German Neo-Nazis Rally Again in Chemnitz, This Time Without Hitler Salutes or Mob Violence

For a third night this week, far-right protesters vented their rage at the killing of a German man during a fight with immigrants from Iraq and Syria in the eastern German city of Chemnitz. On Thursday evening however, the crowd of about 900 anti-immigrant, German nationalists chanted slogans but refrained from the violent attacks on foreigners and Hitler salutes witnessed during rioting on Sunday and Monday.

As the German journalist Felix Huesmann reported, organizers from the far-right group Pro-Chemnitz urged the protesters not to make what they described as “nice greetings with the right arm extended towards Heaven,” so that there would be “no bad pictures” for journalists derided as “the Lying Press” to publish.

Many of the Chemnitz residents who attended a nearby meeting with the leader of the regional government, Michael Kretschmer, also blamed the media for the viral images of mayhem and neo-Nazi violence in the city earlier in the week, according to Benjamin Konietzny of the German broadcaster NTV.

The most alarming of those images showed marauding white supremacists chasing people with dark skin, interrupting national news broadcasts with the banned Nazi salute and chanting neo-Nazi slogans like “Free, social and national: National Socialism now,” and “Adolf Hitler hooligans.”

While the far-right protest on Monday was described as a “vigil” for the dead man, there was plenty of visual evidence that it was far from reverent in tone.

At least some of the protesters appear to have been enraged by viral rumors, spread on Facebook and WhatsApp, that turned out to be untrue. The authorities have said that there is no evidence that the German-born man, whose father was Cuban, had been defending a woman from sexual harassment. That false claim had prompted protesters to hold up images of women who had been battered, supposedly by immigrants to Germany. As The Associated Press reported, however, “the women pictured were actually victims of unrelated violent crimes, in other countries.”

Konietzny also reported that Kretschmer, a member of Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, was loudly booed for saying that he welcomed plans for a concert next week against the far-right headlined by a Chemnitz band, Kraftklub, under the slogan “We Are More.”

That slogan is a reply to the chant, “We Are the People” (“Wir sind das Volk” in German), which has been appropriated by the anti-immigrant nationalists but was first used in protests against the East Germany’s communist government in 1989.

The concert is scheduled to take place on Monday at the city’s monument to Karl Marx, where neo-Nazis rallied this week under the banner “Foreigners Out!” and were filmed giving the illegal Hitler salute to the police, without being stopped.

While Germany’s elected leaders, led by Merkel, have denounced the racist violence, the loyalty of the police was called into question after officers seemed unable or unwilling to contain the extreme nationalist rioters in Chemnitz. Those fears intensified after the leak of an arrest warrant for one of the refugees suspected in the fatal stabbing of 35-year-old Daniel Hillig, the son of a German mother and a Cuban father, whose death on Sunday sparked the anti-immigrant riots.

The warrant was published online by Lutz Bachmann, a founder of Pegida, an anti-immigrant group whose name is the German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West. The German state of Saxony announced on Thursday that an employee of the local prison service had been suspended as the result of a leak investigation, which could mean that the document, with the full name and address of the suspect, was not provided to the far-right by the police.

The tension on the streets in Chemnitz comes after another incident in the region which drew attention to the fact that some members of the nation’s police services are far-right sympathizers. Two weeks ago, the police detained a television crew from the public broadcaster ZDF that was covering a Pegida protest in Dresden after a member of the anti-immigrant group complained to officers that he had been harassed by the journalists.

It later emerged that the man, who was filmed berating the reporters, was both a member of Pegida and of the Saxony police force.

The officer’s dual membership in the far-right group and the police force led to the viral hashtag #Pegizei — a mash up of Pegida and the German word for police, Polizei.

The authorities announced on Thursday that the man would be given a different job, “outside of the Saxon Police force.”

While the open display of extreme nationalism in Germany has obvious historical resonance, a recent German television report underscored how similar their ethnic nationalist ideology is to that of the American neo-Nazis Donald Trump has described as “very fine people.”

Saxony’s police force and local government is braced for more potential violence this weekend, when a larger rally is planned for Chemnitz, led by Pegida and the far-right party Alternative for Germany — known by its German initials AfD. Although the new U.S. ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell, has promised to use his office to help far-right nationalists inspired by Donald Trump take power across Europe, it is not clear whether that offer of assistance extends the AfD, which has openly flirted with violence.

After the fatal stabbing of the German-Cuban man in Chemnitz this week, an AfD member of parliament, Markus Frohnmaier, took a page from Trump’s playbook by posting an incendiary tweet, which read: “If the state cannot protect its citizens, people will take to the streets and do it themselves. Simple! It is now a civic duty to stop deadly ‘knife migration.’ It could have been your father, son or brother!”

As hundreds of far-right protesters rallied in Chemnitz on Thursday night, thousands of anti-fascists assembled in Berlin to chant slogans that would resonate in the United States as well.

The post German Neo-Nazis Rally Again in Chemnitz, This Time Without Hitler Salutes or Mob Violence appeared first on The Intercept.

German Neo-Nazis Rally Again in Chemnitz, This Time Without Hitler Salutes or Mob Violence

For a third night this week, far-right protesters vented their rage at the killing of a German man during a fight with immigrants from Iraq and Syria in the eastern German city of Chemnitz. On Thursday evening however, the crowd of about 900 anti-immigrant, German nationalists chanted slogans but refrained from the violent attacks on foreigners and Hitler salutes witnessed during rioting on Sunday and Monday.

As the German journalist Felix Huesmann reported, organizers from the far-right group Pro-Chemnitz urged the protesters not to make what they described as “nice greetings with the right arm extended towards Heaven,” so that there would be “no bad pictures” for journalists derided as “the Lying Press” to publish.

