Will an "October surprise" in the prelude to the mid-term elections in the US be the outbreak of world war—that is, direct superpower conflict? Things are escalating fast on the frontlines with both of the United States' major imperial rivals. The US Navy's Pacific Fleet has drawn up a classified proposal to carry out a "global show of force" as a warning to China. The draft proposal reportedly calls for the Pacific Fleet to conduct a series of exercises in the coming weeks, involving warships, combat aircraft and troops, to demonstrate that the US can "counter potential adversaries" quickly on several fronts. (CNN) The plans come after a near-skirmish between a US warship and a Chinese destroyer in the disputed South China Sea on Oct. 2. The two vessles came within yards of each other, compelling the US ship to abruptly switch direction. US officials called the Chinese vessel's behavior "unsafe and unprofessional." while Beijing is accusing the US of violating its sovereignty. (WaPo)
International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda made a formal request (PDF) on Nov. 20 to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the US military and the CIA. The proposed investigation focuses on alleged crimes committed in Afghanistan by the US military in May 2003, in addition to crimes at secret CIA detention facilities in Poland, Romania and Lithuania since July 2002. The allegations are brought under articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute and include murder, unlawful imprisonment, torture and cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence, and using, conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years.
Russia announced that it is preparing to deploy troops to police the borders of planned "de-escalation zones" in Syria after finalizing an agreement with Turkey and Iran. The word came from Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev following the latest round of ongoing talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana. (Reuters, July 4) We've noted that the so-called "de-escalation zones" or "safe zones" could become kill zones, where Russia and Assad will be able to bomb with (even greater) impunity—as they will officially not be "safe" for ISIS, and Moscow and Damascus have long used the propaganda trick of conflating all rebel forces with ISIS. Now, with the US also sending ground troops to join the forces fighting ISIS, American and Russian soliders could find themselves in close proximity, with greater of odds of ending up shooting at each other—potentially leading to unparalleled catastrophe
Attorneys for Guantánamo detainee Abu Zubaydah have filed a lawsuit against the two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who developed the harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA, including waterboarding and sleep deprivation. The UK human rights group Reprieve announced the case on June 7. The attorneys are seeking to subpoena the psychologists in order to uncover evidence about the torture that allegedly went on in Poland. According to US law, a federal district court may "order discovery of documents and testimony for use in a foreign proceeding from any person who resides or is found in the court's district." The case will be heard in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. The CIA had detained the plaintiff in a secret Polish prison from 2002 to 2003 on suspicions that he was a "facilitator" for al Qaeda. Zubaydah has been held at Guantanamo since 2006. In April 2016 a federal judge ruled that another lawsuit against the same psychologists with different plaintiffs could proceed.
Poland's increasingly authoritarian government capitulated after days of angry protests and agreed to scrap a proposed law that would have imposed harsh restrictions on the media. The announcement came after thousands marched on the presidential palace Dec. 18, chanting "freedom, equality, democracy." President Andrzej Duda admitted the legislation was too controversial, and tellingly made his announcement after consulting with Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of his right-populist Law & Justice Party (PiS). Protests even penetrated the parliament chamber Dec. 19, when opposition MPs blockaded the entrance, forcing PiS MPs into another room to vote on next year's budget. The law, which would have placed restrictions on media access in parliament, is part of a growing centralization of power by the PiS government since it came to power in October 2015. The EU this week issued a formal protest of moves to restrict the independence of the judiciary. But this is not the first victory over the PiS regime. In October, the party withdrew plans for a total abortion ban after huge numbers of women dressed in black protested across the country. (The Guardian, Dec. 21; The Guardian, Dec. 19; BBC News, Dec. 18; The News, Poland, Dec. 16)
The US on Oct. 4 announced it is suspending talks with Russia over the Syria war, citing the Kremlin's support of the Bashar Assad regime in the brutal bombing campaign on the besieged city of Aleppo. Secretary of State John Kerry days later called for an investigation of possible war crimes by Russia and the Assad regime. Despite the seeming lack of anyone left to negotiative with, he still insisted: "We aren't going to leave the multilateral field, we are going to continue to try to find a way forward in order to end this war." (Jurist, Oct. 7; NYT, Fox News, Oct. 4) All indications point to further escalation. Moscow's Defense Ministry cautioned the US against carrying out air-strikes on Assad's forces, darkly adding that Russia now has air-defense missiles operational in Syria. Russia has just installed S-400 and S-300 air-defense systems at the Tartus naval base and Khmeimim air-base in the Assad regime's coastal stronghold of Latakia. The radius of the weapons reach may be "a surprise," the Defense Ministry's Gen. Igor Konashenkov boasted. (RT, Oct. 6; BBC, Oct. 4)
The US Aegis anti-missile station at Deveselu, Romania, was officially activated this week—to harsh protests from Moscow, despite Washington's claim that the system is intended to intercept missiles fired from the Middle East. Together with an installation in Poland, the Deveselu facility forms the long-delayed "missile shield" first conceived under the George Bush administration. (BBC News, AFP, RT, May 12) Moscow's claim that the "missile shield" is actually aimed at encircling Russia is mirrored by Washington's charge that Russia is in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, having deployed cruise missiles in contravention of the 1987 pact. (Arms Control Association, May 2016)
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.