|Obama plans for
civilian terror trials dealt blow
Ghailani acquitted of most charges
WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama’s hopes of
bringing “war on terror” suspects out of the shadows to
try them in the full glare of civilian courts may have
been dealt a fatal blow by a New York jury, experts
Tanzanian national Ahmed Ghailani, the first former
Guantanamo Bay inmate to face trial in a federal court,
was this week acquitted of all but one of 286 charges
arising out of the 1998 bombings of US embassies in
Tanzania and Kenya.
“The verdict has offered a vision of the nightmare
scenario -- acquittal in a terrorism case involving a
high value detainee -- and that vision will be enough to
ramp up the already intense pressure not to try
something like this again,” said legal expert Benjamin
Wittes from the Brookings Institution.
Ghailani, 36, still faces up to life in prison after
being found guilty of conspiracy against US property in
the attacks which killed 224 people and injured
But Wittes said Ghailani’s final sentence, which could
just be the mandatory minimum of 20 years in jail, will
fail to quell the political storm about future trials of
other suspects -- including the self-confessed
mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks Khalid
Sheikh Mohammed and his four alleged co-plotters.
“The only thing that will matter in the political sphere
will be that prosecutors won a conviction on only one of
285 criminal counts -- that they came within a hair’s
breath of losing the case entirely,” he said.
Wednesday’s verdict immediately re-ignited the fierce
debate about what to do with other “war on terror”
suspects currently awaiting trial before military
commissions based in the remote US military base in
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Vice President Joe Biden argued that the verdict, which
will see Ghailani serve at least 20 years and perhaps
life in prison, proved that civilian courts were able to
handle such trials.
“The same evidence would have been inadmissible” in a
military tribunal, Biden told CNN’s Larry King Live.
“He’s getting a longer sentence. He’ll be in jail longer
than if any other method were tried... “There’s no
reason not to go with civilian court, based on this case
at least,” he added.
But Republicans said the verdict proved their argument
that terror suspects, such as the accused 9/11
mastermind Mohammed, should be tried before the military
Americans were “wondering when the administration will
admit it was wrong and assure us... that terrorists will
be tried from now on in the military commission system
that was established for this very purpose at the secure
facility at Guantanamo Bay,” said Republican Senate
leader Mitch McConnell.
Juan Zarate, a former advisor to president George W
Bush, called the verdict ‘hugely problematic’ for the
“It may signal the end of any hope that there will be
other civilian trials for other Guantanamo detainees,”
The verdict will also likely mean that top Al Qaeda
leaders will remain behind bars regardless of what
verdicts are reached in courts, he added.
The Obama administration is seeking to try about 40 of
the 171 terror suspects in civilian courts, as part of
its stalled plans to empty and close the notorious
About 48 of the inmates are likely be held indefinitely,
because the evidence against them is problematic yet
they are deemed too dangerous to release.
Human rights groups have raised repeated concerns about
tainted evidence which they say was extracted under
torture when the suspects were held in secret CIA
In the Ghailani case, the jury refused to allow the
prosecution to put its star witness on the stand as
Ghailani gave up his name during enhanced interrogation,
a fact which may have helped undermine its case.
Rights groups argued Ghailani’s conviction showed the
civilian court system worked.
“On balance the Ghailani verdict shows that federal
criminal trials are far superior to military commissions
for the simple yet fundamental reason that they prohibit
evidence obtained by torture,” the Centre for
Constitutional Rights said in a statement.
“If anyone is unsatisfied with Ghailani’s acquittal...
they should blame the CIA agents who tortured him.”
|Palin says she
could beat Obama in 2012
WASHINGTON (AFP) -
Conservative Tea Party favourite Sarah Palin is stoking
speculation she will run for the presidency in 2012,
telling a television interviewer she could beat
President Barack Obama.
The former Alaska governor told ABC News she was
seriously considering running for the Republican Party’s
presidential nomination in the next elections.
“I’m looking at the lay of the land now, and... trying
to figure that out, if it’s a good thing for the
country, for the discourse, for my family, if it’s a
good thing,” Palin said in excerpts of an interview to
air on December 9.
Asked whether she could defeat Obama if she ran, Palin,
who was the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee,
answered: “I believe so.”
Palin, who left midway through her first term in office
as governor of Alaska, has previously hinted at a
potential White House bid but has yet to formally
announce if she will run.
She told the New York Times, for a profile to be
published Sunday, that she was considering a run for the
“I’m engaged in the internal deliberations candidly, and
having that discussion with my family, because my family
is the most important consideration here,” she said.