Many of the Chemnitz residents who attended a nearby meeting with the leader of the regional government, Michael Kretschmer, also blamed the media for the viral images of mayhem and neo-Nazi violence in the city earlier in the week, according to Benjamin Konietzny of the German broadcaster NTV.

The most alarming of those images showed marauding white supremacists chasing people with dark skin, interrupting national news broadcasts with the banned Nazi salute and chanting neo-Nazi slogans like “Free, social and national: National Socialism now,” and “Adolf Hitler hooligans.”

While the far-right protest on Monday was described as a “vigil” for the dead man, there was plenty of visual evidence that it was far from reverent in tone.

At least some of the protesters appear to have been enraged by viral rumors, spread on Facebook and WhatsApp, that turned out to be untrue. The authorities have said that there is no evidence that the German-born man, whose father was Cuban, had been defending a woman from sexual harassment. That false claim had prompted protesters to hold up images of women who had been battered, supposedly by immigrants to Germany. As The Associated Press reported, however, “the women pictured were actually victims of unrelated violent crimes, in other countries.”

Konietzny also reported that Kretschmer, a member of Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, was loudly booed for saying that he welcomed plans for a concert next week against the far-right headlined by a Chemnitz band, Kraftklub, under the slogan “We Are More.”

That slogan is a reply to the chant, “We Are the People” (“Wir sind das Volk” in German), which has been appropriated by the anti-immigrant nationalists but was first used in protests against the East Germany’s communist government in 1989.

The concert is scheduled to take place on Monday at the city’s monument to Karl Marx, where neo-Nazis rallied this week under the banner “Foreigners Out!” and were filmed giving the illegal Hitler salute to the police, without being stopped.

While Germany’s elected leaders, led by Merkel, have denounced the racist violence, the loyalty of the police was called into question after officers seemed unable or unwilling to contain the extreme nationalist rioters in Chemnitz. Those fears intensified after the leak of an arrest warrant for one of the refugees suspected in the fatal stabbing of 35-year-old Daniel Hillig, the son of a German mother and a Cuban father, whose death on Sunday sparked the anti-immigrant riots.

The warrant was published online by Lutz Bachmann, a founder of Pegida, an anti-immigrant group whose name is the German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West. The German state of Saxony announced on Thursday that an employee of the local prison service had been suspended as the result of a leak investigation, which could mean that the document, with the full name and address of the suspect, was not provided to the far-right by the police.

The tension on the streets in Chemnitz comes after another incident in the region which drew attention to the fact that some members of the nation’s police services are far-right sympathizers. Two weeks ago, the police detained a television crew from the public broadcaster ZDF that was covering a Pegida protest in Dresden after a member of the anti-immigrant group complained to officers that he had been harassed by the journalists.

It later emerged that the man, who was filmed berating the reporters, was both a member of Pegida and of the Saxony police force.

The officer’s dual membership in the far-right group and the police force led to the viral hashtag #Pegizei — a mash up of Pegida and the German word for police, Polizei.

The authorities announced on Thursday that the man would be given a different job, “outside of the Saxon Police force.”

While the open display of extreme nationalism in Germany has obvious historical resonance, a recent German television report underscored how similar their ethnic nationalist ideology is to that of the American neo-Nazis Donald Trump has described as “very fine people.”

Saxony’s police force and local government is braced for more potential violence this weekend, when a larger rally is planned for Chemnitz, led by Pegida and the far-right party Alternative for Germany — known by its German initials AfD. Although the new U.S. ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell, has promised to use his office to help far-right nationalists inspired by Donald Trump take power across Europe, it is not clear whether that offer of assistance extends the AfD, which has openly flirted with violence.

After the fatal stabbing of the German-Cuban man in Chemnitz this week, an AfD member of parliament, Markus Frohnmaier, took a page from Trump’s playbook by posting an incendiary tweet, which read: “If the state cannot protect its citizens, people will take to the streets and do it themselves. Simple! It is now a civic duty to stop deadly ‘knife migration.’ It could have been your father, son or brother!”

As hundreds of far-right protesters rallied in Chemnitz on Thursday night, thousands of anti-fascists assembled in Berlin to chant slogans that would resonate in the United States as well.

The post German Neo-Nazis Rally Again in Chemnitz, This Time Without Hitler Salutes or Mob Violence appeared first on The Intercept.

Even Israeli Officials Are Warning That Trump’s Moves Against Palestinians May Backfire

Jared Kushner has yet to formally unveil his highly touted peace plan for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. But in the past weeks and months, its outlines have become increasingly clear. Recent moves by the United States to recognize Israel’s capital in Jerusalem and deprive Palestinians of refugee status have taken key issues off the table before any future peace negotiation even begins. The Trump administration has announced a steady stream of cuts in aid for Palestinians, including reported plans to stop all funding for the United National Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the agency which provides healthcare and schooling for Palestinian refugees, as well as cutting $200 million in economic aid to the West Bank and Gaza. These moves are helping clarify the Trump administration’s strategy for getting to peace in the region: imposing maximum pain on the Palestinians as a means of bullying them into submission. 

But this strategy may backfire, including against a Netanyahu government that has enthusiastically supported Trump’s get-tough approach. Even former Israeli military officials have begun raising the alarm that the Trump administration’s punitive actions against the Palestinians, rather than bringing peace, are leading the region toward a new era of conflict. In an article this week in Ha’aretz, former Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson Peter Lerner criticized the administration’s attempts to “blackmail” the Palestinians, stating that such a strategy would lead to a power vacuum in the West Bank, warning that “hardballing the Palestinian into submission is likely to blow up on Israel’s doorstep.” Lerner’s warning echoes previous reports from Israeli military officials that funding cuts are likely to lead to a humanitarian crisis and further unrest in the occupied territories.

