Jack Sommers   |   December 23, 2014    1:00 PM ET

Widespread internet outage in North Korea has been blamed on a cyber-attack by the US, in retaliation for the hacking that intimidated Sony into cancelling a movie release and left the country feeling humiliated and angry.

The White House and the State Department declined to say whether the US government was responsible, after North Korea experienced sweeping internet outages for hours before coming back online late on Monday.

The US had promised a "proportional response" to the Sony hacking.

One computer expert said the country's online access was "totally down."

north korea

A poster in South Korea shows how cyber war can be waged against the North

After the Sony hacking led to release of comedy 'The Interview' being cancelled, Barack Obama said the US government expected to respond to it.

He described it as an expensive act of "cyber vandalism", which led to the leaking of private emails, and an FBI investigation blamed North Korea.

He did not say how the US might respond and its offensive cyber operations as highly classified.

"We aren't going to discuss, publicly operational details about the possible response options or comment on those kind of reports in anyway except to say that as we implement our responses, some will be seen, some may not be seen," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

North Korea has forcefully denied it was responsible for hacking into Sony. But the country has for months condemned the 'The Interview', a comedy about a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.


Sony cancelled plans to release the movie after a group of hackers made terroristic threats against cinemas that planned to show it.

In North Korea, one of the most isolated states in the world, few have access to computers, and even those who do are typically able to connect only to a domestic intranet.

Though the country is equipped for broadband Internet, only a small, approved segment of the population has any access to the World Wide Web.

More than a million people, however, are now using mobile phones in North Korea. The network covers most major cities but users cannot call outside the country or receive calls from outside.

Ivan Simonovic, the UN assistant secretary-general for human rights, said he couldn't speculate about the origin of the internet outages but he hoped it would be "thoroughly investigated."

Doug Madory, the director of Internet analysis at Dyn Research, an Internet performance company, said the problems began over the weekend and grew progressively worse to the point that "North Korea's totally down."

Another Internet technology service, Arbor Networks, which protects companies against hacker attacks, said its monitoring detected denial-of-service attacks aimed at North Korea's infrastructure starting on Saturday and persisting into Monday.

But North Korea's limited connectivity and lack of Internet sophistication would make it relatively simple for a band of hacktivists to shut down online access, and we should not assume that the US government had any part, said Dan Holden, director of security research at Arbor Networks.

"Anyone of us that was upset because we couldn't watch the movie, you could do that. Their Internet is just not that sophisticated," he said.

The Interview - Poking a Sleeping Bear

Jack Banister   |   December 22, 2014    7:24 PM ET

Despite Sony having pulled the pin on the release of the controversial satire, The Interview, the film is still, unsurprisingly, causing a fracas. Far from extinguishing the heat in the situation, pulling the film - which depicts the assassination of Kim Jong Un - has left much of America angry that North Korea has been allowed to impose censorship within the United States. Obama called Sony's decision a mistake, and highlighted the problems with letting American decisions be dictated by threats from abroad. These views are incredibly important to our way of life and we do not want to be in a position where one nation can impose censorship upon another. But we could've been a little bit smarter throughout and in doing so, avoided an international incident.

There are so many fundamental issues that should have been considered before the film idea Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg had was even turned into a screenplay. Is it not immoral to be making a film where the central plot line is the assassination of a living person? Irrespective of whether you think Kim Jong Un is a legitimate head of state or not, that question still needs to be asked. I'm all for satire, for making people laugh and for making political statements through film, but there have to be some boundaries.

From a business point of view, it is absolutely remarkable that Sony didn't foresee, from the beginning, problems with trying to release a film with such a controversial central plot line. Maybe they did, and decided to go for it anyway. Either way, North Korea wasn't exactly going to sit there and heartily chuckle along with the rest of the world. Could you imagine any head of state reacting passively to the release of a film involving their assassination? Putin, for example? Worse, could you imagine the backlash from America if North Korea released a film depicting Obama's killing?

The counter-argument is that we shouldn't decide what films we do and don't make - and what we do and don't say - based on the potential for someone to react aggressively. In it's own way that is a form of censorship. But if we wanted to make a political statement about North Korea, I'd like to think it could have been done with a bit more tact.

We haven't just walked into a forest, found a sleeping bear, and poked it with a blunt stick. We've gone for the sharpest stick we could find by depicting the assassination of a head of state. The bear was always going to get angry, and America is now left to deal with the mess.

If you replace North Korea with a fictional country and Kim Jong Un with a fictional world leader, you still have a film pitch with the potential to be incredibly funny, that carries zero risk of inviting serious backlash. You avoid the schmozzle, Sony doesn't lose 40 million dollars and the Obama administration can carry on with business as usual. I'm not saying anyone wanted to provoke North Korea and cause this almighty ruckus, but in future, I'd like to think we show a touch more thought and tact.

