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How the Gates Foundation Reflects the Good and the Bad of “Hacker Philanthropy”

The Intercept - Engl. - 5 saat 23 dak önce

IT’S ELECTION SEASON, and teams of journalists are avidly tracking the flow of big money into political campaigns. Sifting financial records and filings, they are laying bare the activities of Super PACs, 501(c)(4)s, and campaign committees. There’s a parallel realm of big-money activity, however, that receives much less attention: philanthropy. With the explosion of the billionaire class, the number of deep-pocketed donors and foundations has mushroomed as well. Many of the new benefactors are Wall Street and Silicon Valley moguls who are seeking to apply to social and economic problems the same zest for innovation and entrepreneurship that they showed in their business ventures.

The creed of these new philanthropists was brashly outlined in June by Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster and founding president of Facebook, in an article appearing in the Wall Street Journal under the headline, “Philanthropy for Hackers.” Traditional philanthropy, he declared, is “a strange and alien world made up of largely antiquated institutions.” These old-timers have long favored “safe” gifts to well-established institutions, “resulting in a never-ending competition to name buildings at major universities, medical centers, performing arts centers and other such public places.” The new breed, by contrast, has a hacker mindset: It is anti-establishment, believes in “radical transparency,” is given to problem solving, and has an ability to identify weaknesses in long-established systems and to disrupt them. With this “hacker elite” now seeking to upend philanthropy, Parker exhorted them to resist the urge to institutionalize and instead treat philanthropy as “a series of calculated risks” and “big bets.” In a bid to put these principles into practice, Parker launched a foundation bearing his name, with an endowment of $600 million and a commitment to finding new ways to fight allergies, malaria, and cancer.

Interestingly, there are two members of the hacker elite who for 15 years now have practiced this style of philanthropy in a big way: Bill and Melinda Gates. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is by far the largest such institution in the world. Its assets of $41 billion are more than double the combined assets of the “Big Three” foundations — Ford ($12 billion), Rockefeller ($4 billion), and Carnegie ($3 billion). The Gates Foundation has all the traits Parker extols, and its work has served as a sort of grand experiment in the new “venture philanthropy,” as it’s sometimes called.

Gates is the largest philanthropic supporter of primary and secondary education in the United States. Together with the Walton Family Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, it has helped reshape national education policy. Gates has been no less influential in international public health. Over the last 15 years, it has spent billions of dollars to fight polio, malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases. Though the World Health Organization spends more than Gates does on health, the foundation, by virtue of its high profile and skillful marketing, has played a key part in setting the global health agenda. On top of it all, the foundation in recent years has invested heavily in agricultural development in Africa, joining with the Rockefeller Foundation to build on the “Green Revolution” that Rockefeller helped launch after World War II. Not since that earlier initiative has a foundation left such a large imprint on the world as the Gates Foundation.

Despite its impact, few book-length assessments of the foundation’s work have appeared. Now Linsey McGoey, a sociologist at the University of Essex, is seeking to fill the gap. “Just how efficient is Gates’s philanthropic spending?” she asks in No Such Thing as a Free Gift. “Are the billions he has spent on U.S. primary and secondary schools improving education outcomes? Are global health grants directed at the largest health killers? Is the Gates Foundation improving access to affordable medicines, or are patent rights taking priority over human rights?”

As the title of her book suggests, McGoey answers all of these questions in the negative. The good the foundation has done, she believes, is far outweighed by the harm. In education, she maintains, most of its initiatives have either gone bust or failed to deliver on their promises. The foundation’s first great education initiative focused on creating small schools in place of big ones, on the assumption that doing so would allow students to receive more individualized attention. From 2000 to 2008, it spent $2 billion to establish 2,602 schools across the United States, affecting a total of nearly 800,000 students. Unfortunately, the experiment failed to improve college acceptance rates to the degree that the Gateses had hoped, and so they abruptly terminated it.

Instead, the foundation channeled its resources into a host of other initiatives — increased data collection on teacher effectiveness, the introduction of performance-based teacher pay, more standardized testing for students. The foundation has invested heavily in charter schools and vigorously backed the Common Core, which sets national reading and math standards. These are all key elements of the so-called school reform movement. Arne Duncan, as head of Chicago’s public schools, worked closely with both the Gates and Broad foundations, and as President Obama’s secretary of education he sought to implement many of their ideas.

