Amid continued confused multi-factional warfare in Libya, Islamist militias on Feb. 23 reportedly lost two major areas in the contested eastern city of Benghazi. Fighters loyal to anti-Islamist Gen Khalifa Haftar are reported to have taken over the port, a hospital and have cut off a key weapons supply line. (BBC News) Meanwhile, Libya Dawn militia forces loyal to the rebel government that controls Tripoli were mobilized to the western town of Sabratha, after ISIS militants seized several key positions there, including the main hospital. (Libya Herald) In England, the defense spokesman for the hard-right UK Independence Party (UKIP) warned that Libya could be the "EU's Vietnam," citing a supposed leak of documents revealing plans to expand "Operation Sophia" to put European "boots on the ground" in the North African country. (UKIP, Feb. 18)
Thousands of people in Poland on Jan. 23 protested the government's planned changes to the legal code that would increase its surveillance over Polish citizens. The proposed changes to the law, initiated by the ruling Law and Justice Party, would expand the government's power to access digital data and loosen restrictions of using surveillance in law enforcement. The Law and Justice Party has been making moves to gain more control over the judiciary since it took office in November. The European Union has taken notice, launching an investigation into allegations that the Polish government is undermining democratic principles. If Poland were to be found guilty of these allegations, the country would lose voting rights in the EU for a specified period of time.
The head of the UK's Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), charged with looking into alleged abuses committed during the war in Iraq, said Jan. 3 that British soldiers may face prosecution for war crimes. Mark Warwick, a former police detective and the head of IHAT, stated that some of the allegations being investigated included murder. According to the investigation, there may be as many 1,515 victims, 280 of whom are alleged to have been unlawfully killed. However, Public Interest Lawyers, representing some of the alleged victims, said IHAT is not doing an effective job investigating those responsible for "systemic" abuse. They state that "Despite public inquires, court proceedings ongoing since 2004 and the IHAT team of investigators, there is yet to be a single prosecution resulting from IHAT's work." Carla Ferstman, director of the human rights group Redress, echoed these comments, stating that the the "incredibly slow pace" of IHAT's investigations was "wholly unacceptable."
The UK Supreme Court on Nov. 9 began hearings in the case of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who claims the British government assisted in his 2004 rendition by US forces. Belhaj and his wife were arrested in Bangkok in 2004 and returned to Muammar Qaddafi's Libya, where he spent six years in prison. Belhaj first filed his lawsuit in 2012. In 2013 the British High Court threw out the claim, stating that hearing the claim was barred by the Acts of State doctrine. However, in October 2014, the Court of Appeals found that the claim is not barred because "it falls within a limitation on grounds of public policy in cases of violations of international law and fundamental human rights." The court stated that while the Acts of State doctrine is valid, it does not stop a British court from examining whether British agencies, officials or ministers were separately culpable. The case will be heard by seven judges over four days, who will decide whether Belhaj can sue the British government, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), known as MI6, for alleged complicity with US intelligence over his treatment.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) on Oct. 30 announced that the last remaining British inmate, Shaker Aamer, has been released and returned to the UK after extensive review (PDF) by the Guantánamo Review Task Force. Though he is a citizen of the UK through marriage, Aamer identifies himself as a Saudi national. In 2001, Aamer was allegedly performing charity work in Afghanistan when he was captured by bounty hunters and transferred to a US military base as an al-Qaeda suspect. Aamer was transferred to Guantanamo in 2002 and remained there for 13 years despite being approved for release in 2007 and 2009. Aamer was never charged and claims he was consistently subject to abusive treatment. He often accused the prison of unfair conditions and recently went on hunger strike to press his grievances. Now that Aamer has returned to the UK, he must undergo physical and mental health assessment. Though it is unknown if he will be monitored for security reasons, Aamer has stated he has no ill intentions.
The Obama administration on Sept. 25 notified Congress of its plan to release Guantánamo Bay inmate Shaker Aamer to the United Kingdom next month. Aamer, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, is the final British resident held in the United States' military prison. Although he denies association, Aamer allegedly held close ties to Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and fought in the battle of Tora Bora. Now the Saudi national, who married a British citizen in 1990, will be sent back to the UK in mid-October, following a long run of lobbying by British politicians and celebrities to have Aamer released.
We've noted that the proximity of Western and Russian military forces in Syria holds the potential for escalation to World War 5, even if both sides are ostensibly part of the global convergence against ISIS. Now comes a further sign that the centripetal tendency will prevail—the common interest in figting jihadism propeling the situation back into World War 4. At the UN General Assembly session in New York, British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad can be part of a transitional government, although adding that Assad has "butchered his own people" and that "Assad cannot be part of Syria's future in the long run." This comes across as weak lip service in light of his capitulation. (Al Arabiya News, The Guardian, The Telegraph)
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment this week issued a report on the Obama administration's planned "modernization" of the US nuclear arsenal, finding it could cost $704 billion between 2015 and 2039. The biggest chunk will likely be borne by the Navy to develop a replacement for the Ohio-class nuclear submarines. Together with maintaining the warheads themselves, this will amount to some 70% of the cost estimate. The Air Force will see costs break $4 billion a year between fiscal 2029 and 2031 to bring online the next-generation Long Range Strategic Bomber. (Air Force Times, Aug. 5)