The Trump administration’s unapologetically anti-Palestinian posture, famously symbolized this May by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley walking out of a U.N. Security Council meeting to avoid even hearing a speech by the Palestinian envoy, is in many ways something new in the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict. While the United States has never been seen as a neutral arbiter on the conflict — famously characterized as “Israel’s lawyer” even by U.S. officials who have taken part in negotiations — the Trump administration’s actions have risen to a new level of overt hostility to Palestinian claims. Going back to the administrations of Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman, successive U.S. presidents have shown a willingness to downplay the right of self-determination for the Arab people living in Palestine, while supporting Israeli expansion.

But experts say that even weighed against this shabby historical standard, the Trump administration’s approach is unique for its single-minded focus on satisfying short-term Israeli goals and political constituencies in the U.S., even at the cost of U.S. interests.

“Past U.S. administrations were also slanted toward the Israelis, but what’s different today is that the usual mitigating factors in decision-making, such as American national security interests and the desire to at least appear even-handed, no longer seem to be present,” says Khaled Elgindy, a fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute. “Instead we have domestic politics and ideology in their purest form dictating U.S. policy on this issue.” 

A number of high-ranking U.S. officials have strong ideological ties to the Israeli right, including U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, who has been personally involved in the funding of West Bank settlements and whose appointment was even opposed by hundreds of U.S. rabbis in a public petition. Under Friedman, Kushner, and Trump adviser Jason Greenblatt, the administration has charged ahead with provocative actions like cutting critical aid for organizations working in Gaza and the West Bank, despite warnings even from pro-Israel organizations that these actions are setting the stage for unrest.

“Even Israeli military officials have weighed in against cutting aid to UNRWA, because they know that there are security implications on the ground to such a decision,” says Elgindy. “But this doesn’t seem to be a factor in the Trump administration’s thinking.”

Despite helping champion this effort to make life worse for the Palestinian people, Kushner has also, somewhat incongruously, held himself out to them as a peacemaker. In an interview published in Arabic with a Palestinian newspaper in June, Kushner claimed that “the prospects for peace are very much alive.” He also claimed that Palestinian leaders were refusing to negotiate with him due to the fear that “we will release our peace plan and the Palestinian people will actually like it because it will lead to new opportunities for them to have a much better life.”

In recent months, White House officials have suggested that they have plans to boost economic activity in the occupied territories as a means of helping woo ordinary Palestinians and hopefully reconciling them to the continued denial of their political rights and the loss of key interests like a capital in East Jerusalem and the return of refugees. This idea of an “economic peace” has long been promoted by Israeli officials as a way of sidestepping thornier political questions. Israel’s warming relationships with the Gulf Arab monarchies have also boosted the prospects for such an approach being tried, with states like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia reported as potentially bankrolling investments in the occupied territories.

But experts with experience in past negotiations between Israelis and the Palestinians say that, despite the hopes of Kushner and the Gulf Arab leaders, such a plan is unlikely to bear fruit.

“The idea behind an ‘economic peace’ is that if you keep people economically satisfied, they won’t demand their political rights,” says Diana Buttu, a political analyst based in Ramallah and former legal adviser to the Palestinian side during the Oslo peace process. “Such an idea is not going to work because this conflict is fundamentally about politics and human rights, not economics.” 

Buttu adds that the Trump administration’s approach of favoring Israel while bullying the Palestinians into submission may achieve the short-term goal of pleasing the president’s supporters among Christian evangelicals and donors like Sheldon Adelson, but it is unlikely to win Palestinians cooperation with any peace plan. Such an approach may indeed backfire on the Israeli government in the long-term. Faced with a hostile U.S. administration, intransigent Israeli leadership and feckless local government in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians may end up bypassing their own ineffectual leaders and fighting to achieve their rights directly. Grassroots movements like the Great Return March in Gaza, and protests in villages like Nabi Saleh, have suggested that the weakening of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, along with the likely death of the two-state solution, may already be giving rise to new citizen-led movements engaged in direct action against the occupation.

“Palestinians have weathered a lot, but what they are feeling now is that their leadership is incapable of defending them from the Trumps of the world,” Buttu says. If such a dynamic accelerates, it could create a serious dilemma for the Israeli government. “If you looked at South Africa during in 1984, during what seemed like the worst of apartheid, no one would’ve thought that within 10 years that the country would have a black president and that it would be Mandela of all people.”

Butto added, “Things can change just like that.”

Top photo: Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner speaks onstage during the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018, in Jerusalem, Israel.

The post Even Israeli Officials Are Warning That Trump’s Moves Against Palestinians May Backfire appeared first on The Intercept.

World’s Leading Human Rights Groups Tell Google to Cancel Its China Censorship Plan

Leading human rights groups are calling on Google to cancel its plan to launch a censored version of its search engine in China, which they said would violate the freedom of expression and privacy rights of millions of internet users in the country.

A coalition of 14 organizations — including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, Access Now, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, PEN International, and Human Rights in China — issued the demand Tuesday in an open letter addressed to the internet giant’s CEO, Sundar Pichai. The groups said the censored search engine represents “an alarming capitulation by Google on human rights” and could result in the company “directly contributing to, or [becoming] complicit in, human rights violations.”

The letter is the latest major development in an ongoing backlash over the censored search platform, code-named Dragonfly, which was first revealed by The Intercept earlier this month. The censored search engine would remove content that China’s ruling Communist Party regime views as sensitive, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest. It would “blacklist sensitive queries” so that “no results will be shown” at all when people enter certain words or phrases, according to confidential Google documents.

Google launched a censored search engine in China in 2006, but ceased operating the service in the country in 2010, citing Chinese government efforts to limit free speech, block websites, and hack Google’s computer systems. The open letter released Tuesday asks Google to reaffirm the commitment it made in 2010 to no longer provide censored search in China.

“It is difficult not to conclude that Google is now willing to compromise its principles.”

The letter states: “If Google’s position has indeed changed, then this must be stated publicly, together with a clear explanation of how Google considers it can square such a decision with its responsibilities under international human rights standards and its own corporate values. Without these clarifications, it is difficult not to conclude that Google is now willing to compromise its principles to gain access to the Chinese market.”