McGoey (along with many others) is sharply critical of this movement. She cites studies that show that charter schools have performed no better or worse than traditional public schools, and she notes that the Gates Foundation itself has backed away from its once vocal support for assessing teacher performance on the basis of student test scores. While the willingness of the Gateses to change their minds in the face of evidence is admirable, McGoey writes, the reforms they championed “are now entrenched. For many teachers and students, their recent handwringing over the perils of high-stakes testing has come a little too late.”

In McGoey’s view, the Gateses’ missteps stem mainly from their refusal to see that the real problem in American public education is not failing public schools nor ineffective teachers but poverty. If Gates and other wealthy backers of charter schools were to admit this, she writes, they would have to face the question of why people like themselves are allowed to make so much while so many others have so little. This is a standard critique of the wealthy elites who support the school reform movement. It’s persuasive, in its way, but too easy. Many public schools clearly are substandard, and many teachers are ineffective. Assuming that poverty is not going to be solved overnight, what other, more immediate steps might be taken to address these problems? How might Gates spend its money more wisely? McGoey offers little guidance on this. She seems to have visited few schools and talked to few teachers or parents. Nor does she give much space to the perspective of the Gates Foundation itself. As a result, her conclusions carry less weight than they otherwise might.

The same is true when it comes to the foundation’s work in public health. As McGoey briefly acknowledges, the foundation’s investment of more than $15 billion in this field “has done considerable good.” That seems an understatement. Thanks in part to the Gateses’ strong investment in vaccines for infectious diseases, deaths from measles in Africa have dropped by 90 percent since 2000. Over the last quarter century, tuberculosis mortality worldwide has fallen by 45 percent, while over the last dozen years the number of new malaria cases has dropped by 30 percent. And polio, which in 1988 was endemic in 125 countries, is today endemic in only two. The foundation has also played an important part in fighting the spread of HIV and helping those infected with the virus to lead productive lives. For this, Bill and Melinda Gates deserve much credit.

The question is, has this been the best use of their money? As McGoey notes, chronic diseases, as opposed to communicable ones, exact a staggering toll worldwide, yet the foundation has invested less than 4 percent of its funding in research on them, and the global health community has largely followed suit. “The failure to combat obesity, cancer and heart disease epidemics in poor nations,” she observes, “has been one of the most glaring mistakes of global development efforts in recent years.” An equally serious shortcoming has been the neglect of primary-care facilities in the developing world. The initial problems that the nations of West Africa faced in combating the Ebola outbreak stemmed in part from the weaknesses in their overall health systems. Interestingly, in late September, the Gates Foundation, together with WHO and the World Bank, announced a joint partnership aimed at improving access to primary care in poor and middle-income countries — a dramatic (if tacit) acknowledgement that the emphasis on fighting individual diseases has been too narrow.

I wish No Such Thing as a Free Gift had delved more deeply into this. The book offers few comments from practitioners on the ground in the developing world and scant firsthand information about the needs of villages and their populations. McGoey spends much more time discussing whether the Gates Foundation is protecting the patents of pharmaceutical companies and whether it is making common cause with Monsanto to spread genetically modified crops in Africa — popular concerns on the left — than exploring the critical matter of the possible distortions that the foundation, through its tremendous influence, has introduced into global health policies.

On one point, however, McGoey is convincing — the need for more analysis of this powerful foundation and the man and woman at its head. Bill and Melinda Gates answer to no electorate, board, or shareholders; they are accountable mainly to themselves. What’s more, the many millions of dollars the foundation has bestowed on nonprofits and news organizations has led to a natural reluctance on their part to criticize it. There’s even a name for it: the “Bill Chill” effect.

That’s not to say that there has been no critical coverage of the foundation’s work. Diane Ravitch has excoriated Gates along with the rest of the school reform movement in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, as well as on her blog. The New York Times and other papers have offered occasional close examinations of Gates’ work. And Joanne Barkan, in a 2011 article in Dissent titled, “Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools,” offered a thoroughgoing critique of the education work of Gates and its fellow foundations. In another Dissent article on “how big philanthropy undermines democracy,” Barkan complained that “the mainstream media are, for the most part, failing miserably in their watchdog duties. They give big philanthropy excessive deference and little scrutiny.”

