Countering Terror with Terror: Kill Lists, Drone Programmes and ‘Targeted’ Killings

When President Trump took office in January 2017, he received more than just the keys to the White House. President Obama also handed him the keys to his go-to weapon in the War on Terror – a Kill List created during ‘Terror Tuesday’ meetings and a covert drone programme used to target and kill individuals far from battlefields and in countries where the US is not at war.

In his first year in office, President Trump massively expanded the programme, rolling back safeguards, tripling the number of strikes and dramatically increasing the number of civilian casualties. Worryingly, he’s done so not just with covert support from his allies, like President Obama, but also with increasing public support.   Allies, such as the UK, are now adopting their own Kill Lists, with the UK Defence Secretary declaring last month that the UK will ‘hunt down’ and kill its own citizens suspected of terrorism oversees in an effort to prevent their return.

As the first international NGO to expose the collateral damage of America’s use of armed drones for ‘targeted’ killings in late 2011, Reprieve has been at the forefront of challenging the use of Kill Lists and assassinations as a counterterrorism tool. Through on-the-ground investigations, novel legal challenges and advocacy, Reprieve has challenged not only the secrecy surrounding the programme, but also debunked the myth that these strikes are ‘surgical and precise.’

Jennifer Gibson heads Reprieve’s Assassination team and will talk about the flawed intelligence underlying these strikes, some of the human faces that are too often missing from the debate and the threat drones pose to long established legal frameworks. She will also touch upon the UK government’s own complicity in the US drone programme and recent comments that indicate the UK is following the US down the slippery slope of creating its own Kill List.

With a Juris Doctorate from Stanford Law School, Jennifer regularly writes and speaks about her work with those who have been harmed by abusive counterterrorism practices. She frequently appears in the media and has testified about her work before the British and European Parliaments, as well as the US Congress. In December 2015 she gave oral evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into the British use of drones for targeted killing.

Contact: [email protected]  or on Twitter @jennifermgibson

18.45 on Monday 22nd January


The Prison Crisis – what are the alternatives to incarceration?

As the prison population in the UK, which is now the highest in Western Europe, continues to escalate, we must ask ourselves whether our criminal justice system is fit for purpose. Why are our prisons overflowing? Is imprisonment meant to be rehabilitative or punitive, and what measures would help to prevent criminalisation and recriminalisation? If other international approaches to social problems based on criminalisation and punishment are proving successful, what can we learn from those countries whose policies and practices are producing more satisfactory results? Richard Garside is the Director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, where he set up the Crime and Society Foundation, and is the lead author of the Centre’s keynote annual publication: UK Justice Policy Review. He is also Senior Visiting Research Fellow at The Open University. Richard is in favour of the long-term abolition of prisons and the development of practices that are socially transformative, rather than punitive, and he writes and broadcasts regularly on issues of crime, criminal justice and social harm.  See Guardian references.

Monday 5th February


Algorithms: are they taking control of our lives?

Algorithms are computerised formulae designed to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations. They can perform calculations, data processing and automated reasoning tasks, and are used by all sections of modern society – sciences, financial markets, medical research, manufacturing, and numerous business practices, especially those of large corporations and their advertising agencies. These powerful tools largely determine the information we receive about the world we live in, and have a profound impact on the way we think, directing our political and economic choices, our value systems and our consumption patterns. Who designs these algorithms? Whose interests do they serve? And is there any way in which we can control them? All these questions must be addressed when we consider our ethical approach to Artificial Intelligence. 

Kathleen Richardson is Professor of Ethics and Culture of Robots and Artificial Intelligence at the School of Computer Science and Informatics, De Montfort University. She is a social anthropologist, and much of her work is focused on a critique of coercive models of human behaviour that are transferred to the making of new technologies.  She is Director of the Campaign against Sex Robots, and was part of the Digital Bridges Project, an innovative AHRC funded technology and arts collaboration between Watford Palace Theatre and the University of Cambridge. She is author of An Anthropology of Robots and AI: Annihilation Anxiety and Machines.

Monday 19th February


From Denial to Moral Leadership – Germany’s Remarkable 70-Year Journey

Germany is now the undisputed power centre of Europe. Its journey from defeat and denial at the end of the Second World War, through recrimination, rebellion, and reunification to the self-confident Germany that we see today has involved (and continues to involve) profound changes in the way the country perceives itself and the way it is perceived by others. Steve Crawshaw, author of Easier Fatherland: Germany and the 21st Century, will discuss the extraordinary changes that Germany has seen – and the implications of those changes for Europe today,  including in the context of the strong showing for the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in recent elections.

