Monday, December 29, 2014

The CIA: torture and the US

The US senate committee report was attacked by most Republicans as being politically motivated in the dying days of the Democrat controlled Senate.  An honourable exception was John McCain (again), almost unreported,  but I happened to catch him speaking (live on Al Jazeera English, 9.12, 17:30).

Leaving aside the debate over whether the methods used constituted torture or could be described as "extended interrogation techniques",  or EITs (they were torture - Geoff Dyer in the FT provides a useful summary (limited access)), the key question is whether the techniques were efficacious.  This matters because polls show that a majority in the US would support the use of these techniques,  provided they help prevent terrorist attacks.

John Brennan,  CIA director,  says it is "unknown and unknowable" whether the techniques can be shown to have provided useful and valuable information.  On the BBC WS, (Weekend, 13.12.2014, 08:06 +2:30) Philippe Sands says Brennan "confirms that he is unable to state categorically that the techniques produced information useful in the [..] war against terrorism", which Sands says supports the conclusion of the report (that the techniques were ineffective).  But it doesn't:  Brennan says that we cannot know whether the useful information given by detainees was as a result of the techniques being used on them.  Which is not the same thing.

Sands goes on to call for what amounts to a witch-hunt on any lawyer who gave advice that would have justified the techniques.

However,  the point that even if the techniques could be shown to work in the short term,  in preventing attacks,  this is outweighed by the immense damage to the US's reputation in the long term.

Also unanswerable is the point,  made by both Moazzam Begg and Clive Stafford Smith (*),  that the torture techniques provided incorrect information linking Saddam Hussein's Iraq with al Qaeda.

* AJE, 9.12 13:06; C4 News, 15.12 19:18.

Posted 29.12.2014

Update 29.12.2014.
Needless to say,  some of the reaction around the world has been of breathtaking hypocrisy

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Converting for ISIL ...

ISIL certainly seems to be attracting all sorts of nutcases and psychopaths to associate themselves with the group. That's a success of a sort, I suppose.  Most media (BBC, AJE) had extensive reports of the case of Man Haron Monis,  who killed 2 Australians in Sydney on Monday (early hours of Tuesday local time),  and mentioned that he was Iranian, but not what I was most interested in.

This from The Guardian:
As recently as last week on a website he used both to defend and promote himself, he announced that he had converted from Shia to Sunni Islam and pledged his allegiance to the caliphate declared by the militant group Islamic State [ISIL]. That website was shut down as Monday’s siege developed, and police asked media outlets to refrain from giving him a platform as he held 17 hostages in the Lindt cafe in Martin Place.
Sydney Shia leaders had apparently urged federal police to probe his claim to be a leading cleric, while he was ignored by the Sunni community. He had no links to the Islamic State terrorist group, and despite his criminal past was not seen as a likely exponent of the group’s ideology.
See also Jonathan Rugman's report on C4N (15/12).  According to C4N, Monis posted on his website:
 "I used to be a Rafidi, but not anymore. Now I am a Muslim, Alhamdu Lillah”

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tweeting for ISIL?

It was quite a shock to see Channel 4 News on Thursday (11/12),   with ‏@ShamiWitness emblazoned across the  background.  I'd come across this userid myself on Twitter.  A look through the archive shows the odd retweet, but mainly tweets he was mentioned in.

Aymenn J. Al-Tamimi, writing on Joshua Landis's Syria Comment blog, has a detailed analysis:

he emerged on the Twitter scene around the beginning of 2013. At that time, he would often try to engage certain, more prominent Twitter users on issues related to the Islamic world, myself among them. For instance, one of his first tweets to me was to criticise a rather inane tweet I had written on a ‘Bangladesh Spring’ victory over Islamists.
His perspective was clearly that of an Islamist but- undoubtedly through prior tracking of social media- he seemed to have a broad knowledge of Syria’s Sunni insurgency with a particular focus on Salafi and jihadi groups, something that extended to Libya in particular and the wider Muslim world [..]. Other indications of his Islamist leanings in those earlier times were his support for the Ikhwan-led government in Egypt [i.e. the Morsi / Muslim Brotherhood government ] - his main line of defence being that none of the Ikhwan’s opponents could necessarily do a better job at governance (not an unreasonable argument)- and his cheering on of Erdogan during the Gezi Park protests that erupted in May 2013. It was of course during this same period (i.e. April 2013 onwards) that IS’ predecessor the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) emerged: at that early stage of ISIS’ existence it would not necessarily be fair to characterize him as an ISIS partisan. On the contrary he was more keen on the notion of ‘Islamic rebel/jihadi unity’, so to speak: something that could include ISIS. In short, his worldview was of an Islamist who at least had hope in the gradualist non-violent Islamisation projects of Erdogan and the Ikhwan in Egypt while showing sympathy for jihadis more generally. [..]
Two events mark key points in Shami’s transformation from an apparently rather standard Islamist to the IS fanboy as so many have come to know him. [..] The first event was the coup against the Ikhwan-led government, which enraged him considerably. Yet even after this point, he had not yet become a full-blown ISIS partisan, but rather was still willing to give credence to forces like Jabhat al-Nusra (Syria’s al-Qa’ida affiliate) and the Islamic Front coalition, which contrasts him with other prominent hardline ISIS fans at the time  [..]. Thus, the second main turning point was the outbreak of infighting between ISIS and rebel groups at the start of 2014. This completes his definite public transformation into the ISIS/IS fanboy. It is also this stage, it should be noted, where many of the other pro-jihadi Twitter users take more definite sides in contrast to a previous attempt at jihadi brotherology.
This is worth reading in full.

The Times,   on Saturday, described ShamiWitness as an "Isis spokesman" and got the timing slightly wrong: it says the unmasking was "last night";  in fact, the original story was run on C4N, Thursday (19:00),  with a followup on Friday (19:07).

Posted 16.12.2014

Update: 16.12.
Simon Israel's latest piece for C4N,  Sunday (14/12), can be found here