Boring and Sucks: A Review of Robert Pape’s ‘Pragmatic’ Humanitarian Interventionism

This piece began as a short paper submitted October 2016 for Professor Anjali Dayal’s undergraduate seminar at Fordham University called, “The Politics of Humanitarian Intervention.”

For decades Western policymakers and scholars of international politics have tried to articulate a specific set of standards to guide the practice of military intervention. Following World War II, the international community developed a theory that powerful states could intervene in weak states to prevent genocide. But as the 1990s witnessed several genocides answered by varying levels of Western intervention, those who wanted more intervention—“I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required,” Susan Rice remarked about the US response to the Rwandan genocide—developed the doctrine of “responsibility to protect” (R2P), which called for a more robust response to humanitarian crises in the form of military action.

To determine which humanitarian crises justify international military intervention, noted terrorism scholar Robert A. Pape offers his own theory in an International Security article titled, “When Duty Calls,” as a better alternative to what he considers the overly restrictive genocide norm and the overly permissive R2P standard. Pape’s technocratically dubbed “pragmatic humanitarian intervention” standard has three requirements: a mass homicide campaign waged by the local government, a low-cost intervention plan, and an exit strategy that ensures “enduring security.”

At the outset, it is naïve to credit, as Pape does, an intervention or non-intervention to a state’s adherence to a neutral, non-ideological, apolitical set of standards. To claim, for example, that “a significant reason why the international community has consistently failed to stop genocides is the [genocide] norm itself” assumes that humanitarian intervention is void of politics—when in fact the very opposite is true (the whole “war is politics” thing).

But setting this larger critique aside for a moment, even a point-by-point response to Pape’s piece reveals the folly of his pragmatic humanitarian intervention (PHI) standard. Pape argues that the 2011 NATO air war in Libya met the requirements of PHI. In this short paper I argue that Libya did not, in fact, meet any of PHI’s three requirements­­­­ for intervention—a mass homicide campaign, a low-cost intervention plan, and an enduring security strategy. Therefore, if Pape thinks Libya fits the PHI standard, then PHI doesn’t work as a standard of intervention for the same reasons that he dismisses the genocide and R2P norms.

Mass homicide campaign

It’s not clear that Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime met Pape’s first requirement that a local government has crossed the mass homicide threshold “when it has killed several thousand of its citizens (i.e., 2,000 to 5,000…)… and it is likely to kill many times that number (i.e., 20,000 to 50,000) in the near future.” Beside the fact that death tolls are notoriously difficult to accurately track as the war in Syria has shown, before NATO’s intervention in Libya (which began on March 19), the death toll was somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000—notably lower than what Pape’s standard calls for.

On March 17 the UN Security Council authorized intervening nations to use “all necessary measures,” including the creation of a no-fly zone but excluding a “foreign occupation force,” to protect civilians on the basis that Qaddafi was about to show “no mercy and no pity” in an allegedly imminent slaughter of the rebel-based city of Benghazi. A week after the intervention began, Obama echoed the Rwanda syndrome: “We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi—a city nearly the size of Charlotte—could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.” Failure to intervene would have been “extremely chilling, deadly and indeed a stain on our collective conscience,” humanitarian crusader Samantha Power, who was on Obama’s National Security Council at the time, moralized. One of her aides warned her not to let Libya become “Obama’s Rwanda.”

To satisfy PHI’s requirement of an impending mass homicide campaign, Pape drinks the Kool-Aid, uncritically citing these and other US government officials. “According to Obama administration sources, about 100,000 would likely die without international intervention,” he writes.