The letter calls on Google to explain the steps it has taken to safeguard against human rights violations that could occur as a result of Dragonfly and raises concerns that the company will be “enlisted in surveillance abuses” because “users’ data would be much more vulnerable to [Chinese] government access.” Moreover, the letter said Google should guarantee protections for whistleblowers who speak out when they believe the company is not living up to its commitments on human rights. The whistleblowers “have been crucial in bringing ethical concerns over Google’s operations to public attention,” the letter states. “The protection of whistleblowers who disclose information that is clearly in the public interest is grounded in the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.”

Google has not yet issued any public statement about the China censorship, saying only that it will not address “speculation about future plans.” After four weeks of sustained reporting on Dragonfly, Google has not issued a single response to The Intercept and it has refused to answer dozens of questions from reporters on the issue. The company’s press office did not reply to a request for comment on this story.

It is not only journalists, however, who Google has ignored in the wake of the revelations. Amnesty International researchers told The Intercept they set up a phone call with the company to discuss concerns about Dragonfly, but they were stonewalled by members of Google’s human rights policy team, who said they would not talk about “leaks” of information related to the Chinese censorship. The open letter slams Google’s lack of public engagement on the matter, stating that the company’s “refusal to respond substantively to concerns over its reported plans for a Chinese search service falls short of the company’s purported commitment to accountability and transparency.”

“This is a world none of us have ever lived in before.”

Google is a member of the Global Network Initiative, or GNI, a digital rights organization that works with a coalition of companies, human rights groups, and academics. All members of the GNI agree to implement a set of principles on freedom of expression and privacy, which appear to prohibit complicity in the sort of broad censorship that is widespread in China. The principles state that member companies must “respect and work to protect the freedom of expression rights of users” when they are confronted with government demands to “remove content or otherwise limit access to communications, ideas and information in a manner inconsistent with internationally recognized laws and standards.”

Following the revelations about Dragonfly, sources said, members of the GNI’s board of directors – which includes representatives from Human Rights Watch, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Committee to Protect Journalists – confronted Google representatives in a conference call about its censorship plans. But the Google officials were not responsive to the board’s concerns or forthcoming with information about Dragonfly, which caused frustration and anger within the GNI.

Every two years, members of the GNI are assessed for compliance with the group’s principles. One source said that Google’s conduct is due to be reviewed this year, and it is likely that its Chinese censorship plans will be closely scrutinized through that process. If the company is found to have violated the GNI’s principles its status as a member of the organization could potentially be revoked.

Inside Google, the company’s intense secrecy on Dragonfly has exacerbated tensions between employees and managers. Rank-and-file staff have circulated a letter saying that the project represents a moral and ethical crisis, and they have told bosses that they “urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes.”

Pichai, Google’s CEO, told employees during a meeting on August 16 that he would “be transparent as we get closer to actually having a plan of record” and portrayed Dragonfly as an “exploratory” project. However, documents seen by The Intercept show that the project has been in development since early 2017, and the infrastructure to launch it has already been built. Last month, Google’s search engine chief Ben Gomes told employees working on Dragonfly that they should have the censored search engine ready to be “brought off the shelf and quickly deployed.”

Gomes informed the employees working on Dragonfly that the company was aiming to release the censored search platform within six to nine months, but that the schedule could change suddenly due to an ongoing U.S. trade war with China, which had slowed down Google’s negotiations with officials in Beijing, whose approval Google needs to launch the search engine. Sources said Gomes joked about the unpredictability of President Donald Trump while discussing the potential date the company would be able to roll out the censored search.

“This is a world none of us have ever lived in before,” Gomes said, according to the sources. “We need to be focused on what we want to enable, and then when the opening happens, we are ready for it.”

The post World’s Leading Human Rights Groups Tell Google to Cancel Its China Censorship Plan appeared first on The Intercept.

Saudi-led Coalition Team to Investigate Civilian Casualties Is “Covering Up War Crimes” in Yemen

In the aftermath of a horrific bombing earlier this month that killed dozens of children aboard a school bus in Yemen, the Trump administration urged the U.S.-backed, Saudi- and United Arab Emirates-led coalition to examine and account for the loss of civilian lives.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert called for a “thorough and transparent investigation into the incident,” and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly raised the issue in a phone call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters that he supports the State Department’s call for an investigation, adding that he’d dispatched a three-star general to Riyadh to “look into what happened here.”

But as calls for an investigation mount, a new report from Human Rights Watch finds “fundamental problems” with the way the coalition investigates allegations of civilian harm, accusing its members of trying to “shield parties to the conflict and individual military personnel from criminal liability.”

The 90-page report, released Friday, digs into the Joint Incidents Assessment Team, or JIAT, a body the coalition created to investigate civilian casualty claims after the bombing campaign began in Yemen in 2015. By its own count, the assessment team has investigated 79 incidents in which airstrikes allegedly killed or wounded civilians. But the vast majority of its reports — only 75 of which Human Rights Watch could actually find — absolve the coalition of legal responsibility for the strike in question, either by claiming the coalition wasn’t responsible or by determining that the attack was an “unintentional” result of technical errors.

The report also documents 17 instances in which JIAT’s conclusions were profoundly at odds with Human Rights Watch’s own findings. In 2015, after coalition fighters bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa, the assessment team concluded that “there was no human damage as a result of the bombing,” while interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch found that two patients had been injured and the hospital had been forced to shut down, endangering the 200,000 people it serves.

In the years after it was established, the Trump and Obama administrations pointed to JIAT as a sign that the coalition was aware that its attacks were killing civilians and that it was seeking to improve. But critics say the body is a cynical mechanism contrived to make it look as if the architects of the air war in Yemen care about reducing civilian casualties, when in fact their aims are something else entirely.

