Sometimes the capturing of an image or a single video can have a transformative effect. George Floyd's killing is an example. The eight-minute, 46-second video speaks for itself. That is why it sent so many Americans onto the streets. And anyone contending with state violence, whether they are in Minneapolis, Hong Kong or the Middle East, knows that sometimes all they need to prove their point - to expose illegality - is the right picture.
On March 29, 2018, a Toyota Land Cruiser carrying five members of the Al Manthari family was travelling through the Yemeni province of Al Bayda, inland from the Gulf of Aden. The family were heading to the city of al-Sawma'ah to pick up a local elder to witness the sale of a plot of land. At two in the afternoon, a rocket from a US Predator drone hit the vehicle, killing three of its passengers. One of the four men killed, Mohamed Saleh al Manthari, had three children aged between one and six. His father, Saleh al Manthari, says Mohamed was the family's only breadwinner.
A group of nongovernmental organisations called on the Trump administration to clarify its policy on drone use, saying they are concerned about reported changes to US rules and a lack of transparency in the decision-making process. "We are deeply concerned that the reported new policy, combined with this administration's reported dramatic increase in lethal operations in Yemen and Somalia, will add to an increase in unlawful killings and in civilian casualties," a joint statement said. The organisations include Amnesty International, the US-based Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, the ACLU and others. President Donald Trump signed the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act in December. The act funds the US military but also requires Trump to make known to Congress any changes to previous drone policies by March 12.
SHORTLY after 9/11, the US deployed a new form of high-tech warfare: sending drones into foreign airspace to kill terror suspects. At first the strikes were restricted to Afghanistan, but soon they were extended into Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The strategy has been escalated by presidents Obama and Trump. Initially the US had a virtual monopoly on drone technology, but commentators pointed out that this would only be temporary. Legal scholars also warned that the strikes were of dubious international legality.
In fact, in many countries, the internet, the very thing that was supposed to smash down the walls of authoritarianism like a sledgehammer of liberty, has been instead been co-opted by those very regimes in order to push their own agendas while crushing dissent and opposition. And with the emergence of conversational AI -- the technology at the heart of services like Google's Allo and Jigsaw or Intel's Hack Harassment initiative -- these governments could have a new tool to further censor their citizens. Turkey, Brazil, Egypt, India and Uganda have all shut off internet access when politically beneficial to their ruling parties. Nations like Singapore, Russia and China all exert outsize control over the structure and function of their national networks, often relying on a mix of political, technical and social schemes to control the flow of information within their digital borders. The effects of these policies are self-evident.
Barack Obama won the White House in 2008 in good measure on the promise of systematic change, not just to rescue an American economy in the throes of the Great Recession, but in a strategic theatre defined by unjustified wars, torture and other violations of international law and norms. For the global human rights community, there was anticipation that the new administration would work to restore the most egregious violations of US international legal obligations and hold to account the perpetrators of human rights violations. Despite the hope generated by his famous 2009 Cairo speech promising "a new beginning" to America's relationship with the Muslim world, Obama's presidency was marked by banality and continuity rather than change. Not only did his administration refuse to hold anyone accountable for the unconscionable violations of the Bush years, it continued, and even ramped up, many of its policies. The lowlights of his administration's actions on human rights include: the large scale use of drone strikes outside active war zones; support or muted criticisms of repressive regimes across the Middle East and North Africa - and beyond; sale or supply of far more weapons than any administration since World War II; favouring the "stability" of authoritarian regimes to the uncertainty of "Islamic" or other political movements; unwavering support for Israel; ongoing use of massive surveillance programmes that encourage similar activities by authoritarian regimes against their citizens; failure to close Guantanamo Bay; and a complete lack of leadership on the unprecedented refugee crises across Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
In fact, in many countries, the internet, the very thing that was supposed to smash down the walls of authoritarianism like a sledgehammer of liberty, has been instead been co-opted by those very regimes in order to push their own agendas while crushing dissent and opposition. And with the emergence of conversational AI -- the technology at the heart of services like Google's Allo and Jigsaw or Intel's Hack Harassment initiative -- these governments could have a new tool to further censor their citizens. Turkey, Brazil, Egypt, India and Uganda have all shut off internet access when politically beneficial to their ruling parties. Nations like Singapore, Russia and China all exert outsized control over the structure and function of their national networks, often relying on a mix of political, technical and social schemes to control the flow of information within their digital borders. The effects of these policies are self-evident.
The Egyptian painters who decorated King Tut's burial chamber had to work quickly--the pharaoh died unexpectedly, at about the age of nineteen, and proper preparations had not been made. Plaster was applied to lumpy limestone walls. On the chamber's western wall, twelve baboons with an identical design are arrayed in a grid, and various slip-ups suggest haste: one of the baboons is missing a black outline around its penis. When the entrance to the chamber was sealed, some thirty-five hundred years ago, the baboons, along with the gods and goddesses depicted in other panels, were expected to maintain their poses for eternity. This wasn't an entirely naïve hope. Tutankhamun was interred in the Valley of the Kings, the vast network of tombs in the hills outside Luxor, four hundred miles south of Cairo. The air in the valley is bone-dry, and pigment applied to a plastered wall in a lightless, undisturbed chamber should decay little over the centuries.
In its first public assessment, the administration said the death toll was between 64 and 116 civilians between January 2009 and December 2015, which is significantly lower than civilian casualty estimates by various human rights groups. Seeking to create a precedent for his successor, Obama signed an executive order that details U.S. policies to limit civilian casualties and makes protecting civilians a central element in U.S. military operations planning. Human rights groups have long claimed that the administration undercounts civilian casualties and the new information is unlikely to satisfy them entirely. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, for instance, has estimated anywhere from 492 to about 1,100 civilians killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2002.
Here are some story lines I don't want you to miss today. The U.S. isn't officially at war in Yemen, Pakistan, Libya and Somalia, but the American military and CIA carry out drone attacks there targeting militants that sometimes kill civilians too. The number of them is a subject of dispute: Sources say President Obama will reveal that such strikes have killed about 100 civilians since 2009. Human rights groups put the figure much higher. Meet one Yemeni man who says he was handed a plastic bag with 100,000 in cash after his brother-in-law and a nephew were killed.