Truth Or Dare?

Is it good to tell the truth -or is it more profitable to dare to lie?

Amnesty: Israeli strikes on Gaza buildings 'war crimes'


Israeli air strikes on four high-rise buildings in the final days of this summer's conflict in Gaza amounted to war crimes, Amnesty International says.

Evidence suggested the destruction was "carried out deliberately and with no military justification", a new report by the human rights group found.

It called for an independent and impartial investigation to be opened.

Israel said the report made unfounded allegations and ignored Hamas' use of the buildings for military purposes.

In a statement, the Israeli embassy in London said Amnesty should be investigating the Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilians instead.

'No military justification'

The 50-day conflict in Gaza between Israel and militant groups led by Hamas left at least 2,189 Palestinians dead, including more than 1,486 civilians, according to the UN, and 11,000 injured. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed, with scores more wounded.

During the last four days before a ceasefire came into effect, Israeli warplanes dropped large bombs on four buildings - the 12-storey Zafer 4 Tower, the 16-storey Italian Complex and the 13-storey al-Basha Tower in Gaza City, and the four-storey Municipal Commercial Centre in Rafah.

Amnesty acknowledged that in all four cases no-one was killed because the Israeli military took measures to ensure residents left the building before they were destroyed - by telling some in telephone calls to evacuate, and also firing "knock-on-the-roof" warning missiles.

But the group said scores of people from nearby buildings were injured and that hundreds were devastated to lose their homes, businesses and belongings.

Amnesty said the Israeli authorities had provided no information as to why they destroyed the four buildings, other than the suggestion that one of the destroyed buildings housed a Hamas command centre and "facilities linked to Palestinian militants" in another.

"All the evidence we have shows this large-scale destruction was carried out deliberately and with no military justification," said Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther.

"Both the facts on the ground and statements made by Israeli military spokespeople at the time indicate that the attacks were a collective punishment against the people of Gaza and were designed to destroy their already precarious livelihoods."

Mr Luther added that even if the Israeli authorities believed part of a building was being used for military purposes, they had an "obligation to choose means and methods of attack that would minimise harm to civilians and their property".

'Complied with law'

The Israeli embassy in London criticised Amnesty's report for choosing to "focus on monetary losses to Palestinian civilians, rather than investigate the systematic and deliberate firing of rockets and mortars at Israel's civilian population".

The Israeli military did not intentionally target civilians or civilian property, complied with international law, was directed by military objectives, and abided by the principle of proportionality, the statement said.

Releasing information that would disclose in detail the target of the strikes might jeopardise classified information and intelligence sources, it added.

"Third, and most blatantly, Amnesty ignores the clear evidence that Hamas systematically and deliberately used civilian infrastructure for military purposes. Amnesty's inability to determine the military use of these sites does not indicate a lack of such use."

Amnesty said a forthcoming report would focus on violations of international humanitarian law by Hamas.

CIA interrogations report sparks prosecution calls


The UN and human rights groups have called for the prosecution of US officials involved in what a Senate report called the "brutal" CIA interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects.

A top UN human rights envoy said there had been a "clear policy orchestrated at a high level".

The CIA has defended its actions in the years after the 9/11 attacks on the US, saying they saved lives.

President Barack Obama said it was now time to move on.

'Criminal charges'

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism Ben Emmerson said that senior officials from the administration of George W Bush who planned and sanctioned crimes must be prosecuted, as well as CIA and US government officials responsible for torture such as waterboarding.

"As a matter of international law, the US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice," Mr Emmerson said in a statement made from Geneva.

"The US attorney general is under a legal duty to bring criminal charges against those responsible."

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said that the CIA's actions were criminal "and can never be justified".

"Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of officials, torture will remain a 'policy option' for future presidents," he said.

Key findings:

  • None of 20 cases of counterterrorism "successes" attributed to the techniques led to unique or otherwise unavailable intelligence
  • The CIA misled politicians and public
  • At least 26 of 119 known detainees in custody during the life of the programme were wrongfully held, and many held for months longer than they should have been
  • Methods included sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours, often standing or in painful positions
  • Saudi al-Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah was kept confined in a coffin-sized box for hours on end
  • Waterboarding and "rectal hydration" were physically harmful to prisoners, causing convulsions and vomiting

'A scandal'

The American Civil Liberties Union (Aclu) argued that the attorney general should appoint a special prosecutor to conduct "an independent and complete investigation of Bush administration officials who created, approved, carried out and covered up the torture programme".

"The crime of torture has no statute of limitations when torture risks or results in serious injury or death, and the US government has the obligation under international law to investigate any credible evidence that torture has been committed," an Aclu statement said.

"If there's sufficient evidence of criminal conduct... The offenders should be prosecuted. In our system, no one should be above the law, yet only a handful of mainly low-level personnel have been criminally prosecuted for abuse. That is a scandal."

Analysis: BBC North America editor Jon Sopel

There is no doubt this has been a deeply uncomfortable day for the CIA, with the activities of a normally secret organisation laid bare. It finds itself caught in a political dogfight between Democrats and Republicans and in a battle between past and present.

There will be millions of Americans scratching their heads, saying this was a difficult time and that the CIA was dealing with some very bad people and it did what it had to do.

But Barack Obama has a different agenda. He recognises America's reputation around the world was damaged, and that is something he is seeking to put right by saying that bad things happened and they should not have done.

The report's 20 key findings

The unlikely interrogators

Who were the detainees?

'In the past'

President Obama said on Tuesday that he hoped that the publication of the report would not lead to a re-fight of old arguments.

"I hope that [the] report can help us leave these techniques where they belong - in the past," he said.

Mr Obama banned harsh interrogation techniques after taking office in 2009.

Correspondents say that the chances of prosecuting members of the Bush administration are unlikely, not least because the Department of Justice has said that it has already pursued two investigations into mistreatment of detainees since 2000 and concluded that the evidence was not sufficient to obtain a conviction.

Influential Republican Senator John McCain argued that torture "rarely yields credible information" and that even in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden the most important lead came from "conventional interrogation methods".

"What might come as a surprise, not just to our enemies, but to many Americans, is how little these practices did to aid our efforts to bring 9/11 culprits to justice and to find and prevent terrorist attacks today and tomorrow," he said in a statement.

The report says that the CIA carried out "brutal" interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects in the years after the 9/11 attacks on the US.

The summary of the report, compiled by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the CIA had misled Americans about what it was doing.

The information the CIA collected this way failed to secure information that foiled any threats, the report said.

In a statement, the CIA insisted the interrogations had helped save lives.

"The intelligence gained from the programme was critical to our understanding of al-Qaeda and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day," director John Brennan said.

However, the CIA also acknowledged mistakes in the programme.

The CIA programme - known internally as Rendition, Detention and Interrogation - took place from 2002-07, during the presidency of Mr Bush.

'Significant damage'

Introducing the report to the Senate, Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein described the CIA's actions as a "stain on US history".

"The release of this 500-page summary cannot remove that stain, but it can and does say to our people and the world that America is big enough to admit when it's wrong and confident enough to learn from its mistakes," she said.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the issue had been "dealt with from a British perspective".

He added: "After 9/11 there were things that happened that were wrong - and we should be clear about the fact they were wrong."

He said that the UK had conducted the Gibson Inquiry, which examined whether the UK was implicated in the rendition and ill-treatment of terror suspects held by other countries.

The inquiry had "produced a series of questions that the intelligence and security community will look at," he said, adding: "I'm satisfied that our system is dealing with all of these issues."

The Senate committee's report runs to more than 6,000 pages, but it remains classified and only a 525-page summary has been released.

The CIA's defence of its tactics was supported by former Vice President Dick Cheney who told The New York Times the interrogations were "absolutely, totally justified".

"When we had that programme in place, we kept the country safe from any more mass casualty attacks, which was our objective," he said.

Mr Obama halted the CIA interrogation programme when he took office in 2009.

US intelligence agencies were accused of using "extraordinary rendition" to send terror suspects for questioning in countries where they had no legal protection or rights under American law. Some of the suspects claimed they had been tortured in countries such as Syria and Egypt.

Why interrogators prefer the soft approach


Amidst the appalling catalogue of abuses, mistakes and oversights committed by the CIA on detainees in the early 2000s, one thing stands out in the Senate Intelligence Committee's report like a beacon.

"At no time did the CIA's coercive interrogation techniques lead to the collection of imminent threat intelligence, such as the hypothetical ticking time bomb," says the report.

In other words, all that mistreatment, all those hours of waterboarding, of dragging people hooded and shackled, up and down corridors, depriving them of sleep for days on end and subjecting them to white noise, did not actually yield any real information that stopped a terrorist attack.

Not true, says the CIA's current director, John Brennan. In a riposte to the report, he said: "Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom Enhanced Interrogations Techniques were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives."