That may be changing. Alessandra Stanley, writing in the Times in late October, offered a skeptical assessment of the outsized claims made by Sean Parker and other Silicon Valley philanthropists. “Tech entrepreneurs believe their charitable giving is bolder, bigger and more data-driven than anywhere else — and in many ways it is,” she observed. “But despite their flair for disruption, these philanthropists are no more interested in radical change than their more conservative predecessors. They don’t lobby for the redistribution of wealth; instead, they see poverty and inequality as an engineering problem, and the solution is their own brain power, not a tithe.”

Dale Russakoff, in The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?, described the dysfunction that resulted from the $100 million contribution that Mark Zuckerberg made to the city of Newark in a bid to remake its schools and create a national model. Spending time with politicians, administrators, teachers, and parents, Russakoff showed how the “reformers” — convinced that they knew what was right for Newark — largely excluded teachers and parents from the policymaking process. That sparked strong grassroots opposition, and in the end little headway was made. Sobered by the experience, Zuckerberg and his wife last year announced $120 million in grants to schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods in the Bay Area, with the express intention of getting more input from teachers and community leaders.

We need more probing accounts of this sort. The power of the new barons of philanthropy is only going to grow. The risks they take and the bets they make will no doubt become bolder. If journalists don’t hold them accountable, who will?

The post How the Gates Foundation Reflects the Good and the Bad of “Hacker Philanthropy” appeared first on The Intercept.

Swing No.193 online

Linksunten Antimil - 6 saat 31 dak önce

Schikane, Razzien, Einreiseverbote - 9 saat 31 dak önce

Die Reaktionen der deutschen Behörden auf ein Konzert der oppositionellen türkischen Musikband Grup Yorum zeigen die neue Kooperation zwischen Deutschland und der Türkei -

Von THOMAS EIPELDAUER, 24. November 2015 -

Unter dem Titel „Eine Stimme und ein Herz gegen Rassismus“ trat am 14. November 2015 in der Arena Oberhausen vor etwa 10 000 Fans die linke türkische Band „Grup Yorum“ auf. Eigentlich, so möchte man meinen, eine normale Kulturveranstaltung, wenn auch die Gruppe, die in der Türkei vor einem Millionenpublikum spielt, durchaus revolutionäre politische Inhalte vertritt. „Normal“ lief allerdings an diesem Wochenende und im Vorfeld der Veranstaltung gar nichts. Denn


Su-24 Abschuss: De facto Angriff auf die Anti-IS-Koalition?

IMI Tübingen - 9 saat 35 dak önce
Während die Türkei behauptet, das russische Su-24-Kampfflugzeug habe ihren Luftraum verletzt und sei aus diesem Grund gestern abgeschossen worden, wird dies von Moskau vehement bestritten. Laut habe sich die NATO – trotz einiger Warnungen, es nun nicht zu einer (…)

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Die Türkei hat Russlands Hoffnung auf Kooperation mit dem Westen zerstört