But as several observers pointed out at the time, the likelihood of a Benghazi slaughter was not so cut and dry. “[T]here is in fact no evidence… to suggest [Qaddafi] had either the capability or even the intention to carry out such an atrocity against an armed city of 700,000,” Guardian columnist Seumas Milne wrote. “Obama has treated the evidence about Gadhafi as too obvious to dispute… Absent specific, reliable evidence, we have to wonder if the president succumbed to unwarranted panic over fictitious dangers,” Chicago Tribune columnist Steven Chapman argued. Alan Kuperman, professor at the University of Texas, also expressed skepticism. “Gadhafi directed this [‘no mercy’] threat only at rebels to persuade them to flee. Despite ubiquitous cellphone cameras, there are no images of genocidal violence, a claim that smacks of rebel propaganda. Indeed, Libya’s rebels started the war knowing that they could not win on their own, and that their attacks would provoke harm against civilians, aiming to draw in outside support—and it worked,” he wrote. Former National Security Council staffer Paul Miller put it more bluntly: “Libya is not Rwanda.”

The lack of evidence of a civilian slaughter suggests that it was not sufficiently likely that Qaddafi—who emerged in international politics as the “mad dog of the Middle East” and later became the “American-approved counterexample to Saddam Hussein” following the latter’s U.S. imposed removal in 2003 and by 2008 “a strong partner in the war against terrorism”—would have killed “many times” the number already killed, as Pape’s PHI standard requires. Thus, if Pape thinks Libya meets the PHI standard, then PHI’s bar for intervention is too low, allowing for too many interventions—exactly the critique Pape makes of R2P.

Low-cost intervention plan

NATO’s intervention in Libya did not meet Pape’s second requirement—that “the cost in lives according to reasonable estimates approaches the risks of complex peacetime and training operations and so is effectively near zero.” According to Human Rights Watch—whose top officials, it’s worth noting, cheered on the intervention­­—NATO airstrikes killed at least 72 civilians. In all eight airstrikes that killed these 72 people, HRW reported that there was “no indication of nearby military activity.” Other estimates put the civilian death toll much higher.

Enduring security strategy

Pape’s weakest argument in support of Libya as a PHI-approved intervention is his claim that it met PHI’s third requirement that an intervention have an exit strategy for enduring security. Describing the requirements for enduring security, Pape acknowledges that “foreign-imposed regime change… is rarely the best option” because it likely “create[s] a power vacuum, unleashing local rivalries and leading to intense conflict” and “provoke[s] significant internal resistance.” He asserts on four occasions within three consecutive paragraphs that the West was not engaged in a regime change operation:

From the beginning, the United States and the international coalition against Qaddafi disavowed regime change, invasion, or seizure of Libyan oil. Instead, they focused on providing major Libyan rebel areas the wherewithal to become militarily and economically self-reliant, so that Libyans and not foreign powers would decide Qaddafi’s fate…

There is little evidence… of the kind of large-scale, dedicated efforts at imposing regime change, independent of rebel efforts, that the United States has waged historically…

[A]t no point was there a comprehensive, systematic effort to decapitate the Libyan regime…

When compared to past concentrated U.S. efforts, the intervention in Libya did not constitute a serious program of foreign-imposed regime change.

That the Libya intervention was not a regime change operation is patently false. As is the case for many American interventions—take, for example, Iraq in 2003 or Panama in 1989—Obama administration officials offered several competing, evolving justifications. Although some explicitly denounced regime change at the outset of the intervention in March, what began as a mere civilian protection operation quickly ballooned into intervention in the country’s civil war in the form of large-scale support for the rebels in an effort to overthrow Qaddafi. Armed American drones were bombing Qaddafi’s strongholds throughout the spring, summer and fall, totaling at least 145 drone strikes. After rebels captured the capitol of Tripoli in late August with the help of U.S. drones, the pace of strikes escalated in the hunt for Qaddafi. Indeed, the strike in late October that led to Qaddafi’s capture, gang rape, and death at the hands of rebels was an American one. Astute observer Micah Zenko, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, even called the initial civilian protection justification “scarcely believable”:

Given that decapitation strikes against Qaddafi were employed early and often, there almost certainly was a decision by the civilian heads of government of the NATO coalition to ‘take him out’ from the very beginning of the intervention…

In truth, the Libyan intervention was about regime change from the very start. The threat posed by the Libyan regime’s military and paramilitary forces to civilian-populated areas was diminished by NATO airstrikes and rebel ground movements within the first 10 days…

The intervention in Libya shows that the slippery slope of allegedly limited interventions is most steep when there’s a significant gap between what policymakers say their objectives are and the orders they issue for the battlefield.