Wasted days

But the Senate committee spent five and a half years going through a staggering six million pages of documents. They did not reach these conclusions lightly.

The CIA's brutal interrogations did produce results, but they were frequently false leads. Humans, like animals, will do anything to make extreme pain stop.

Countless days and dollars were wasted, on top of the distress suffered by detainees, as CIA investigators chased worthless leads given out in extremis by desperate prisoners.

Unlike some of the hapless Afghan civilians who ended up in Guantanamo Bay by mistake, or were sold to US agents by unscrupulous middlemen, the men the CIA held in their "black sites" were in many cases dangerous, hardened terrorists.

Some did hold key information in their heads and in the case of men like Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaeda had reportedly trained them to resist interrogation.

Hungry for affection

So was there a better way for the US government to acquire this information without risking breaking international law and committing a moral outrage?

Yes there was. Talk to almost any trained British army interrogator and they will tell you that in the long run it is the "logical friendly approach" that yields the best results.

This does not mean treating the prisoner like some precious VIP. An experienced British army interrogator, who questioned high-value Iraqi POWs, says when a detainee is seized, often as a result of a violent struggle or firefight, there is the inevitable shock of capture and the fear of what is going to happen to them.

Often they imagine the worst - remember the Royal Navy sailor who broke down in tears when he and his crew were captured in the Gulf by an Iranian patrol boat and briefly held in 2007.

"They are hungry for affection," says the former interrogator about prisoners he questioned. "Eventually, they will be willing to co-operate in exchange for safety and comfort."

It does not work every time but there are numerous documented cases of both military prisoners and suspected terrorists being actually relieved to "unburden" themselves of information, thereby ensuring their own safety and relative comfort.

But this approach, of course, takes time and patience and judging by the Senate committee's report, the CIA deployed some totally unsuitable people for the task.

"The CIA deployed individuals without relevant training or experience," it said. "CIA also deployed officers who had documented personal and professional problems of a serious nature - including histories of violence and abusive treatment of others."

Even the two outside contract psychologists lacked "any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialised knowledge of al-Qaeda, a background in counter-terrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise".

With such blunt instruments in their armoury, it is little wonder the CIA's interrogation programme appears to have gone so badly astray.

Moment of Truth for Brazil's military past


The Department of Political and Social Order or DOPS. It is a place as Orwellian and as sinister as the name suggests.

Right in the heart of the modern metropolis of Rio de Janeiro, the former police administration centre, prison and torture chamber has remained largely untouched since the end of the dictatorship in 1985.

In many ways it is a metaphor for how long it has taken Brazil to deal with its demons.

Although Brazil was among the first of Latin America's dictatorships to return to civilian rule it has been one of the last to establish an inquiry - a "Truth Commission" - to find out, for the record, how many people were killed, why and by whom during the years of military rule.

Chile, Argentina, Guatemala and others have all been down this route before.

What I found especially remarkable was that only in recent weeks have the many victims of the former regime been able to return to where they were imprisoned and, in many cases, tortured.

"I can't remember for how many days I was in solitary confinement," Jane Alencar tells me as she surveys the cold, grey cell where she was held at the DOPS.

The former student activist and history teacher was held captive and tortured here on three occasions at the ages of 17, 18 and 21.

"There's a feeling of impunity in Brazil that I think is one of the root causes of all the violence here today," says Jane tearfully.

"No-one has been held accountable for the violent and horrible things that happened during the dictatorship. They've still not been punished."

Brazil was one of several Latin American nations where the military overthrew democratic governments in the 1960s and 70s.

With support from a considerable part of Brazil's elite and, then, small middle classes the generals said they were countering the very real threat of a communist insurgency.

Over the next 21 years hundreds were killed and thousands were tortured - among them was a young activist in southern Brazil named Dilma Rousseff. Today she is the country's democratically elected president.

Former members of the military, including retired general Gilberto Pimentel, reject accusations that torture was commonplace, that it was official government policy.

Gen Pimentel, is now the president of Brazil's "Club Militar" and is wary of the Truth Commission's brief.

He refers to the events of 1964, when the elected government of Joao Goulart was overthrown, not as a "coup" but as a "popular revolution".

"I have to insist on this point - yes there was torture on our side. It wasn't institutionalised torture but isolated cases," the former army officer tells me.

He then adds: "But there were also cases on the other side. There was terrorism. Revoking the [1979] amnesty law will not bring reconciliation to the country."

Amid a media frenzy, earlier this year a former colonel, Paulo Malhaes, told the commission in some detail how he tortured and killed many victims.

Under the protection of immunity, Malhaes, who has since died, also gave specific details about training on torture techniques he and others received in the United Kingdom.

He was one of very few former military men to give such candid evidence as the commission had to powers to subpoena witnesses.

It is this, the impunity of those who torture, says former guerrilla Daniel Aarao Reis that lies at the heart of the Truth Commission's work.

"We are a nation of torturers and torture victims," says Aarao Reis, now considered one of Brazil's leading historians and leftist thinkers.

In some ways he agrees the military coup was "justified" because revolutionaries like him were committed to violent overthrow of the capitalist system.

What he objects to is not that there was a conflict, an urban war, but that the regime then resorted to years of institutionalised and persistent torture.

"Torture is almost a Brazilian tradition going back for decades, even centuries," says Aarao Reis. "If we don't have this national debate and our kids aren't educated about this horror, that cycle will continue."

More than 400 people were killed under the military dictatorship.

The controversial amnesty law, for now, protects those on all sides who committed abuses.

Whether or not there will be justice, Brazil is still struggling to deal with its turbulent past.

France's Macron faces baptism of fire over economy reforms


In a crisis, they say, it is clear who your friends are. France has been in the grip of an economic crisis for years, but the country is still divided over which of its politicians are friends to the nation and which are enemies.

Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, who cut his teeth in the Rothschild banking group, launches a series of reforms on Wednesday designed to "unlock" the French economy.

Some French believe that the tough love and new reforms that he is planning are exactly what France needs. Others - including some within his own Socialist Party - see him as taking the nation apart piece by piece.

Aged 36, Mr Macron is the youngest member in Prime Minister Manuel Valls's Socialist government and French commentators are widely predicting a baptism of fire.

Among the key changes are plans to liberalise national bus routes and open up "protected" professions.

Notaries, pharmacists, bailiffs and lawyers are gearing up to defend their interests and aim to turn out on the streets in their thousands in protest.

Mr Macron is standing firm, arguing that "by overprotecting, we end up protecting nothing", quoting France's Nobel economics prize winner Jean Tirole.

And then there is a proposal to extend Sunday shopping to 12 times a year and provide exemptions to selected "zones with strong tourist and economic potential".

Some shops already open on Sundays in the run-up to Christmas.

The festive window displays of the grands magasins (department stores) of Paris draw huge crowds on weekends. Small children are held high against the glass as the smell of chestnuts wafts over the crowd of shoppers, shuffling along the boulevard.

But the number of Sunday licences is strictly limited to five days in a year - a tribute to France's traditionally Socialist values. Local authorities are currently allowed to refuse all such trading on Sundays completely.

Under Mr Macron's plan, all that will change - a step backwards in the eyes of many rebels on the left of the Socialist Party.

But not for Prime Minister Manuel Valls who asked on French TV: "Do we want Chinese tourists to leave to do their shopping in London on Sundays?"

Emmanuel Macron - Hollande's 'right brain'

  • Philosophy graduate with theses on Hegel and Machiavelli
  • Aged 25, became assistant to late philosopher Paul Ricoeur
  • Worked for Rothschild Group 2008-2012, advised Nestle on subsequent purchase of Pfizer subsidiary
  • Became economics adviser to President Francois Hollande in 2012
  • Helped draft Hollande's Responsibility Pact, pledging €40bn in tax breaks to companies hiring new workers
  • Appointed economics minister in August 2014

For one of the Socialist rebels, Sandrine Doucet, the Sunday shopping issue revolves around giving people the chance to rest.

"We shouldn't let go of that tradition," she argues.

"Sunday rest is a Socialist achievement, something we have fought long and hard to achieve. If we lose this right, we'll also lose other rights, because I don't believe that employees will be properly paid for working on a Sunday."

But while left-wing politicians are firmly opposed, a large majority of the public appears to have come round to the changes.

Pollster Gael Sliman from Oxada says that traditional opposition to Sunday opening hours is shrinking. "Seventy per cent of voters we asked recently said they were in favour of it," he said, "and opposition is diminishing towards other kinds of reform too."

Certainly the lunch-time crowds around the Paris shopping district of Les Halles were firmly behind the plan.

"It's a good choice for people who work all week, and on Sunday it's possible to shop with the family," said one man.

One woman pointed out that France had several religions, not just Christianity. A student added that many workers were happy to work on Sundays as they received double pay, but felt they should not be forced to work at weekends.