“For more than two years, the coalition has claimed that JIAT was credibly investigating allegedly unlawful airstrikes, but the investigators were doing little more than covering up war crimes,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments selling arms to Saudi Arabia should recognize that the coalition’s sham investigations do not protect them from being complicit in serious violations in Yemen.”

The wreckage of a bus remains at the site of a deadly Saudi-led coalition airstrike on Thursday, in Saada, Yemen, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018. Yemen's shiite rebels are backing a United Nations' call for an investigation into the airstrike in the country's north that hit a bus carrying civilians, many of them school children in a busy market, killing dozens of people including many children. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

The wreckage of a bus at the site of a deadly Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Saada, Yemen, on Aug. 12, 2018.

Photo: Hani Mohammed/AP

The results of the assessment team’s investigations are released on an ad hoc basis through Saudi state media, often under headlines like “JIAT Clears Arab Coalition From Responsibility For Many Bombings.” The Human Rights Watch report also notes that releases seem timed to defuse international pressure.

JIAT released incident results on September 12, 2017 during discussions at the UN Human Rights Council regarding the possible creation of an international investigation into violations in Yemen; Saudi diplomats and their allies then used the released JIAT results to argue against the need for an international mechanism. On March 5, 2018, JIAT released results immediately before Saudi Crown Prince and Coalition Commander Mohammed bin Salman travelled to the United Kingdom to meet with senior British officials.

Human Rights Watch found that out of 75 JIAT investigations, only two had resulted in findings that officers may have violated the rules of engagement. In one case, the team found that the officers had done so, and in another, suggested that they might have and recommended further investigation.

In 12 cases, JIAT recommended giving some type of financial restitution to victims’ families, referring to it variously as “assistance” or “appropriate action,” though not always finding fault with the coalition. However, Human Rights Watch researchers are “unaware of any concrete steps the coalition has taken to implement a compensation process,” according to the report.

The report quotes a man identified as “Yasser,” whose relatives were killed in an airstrike on a water bottling factory in 2015. Yasser, whose name was changed by the report’s authors for his protection, told the group that he “heard about the compensation as everyone else heard about it, through the TV,” but that no one had contacted him about receiving payments on behalf of his lost relatives.

“None of the people we’ve spoken with have received any form of compensation or any communication about being compensated,” Kristine Beckerle, a Yemen researcher for Human Rights Watch, told The Intercept. Beckerle acknowledged, however, that secret payments may have taken place without her knowledge.

In announcing the results of JIAT’s first inquiry in 2016, Saudi state media said the commission “consists of 14 members with experience and competence in military and legal fields,” all from countries that were part of the coalition at that time. But the coalition has never produced a public list of the members, Beckerle told The Intercept. In a letter last January, Human Rights Watch asked the spokesperson for JIAT to share the names of its members, whose command they fell under, and information about their legal and military experience. The group received no response.

JIAT’s only publicly known member, legal adviser and spokesperson Mansour al-Mansour, is a military lawyer from Bahrain, where he was reportedly involved in the prosecution of hundreds of peaceful protestors in the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings in 2011. Earlier that year, Saudi Arabia invaded Bahrain over fears that unrest there could topple the monarchy.

Top photo: Yemenis carry the coffin of a boy who was killed by a Saudi-led airstrike during a funeral in Saada, Yemen, on Aug. 13, 2018.

The post Saudi-led Coalition Team to Investigate Civilian Casualties Is “Covering Up War Crimes” in Yemen appeared first on The Intercept.

Benjamin Netanyahu Is Fine With Anti-Semites — as Long as They Support Israel’s Occupation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likes to accuse critics of Israel of being anti-Semites. But how does he explain his own glaring ties to anti-Semitic world leaders and evangelical preachers, not to mention his defense of Adolf Hitler and his son’s attack on George Soros? Does defending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands make you immune from the charge of anti-Jewish hatred?

In this video, I ask whether the prime minister of Israel is part of the solution to rising anti-Semitism — or part of the problem.

The post Benjamin Netanyahu Is Fine With Anti-Semites — as Long as They Support Israel’s Occupation appeared first on The Intercept.

Fox News Violates Poland’s Holocaust Law With Reference to “Polish Death Camp”

Fox News could face legal action in Poland, and a potential fine of $100 million, for violating that nation’s new law on Holocaust memory on Tuesday by repeatedly referring to a Nazi concentration camp built during the wartime German occupation of Poland as “a Polish death camp.”

The broadcaster used the phrase in an on-screen graphic during at least two segments of its morning show, “Fox and Friends,” on the deportation from New York City to Germany of Jakiw Palij, 95, a former guard at the Nazi slave labor camp in Trawniki, in occupied Poland. Palij, who emigrated to the United States in 1949, was stripped of his American citizenship in 2003.

The Polish Embassy in Washington was watching, and quickly shared a screenshot of the offending graphic during an interview with Richard Grenell, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany.

Fox News acknowledged the error online later on Tuesday, and the Polish Embassy said it was “pleased” with the response, but a spokeswoman told The Intercept that diplomats were waiting for clarification from Warsaw about whether to take any legal action.

Poland revised its anti-defamation law twice this year to ban the use of the phrase “Polish death camp,” by anyone in any country, in an effort to shield Poles from blame for crimes against humanity committed during the Nazi occupation.

Under pressure from the United States and Israel, the Polish government agreed in June to remove clauses from the law which had made blaming Poles for the Holocaust a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison.

The law remains still permits civil suits, however, as the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem pointed out in dismay last month.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also assured Polish lawmakers in June that offenders could still be held to account. “A publisher in the United States or in Germany will think twice before publishing today an article using the expression ‘Polish SS,’ ‘Polish Gestapo’ or ‘Polish concentration camps,’ if he risks a lawsuit and a fine of 100 million euro or dollars,” Morawiecki said then.