But in Pape’s lawyerly parsing of events, dropping bombs on a dictator does not constitute regime change as long as a rebel coalition is also fighting to oust him—in other words, regime change by proxy is somehow not regime change. To argue that the United States simply provided rebels “the wherewithal to become militarily and economically self-reliant, so that Libyans and not foreign powers would decide Qaddafi’s fate” removes American agency in Qaddafi’s overthrow. Could the rebels have toppled Qaddafi without American air support? Likely not. Pape’s erasure of American influence is reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s—who pushed hard for the intervention as secretary of state—psychopathic cheer, “We came, we saw, he died.” Perhaps a more accurate description of events would have attributed more agency to the US government: “We came, we bombed, he died.” Even “[w]hen compared to past concentrated U.S. efforts,” Pape is still wrong. As journalist Rania Khalek recently pointed out, all regime change efforts don’t always look the same. Regime change in Libya looked less like Bush’s overthrow of Saddam and more like a Reagan-style dirty war. But it was still regime change. Historians will discuss it as such.

What’s more, Pape acknowledges that “[s]aving the lives of people in immediate danger would make little moral sense if the long-term consequence was to create a situation of open-ended, ungovernable chaos resulting in the deaths of these, and perhaps more, people.” Applying this standard to Libya, he writes, “Although the road to long-term security and stability in Libya is uncertain, the available evidence suggests that the country is not descending into the kind of chaos and violence that would fundamentally undermine the goals of the intervention.” It’s important to note here that Pape’s article was published in the summer of 2012, less than a year after Qaddafi’s death. In this context, upholding the “success in Libya”—while simultaneously admitting that “the road to long-term security and stability in Libya is uncertain”—as a model intervention for the workability of a new intervention standard should prompt immediate skepticism of the standard.

Time has rendered Pape’s standard ineffective. Since 2011 Libya has turned into precisely what Pape warns against: a failed state wrought with chaos, instability, competing governments, and violent jihadism—in other words, justification for further intervention. In a bit of historical irony, the United States has begun to “seize on the effects of its own bombing campaign in Libya to justify an entirely new bombing campaign in that same country,” journalist Glenn Greenwald writes. Since August 2016 the U.S. has been bombing the Islamic State in Libya, which has seized on the power vacuum and rampant instability created by the very intervention that, in Pape’s view, had established “enduring security.” This Kissingerian denial of history among interventionists is alarming, as the conditions created by American interventions are used over and over again by policymakers to justify further intervention.

In Britain, the Libya intervention directly produced blowback. As Max Blumenthal reported, the guy who bombed the Ariana Grande concert in May 2017 came from an anti-Qaddafi family funded by the U.K. government in 2011.

***

Pape critiques the genocide standard for intervention on the grounds that it “does not sufficiently address the question of the long-term political consequences of humanitarian intervention.” Similarly, he lambasts the R2P standard because it makes humanitarian intervention “indistinguishable from foreign-imposed regime change.” But as we see in the Libya case, Pape’s standard fails on these two points, as well. Despite Pape’s technocratic effort to create a better standard of intervention under the guise of “pragmatic” objectivity, his embrace of the Libya war shows that his standard fails to produce policy that improves the conditions of people on the ground.

The Much-Welcomed Decline of the Two-State Solution

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Taken at face value, President Trump’s nonsensical declaration of his IDGAF position on a solution to Israeli apartheid –– “I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.” –– seemed to signal a slight departure from more than 20 years of U.S. support for the politically acceptable two-state solution.