Oxada's recent poll suggests that 86% of French voters think the government's economic performance is poor.

"Voters don't care about politics at the moment," Mr Sliman says, "they are more pragmatic and less ideological than ever before. They want change."

But Mr Macron is making enemies even among those who approve of his reforms. While some in his party say he is going too far, other colleagues accuse him of moving too slowly. One leading Socialist criticised his lack of ambition.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a German newspaper that French plans did not go far enough.

One Socialist colleague of Mr Macron suggested that the minister should decide whether it was Mrs Merkel that he should wish to please, or the voices of his party colleagues.

As Emmanuel Macron is finding out, it is hard to please everyone.

The proof, though, may well be in the results. If he and his prime minister can engineer an upturn in the economy, they will suddenly find themselves a whole lot more popular than they thought. And, with presidential elections due in three years' time, popularity counts.

Russia's Kalashnikov gun-maker struggles with Western ban


It is probably the best-known weapon in the world, brandished by everyone from Che Guevara to Osama bin Laden. But the Kalashnikov assault rifle has failed to produce a profit for its makers for years.

Things were just starting to improve when the firm was hit by Western sanctions.

With Russian military stores full of the famously durable Kalashnikovs, and dwindling orders from abroad, the company had turned its attention to civilian firearms markets.

In January it finally secured a foothold in the biggest of them, sealing a lucrative deal to supply up to 200,000 rifles a year in the US.

But in July, Kalashnikov was placed on a US list of eight arms manufacturers sanctioned for Russia's role in fomenting the crisis in Ukraine. The deal was halted with under half the initial order delivered. It was added to an EU list in September.

"Of course I was upset, because I didn't understand why we'd been sanctioned," Kalashnikov director Alexei Krivoruchko told the BBC, arguing that the firm was no longer wholly state-owned since he and another Russian businessman had invested in a 49% stake.

Also, he points out, it primarily produces firearms for the civilian market.

"The US was a key market for us, one that we planned to develop," Mr Krivoruchko says. "It's a big loss, there's no point saying otherwise."

There are now some 200 models of Kalashnikov, still produced at the original factory in Izhevsk, two hours' flight east of Moscow.

In Soviet times, the sprawling plant manufactured around 600,000 rifles a year for the military. Last year it turned out one tenth of that number and 80% were civilian firearms.

With a new crisis management team on board, the firm is now on a major efficiency drive. Production has already been streamlined, putting the plant on course to double its output this year.

The next goal is to upgrade the ancient, chunky equipment that fills the shop floor: one machine was discovered from the 19th Century.

But sanctions are complicating life there, too, as Kalashnikov now has to seek suppliers in Asia, instead of Europe.

"I remember all sorts of times here, including the 1990s, when wages weren't paid, or only in part. And when the firm declared bankruptcy," Nikolai Svintsov reminisces as he assembles a hunting rifle on an old, rutted wooden worktop.

As part of its comeback effort, the weapons firm was recently re-launched as the oddly-named Kalashnikov Concern, with a red-carpet event in Moscow complete with high-heeled hostesses handing out replicas of the rifle's distinctive, banana-shaped magazine.

A glitzy video promoted the AK as a "weapon of peace", wielded historically by liberation movements in their "search for justice" and, more recently, by Russia's own anti-terrorist Special Forces.

The fact that the Kalashnikov is currently used by both sides fighting in eastern Ukraine - the conflict that led to sanctions - was glossed over.

"We're trying to hear customers' needs," explains another of the young team of managers, Dmitry Tarasov, of his firm's attempts to win a share of the civilian firearms market.

"Of course we can compete," he insists. "The Kalashnikov is the most famous assault gun."

But first the weapon has to compete against itself.

In Cold War times, Moscow allowed its allies to produce Kalashnikovs locally and some continued to do that long after the Iron Curtain fell. Those copies ate deeply into post-Soviet profits in Izhevsk.

As the right to any legal challenge has long since passed, the firm is preparing to launch a fully updated rifle in the hope that Kalashnikov users will upgrade too. A civilian version will follow.

The AK-12, as it is known, is one of two assault rifles currently being tested by the Russian military as part of President Vladimir Putin's military modernisation programme.

Final word on which firm gets the big state order is due early next year - a decision the Kalashnikov boss calls "extremely important".

But he also insists his firm is coping under sanctions.

Senior managers say they have found new buyers for the extra rifles originally intended for the US. Mr Krivoruchko admits it was not easy but will not be drawn on details.

While US weapons enthusiasts will probably manage without a Kalashnikov, for the company itself, hitting the lucrative American market was a clear route to recovery.

If the bosses are lobbying Mr Putin to push for an end to sanctions, Alexei Krivoruchko is not admitting it.

"There's nothing we can do," he says. "But we hope the sanctions will be lifted soon."

He has a multi-million dollar investment riding on that.

Where you can and can't fly a drone


Thousands will receive drones as Christmas presents this year but, as a recent near-miss with an airliner shows, the authorities face a battle to stop them being used irresponsibly.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones have long crossed over from just being used in the military and specialist commercial sphere. They can now be seen in homes.

Remote controlled aircraft used to be a niche hobby. It took time to build them and skill to operate them. Today drones are cheap, quick to get in the air and you can operate them on a smartphone or tablet. Today the thrill is not so much operating a model aircraft as having a flying camera.

Across the world, rules are being drawn up or refined to deal with the potential dangers. But they are already being flouted.

An unidentified drone came close to hitting an Airbus A320 as it landed at London's Heathrow during the summer.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) sets the rules on drones in the UK under what is called an air navigation order.

  • An unmanned aircraft must never be flown beyond the normal unaided "line of sight" of the person operating it - this is generally measured as 500m (1,640ft)horizontally or 400ft (122m) vertically
  • An unmanned aircraft fitted with a camera must always be flown at least 50m (164ft) distance away from a person, vehicle, building or structure
  • An unmanned aircraft fitted with a camera must not be flown within 150m (492ft) of a congested area or large group of people, such as a sporting event or concert
  • For commercial purposes, operators must have permission to fly a drone from the CAA

In the US, the Federal Aviation Authority bans the flying of unmanned aircraft, including hobby drones, above 400ft.

The FAA also states that, if they are to be used within five miles of an airport, its air traffic control tower should be notified in advance. They should not weigh more than 55lbs (25kg).

The European Aviation Safety Agency is developing EU-wide safety standards, which it says will be as high as those for manned aircraft.

Recent evidence suggests the rules are being flouted in the UK either because people are unaware or are wilfully ignoring them. Videos uploaded to YouTube show them being operated above London, Nottingham, Liverpool FC's Anfield stadium and towns including Margate and Broadstairs in Kent.

The CAA has prosecuted two Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) operators relating to safety breaches. It has four other investigations pending. The Association of Chief Police Officers was unable to say how many prosecutions the police have made over drones. But there have been arrests, such as that of a man from Nottingham in October for flying a drone over Manchester City's stadium during their game against Tottenham Hotspur.

Ch Insp Chris Hill, said: "Even small drones can weigh up to seven or eight kilograms and could cause damage or injury if they fall from height. Thankfully, no-one was hurt."

The CAA's focus is purely safety. For the criminal use of drones, including harassment, anti-social behaviour or damage to property, it is a police matter. If people have concerns about a drone being flown in public they should call the police, a CAA spokesman says. "Local police can assess the situation in real time and, if there is any evidence of breaching the air navigation order, they will pass on any information on to us."

During the ongoing House of Lords select committee inquiry on remotely piloted aircraft systems, Chief Inspector Nick Aldworth of the Metropolitan Police said: "We do not have a criminal privacy law in this country, so it is not the concern of the police to try to develop or enforce it."

But drones could breach other legislation, he added. "The most obvious example to date is the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the specific offence of voyeurism."

Incidents across the world are growing in frequency and political campaigners are using them to make a statement. In October a Euro 2016 qualifier in Belgrade was stopped after a drone trailing an Albanian flag was flown over the stadium. And in France, nuclear power stations were buzzed by drones in a number of mysterious incidents.

In the US, the Federal Aviation Authority places limits on drone activity. In July two men in New York were arrested after allegedly almost flying their drone into a police helicopter.

So what can be done to prevent the growing number of incidents eventually ending in tragedy?

The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) is campaigning for drones to be programmed not to enter certain airspace - known as geo-fencing. The Phantom series of drones, sold by manufacturer DJI, already includes geo-fencing. The GPS of the drone is programmed with the co-ordinates of thousands of airports around the world. It cannot enter these areas. If it tries to it will be forced to land. And within a 2km radius of a major airport its height will be capped at just 10m.

