U.S.-Backed Assault on Yemen Forces Red Cross to Evacuate

The U.S. shouldn’t be supporting Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen, a place that due to military assaults has become a nightmare for many of those living there.

In a development revealing just how dire the situation is for Yemeni civilians and threatening to compound the catastrophe, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Thursday announced it is pulling 71 of its staffers out of Yemen—a move the organization admits will cripple its humanitarian efforts.

In response, Amnesty International said it marked a “bleak” new low in the ongoing conflict.

In a statement released Thursday, the ICRC cited “a series of incidents and threats,” including a gunman killing one of its staff members in April. Security for its staff, the group said, is “a non-negotiable prerequisite.”

ICRC director of operations Dominik Stillhart said the group’s activities, including surgical services, clean water initiatives, and food assistance, “have been blocked, threatened, and directly targeted in recent weeks, and we see a vigorous attempt to instrumentalize our organization as a pawn in the conflict.”

Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Campaigns, said such targeting “is a violation of international humanitarian law. In fact, deliberate attacks on humanitarian relief personnel amount to war crimes.”

[…]

The U. N. estimates that over 6,400 civilians have already been killed and more than 10,000 have been injured since the conflict in the impoverished country broke out in 2015. The U.S. has played a key role in fueling the conflict through its backing of the Saudi-led coalition, and recent reporting indicates that role could deepen.

Legislative efforts to stop the U.S.-backed carnage, however, have thus far failed.

Why It Can Be a Very Bad Idea to Call the Police on a Suicidal Person

The police in America have killed mentally ill suicidal people after breaking into their homes, and this latest case where it could have happened to whistleblower Chelsea Manning is another reminder of this. It’s better to try to contact friends or family that care instead.

Shortly after Chelsea Manning posted what appeared to be two suicidal tweets on May 27, police broke into her home with their weapons drawn as if conducting a raid, in what is known as a “wellness” or “welfare check” on a person experiencing a mental health crisis. Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst turned whistleblower and U.S. Senate candidate, was not at home, but video obtained by The Intercept shows officers pointing their guns as they searched her empty apartment.

The footage, captured by a security camera, shows an officer with the Montgomery County Police Department in Bethesda, Maryland, knocking on Manning’s door. When no one responds, the officer pops the lock, and three officers enter the home with their guns drawn, while a fourth points a Taser. The Intercept is publishing this video with Manning’s permission.

“This is what a police state looks like,” Manning said. “Guns drawn during a ‘wellness’ check.”

Welfare checks like this, usually prompted by calls placed to 911 by concerned friends or family, too often end with police harming — or even killing — the person they were dispatched to check on.

Manning was out of the country at the time of the incident, said Janus Cassandra, a close friend who was on the phone with her that night. “If Chelsea had been home when these cops arrived with guns drawn, she would be dead.”

[…]

The problem, mental health experts say, is that police should not be the ones to check on suicidal people in the first place. In 2017, mental illness played a role in a quarter of 987 police killings, according to a tally by the Washington Post. People of color experiencing mental health crises are particularly at risk.

In 2018 alone, police have shot and killed at least 64 people who were suicidal or had other mental health issues, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. “This January, Alejandro Valdez was suicidal and threatening to kill himself. The police shot and killed him,” Susan Mizner, the group’s disability counsel, wrote in a recent post. “In February, Orbel Nazarians was suicidal and threatening himself with a knife. The police shot and killed him. In March, Jihad Merrick was suicidal and pointing a gun at his head. The police shot and killed him. In April, Benjamin Evans was making suicidal comments. Police shot and killed him.”

“There is absolutely no excuse for sending armed police to the home of someone who is having a suicidal episode,” said Cassandra. “As we’ve seen countless times, cops know that no matter what happens, they will be shielded from any accountability whatsoever.”

“It’s not necessary for police to be the first responders when somebody calls 911 and says they’re suicidal,” said Carl Takei, a senior ACLU attorney focusing on policing, in an interview. “In the same way that if I were to call 911 and say I’m having a heart attack, I would expect a medical response. As a society, we should expect a mental health response when somebody calls 911 and says they are suicidal, rather than dispatching somebody who is armed with a pistol and most of whose training is directed at enforcing criminal law and how to use force with people whom they suspect are breaking the law.”

When police do become the first responders in mental health crises, Takei added, the ways in which they handle them vary greatly between departments.

“Some have specially trained crisis intervention teams that are dispatched when there’s a call involving a mental health crisis; some departments provide some level of crisis intervention training to all officers; some departments provide no training at all,” said Takei. “And, of course, if a department provides no training or very little training on how to deal with situations involving a person in a mental health crisis, the officers are going to default to the training they received, which is very much based on a command-and-control culture.”

