Privacy’s Public, Government-Sponsored Death
A couple months ago, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed an unpopular view while hosting his regular Friday-morning radio program. “You wait, in five years, the technology is getting better, they’ll be cameras everyplace… whether you like it or not,” he said while discussing surveillance drones. “We’re going to have more visibility and less privacy. I don’t see how you stop that. And it’s not a question of whether I think it’s good or bad.”
Elsewhere, Bloomberg’s made it clear that he thinks the expansion of the surveillance state is a very good thing, and that as cops and spy agencies acquire more and more power to watch us, “our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution… have to change.” You can disagree with Bloomberg’s preference for nanny-state policies that limit personal freedoms in favor of what he thinks is the public good, but on the subject of privacy, it’s hard to argue he’s 100 percent wrong. The idea that there’s a private sphere and a public one and that the government rarely intrudes on the former is hopelessly outdated—the question we should be asking ourselves isn’t how do we stop surveillance, it’s how do we live with it.
That’s obvious from recent revelations that have emerged in the past two days. First, on Wednesday night theGuardian reported that the shadowy National Security Agency has unfettered access to Americans’ phone records—though they apparently don’t listen in on your calls, they can find out, with barely effort, who you called, how long you talked for, and where you were when you made that call. That’s not a mistake or an illegal overreach on the NSA’s part. This type of indiscriminate intelligence gathering has quietly been going on for years. “A massive surveillance net over all people,” is how Glenn Greenwald, the primary author of theGuardian article, described the government’s goal in an interview with CNN.
What Does Terrorism Mean in 2013? An Interview with Glenn Greenwald
VICE: What do you think about the media reaction to the Woolwich murder?
Glen Greenwald: Media outlets reacted pretty uniformly to the attack. They reacted the way that media outlets typically do to these kinds of incidents, which is by simply stating that it was a terrorist attack and channeling outrage about the unprecedented, barbaric act that everyone saw take place.
Do you think it was a “terrorist” attack?
What the word terrorism typically means in reality, functionally, when it’s most commonly used by our media, is that the perpetrators are Muslim, and that they are driven by either religious or political motivations. I think that when it became clear that the perpetrators were Muslim (they said “Allah Akbar” during the attack), then media outlets instantly said that this was an act of terror, and politicians sort of did at the same time. The premise here is that if the violence is perpetrated by Muslims against the West, for a political cause, then by definition it’s terrorism, but not the other way around. It’s very typical to call this a terrorist attack without including all sorts of acts of violence that the US and UK has routinely engaged in over the last decade.
Hearing from Three Guantanamo Bay Prisoners Who’ve Been on Hunger Strike for 100 Days
On the 7th of February, 2013, there was a dispute inside Guantanamo Bay over prison guards searching Qur’ans. For the following two days, inmates ate the remainder of the food they had—including stuff that was reportedly two years out of date—and, once finished with all of their decomposing rations, embarked on a hunger strike. Yesterday was the 100th day of the inmates’ protest against their treatment and, out of the 166 still being held at Guantanmo, 102 are on hunger strike, with 30 being force fed.
Authorities at the prison camp have revised their guidelines to allow them to shackle hunger-strikers to a chair, before fitting them with masks and inserting tubes through their noses and into their stomachs to force feed them for up to two hours at a time. Despite these efforts, some prisoners claim to weigh as little as 85lbs.
Several attempts have been made to punish or dissuade inmates against their starvation efforts.According to Shaker Aamer (the last British resident being held in Guantanamo) prison wardens have begun inflicting sleep deprivation on inmates, as well as adopting a new practice where, instead of shackling their hands and legs and pushing them along from behind, they’re now clipping cloth dog leashes to inmates’ waists and dragging them around like animals.
Aamer is one of 86 inmates who have been cleared for release but are still being held inside the facility. Something that, according to Clive Stafford Smith—a lawyer representing inmates at the prison—is completely irrational. “Any prison, even in the most despotic dictatorship, should not have 86 of 166 [52 percent] prisoners cleared for release,” he told me, before adding, “Obama hasn’t shown the political will to do the right thing.”
Stafford Smith provided me with testimonies from three Guantanamo hunger-strikers in order to gain a little more insight into the Cuban detention camp that President Obama promised to close within a year back in 2009.