Indymedia antimil - 10 saat 38 dak önce
von: anonym am: 25.11.2015 - 10:39

Der unprovozierte Abschuss eines russischen Militärflugzeugs über Syrien lässt interessante Fragen aufkommen. Es scheint unwahrscheinlich, dass die türkische Regierung eine kriegerische Handlung gegen einen viel mächtigeren Nachbarn setzt, ohne dass Washington den Angriff genehmigt hat. Die Regierung der Türkei ist nicht sehr kompetent, aber sogar die Inkompetenten sind nicht so dumm, dass sie sich in eine Lage bringen, in der sie allein Russland gegenüberstehen.
Wenn der Angriff mit Washington abgesprochen war, wurde Obama von den Neokonservativen übergangen, die seine Regierung kontrollieren, oder hat Obama selbst dabei mitgemacht? Eindeutig sind die Neokonservativen beunruhigt durch den Aufruf des französischen Präsidenten zur Einheit mit Russland gegen ISIS und hätten leicht ihre Verbindungen mit der Türkei benutzen können, um ein Ereignis zu inszenieren, das Washington benutzen kann, um eine Zusammenarbeit mit Russland zu verhindern.
Sicher ist von Washingtons Komplizenschaft auszugehen, aber es ist nicht völlig von der Hand zu weisen, dass die gut platzierten Türken, die ISIS das Erdöl abkaufen, Rache an Russland nahmen, das ihre Tankwagen und ihr profitables Geschäft zerstörte. Aber wenn der Angriff in einem privaten oder halbprivaten Interesse in Beziehungen zwischen Gangstern und Militär begründet wäre, würde der Präsident der Türkei dann den Abschuss aufgrund dermaßen falscher Gründe als „nationale Verteidigung“ verteidigt haben? Niemand kann glauben, dass ein russischer Kampfjet eine Gefahr für die Sicherheit der Türkei darstellt.
Erwarten Sie nicht, dass die Medienhuren sich mit derlei Fragen beschäftigen. Die Medienhuren wie etwa die Moskaukorrespondentin der BBC Sarah Rainsford stellen die Angelegenheit so hin, dass der Verlust des russischen Flugzeugs und davor des Passagierflugzeugs beweist, dass Putins Politik der Luftschläge gegen ISIS zurückgeschlagen hat und dass die Russen nicht sicherer sind.
Auch die Reaktionen auf den Abschuss sind interessant. Wie ich Obamas Pressekonferenz entnehmen konnte, schließt Obamas Definition von „gemäßigte syrische Rebellen“ alle die extremistischen jihadistischen Gruppen wie al Nusra und ISIS ein, die im Fokus der russischen Angriffe stehen. Nur Assad ist ein Extremist. In Anlehnung an die Linie der Neokonservativen sagt Obama, dass Assad zu viel Blut an seinen Händen hat, um Präsident von Syrien bleiben zu dürfen.
Obama geht nicht näher auf das “Blut an Assads Händen” ein, aber wir können das tun. Das Blut ist das Blut der Kräfte des ISIS, die gegen die syrische Armee kämpfen. Obama spricht nicht vom Blut an den Händen des ISIS, aber sogar die Medienhuren haben uns die Horrorgeschichten in Zusammenhang mit dem Blut an den Händen von ISIS berichtet, mit denen Obama uns verbündet hat. ...... ........

Ein Rückschlag für Syrien

German Foreign Policy - 21 saat 17 dak önce
(Eigener Bericht) - Zum wiederholten Male legt Deutschlands NATO-Partner Türkei dem Kampf gegen den "Islamischen Staat" (IS) Steine in den Weg. Mit dem Abschuss eines russischen Militärjets, der am gestrigen Dienstag auf syrischem Territorium niederging, hat die Türkei das jüngst vom UN-Sicherheitsrat geforderte internationale Vorgehen gegen den IS weiter erschwert. Zudem hat sie die Verhandlungen über eine politische Lösung für den Syrien-Krieg, die zuletzt Fortschritte gemacht hatten, weiter verkompliziert. Damit folgt das Land, das zu den wichtigsten Verbündeten Deutschlands im Nahen und Mittleren Osten zählt, präzise seiner bisherigen Politik: Lange unterstützte Ankara den IS direkt - mit logistischer Hilfe und mit Ausrüstung; inzwischen ist es dazu übergegangen, den Kampf gegen den IS zu torpedieren, unter anderem mit Attacken auf bewaffnete Verbände der kurdischsprachigen Minderheit Syriens. Berlin fordert nun, wie die anderen NATO-Hauptmächte auch, die Türkei zur Deeskalation gegenüber Russland auf. Hatte es die türkische Unterstützung für den IS lange Zeit stillschweigend gebilligt, weil damit der gemeinsame Feind Assad geschwächt wurde, orientiert es zusammen mit seinen transatlantischen Verbündeten nach den Pariser Terroranschlägen verstärkt auf den "Anti-Terror-Kampf". Zudem sieht die Bundesregierung Chancen, ihren Einfluss im Nahen und Mittleren Osten nach einem Waffenstillstand im Syrien-Krieg zu vergrößern.

[MS] / Münster (westf.) : Bundeswehrwerbung zerstört

Linksunten Antimil - Sa, 24/11/2015 - 23:46
0Eh.jpg Handy: Aku und sim-Karte NICHT ENTFERNEN ! Lasst die Dinger bei Aktionen einfach zu ...