Google Employees Resigning Over Google’s Involvement in Supplying AI to the U.S. Military’s Drone Program

AI used in Project Maven is supposed to decide when humans should be killed by the U.S. military drones. But all software has flaws that can be exploited, and the people writing the code the AI uses will have their own biases, which may be horrifying in practice. It’s also just wrong to further amplify the power (and advanced AI adds real power) of a program that has already lead to the bombings of civilian weddings on numerous occasions.

About a dozen Google employees have resigned in protest of the tech giant’s involvement in an artificial intelligence (AI) collaboration with the U.S. military, in which Google is participating to develop new kinds of drone technology.

“At some point, I realized I could not in good faith recommend anyone join Google, knowing what I knew,” one of the workers told Gizmodo. “I realized if I can’t recommend people join here, then why am I still here?”

The resignations follow Google’s failure to alter course despite approximately 4,000 of its employees signing a petition that urges Google to abandon its work with Project Maven, a Pentagon program focused on the targeting systems of the military’s armed drones. The company is reportedly contributing artificial intelligence technology to the program.

Nuclear Escalation Not Needed

Iran has recently switched to using the euro instead of the dollar and major military contracting stocks such as Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are up in the past few days. The stocks are up because the stock market measures the value of future expected corporate profits, and there’s an expectation that these corporations will receive more weapons contracts with another war. Also, there’s a history of military confrontations involving the U.S. (see Libya) with detachments from U.S. financial interests.

Iran — like North Korea — has threatened to build nuclear weapons as a deterrent against a U.S. invasion. Now Saudi Arabia, backed by the U.S. in the devastation it’s causing Yemen, says it will build one if Iran will. But if the U.S. wouldn’t be a militaristic threat to Iran, Iran has no reason to have a nuclear weapon. And more nuclear weapons simply equates to more risks of widespread annihilation.

Another Warning About the Threat of a U.S. War With Iran

Going to war with Iran — a serious possibility and a very unwise idea.

“Don’t do it,” declare our allies, Britain, France, and Germany—signatories to the Iran accord along with China and Russia. “Don’t do it,” say former secretaries of state and secretaries of defense from both Republican and Democratic administrations. “Don’t do it,” says Trump’s own Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, and Trump’s chief of staff, General John Kelly.

All of the above say Iran is in compliance with the accord’s demand to stop its nuclear arms program and allows thorough inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. All parties agree that if Trump disrupts this accord, even more havoc will break loose in that volatile region. This is what both Israel and some Persian Gulf nations may desire, as long as the U.S. bears the burden of this reckless action and plunges into another deep quagmire to add to those in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.

[…]

Both Trump and Netanyahu paint Iran as the most dangerous terrorist state in the world. Really? It wasn’t the Iranian regime that illegally cost over one million Iraqi civilian lives and blew that country apart. It was George W. Bush and Dick Cheney becoming major war criminals whose actions cost the lives of over 5,000 American soldiers, injured or made sick well over 100,000 more, and wasted trillions of dollars continuing to this day.

Iran wants its sphere of influence. The country has memories. For example, in 1953, the U.S. overthrew Iran’s democratically elected prime minister and reinstalled the dictatorial Shah who ruled despotically for the next 26 years. In 2002, George W. Bush targeted Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, referring to them as the “axis of evil.” Iran saw what he did to Iraq and didn’t want to take chances by surrendering its security perimeter.

The U.S. has Iran militarily surrounded on its eastern, western, and southern borders. Israel has working spies in Iran, creating secret sabotage and mayhem. Israel, which has illegally bombed civil war-wracked Syria (no threat to Israel) dozens of times, has recently hit locations known to have Iranian advisors to Bashar Assad, Syria’s ruler, while fighting ISIS, along with U.S. forces there. Iranians have been killed in these raids.

So who is the aggressor here? Unlike Israel’s many invasions and military incursions, Iran, a poor country, has not invaded any country for over 250 years. Iraq’s dictator invaded Iran in 1980, with U.S. backing, costing Iran an estimated 500,000 lives.

[…]

Will enough American people, including knowledgeable retired national security and military officials, stand up to stop this slide toward another conflagration that will likely produce blowback in the U.S.?

On the Dangerous Potential of War With Iran

It’s a real possibility that the United States may soon become involved in a war with Iran. This is quite concerning for a number of reasons, one of which is that U.S. military intervention since the end of WWII has typically been disastrous for the invaded country. There’s the killing of civilians and bombing of civilian infrastructure (notably the dams) in North Korea, the Vietnam war that people there are still suffering from (estimates are that “at least 350,000 tons of live bombs and mines” remain there), and the criminal invasion of Iraq that resulted in a few hundred thousand deaths, just to name a few examples. So there’s this record of disaster for American military adventures, and there might soon be yet another one to add.

