Legality of Abu Anas al-Liby’s detainment could be thrown into question as Obama administration weighs suspect’s fate
Legality of Abu Anas al-Liby’s detainment could be thrown into question as Obama administration weighs suspect’s fate
Reports this week claimed Snowden had applied for asylum in Russia because he feared torture if he was returned to US
The US has told the Russian government that it will not seek the death penalty for Edward Snowden should he be extradited, in an attempt to prevent Moscow from granting asylum to the former National Security Agency contractor.
In a letter sent this week, US attorney general Eric Holder told his Russian counterpart that the charges faced by Snowden do not carry the death penalty. Holder added that the US “would not seek the death penalty even if Mr Snowden were charged with additional, death penalty-eligible crimes”.
Holder said he had sent the letter, addressed to Alexander Vladimirovich, Russia’s minister of justice, in response to reports that Snowden had applied for temporary asylum in Russia “on the grounds that if he were returned to the United States, he would be tortured and would face the death penalty”.
“These claims are entirely without merit,” Holder said. In addition to his assurance that Snowden would not face capital punishment, the attorney general wrote: “Torture is unlawful in the United States.”
In the letter, released by the US Department of Justice on Friday, Holder added: “We believe that these assurances eliminate these asserted grounds for Mr Snowden’s claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise.”
The US has been seeking Snowden’s extradition to face felony charges for leaking details of NSA surveillance programmes. There were authoritative reports on Wednesday that authorities in Moscow had granted Snowden permission to stay in Russia temporarily, but when Snowden’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, arrived to meet his client at Sheremetyevo airport, he said the papers were not yet ready.
Kucherena, who has close links to the Kremlin, said Snowden would stay in the airport’s transit zone, where he has been in limbo since arriving from Hong Kong on 23 June, for the near future.
The letter from Holder, and the apparent glitch in Snowden’s asylum application, suggest that Snowden’s fate is far from secure.
But a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin insisted Russia has not budged from its refusal to extradite Snowden. Asked by a reporter on Friday whether the government’s position had changed, Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that “Russia has never extradited anyone and never will.” Putin has previously insisted Russia will not extradite Snowden to the US. There is no US-Russia extradition treaty.
Putin’s statement still leaves the Russian authorities room for manoeuvre, however, as Snowden is not technically on Russian soil.
Peskov said that Putin is not involved in reviewing Snowden’s application or involved in discussions about the whistleblower’s future with the US, though he said the Russian security service, the FSB, had been in touch with the FBI.
Speaking on Wednesday, Snowden’s lawyer said he was hoped to settle in Russia. “[Snowden] wants to find work in Russia, travel and somehow create a life for himself,” Kucherena told the television station Rossiya 24. He said Snowden had already begun learning Russian.
There is support among some Russian politicians for Snowden to be allowed to stay in the country. The speaker of the Russian parliament, Sergei Naryshkin, has said Snowden should be granted asylum to protect him from the death penalty.
The letter from Holder was designed to allay those fears and negate the grounds for which Snowden as allegedly applied for asylum in Russia. The attorney general said that if Snowden returned to the US he would “promptly be brought before a civilian court” and would receive “all the protections that United States law provides”.
“Any questioning of Mr Snowden could be conducted only with his consent: his participation would be entirely voluntary, and his legal counsel would be present should he wish it,” Holder said.
He added that despite Snowden’s passport being revoked he “remains a US citizen” and said the US would facilitate a direct return to the country.
Germany’s president, who helped expose the workings of East Germany’s Stasi secret police, waded into the row on Friday. President Joachim Gauck, whose role is largely symbolic, said whistleblowers such as Snowden deserved respect for defending freedom.
“The fear that our telephones or mails are recorded and stored by foreign intelligence services is a constraint on the feeling of freedom and then the danger grows that freedom itself is damaged,” Gauck said.