Lobbyists, in Strategy Session, Conclude That Refugee Crisis “Helps Us” Defeat Regulations

The Intercept - Engl. - Sa, 24/11/2015 - 19:26

In an audio recording of a strategy session obtained by The Intercept, major trade association lobbyists discussed how the refugee crisis has changed the political dynamics in Washington to their advantage.

In the conference call held last week, lobbyists representing a number of high-polluting industries agreed that the battle between Congress and President Obama on refugee policy will give them the cover they need to attach a legislative rider to the omnibus budget bill that rolls back newly expanded clean water regulation.

“I think that probably helps us,” one participant said, referring to the coming confrontation over refugee policy.

The White House has issued veto threats against previous attempts by Congress to block the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, a regulation finalized this year that extends Clean Water Act protections to millions of acres of wetlands and streams. So attaching a rider blocking WOTUS to the omnibus was potentially going to attract a lot of attention. Until now.

Now, lawmakers are expected to attach a provision to the omnibus bill to block Syrian refugee resettlement —  a move that is bound to become the focus of any government shutdown confrontation between Congress and the White House.

“We’re suddenly not the big issue,” said one call participant. “I mean, this is all going to turn on refugees.”

“I think that helps us,” said another call participant. “I think it helps us with the White House being on defense,” another legislative strategist on the call said.

The remarks were made during a political strategy call hosted last week by energy utility industry lobbyists. A recording was sent to The Intercept by someone on the call.

Listen to the exchange below. The comments about the refugee crisis begin at (2:15).

The call was hosted by the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for major electric utility companies. It was organized to discuss strategies for defeating the WOTUS rule, which clarifies existing law to provide Clean Water Act protections to two million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands.

Participants in the call included senior officials and lobbyists from some of the largest trade associations in Washington, including the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the American Forest and Paper Association, the National Association of Home Builders, and the American Farm Bureau. The total attendance list for the call, however, is not clear given that some participants did not identify themselves or only identified themselves by first name.

Lobbyists have worked for months on efforts to block the WOTUS rule, including a challenge in federal court and legislative proposals to block implementation.

Asked for comment, Liz Thompson, the director of media relations with the National Association of Home Builders, said Courtney Briggs, the NAHB federal legislative director and a participant in the strategy call, did not remember discussing the refugee issue to advance a rider on the WOTUS rule.

“Having spoken to Courtney, she doesn’t recall anyone saying the quote you referenced. The Syrian crisis has absolutely no bearing on our discussions. With only two weeks left in the legislative calendar, the purpose of the call was to have an open discussion on the options available to us, including possibly adding a rider in the final omnibus appropriations bill,” Thompson said in a statement.

EEI did not provide a comment for this story. The Farm Bureau did not respond to a request for comment.

Lobbyists frequently use “must pass” legislation, such as raising the debt-ceiling and government appropriation bills, to enact proposals that would otherwise face a presidential veto. In the last omnibus spending bill, legislators slipped riders onto the bill that repealed rules that prevent banks from using taxpayer-backed funds from trading in derivatives, as well as more than $3 billion in weapons programs the Pentagon did not ask Congress to fund.

This year, lobbyists are working to attach a slew of legislative riders, on issues ranging from repealing regulations on coal-burning power plants to the oversight of payday lenders.

Before the attacks in Paris on November 13 fueled outrage at Syrian refugees, the Obama administration had prepared to face off with Congress over the various financial and environmental riders.

But the dynamics have shifted. If congressional leaders attach provisions to the omnibus to block Syrian refugee settlement, the Obama administration may be forced to accept a compromise that allows for other legislative riders to sneak through.

The participants on the EEI call appeared eager to use the refugee fight to distract the administration.

“In our big meeting this morning, all our lobbyists, their report back from the Hill over the last couple of days in House and Senate is that offices have been saying they are hearing more on this refugee issue than they have heard on any other issue in the last eight years, more than Obamacare, more than anything,” one the legislative strategists remarked.


The post Lobbyists, in Strategy Session, Conclude That Refugee Crisis “Helps Us” Defeat Regulations appeared first on The Intercept.