Sara C Nelson   |   December 19, 2014    5:06 PM ET

The FBI has formally accused the North Korean government of being responsible for the devastating hacking attack on Sony Pictures.

In a statement, the intelligence service said it has enough evidence to conclude that North Korea was behind the punishing breach, which resulted in the disclosure of tens of thousands of leaked emails and other materials.

“North Korea's actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a US business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior," the statement said.

the interview

The film stars James Franco and Seth Rogen as journalists hired to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

The FBI's case cited, among other factors, technical similarities between the Sony break-in and past "malicious cyber activity" linked directly to North Korea.

President Barack Obama’s administration officials had previously declined to openly blame North Korea but said they were weighing various options for a response.

The statement on Friday did not reveal what options were being considered. President Obama is expected to face questions about the Sony hack at a year-end news conference with reporters later on Friday.

The break-in escalated to terrorist threats that prompted Sony to cancel the Christmas release of the movie "The Interview."

The film stars Seth Rogan and James Franco is a comedy romp in which two journalists are contacted by North Korea to take part in a staged Q&A, and are then hired by US agents to kill Kim Jong Un.

A group of hackers known as Guardians of Peace (GOP) had earlier claimed responsibility for the attack.

TIME magazine writes: "Early reports suggested North Korea was behind the GOP, and there's been some evidence of that. But North Korea has denied responsibility for the hack, and it's equally possible the assailants planted clues leading to North Korea as a distraction."

It's not immediately clear what action, if any, the US government will take. Bringing the shadowy hackers to justice appears a distant prospect. A cyber-retaliation against North Korea would risk a dangerous escalation. And North Korea is already targeted by a raft of sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.

The FBI did not indicate whether it has identified any individual hackers who might be culpable.

In May, the Justice Department indicted five Chinese military officers accused of vast cyberespionage against American corporate interests, but none of those defendants has yet to set foot in an American courtroom.

Five Politicians With Style and Substance

Marcus Hobley   |   December 19, 2014   10:07 AM ET

Politians are forever requesting that voters judge them on substance rather than style. Yet the realities of our telegenic age are that they are often judged on both. So is it possible for a political leader to simultaneously achieve success in both areas? From Arnold Schwarzenegger to Ronald Regan there are examples of politians who have pulled off the double act of policy supremo, while also not looking out of place on a Hollywood movie set, or the catwalk at London Fashion Week. In a light hearted festive piece, here are five modern politians who pull off both:

photo credit: (left) www.alexstubb.com (right) Reuters

Alexander Stubb, Prime Minister of Finland (2014-present)

Resembling somewhat of a blend between an Abercrombie and Fitch model and The Great Gatsby, Alex tops the list. Beyond politics he is a keen athlete who competes in iron men events. He also manages to maintain a blog and is an active tweeter despite his hectic schedule.

photo credit: (left) Connie Maria Westergaard (right) msn.com

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Prime Minister of Denmark (2011-present)

Following in the theme of well groomed and chiselled Scandinavian leaders, Helle holds together a four party fractious coalition. She is also said to be the inspiration behind the fictional drama Borgen and is married to Stephen Kinnock, son of former UK Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. She grabbed international headlines for taking a cheeky selfie with Obama at Nelson Mandela's funeral.

photo credit: (left) http://london.report, (right) GQ magazine

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London (2018-2016)

Boris's style can best be described as shabby chic, with his centrally defining feature being his incredible mop of hair, usually ruffled and a little scruffy, Boris wouldn't be Boris without it. As style goes we particularly like the brilliant union jack handkerchief presuming selected by stylising at GQ.

photo credit: (left) Francesco Guidicini (right) GQ magazine

Chuka Umunna MP, UK Shadow Business Secretary (elected in 2010)

Chuka elegantly manages to combine the easy charm of Obama with the suave of Savile Row's Oswald Boateng. Touted as a future Labour Leader, watch his next moves following the 2015 general election. His most recent interview with Alistair Campbell for GQ magazine makes for an insightful read.

photo credit: (left) Getty Images (right) AFP / Getty Images

Barack Obama, President of the United State of American (2008-2016)

A modern day JFK; it is little remembered that Obama entered the democrat primary race in 2007 as an underdog, yet his wide appeal and inspirational prose is credited with his then surprise victory over the candidate who now looks set to seize the 2016 democrat presidential nomination, Hilary Clinton.