Fox was keen to promote the deportation of Palij as a triumph for President Trump and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who carried it out. In one headline, Fox News said that the frail Palij — who was detained at his home in Queens and taken on a stretcher by air ambulance to Düsseldorf, Germany — had been “caught by ICE.”

Fox peppered its coverage with references to ICE, and featured pundits who accused Democrats who want to abolish the agency responsible for numerous abuses of somehow being soft on Nazi war criminals.

A screenshot from “Fox and Friends” on Tuesday.

A federal immigration judge had ordered the deportation of Palij in 2004, but, until this week, American officials had been unable to convince any other country to take him, since he was born in what was once Poland but is now Ukraine, and had served German occupation authorities without ever obtaining German citizenship.

An on-screen graphic broadcast by Fox News on Tuesday used the phrase “Polish Death Camp” in a report on the deportation of a former Nazi guard, Jakiw Palij.

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The U.S. Is Building a Drone Base in Africa That Will Cost More Than $280 Million by 2024

A U.S. drone base in a remote part of West Africa has garnered attention for its $100 million construction price tag. But according to new projections from the Air Force, its initial cost will soon be dwarfed by the price of operating the facility — about $30 million a year. By 2024, when the 10-year agreement for use of the base in Agadez, Niger, ends, its construction and operating costs will top a quarter-billion dollars — or around $280 million, to be more precise.

And that’s actually an undercount. The new projections from the Air Force do not include significant additional costs, such as salaries of the personnel stationed at the base or fuel for the aircraft flying out of Agadez. The facility, which is part of the expanded U.S. military footprint in Africa, is now the largest base-building effort ever undertaken by troops in the history of the U.S. Air Force, according to Richard Komurek, a spokesperson for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa.

The outpost — officially a new airfield and associated facilities at Nigerien Air Base 201, or AB 201 — was once billed as a $50 million base dedicated to surveillance drones, and it was to be completed in 2016.  Now, it’s slated to be a $100 million base for armed MQ-9 Reaper drones which will finally take flight in 2019, though the construction cost is hardly the end of the tab for the facility.

“It’s probably one of the most remote U.S. military airbases ever built,” said Dan Gettinger, co-founder and co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College and the author of a guide to identifying drone bases from satellite imagery. “Most drone bases on the African continent are appendages to larger airports and airfields, but not Agadez. The existing infrastructure is not there. So, the scale of the project is huge.”

Air Force documents submitted to Congress in 2015 note that the U.S. “negotiated an agreement with the government of Niger to allow for the construction of a new runway and all associated pavements, facilities, and infrastructure adjacent to the Niger Armed Force’s Base Aerienne 201 (Airbase 201) south of the city of Agadez.” When the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2016 was introduced, embedded in it was a $50 million request for the construction of an “airfield and base camp at Agadez, Niger … to support operations in western Africa.”

Reporting by The Intercept found that the true cost of the airfield is double the reported sum — all of it laid out in a September 2016 article on the “$100 Million Drone Base in Africa.” Despite more recent news reports that the price tag of the base has risen to $110 million, Komurek told The Intercept that the total cost of the project has remained roughly the same, topping out at $98.5 million next year.

While the total budget hasn’t changed, the way its costs are divided has. The price of construction jumped from $50 million to $60 million due to “unanticipated effects of the austere conditions and remote location of Agadez,” including the effects of severe weather, according to Komurek. In fact, in a June 2017 letter to Rep. Charlie Dent, then a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and chair of the Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, the Defense Department justified the $10 million increase by explaining that “poor initial planning and design” led to unforeseen projects, increased costs in acquiring and delivering three aircraft shelters, and a need for new perimeter security measures.

The Agadez base is now the largest “airman-built” project in Air Force history, according to Mark Kinkade of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, eclipsing construction at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, a longtime clandestine outpost from which the U.S. flies drones and fighter aircraft. Prior to that, the record-holder was Phan Rang Air Base in South Vietnam, which had nearly 150 aircraft assigned to it in 1969.

In this photo taken Sunday, April 15, 2018, a Hangar being built at the Niger Air Base 201 Agadez, Niger. On the scorching edge of the Sahara Desert, the U.S. Air Force is building a base for armed drones, the newest front in America's battle against the growing extremist threat in Africa's vast Sahel region. Three hangars and the first layers of a runway command a sandy, barren field. Niger Air Base 201 is expected to be functional early next year. (AP Photo/Carley Petesch)

A hangar being built at a new U.S. drone base, officially known as Nigerien Air Base 201, in Agadez, Niger, April 15, 2018.

Photo: Carley Petesch/AP

The U.S. outpost at Agadez might be remote, but it’s far from spartan. Photographs and videos released by the military show a base with all the typical American bells and whistles. Walk through the entryway where the overhead sign reads “Welcome to Agadez: Niger’s Best Kept Secret,” look around the base, and you’ll notice the three massive hangars that each cost $1.58 million. You’ll see large satellite dishes; rows of air-conditioned Quonset hut-shaped tan tents; and an Airmen Resiliency Center that serves as both a chapel and recreation center, with Wi-Fi and bookcases filled with few books but many movies and board games. Walk out of the triple-digit heat into the climate-controlled (and cleverly named) Dezert Café, and you can watch ice hockey on a big-screen TV while chowing down on chicken or pizza or fish or cookies or potato chips, and then wash it all down with bottled water, Snapple, Sprite, Gatorade, Coke, or Dr Pepper. Each cafeteria table even comes equipped with a bottle of yellow hand sanitizer and any condiment — ketchup, mustard, steak sauce, hot sauce, Sriracha, soy sauce, Tabasco — that you could hope for.

Earlier this year, the Air Force also put out a call for contractors to provide weight room equipment for the base. The solicitation laid out how the gym will be outfitted: weight plates ranging from 2 1/2 pounds to 45 pounds, dumbbells in five-pound increments up to 100 pounds, and two “Rogue Abram GHD 2.0” or equivalent pieces of equipment. For the uninitiated, the former is what its manufacturer calls “the perfect Glute Ham Developer for any garage gym or training facility where space is at a premium.”