ISIS Recruitment Thrives in Brutal Prisons Run By U.S.-Backed Egypt

The Intercept - Engl. - Sa, 24/11/2015 - 19:11

FOR NEARLY TWO YEARS, Mohamed Soltan, a 26-year-old citizen of both Egypt and America, endured torture, deprivation, and cruelty while locked in the prisons of Egyptian military dictator Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. In 2013, he was among thousands arrested in a country-wide crackdown on civil society activists, journalists, and members of the deposed government following Sisi’s coup and massacre of protestors in Cairo’s Raba’a Adawiya Square.

Soltan was released this year after a 400-day hunger strike in which he lost over 130 pounds and nearly died, saved only by the intervention of the American government on his behalf. Despite bending to pressure in his case, the Egyptian regime continues to imprison as many as 41,000 other political prisoners, recent Human Rights Watch estimates suggest. And Soltan worries that extremism is incubating in those facilities, where he witnessed and experienced torture. Today, he says that, through its oppressive practices, the Sisi government is effectively acting as a “recruiting agent” for extremist groups like the Islamic State.

“The regime is fostering an environment in their prisons that makes them a fertile ground for that kind of ideology to flourish,” Soltan says. “The brutality and the overwhelming loss of hope is creating a situation which fits [the Islamic State’s] narrative, and they’re using it to try and recruit people and spread their message.”

Despite Soltan’s ordeal, some of his own relatives support Sisi. Like many families in Egypt today, they are starkly divided between support for Sisi’s military regime and for the deposed government of Mohamed Morsi. Soltan’s father, Salah, who was also taken into custody, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and served in Morsi’s government, although Soltan himself remained aloof from the party. “I was against the policies of Morsi, but I would’ve liked to have seen a referendum or early elections instead of a coup,” Soltan says.

The Obama administration has taken a similarly mixed stand, occasionally criticizing Sisi’s human rights abuses even as it continues to send him roughly $1.5 billion in mostly military aid each year.

Ohio State graduate Mohamed Soltan was held in an Egyptian prison for nearly two years.

Photo: Hanaa Soltan

Soltan spent most of his life in the United States and moved back to Egypt near the beginning of 2013 after his mother was diagnosed with cancer. “Over the course of my life I’d gotten used to the American idea of having elections for pretty much everything — sheriffs, school board trustees, judges — so the idea of not even having an elected president was crazy to me.”

On August 14, 2013, the military used deadly force to clear thousands of protestors who had encamped in Cairo’s Raba’a Square in protest against the new regime. At least 800 people were killed and thousands more wounded, including Soltan, who was among a group of media activists and journalists who had been broadcasting the event on social media. In the course of the deadliest massacre in modern Egyptian history, Soltan was shot in the arm by a government sniper. Weeks later, while still recovering from surgery, he was arrested at his family home in Cairo, as the new government pushed a nationwide arrest campaign against its opponents.

Once in government custody, Soltan got firsthand experience with the brutality of the new regime. Despite his broken arm, he was given a “welcoming party” by his captors upon arriving in prison: He and several other new prisoners were stripped to their underwear then forced to repeatedly run through two rows of guards who beat them with batons, whips and fists. “They deliberately beat me on my broken arm for more two hours,” Soltan said, adding that his captors would periodically stop to pray in between torture sessions.

For the next two years Soltan would be shuttled around various prison facilities. While in jail, Soltan says he witnessed the recruitment efforts of Islamic State members. “There were people from across the spectrum of Egyptian society in jail: liberals, Muslim Brotherhood members, leftists, Salafis, and some people who had pledged allegiance to ISIS,” Soltan says. “Everyone felt depressed and betrayed, except for the ISIS guys. They walked around with this victorious air and had this patronizing and condescending attitude towards everyone else.”

Among the facilities in which Soltan was incarcerated was the notorious Tora Prison, where he was kept in an underground dungeon with dozens of other prisoners. Between regular beatings, humiliation, and torture by guards, the prisoners would talk to one another. In this grim environment, ISIS members would attempt to convince others of the justice of their cause. “The ISIS guys would come and tell everyone these nonviolent means don’t work, that Western countries only care about power and the Egyptian regime only understands force,” Soltan says. “They would say that the world didn’t respect you enough to think you deserve democracy, and now the man who killed your friends is shaking hands with international leaders who are all arming and funding his regime.”