Critics, like Dave Phipps of the British Model Flying Association, point out that people can buy a drone online from a manufacturer that doesn't use geo-fencing technology. "If you're buying it from the Far East it's virtually impossible to enforce." And other people could simply build their own drones. "You could even buy it in component form and assemble it yourself."

Commercial operators undergo days of training. But hobbyists can take it out of the box and fly it like a toy. People may need more education on what the rules state, Phipps says. Once they are aware, most users will use them in a responsible way. But stronger punishments may be necessary to send a message to "the idiot contingent", he says.

The police in the UK have so far been relatively tolerant. Ch Insp Aldworth told the House of Lords committee that US and Korean tourists had been caught flying drones in parts of London where they shouldn't have been. "We have decided not to enforce the legislation that exists, even though they were in contravention of it because it did not seem proportionate."

Phipps says the authorities need to take a tougher line where the rules are broken. "They should carry out a few more high-profile prosecutions." And beef up the penalties, he adds. "The fines have been fairly insignificant. Internet posters have said it's almost worth the risk because you'll just get an £800 or £900 fine."

Another new step that Balpa is calling for is that, just like with a car or television, people purchasing a drone would have to give their personal information to the retailer and that this information should be logged. If a drone is apprehended the owner can then be traced. With illegally flown drones at the moment, even if you can apprehend the drone, it may prove hard to catch the person operating it.

Michael Perry, a spokesman for DJI, says the company is discussing compulsory licensing with regulators. All its products have a serial number that can be traced, he says. But would a Chinese manufacturer like DJI co-operate on such a system with European governments? "We're an international firm. It does behove us to work together with industry regulators," he says.

Phipps is sceptical. Even if some firms do play ball there is nothing to stop people going online to order unlicensed drones from abroad, he says.

Stricter height limits built in by manufacturers are another suggestion. Perry says that the Phantom 2 is capped to a height of 122m (400ft) when it's taken out of the box. Somebody can then tick a box to make it go up to 300m. If you build a drone at home you could in theory set it to reach 2,000m high.

The drone revolution has many potential benefits as well as risks advocates say. Perry points out the good that could come for farmers and search and rescue operations. In the UK, the CAA says it has issued permissions to 350 organisations to fly drones for business purposes, including the BBC.

In December 2013 Amazon announced it was testing unmanned drones, called Octocopters, to deliver goods weighing up to 5lb (2.3kg). But the CAA spokesman says the online retailer's plan is "flawed", for the UK at least. Drone operators must have a line of sight to the drone, meaning Amazon would only be able to deliver within a radius of 500m from the warehouse. Without a change in the law it remains just a clever idea.

But the skies are going to get busier. And just as with the first cars on the roads, accidents may be inevitable. And then more rules, driving tests and drone policing may become necessary.

Viewpoint: Why Eric Garner was blamed for dying


In the wake of several high-profile cases involving black Americans killed after encounters with the police, writers Stacey Patton and David J Leonard examine why blame is often shifted to the deceased.

Last week a Staten Island grand jury concluded that no crime was committed when an NYPD officer choked 43-year-old Eric Garner to death in broad daylight. Never mind what we all have seen on the video recording; his pleas, and his pronouncement, "I can't breathe."

So what if the medical examiner ruled it a homicide? An unfortunate tragedy for sure, but not a crime.

In fact, in the eyes of many, it was Garner's own fault.

"You had a 350lb (158.8kg) person who was resisting arrest. The police were trying to bring him down as quickly as possible," New York Representative Peter King told the press. "If he had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died."

This sort of logic sees Garner's choices as the reasons for his death. Everything is about what he did. He had a petty criminal record with dozens of arrests, he (allegedly) sold untaxed cigarettes, he resisted arrest and disrespected the officers by not complying.

According to Bob McManus, a columnist for The New York Post, both Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the teenager shot dead by a police officer in Ferguson Missouri, "had much in common, not the least of which was this: On the last day of their lives, they made bad decisions. Especially bad decisions. Each broke the law - petty offenses, to be sure, but sufficient to attract the attention of the police. And then - tragically, stupidly, fatally, inexplicably - each fought the law."

If only we turned our attention on those who are responsible. Had Officer Daniel Pantaleo not choked Eric Garner, the father and husband would be alive today.

Had Officer Pantaleo listened to his pleas, Garner would be alive today.

Had the other four officers interceded, Garner would be alive today.

There is plenty of blame to go around. The NYPD's embrace of stop-and-frisk policies rooted in the "broken windows" method of policing is a co-conspirator worthy of public scrutiny and outrage.

Yet, we focus on Eric Garner's choices.

Such victim-blaming is central to white supremacy.

Emmett Till should not have whistled at a white woman.

Amadou Diallo should not have reached for his wallet.

Trayvon Martin should not have been wearing a hoodie.

Jonathan Ferrell should not have run toward the police after getting into a car accident.

Renisha McBride should not have been drinking or knocked on a stranger's door for help in the middle of the night.

Jordan Davis should not have been playing loud rap music.

Michael Brown should not have stolen cigarillos or allegedly assaulted a cop.

The irony is these statements are made in a society where white men brazenly walk around with rifles and machine guns, citing their constitutional right to do so when confronted by the police.

Look at the twitter campaign "#CrimingWhileWhite" to bear witness to all the white law-breakers who lived to brag about the tale.

Just think about the epidemic of white men who walk into public spaces, open fire and still walk away with their lives. In those cases, we are told we must understand "why" and change laws or mental health system to make sure it never happens again.

The audacity of whiteness and anti-black racism is condemning black bodies for their own deaths, while seeking understanding for white criminals.

No matter the situation or circumstance, throughout US history the devaluing of black life can be seen in the failure to prosecute police officers, lynch mobs, freelance vigilantes, and others empowered to protect white supremacy because the deaths of their black victims were seen as self-inflicted.

The practice of blaming blacks for their own killings is not reserved for adults.

Last month 12-year old Tamir Rice was killed by police who opened fired seconds after arriving at the scene.

Rice was blamed for playing with a toy gun outside a recreation centre in Cleveland, Ohio. A 911-caller said he kept taking the gun in and out of his pocket and scaring people with it.

Not even a day after Rice was killed, his parents' criminal records and parenting decisions were front-page news. An early news story made references to his mother's past drug charges, another focused on Tamir Rice's father's history of violence against women.

The implication was clear: Tamir grew up in a family of "criminals" and therefore it is no wonder he died. Never mind that he was the victim, never mind his parent's grief, never mind that his killer, Timothy A Loehmann was deemed unfit for police work in 2012.

In the aftermath of these racially charged killings there's a predictable pattern of putting victims on trial in the media, in district attorney's offices, and in the court of public opinion.

This post-mortem narrative discredits the victims and feeds popular myths about black people as innately criminal, violent, and so deeply flawed that their lives are worthless.

Pinning the blame on the victims reinforces ideas of a post-racial America and racial progress.

It normalizes inequality and police-on-black violence.

It limits public sympathy and outrage since "they did it to themselves."

It limits responsibility and complicity of not only the police but also those sitting in the halls of political power.

It ignores larger history and a pattern of systemic violence.

It stifles conversations about implicit bias and systemic racism.

It undermines conversations about state violence and overzealous policing.

Rather than account for racism, or hold the perpetrator, society, and its stained racial history accountable, this racial gag reflex places blame inside of all too many coffins.

The efforts to blame the Eric Garners and Tamir Rices is not just about exonerating the police but pathologising blacks so white America can preserve its racial fantasies.

Ultimately, it is about absolving the fundamental inequality of how black people are perceived and treated in America.

They are assumed to be criminal, less intelligent, less worthy.

In America, black lives don't matter because white supremacy requires black death, and it requires that its victims die without sanctuary.

Stacey Patton is a senior enterprise reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education and the author of That Mean Old Yesterday.

Why is diesel now bad news?


The Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo wants to ban diesel cars and the pollution they bring from the streets of the French capital. But not long ago, diesel engines were thought to be environmentally friendly. What could have gone wrong?

Opinion on diesel cars has swung widely over the years.

Diesel is a more efficient fuel than petrol, but in the past diesel engines were often noisy and dirty.

Then, with growing concerns over climate change, car manufacturers were urged to produce cleaner, quieter diesel cars to capitalise on their extra fuel efficiency.

The cars were fitted with a trap to catch the particles of smoke associated with the fuel. Several governments rewarded the manufacturing improvements by incentivising the purchase and use of diesel cars.

But the policy has backfired.

Going into reverse

First, there have been problems with the particle traps - some drivers have removed them because they sometimes don't work properly unless the car is driven hot.

Second, the diesels are still producing nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which irritates the lungs of people with breathing problems. Diesels make several times more NO2 than petrol cars.

Now, in order to meet European air pollution laws, politicians are being forced into an embarrassing U-turn, telling drivers that they've decided they don't much like diesels after all.

