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Jailing of Syrian intelligence officer ‘step towards justice’, say former detainees | Syria

For survivors of Syria’s brutal detention system, the landmark conviction of a former Syrian intelligence official for crimes against humanity represents a vital step towards justice.

“We initially hoped for a trial at the international criminal court, but nevertheless this is an important step,” said Hussein Ghrer, one of 24 former detainees of Branch 251, a military intelligence unit with its own prison in Damascus, who testified against Anwar Raslan.

“Finally, we have an official conviction saying that these individuals have committed crimes in the context of mass attacks on Syrians and systematic crimes against humanity. I believe this is the most important thing to build on in future.”

Raslan, a former colonel with the Syrian intelligence service, was convicted by a court in Koblenz of crimes against humanity, including 27 counts of murder. He was accused by prosecutors of overseeing abuse, sexual assault and the torture of more than 4,000 people at Branch 251. The site became synonymous with brutal abuse by security officials after the government of Bashar al-Assad used maximum force to quell protests.

Raslan is the highest-ranking Syrian official to stand trial for atrocities committed in Syria. He was charged under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the prosecution of serious crimes against international law, such as genocide and torture, in one country even if they happened elsewhere.

A tearful woman in a shawl and headscarf  holds photos of two men with Arabic script underneath
A woman with a picture of relatives who died in Syria, outside the court in Koblenz after the verdict against Anwar Raslan. One survivor said: ‘I want him to think about all the people who testified against him in court, all the people that he tortured.’ Photograph: Sascha Steinbach/EPA

At least 100,000 people are recorded as detained or missing in Syria, the United Nations said in 2019, although activists say the true number may be far higher. The Syrian Network for Human Rights puts the figure at about 150,000 and estimates that nearly 15,000 people have died from torture in Syria since March 2011.

Human Rights Watch described this as “violence that is not readily visible: the hidden prisons and torture centres into which tens of thousands of Syrians have disappeared – sometimes to re-emerge years later, sometimes never to be heard from again”.

Raslan is the second person to be convicted in Koblenz for activities related to Branch 251, after the conviction last year of Eyad al-Gharib, a former intelligence officer, for his role in transporting detainees to the prison. The trial represented the first opportunity of its kind for former detainees such as Ghrer to testify about their treatment in detention. “I was interrogated and beaten all over my body, but the worst was seeing others being brutally tortured, because you don’t know what could happen next,” he said.

Ghrer also described the experience of seeing Raslan – the man who directed his torture and that of his fellow detainees – in the dock, a decade after he was arrested in Damascus for filming protests. “We were powerless, we were mistreated. [Raslan] was not mistreated, and he has a right to lawyers and translators,” he said.

“I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes, of course,” Ghrer added, “but to be in a place where we are holding him accountable, it feels good. Finally, we were able to pursue a kind of justice.

“I don’t believe in full justice – I believe in a journey towards justice and this is the first step.”

In a statement read out by his defence lawyers during the hearing, Raslan claimed he was not associated with torture and denied that it had taken place under his watch. Martin Holsky, a chief inspector with the Baden-Württemberg state police, later testified that Raslan told him: “With this many interrogations in one day, you can’t always be polite. With armed groups, you sometimes need to be stricter.”

“He doesn’t believe he did anything wrong,” said Ghrer. “I was in court many times, watching his expressions. He looks at us with disgust. As if he doesn’t believe he’s being held accountable, or he believes he’s not like other members of the regime.”

Other survivors agreed. “In my testimony, I said that I wish for him to spend a lot of time in prison so he could think about all of us,” said Ruham Hawash, who was detained at Branch 251 in 2012.

“I want him to think about all the people who testified against him in court, all the people that he tortured and whose torture he was responsible for during his career. I think with enough time he will not be able to run from these thoughts.”

A woman arranges framed photos of people, including young children. on the pavement outside the court
Wafa Mustafa, a Syrian campaigner, sets out pictures of victims of the Assad regime outside the court where the trial was taking place in Koblenz. Mustafa was part of the resistance against the Syrian regime and fled to Germany in 2016. Photograph: Thomas Lohnes/AFP/Getty

Hawash said the trial in Koblenz represented an opportunity for justice she had not expected. “I was tortured at Branch 251. I felt like, at that time, a part of my dignity was taken from me. So another thing about this trial is that I feel like, for me personally, I’m getting some of my dignity back that I lost in 2012,” she said.

She also pointed to the body of evidence used to convicted Raslan, including thousands of photos of detainees tortured to death in prison, provided by a Syrian military photographer known only as Caesar. “This verdict is a tool to demonstrate that this regime uses systematic torture,” she said.

The verdict carries wider implications for countries across Europe, including the UK and Denmark, where governments have voiced proposals to return Syrian asylum seekers. “I see this trial not just as justice but as a sign to the world that this regime uses torture systematically – which also means we can’t send people back,” she said.

Raslan’s conviction also comes amid efforts by some governments across the Middle East to re-establish relations with Assad’s government, despite previously backing his overthrow. The verdict in Koblenz, as well as multiple ongoing trials against former regime officials in Germany and elsewhere across Europe, present opportunities for accountability alongside the risk that such trials might dissuade higher-level officials from within the Syrian regime from providing information, or being brought to justice outside Syria.