After the 1993 Oslo Accords made the two-state solution popular, Bill Clinton became the first president to endorse it in January 2001. George W. Bush then made it official U.S. policy, where it remained until Trump’s press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday.

Corporate media reacted with deep concern. Both the New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards used the word “dangerous” to describe Trump’s shift away from what the former called “the only just answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

“There is no conceivable one-state solution that both parties will like,” the Times asserted. “The likeliest outcome, given the growth rate of the Arab population, is that Israel would be confronted with a miserable choice: to give up being a Jewish state — or to give up being a democratic state by denying full voting rights to Palestinians.”

The Post made the same point: “there is no workable one-state formula under which Israel would remain both a Jewish state and democratic.”

These rebukes to Trump’s statement sound exactly like what John Kerry said in his final speech as Obama’s secretary of state in December. After delivering perhaps the strongest criticism of Israeli settlements by any U.S. official, he affirmed U.S. support for a two-state solution: “The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Explaining his rationale, Kerry said, “here is a fundamental reality: if the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or Democratic, it cannot be both. And it won’t ever really be at peace.”

But rather than an argument for a two-state solution, this point should be viewed as an argument against it. In fact, this oft-repeated argument is the two-state solution’s death knell or, as Ali Abunimah put it, its “eulogy.”

When the New York Times, Washington Post and John Kerry describe what Israel “giving up” being a democracy looks like — “denying full voting rights to Palestinians,” as NYT put it; or, “Most Israelis who favor [one state] imagine an apartheid-like system in which Palestinians would live in areas with local autonomy but without either sovereignty or the same democratic rights as Jews,” in the words of the Post; or, “If there is only one state, you would have millions of Palestinians permanently living in segregated enclaves in the middle of the West Bank, with no real political rights, separate legal, education and transportation systems, vast income disparities, under a permanent military occupation that deprives of them of the most basic freedoms. Separate and unequal is what you would have,” as Kerry put it –– what they’re actually describing is the current reality for Palestinians. If Israel were to “give up” being a democratic state after implementation of a one-state solution, it would look no different than it does now.

The conception of a two-state solution, as the Times, Post and Kerry see it, would “cosmetically repackage this injustice as Palestinian ‘independence,’ without fundamentally altering it,” Abunimah wrote. “What [Kerry] offers Palestinians is a demilitarized bantustan with the singular purpose of preserving an all-powerful Israel as a racist state with a permanent Jewish majority.” In other words, a two-state solution would not solve the problem of apartheid. It would also allow the racism inherent to Israel as a Jewish state to persist.

Without doing so explicitly, the argument made by the Times, Post and John Kerry acknowledges that Israel, under a one-state solution, would be morally indefensible as a Jewish state. The only realistic solution, therefore, is one state with equal rights for all.

*****

It’s worth noting that Trump’s lack of explicit support for a two-state solution in the press conference yesterday does not mean the United States has all of a sudden abandoned support for it. In fact, today Trump’s team has already began to clarify or walk back Trump’s comments during the press conference, affirming U.S. support for a two-state solution.

“We absolutely support a two-state solution,” Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said.

The two state-solution is the “best possibility for peace in the region,” said David Friedman, Trump’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Israel.

 

 

Less Than a Week in Office, Trump May Erase Obama’s Real “Progress” in War on Terror

Today, New York Times journalist Charlie Savage published a three-page draft of an executive order that President Trump is preparing to sign. In short, the draft order would undo many of the actual reforms to the war on terror implemented by the Obama administration. (I say “actual” because many national security observers give Obama too much credit and ignore the fact that he, as a former constitutional law professor and Democrat, institutionalized the global war on terror, making the US’s perpetual war footing much more difficult to end.)