She said there weren’t meaningful differences in views
among the field of Republican presidential hopefuls, but
said “there’s more to the presidency than that.”
Now one of the most popular conservatives in America,
Palin solidified her life in the spotlight by launching
her own reality show on Sunday, featuring her family
fishing, kayaking, bear-watching and relaxing in their
tiny Alaskan hometown of Wasilla.
She has used her visibility to endorse a number of
winning Tea Party candidates in this month’s legislative
But some of her picks fell short, including Joe Miller,
a Tea Party candidate who appears to have lost his bid
for a senate seat from Alaska to incumbent Lisa
A lifelong Republican, Murkowsi was forced to run a
write-in campaign as an independent after Miller beat
her in the party’s primary with Palin’s help.
|Jawaharlal Nehru ‘pleaded for US
help against China in 1962’
Ironically, at a time when the US is said to be helping
India emerge as a counter-balance to China, comes
evidence that the fading superpower was of little value
for New Delhi when it desperately needed help to keep
the same China at bay in the 1962 war.
While bringing back memories of perhaps the worst
humiliation independent India suffered, the disclosure
in the US of details of letters written by then PM
Jawaharlal Nehru to President John F Kennedy seeking
“comprehensive assistance” from the US against China
shows the pragmatic dimension of his policy of
According to reports, Nehru sought aid from the US in
these letters, which have been made accessible by the
JFK Library in Washington, in the form of air power
including fighter aircraft and pilots to handle them and
train Indian staff. While it was known even at the time
of the 1962 war that Nehru had sought `general’ help
from the US, the extent to which Nehru had gone in
seeking military aid was not known.
The two letters are still classified by the White House
and State Department apparently at the request of the
Indian government. The Indian government in the past has
denied existence of these letters.
While seeking comprehensive aid in the second letter,
Nehru said India had not asked for more help,
particularly air power, because of “wider ramifications”
and because it did not want to embarrass its friends.
Admitting that Indians couldn’t use air strikes against
the rampaging Chinese army for fear of retaliatory
action, Nehru went on to specifically ask for 12
squadrons of supersonic all-weather fighters and a
modern radar system. He also mentioned that these
aircraft would have to be manned by US personnel while
the Indians were still being trained.
Apart from it having the potential of embarrassing the
Congress party, the disclosure has also been described
by foreign policy experts, including former foreign
secretary Kapil Sibal and former diplomat G
Parthasarathy, as a clear case of US letting India down
badly. “What has come out is factually correct. These
facts came out after the event too but the important
thing is that only after we got nothing from the US did
arms supplies from the Soviet Union to India commence,”
Sibal described the contents of the letters as Nehru’s
desperate bid for help against all the principles he had
espoused as a leader of the non-aligned movement even
though he added that what Nehru did should be judged in
the context of history. “Given the Cold War and
Communism, it was the only available option for him. Our
forces suffered a rout and it was a personal setback for
an ailing Nehru given what happened to his Hindi-Chini
initiative. The moral of the story is to build up a
strong defence against China,” Sibal said.
AICC spokesman Manish Tewari, however, justified Nehru’s
|What if airport
screeners checked your square root?
|WASHINGTON (AFP) - What if airport screeners looked at
would-be passengers and instead of assessing the colour of
their skin, asked: “What’s the square root of your
likelihood of being a terrorist?”
Such is the world imagined by an American computer scientist
who argues that racial profiling to root out potential
terrorists is actually less effective than random searches,
but says some simple math could offer a better solution.
“When you have any profiling at all, it quickly becomes less
effective than random sampling,” said University of Texas
professor William Press, whose paper appears Wednesday in
the journal Significance, a publication of Britain’s Royal
Profiling does not work because “you end up screening the
same innocent people over and over again, just because they
happen to be in a profiled group,” Press said.
Previous studies have shown that any apparent rise in
success due to racial profiling is actually due to increased
levels of law enforcement. More police focusing on one group
will catch more criminals since fewer police and resources
are focused on other groups.
“It is simply better to do uniform random sampling, which
means everyone who shows up at the airport should have the
same chance of being screened in the same way,” said Press,
who has written on the topic before for the Proceedings of
the National Academy of Sciences.
But he has come up with an idea that just might be even
“It is this thing called square root sampling,” he told AFP.
That way, screeners would approach a given group deemed to
be, say 100 times more likely to be harmful, and then check
them the square root of that number, or 10 times, more
“That actually would be better than uniform (random)
sampling. The trouble is there is no good way to do that.”
