CIA black sites: offshore interrogation centres and an increasingly aggressive CIA

With details of the newly published report by the US Senate coming out, this 4 year investigation is shining light on some of the questionable interrogation techniques and the medical staff involved in the “safe keeping” of the detainees of the US Government.

Whilst much of the attention has been focused on the legality and usefulness of the interrogation techniques, many within the medical community have expressed concerns over the role of medical personnel in these interrogation sites.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) are a Nobel Peace Prize winning organisation that investigate and help uncover abuses around the world. They have called for an in depth investigation into the role played by the medical staff employed within the various US governmental departments that use interrogative techniques.

In the original version of the Hippocratic Oath physicians swore to work at the “convenience and advantage of the patient; and I will willingly refrain from doing any injury or wrong from falsehood”. Whilst the Hippocratic Oath is not legally binding, it is a guide and ethical convention that most physicians consider extremely important. This empathetic and caring responsibility seems not to sit well with the roles played by physicians in the CIA ‘black sites’ or even in Guantanamo Bay. This role is quite simple; ensure that the detainee does not die.

There have been several key personalities that have come to light as a result of the investigation, James Elmer Mitchell being one. Mitchell is a former US Air Force psychologist, where he trained interrogators in the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) school. Along with former USAF psychologist Bruce Jessum, he was paid a reported $80 million to design and implement an interrogation programme aimed at detained suspected terrorists.

From what has been leaked of the report so far, it seems that physical and mental harm are not necessarily negatively viewed. Reports of 180 hours of sleep deprivation and hours of stress positions involving standing on broken or damaged lower limbs are emerging.

Dr Mitchell has been reported as saying: “I am just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could.”

Appealing to patriotism is a popular move in avoidance tactics, but with the amount of noise coming from the medical community, this looks to be an issue that won’t blow over quickly.

The death of 43 missing Mexican students

On the 26th September this year, 43 student teachers travelled to the town of Iguala, Mexico to raise funds, and disappeared after violent clashes with municipal police. In the six weeks following that day, evidence has been unearthed to prove that police, the mayor, and gang members were all involved in the mass kidnapping. On 7 November, three gang members confessed to the killing of all 43, explaining how the bodies were then burnt at a landfill site, and the remains thrown in the river.

Human rights abuse
Decades of drug related violence has made this Central-American country one of the most dangerous in the world to live, and it was always a matter of time before such an incident took place. In this case, the most shocking factor is that the police, whose primary function should be to protect civilians, seem to have been heavily involved in the supposed murders – with eyewitnesses reporting that the students were bundled in their cars after the initial altercation.

Corruption
The mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, has been arrested along with the town’s police chief – and the governor of the Guerrero region has also resigned. The repercussions are being felt at the highest level, with protestors setting fires outside the presidential palace in Mexico City. The Mexican people have had enough of the continued corruption and violence, and the government needs to act decisively in dealing with the core issues of the crimes.

Continued violence
The story has shocked the world, shining a spotlight on the issues seen in the country on a daily basis. How can Mexico change? What will fix this country which struggles with its burden of being the centre point between North and South America? Is there an answer?

Strength in power
There is no simple solution: the drug cartels are ruthless and have terrifying power over politicians and police throughout the country. The answer lies at the top of the political hierarchy, President Peña Nieto has to be stronger. He has to make sure his appointments are morally sound and he must remove the elements of outside influence from any position of power.

Global assistance
The rest of the world must support him in order for this to happen, as the cartels have become too strong for the state to handle alone. Violence and corruption have grown immeasurably because characters such as Abarca, with links to organised crime, are able to sit in positions of power and neglect their responsibilities. Purging the system of corrupt politicians and fighting the cartels is likely to be a long and difficult project, but with the support of the world Mexico can at least try to reach that goal and give its 122 million citizens renewed hope.

Extremism and brainwashing kids at school – A crime against humanity?

In recent weeks, the issue of extremism and brainwashing in UK schools has once again re-occurred in the media and in parliament.

Specifically, education secretary Nicky Morgan announced that there would be certain school reforms following ‘disturbing’ findings in Birmingham schools.

These findings were uncovered by education commissioner Peter Clarke. He was appointed to the role when a letter, detailing what was happening in certain schools in the Midland, was uncovered.

Known as the ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ letter, it showed plans to push a more Islamist doctrine in some schools – ousting any teacher who did not actively follow the same agenda.