“Other perpetrators might see that they can’t get away with their crimes, but it also means they won’t leave Syria, or people who worked for the regime might not leave their posts,” said Hawash. “It’s complicated.”

Yet for campaigners and the families of thousands of those still missing inside Syrian detention centres, Raslan’s conviction represents an important step to providing vital information about their fate.

“There are still more than 100,000 people in prison – we have no idea where they are and if they’re alive or dead. Justice cannot truly come while there are still people in jail,” said Lamis al-Khateeb, a member of the group Families for Freedom, who gathered outside court to witness Raslan’s sentencing.

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Chemistry Problems & Quantum Computing

The researchers compared the results of a conventional and quantum computer to minimise error calculations, which could eventually be scaled up to solve more complicated problems.

Scientists in Sweden have successfully managed to use a quantum computer to solve simple chemistry problems, as a proof-of-concept for more advanced calculations.

Currently, conventional supercomputers are used in quantum chemistry to help scientists learn more about chemical reactions, which materials can be developed and the characteristics they have.

But these conventional computers have a limit to the calculations they can handle. It is believed quantum computers will eventually be able to handle extremely complicated simulations, which could lead to new pharmaceutical discoveries or the creation of new materials.

However, these quantum machines are so sensitive that their calculations suffer from errors. Imperfect control signals, interference from the environment and unwanted interactions between quantum bits – qubits – can lead to “noise” that disrupts calculations.

The risk of errors grows as more qubits are added to a quantum computer, which complicates attempts to create more powerful machines or solve more complicated problems.

Comparing conventional and quantum results

In the new study by Chalmers University, scientists aimed to resolve this noise issue through a method called reference-state error mitigation.

This method involves finding a “reference state” by describing and solving the same problem on both a conventional and a quantum computer.

The reference state is a simpler description of a molecule that can be solved by a normal computer. By comparing the results from both computers, the scientists were able to estimate the scale of error the quantum computer had in its calculation.

The difference between the two computers’ results for the simpler reference problem was then applied to correct the quantum computer’s solution for the original, more complex problem.

This method allowed the scientists to calculate the intrinsic energy of small example molecules such as hydrogen on the university’s quantum computer.

Associate professor Martin Rahm – who led the study – believes the result is an important step forward that can be used to improve future quantum-chemical calculations.

“We see good possibilities for further development of the method to allow calculations of larger and more complex molecules, when the next generation of quantum computers are ready,” Rahm said.

Research is happening around the world to fix the problems limiting the development of more advanced quantum computers.

Earlier this month, Tyndall’s Prof Peter O’Brien told about his group’s work in addressing a key challenge in quantum technology and how quantum communications will make eavesdropping ‘impossible’.

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A Chilling Resurgence Of The “Vampire Fish” In The Great Lakes

The notorious sea lamprey, a creepy parasitic fish, resurges in the Great Lakes, wreaking havoc on native species.

The Creepy Invader Emerges

In the eerie waters of the Great Lakes, a parasitic fish has emerged from the depths, thriving on a bloodsucking mission. Meet the sea lamprey, a creature with a haunting circular row of teeth, a serrated tongue, and an eel-like shape. Native to the northern and western Atlantic Ocean, this nightmarish creature invaded the Great Lakes in the early 19th century through the Welland Canal, which links Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Once it infiltrated the pristine waters, the lamprey set about its insidious predation on commercially important fish, including trout, whitefish, perch, and sturgeon. The consequences were catastrophic.

A Century of Devastation

Within a mere decade, the sea lamprey gained access to all five Great Lakes, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Its unchecked proliferation led to the collapse of the once-thriving trout fishery within a century. By the 1960s, the lamprey had inflicted such damage that the annual commercial catch of lake trout in the upper Great Lakes plummeted from around 15 million pounds to a meager half a million pounds.

A Battle Against the Vampire Fish

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, alongside the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, took up arms against this highly invasive species. With ardent determination, they sought to manage and reduce the sea lamprey population, and their efforts yielded significant success. The fishery commission proudly boasts on its website that sea lamprey populations have been diminished by a staggering 90 percent in most areas of the Great Lakes.

The “vampire fish” sea lamprey makes a chilling comeback, threatening the delicate balance of the Great Lakes’ aquatic life.

The Pandemic’s Interruption

However, as the world grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, the agencies’ crucial operations to control the lamprey’s resurgence suffered a chilling interruption. With travel restrictions in place and resources stretched thin, fishery managers faced daunting challenges. The pandemic’s insidious impact reached the heart of the Great Lakes, allowing the parasitic fish to take advantage of the hiatus.

The Reemergence

As restrictions eased and operations resumed, a grim revelation awaited the fishery managers. The parasitic fish had cunningly exploited the opportunity, and their population began to creep back across the Great Lakes. Reports from the Wall Street Journal indicated that the sea lamprey population had resurged, sending shivers down the spines of those who witnessed its wrath in the past.

