[…] It was just six years ago that Ahmed Maher was celebrated around the world as a symbol of freedom and democracy. In January 2011, as the leader of a social-media-savvy network of young activists called the April 6 Youth Movement, Maher mobilized hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and across the country that took down President Hosni Mubarak. The movement was considered for a Nobel Peace Prize, and Maher traveled across Europe and the United States talking about the Arab Spring and Egypt’s future with the likes of Ban Ki-moon and Lech Walesa. But the hopes that were raised by the revolution dissolved into sectarianism and chaos, and Maher’s aspirations were extinguished within two years. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the defense minister and commander in chief of the armed forces, seized power in July 2013 and outlawed protests. Five months later, a judge found Maher guilty of illegal demonstration, rioting and “thuggery” and sentenced him to three years in jail. Another judge added six months to Maher’s sentence for “verbally assaulting a public officer while on duty” after he demanded that the police remove his handcuffs while in court for a 2014 appeal. Maher spent almost all of that period sealed in a small cell in a solitary-confinement wing at Tora Prison, a notorious complex on the outskirts of Cairo, built during British rule, that houses about 2,500 political prisoners and common criminals. Hidden behind 25-foot-high walls, the vast compound encompasses seven prison blocks, ranging from a minimum-security facility for policemen and judges convicted of taking bribes to the supermax “Scorpion Prison,” a labyrinth of cells largely reserved for Islamists and April 6 leaders.
Today Maher is nominally a free man, but the restrictions on his movements are stifling. The regime is deeply concerned that he could revive the social-media network that brought his followers to the streets six years ago. As it was explained to Maher, “tweets can lead to demonstrations, and demonstrations can lead to revolution, and that will bring down the regime and create martyrs,” he said. “So if you are tweeting, you are like a terrorist.”
Every day for the next three years, Maher must spend 12 of every 24 hours at his local police station, a “surveillance period” intended to ensure that he refrains from anti-regime activity. Under Egyptian law, he told me, low-risk felons “have the right to have their surveillance inside the home with a guard downstairs. But they are using this surveillance as punishment. It is a kind of control to keep me all the time under pressure.”
President Donald Trump has given the Central Intelligence Agency secret new authority to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists, U.S. officials said, changing the Obama administration’s policy of limiting the spy agency’s paramilitary role and reopening a turf war between the agency and the Pentagon.
The new authority, which hadn’t been previously disclosed, represents a significant departure from a cooperative approach that had become standard practice by the end of former President Barack Obama’s tenure: The CIA used drones and other intelligence resources to locate suspected terrorists and then the military conducted the actual strike. The U.S. drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in May 2016 in Pakistan was the best example of that hybrid approach, U.S. officials said.
The Obama administration put the military in charge of pulling the trigger to promote transparency and accountability. The CIA, which operates under covert authorities, wasn’t required to disclose the number of suspected terrorists or civilian bystanders it killed in drone strikes. The Pentagon, however, must publicly report most airstrikes.
At what point do egregious factual errors undermine the credibility of an otherwise carefully researched and thoughtful book? I can’t say with precision, but The Good Occupation by Susan Carruthers, a professor of history at Rutgers University-Newark, comes precariously close to that line.
The subject at hand is a cherished myth: that after World War II, U.S. occupation forces handily converted enemies into friends, inculcating into peoples with a prior affinity for militarism and totalitarianism a deep devotion to liberal values. In fascist Italy, the western precincts of the former Third Reich, and emperor-worshipping Japan, the United States military demonstrated a unique capacity to export democracy. In a mere handful of years, tutored by helpful GIs, the “other” thereby became a reasonable facsimile of “us.” So the story goes.
In the ensuing decades, liberal interventionists and neoconservatives have taken turns insisting that the United States military can (and should) replicate these putative successes elsewhere. Rarely have the results proved favorable. In Vietnam during the 1960s, the outcome was plain awful. During more recent endeavors in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has hardly fared any better. Yet even today, as Carruthers notes, “the virtuous aura around the post-1945 occupations remains undimmed.”
Take a closer look at what actually occurred when U.S. forces were calling the shots in former Axis countries, Carruthers insists, and such subsequent disappointments should come as no surprise. As with the “Good War” so too with the “Good Occupation”: between what actually happened then and what Americans have since chosen to remember, there yawns a very wide gap.
[…] If Russia has ties with WikiLeaks today, that certainly wasn’t the case seven years ago, says Mika Velikovsky, a Russian journalist who worked extensively with WikiLeaks and interviewed Assange three times.
While working for the magazine Russian Reporter, WikiLeaks’ main partner in Russia, Velikovsky received packets of U.S. diplomatic cables from Shamir, sorted through the documents and published articles based upon them. He also worked on the 2012 leak of emails from the intelligence company Stratfor and collaborated with WikiLeaks on the 2013 documentary film Mediastan.
In 2010, Velikovsky defended WikiLeaks on Russian state television’s political talk shows — programs that often reflect the positions of the Kremlin. There, he clashed with pro-Kremlin experts who claimed that WikiLeaks was the anti-Russian project of American spies.
“At the time, it seemed the authorities were worried about WikiLeaks and didn’t know what it was,” he says. “So the Russian mainstream media was very anti-WikiLeaks.”
Then, in 2012, Julian Assange got a show on RT, a Russian state-funded propaganda channel. The development came amid a worldwide financial blockade of WikiLeaks, when the organization desperately needed money. Velikovsky thinks Assange’s appearance on RT marked WikiLeaks’ transformation from a threat to an ally in the eyes of the Russian authorities.
However, he suggests that WikiLeaks’ seeming alliance with Russia stems from Assange’s own personal predicament. Hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy for over 4 years has robbed Assange of “a lot of the joy [of life] that you and I have,” Velikovsky says. “If someone did that to us, it would be very personal.”