The report

In his report, Clarke found that in some Birmingham Schools there was an Islamist ethos that was not only “intolerant” but also “aggressive”.

In some cases, sexism, homophobia and hostility to other forms of extremism were being actively promoted.

Clearly, this level of intolerance is not acceptable within our schools, primarily because of the ease with which children are easily led.

How do you solve the brainwashing and extremism problem?

In response to Clarke’s findings, Morgan introduced two new reforms, aimed at helping head teachers to overcome any obstacles in running their schools in the correct manner.

She introduced a new education commissioner for Birmingham, where the majority of extremism is in evidence, as well as a new board of head teachers for staff to receive extra support.

These new tiers of oversight were specifically created to support teachers, making sure that extremist views are not influencing their work.

The responsibility placed on the shoulders of a teacher, at both primary and secondary level, is often a heavy burden to carry.

And it is important that they are properly supported and regularly assessed, to make sure the curriculum is being taught correctly.

Religious extremism needs to be avoided and an understanding of difference and diversity should be instilled in our school system.

Conclusion – a crime against humanity

The period up until the age of 18, is one of the most important periods in a person’s life. The ability to absorb information will never be better and a child’s ideals are very often moulded at this time.

For this very reason, brainwashing children to extremist views can be seen as a crime against humanity.

Children have the right to have a balanced upbringing, where an innate tolerance and understanding of cultural and religious diversity is a strong platform for the future.

If our children are influenced by extremist versions of religion, humanity will suffer when our society becomes more fractured and intolerant.

Anonymous bloggers causing defamation, harassment, bullying and other illegal activities…What do we need to do to eliminate the bad ones? Any current UK laws to stop them?

Cyber bullying and anonymous bloggers

Cyber bullying is defined as an action that ‘uses information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm another or others.’

Website browsing, discussion forums and other mobile technologies such as SMS text messaging are a part of everyday life. We have the freedom to voice our opinions and make positive or negative comments about different services or current affairs. This has also led to some users abusing the system with the purposeful intention of causing emotional hurt. The practice is becomingly increasingly common especially with the rise of social media platforms.

Crossing the Rubicon

So what are the parameters and where do we draw the line? Couldn’t giving a business a poor product review or any small comment you make, cause hurt?

The areas that constitute cyber bullying are comments that are deliberately hostile or intended to incite hatred, humiliation or other adverse reaction. This could be posting a message or starting a rumour through malicious gossip that aims to manipulate, provoke by intimidation, exert control, embarrass, cause shame or ruin, denigrate or wrongly discredit the person on the receiving end. Such action is usually repeated but this may not always be the case. An erroneous message could be posted on a site about another person’s professional activity, without substantiation, which could potentially harm the recipient’s career.

Stranger or Acquaintance

The perpetrator could be a person with whom the target is familiar or an anonymous stranger. He or she could solicit mass action from others to cause harm, known as a “digital pile-on”.

Cyber bullying can range from annoying an individual to serious provocation and threat. In a professional environment whereby a highly qualified person is at risk, it could ruin a career.

How can we filter abusive comment?

Many people may unintentionally cause distress to another – such as sending a tweet which carries an inappropriate reference and causes misunderstanding.

So how can we eliminate obvious harassment?

The abuse must be reported and taken seriously by the authorities. This may not necessarily be the police. It could involve reporting accusatory remarks to relevant professional bodies. Magazine owners or publishers might be one example when comments are posted online. Professional associations could be contacted about a false statement that could ruin an otherwise exemplary reputation.

Organisations should create specific statutes designed to address defamatory comments; they could make it illegal to post obscene remarks, threats, accusations or other immoral suggestions.

UK law

Although, within current UK law, there is no legal definition of cyber bullying, the following existing laws are applicable to cyber bullying:
- Protection from Harassment Act 1997
- Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
- Malicious Communications Act 1988
- Communications Act 2003
- Breach of the Peace (Scotland)
- Defamation Act 2013

Guidelines issued by The Crown Prosecution Service in Dec 2012 explain how cases of cyber bullying will be assessed under the current legislation.

In addition, The Defamation Act 2013 came into force on 1st January 2014.

Google…Can we trust Google? Especially when they allowed the defamation of hundreds of thousands under the Freedom of Speech Act

Defamation control

Before the digital age dictated our every movement, it took a lot more time and effort to find information about a specific person. You may have needed to hire an investigator or spend hours digging through dusty old court documents or financial statements.