In closing arguments, defence lawyer paints portrait of Wikileaks source as someone without ‘evil intent’
The lawyer representing the WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning has asked the judge presiding over the soldier’s court martial to decide between two stark portrayals of the accused – the prosecution’s depiction of him as a traitor and seeker of notoriety, and the defence’s account that he was motivated by a desire to make a difference in the world and save lives.
Over four hours of intense closing arguments at Fort Meade in Maryland, David Coombs set up a moral and legal clash of characterisations, between the Manning that he laid out for the court, and the callous and fame-obsessed Manning sketched on Thursday by the US government. “What is the truth?” the lawyer asked Colonel Denise Lind, the presiding judge who must now decide between the two accounts to reach her verdict.
“Is Manning somebody who is a traitor with no loyalty to this country or the flag, who wanted to download as much information as possible for his employer WikiLeaks? Or is he a young, naive, well-intentioned soldier who has his humanist belief central to his decisions and whose sole purpose was to make a difference.”
Coombs answered his own rhetorical question by arguing that all the evidence presented to the trial over the past seven weeks pointed in one direction. “All the forensics prove that he had a good motive: to spark reforms, to spark change, to make a difference. He did not have a general evil intent.”
Coombs ridiculed the prosecution case as a “diatribe” and said that its account of his client as someone who only cared about himself as the opposite of the truth. “He is concerned about everybody, he is concerned to save lives.”
The lawyer continued: “He felt were were all connected to everybody, we had a duty to our fellow human beings. It may have been a little naive, but that is not anti-American, it is really what America is about.”
The closing arguments presented over two days in the courtroom at Fort Meade have emerged into a clash of visions about the nature of leaking of official secrets in the digital age. At the centre of the battle is Manning himself, a diminutive figure in military fatigues, who has sat silently throughout.
With the end of the evidential stage of the trial, it now falls to the Lind to make sense of these two starkly conflicting pictures and reach a verdict that could come within days. Sitting without a jury at Manning’s own request she must now decide whether the soldier is guilty of 21 counts that could see him detained in military custody for life without any chance of parole, plus a total of 154 years for itemised offences.
The soldier has already admitted to transmitting hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, and to a lesser version of the charges that carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail.
The most serious charge against Manning, carrying a possible life sentence, is that he “aided the enemy”, specifically al-Qaida, by passing intelligence to WikiLeaks which then made it accessible on the internet. In prosecution closing arguments, the government alleged that because of Manning sensitive US state secrets had been found in the possession of Osama bin Laden the day the al-Qaida leader was killed.
Countering that view, Coombs argued that WikiLeaks was a legitimate news organisation on a par with the international alliance of news outlets that had worked with the anti-secrecy websites to release edited versions of Manning’s disclosures. “WikiLeaks is no different from the New York Times, no different from the Guardian, no different from Der Spiegel.”
He cited the US government’s own counter-intelligence report on WikiLeaks that described the organisation as being motivated by a desire to hold governments accountable to their people. “That is the watchdog function of the press – that is what the press is designed to do,” Coombs said.
The “aiding the enemy” charge is the most contentious aspect of the Manning trial. It has provoked a wide debate about its possible impact on press freedom in the US, with first amendment advocates warning it could spread a chill across investigative reporting.
Coombs made his comments within that context, implying that to hold Manning guilty of helping al-Qaida by dint of having leaked to a news organisation would set a dangerous precedent. “Giving something to a legitimate news organisation is the way we hold our government accountable. Giving information to the world, to inform the public does not give intelligence to the enemy,” he said.
Contrary to the prosecution’s claim that he was indiscriminate in his leaking, Coombs said that Manning was careful to be selective in his choice of documents, weeding out “humint” reports that gave specific details on human sources on the ground and focusing instead on civilian loss of life such as the Apache video. “If he was a traitor who wanted to hurt the US, you would have seen a lot more indiscreet disclosures,” he said.