Steve Crawshaw is senior advocacy adviser at Amnesty International, where his previous roles were as International Advocacy Director and Director of the Office of the Secretary General. From 2002 to 2010 he worked with Human Rights Watch as London Director and then as UN Advocacy Director. He studied Russian and German, and lived as a student in Berlin.  He was East Europe Editor of The Independent during the revolutions of 1989, including the fall of the Berlin Wall.  After reunification, he was The Independent’s Germany correspondent (1992-1995).  He co-presented the BBC television series Germany Inside Out (2002).  The German edition of his Easier Fatherland: Germany and the Twenty-First Century was shortlisted for Das politische Buch prize in 2005.  From 2015 to 2017 he was Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics.  His Street Spirit: the Power of Protest and Mischief, foreword by Ai Weiwei, was published in 2017.

18.45 on Monday 4th December


Tony Pritchett

It is with great regret that we have to tell you that our dear colleague Tony Pritchett died very suddenly on Monday, August 28th, 2017.

Tony was a stalwart member of our management committee for nearly 15 years. He recorded and edited all our talks, never missing an event, and his good humour and lively mind made him a wonderful asset to our Association.

Tony was born in 1938, and as a child had been fascinated with trains and railways, a hobby that gave him satisfaction all his life. He studied engineering, a training that encompassed a degree of physics, and he had a very wide range of interests which he pursued enthusiastically. Conversations with him were never banal, rather you found yourself discussing subjects such as the circularity of time or the potential benefits of developing cold fusion – and if sometimes your powers of understanding became rather overstretched, you were always impressed by the extent of his research and knowledge. He was widely travelled, and despite frequent bouts of ill-health during the last few years, he continued to attend conferences in faraway places.

In addition to his technical expertise, Tony was artistically and imaginatively talented. In 1967, for instance, he created Britain’s first computer animated cartoon using the world’s most powerful computer, the ATLAS. His film, The Flexipede, was screened at The ICA’s landmark exhibition, ‘Cybernetic Serendipity’, in 1968, and was again shown at a retrospective of the period a couple of years ago. The analogue moving image Sidebands, which he built jointly with his friend Hugh Riddle, was also shown at this exhibition, which then toured the USA. It was the only exhibit to be bought, and it operated for 25 years in the Palace of Arts and Sciences, San Francisco. Tony went on to create more ground-breaking experimental work throughout the 1970’s, and his interest in the development of technology and science never waned.

On hearing of his death, Tony’s friend, Robert Ilson, composed the following poem in his memory:

                                       

Tony Pritchett

 

A heart as big as all get-out,

A mind as open as the sky:

Such men are hard to do without –

Why did our dear friend have to die?

 

That question is more often asked

Than answered. Now however we

His living legatees are tasked

With nurturing his memory.

This is a moving testament to Tony, and we will indeed remember him with much affection.  As an Association, we will be much the poorer without his support and input, and on a personal level we will sorely miss a clever, cheerful, kind, and loyal friend.


The Clash of Barbarisms

Rather than the “clash of civilizations” forecasted by Samuel Huntington in the 1990s, the world has been descending into what could most accurately be described as a clash of barbarisms, the clash of barbaric trends fostered within each civilizational sphere by the unravelling of the post-war social pact and the dismantling of social protections brought along by the neoliberal age. The fate of the Arab Spring provides a tragic illustration of this most worrying evolution. The famous alternative between “socialism or barbarism” that Rosa Luxemburg formulated during the First World War is now again highly relevant and a matter of historical urgency.

Gilbert Achcar grew up in Lebanon, researched and taught in Beirut, Paris and Berlin, and is currently, since 2007, Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at SOAS, University of London. His many books include The Clash of Barbarisms: September 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder (2002, 2006), published in 15 languages; Perilous Power: The Middle East and US Foreign Policy (2007, 2008), with Noam Chomsky; the critically acclaimed The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab–Israeli War of Narratives (2010); The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising (2013); and most recently Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising (2016).

Cafe Date – 18.45 Monday 20th November


Australia and the Refugee Crisis

There was a time when Australia led the way on refugee protection. Following World War II, Australia came second only to the United States on resettling European refugees. Its signature brought the Refugee Convention into force a few years later. And, in the 1970s, it resettled the third highest number of Indochinese refugees following the wars there.