Since the explosion of the World Wide Web, access to both public and private information has changed drastically. If you’re reading this, it is likely that your name, picture, employment status and even your home address is documented and relatively easy to obtain online. It wouldn’t be too difficult to find your friends either, not to mention the people who are not your friends or people with whom you may have been in conflict.

It is this balance between privacy and freedom of information that has been at the centre of debate in both news and court rooms recently. A recent EU court ruling has just pushed digital giants, Google, to create a ‘request to be forgotten’ feature so that people have the chance to get certain websites removed from its search results.

So is the availability of information empowering us or doing more damage than good?

It depends on your lifestyle, career, social status and desired public image. We have all done things we regret, said inappropriate things or acted carelessly, whether that is at home or in our place of work. The problem is, with such a wealth of online platforms available to publish someone’s actions or mistakes, our privacy has been severely jeopardised.

In a matter of minutes, it’s possible to write a scathing restaurant review, publish somebody’s private photographs or even damage the career of a well-respected professional. Some people would argue that defamation has been hiding behind a veil of freedom of speech. The laws which were put in place to ensure that everyone had a fair say are now being abused to damage reputations.

Without any verification of truth, a defamatory statement can be viewed by millions through Google’s search engine. An individual’s worst moment, whether they have already paid the price for their mistake or not, can be the first thing Google users learn about them. Depending on the severity of the information, this malicious content has the potential to destroy lives.

The new legislation puts greater pressure on search engines to consider what is in the public interest, and what is simply malicious or unjust. Google’s ‘Search removal request’ form, which can be viewed here, states that the company will also consider how outdated the search results are. Although the request to be forgotten ruling doesn’t mean that defamatory information will be removed from the internet – search engines only have the power to take them off their results page – it is still a step in the right direction. The decision, which could help make the internet a much more ethical place, is a landmark ruling for the case of privacy.

Tony Blair: False information and war

Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and ‘Middle East Peace Envoy’, has urged the government to take action in Iraq or face terror attacks on British soil. These comments sound strikingly familiar as the legacy of 2003’s invasion is highlighted by mass-killing in the Middle East. Indeed, the former PM sent tens of thousands of British troops to Iraq while warning the UK about weapons of mass destruction. However, Blair rejects claims that he is partly responsible for the current destruction taking place in Iraq and the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands of humans.

“We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that ‘we’ have caused this. We haven’t. We can argue as to whether our policies at points have helped or not: and whether action or inaction is the best policy. But the fundamental cause of the crisis lies within the region not outside it,” writes Blair in a recent essay.

Blair is correct in saying that issues within Iraq – such as religious extremism – have fuelled the carnage, but didn’t he have a role in lighting the match?
Blair took the UK to war, following the lead of the Bush Administration, on the account of Saddam Hussein’s alleged ability to launch weapons of mass destruction (WMD) at 45 minutes notice and the links to terrorism. This has proven to be false, however, and it seems that the intelligence was either dangerously flawed or hugely exaggerated to gain public backing.

The French government didn’t believe it and President Jacques Chirac refused to back the UN because the US-UK claims of WMD weren’t backed up by a shred of evidence. Across 600 cities, almost 10 million people protested against the invasion on one single day. London was the one of these cities and Londoners, in general, have rejected the war which has led to the death of many British Soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Now as militants cause bloodshed across the fragile nation and there is a real risk of destabilising the whole middle east which will lead to more human suffering, Blair has called for a ‘selective use of air power’ while washing his hands of any responsibility. “Even if you had left Saddam in place in 2003, with the Arab revolutions in 2011, you would have still had a major problem in Iraq,” he said. “You can see what happens when you leave a dictator in place, as has happened with Assad now. The problems don’t go away,” continued Blair.

The former PM is probably right, the problems don’t go away. It is unlikely, however, that the problem would be a brutal sectarian war between Sunnis and Shias. The current events in Iraq raise the question of whether it is time for leaders like Blair to rethink our stance on intervention. Is it time to make a case for choosing between the more palatable of two problem situations, rather than always intervening with force?

Saddam Husain will rightly be remembered as a murderous war criminal. However, Iraq’s current crisis only highlights the fact that the country was more stable under his dictatorship than it is now. This alarming realisation demonstrates how the invasion of Iraq, based on false information, was a complete failure. Perhaps Blair should be pointing the UK away from another war. We still do not know the Blair’s agenda behind the war…but can we still trust him? Or is he simply a war criminal? If so, then why is he not being prosecuted for war crimes and only judged by history.