This Is What Winning Looks Like
Our new documentary about the end of the war in Afghanistan premieres Monday. Watch the trailer
Cops’ Military Tools Aren’t Just for Catching Terrorists
above: A SWAT tank parked in the Boston Commons on April 16, 2013. Photo via Flickr user Vjeran Pavic
On April 19, a million Bostonians stayed locked down in their homes while 9,000 cops combed the metro area for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the marathon bombing. In Watertown, cops went door-to-door and removed homeowners at gunpoint before searching their houses. Tsarnaev was found in that town around 8 PM by the owner of the boat sitting in his backyard that the 19-year-old suspected terrorist had chosen as his hiding place.
The lockdown was something new. Not serial killers, not cop-killing cop Christopher Dorner’s LA rampage, not even 9/11 shut down a city like this. Still, Bostonians seemed fine with staying inside for the most part. Cops found their guy relatively quickly, and the city partied in the streets afterwards. During the manhunt, a tough-looking officer even brought two gallons of milk to a family with young children, serving as a perfect meme to refute any accusations of jackbooted thuggery. Even some normally anti-police libertarians urged restraint in reacting to the manhunt.
What shouldn’t go unmentioned, however, is that while the circumstances were unique, the military muscle displayed by law enforcement is hardly reserved for responding to rare acts of terrorism. Videos from the lockdown—particularly this piece of paranoia-porn, in which a SWAT team orders a family out of their home at gunpoint and one of the officers screams “get away from the window!” at the videographer—either look frightening or grimly necessary, according to your views. But haven’t we seen displays like this before?
What Does Canada’s Blocked Terrorist Attack Mean for the Country?
Just as the Boston terrorist saga was coming to an end, a new Canadian terrorist plot was thwarted. Yesterday the The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) revealed in a news conference they arrested two foreign citizens named Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser from the Montreal and Toronto areas respectively. It’s a good piece of press for the Mounties, who’ve had a banner couple of months with a damning missing women’s report and the Canadian-born terrorists who wound up participating in the Al-Qaeda attack on a gas plant in Algeria. Not to mention, the news comes exactly a week when their American counterparts, the FBI, failed to thwart their own home-grown terror attack in Boston.
According to the RCMP, Esseghaier and Jaser planned on derailing a passenger train and killing innocent civilians. Reuters was reporting they specifically targeted the VIA rail route linking Toronto and New York City (something bound to upset Mr. Obama). Apparently there wasn’t an imminent public threat, but the authorities monitoring them (since August 2012) might’ve been spooked in light of the Boston bombings. It’s also worth mentioning the operation to arrest these suspected-terrorists (literally called “Operation Smooth”), was done with the support of the FBI and Homeland Security.
It’s especially unsettling information for most security watchers who’ve been waxing poetic on the danger ofterrorists-in-our-midst for the better part of a decade following 9/11. Yet for even the casual observer, this Canadian flavored terrorist-takedown is not something that should be easily ignored. There are definite signs of concerns coming out of these arrests.
For one, this is the first instance of Al-Qaeda following through with supporting an actual planned attack on Canadian soil. While Bin Laden apparently named Canada as a target in papers recovered from his assassination, we’ve never been considered a prime objective for Islamic terrorists. The reason being—as some intelligence experts have told me in the past—terrorists have historically seen Canada as a home-base, a place to lay low or carry out covert funding efforts for global attacks.
Burma’s Rohingya Ghettos Broke My Heart
Sittwe, the capital of Burma’s restive Rakhine state, is a town divided. Or, put more accurately, segregated, thanks to the majority Buddhist Rakhine people developing a passion for beating, raping, murdering, and setting fire to members of the local Muslim Rohingya minority. As it stands, the Rohingya have been ghettoized into a series of internally displaced-person (IDP) camps just outside of Sittwe.
Things have been this way since last June, when the region witnessed a massive outbreak of sectarian violence following the alleged rape and murder of a Rakhine woman and a revenge attack that killed ten Muslims. From there, things escalated dramatically. Countless houses have been razed, and large numbers from both communities displaced. However, only the Rohingya suffered from systematic persecution by government security forces—again, involving rape and murder—in the aftermath. Further violence elsewhere in the state during October pushed the total number of IDPs over the 100,000 mark, almost all of them from the Rohingya community.
Such persecution for the Muslim minority is nothing new—they have been subjected to marginalization and violence within Burma for decades, mostly at the hands of the former ruling junta. Almost all have been effectively stateless since a citizenship law was passed in 1982, which effectively classified the group as foreigners, despite their presence in the country for centuries. Many NGOs have characterized the law and its consequences as part of a long-standing campaign to pressure the Rohingya into leaving Burma.
