US Violates Int’l Law, Grounding Bolivian President’s Plane in Pursuit of Snowden

John Glaser, July 03, 2013

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The appalling hubris of the imperial mindset in Washington was on full display yesterday when the U.S. government apparently pressured the governments of France, Spain, Portugal and Italy to deny a plane carrying Bolivia’s Evo Morales permission to pass through their air space. The plane was thus redirected, in flight, and forced to land in Vienna. The reason? Morales said he would consider granting political asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and the suspicion was that Snowden was on the plane with the Bolivian president.

That suspicion was flat out wrong. But even if it was correct, the move, according to the Guardian, went “above international law and the rights of a president of a sovereign nation.” Unsurprisingly, Washington yet again has violated international law and abused the rights of weaker nations.

“Bolivia has denounced what it calls a ‘kidnap’ operation of its president by imperial powers that violates the Vienna convention and its national sovereignty,” writes the Guardian‘s Jonathan Watts. “Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador and Uruguay have joined in the condemnation. Angry headlines have been splashed on newspapers across the region.”

“Politicians and commentators in the region are already adding the action to a long list of interventions, invasions and ‘policing actions’ by Latin America’s giant northern neighbour, alongside the Monroe Doctrine, the annexation of half of Mexico, the Bay of Pigs invasion, support for Chile’s Augusto Pinochet and other dictators and the ousting of democratically elected leftist governments in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and elsewhere,” Watts adds.

In a statement yesterday, Amnesty International said the U.S. government’s pursuit of Snowden is a gross violation of his rights and international law:

The U.S. authorities’ relentless campaign to hunt down and block whistleblower Edward Snowden’s attempts to seek asylum is a gross violation of his human rights. It is his unassailable right, enshrined in international law, to claim asylum and this should not be impeded.

The U.S. attempts to pressure governments to block Snowden’s attempts to seek asylum are all the more deplorable when you consider the National Security Agency (NSA)whistleblower could be at risk of ill-treatment if extradited to the U.S.

No country can return a person to another country where there is a serious risk of ill-treatment. We know that others who have been prosecuted for similar acts have been held in conditions that not only Amnesty International, but UN officials considered cruel inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of international law.

Meanwhile, the focus on Snowden is continuing to serve as a distraction from the fact that the NSA is violating “the constitutional rights of everybody in the country,” in the words of NSA whistleblower William Binney.

The ACLU reminds us today that the NSA’s collection of intelligence on Americans is not “inadvertent,” as they claim. Under the authority of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, “the NSA claims only to intercept American communications ‘inadvertently,’ but this is a clever fiction: the surveillance program has been engineered to sweep up American communications in vast quantity, while giving the NSA cover to claim that it is not intentionally targeting Americans.”

This deliberate collection of Americans’ communications happens in at least three ways. First, the government can target foreigners on the other end of Americans’ international communications. So, if you call or email family, friends, or business associates abroad, the NSA can intercept those communications so long as it doesn’t intentionally target a specific, known American in another country. The surveillance must also relate to “foreign intelligence,” but this term has been construed so broadly as to be all but meaningless.

Second, the government has set a dismally low bar for concluding that a potential surveillance target is, in fact, a foreigner located abroad. By default, targets are assumed to be foreign. That’s right, the procedures allow the NSA to presume that prospective targets are foreigners outside the United States absent specific information to the contrary—and to presume therefore that those individuals are fair game for warrantless surveillance.

Third, the procedures allow the NSA to collect not just the communications of a foreign target, but any communications about a foreign target. This provision likely results in significant over-collection of even purely domestic communications. So, rather than striving to protect Americans, the procedures err on the side of over-collection and less respect for privacy rights.

Hopefully some good will come out of the U.S.’s overreach in grounding Morales’s plane. Maybe this will push forward the Bolivian government’s consideration of asylum for Snowden. What would be great is if Morales issued a formal complaint at the United Nations. The U.S. should be as embarrassed about this ordeal as possible.




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