To keep the gym lit, the Wi-Fi on, the big screen bright, and the air conditioning running, not to mention the water potable and the troops fed, requires a significant amount of money. In 2016, the Pentagon told The Intercept that the annual cost to keep the base running would be slightly less than $13 million per year. Komurek explained, however, that those numbers were “limited” and did “not cover the same categories of sustainment costs” as the new $30 million estimate. “In addition to the initial stand-up costs of a site, there are annual operations and maintenance sustainment costs for logistical support, maintenance and security which change based on the footprint and mission set supported,” he explained by email. “The sustainment cost for AB201 is estimated to be approximately $30M per year.”

Formerly secret U.S. Africa Command planning documents, first disclosed by The Intercept in 2016, attest to the importance of Agadez for future missions by drones, also known as remotely piloted aircraft or RPAs. “The top MILCON [military construction] project for USAFRICOM is located in Agadez, Niger to construct a C-17 and MQ-9 capable airfield,” reads a 2015 planning document. “RPA presence in NW Africa supports operations against seven [Department of State]-designated foreign terrorist organizations. Moving operations to Agadez aligns persistent ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] to current and emerging threats over Niger and Chad, supports French regionalization and extends range to cover Libya and Nigeria.”

Construction of the base began during the summer of 2016, and the U.S. military hoped that drones would be flying from Agadez by the end of that year. According to Komurek, construction won’t be completed until the end of this year, and aircraft will not fly from the base until 2019. “The challenge of building this enormous airfield in the middle of the dessert has resulted in the delays that we’ve seen in getting this base operational,” Gettinger told The Intercept.

In the time since construction at Agadez began, U.S. military operations in North and West Africa have dramatically increased. Since 2016, the U.S. has carried out hundreds of drone strikes targeting Al Qaeda and Islamic State militants, including two in June, in neighboring Libya. U.S. forces have also been operating alongside Nigerien forces, a fact laid bare by an October 4, 2017, ambush by ISIS in the Greater Sahara militants near the Mali border, about 600 miles from Agadez, that killed four U.S. soldiers and wounded two others.

It took just over 1 1/2 hours for the first aircraft, an unarmed “U.S. ISR platform,” to arrive at the scene of the attacks, according to Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier. If the outpost at Agadez had been completed on schedule, in late 2016, could armed MQ-9 Reapers have come to the rescue of the ambushed Americans? The Intercept put that question to Gen. Tod D. Wolters, the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa. The USAFE-AFAFRICA press office responded that “it would be inappropriate for us or Gen. Wolters to speculate or comment on that hypothetical scenario.”

Top photo: Air Force engineers and members of the 31st Expeditionary Red Horse squadron work on a landing strip on Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger, April 12, 2018.

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“Forget Your Son”: Brazil Is Forcibly Taking Indigenous Children and Putting Them Up for Adoption

I practiced my greetings in Guarani several times before approaching Élida Oliveira. Élida, who doesn’t speak Portuguese, had arrived that morning in the town of Amambai, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, deep in Brazil’s agricultural heartland and less than an hour’s drive from Paraguay. She was accompanied by officials from Funai, the federal agency responsible for indigenous affairs in Brazil. Élida had traveled there to explain how, three years earlier, local health agents and representatives of the municipal Guardianship Council in the city of Dourados, where she lives, had arrived to remove her newborn child from her custody.

“The child, they took him when he was only 8 days old. She asks that you not take away her children again.”

Two-hundred women listened in silence to Élida’s testimony, given in her native language Guarani, an indigenous language of central South America. A local named Wanda Kuña Rendy had volunteered to translate Élida’s words to Portuguese for the authorities in attendance, but she was only able to get through a few sentences before bursting into tears. “The child, they took him when he was only 8 days old,” Rendy said. “She asks that you not take away her children again.”

Élida smiled when I asked for an interview, but she was hesitant to allow her youngest child to leave her lap as we recorded. As a researcher, I had prepared to attend the sixth annual Kuñangue Aty, a large gathering of women from the Kaiowá and Guarani indigenous communities, to focus on the prayers and songs that marked the nights and days of the meeting, from the initial reception to the final debates. As an ethnographer or a reporter, however, I was compelled to pay attention to the issues afflicting the human beings involved. “Why has the number of indigenous children in institutional care increased so much in the last year?” I wondered. Janete Alegre, organizer of the Amambai meeting, asked, “Is there now a law that says indigenous children must be taken from their indigenous families and given to the whites?”

In the sprawling municipality of Dourados alone — with a population of some 200,000 people in an area twice the size of Los Angeles — 50 indigenous children were living in shelters at the end of 2017, according to a study by the Funai Regional Office. By July 2018, 34 remained separated from their families. I discovered the stories of Élida and other mothers in Dourados are just the tip of the iceberg. Uncountable communities suffer from the complex problems associated with the state taking indigenous children from their families. There are indications of even more serious irregularities in the processes where the children are taken, which have been monitored since 2010 by Funai, the Public Defender’s Office, and the Federal Public Ministry.

“The institution says that she is poor, that she lives in an unauthorized occupation,” shouts Jaqueline Gonçalves, a young member of the Kaiowá leadership. “Institutions need to respect us. This is the genocide of indigenous peoples!” Her words invoked the violence inflicted upon the Kaiowá and Guarani peoples in Brazil since the beginning of the 20th century. The local family court alleges mistreatment and neglect, as well as drug and alcohol problems, to justify the separation of children from their mothers.

“They claim that our children are dirty. But of course! We live off the land and cook over open fires,” a group of women wrote in a letter signed by participants of the Amambai meeting. Demanding that alternatives be found within the villages themselves, as mandated by the federal Statute for Children and Adolescents, these women want to have the right to follow the traditions of child care passed down from their ancestors. You should eat food from your place of origin and sing to newborn babies, they said.