The defence attorney also tried to undercut prosecution allegations that the more than 700,000 documents Manning leaked were damaging to the US. The soldier faces several counts under the 1917 Espionage Act accusing him of leaking intelligence “with reason to believe such information could be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of any foreign nation”.
Coombs attempted to counter those charges by arguing that in fact the WikiLeaks disclosures had very limited impact on US interests. The more than 750 files on Guantanamo detainees were “not worth the paper they were written on”, the lawyer said, adding they were intended for background information and were riddled with inaccuracies.
The war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq were historical documents that recorded past battlefield events that could not provide useful intelligence to the enemy given how rapidly tactics on both sides changed in a military conflict. “The harm that could have been done is like Chicken Little yelling the sky is falling down,” Coombs said.
In the most emotive scenes of his closing arguments, Coombs played to the court three clips from the video Manning uploaded to WikiLeaks of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad. The clips showed a group of civilians, that included two Reuters correspondents, being mowed down from aerial bullet fire.
Coombs asked the judge to watch the video “from the standpoint of a young man looking at eight people and what we know now to be the truth – there are two reporters there – standing on a street corner and being shot like fish in a barrel … You have to view that through the eyes of a young man who cared about human life.”
Exclusive: UK and French instructors involved in US-led effort to strengthen secular elements in Syria’s opposition, say sources
Western training of Syrian rebels is under way in Jordan in an effort to strengthen secular elements in the opposition as a bulwark against Islamic extremism, and to begin building security forces to maintain order in the event of Bashar al-Assad’s fall.
Jordanian security sources say the training effort is led by the US, but involves British and French instructors.
The UK Ministry of Defence denied any British soldiers were providing direct military training to the rebels, though a small number of personnel, including special forces teams, have been in the country training the Jordanian military.
But the Guardian has been told that UK intelligence teams are giving the rebels logistical and other advice in some form.
British officials have made it clear that they believe new EU rules have now given the UK the green light to start providing military training for rebel fighters with the aim of containing the spread of chaos and extremism in areas outside the Syrian regime’s control.
According to European and Jordanian sources the western training in Jordan has been going on since last year and is focused on senior Syrian army officers who defected.
“As is normal, before any major decision is taken on this issue, the preparations are made so that when that decision is taken, everything is in place for it to go smoothly. That is what these groups [special forces] do. They go in in advance,” a European diplomat said.
A Jordanian source familiar with the training operations said: “It’s the Americans, Brits and French with some of the Syrian generals who defected. But we’re not talking about a huge operation.”
He added that there had so far been no “green light” for the rebel forces being trained to be sent into Syria. But they would be deployed if there were signs of a complete collapse of public services in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, which could trigger a million more Syrians seeking refuge in Jordan, which is reeling under the strain of accommodating the 320,000 who have already sought shelter there.
The aim of sending western-trained rebels over the border would be to create a safe area for refugees on the Syrian side of the border, to prevent chaos and to provide a counterweight to al-Qaida-linked extremists who have become a powerful force in the north.
British officials say new European guidelines on the Syrian arms embargo, formally adopted by the EU at the beginning of March, allow military training as long as the ultimate aim of that training is “the protection of civilians”.
Paris takes an identical view of the EU rules.
Officials in Brussels say the language of the guidelines is less than clear-cut. “It’s deliberately hazy,” said one. “When it comes to technical assistance, what it means in practice depends on who you ask. The Brits and the French, for example, are much more forward-leaning than others. The principle is that the assistance should be for the protection of civilians, but as we saw in Libya, that can be interpreted in different ways.”
British officials argue that training of Syrian forces to fill the security vacuum as the Assad regime collapses would be help safeguard civilian lives.
William Hague, the foreign minister, outlined the goals of such training on Wednesday.
