Nation 2  


Obama plans for civilian terror trials dealt blow
Guantanamo detainee 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 said.
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 thousands more.
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 commissions.
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 administration.
“It may signal the end of any hope that there will be other civilian trials for other Guantanamo detainees,” he said.
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 facility.
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 interrogation centers.
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 presidency.
“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 elections.
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 Murkowski.
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’

NEW DELHI: 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 non-alignment.
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,” Parthasarathy said.
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 action. (TOI)

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 Statistical Society.
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 better.
“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 often.
“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 operational state.
It is a former Soviet aircraft carrier called the Varyag, currently being refurbished in the port city of Dalian in northeast China.
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 unsurpassed.
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 Logar.
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 cobalt.(AFP,BBC)

Facebook messaging ‘poses risks for users’

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 Cluley.
“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 press statement.