MPs in the UK have mooted a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, while the mayor of Paris has called for a ban.

Several European nations are currently in breach of EU clean air laws.

The EU’s NO2 limit was exceeded at 301 sites in 2012, including seven in London. The concentration on Marylebone Road was more than double the limit.

Districts in Athens, Berlin, Brussels, Madrid, Paris, and Rome are also exceeded the ceiling.

Not just carbon: Key pollutants for human health

    • Particulate matter (PM): Can cause or aggravate cardiovascular and lung diseases, heart attacks and arrhythmias. Can cause cancer. May lead to atherosclerosis, adverse birth outcomes and childhood respiratory disease. The outcome can be premature death.
    • Ozone (O3): Can decrease lung function and aggravate asthma and other lung diseases. Can also lead to premature death.
    • Nitrogen oxides (NO2): Exposure to NO2 is associated with increased deaths from heart and lung disease, and respiratory illness.
    • Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), in particular benzo a-pyrene (BaP): Carcinogenic.

Politicians are now scurrying to persuade the courts that they are obeying an EU demand to clean up the air as soon as possible.

The Paris mayor said at the weekend that she wanted the city to become ‘semi-pedestrianised’, with a ban on diesel cars in the city centre and some neighbourhoods given entirely to residents’ cars, delivery vehicles and emergency vehicles.

"I want diesel cars out of Paris by 2020," she said.

Ms Hidalgo hopes that her plan will improve the quality of the air in a city where, on average, people live six or seven months less than those who are not exposed to the same levels of pollution.

Adding electric vans and putting limits on tourist buses would also help lessen the public health risk, she said.

Premature death

Bikes are expected to become the favoured form of transport, with cycle lanes doubled by 2020 in a $141m (£90m) plan.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson has promised to halve pollution, spending around $516m (£330m) to bring 2,400 hybrid buses, zero-emission taxis and 10,000 street trees. The announcement came weeks after he was forced to accept that Oxford Street has some of the highest levels of NO2 in the world.

Central London will also have an 'Ultra Low Emission Zone' in 2020. Mr Johnson has previously faced criticism from health and environment lobby groups complaining that he was dragging his feet in meeting EU targets.

The UK government says it is responding to EU demands by bringing forward new plans. Labour say the government has ignored the issue - they demand low-emissions zones in all of the UK’s major cities.

According to the European Environment Agency, air pollution is the top environmental risk factor for premature death in Europe; it increases the incidence of a wide range of diseases.

Particulate matter (PM) and ground-level ozone (O3) are the most harmful pollutants.

Vehicles are by no means the only source of pollutants – some industries are major polluters too, and shipping in some places. But the politicians who run Europe’s biggest cities have protested that they cannot control pollution from industry elsewhere that drifts into their area.

With so many nations failing to meet pollution laws, the EU is under pressure to relax air standards.

A reinvigorated anti-Taliban alliance?


After years of false starts, are we on the brink of a breakthrough in improving relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the Taliban and al-Qaeda on both sides of the border suffering an array of defeats and deaths?

For years the Pakistani military has been accused by the Afghans, the Americans and Nato of playing a double game - helping the Nato-US coalition in Afghanistan on the one hand, but at the same time allowing al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban to seek refuge and garner logistical support in Pakistan.

Even the killing of Osama Bin Laden by US special forces in Abbottabad, a military garrison town in Pakistan, did not push the military into changing its tune, which was always one of denial that it supported the Afghan Taliban. Many leaders of the Afghan Taliban have lived in Pakistan since 2001.

These accusations dogged Pakistan's new army chief General Raheel Sharif when he visited Washington for 10 days last month - particularly that in the past six months of a military offensive in North Waziristan the Pakistan army had failed to capture or kill a single prominent militant leader.

But now those assumptions may be changing and the complex three-way relationship between the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan could be on the cusp of undergoing a dramatic improvement.

United against al-Qaeda

For the first time in nearly 10 years the Pakistan army has killed a high-level leader of al-Qaeda. Adnan el Shukrijumah, a naturalised American citizen, was killed during a raid by Pakistani forces at a compound in the South Waziristan tribal agency close to the Afghan border on 6 December. He was accused of involvement in planning several failed attacks in the US and Britain nearly a decade ago and had been hiding in the tribal belt along the border ever since.

The following day, reports said a US drone had killed Umer Farooq, another top al-Qaeda leader in the North Waziristan tribal agency. A Pakistani national, he was allegedly al-Qaeda's operational commander in charge of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Suddenly both Pakistan and the US appear to be collaborating to root out al-Qaeda in a manner not seen since 2002-2004 when the Pakistan army killed or captured many al-Qaeda operatives.

The US has begun obliging Pakistan too. For the first time the US is targeting Pakistani Taliban insurgents who had earlier taken refuge in Afghanistan from where they carried out strikes into Pakistan.

According to senior Afghan sources, they were clandestinely being supported by the government of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a tit-for-tat revenge game for Pakistan's support for the Afghan Taliban.

A surprising repatriation

The US has now begun targeting those Pakistani Taliban for the first time and significantly the Afghan authorities are not objecting. A US drone strike on 7 December killed nine suspected Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan's Kunar province. The dead included a senior Pakistani Taliban commander, police said

An earlier US drone strike had tried to target Mullah Fazlullah, the current head of the Pakistani Taliban, who is also thought to be living in Kunar province. Pakistan has been asking the US and the Afghans to carry out such attacks for more than a year, but only now - after gaining Pakistani co-operation on other fronts - is Washington obliging Islamabad.

Clearly, Washington is pleased the way the Pakistan army is reacting. Pakistan has been further rewarded by the US. On 7 December the US military confirmed that it had handed over three Pakistani Taliban, including Latif Mehsud to the Pakistani authorities. Latif Mehsud had been the second-in-command of the Pakistani Taliban under its previous leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike last year.

Latif Mehsud was seized by US forces in October 2013 in eastern Afghanistan as he tried to broker deals between the Afghan authorities and the Pakistani Taliban living on Afghan territory. The Pakistani authorities view him as a danger to the country and have been insisting on his prompt return. His sudden repatriation - again with no objections from Kabul - is a signal of improved relations.

So far, there is a change of direction and much greater co-operation on the ground in military terms between the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But will this bring about a real change in political attitudes?

The Afghan government will now be waiting to see how the Pakistani military obliges Kabul. The Afghans will also be looking to see if the Pakistanis use their clout to try to rein in Taliban attacks in Kabul. The most important thing Islamabad can do is to allow Afghan negotiators to meet the Afghan Taliban leaders who are living in Pakistan.

That could be the most significant move of all and start the long process of ending the war in Afghanistan.

Ahmed Rashid
  • Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist and author based in Lahore
  • His latest book is Pakistan on the Brink - The Future of America, Pakistan and Afghanistan
  • Earlier works include Descent into Chaos and Taliban, first published in 2000, which became a bestseller

A sideways look at capitalism


Capital and its associated "ism". It's been one of the hot topics of the year. People are asking if it's fundamentally unequal, structurally flawed.

Often talk of capitalism is wrapped up in ideology and jargon. Maybe it's worth asking what capitalism is. That's what I set out to do.

Straight away as I begin this I can sense your unease. "Uh-oh, a comedian talking about capitalism." You're probably worried that this will be a glib, dumbed down version and will barely scratch the surface of such a complex topic.

You're probably right but in my defence I did get some cleverer people to help explain at least some of the intricacies.

I went to the Kilkenomics festival of economics - laced with a thread of comedy - which is held in November in Kilkenny every year. It's a good place to go to try and find out about some basic economic theories as quite a few eminent thinkers go there. People such as economists Ha-Joon Chang, Deirdre McCloskey and Mark Blyth, and journalist and author John Lanchester.

And of course I read some Marx and Keynes.

Finding stereotypes online

But before I met them or read these thinkers, I tried to take a few shortcuts to see what capitalism meant to people.

The natural place for any journey of knowledge about a topic - yes I called it a journey, deal with it - is to do a Google image search to see how capitalism and capitalists are represented.

Turns out they are all fat, male with a twirly moustache and dressed in a nearly bursting pinstripe suit complete with pocket watch. I often think it must be unfortunate for anti-capitalists who happen to have a predilection for pinstripe suits. They run the risk of being called capitalist pigs.

Surely it can't be as simple as this. There must be more nuances. Well, if you search on for capitalism there are tens of thousands of book results.

One that comes up very near the top is Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty. It contains two centuries of hard data. Indeed it is hard data, it has 600 pages. I knew I was in trouble in the bookshop when I bought it and the guy behind the counter said: "Good luck with that."

Ironically the bookshop in which I bought it, Hodges Figgis in Dublin, is mentioned in James Joyce's Ulysses. Ulysses is both a modernist classic and a book that a lot of people own but haven't read. It currently sits on my bookshelf next to Capital. Both are in equally pristine condition.