The Normalisation of Relations Between the US and Cuba Is a Victory for Right Over Might

John Wight   |   December 18, 2014    4:43 PM ET

The announcement that the US and Cuba are to begin the process of normalising relations after decades of a US-imposed economic blockade and policy of undermining the Cuban Revolution is long overdue.

Cuba and the Cuban people have successfully defied the world's most powerful superpower for decades, which history will record as a triumph of self determination, dignity, and justice over a global economic system under which nations of the Global South have been denied same. Because for all the mountain of anti-Cuban and anti-Castro propaganda that has been erected over the years by the US and its supporters- slating Cuba on its alleged lack of human rights, democracy, and freedom - Washington's enmity towards this tiny island in the Caribbean has been the result not of the bad things Cuba has done, but the good.

The human right in Cuba to be hungry or homeless or mired in extreme poverty alongside millionaires and billionaires does not exist. The right to be educated, receive healthcare, and be housed does, regardless of wealth or status or luck. It is a society whose people enjoy freedom from illiteracy, poor health, low life expectancy, and infant mortality. And what could be more democratic than a revolutionary process constantly renewed with a level of participatory and grassroots democracy that working people and poor people living in the West could only ever dream about?

In following an economic and social system founded on the principal of justice and dignity for all, and continuing to do so even in the face of an unremitting economic blockade designed to starve it out of existence, Cuba has stood as a beacon throughout the developing world. Its remarkable achievements in literacy, healthcare, and education in conditions of economic scarcity has over many years put the industrialised world to shame. A recent example of Cuba's priorities is its leading role in the fight against Ebola and West Africa, where it has sent hundreds of doctors and medical professionals.

Cuba's international medical missions, in fact, are legendary, even though they have gone largely unheralded in the West.

When the Cuban Revolution, led by Fidel Castro, overturned the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Cuba was glorified bordello and fleshpot for visiting American tourists, mafia hoods, politicians, and businessmen. Its social and economic development, as with comparable countries in the region, had been retarded as a consequence of its control by the US and US corporations.

The imposition of an economic blockade, which in its early years ran in conjunction with terrorist attacks, repeated attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, sabotage, and the threat of invasion, was a measure of the threat of a good example to US interests in the region. The fact Cuba survived Washington's campaign to return to its former status as US satellite is testament to the consciousness and resilience of its people.

Of course, Cuba is not a socialist utopia. Those only exist in books. It has suffered and had to deal with real life challenges of scarcity and economic paralysis throughout its history, especially in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, referred to in Cuba as the 'special period'.

Ironically, there are some who believe that most challenging period in the history of the Cuban Revolution is about to begin with the normalisation of relations with its neighbour to the north. Speculation that the embargo has benefitted the Cuban government, allowing it to ascribe the island's problems to factors outwit its control, is about to be tested.

But, then, such speculation is surely the product of wishful thinking when we consider the inordinate ability of the Cuban government and its institutions to adapt and overcome the huge challenges it has had to face over the past six decades.

Those voices in the West, and they still remain, that have come out in condemnation of this historic development, announced in Washington and Havana, are marginal and antediluvian. Punishing countries and their people for exercising their right to self determination is never done in service to democracy, whatever that word means in states where the only people in power are the rich and connected, but rather in service to a political and economic order under which human beings are considered the means to the end for a narrow economic elite, rather than the end in themselves.

The difference between both when written in a sentence is a semantic one. But when applied in practice it is the difference between dignity and degradation, independence and servitude, indeed life and death itself.

Now, at last, the ideas that have guided the development of Cuba since the revolution can be placed against the ideas that have driven its neighbours - the Dominican Republic and Haiti for example - to the depths of despair and immiseration.

The Obama administration deserves credit for ending the anachronism of a vindictive policy that only succeeded in making the case for Cuba rather than diminishing it. But by far most of the credit for this new departure must go to the Cuban people. Without their determination and unwillingness to submit to the writ of Washington, and often doing so in conditions of extreme hardship, they have won a hard fought victory for right over might.

The words of Nelson Mandela are apposite: "From its earliest days, the Cuban Revolution has been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of the vicious imperialist-orquestrated campaign to destroy the impressive gain made in the Cuban Revolution.

Long live the Cuban revolution!"

The West Is Sending a Message: It's Fine to be a Violent Regime

Lukas Mikelionis   |   December 18, 2014    3:14 PM ET

The expectation for the west to defend freedom in the world was never universally believed. Even during the peak of the Cold War, there were politicians and people who uttered, 'better red than dead' as a badge of honour. They believed that the west must start living in harmony with the occupying power in the east that puts people on a train to Siberia for the crime of possessing dissent thought. But the latest sinister actions on Cuba and Palestine are a unique declaration of submission to conformism.

