Saturday, September 28, 2013

Guantanamo: System failure

By: Divya Achtani

           Guantanamo Bay is a United States military camp located in Cuba. The facility was established during the Bush administration in order to detain and interrogate prisoners so that the United States could have a stronger force against terrorism. Since everyone in the United States has the right to an attorney, the prisoners have defense lawyers working in Guantanamo Bay. While these defense lawyers are expected to use the same government computer systems as the prosecutors and other government works in the area, the computer systems themselves are not very protected and have many failures. For example, because of the low security on these systems, prosecutors have actually had access to many of the private defense emails. Sometimes after system failures, large amounts of defense data and files disappear. In addition, the Pentagon has been watching defense attorney internet searches and monitoring at other private information. The chief defense counsel for the Office of Military Commissions has even asked that the defense counsel no longer use the government computers due to the possibility of compromising attorney-client privilege. Since creating a separate system for defense and prosecutors could take a very long time, members of the defense counsel have to use external hard drives, private email accounts, and some even make their way to Starbucks to use their public Wi-Fi.

            Here in the United States, we have the right to an attorney, the right to a fair trial, etc. We have rights and rules in place so that if an innocent person is wrongly accused, in the end justice will be served, and they will be let go. If they were tried in federal court instead of in Guantanamo Bay, and if the prisoners’ defense attorneys were working back in the United States, this issue of privacy would not even exist. Prosecutors and defenders would have their own computer systems and there would be no risk of having private files seen by opponents or losing data. While it is unfair that the defense counsel in Guantanamo Bay has to go to places like Starbucks to feel ethical while sending private documents, it seems like the best option until a new system can be built. The only other option to protect privacy it seems would be to have the detainees tried in the United States. While the main problem with this is that it is a risk to have these accused terrorists in our country, there are still many terrorists like the 1996 Summer Olympics Atlanta bomber already being tried in federal courts. If the accused terrorists in Guantanamo Bay continue to be tried in that area, there is the risk that the data used as evidence is modified or is false, leading to an unfair trial. We can’t just hold these prisoners forever in Cuba, and we have to hold fair trials, with no privacy concerns. One day, I hope we can finally say “Justice is served”.

Urging a Paradigm Shift in International Diplomacy

          The United Nations Security Council has long urged all nations to speak out against Syria and its perverse use of unethical weapons, its staunch opposition to receiving humanitarian aid, and its war crimes in general.  Now, more than ever, as a result of Syria's use of chemical weapons, the UN Security Council has the perfect platform from which to launch a new effort to indefinitely sever Syria's ties to weapon providers and the like.  More or less, the Security Council urges international superpowers such as the United States and Russia to adopt new policies that more actively oppose Syria.  Currently, the United States holds a position of opposition, but there is no active effort to put an end to Syria's inhumane policies.  Moreover, in Russia, current plocy allows for the distribution of weapons directly to Syria.

          There are many reasons to believe that both the United States and Russia should both adopt new stances against Syria.  Obviously, human rights should not be limited to first-world countries, but rather should be valid on all corners of the Earth.  To ensure that all humans are treated equally and in an ethical manner, we must provide at least some level support to the UN Security Council.  The question, then, is how much to show.  Involving ourselves in another war would be a mistake.  There are peaceful ways to urge Syria to be more ethical in all that it does.  First, we must put an end to Russia's arms trade with Syria.  Then, it is just a matter of time before we create a new paradigm in international diplomacy all over the world.  With this new paradigm, we must hope, violent acts against humanity such as those in Syria would be deemed unnecessary.  This new outlook would, with any luck, pave the way for a path towards world peace.

-Zach Steinfeld

Friday, September 27, 2013

The NSA: a Necessary Evil or is Government Overstepping their Authority?

The NSA has been a large topic in recent media discussion and rightfully so, it is surprising how in a land of democracy and freedom, which America claims itself to be, such an organization can exist to monitor the online activities of it's citizens. Recently it has been discovered that 12 NSA employees had misused their surveillance powers to spy on their significant others. While these are not often occurring instances, they do paint a picture of what the NSA employees are capable of doing. And these were only the NSA agent that have been caught, how many others may there be that have managed to silently avoid detection?

The NSA is a controversial organization because it fails into the category of appearing both necessary and also infringing on personal rights. With FBI agents claiming that the NSA could have stopped 9/11, it is difficult to justify not allowing it to exist. At the same time, allowing the NSA to analyze the phone calls of millions of America is clearly not the best way to go about intelligence gathering. Perhaps and approach of targeted surveillance could work better, instead of the current scatter shot approach they are using.