There’s also the U.S. backed overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian government in 1953, which lead to the dictatorial Shah ruling Iran until 1979. It was recently revealed through declassified documents that — surprise surprise — the reason for the U.S. doing this was for oil contracts that would benefit American oil corporations. But shouldn’t the American government be nicer to Iran based on what it did to it in the past?

It should be, but it hasn’t been. And the CIA backed overthrow may be the most significant U.S. event against Iran, but it isn’t even the only one. There are at least two more events.

One of them is when the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein’s government when it used a chemical weapons attack against Iran. As shown with the outrage over the recent chemical weapons attacks around Syria, it is a heinous type of attack and correctly condemned as an atrocity in war. How interesting it then is that the U.S. government knowingly supported a military that did this, and how interesting how seldom this is mentioned today.

The other event is when the U.S. shot down a civilian Iranian plane in 1988, which killed the 290 civilians on board. The U.S. government maintained that it was an accident, and maybe it was, but it’s difficult to trust that’s the truth considering what else the U.S. was doing to Iran in the 1980s. In April 1988 for example, an engagement with Iran known as “Operation Praying Mantis” resulted in the death of two American pilots shot down with their helicopter.

In any case though, if Iran had shot down a civilian American plane with 290 civilians — including 66 children — it would clearly be an event remembered much more than the Iran Air Flight 655 incident. That’s a useful thought experiment — to compare what the U.S. has done to damage other countries and try imagining a scenario where other countries did the same to the U.S.

Additionally, invading Iran isn’t like invading comparatively defenseless countries such as Afghanistan and Somalia. Iran is actually a developed country and it has a real defense system, one that’s been at $30 billion annually but could increase quickly. It may be defeated by the U.S. in a war, but it would put up a fight that would almost certainly lead to real direct damage to the U.S. Who wants to imagine the possibility of Iranian bombers flying over American cities?

In sum, a war with Iran is an incredibly reckless and stupid decision. If it happens, people will suffer face unnecessary suffering and the world will clearly be worse off because of it.

U.S. Military Announces Development of Drones That Decide to Kill Using AI

Drone warfare (with its state terrorism causing numerous civilian casualties) is already horrifying enough — this AI drone development would likely be even worse. This announcement also raises the question of how much accountability those who write the algorithms that determine how the drone functions will face.

The US Army recently announced that it is developing the first drones that can spot and target vehicles and people using artificial intelligence (AI).

Whereas current military drones are still controlled by people, this new technology will decide who to kill with almost no human involvement.

Once complete, these drones will represent the ultimate militarisation of AI and trigger vast legal and ethical implications for wider society.

There is a chance that warfare will move from fighting to extermination, losing any semblance of humanity in the process.

At the same time, it could widen the sphere of warfare so that the companies, engineers and scientists building AI become valid military targets.

[…]

Even with these drone killings, human emotions, judgements and ethics have always remained at the centre of war.

The existence of mental trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among drone operators shows the psychological impact of remote killing.

And this actually points to one possible military and ethical argument by Ronald Arkin, in support of autonomous killing drones. Perhaps if these drones drop the bombs, psychological problems among crew members can be avoided.

The weakness in this argument is that you don’t have to be responsible for killing to be traumatised by it.

Intelligence specialists and other military personnel regularly analyse graphic footage from drone strikes. Research shows that it is possible to suffer psychological harm by frequently viewing images of extreme violence.

[…]

The prospect of totally autonomous drones would radically alter the complex processes and decisions behind military killings.

But legal and ethical responsibility does not somehow just disappear if you remove human oversight. Instead, responsibility will increasingly fall on other people, including artificial intelligence scientists.

The legal implications of these developments are already becoming evident.

Under current international humanitarian law, “dual-use” facilities – those which develop products for both civilian and military application – can be attacked in the right circumstances. For example, in the 1999 Kosovo War, the Pancevo oil refinery was attacked because it could fuel Yugoslav tanks as well as fuel civilian cars.

With an autonomous drone weapon system, certain lines of computer code would almost certainly be classed as dual-use.

Companies like Google, its employees or its systems, could become liable to attack from an enemy state.

For example, if Google’s Project Maven image recognition AI software is incorporated into an American military autonomous drone, Google could find itself implicated in the drone “killing” business, as might every other civilian contributor to such lethal autonomous systems.

Ethically, there are even darker issues still.

The whole point of the self-learning algorithms – programs that independently learn from whatever data they can collect – that technology uses is that they become better at whatever task they are given.

If a lethal autonomous drone is to get better at its job through self-learning, someone will need to decide on an acceptable stage of development – how much it still has to learn – at which it can be deployed.

In militarised machine learning, that means political, military and industry leaders will have to specify how many civilian deaths will count as acceptable as the technology is refined.

Recent experiences of autonomous AI in society should serve as a warning.