Firstly, the United States normalised sanctions with Cuba, which means lifting embargo and greater cooperation. Then, there was European Union that sinisterly passed two inter-linked motions: recognised Palestinian statehood and took off Hamas terrorist group from the terrorist organisations list. What message the west is trying to send here? I think it's quite obvious, the meaning of these actions is that we tolerate murderous regimes, which if had a chance would obliterate our democracy without a blink.

Sanctions on Cuba indeed worked. Drying up any possibility to sell their products produced by ineffective laid-back state companies led to economic suffering for the whole country. The Cuban government apparatchiks desperate in preserving their privilege were forced to allow people to open small businesses, strive in free market, and create wealth. Those capitalist reforms would had eventually led to certain democratisation, because once people notice that it's not them who are reaping the benefits of the hard work - they will demand a stake in the political process. But foolishly, after decades of peacefully letting Cuba slide to democracy, President Obama with a single signature empowered a violent, murderous regime.

There's a fallacy about Cuba that it's not as bad as other remaining communist countries such as North Korea, therefore we shouldn't punish it. While it's true that the extent of repressions is incomparable with certain other countries, it's still a mischievous human-right abuser. Human Rights Watch reported that Cuban government have caged up to 57,000 Cubans in prisons or work camps, while dissent constitutes anything from a call for elections to attending a church. In fact, in 2013, more than 30 women, who happened to be related to political prisoners, were arrested after attending a church in Santiago, beaten, and then left in the isolated outskirts of the city. This is a regime the United States just legitimised and offered an opportunity to prolong its existence.

On the other side of the pond, the European Union's decision to recognise Palestinian state and take Hamas off the terrorist list is the most appalling, immoral decision in the history of the union. We know that the union is spineless against Russian government, for example, because of vested interests of Germany and France, but what Europe is winning by pandering to the group which is openly and violently anti-Semitic and has wet dreams about annihilating the state of Israel, the only democratic force in the Middle East? We're constantly hearing about the Jewish lobby, but it seems that this time the twisted Palestinian lobby bought the politicians with an idea that general population supports Palestine, while it seems only like that due to extremely vocal activists who portray Israel as an 'apartheid state.'

Let's assume for a moment, that the verdict to recognise Palestinian state is harmless. A two-state solution between Palestinian and Jewish populations is an old idea, thus the decision of recognition could indeed be viewed as a welcoming change in fixing the conflict. However, the astonishing choice to essentially recognise Hamas as a legitimate government of Gaza corrupts the whole idea of two-states living side by side, because, and I'm worried that I have to remind this often enough, Hamas don't want a two-state solution - it wants a total destruction of Israel. This is why the group had underground tunnels to smuggle rockets that were used to shoot towards Israel indiscriminately, this is the reason why Hamas cheered the massacre in the Synagogue in November this year.

The depravity of the west is becoming too obvious. We have lost our sense of knowing what is right and wrong. The foreign policy became dominated by the idea of not offending any feelings and being bought into the culture of relativism. Cuba and Palestine are just the recent examples of how easily the west can be forced into the obedience.

Torture Is Torture - Regardless of Who Does It

James Snell   |   December 16, 2014    1:01 AM ET

On Tuesday 9 December, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released the executive summary and portions of an as yet unpublished report into the torture undertaken by the CIA. In the following days, much was revealed about American programmes of 'enhanced interrogation'. We had all heard of 'waterboarding', of course, but this was different. In scale, intensity and variety, the programmes of torture as described in the report eclipse the expectations of all but the most seasoned observers.

Some of these horrors make agonising reading - but it is incorrect to say that they defy description. In the cold, expressionless language of the Senate report, even blunt, mechanical phrases can contain the key to understanding a world of pain. 'Rectal feeding' is one. 'Stress position' is another. Through reams of inert prose, an appalling picture of abuse is built up and solidified.

There is one small, meek defence to all of this, a defence not in and of itself, but one which begs comparison. 'Other countries do it too,' this line of thought goes, 'but only America has the guts to say it.' This is true for many secretive nations; and tyrannies and theocracies partake in torture just as much as, if not more than, the Americans. But this truth is a hardly a mitigating factor; it does not excuse the brutality, and it does not excuse the futility.