The very clandestine nature of the NSA makes is difficult to discover what violations they have made or even what they are legally allowed to do. The large media hype surrounding the NSA today is of course due to the leak from Edward Snowden where he released massive amounts of confidential data on the organization. Had he not done so, the American people may still be clueless today about the massive amounts of information gathering happening currently.

With the NSA's every move being watched not just by policy makers, but also the general public and the media, it is unlikely that they will break the law in any way. The concern is really what the law already allows them to do may be too much. The NSA has already taken steps to address these concerns, such as the recent opening of the Civil Liberties & Privacy Officer who would oversee that the NSA does not overstep their authority and that the American people's privacy will remain intact. The question is simply whether or not this is an empty position, or if this "Privacy Officer" will hold true power.

Groups Accuse US of Human Rights Abuses in Vieques

Groups Accuse US of Human Rights Abuses in Vieques
Article by Danica Coto

Simulations and drills perfect performance for the military and they are vital and crucial to the success of real-time operations.  I know this because not only because I have partaken in various war-time drills, but also because I have organized and directed a few of them myself.

However, there are strict guidelines and protocols that must be followed during these exercises; above all others is that no civilians will be wounded or negatively affected in anyway by the activities performed by the military during simulations. This is considering the short-term as well as the long-term as all military personnel are well-aware of the long-term impacts to the environment some weapons cause. The American live firing exercises, that included over 300,000 bombs and rockets, on the island of Vieques violates this fundamental rule. The residue of the munitions used has seemingly affected the lives of the Puerto Ricans living on the island in an appalling manner.

Generally, I would assume this was an oversight (albeit a large one) and that reparations should be made without any party harbouring ill feeling. However, it is a terrible thing to see how vigorously the US military denies the damage they have done to the lives of the people living on the island. It is even more disturbing to see how Puerto Rico’s own government also neglects their own people, not assisting them in any regard. I cannot even imagine the sense of abandonment these innocent people must feel. They are forced to struggle through the misfortune that befell them not only without help, but also without acknowledgement. It is as if they are non-existent; that their lives are inconsequential.

We sometimes forget the human face of tragedies. The 10 Puerto Ricans afflicted by cancer, likely due to the weapons detonated in Vieques, have not only had their lives cut short, but their impending deaths will cause misery and heartache in their families and communities. There was a beautiful book I read a few years ago – “A Song for Nagasaki” – which looks through the eyes of a man after he survives the nuclear blasts in Nagasaki and how he must deal with the ailments and afflictions the bombing caused him. When horrible events happen, particularly regarding human rights abuses, we generally place a number on it. While this is necessary, it removes the human element from the disaster and makes us forget the true scale of the tragedy. Every one of those ‘numbers’ had a family, dreams and aspirations, and hopes for the future. It is someone ironic that this was once pointed out by one of the most ruthless tyrants of the 20th century saying ‘One death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic’ -- Joseph Stalin. This awful story reminds me to not only to look at the large picture, but also to remember the unnamed individuals, so much like ourselves, who are forced to endure the suffering.   

By Akshay Shukla

School Struggles for Safety

The fact that news articles like this exist even though we live in the 21st century is ridiculous. The fact that such obvious discrimination is government enforced is mind boggling. However, and quite unfortunately, such bias is not uncommon throughout different areas of the world, including Indonesia.

               For me, the fact that Muslims can do this to their fellow Muslim brothers and sisters is the most concerning. I am definitely not trying to say that other religions should discriminate against Muslims, either, however; prejudice against Muslims in countries like the United States, and by extension everyone who even “looks like a terrorist” is an extremely important topic to me, both because in general I am so strongly against any sort of racism, and also because I have been subjected to such stereotyping thanks to my skin color.

What is even more shocking about the damages inflicted on this Sufi Muslim school than other stories about racism I’ve heard is that the building injuries are by other Muslims, in a country with a very large Muslim population. I am definitely one of those people that believe in solidarity among members of a certain group, especially if that group is being profiled, so it breaks my heart to see that, rather than joining forces and trying to combat the international stereotypes against their shared religion, they are choosing to create dissension amongst themselves and also further adding fuel to the proverbial fire.

I think that every person should have the freedom to practice his or her own religion, and the fact that a school, which should at the very least be one of the places where religion does not come in to play and a safe haven for education, is literally being demolished by the misguidedness of some people is definitely not fair to the Sufi Muslims. Through peaceful protesting, the Sufis should try to get back some of their lost, yet critical, rights.

Does Viesques have a right to blame the US?