“Such technical assistance can include assistance, advice and training on how to maintain security in areas no longer controlled by the regime, on co-ordination between civilian and military councils, on how to protect civilians and minimise the risks to them, and how to maintain security during a transition,” he told parliament. “We will now provide such assistance, advice and training.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “It’s not the sort of thing we are going into too much detail on right now. We are big on the transition picture, because at some point Assad is going to fall, and the opposition are going to need help to provide governance in areas they control, and that of course includes security. But security doesn’t just mean fighting, it also means basic law and order, and policing.”
The Pentagon said last October that a small group of US special forces and military planners had been to Jordan during the summer to help the country prepare for the possibility of Syrian use of chemical weapons and train selected rebel fighters.
That planning cell, which was housed at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Centre in the north of the capital, Amman, has since been expanded to co-ordinate a more ambitious training programme. But Jordanian sources said the actual training was being carried out at more remote sites, with recent US reports saying it was being led by the CIA.
For the first two years of the Syrian civil war, Jordan has sought to stay out of the fray, fearing a backlash from Damascus and an influx of extremists that would destabilise the precariously balanced kingdom.
“What has happened of late is that there has been a tactical shift,” said Julien Barnes-Dacey, a Middle East expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations thinktank. “Islamist forces have been gaining steam in the north and Jordan is keen to avoid that in the south. Having been very hands-off, they now see that they have to do something in the south.”
He added: “There is a feeling that Jordan simply can’t handle a huge new influx of refugees so the idea would be to create a safe zone inside Syria. For them it’s a no-win scenario. Everything they had been seeking to avoid has come to pass.”
For western and Saudi backers of the opposition, Jordan has become a preferable option through which to channel aid than Turkey. Ankara has been criticised for allowing extremist groups, such as the al-Nusra Front, become dominant on the northern front while it focused on what it sees as the growing threat of Kurdish secessionism.
“The Americans now trust us more than the Turks, because with the Turks everything is about gaining leverage for action against the Kurds,” said a Jordanian source familiar with official thinking in Amman.
The US has announced an extra $60m ( 40.2m) in direct aid to the rebels, including military rations and medical kits. Asked on Tuesday whether assistance included military training, the US state department spokesman Pat Ventrell replied: “I really don’t have anything for you on that. Our policy has been non-lethal assistance.”
Earlier this week, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said Washington was now confident that arms supplies to the rebels would not be diverted to extremists. “There is a very clear ability now in the Syrian opposition to make certain that what goes to the moderate, legitimate opposition is, in fact, getting to them, and the indication is that they are increasing their pressure as a result of that,” he said.
Syrian rebels have said that in the past few months there had been a relaxation of the previously strict US rules on what kinds of weapons were allowed across the border, and that portable anti-aircraft missiles had been released from Turkish warehouses where they had been impounded.
Matt Schroeder, who tracks the spread of such weapons for the Federation of American Scientists, said the recent appearance of modern, sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles in the hands of such fragmented rebel groups was deeply troubling in view of their capacity to bring down civilian airlines.
“This is a step above anything we’ve seen before in the hands of non-state actors,” he said. “This is a new and unfortunate chapter in recent manpad [man-portable air-defence] proliferation.”
Brennan expected to endure grilling from Senate committee over America’s controversial policy of targeted killing
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Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front says it was responsible for act of ‘self-sacrifice’ at US compound in Ankara
A leftist militant group in Turkey has claimed responsibility for the suicide attack on the US embassy in Ankara.
The outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP-C, did so Saturday in a statement posted on a website linked to the group.
It said the suicide bomber, Ecevit Sanli, carried out the act of “self-sacrifice” on behalf of the group.
A government terror expert confirmed the authenticity of the Revolution Liberation website that is linked to the DHKP-C. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with rules that bar civil servants from speaking to reporters without prior authorization.
Meanwhile, DNA tests have confirmed that Sanli was responsible for the bombing, Ankara governor’s office said Saturday.
Friday’s attack on the US Embassy in Ankara killed the bomber and a Turkish security guard and seriously wounded a Turkish television journalist.