But that's me laughing at something I don't understand. Classic pandering to dumbed down culture. Just because a book deals with complex ideas doesn't mean one shouldn't at least attempt to read it. So I am going to persevere, just not yet. And maybe understanding this topic requires a little bit of lateral thinking.

'Move to Sweden'

As a comedian, I find it hard to articulate and work out jokes without knowing how they sound in front of an audience. So, regardless of how badly formed and misshapen the material, it must be launched into the big bad world of a live show like a fledgling nudged out of the nest by a cruel-to-be-kind mother bird.

Could the same work for ideas like capitalism? Why not give it a try? As part of my research, I struggled to work out my limited understanding in front of a reasonably forgiving radio audience. I used a slide show. Which is utterly useless to those listening in on the radio, but in its own way apes a certain facet of crony capitalism. Those within the circle are beneficiaries of extra information that the general public are not.

I also wanted to find out other people's understanding of the word. I "took" to social media to canvass people's views. Some might say that this is a lazy form of research. Let me reject that implication. I was merely saluting a new form of commerce: social media capitalism. The traditional capitalist paradigms are being additionally disrupted. So there.

And I "took" to social media, meaning there was certain dynamism involved. As opposed to "going on social media", which is just sitting passively and accidentally "liking" someone's wedding photos from five years ago. Views on Facebook ranged from "Capitalism is America" to "Capitalism is great when you're young, healthy and don't have kids. As soon as you have kids, you need to move to Sweden, believe me."

Capitalism... or extortion?

What about the man and woman on the physical street? What do they think? There was no better street on which to find out than Wall Street, for many people the epicentre of the C-word.

I took a selfie in front of the galloping copper bull, I spoke to others doing the same and got the very trenchant views of one true capitalist - a street seller called Ty near Bowling Green subway station. He articulated a common complaint about capitalism: that for the little guy, the notion of free enterprise is hollow.

This is something that Mark Blyth, professor of international political economy at Brown University, echoes: "We don't really do capitalism.

"So to think about banking you can run a business model which is an extortion racket against the taxpayer. If the risks [go wrong] you can't be allowed to fail so you have a brilliant business model. That's not capitalism - that's extortion. I think capitalism is a great idea. It's just that the version we end up with isn't capitalism."

Ha-Joon Chang agrees. He is the author of 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism. With a title like that, you just know that he thinks we've been labouring under a misapprehension: "Over the years I have come to the increasing realisation that when people talk about capitalism or inequality or whatever, they do this on the basis of a huge range of myths that they think are facts."

Now I'm at the end of my "journey" through capitalism. And where am I? You were right - I've only scratched the surface of the topic.

But here's one thing I think I have learned: capitalism might be a good idea, if we tried it.

Inequality 'significantly' curbs economic growth - OECD


Income inequality has a "statistically significant impact" on economic growth, according to research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In the UK, rising inequality cost the economy almost nine percentage points of GDP growth between 1990 and 2010, the think tank said.

The US lost almost seven points.

The OECD also found that redistribution of wealth via taxes and benefits does not hamper economic growth.

"This compelling evidence proves that addressing high and growing inequality is critical to promote strong and sustained growth and needs to be at the centre of the policy debate," said OECD's secretary general, Angel Gurría.

"Countries that promote equal opportunity for all from an early age are those that will grow and prosper."

Widening gap

In the 34 countries that are members of the OECD, the gap between rich and poor is at the highest level in 30 years, the group said.

The richest 10% in those states earn, on average, 9.5 times the poorest.

In the 1980s, they earned 7 times as much.

The only countries in which the OECD found inequality had fallen were Greece and Turkey.


A lack of investment in education was the key factor behind rising inequality, the OECD said.

Fewer educational opportunities for disadvantaged individuals had the effect of "lowering social mobility and hampering skills development," the report warned.

It also said that those whose parents have low levels of education suffer most when inequality rises, whereas family background matters less to those from a more educated social sphere.

The OECD called for policymakers to do more than just implement anti-poverty programmes.

"Policy also needs to confront the historical legacy of underinvestment by low income groups in formal education," it said.

"Strategies to foster skills development must include improved job-related training and education for the low-skilled, over the whole working life."

Brazil company executives charged in Petrobras scandal


Brazilian prosecutors have charged executives from six of the country's largest construction firms in connection with a corruption scandal at the state-run oil company, Petrobras.

The 22 executives and 13 others are accused of forming a cartel and channelling kickbacks into a Petrobras scheme to pay politicians.

They were also charged with money-laundering and organised crime.

If they are convicted, the accused face more than 20 years in jail.

President Dilma Rousseff who served as chair of the Petrobras board for seven years has denied any knowledge of the corruption scheme.

"These people stole the pride of the Brazilian people," said Brazil's top prosecutor Rodrigo Janot at a press conference.

"This is the start of the investigation we have a long way to go." he said.

The executives were accused of forming a "club" to rotate contracts with Petrobras and cream off cash for politicians to look the other way.

The bribery scheme funnelled money to dozens of politicians from several parties including President Rousseff's ruling Worker's Party.

The scandal broke nine months ago after the arrest of Paulo Roberto Costa, a former Petrobras director of supplies.

Mr Costa has been giving police and prosecutors information in return for the prospects of a lower jail sentence.

Prosecutors hope to recover millions of dollars from companies involved in the bribery scheme and executives from other engineering firms could face charges.

Correspondents say the case is expected to implicate dozens of politicians.

Does Mark Wahlberg want a 'white privilege' pardon?


Last month actor Mark Wahlberg filed a petition asking the US state of Massachusetts for an official pardon for a pair of decades-old criminal convictions. His timing could be worse, but not by much.

According to court records, in 1988 a 16-year-old Mr Wahlberg brutally attacked a Vietnamese man named Thanh Lam with a stick while spewing racial epithets and knocking him unconscious. Seeing police, Mr Wahlberg fled and found Hoa Trinh, another Vietnamese man. He put his hand around Mr Trinh's shoulder and asked the man to help him hide.

After the police cars had passed, Mr Wahlberg punched Mr Trinh in the eye, permanently blinding him. According to the police report, during his arrest the future actor used several anti-Asian slurs. He served 45 days of a three-month sentence, all while maintaining that the crimes were not racially motivated.

Today, however, Mr Wahlberg says he's a changed man - who wants a liquor licence for his restaurant.

"I am deeply sorry for the actions that I took on the night of 8 April, 1988, as well as for any lasting damage that I may have caused the victims," he writes in the petition. "Since that time, I have dedicated myself to becoming a better person and citizen so that I can be a role model to my children and others."

A pardon would legally free Mr Wahlberg up for more than just a liquor licence for his family's Boston-based restaurant, Wahlburgers. It would also allow him to do work as a parole or probation officer in the US state of California - the other reason he cited in his petition.

Reaction to the timing and substance of Mr Wahlberg's pardon has been harsh, given the racial nature of his crimes. Put into context with the race-based unrest that's persisted since a grand jury's decision not to charge a policeman over the killing of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, some say the petition is white privilege in action.

"If a black, Hispanic or Asian youth under the influence of drugs and alcohol had put out a white man's eye while trying to rob his store, it's inconceivable that he would have been let off with such a light sentence; implausible that he'd have gone on to the kind of marquee stardom that Wahlberg has obtained; unlikely that he would have the sense of unvarnished privilege that is driving Wahlberg's desire for a whitewashing of his record, if you'll pardon the pun," writes CNN's Jeff Yang.

A pardon for Mr Wahlberg's two 1988 crimes would not, however, completely wash his record clean. Two years earlier he was embroiled in a civil rights action lawsuit because he, along with two friends, allegedly yelled racial slurs and threw rocks at black schoolchildren. He settled that suit without admitting guilt.

In 1992 he managed to dodge criminal charges by settling out of court after a 20-year-old security guard said the actor, unprovoked, had repeatedly kicked him in the face.

Yang writes that it is "gut-wrenching" that in the reactions to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner - all young black men shot despite being unarmed - the victims are often characterised as "harder, bestial and irredeemably corrupted by casual drug use or records of petty crime". But Mr Wahlberg, he says, who has a much more extensive criminal record, is seen simply as a troubled kid.

Ben Railton, writing for Talking Points Memo, says that he also sees a larger historical and cultural narrative at play.

"Many Americans might prefer to erase the histories of white crime and violence from our collective memories, just as Wahlberg now requests that his own history of violence toward people of colour be legally erased," he writes. "This ability - to write history the way we choose, regardless of the facts - is a frightening example of white privilege."

But other reactions are less focused on the wider racial conflict and more in the human one.