Sadly those days are a distant memory. After earning global notoriety for the cruelty it continues to inflict on refugees and people seeking asylum on Nauru and Manus Island, the Australian government showed it is capable of worse. It not only refused to shut down its centres on the two Pacific islands, but planned to introduce a law to permanently ban the people trapped there from getting a visa to Australia. Not only is this a clear violation of international law, but it is a cruel and mean-spirited move to further discriminate against how people travel to Australia in search of safety. As a state party to the Refugee Convention, the Australian government has an obligation to treat asylum-seekers and refugees humanely and safely resettle them. Instead, it chose to pile one injustice on top of another.

Dr. Anna Neistat is Senior Research  Director for Amnesty International and has prepared reports for Amnesty around the world. In 2016 she led the Amnesty investigation into the treatment of refugees on the island of Nauru. She will look at the background to the treatment of refugees in Australia and will also talk about the wider international context of the increasingly punitive treatment of refugees and asylum seekers worldwide.

18.45 on Monday 30th October

 


International Models of Health Care

Professor Colin Leys is emeritus professor of political science at Queens University Canada and honorary professor at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of ‘Market Driven Politics: Neoliberal Democracy and the Public Interest’ (Verso2001), and with Stewart Player ‘The plot against the NHS’ (Merlin Press 2011). He is co-chair of the management team of the Centre for Health and the Public Interest (CHPI).

The CHPI began operation in June 2013 as a dynamic health and social care policy think-tank committed to the founding principles of the NHS. It subjects current health and social care policy to critical scrutiny and explores alternative solutions to the challenges of providing universal high quality universal health and social care.

Professor Leys will give an overview of the current situation in the NHS and the threats it faces, as well as presenting some information about models of healthcare in other high income countries – in particular looking at comparisons of spending and performance by different national healthcare systems.

18.45 on Monday 16th October

 


What ISIS in Libya tells us about the changing terrorist threat

Conditions in Libya constitute a humanitarian crisis. The civilian population struggles to gain access to basic services such as healthcare, fuel, and electricity, and almost half a million people are internally displaced as government forces and dozens of militias continue to clash within the country. One of the side effects of the 2011 intervention by France, Britain, the US and NATO, has been to allow the entrenchment within Libya of a series of radical Islamist actors. Suppressed under Qaddafi, these groups emerged as the fiercest rebels in the ensuing conflict – meanwhile, the weakness of the central authorities, and the lack of support from the western governments that backed the military strikes, has led directly to the breakdown of the rule of law and the empowerment of violent and unaccountable militia. Though not as formidable as al-Qaeda, Isis remains a force inside Libya and, as the crisis continues to escalate, social and economic collapse in Libya will be increasingly bound up with the terrorism threat picture in Europe. Dr Alia Brahimi is an academic, analyst and commentator specialising in the politics of the Middle East, with particular expertise on ISIS and also Libya. She is co-founder of Legatus Global, a strategic intelligence and advisory firm, and a former research fellow at Oxford University and the London School of Economics.  Alia is a regular contributor to Al Jazeera and appears frequently in the international media, most recently on BBC Radio 4’s The Today Programme, BBC Ten O’Clock News, Al Jazeera’s Inside Story, National Public Radio (USA) and BBC Newsnight.

See recent Guardian article “Why Libya is still a global terror threat”.

Cafe Date – 18.45 Monday 25th September


Planetary Gentrification: impacts & solutions

The phenomenon that we have come to call ‘gentrification’ is transforming our cities in a rapidly urbanising world. The refurbishment or demolition of low income dwellings, and soaring prices driven by corporatist capitalism and privatisation are displacing the less affluent from urban centres at an accelerating rate. In many places this process amounts to a virtual social cleansing, dispossessing low and middle wage earners, and increasing cultural and economic barriers between rich and poor. Are there sustainable alternatives to this destructive development? Loretta Lees, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Leicester, is internationally renowned for her research on gentrification, and will discuss the situation with us. Her areas of expertise include global urbanism and regeneration, urban policy, public space and architecture, and urban communities and social theory. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (FAcSS) and a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts (FRSA), She lives in London and co-organises The Urban Salon:A London forum for architecture, cities and international urbanism.   Loretta has written and spoken widely on gentrification, and has authored numerous books on the subject, the most recent being Planetary Gentrification(2016, Polity, Cambridge) and Global Gentrifications: Uneven Development and Displacement (2015, Policy Press, Bristol) with Hyun Bang Shin and Ernesto Lopez-Morales.

See also Tom Cordell’s 2010 film – ‘Utopia London’

 Cafe date – 12th June 18.45