Much is made of the following hypothetical, the 'ticking bomb' scenario. There is, we are told, an imminent attack; terrorists are threatening to kill a vast number of innocent, blameless civilians in a public place; and the only way we can get hold of the intelligence necessary to avert this catastrophe is by torturing another, captured terrorist into telling us. The situation is horrifying, but it is also neat. Too neat. The moral calculation is placed before us as if it were a simple numerical exercise: One person against hundreds, possibly thousands; an awful individual, engaged in nefarious acts, is pitted against a moral mass of the innocent. Quite simple, really; it is almost utilitarianism in action. But that is not the whole story. An essential, shocking part of the equation has been entirely removed. In this scenario, and in all of the others which populate the messy, eternally complicated world of security and defence, we don't even know if it's going to work. And we never know; not until it's underway or over. And it probably won't work: This torture produced 'false confessions and fabricated information, [and] no useful intelligence'. Brutality was condoned and even encouraged by the CIA, and for almost no gain.

Knowing this, the inescapable conclusion is the following: We will not be able to know if our actions of inhumanity are justified until they have taken place. Morally, I think, there is only one place to be, and it is not alongside the professional sadists employed to threaten to murder the mothers of captives, or to leave detainees to freeze to death in a hidden prison camp, days after subjecting them to '48 hours of sleep deprivation, auditory overload, total darkness, isolation, a cold shower and rough treatment.'

There is, of course, a little hitch in my own thinking. I do not pretend otherwise. I am very happy, as a rule, for those in the employ of my country to kill, or to maim, or to brutalise those agents of terror who threaten the innocent. Bomb them in their hiding places; kill them on the battlefield; vaporise them with drones - I can handle that. But when the battle is over, when these men are stripped of their weapons, their offensive capacity, and even, in some cases, their clothes, by the agents of democracy - that's when I start to get a little squeamish. Perhaps it's the indefinite confinement. Perhaps it's the transportation to secretive facilities across the world. It's certainly got something to do with the torture.

One of the most vehement defences of inhumane and illegal conduct is the rallying cry of pragmatism. I have outlined it above. This is war, the argument goes, and sometimes bad things have to happen in order to protect that which we hold most dear. But this sentiment has two major flaws: In engaging in torture, there is no guarantee of protecting that which we hold dear; and by doing so, we are participating in the self-destruction of our own morality, something I imagine most would like their governments to at least bear in mind.

This is war, and some acknowledgement of the situation must be made. Killing terrorists and fascists 'legitimately' - on the battlefield, from the air, with the assistance of drones - is my own concession to the imperfect world in which we live. Such methods are flawed, and do not always achieve the desired result; but at least they are not predicated on the false hope of averting imaginary massacres, and at least they do not challenge the very core of what makes Western civilisation worth defending.

Is Racism the New Black?

Tracey Agyeman   |   December 13, 2014   12:11 AM ET

The United States prides itself on being a melting pot, intertwining cultural, religious and racial differences in the hope of finding freedom and, most importantly, achieving the American Dream. Nevertheless, today's reality would contradict this idea given that the USA's social construction is not founded upon assimilation but rather multiculturalism. The Grand Jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the death of unarmed Michael Brown is a confirmation of the cultural and racial divide. Despite the progress made in race-related issues including the black freedom and justice movement and, in more recent years, with the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the USA continuously struggles to desegregate itself and grow towards racial equality. Presidencies have repeatedly and fruitlessly promised 'change' and 'hope' to the electorate, but disillusionment and outrage felt across generations have proven to be a recurrent theme.

The USA's racial divide has encouraged me to reflect on Britain and its progress towards racial equality. I was born during the year of Stephen Lawrence's murder, and today as a black woman in my twenties, living in the 21st century, I can acknowledge the fact that Britain has come a long way since then, yet I believe there is still a long way to go. British society is often described as multi-cultural, and the rising representation of ethnic minorities in politics, music, arts, media and other agents of socialisation, is a product of greater tolerance and change in social attitudes. However, despite progress on the small screen and in the high-visibility worlds of these establishments, this is not reflected in the real lives of individuals of ethnic backgrounds who according to the Guardian, 'are 26 times more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped and searched by police'. Or who enter a department store only to be followed around by the 'discreet' security guard watching their every move, or who, better yet, are encouraged by careers advisers to 'westernise' their full name because the employer may struggle to pronounce their 'ethnic' name. Despite graduating with a prestigious degree, or gaining years of valuable work experience, a report conducted by MPs indicated that women originating from an ethnic minority background face discrimination at every stage of the recruitment process. Accordingly, even if candidates possess identical education, experience, skills and work history, gender and race also play a significant role in the candidate's profile.

It seems the only time we attempt to confront the race question is when a life is taken and announced on the news. Otherwise, the issue is kept hidden in the wardrobe amongst other short-term issues and discarded until it comes back into fashion. Why is race a topic that is given up so easily? Why do we need a tragic event to reawaken our concerns about social inequality? Why do we believe that living in an era in which the president of the United States is of Kenyan descent is an indication of the end of racism? Why are we still pushing for greater representation and equality in society when it should already be the norm? Why should job seekers put his or her name in a smaller font or in a less visible place on a CV in order to be considered by the recruiter? Why do we fail to notice racism because it is presented in a subtle manner?