Writing for the Boston Globe, Adrian Walker suggests that Mr Wahlberg should personally reach out to his victims and apologise before taking the legal route. He says that he believes Mr Wahlberg's regret is genuine because the potential gains of the pardon are so small.

"But pardons are a serious process, to the point that many argue that recent governors have granted too few of them," he writes. "Wahlberg shouldn't get an E-ZPass because he's a movie star and people like his restaurants. Cleansing his record and his conscience should be hard, not as easy as writing a few checks."

Time's Daniel D'Addario says the pardon request comes across as entitled and proves that he hasn't really changed - and why should he? D'Addario writes that the actor's audience has clearly already forgiven him. His film's box office numbers are proof enough. But asking for a pardon exposes Mr Wahlberg as the same 16-year-old, for whom consequences don't matter.

"That Wahlberg has served his time and moved forward with life sends a message that anything is possible for people in dire circumstances," he says. "For the state to say he never committed a crime at all would send a message that anything is possible for a celebrity."

While neither box office numbers nor "Marky Mark and Funky Bunch" album sales are likely to influence Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's decision about Mr Wahlberg, the results will no doubt be scrutinised.

As Danielle C Belton writes for the Root, however, stifling Mr Wahlberg via a criminal record doesn't make the US justice system any better. People don't have to be perfect to get second chances.

"This shouldn't be about, 'But what if Mark Wahlberg is still a racist jerk?'" she writes. "Being a racist jerk isn't illegal. Just as wearing sagging pants isn't illegal, or listening to really loud rap music in public places. We can't keep demanding that individuals stay tarnished forever, because otherwise, what's the point?"

(By Kierran Petersen)

CIA boss John Brennan defends post-9/11 strategy


CIA Director John Brennan has defended the agency's post-9/11 interrogation methods but admitted some techniques were "harsh" and "abhorrent".

Speaking at CIA headquarters, he said some officers acted beyond their authority but most did their duty.

A scathing Senate report two days earlier said "brutal" methods like waterboarding were ineffective.

But Mr Brennan asserted the CIA "did a lot of things right" at a time when there were "no easy answers".

"Our reviews indicate that the detention and interrogation programme produced useful intelligence that helped the United States thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives," Brennan told a rare CIA news conference in Virginia.

But we have not concluded that it was the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" (EITs) within that programme that allowed us to obtain useful information from detainees who were subjected to them, he added.

"The cause-and-effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable."

While he was speaking, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who heads the committee that produced the report, was rejecting his arguments on Twitter.

One tweet said: "Brennan: 'unknowable' if we could have gotten the intel other ways. Study shows it IS knowable: CIA had info before torture. #ReadTheReport".

Mr Brennan was a senior CIA official in 2002 when the detention and interrogation programme was put in place.

At the scene - Tara McKelvey, BBC News, Langley, Virginia

John Brennan spoke in measured tones and with a deep booming voice in a place that clearly made him uncomfortable - standing at a podium in front of journalists and cameras.

In his speech he tried to show the human side of the CIA. He said that after 9/11 the staff, like others in the US, grieved and prayed.

He said this week was a tough time for people at the agency because of the release of the Senate report. But as he described their situation, he kept his head down and read carefully from the text in front of him. He wanted to make sure he got the words right.

Occasionally he looked up but when he did he gazed at the ceiling as if no-one was in the room. As a result the speech came across as anodyne and bloodless despite the emotionally charged words that were on the page.

An outgoing Democratic Senator, Mark Udall, has called on Mr Brennan to quit, citing interference from the CIA in preparing the report.

A summary of the larger classified report says that the CIA carried out "brutal" and "ineffective" interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects in the years after the 9/11 attacks on the US and misled other officials about what it was doing.

The information the CIA collected using "enhanced interrogation techniques" failed to secure information that foiled any threats, the report said.

Mr Brennan described the actions of some CIA agents as "harsh" and "abhorrent" but would not say if it constituted torture.

He added an overwhelming number of CIA agents followed legal advice from the justice department that authorised some of the brutal methods.

"They did what they were asked to do in the service of their nation."

The UN and human rights groups have called for the prosecution of US officials involved in the 2001-2007 programme.

But the chances of prosecuting members of the Bush administration are unlikely - the US justice department has pursued two investigations into mistreatment of detainees and found insufficient evidence.

On Wednesday, an unnamed justice department official told the Los Angeles Times prosecutors had read the report and "did not find any new information" to reopen the investigation.

Key findings:

  • none of 20 cases of counterterrorism "successes" led to unique or otherwise unavailable intelligence
  • CIA misled politicians and public
  • at least 26 of 119 known detainees in custody during the programme wrongfully held
  • methods included sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours, often standing or in painful positions
  • Saudi al-Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah was kept confined in a coffin-sized box for hours on end
  • waterboarding and "rectal hydration" were physically harmful to prisoners

What is 'enhanced interrogation'?

Who knew what when?

Who were the detainees?

US President Barack Obama, who stopped the programme in 2009, said some methods amounted to torture.

When asked whether there was a situation where the CIA would use similar interrogations again, Mr Brennan said the CIA was "not contemplating" it, but said he left such decisions up to "future policymakers".

Nanjing massacre: China's Xi Jinping leads first state commemoration


Chinese President Xi Jinping has presided over his country's first state commemoration of the Nanjing massacre.

China says some 300,000 civilians were massacred in the city after its occupation by Japanese troops in 1937, although Japan disputes this.

The ceremony on the 77th anniversary of the massacre is part of three new public holidays intended to mark Japan's conflict with China.

Relations between the two countries have been strained in recent years.

They have clashed over island territory in the East China Sea as well as over Japan's insistence on honouring its war dead, including convicted war criminals, at the Yasukuni shrine.

Deniers criticised

At the ceremony in Nanjing, about 10,000 participants stood in silence for one minute to honour those killed.

They included survivors of the massacre, as well as soldiers and students.

In a speech at the event, Mr Xi criticised Japanese nationalists for seeking to deny the atrocity took place.

"Those who uphold justice and love peace must be highly vigilant and firmly oppose those wrong words and deeds," he said.

The event was designed to "arouse every kind person's longing for and adherence to peace, and not to perpetuate hatred", Mr Xi added.

Millions of Chinese people were killed when Japan occupied China in the 1930s and 1940s.

Hong Kong protests: Has Beijing won?


Some say Xi Jinping has won in Hong Kong. I doubt if that's how he sees it.

As he watches pictures of traffic flowing through the heart of Admiralty today, he will certainly feel relieved that he didn't lose. But he is fighting a multi-level multi-player game. He has merely survived a level.

This is not to say he didn't play adroitly.

By leaving the protests to burn out amidst their own divisions and the weariness of the wider Hong Kong public, he deprived the umbrella movement of the oxygen of repression and demonstrated that Beijing's tool kit for dealing with citizen defiance runs beyond tanks or truncheons.

What's more, he made no concessions. The lesson that Beijing does not bow to pressure was delivered not just to Hong Kong but to the world.

But the only real victory Beijing can claim in the entire episode is not in Hong Kong but at home on the mainland where, barring a few brave souls who raised their voices on behalf of Hong Kong democracy, little stirred.

This is an important victory for the propaganda machine, which successfully presented the protesters as a mix of spoilt children narrowly pursuing their own interests at the expense of the public good, and cunning enemies of the state in league with foreign forces.

"Any person who cares about Hong Kong and about the people of Hong Kong should say 'NO' to this hijacking of the general public will for personal objectives," said the Communist Party flagship newspaper, the People's Daily.

Champions of democracy everywhere take note - the aspirations of the young protesters of Hong Kong did not immediately resonate with their counterparts on the mainland.

Despite being beneficiaries of globalisation and despite having ever greater contact with the West through university education and holidays abroad, many young Chinese are suspicious of idealistic political messages.

Since childhood, they have been exposed to a historical narrative which dwells on China's humiliation at the hands of foreigners.

Many now echo their government's suspicion of street protests, social chaos and foreign ideas peddled by people whose hidden agenda may be to divide China and keep it down.

According to China's best known military theorist, Sun Tzu (writing two-and-a-half thousand years ago), the best kind of victory is won without fighting.

Seeing the mainland stable throughout two-and-a-half months of street protest in Hong Kong is just such a victory.

But provoking thousands of citizens onto the streets in the first place is, by the same token, no kind of victory at all. Beijing brought the umbrella movement on itself.

With its white paper in June and electoral arrangements in August, it made clear that it would not only draw up a narrower political board game in Hong Kong but control the pieces too.

Hong Kong citizens were already resentful of the scale of mainland tourism and immigration, and the young alienated by a growing list of frustrations including impossible property prices.

In this combustible mix, Beijing's announcements were the proverbial sparks that lit the prairie fire.

Sun Tzu would have called this self-inflicted injury. The electoral arrangements were intended to avoid future challenges from an elected Hong Kong leader. But instead they provoked a very present challenge from at least 100,000 citizens.

