Michael Ratner Reports on an Important Break in the Julian Assange Case
Longest Case of Pre-Trial Investigation in Swedish History in which the Prosecutor has Simply Sat on Her Hands
What Sweden Did Here is Divert Attention from the Underlying Problem
Michael Smith: United Nations and the Cuban Embargo Vote 2014
Michael Ratner: Israeli Businessmen are All Over Cuba
Blackwater Guards Found Guilty of 2007 Baghdad Killings
Since 2003, private military contractors have been awarded millions of dollars each year by the U.S. government in contracts. Many of the military contractor personnel have engaged in atrocious war crimes with zero accountability. Last week a federal jury convicted 4 former Blackwater private security contractors on manslaughter charges and one for manslaughter and murder of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad on September 16, 2007. The men were prosecuted under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, a law that allows the U.S. courts to hear cases against contractors to the U.S. Department of Defense for crimes committed overseas. The men were originally hired as private security guards for U.S government employees. Lawyers for Blackwater, now known as Academi LLC argued that the men were simply returning fire to protect themselves. Several civil cases filed by victims injured in the shootings were settled in 2010.
I think the verdict sends a very loud and clear message to the globe that the American judicial system can operate properly–that American juries understand when they see war crimes, they understand when they hear about a massacre.
We began working before the Abu Ghraib photos were leaked. It began when Bob Woodward wrote a story for the Washington Post that revealed that the Bush Administration had decided to use torture as an instrument in the war.
We viewed this outsourcing as a potential weak flank in the sense of using legal mechanisms, lawsuits in order to prevent this country from departing from its values.
We were putting the evidence together before the photos leaked and suddenly we had a lot more evidence to sue the two government contractors, L3 and CACI, that were involved in the Abu Ghraib torture.
The Blackwater case fits into that rubric where we brought several different lawsuits along with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). We brought the seven lawsuits for the victims of the Nisour Square massacre as well as for many other victims.
If you think about it, we’re going to the home turf of the wrongdoers. The corporations are based in Virginia actually, and so we sued them on their home turf.
There’s one civil case remaining that’s now being handled by Baher Azmy at CCR and they just got a win from the Fourth Circuit – again getting permission for the case to proceed.
The vast majority of victims have settled, with L3 paying out $5.25 million.
Blackwater is a mercenary company that has earned over a billion dollars from the State Department.
They were not at Abu Ghraib but they were providing security for all of the diplomats and other Americans in Iraq.
At the time they were owned by Erik Prince, operated without any oversight from the State Department, and they were involved with a significant number of instances were unnecessary and excessive force was used.
Erik Prince ended up entering into a settlement and all of those folks obtained compensation.
Prince then sold the company; he retained a revenue stream but the company became Academi.
As a nation we continue to use these mercenaries and we continue to lack any regulation or oversight. Unfortunately, things didn’t change under the Obama administration and under Secretary Clinton at the State Department
There’s this terrible pattern where these companies have a lot of political influence and they continue to get enormous contracts and the State Department continues to outsource security without have a vibrant or robust oversight function.
Blackwater vehicles rolled into Nisour Square and they began to open fire with heavy automatic weaponry and they simply began to spray indiscriminately. They began to shoot all over Nisour Square, killing people nearby and injuring people as they fled. No provocation, no real reason they began shooting.
One of the Blackwater men, a man named Jeremy Ridgeway, actually stepped up and told the truth early on, pled guilty and explained how this was in fact just indiscriminate shooting for no reason.
In order to properly handle these matters I ended up creating my own firm.
Guest – Attorney Susan Burke represented plaintiffs in civil cases against Blackwater. She joins us today to talk about the criminal case, the sentence and the supporting evidence.
Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues
A powerful analysis on the use of drones for targeted assassination by the Obama administration is explored in Professor Marjorie Cohn’s newly published book titled Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. It’s a collection of essays from various disciplines including sociologists, legal scholars, and human rights activists that examine aspects of the U.S. policy of targeted killings with drones and other methods. The book documents civilian casualties, and discuses the first U.S. targeted killing lawsuit in a chapter written by the lawyer who brought the case.