When it comes to addressing race, it seems there are more questions than dignified answers. There are more problems than solutions. There is more fear than courage. There are more surveys and data than action. There are more deaths than survivors. There is more despair than hope.

The truth is, although we may no longer live in the shadows of the past, traces of our history remain in the present, and resonate on a widespread level.

Paul Vale   |   December 12, 2014    2:08 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Michele Bachmann, perhaps the least hinged Republican serving in a Congress in which sanity passes as voting to repeal a healthcare law 33 times, is to leave the august institution at the end of the year, thus robbing Washington of one of its more colourful minds.

Yet the Representative from Minnesota, who once equated the gay community with child rape, has not exited the stage without delivering one final piece of insanity advice, informing President Obama at a recent White House holiday Party that he should "bomb Iran".

Speaking to the Washington Free Beacon, Bachmann said she told the President that he must take out the Iranian nuclear facilities otherwise the "course of world history" would change.

"I turned to the president and I said, something to the effect of, ‘Mr. President, you need to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities, because if you don’t, Iran will have a nuclear weapon on your watch and the course of world history will change,'" Bachmann told the conservative newspaper.

"And he got his condescending smile on his face and laughed at me and said, ‘Well, Michele, it’s just not that easy,’" she continued. "And I said to him, ‘No, Mr. President, you’re the president, it will happen on your watch, and you’ll have to answer to the world for this.’ And that was it and then I left. Merry Christmas."

What a lovely festive gift for those diplomats entrenched in delicate negotiations to rein in Tehran’s nuclear programme. A statement like this couldn’t possibly upset that at all…


CIA Torture Report: The Lid Lifted?

Neil Durkin   |   December 11, 2014   12:00 AM ET

Is the long-awaited report into CIA torture during the so-called "war on terror" an exercise on transparency or something rather less than that?

Seems to me it's clearly the latter. This is a 525-page "executive summary" of a 6,700-page report (sprinkled with 38,000 footnotes apparently), or about one thirteenth of the full report which, lest we forget, is still a top-secret classified document which seems set to stay that way. And the summary report itself is littered with blacked-out sections, with the Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein saying that the redactions obliterate something like 7% of its content.

And of course this is not all. As The Intercept made clear ahead of this week's much-trumpeted publication, the Feinstein report has been the subject of months - possibly years - of struggle with the White House which was, we can surmise, under enormous pressure from the CIA and pro-Bush Republicans to thin out and water down the report. Moreover, the report is a narrow-focus one anyway, looking only at the CIA's conduct (not the US military or its contractors), and the report's authors rather amazingly didn't interview either the scores of actual victims of torture or the perpetrators or the perpetrators' superiors.

So no, this isn't really the revelatory report it may appear to be. The Senate's report pales in comparison even to the UK's recent Intelligence and Security Committee report into the murder of Lee Rigby - 200 pages into just this one case. Whatever the weaknesses of that committee as an investigatory body - and they're significant - the Rigby report's length is notable. (By the way, David Cameron's claim that war on terror torture has been "dealt with from a British perspective" is ... a very far cry from the truth). And of course a long process of leaks from the CIA report have drip-fed content into the media in a way that has - surely by design - reduced the impact of this week's report. The CIA's treatment having been "more brutal than was previously acknowledged" was already aired months ago, and numerous details about how detainees were tormented - a la Orwell's Winston Smith, with insects and other "Room 101"-type phobias - were known several years ago.

All this said, the Feinstein report still provides some depressing insight into the sheer horror of being subjected to the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques". This could include: having food or water forced into your body via your anus ("rectal feeding" or "rectal hydration"); being confined for days in a coffin-like "confinement box"; undergoing partial drowning until you were convulsing and vomiting (indeed waterboarding seems to have been used on a wider scale than previously admitted); being subjected to extended sleep deprivation (anything up to 180 hours per month) until you were hallucinating. Naturally, these would often be used in combination - along with beatings, strippings, threats (of rape, of death: to you and your children), stress positions, extremes of heat and cold, white noise auditory barrages ... and on and on. All being done to people who had been abducted and taken to places where there were no lawyers, no doctors (not ones on your side anyway), and no people to help you.