The situation for the minority, described by the UN as one of the world’s most vulnerable, is undeniably rough. Yet not everyone sees them as victims. During a visit to one of Sittwe’s many Buddhist monasteries, a resident cenobitic monk told me, “All the problems here are the fault of the kalar.” (Kalar being a racist term for the Rohingya). “They want to take over all of Rakhine state,” he insisted. They were “terrorists” and the Rakhine people could not be made to live with them or violence would break out once again, he asserted.
A day later, visiting the Rohingya IDP camps, I had the opportunity to gain a very different perspective. I sat in on an art-therapy session hosted by a visiting humanitarian volunteer, in which children were encouraged to draw their memories of last year’s violence using colored pens and paper. Many of their drawings depicted members of the Burmese government’s Hlun Tin paramilitary outfit shooting at people outside of burning homes. One child, explaining what she drew in a particularly affecting piece, mentioned calmly that she had seen the severed head of a mentally disabled boy she once knew lying by the bank of a river. Another said that she saw a Rakhine man smash a woman’s skull in until some of her brains spilled out.
“They hid the guns when they saw an army helicopter,” the interpreter says. “They say they need the guns to protect the remaining tower. They knew we’d take their guns if they told us they had them. They are sorry for this. They want to know if they can keep the IED and show it to their employer.”
“What the fuck kind of question is that?” the lieutenant says. “No they fucking can’t keep it.”
Bradley Manning Pleaded Guilty Yesterday: ‘I Did It’
After a blizzard blanketed the mid-Atlantic in early 2010, a 22-year-old soldier home on leave in Potomac, Maryland, braved the storm in hopes of locating an Internet connection that, unlike the one at his aunt’s house where he was staying, hadn’t been severed by nearly two feet of snow.
When Private first class Bradley Manning made it to a Barnes & Noble bookstore outside of Washington, D.C., he unpacked his laptop, logged-on to the complimentary Starbucks Wi-Fi and searched for some files he had burned onto a disc back in Kuwait before Christmas. It was in that shop, surrounded by comic books and minimum-wage-earning baristas, that the slight and bespectacled soldier uploaded classified and unclassified military files to the website WikiLeaks, an action that remains the target of both a CIA probe and a grand jury investigation three years later—and that yesterday landed Manning in court in Fort Meade, Maryland, where he pleaded guilty to ten criminal charges and will now likely serve twenty years in prison. “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information,” Manning said yesterday in court, which I attended, “this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.”
The government’s case—and public opinion about the young soldier’s act—has hinged on the assertion that Manning’s leak put the United States in danger by making sensitive military information public. The files leaked by Manning include the now-infamous “collateral murder” video of an Apache helicopter attack in Iraq, in which US soldiers mistake a group of journalists and civilians for insurgents and then kill them; US diplomatic cables about the collapse of three major financial institutions in Iceland; files on detainees in Guantanamo; and portions of Iraq and Afghanistan war logs. “They capture what happens [on] a particular day in time,” Manning said about the war logs.
Manning was captured by American officials in May 2010—after he’d gone back to Kuwait to continue his service in an intelligence center—when the ex-hacker turned goody-two-shoes Adrian Lamo, who had been in communication about the files with Manning via email, tipped off the FBI. Manning was then accused of an onslaught of charges related to allegations that he supplied material to WikiLeaks. Since then, Pfc. Manning has been imprisoned without trial for over 1,000 days. Only during Thursday’s testimony, though, did he own up to those crimes and explain to the world with his own words why he willingly released materials that have changed history—if not in the way Manning had originally intended.
When he finally finished reading the 35-page statement prepared for the court Thursday afternoon, a handful of supporters and members of the press seated before a closed-circuit stream of the testimony across the Army base erupted in applause. The only other time they ever heard the soldier speak at length was this December when he testified to the conditions he endured while jailed in a military brig after first being detained. His treatment there was so egregious that the presiding judge, Col. Denise Lind, agreed to take four months off of any eventual sentence handed down.
But for voluntarily admitting his crimes during a pretrial hearing on Thursday nearly three years after the fact, Pfc. Manning stands to face upwards of 20 years in prison. After his case is formally court-martialed beginning in June, though, he could be sent away for life. Because he gave classified information to WikiLeaks and, thus, the world, the government says he sent that intelligence into the ether and helped aid anti-American terrorists. The government could legally execute the soldier, now 25, if they convict him on that charge.