Drones have become the Obama administration’s preferred weapon of choice.
We rarely see images of the victims of drone strikes, the overwhelming majority of whom are civilians.
We don’t hear their stories because the media sanitizes their stories.
We really don’t have a sense of the devastation that is wreaked by drones.
I thought it was important to put together a collection of different aspects of this drone policy. Is it legal? Is it moral? What are the political ramifications? Does it make us safer? Does it make us less safe?
That Authorization for the Use of Military Force was very limited, it was only limited to groups and countries that supported the 9/11 attacks and Congress specifically rejected the Bush administration’s request for open-ended military authority to deter and preempt any future acts of terrorism against the United States – and yet the Obama administration has been relying on this as its legal authority.
Targeted extrajudicial killings off the battlefield are illegal.
Richard Falk, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian Occupied Territories, wrote a very and interesting and provocative chapter called “Why Drones are More Dangerous than Nuclear Weapons.”
Medea Benjamin talked about stories of victims in Pakistan and Yemen and the toll drones take on communities, the terror that children are sleeping with drones hovering overhead.
Pardiss Kebriaei with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which handled the first targeted killing case in the United States, writes a chapter.
Tom Hayden writes the conclusion about stopping the drones.
Phyllis Bennis from the Institute of Policy Studies talks about assassination as essential to the U.S. war strategy due to the militarization of our foreign policy.
John Quigley from Ohio State University talks about the blowback from drones and how they actually make us less safe because when people see their families blown up, they resent the United States even more.
He talks about the history of U.S. foreign policy and the resentment it’s caused in those countries against the United States.
Barack Obama has even expanded the use of drones in Iraq and Syria. He’s also using piloted aircraft. He’s using the AUMF which does not apply at all.
ISIS and Khorasan, the current groups doing horrible things over there, are not covered by the Authorization for the Use of Military Force.
He’s acting beyond what Congress has authorized, to say nothing of it violating the U.N. charter.
Only 4 percent of victims in Pakistan were members or even associated with Al-Qaeda, which means the overwhelming number of the 2,400 who have been killed in Pakistan by drone strikes are civilians.
The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 requires the FAA to integrate drones into U.S. airspace by September 2015 and to legalize commercial drones and allow some government agencies to use small drones. This is very, very worrisome because of the privacy considerations primarily.
There are two different drone strikes the U.S. carries out. One is called personality strikes, where they target suspected bad guys. They call them militants. That could mean anything.
No due process, just take em out.
The other type of attack is called signature strikes. That is a strike that is carried out in an area of suspicious activity. If you’re a male between the ages of 16-65 in a area of suspicious activity than you’re fair game, even though the Obama administration doesn’t know your identity.
First, there must be a legal basis for using lethal force, whether it is against a senior operational leader of a terrorist organization or the forces that organization is using or intends to use to conduct terrorist attacks.
Second, the United States should use lethal force only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons. It is simply not the case that all terrorists pose a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons; if a terrorist does not pose such a threat, the United States should not use lethal force.
Third, the following criteria must be met before lethal action may be taken:
Near certainty that the terrorist target is present;
Near certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed;
An assessment that capture is not feasible at the time of the operation;
An assessment that the relevant governmental authorities in the country where action is contemplated cannot or will not effectively address the threat to U.S. persons; and an assessment that no other reasonable alternatives exist to effectively address the threat to U.S. persons.
Finally, whenever the United States uses force in foreign territories, international legal principles, including respect for sovereignty and the law of armed conflict, impose important constraints on the ability of the United States to act unilaterally – and on the way in which the United States can use force.
Guest – Attorney Marjorie Cohn, former president of the National Lawyers Guild. She lectures throughout the world on international human rights and U.S. foreign policy. A news consultant for CBS News and a legal analyst for Court TV, she also provides legal and political commentary on BBC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NPR, Air America and Pacifica Radio. In addition, Professor Cohn is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Cameras in the Courtroom: Television and the Pursuit of Justice and Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent. Her latest book, The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse, was published in January 2011 by NYU Press.