Here's just one example, concerning the so-called Salt Pit facility in Afghanistan:


One detainee, Gul Rahman, an Afghan national, died of hypothermia in 2002 after being shackled to a concrete wall with very little clothing in near-freezing conditions in the Salt Pit. His family only learnt of his death more than seven years later, when his name appeared in the media. Amazingly enough, the junior officer in charge of Salt Pit interrogations was at one stage recommended for a $2,500 bonus, and we also gather that no-one was ever even disciplined for Rahman's death, much less prosecuted.

And here, finally, is the nub of the issue. President Obama is willing to acknowledge that "These techniques did significant damage to America's standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners", and even - more flatly - that "we tortured some folks". But the buck seems to be getting stopped just there. The US Justice Department says it has no plans to initiate criminal investigations, despite what seems a wealth of evidence. And meanwhile supposed "liberal" figures like the former assistant secretary of state under Bill Clinton - James Rubin - are popping up in the media (eg Today programme, about 8.50am) to opine that the no-prosecutions decision is the right one, apparently seeing political convenience as superior to justice and remedy for victims.

Obama is right to say the kidnappings, secret detentions and torture in the war on terror damaged his country's standing in the world, but so too does failing to prosecute people for these manifest crimes. And so too does failing to close Guantánamo, itself a scene of rendition, torture and long-term detention without trial.

As if there wasn't already enough torture and suffering in the world - enough for Amnesty to launch a Stop Torture campaign to highlight its presence in over 140 countries - the USA's disastrous attempt first to semi-justify and then later to "turn the page" on all this has surely given the green light to torturers the world over. Yes the Senate Committee has made some attempt to grapple with this dark episode, but the report doesn't really lift the lid on the full depth and breadth of human rights abuse during the Bush/Cheney years. And Obama's administration seems content to keep it that way.

Meanwhile, when you read in the Senate report that certain CIA operatives brought with them the experience of using torture and other "counter-insurgency" techniques learnt in Latin America in the 1980s, you're left with the distinct impression that this is a far bigger problem than we're being led to believe. We don't need summary reports, we need the full Monty.

Paul Vale   |   December 10, 2014    3:44 PM ET

The US and Russia are preparing for “many long years of confrontation,” according to former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Writing on Wednesday in the Russian state newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta, the 83-year-old delivered his grim assessment, warning that the frosty relations between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin could have “terrible consequences”.

The "new Cold War", as Gorbachev recently described increasing tensions between Washington and Moscow, was brought about by the crisis in Ukraine, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its military encroachment into the state on the side of pro-Russian separatists.

The elder statesmen, whose policies of perestroika and glasnost led to the dissolution the Soviet Union in 1991, wrote: "The result of events in recent months is a catastrophic fall of the level of trust in international relations. Judging by the recent declarations, diplomats of both sides are preparing for many long years of confrontation. This is extremely dangerous."

He continued: “With such emotions running so high, as we have now, we may not survive through these years. Somebody may just lose control of himself. We must do our best to overturn this tendency.”

Gorbachev called for a thawing of frosty relations on both sides, adding that international efforts to diffuse the crisis in Ukraine must be ramped up.


'Both sides are preparing for many long years of confrontation'

“I suggest that the leaders of Russia and the United States think about holding a summit on a broad agenda, without preliminary conditions,” he wrote. “The same kind of summit must be prepared between Russia and the European Union.”

Gorbachev admitted that both separatists and loyalists in the Ukrainian conflict were guilty of breaking ceasefire agreements, and that both were guilty of using "especially dangerous types of weapons and breaching human rights”.

“War until the victorious end is impossible... It's time to stop,” he wrote, adding that the US and Russia have a “special responsibility” due to their nuclear arsenals.

"We shouldn't be afraid that someone will 'lose face' or someone will win a propaganda victory. That should all belong in the past. We should think about the future."

The 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner urged for greater co-operation between the Russia and the US, particularly when dealing with global threats.

“Now the West is almost curtailing interaction with Russia in these areas. But will anyone win from refusing to present a united front against terrorism, climate changes, epidemics? We should immediately ‘defrost’ relations in this direction.”

Gorbachev has previously backed Putin’s annexation of Crimea, calling it a correction to a historical mistake. In Wednesday's editorial, he suggests this should be “welcomed [by the West] instead of imposing sanctions over it".

Gorbachev has become increasingly vocal in recent months, decrying "American triumphalism" for bringing about a new Cold War. In early December he warned that "militarists” were pushing Europe to the brink of conflict.


  |   December 10, 2014   12:27 PM ET

With the final episode of 'The Colbert Report' due to air on December 18 - Stephen Colbert is off to take over from David Letterman, of course - it seems only right that the big guns are appearing during the show's final weeks.

And they don't get much bigger than the leader of the free world - who made a memorable appearance on the show on Monday night, deadpanning his way through the regular segment 'The Word' (although he changed it to 'The Decree').

