move aggressively on tax avoidance: Former tax lobbyists now run the tax-writing committees.

We researched the backgrounds of the people who manage the day to day operations of both committees and found that a number of lobbyists who represented world-class tax avoiders now occupy top positions as committee staff. Many have stints in and out of government and the lobbying profession, a phenomenon known as the “reverse revolving door.” In other words, the lobbyists that help special interest groups and wealthy individuals minimize their tax bills are not only everywhere on K Street, they’re literally managing the bodies that create tax law:

    • Barbara Angus, the chief tax counsel of the House Ways and Means Committee, became a staff member in January of this year after leaving her position as a lobbyist with Ernst & Young. Angus, registration documents show, previously helped lobby lawmakers on tax policy on behalf of clients such as General Electric, HSBC, and Microsoft, among other clients.
    • Mark Warren, a tax counsel for the tax policy subcommittee of Ways and Means, is a former lobbyist for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a trade group that includes Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Walgreens, and Unilever. Warren, who joined the committee in November of last year, previously lobbied on a range of tax policies, including tax credits and “tax relief.”
    • Mike Evans became chief counsel for the Senate Finance Committee in 2014 after leaving his job as a lobbyist for K&L Gates, where he lobbied on tax policy for JP Morgan, Peabody Energy, Brown-Forman, BNSF Railway, and other corporate clients.
    • Eric Oman, the senior policy adviser for tax and accounting at the Senate Finance Committee, previously worked for Ernst & Young’s lobbying office, representing clients on tax policy.

A request for comment about the role of former lobbyists now working as staffers was also ignored by the committees.

Wealthy individuals and corporations routinely squirrel away vast sums of money in jurisdictions like Delaware or Wyoming to avoid taxation, a major factor in the current state of affairs that allows those at the top of the economic pyramid to pay an effective tax rate that is often lower than the middle class. Verizon, Boeing, and General Electric, to name a few, paid no federal income taxes in recent years, despite earning a hefty profit margin. The Tax Justice Network ranks the U.S. as the third most problematic tax haven country, a ranking even worse than Panama.

The post Former Tax Lobbyists Are Writing the Rules on Tax Dodging appeared first on The Intercept.

Snowden Debates CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Encryption

The Intercept - Engl. - Τετ, 27/04/2016 - 04:07

NSA whistleblower and privacy advocate Edward Snowden took part in his first public debate on encryption on Tuesday night, facing off against CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, a journalist and author known for his coverage of international affairs.

Zakaria, in New York, defended the government’s right to access any and all encrypted messages and devices as long as there’s court approval. Snowden, speaking over  a live video-link from Moscow, argued the security of the Internet is more important than the convenience of law enforcement. The debate was organized by NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service and the Century Foundation.

Though Zakaria started off firm in his conviction that law enforcement should be able to get hold of all digital messages with court approval, he gradually conceded that it may not be that simple. Zakaria said he himself doesn’t actively encrypt any of his communications, assuming everything will be fine — though Snowden pointed out that, since he has an iPhone, some of his data and communications are encrypted by default.

Zakaria opened the debate by posing a hypothetical: Bank of America creates an “iVault” allowing anyone to store all their financial data totally encrypted. An embezzler could take advantage of that service to hide the evidence of their misdeeds, foiling investigators. “I understand within a democracy, you have to sacrifice liberty for democracy at some point. You cannot have an absolute zone of privacy,” he said.

Snowden agreed with Zakaria that absolute zones of privacy don’t exist, and that encryption does pose real problems for law enforcement. But he disagreed that universal access is the best way to solve the problem. “For the government to unlock everything there has to be a key to everything. Every other person in the world can find that key and use it too,” he said. “It’s a fundamental problem of science.”

Instead, he suggested, police should take advantage of the many other options available to them. He cited the investigation into the founder of Silk Road, an anonymous, encrypted platform for black market drug sales. In that case, a team of investigators caught the mastermind at the library after he typed in his password.