Trump’s draft order, if signed, would:

  • revoke Executive Order 13491 (January 22, 2009), which ended the Bush’s administration’s practice of torture, subjected interrogation methods to the rules outlined in the Army Field Manual, ordered the closure of the CIA’s notorious “black sites” where countless individuals were tortured and deprived of basic rights, and granted the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all detainees;
  • revoke Executive Order 13492 (January 22, 2009), which ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay (and served as the Obama administration’s source for not sending any new detainees to the facility in Cuba) and ordered a status review of all Guantanamo detainees;
  • consider the conditions at Guantanamo Bay to be “legal, safe, and humane” and “consistent with international conventions regarding the laws of war”;
  • declare that Guantanamo Bay is “in the interests of the United States… as a critical tool in the fight against international jihadist terrorist radical Islamic groups”;
  • affirm the Bush-Obama doctrine that the United States is engaged in a borderless war with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, “associated forces,” and “those who fight on behalf of or provide substantial support [an Obama term; emphasis mine] to or harbor such groups”;
  • embrace the “enemy combatant” term created by Bush’s lawyers (and abandoned by Obama’s) to justify indefinite detention;
  • allow the US government to send “newly captured alien enemy combatants” to Guantanamo;
  • suspend any existing efforts to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo until the Trump administration conducts its own review to determine if the transfers are “in the national security interests of the United States”;
  • review the interrogation procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual and authorize Secretary of Defense James Mattis to modify and add to these stipulations;
  • allow CIA to reopen its notorious “black sites” where countless individuals were tortured and deprived of basic rights;
  • resurrect Executive Order 13440 (July 20, 2007), which allowed CIA to resume some of its torture methods not specifically listed as legitimate war crimes after a 2006 Supreme Court case made CIA torturers eligible for war crime prosecutions and thus temporarily put the program on hiatus;
  • consider preferring the use of military commissions to civilian courts in terrorism cases; and
  • make the Trump administration’s chosen term for the global war on terror the “fight against radical Islamism.”

Whether or not all of these policy pledges will turn into actual policy is to be determined. But what’s significant in the draft order – what the draft order reveals – is Trump’s more-than-rhetorical willingness to resurrect some of the most egregious policies of the Bush administration, only some of which Obama did away with, to his credit. 

Senator Chris Murphy is not the ‘Elizabeth Warren of foreign policy’

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Reposted at The Huffington Post.

On Thursday afternoon the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law hosted Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) for a discussion about U.S. foreign policy.

During the Q&A, I asked (broadcasted on Periscope) Murphy – who self-describes as a progressive on foreign policy and whom Buzzfeed called the “Elizabeth Warren of foreign policy” – why he voted in May 2014 to confirm David Barron to the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals. Barron, as acting head of the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, wrote the legal memo that justified the extrajudicial drone killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki (and his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman) in Yemen in 2011.

“I don’t hold any judge to one decision,” Murphy said. “That’s a judge that had a long history of other decisions that were a pretty good advertisement.”

Aside from the fact that Barron was not a judge who issued rulings as a judge before Murphy voted to confirm him to do such a thing, since Barron joined the First Circuit the panel has not made any major decisions on issues of national security or the war on terror that he has voted in.

The one questionable move by Barron – the subject of my question to the Senator – that doesn’t disqualify him from the likes of Sen. Murphy is quite a significant one: enshrining in law the presidential power to authorize the extrajudicial assassination of a U.S. citizen without trial. Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, called this legal memo “disturbing … ultimately an argument that the president can order targeted killings of Americans without ever having to account to anyone outside the executive branch.”

If, by “other decisions that were a pretty good advertisement,” Murphy meant legal positions Barron had taken prior to joining the Obama administration, Murphy isn’t particularly wrong. In a 2008 Harvard Law Review article, Barron urged executive branch lawyers to push back against the executive’s increasingly monopolistic power as commander-in-chief:

[E]xecutive branch actors, particularly those attorneys helping to assure that the President takes care the law is faithfully executed, should not abandon two hundred years of historical practice too hastily. At the very least, they should resist the urge to continue to press the new and troubling claim that the President is entitled to unfettered discretion in the conduct of war.