"Nation: as you know, I, Stephen Colbert, have never cared for our president," reads Obama from the autocue.

"The guy is so arrogant I bet he talks about himself in the third person."

And so it continues - chiefly about Obamacare - in very amusing fashion.

As Colbert himself would put it: a tip of the hat to you, Mr President.

Check out more of Obama on Monday's 'The Colbert Report':

SEE ALSO: Stephen Colbert Says Goodbye To 'The Daily Show'

United States of America: Liberty, Freedom and Justice for All?

Meliha Hayat   |   December 10, 2014   12:18 AM ET

Liberals and Conservatives alike were outraged by the decision made by a grand jury in America not to charge a white New York City police officer named Daniel Pantaleo, after he placed an unarmed Blackman named Eric Garner into a choke hold and killed him.

This decision has only further enraged the American public following an earlier verdict which saw another white police officer, Darren Wilson, not charged for killing a black youth named Michael Brown.

Rev Al Sharpton said the state-level grand jury system was "broken" when it comes to police brutality cases. But perhaps the issue of racial inequality extends further than law enforcement.

Granted this is not the first case we have read about racial conflict between civilians and law enforcement officials in the United States, but for a country that pledges liberty, freedom and justice for all, the rule of law and in fact many social, political and economic sectors are all plagued by racial inequality which has never been truly confronted by Congress at large.

The case of Eric Garner is evidence to the point, he was an unarmed victim who showed no sign of resistance throughout the incident, and despite his pleading he was put in to a choke hold-which is forbidden to use by NYPD- that led to his death. The course of events were documented on video which brings to question that even with video evidence, if his killer can't be indicted then is this ruling a mark of a huge flaw in the American legal system? Or is this a grave miscarriage of justice and racial inequality?

President Barack Obama has released a statement claiming that he plans to introduce new schemes that will help improve relations between the black community and law enforcement officers, including better training for police, he said:

"This is an American problem and not just a black problem or a brown problem, When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law that's a problem and it's my job as president to help solve it."

On some level one could agree with Obama on this issue, when it comes to policing and law enforcement, America struggles to impose the rule of law; a law which refers to the principal of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public, private and States are accountable to law. This includes the principals of supremacy of law and equality before the law. According to various national statistics, if an ordinary American citizen is being investigated for a crime by a grand jury, there is a 99.993 percent chance they will be indicted, however, for a police officer the chance is practically nil.

But Obama cannot turn a blind eye from the huge racial disparity America faces: Americans today incarcerate more African Americans as a percentage than Apartheid Africa did. According to the NAACP African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, The net worth of the average black household in America is $6,314 which is minute in comparison to the $110,500 for the average white household. The race gap of wealth in America between the average white family and black family is eighteen fold, that's greater than the gap between black-white communities during Apartheid Africa.

Black students in America are significantly less likely to attend schools offering advance courses in various core subjects including Maths and Science. They are three times more likely to be suspended and expelled which of course is only setting them up for educational failure.

In 1964 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination in employment, however, according to national statistics, 3 out of every 10 African male born in the US will serve time in prison. This places a huge hindrance on their future prospects for legitimate employment and obtaining professional licences. Racial profiling means even greater numbers will probably end up having some sort of criminal record.

Yes, the election of Barack Obama was a huge milestone for the US, and a big milestone towards racial equality, but with a majority Republican Congress, Obama too has been put into a metaphorical choke hold when it comes to bringing about any significant social change. New York City has revealed details of a $35 million project to retrain cops, but the problem stems further than law enforcement alone, all social and economic sectors should be revised, and not just by providing big budget projects, they have to eliminate racial profiling and start enforcing the rule of law, equal justice for equal society, only then can America proudly claim itself to be land of the free and home of the brave.

Paul Vale   |   December 8, 2014    4:59 PM ET

The British monarchy, historically not the most welcome institution in Washington, was well received at the White House on Monday as Prince William met with President Obama in the Oval office, part of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s three day tour of the US.

More than 250 miles north, the Duchess carried out her own solo engagement, meeting with New York’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray, before visiting the Northside Centre for Child Development in Harlem. The pregnant Duchess, whose hair was half swept back and who was wearing a black coat by Goat with white edging, was greeted with cheers from spectators across the street. The centre provides educational and mental health services to about 3,300 children and families each year.

It is the couple's first visit to the US since 2011 and their first to New York or Washington. William is delivering a major speech on the illegal wildlife trade in Washington after meeting Obama and vice president Joe Biden.

READ: William's blog 'Why We Need a Truly International Approach to Tackling Illegal Wildlife Trade'