The United States and its close commonwealth, Puerto Rico, have existed fairly harmoniously for the past several decades; however, the several residents of the island of Viesques have filed a petition via the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by the National Lawyers Guild and many other groups reporting humans rights violations that have occurred from past activity by the Navy, who previously used the island for nearly six decades conducting a number of bomb tests.  The Navy left the island in 2003 after an incident in 1999 when a 500-pound bomb killed a security guard.  Since the United States’s departure, the Navy has been cleaning the island by removing scrap metal and destroying munitions.  However, the locals of the island do not believe that the cleanup efforts of the Navy have been sufficient enough as ten residents with relatives with cancer or some other illness had the petition filed on their behalf.
In this case, the source of all these problems doesn’t only derive itself from human rights, but science plays a significant role in this case.  The source of these illnesses is not 100% known.  If there was some way to scientifically identify the exact cause of their illness, only at that point could we determine whether or not it was a human rights violation of the US not thoroughly enough holding up their end of the bargain to clean the damage caused by these bomb tests or not.
Assuming that indeed the US did not carry out the plans as well as the island had hoped, one could possibly consider this a definite violation of the rights of the Viesques locals.  Although the United States has championed trying to better the lives Americans by providing welfare and other benefits, they seem to be neglecting those from within their boundaries.  On the flip side, if the illnesses cannot be directly linked to the chemical fallout of the bomb tests and instead stem from genetics, one could say that these Viesques residents are completely overreacting to their situation because even normally healthy people, with the wrong genes, sometimes have to deal with these genetic disorders that may turn into cancer and other deadly diseases.
In the end, the case of the Viesques chemical fallout is an ambiguous subject.  Although it is true that the fallout may be the root of the rising amounts of disease, which entails that the United States isn’t doing enough to protect their fundamental rights of living in a safe environment, the aftereffects of the bomb tests may not even have any real consequences if the United States enacted on their promise to the islanders to clean up the damage done.

Violence and Human Right Violations in GTA V

        For many individuals across the world, the most exciting event within the last two weeks was the release of the anticipated video game Grand Theft Auto V. Individuals waited hours upon hours to be first in line for the most successful video game launch in history, and some of these buyers have reported beating the game in close to thirty-five hours of consecutive game-play. The series itself is famous for its high-quality and realistic graphics,  but is this installment of the series too graphic? Many individuals believe so.
        Aside from the obvious scenes and actions of murder and assault throughout the video game, Grand Theft Auto V takes the violence to a new and disturbing level with an in-game torture scene where players can electrocute and beat a man to death. While I agree that this type of material should not be a part of a video game that young people are playing, I do not necessarily see what makes this violent act any worse to include in a video game than the running over and shooting of random citizens that the video game is known for already. Electrocution and torture are very extreme acts of violence and clearly violations of human rights, but I think that critiques of the game should also find importance in addressing the somewhat overlooked aspects of the game that are just as disturbing and violent.
        In addition to the human torture scene in the game, the Grand Theft Auto series also makes use of prostitution and strip clubs as recurring situations that the players may become involved in, which bring up further issues of female (and human in general) rights. It is important for this kind of video game to have a mature rating where individuals under 18 may not purchase the game, but even with this restriction in place, many parents are purchasing the game for underage players without realizing the type of images to which they are subjecting their children. If young people see these images of violence towards humans, what could be the results in everyday life and societies around the world? The possibilities are frightening.

“We should kill Syrians to stop Syrians from killing Syrians”

As the title goes, this sentence has become one of the famous statements on Twitter describing the dilemma of the US government over the arm involvement to Syria. Indeed, this is a huge dilemma, not only around the human rights of Syrian people, but the insight of the event, what is the reality beneath this event in the name of protecting human rights.
One the one hand, the US government acclaimed that Syrian government owns huge amount of chemical weapons and aims to use them to the anti-government force. Such a case will result in 100,000 people’s death in the conflict. But on the other hand, the arm involvement will definitely cause vast amounts of death as well. “If the killing of civilians by conventional weapons continues unabated, the chemical weapons resolution will be remembered as an effort to draw red lines, not save civilian lives,” said by Philippe Bolopion, a United Nations director. But is the best way to protect human rights is to violate human rights?
From my point of view, the key word of Syria Event is not human rights, but interests. The US and her allies will no longer endure Syrian government from supporting the interests of Russia and China. If the Syrian government is over, huge amount of investments of Russia and China will vanish, which is of better interests for the US. Do you really think the US spends millions of dollars every day leaving their battleships in the Red Sea just for protecting Syrian people’s rights? The answer is definitely not. No country will go to a battle which does not matter with her interests.  
So far as we could see, the arm involvement event is given by the name of human rights, but actually it has nothing matter with human rights. The only thing that has being ignored is human rights it is, the only word being valued is countries’ interests.