While the other political factions represented in Egypt’s jails grappled with a seemingly hopeless situation, Islamic State members were consistently filled with hope and optimism, citing a steady stream of “good news” about their state-building project in Iraq, Syria and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Soltan says.

When the prisoners would discuss their circumstances, even avowed leftists found themselves unable to rebut Islamic State members’ arguments. “They would make very simple arguments telling us that the world doesn’t care about values and only understands violence,” says Soltan. “Because of the gravity of the situation they were all in, by the time the ISIS guys were finished speaking, everyone, the liberals, the Brotherhood people, would be left completely speechless. When you’re in that type of situation and don’t have many options left, for some people these kinds of ideas start to make sense.”

Among the prisoners, Soltan remembers a man named “Ashraf,” who had been accused of jihadi sympathies, and whom the guards had singled out for especially brutal treatment. “Out of sympathy and a sense of humanity, my father and I, along with other prisoners, would pool together extra food and clothing and share it with him,” Soltan recalls. “One day, he told us that during the whole time he had been in jail, my father and me had treated him with the most kindness of anyone, but he didn’t want our gifts anymore. He said that he didn’t want to get too attached to us because once ‘his people’ came to Egypt he wasn’t going to be able to protect Muslims like us from what would happen.”

While many prisoners succumbed to despair and in some cases radicalization at the hands of ISIS recruiters, Soltan said he found solace and a sense of defiance in his hunger strike. As his health began to deteriorate over months of refusing food, his jailers would begin to taunt him, even leaving razor blades in his cell and daring him to commit suicide. At one point they brought a dying man into his cell, making Soltan watch as he slowly expired on the ground next to him.

Soltan says that during his captivity guards would also periodically allow ISIS members to come into his cell and talk to him, in what he believes was an effort to radicalize him. “They would come into my cell and start telling me this nonviolent stuff like hunger striking doesn’t work,” Soltan says. They would “brag that Islamic State was growing and expanding, and that soon their people would be running Egypt too.”

“They were full of confidence,” Soltan says, “while everyone else in the prison felt desperate and hopeless about their future.”

Egypt’s prisons, notoriously brutal under the military regimes that have ruled the country throughout the post-colonial era, have in the past served as a prolific breeding ground for radical movements. Sayyid Qutb, considered one of the intellectual founders of the modern jihadi movement, wrote his most incendiary works after being imprisoned and tortured by the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, which executed him in 1966. Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri also suffered extreme torture during the years he spent in Egyptian government prisons, an experience he would cite often in later years and as having had a formative effect on shaping his worldview.

Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and an expert on contemporary Islamist movements, says that the brutal suppression pursued by the Sisi regime in the name of fighting terrorism may ultimately empower radical groups like the Islamic State. “The number of people behind bars in Egypt is really unprecedented, these are not just a few thousand people. With the exception of the Assad regime [in Syria], this is the highest number of political prisoners in the Middle East that we know of,” Hamid says. “We know that imprisonment in such brutal circumstances often has a radicalizing effect, but it also represents a kind of networking opportunity, where people from diverse walks of life suddenly find themselves behind bars together.”

Although the Sisi regime claims to have stabilized the country through its repressive measures, Hamid says that its achievements are likely to prove illusory. “The whole myth of authoritarian stability is very appealing to people, but these heavy-handed tactics that allow no room for political dissent are already backfiring.” Adding that “we are already seeing an increasingly sophisticated insurgency in the Sinai and escalating terrorist attacks like the downing of a Russian airliner,” Hamid says that the human rights abuses of the regime and deteriorating security situation are inextricably related. “As long as ISIS can point to the miserable state of Egypt’s democratic process, it becomes more difficult for others to rebut their message.”

Mohamed Soltan arriving at Dulles Airport on May 30, 2015.

Photo: Ben Norton/Twitter

Thanks to an advocacy campaign coordinated in large part by Soltan’s sister Hanaa, this May he was released from prison and returned to the United States. A picture of a gaunt, emaciated Soltan grinning and raising his fist in triumph as he was pushed on a wheelchair into Washington’s Dulles Airport went viral around the world. Despite his release however, the other media activists and journalists sentenced in his case remain behind bars, along with tens of thousands of other political prisoners, among them Soltan’s father.