But by 2010, just two years later as a lawyer in the Obama administration, by drafting a legal memo that further legitimated the president’s sweeping powers, Barron had acted in direct contradiction to what he advocated lawyers do in his article. So for the sake of Barron’s credibility in the mind of Sen. Murphy, Barron’s poor actions in 2010 invalidated his noble stance in 2008. It’s a classic case of a government official’s actions not matching their words. What Murphy considers to be Barron’s “other decisions that were a pretty good advertisement” thus remains unclear.

In his answer to my question, Sen. Murphy continued, “I also will probably have an unsatisfactory position to you and to some others when it comes to some of the new tools at the president’s disposal to keep this country safe.

“I would argue that we should put in place a much more comprehensive and meaningful review process when it comes to our drone strikes. I think Congress has to get in the game here. Congress has to be involved in that oversight process, or we could consider setting up some judicial oversight process to authorize drone strikes. But what we’re doing now is unsatisfactory,” he said, stopping short of explicitly opposing presidential power to authorize the assassination of U.S. citizens or detailing what exactly about drone program he finds “unsatisfactory.”

He also told me, “I also am somebody who ultimately did vote for the renewed version of the Patriot Act. I think that there are ways that we made it exponentially better, but I don’t deny that it is important to give the administration some new tools with which to try to track terrorists down.”

Murphy didn’t specify what “new tools” the president should and shouldn’t have to “track terrorists down.” Was he referring to the government’s “death by metadata” program (officially known as Geo Cell) in which the NSA “geolocates” the SIM card associated with a suspected terrorist, enabling the CIA or military to launch a strike on the individual in possession of the device? If so, that doesn’t seem like a very “progressive” position. According to The Intercept:

One problem, [a former drone operator] explains, is that targets are increasingly aware of the NSA’s reliance on geolocating, and have moved to thwart the tactic. Some have as many as 16 different SIM cards associated with their identity within the High Value Target system. Others, unaware that their mobile phone is being targeted, lend their phone, with the SIM card in it, to friends, children, spouses and family members.

Some top Taliban leaders, knowing of the NSA’s targeting method, have purposely and randomly distributed SIM cards among their units in order to elude their trackers. “They would do things like go to meetings, take all their SIM cards out, put them in a bag, mix them up, and everybody gets a different SIM card when they leave,” the former drone operator says. “That’s how they confuse us.”

Was Murphy referring to the government’s dubious Terrorist Screening Database, nearly half of whose 680,000 people are not affiliated with any terrorist group? Or was he referring to the no-fly list, whose length Obama has increased ten-fold since taking office?

Murphy’s support for the renewed version of the Patriot Act, known as the USA Freedom Act, doesn’t put him in the progressive camp, either. He had a chance to join fellow senators, led by libertarian Rand Paul, who opposed the act on the grounds that it didn’t go far enough in restricting the NSA. That faction simply wanted Section 215 of the Patriot Act – the section that gives the government broad surveillance power – to sunset as scheduled.

Although Jaffer, the ACLU lawyer, called the USA Freedom Act a “milestone,” he also said, “The bill leaves many of the government’s most intrusive and overbroad surveillance powers untouched, and it makes only very modest adjustments to disclosure and transparency requirements.”

To his credit, in September Murphy spearheaded a bill (that failed to pass the Senate) to block a huge U.S. arms deal to Saudi Arabia in light of the Kingdom’s brutal war against Yemen. That’s what a progressive foreign policy position looks like.

While Sen. Murphy often lands to the left of the majority of Congress on foreign policy, it’s otherwise clear that if he wants the “progressive on foreign policy” label, he needs to reconsider his positions on several aspects of the war on terror.