Press teaches university-level statistics and uses the
example for his students, who do not argue with his
mathematical formulas but do puzzle over practical ways to
solve the problem in real life.
|Aircraft carrier plan
highlights China’s naval ambitions
|BEIJING (AFP) - The new generation of combat aircraft
China proudly showed off at the Zhuhai Air Show in the
country’s south this week could soon be taking off from a
prestigious runway: an aircraft carrier.
Beijing has become increasingly assertive in its ambitions
on the high seas -- as demonstrated by recent tensions with
old rival Japan -- but still lacks this naval centrepiece.
This looks set to change.
Although it has not officially announced as much, China is
working on a carrier and Western experts believe it could be
launched as early as next year, though not in a fully
It is a former Soviet aircraft carrier called the Varyag,
currently being refurbished in the port city of Dalian in
Rick Fisher, a Chinese military expert at the International
Assessment and Strategy Centre in the United States, told
AFP the Pentagon estimates China’s carrier will start
operations by 2015.
“This is a reasonable projection. China could have enough of
the carrier air wing flying by that time to start developing
carrier operating procedures and fighting tactics,” he said.
Fisher said that Chinese leaks to media in Hong Kong and
Japan last year indicated that Beijing plans a five-strong
carrier fleet, including two nuclear-powered vessels.
Arthur Ding, an expert on the People’s Liberation Army,
which operates the country’s navy, said owning an aircraft
carrier is a prestige issue for China, whose
2.3-million-strong military is already the world’s largest.
This is particularly so when neighbours -- and rivals --
including Japan and India are already equipped with them,
said Ding, of National Chengchi University in Taiwan.
But there is a second, practical reason, he added.
“As China’s interests expand globally, the Chinese navy
needs to go further outbound, and an aircraft carrier is
needed,” he said.
China has a nuclear arsenal and the world’s second-largest
defence budget after the United States -- although experts
believe China spends more than it reveals -- but its
military capabilities beyond its borders are limited.
As a tool for projecting power, the aircraft carrier is
|Religious freedom ‘deteriorates’
WASHINGTON - The US Government said respect for religious
freedom deteriorated in Afghanistan while China and
Indonesia earned mixed scorecards.
In its report on international religious freedom for the
last year, the US State Department also raised sharp
complaints about Myanmar and North Korea as well as US
allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
In Afghanistan, where a US-led international coalition is
backing President Hamid Karzai’s government in the fight
against a Taliban insurgency, “respect for religious freedom
deteriorated during the reporting period,” it said.
“Intolerance in the form of harassment, occasional violence,
discrimination, and inflammatory public statements by
members of parliament and television programming targeted
members of non-Muslim minority groups,” it said.
These groups were Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs, as well as
“Muslims perceived by government and societal forces as not
respecting Islamic strictures,” said the report, which will
be submitted to Congress.
The report said “government respect for religious freedom
continued to deteriorate in Iran, with which the US
government is locked in a showdown over its nuclear
ambitions and human rights.
The report came as Afghan archaeologists said they were
racing against time to salvage a major 7th Century religious
site unearthed along the famous Silk Road.
They have warned that the 2,600-year-old Buddhist monastery
will be largely destroyed once work at a mine begins.
A Chinese company is eager to develop what they say is the
world’s second-biggest unexploited copper mine which lies
beneath the ruins at the site.
The site is located at Mes Aynak, in the eastern province of
Archaeologists fear that the monastery - complete with domed
shrines known as stupas - will probably be largely destroyed
once work at the mine begins.
Correspondents say that the mine is the centrepiece of
China’s drive to invest in Afghanistan, as Kabul tries to
re-energise an economy still blighted by the ongoing war.
Beijing’s $3.5bn stake in the mine is believed to be one of
the largest foreign investments in Afghanistan by far and
means that China has a head start when it comes to
negotiating future deals to exploit the country’s largely
untapped mineral wealth, including iron, gold and
|Facebook messaging ‘poses risks for
SINGAPORE (AFP) - Facebook’s new online
messaging service makes users of the social networking site
more vulnerable to identity theft by cybercriminals,
computer security firm Sophos warned.
It urged users to be aware of the security risks before
signing up for Facebook’s next-generation online messaging
service that blends online chat, text messages and other
real-time conversation tools with traditional email.
“Users need to realise that these new features increase the
attack surface on the Facebook platform, and make personal
accounts all the more alluring for cybercriminals to break
into,” said Sophos senior technology consultant Graham
“Facebook accounts will now be linked with many more people
in the users’ social circles -- opening up new opportunities
for identity fraudsters to launch attacks,” he added in a