“Encryption is not an unbreakable wall,” Snowden said. “Or if it is, it is one we can get around, if we are patient, if we are careful, if we think and plan how to go about our investigations.”

By the end of the debate, Zakaria said he did not support the legislation proposed by Senators Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., which would mandate companies to immediately decrypt all communications when asked by a court. The bill has been heavily criticized by technologists.

And Zakaria acknowledged that if it was genuinely impossible for a company to decrypt communications, then the court should accept that—though it would be a “hard case.”

“If WhatsApp says we literally do not know how to write this code—WhatsApp could demonstrate to a court that they don’t have to do it,” Zakaria said.

He concluded by encouraging greater clarity about what kind of communications the government can and cannot access—before the next disastrous terrorist attack. “We do face real threats out there. There are people out there trying to do bad things. Once they happen, the government will be given carte blanche,” he said.

Snowden noted that former security officials now proclaiming the value of unbreakable encryption—including former NSA director Michael Hayden—had considered those questions carefully and had fallen on the side of computer security.

The post Snowden Debates CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Encryption appeared first on The Intercept.

Von Sturmgewehren und Menschenrechten

German Foreign Policy - Τετ, 27/04/2016 - 00:00
(Eigener Bericht) - Kurz nach der Zusage neuer deutscher Hilfen für Polizei und Streitkräfte Mexikos werden schwere Vorwürfe gegen Regierung sowie Repressionskräfte des Landes laut. Wie es in einem soeben vorgelegten Ermittlungsbericht der Interamerikanischen Menschenrechtskommission (IACHR) heißt, gibt es nicht nur gravierende Widersprüche in der offiziellen Darstellung eines Mordes an 43 oppositionellen Studenten nach einem Polizeieinsatz im September 2014. Neben weiterer scharfer Kritik konstatiert die IACHR, Mexikos Regierung habe offenbar kein Interesse an einer Aufklärung des Falls. Ihre Ermittler seien sogar einer Verleumdungskampagne augesetzt worden, die ihre Arbeit habe umfassend beeinträchtigen sollen. Vorwürfe, denen zufolge staatliche Stellen eng mit der Drogenmafia kooperieren und in schwerste Verbrechen involviert sind, erheben Menschenrechtsorganisationen schon seit Jahren. Dessen ungeachtet hat die deutsche Regierung nicht nur die Lieferung von rund 10.000 G36-Sturmgewehren an die mexikanische Polizei genehmigt und Schulungen des BKA für mexikanische Spezialeinheiten zum Kampf gegen organisierte Kriminalität in Auftrag gegeben. Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel hat erst vor wenigen Tagen neue Fortbildungsmaßnahmen für Polizei und Streitkräfte Mexikos in Aussicht gestellt. Hintergrund ist ein Ausbau der westlichen Positionen am Pazifik - für den Machtkampf gegen China.

Merkel: „Wir haben nie Waffen in ein Spannungsgebiet geliefert.“

BIFA München - Τρί, 26/04/2016 - 23:13

Waffenlieferungen (ab 58:55 min) (BPK 25.4.2016 - Doku Jung & Naiv)
– Die Kanzlerin hat gestern in der Pressekonferenz mit Herrn Obama gesagt: „Wir haben nie Waffen in ein Spannungsgebiet geliefert.“ Wie definieren Sie ein „Spannungsgebiet“? Können Sie bestätigen, dass die Bundesregierung vor den Waffenlieferungen an die Peschmerga nie Waffen in Spannungsgebiete geliefert hat?

es ist alles so ätzend ...

puuh, noch so ein Satz, anderer Zusammenhang:
" Ich kann Ihnen nur sagen, dass es in der Tat eine große Flüchtlingsbewegung nach Europa gegeben hat, dass die Bundesregierung und die europäischen Staaten viel darangesetzt haben, um aus dieser illegalen Migration eine legale Migration zu machen und damit auch viele Menschenleben zu schützen, ... "

Ob außer bei Jung & Naiv das noch jemand auffällt?

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