Disclosure: This writer provides research assistance to the Center on National Security on a weekly basis.

Photo: Melanie Stengel/New Haven Register

At Company’s New York Office, Activists Protest Facebook’s Collaboration with Israel on Political Repression

Outside of Facebook’s office at 770 Broadway in New York on Friday afternoon, activists protested Facebook’s recent partnernership with the Israeli government to crack down on “incitements to violence.”

Despite the constant heavy rain, nearly two dozen protesters showed up to the event, organized by the Samidoun Palestinian Political Prisoner Solidarity Network and NYC Students for Justice in Palestine.

“We’re here today in solidarity with Palestinians who have been protesting Israel’s new agreement with Facebook, as well as its deletion of Palestinian content, which has been an ongoing problem for years,” Joe Catron, one of the event’s organizers, told me.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that Facebook and the Israeli government have teamed up to “tackle incitement” online “as the government pushes ahead with legislative steps meant to force social networks to rein in content that Israel says incites violence.”

As Alex Kane reported in The Intercept in June, Israel has been aggressively monitoring the content of Facebook posts by Palestinians. Human rights groups have documented that as many as 400 Palestinians have been arrested in the past year for the content of their social media posts. “This is a brutally effective form of censorship in the Middle East, where online communication is a popular organizing tool that’s generally seen as independent of government interference,” a Huffington Post reporter wrote.


The AP report prompted journalist Glenn Greenwald to ask, “Do you trust Facebook — or the Israeli government — to assess when a Palestinian’s post against Israeli occupation and aggression passes over into censorship-worthy ‘hate speech’ or ‘incitement’?” He also pointed out that “it’s actually very common for Israelis to use Facebook to urge violence against Palestinians“:

In 2014, thousands of Israelis used Facebook to post messages “calling for the murder of Palestinians.” When an IDF occupying soldier was arrested for shooting and killing a wounded Palestinian point blank in the head last year, IDF soldiers used Facebook to praise the killing and justify that violence, with online Israeli mobs gathering in support.

According to Israel’s Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked – who, ironically enough in a now-deleted genocidal Facebook post, called for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes” a day before six Israelis kidnapped and burned alive Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khudai – Facebook has granted 95 percent of Israel’s 158 requests to remove content in the last four months.

More than a week after the AP report, the Electronic Intifada reported that Facebook, undoubtedly a hugely influential force in journalism, had deleted the accounts of editors at two prominent Palestinian publications. “We believe this is the result of the agreement between Israel and Facebook. It is very strange that Facebook would take part in such an agreement, given that it is supposed to be a platform for free expression and journalism,” one of the newspapers said. The next day, Facebook admitted the editors’ accounts were deleted in error.

“Facebook is a private company, with a legal obligation to maximize profit, and so it will interpret very slippery concepts such as ‘hate speech’ and ‘inciting violence’ to please those who wield the greatest power,” Greenwald wrote.

The protest outside Facebook’s office lasted from 4 p.m. to about 6:30 p.m.

See my coverage of the protest on Periscope here


 

What type of investigation did the FBI conduct into Ahmad Khan Rahami?

As news breaks that Chelsea bomber Ahmad Khan Rahami’s father contacted the FBI two years ago to report that he feared his son was a “terrorist” (as did the father of the “underwear bomber” to the CIA), a slight discrepancy has surfaced between reports published by The New York Times and The Guardian. While the Times reports that the FBI conducted an “assessment” of Rahami after his father’s warning, The Guardian uses the phrase “preliminary investigation.”

Although The Guardian quotes the FBI as stating, “In August 2014, the FBI initiated an assessment of Ahmad Rahami” (emphasis added), the paper uses the term “preliminary investigation.”

The FBI conducted a preliminary investigation into Rahami after his father contacted them following a 2014 stabbing to express concerns that his son was a terrorist.