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British and Canadian Governments Accidentally Exposed Passwords and Security Plans to the Entire Internet

By misconfiguring pages on Trello, a popular project management website, the governments of the United Kingdom and Canada exposed to the entire internet details of software bugs and security plans, as well as passwords for servers, official internet domains, conference calls, and an event-planning system.

The U.K. government also exposed a small quantity of code for running a government website, as well as a limited number of emails. All told, between the two governments, a total of 50 Trello pages, known on the site as “boards,” were published on the open web and indexed by Google.

The computer researcher who found the sensitive material, Kushagra Pathak, had disclosed just this past April a wide swath of additional private data exposed to the public on Trello, which is widely used by software developers, among others. That earlier disclosure revealed how, on dozens of public Trello boards run by various organizations and individuals, the information available included email and social media credentials, as well as specific information on unfixed bugs and security vulnerabilities. Pathak even found an NGO sharing login details to a donor management software database, which in turn contained, he said, personally identifiable information and financial records on donors. In both the April and new security research, the sensitive data on Trello was tracked down starting with a simple Google query.

The data exposures underscore how easy it has become to improperly leak sensitive data in the era of cloud computing. More broadly, they show how the use and development of software has become a complex endeavor, involving a wide range of independent online systems, and how this complexity itself represents a security risk, encouraging users and developers to take shortcuts intended to cut through the morass. Tools like Trello can help master the tangle of development in a safe and constructive way, but can also be misused.

He hopes to draw attention to what he believes is a major issue: the proliferation of sensitive information on public Trello boards. It is incredibly easy to search for such boards on Google.

In his new research, Pathak first discovered 25 public Trello boards belonging to different U.K. government departments. These included login credentials to a U.K. government account on a domain registrar, emails that had been pasted onto the boards, a link to a snippet of backend code of a government site, and information on bugs, albeit not bugs disclosing security issues. Also included were boards with conference call details and access codes, login information for a server administration tool known as CPanel, a discussion of how to prevent personal information from being exposed to Google’s web analytics platform, and details about an earlier incident in which such information was exposed to the platform. Pathak reported this through the U.K. National Cyber Security Centre, which identified the boards and removed most of them within two or three days.

Shortly thereafter, Pathak found 25 Canadian government boards that had even more sensitive information, such as remote file access, or FTP, credentials, and login details for the Eventbrite event-planning platform. Other boards included a link to an Excel file about managing control of web applications, discussion of additional security testing in the aftermath of a recent security incident, links to a Google folder with research documents, a security working group’s board with tasks related to audits and security testing, and a bug discussion. Pathak reported these to the Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre, which also took prompt action to remove the boards, most of which were down within a week.

Pathak began researching computer science and hacking when he was young, eventually teaching himself to program. He hopes to draw attention to what he believes is a major issue: the proliferation of sensitive information on public Trello boards. It is incredibly easy to search such boards on Google; one could recently find and search within them, for example, using the search modifier like “inurl:https://trello.com/b/,” which restricts Google to finding only results whose address begins with that text. Trello cards can be searched with the modifier “inurl:https://trello.com/c/” — this yields thousands (if not millions) of results, and many contain sensitive information.

Pathak said that in many cases, it can be very difficult to identify the organization to which a board belongs. “I literally spent hours finding the contact details of organizations to which a board belonged so I could report them,” he told me.

Trello co-founder Michael Pryor provided a written statement highlighting the company’s privacy safeguards.

“Trello boards are set to private by default and must be manually changed to public by the user,” the statement read. “We strive to make sure public boards are being created intentionally and have built in safeguards to confirm the intention of a user before they make a  board publicly visible. Additionally, visibility settings are displayed persistently on the top of every board.”

In a Medium comment, Pathak said that he has seen many organizations using public Trello boards to share useful information that they want to be listed in the search results, so there are good reasons to expose some boards. But he also said it’s possible that some boards are made public due to sheer laziness: it’s slightly easier to make a board public and share the URL internally than it is to add people to a Trello team of authorized viewers.

It’s true, as Pryor stated, that Trello’s boards are set to private by default and that when a user sets a board to public, the visibility setting and what it entails (including search engine indexing) is clearly explained. But Pathak had three additional suggestions to these built-in safeguards: Trello could highlight the visibility in red if a board is set to public; it could show a pop-up notice to users when they create or change board visibility to public in order to let them know that this can be viewed by anyone with the link and is indexed by search engines; and it could add could add to the Trello interface that automatically checks to try and detect if a user has posted a username or password to a public board.

Informed of Pathak’s suggestions, Pryor said that Trello is looking at other similar cloud apps and how they balance users’ quite often safe decision to share a set of information publicly with the desire to protect against inappropriate sharing of sensitive data. In the meantime, security researchers who find additional boards with sensitive information can send them to support@trello.com, and Trello will get in contact with the owner and close them down if needed, according to Pryor.

U.K.’s Government Digital Service, which declined to comment for publication, provided its staff with internal communication guidance to make sure it is using online tools such as Trello appropriately; the guidance states that no personal or sensitive data should be published on Trello. The service also has an Information Assurance Team to guide staff on the appropriate use of online tools.

A written statement provided by a spokesperson for the government of Canada said, “The Government of Canada recognizes that open access to modern digital tools is essential to transforming how public servants work and serve Canadians. … Departments and agencies of the Government of Canada must also apply adequate security controls to protect their users, information, and assets. This includes ensuring that their users are appropriately educated about their obligation to safeguard information and assets and to never use external web services and tools for communicating or storing sensitive information unless the service is approved by the appropriate security and technical authorities. Government of Canada employees are being reminded of their obligation never to communicate or store sensitive information on Trello boards or any other unauthorized digital tool or service.”

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