For a government which likes to reinforce the impression that it is in charge of not just the staging but the script, Hong Kong was an uncomfortable discovery that the props can get up and misbehave.

Ever since Chairman Mao's ideological experiments resulted in the deaths of countless millions in the 1950s and 1960s, China's Communist leaders have insisted that they believe in "seeking truth from facts".

The sobering fact in relation to the Umbrella Movement is that a generation of young people in Hong Kong is increasingly politicised and alienated from China.

With their demand for democratic rights, the members of the umbrella movement effectively rebranded themselves "not China".

The same is true in Taiwan.

Despite all of Beijing's efforts to coax the island towards reunification, the message from recent local elections as well as from the Sunflower Movement in the spring is that the Taiwanese public and especially its young people, are moving in the opposite direction.

Far from assimilating easily to an increasingly wealthy China, Hong Kong and Taiwan are growing more defiant. And adding to the list of troublesome peripheries whose citizens can't be trusted to behave like true Chinese patriots, let's not forget Xinjiang.

So while Xi Jinping will go on talking up his China Dream and urging the young people of China to unite behind it, he must have realised by now that his message is struggling with key audiences.

Hong Kong has seen a generation of young people devote energy, passion and sacrifice into a competing dream. These are people he needs on his side. Xi Jinping may not have lost in Hong Kong, but he needs to do much, much more if he is going to win.

For weeks there was a life-size cardboard cut-out of President Xi amid the tent city of the Umbrella Movement, holding aloft the obligatory yellow umbrella. It's a shame he didn't visit.

Let's hope someone reported back honestly on what actually happened there.

Your comments (114)

A whiff of hypocrisy about CIA report?


America has not come under serious attack since 9/11 on its home soil - so you would think that would be a source of celebration.

Big backslaps and high fives to the guys charged with keeping the country's citizens safe.

But in Washington this week it has been anything but. The Senate intelligence committee report on the treatment of detainees by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has unleashed a ferocious war of words (yep - even by the quarrelsome standards of this disputatious city). But why so vicious?

Well the really big picture is legacy. In 50 years' time when the history books are written and children are sitting at their desks in Duluth, Des Moines or Detroit, and turning to the chapter marked "9/11", what are they going to read? Here are two versions.

On 11 September 2001, the United States came under attack from al-Qaeda terrorists, claiming the lives of 3,000 people when planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania - a war on terror was declared, and those responsible were hunted down and detained, and there were no further attacks on US soil.


On 11 September 2001, the United States came under attack from al-Qaeda terrorists, claiming the lives of 3,000 people when planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania - a war on terror was declared, but the torture tactics used to hunt down and detain those responsible brought condemnation and America lost its moral authority in the world.

Remember Winston Churchill's adage that "history is written by the victors"? This is a battle between Bush-era officials and the Obama administration over which narrative of these events should prevail.

A battle between most Democrats, who think that there are NO circumstances EVER when coercive interrogation techniques can be condoned; and most Republicans who say America was under attack, there was intelligence that there could be a second and third wave of attacks and we did whatever we could to prevent that.

But is there just a small whiff of hypocrisy here? What if it had been a Democrat in the White House when America came under attack on that dreadful September day. Would the response have been that different? Would different instructions have been given to the CIA? Would the White House have been more concerned about the treatment of detainees than the need to get intelligence from them?

I'm sure there were sadists, oddballs and bad people out there. But weren't the overwhelming majority of CIA operatives at that time just driven by one thing - a patriotic duty to keep America safe, by whatever means?

And this is where it gets uncomfortable. Of course I can sit here at my keyboard and pronounce that torture can never be justified. It is an absolute. I do totally believe that. But what if a child of mine had been kidnapped, and the police arrest the kidnapper, but say to me, "Well we've got the guy who took your kid, but despite us asking him really politely where he's being kept, he's not telling us... However there are these things called enhanced interrogation techniques - we could give them a go." Would I say no? I'm really not sure.

The other thing about this debate that has made me uncomfortable is the demand that the CIA must be publicly accountable for their actions. And few things could have been more public than the lacerating Democratic-led Senate intelligence committee report released on Tuesday.

In his press conference on Thursday, CIA director John Brennan stuck to his script - but I thought there was one telling moment when he said, "There's been more than enough transparency over the past couple of days. I think it's over the top." That was the one bit of frustration he allowed himself to show. And if you're him, you can understand why.

This is a spy agency, for goodness sake - when we say their agents must be subject to public scrutiny, forgive me, but isn't the nature of espionage that, err, it needs to be secret. Part of what you are doing as a foreign agent is to try to to persuade a citizen from another country to commit treason and hand over his or her nation's secrets. Is that ok? Should a Senate committee codify what can or can't be done?

This is not the highways department where the road maintenance programme is under debate. This is national security.

Of course there has to be scrutiny - in a democratic nation, those people who work for the government, whether in the highways department or in the most secret corners of the state, must be held to account. But surely there must be a mechanism, a way of doing that so that public servants don't become part of the crude partisan political battle.

I just wonder whether in 10 years' time, when my successor is sitting at this desk, whether he or she will be writing a blog on the just-released Republican-led intelligence committee report laying into the drone programme from when President Barack Obama was in the White House.

ICC prosecutor shelves Darfur war crimes inquiries

The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor says she has suspended her investigation into war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region because of a lack of action by the UN.

Fatou Bensouda said there needed to be "a dramatic shift" in the UN Security Council's approach.

The Hague-based court indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2009 for alleged war crimes.

But he remains at large and has refused to recognise the court's authority.

Other Sudanese officials have been charged by the ICC, but none has been arrested.

Darfur has been in conflict since 2003 when rebels took up arms.

"It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to appear before you and purport to be updating you when all I am doing is repeating the same things I have said over and over again," Ms Bensouda told the Security Council.

"Given this council's lack of foresight on what should happen in Darfur, I am left with no choice but to hibernate investigative activities in Darfur as I shift resources to other urgent cases."

Analysts say action by the Security Council is unlikely because China - which wields a veto - has traditionally supported Sudan.

"We find ourselves in a stalemate that can only embolden perpetrators," Ms Bensouda said.

"What is needed is a dramatic shift in this council's approach to arresting Darfur suspects."

Last month, Sudan asked the UN-African Union force in Darfur (Unamid) to close its human rights office in the capital, Khartoum.

The move came amid tensions over the mission's attempt to investigate claims of mass rape by Sudanese troops in the Darfuri village of Tabit.

Ms Bensouda told the UN that the allegations should "shock this council into action".

However, Sudan has said it carried out its own investigation and had found no proof that anyone was raped.

Israel dismisses Palestinian peace deal plan as 'gimmick'


Israel says a Palestinian effort to set a three-year deadline for it to end its occupation of Palestinian territories is a "gimmick".

A draft resolution, submitted by Jordan to the UN Security Council, also calls for a peace accord within a year.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that without Israel's consent, nothing would change.

Jordan has indicated it will not seek a quick vote, opening the way for further discussion.

The US - which has vetoed previous resolutions it considers hostile to its ally Israel - said on Thursday it would not support the move.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said they would not support any action that would prejudge the outcome of negotiations.

"We have seen the draft, it is not something we would support and we think others feel the same and are calling for further consultations," she said.

Mr Lieberman said the draft resolution would only deepen the conflict.

"Certainly this will not hasten an agreement because without Israel's consent, nothing will change," he said.

"It would be better if the Security Council dealt with matters truly important to the citizens of the world, such as the murderous attacks this week in Australia and Pakistan... and not waste time on the Palestinians' gimmicks."

Despite Israel's objections, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would pursue consultations "with brothers and friends" at the UN.

The draft text says a negotiated solution should be based on several parameters including the boundary between Israel and the West Bank that existed before the 1967 Six Day War, security agreements and "Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states".

It urges both parties "to abstain from any unilateral and illegal actions, including settlement activities, that could undermine the viability of a two-state solution".

Another draft resolution, being put together by France, is expected to call for a return to talks on a final treaty with the aim of achieving a two-state solution to the conflict within two years.

It does not mention an Israeli withdrawal, but does lay out some of the parameters of a permanent peace deal.

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians brokered by the US collapsed in April.

Notes on Global Politics

Systems of Ideas and Power
Why Do So Many...... ?

It's the Stupid Economy
Fighting for Rights?
King Client
The Right to Dissent
Guns Or Roses?

Introduction to Cross Media Mapping
Manifesto on Aesthetics

Between Tears and Laughter
Only Yesterday

News Reports
Project Machiavelli

Intelligent Systems
The New Industrial State
The Age of Automation

Project Land
Project HomeFarm
Garden Diary

Trevor Batten

 <trevor at tebatt dot net>
 Baclayon 2014