Since leaving the country, Soltan’s family in Egypt has received threats over his continuing advocacy on behalf of Egyptian prisoners, including warnings of further mistreatment by authorities toward his father. Despite this, Soltan has continued to press for what he says is a vital American role in helping save Egypt from heading down a disastrous path toward extremism and civil strife. “We have leverage in Egypt, I’m living proof of that. Our aid today is given with no strings attached, but we could at least attach conditions that would compel the government to improve human rights conditions and revive the democratic process,” Soltan says. “We take Sisi’s claims at face value and think we’re getting stability, but in reality, the entire situation is a ticking time bomb.”

The post ISIS Recruitment Thrives in Brutal Prisons Run By U.S.-Backed Egypt appeared first on The Intercept.

Court Rules Assassination Memo Can Stay Secret

The Intercept - Engl. - Sa, 24/11/2015 - 18:03

A MEMO ABOUT HOW the George W. Bush administration interpreted a ban on assassination can be kept secret, along with other legal documents about the drone war, a federal appeals court said in a ruling made public Monday.

For several years, the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times have been suing to wrench documents from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Council that outline the rationale for killing suspected terrorists. Specifically, they sought the release of the justification for drone strikes that killed three U.S. citizens in Yemen in the fall of 2011: Anwar al Awlaki, his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al Awlaki, and Samir Khan.

Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York said that widespread discussion about the drone program by administration officials, as well as the leak of a so-called white paper from the Justice Department, outlining its legal reasoning for killing a U.S. citizen, had mooted the case for so much secrecy. The court ordered the government to release a July 2010 memo that cleared the way for killing Anwar al Awlaki. Two other documents discussing the CIA’s role in such killings were also made public last year, in heavily redacted form.

Today’s decision from the court centered on 10 remaining documents that the Justice Department argued did not have to be released.

One of the documents at issue was a March 2002 memo, which, in the government’s description, “provided legal advice regarding the assassination ban in Executive Order 12333.” (The order, signed by Ronald Reagan in 1981, upholds a ban on assassination first issued by Gerald Ford in 1976.)

The memo might get at the heart of a debate about the United States’ lethal counterterrorism missions, carried out by drone or other means: Why is the killing of select individuals, far from conventional battlefields, without a trial, not assassination?

The Obama administration prefers the terms “targeted killing” or “high-value targeting,” to describe these strikes (with many journalists following suit). The word assassination implies that the killings are illegal, and the government argues, of course, that they are legal, under the laws of war or of self-defense. But the ban on assassination is brief and contains no definition of the word itself. And for the most part, every administration’s interpretation of it has been done in secret. The details of the Obama administration’s arguments, in the drone memos that have been released, are redacted.

For the time being, it will stay that way. In ruling Monday against the disclosure of the 2002 memo, the appeals judges said that it long predates public commentary about the drone war by Obama administration officials, and “the context in which the official spoke might be significantly different from the context in which the earlier document was prepared.”

Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, was disappointed with the court’s decision and urged the Obama administration to release more information about the drone program of its own initiative.

“In a democracy, there should be no room for ‘secret law,’ and the courts should not play a role in perpetuating it,” Jaffer said in a statement. “The government should not be using lethal force based on standards that are explained only vaguely and on facts that are never published or independently reviewed.”

More than 13 years after the United States’ first drone strike in Yemen in 2002, few primary source materials about the drone war have been made public. Secret military documents published by The Intercept last month showed the expansion of the drone war under the Obama administration and underlined the degree to which the administration’s public portrait of its drone strikes — as a limited, precision effort against individuals who posed an imminent threat to the United States – did not always match the reality of the campaigns.

Top photo: Tribesmen stand on the rubble of a building destroyed by a U.S. drone strike in Azan, Yemen. Sixteen-year-old Abdulrahman al Awlaki, an American citizen and son of slain U.S.-born cleric Anwar al Awlaki, was killed in a drone strike on this building in 2011, along with six suspected al Qaeda militants. Anonymous U.S. officials have raised questions over whether Abdulrahman al Awlaki was deliberately targeted.

The post Court Rules Assassination Memo Can Stay Secret appeared first on The Intercept.


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