…The FBI did not clarify if it interviewed Rahami, who was captured in a shootout with police yesterday, in 2014, but confirmed it conducted a preliminary investigation.

The Times, however, consistently uses the word “assessment” throughout its story:

The information was passed to the Joint Terrorism Task Force led by F.B.I. in Newark. Officers opened what is known as an assessment, the most basic of F.B.I. investigations, and interviewed the father multiple times.

…The assessment of Mr. Rahami illustrates the challenges the F.B.I. faces as it solicits information from the public about people who might pose a threat and then must sort through what is credible, while balancing the need to protect the country without overstepping its authority.

…Like Mr. Rahami, one of the Boston bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was the subject of an assessment in 2011.

…While the federal assessment of Mr. Rahami was closed weeks after it began…

While this discrepancy between The New York Times and The Guardian may appear to the average reader as simply a difference in word choice, there’s actually a legal or operational difference between an FBI “assessment” and a “preliminary investigation.” According to the Times:

Depending on the intensity and urgency of an inquiry, there are three types of investigations the F.B.I. can undertake with varying levels of intrusive techniques.

The first is an assessment, in which agents use basic techniques like conducting interviews, talking to confidential informers, using physical surveillance and checking databases and public records.

Next come preliminary and full investigations, which can be initiated if agents believe a federal crime has been committed or there is a threat to national security. Those investigations can involve polygraphs, undercover agents and mail searches.

Both assessments and preliminary inquiries have time limits.

A full investigation has no such time limits, but does eventually require review and employs powerful electronic surveillance tools, requiring the approval of a court warrant. Among other things, it allows for the secret interception of international communications.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, a law and policy institute that closely monitors the FBI’s tactics, adds a fourth category:

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According to the FBI’s own Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG), assessments and preliminary investigations are indeed separate entities. The DIOG defines yet another category, “enterprise investigation,” which “may only be opened and operated as a Full Investigation and is subject to the same requirements that apply to a Full Investigation… although there are addition approval requirements that affect Enterprise Investigations.” An enterprise investigation can only be used on “the most serious criminal or national security threats.” Its purpose is to “examine the structure, scope, and nature of the group or organization.”

Unless The Guardian knows something I don’t, it’s likely that it simply didn’t consider the real differences between “assessment” and “preliminary investigation.” The distinction seems rather harmless, but nonetheless important to point out.

 

At RNC, Media Put a Happy Face on Suppression of Speech

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Originally published at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting.

News media could either be our ally or our enemy—we wanted them as an ally,” Laurie Pritchett said in a 1985 interview about his strategy as police chief in Albany, Georgia, during Martin Luther King, Jr.’s desegregation efforts in 1962.

Pritchett famously ordered his officers to enforce the city’s segregation laws nonviolently and arrest as few protesters as possible. He knew that if he had acted as other police departments had—like Bull Connor’s dogs and firehoses in Birmingham (1963) and Jim Clark’s Bloody Sunday in Selma (1965)—news media would show the country how brutally oppressive police were, inspiring greater public support for King’s cause. In short, he beat nonviolent protesters at their own game by exploiting the media.

At the Republican National Convention this past week, none of the fears about a violent disaster bore fruit. Journalists and private citizens who worried about Ohio’s open-carry gun policy and the recent increase in public tension between cops and protesters were relieved that the week passed without a single gunshot fired or tear gas canister thrown. Like Pritchett’s officers in Albany, police in Cleveland—whose department was found to have practiced a pattern of excessive force and civil rights violations in a Justice Department investigation—exercised restraint compared to how police have handled protests in Ferguson (military trucks, sound canons, tear gas, rubber bullets) and Baton Rouge (hundreds of arrests).

Just as Pritchett expected in 1962, media jumped to praise law enforcement. “Credit where it’s due: The police nailed it,” Vox staffer German Lopez (7/22/16) wrote. In a list that reads like a police officer’s handbook, he offered three detailed explanations for why the police “nailed it”:

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