Lampreys belong to the superclass Cyclostomata and represent the most ancient group of vertebrates. Existing for over 360 million years, they are known as living fossils due to their many evolutionally conserved features

A Fragile Balance

Exact figures of the resurgence remain uncertain, but the implications are undeniably ominous. According to a 2022 report by Undark Magazine, crews responsible for population control were only able to treat about 25 percent of the target streams in 2020, leaving the lamprey unchecked. The following year saw a partial recovery, as the teams reached 75% of their targets. Nevertheless, the challenge remains enormous, and the careful application of pesticides called lampricides is essential to reduce the lamprey population.

After pandemic disruptions, the sea lamprey population surges, posing a formidable challenge for conservationists in the Great Lakes.

The Cost of Confrontation

The battle against the lamprey is not merely a spooky tale—it comes with a substantial price tag. Controlling this aquatic menace is estimated to cost around $15 to $20 million annually, reflecting the magnitude of the threat it poses to the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Joining the Fight

As the resurgence of the “vampire fish” casts a shadow over the Great Lakes, the need for decisive action becomes evident. Stakeholders must unite in their mission to protect the delicate balance of this vital ecosystem. The battle against the sea lamprey requires collective effort and resources, with innovative approaches to safeguarding the region’s rich biodiversity.

A Race Against Time

With the sinister sea lamprey gaining ground, time is of the essence. As this dark chapter unfolds, the eyes of the world are on the Great Lakes, waiting to witness the outcome of this gripping struggle. The clock is ticking, and the stakes have never been higher.

Seizing the Opportunity

For environmental advocates, researchers, and those invested in the well-being of the Great Lakes, the resurgence of the “vampire fish” serves as a chilling reminder of the fragility of our ecosystems.

Embracing sustainable practices, collaborative efforts, and innovative solutions, there is hope that the Great Lakes can once again emerge victorious against this formidable foe.

A Battle for the Ages

As the lamprey saga continues, it will be a tale of resilience, perseverance, and the relentless pursuit of balance. The world holds its breath, awaiting the final chapter in this eerie narrative—a chapter that will determine the fate of one of North America’s most treasured aquatic ecosystems.

Contact us now to learn how you can support the battle against the “vampire fish” and join the ranks of those committed to preserving the Great Lakes for generations to come. Let your voice be heard in this harrowing tale of nature’s tenacity and mankind’s dedication.

We Can’t Thank You Enough For Your Support!

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The Implications Of Controlling High-Level Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI)

Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI)

By Clint Bailey | ‘The Voice of EU’

The notion of artificial intelligence surpassing humanity has long been a topic of discussion, and recent advancements in programs have reignited concerns. But can we truly control super-intelligence? A closer examination by scientists reveals that the answer is highly unlikely.

Unraveling The Challenge:

Controlling a super-intelligence that surpasses human comprehension necessitates the ability to simulate and analyze its behavior. However, if we are unable to comprehend it, creating such a simulation becomes an impossible task. This lack of understanding hinders our ability to establish rules, such as “cause no harm to humans,” as we cannot anticipate the scenarios that an AI might generate.

The Complexity Of Super-Intelligence:

Super-intelligence presents a distinct challenge compared to conventional robot ethics. Its multifaceted nature allows it to mobilize diverse resources, potentially pursuing objectives that are incomprehensible and uncontrollable to humans. This fundamental disparity further complicates the task of governing and setting limits on super-intelligent systems.

Drawing Insights From The Halting Problem:

Alan Turing’s halting problem, introduced in 1936, provides insights into the limitations of predicting program outcomes. While we can determine halting behavior for specific programs, there is no universal method capable of evaluating every potential program ever written. In the realm of artificial super-intelligence, which could theoretically store all possible computer programs in its memory simultaneously, the challenge of containment intensifies.

The Uncontainable Dilemma:

When attempting to prevent super-intelligence from causing harm, the unpredictability of outcomes poses a significant challenge. Determining whether a program will reach a conclusion or continue indefinitely becomes mathematically impossible for all scenarios. This renders traditional containment algorithms unusable and raises concerns about the reliability of teaching AI ethics to prevent catastrophic consequences.

Air France – Deals & Special Offers

The Limitation Conundrum:

An alternative approach suggested by some is to limit the capabilities of super-intelligence, such as restricting its access to certain parts of the internet or networks. However, this raises questions about the purpose of creating super-intelligence if its potential is artificially curtailed. The argument arises: if we do not intend to use it to tackle challenges beyond human capabilities, why create it in the first place?


Urgent Reflection – The Direction Of Artificial Intelligence:

As we push forward with artificial intelligence, we must confront the possibility of a super-intelligence beyond our control. Its incomprehensibility makes it difficult to discern its arrival, emphasizing the need for critical introspection regarding the path we are treading. Prominent figures in the tech industry, such as Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak, have even called for a pause in AI experiments to evaluate safety and potential risks to society.

The potential consequences of controlling high-level artificial super-intelligence are far-reaching and demand meticulous consideration. As we strive for progress, we must strike a balance between pushing the boundaries of technology and ensuring responsible development. Only through thorough exploration and understanding can we ensure that AI systems benefit humanity while effectively managing their risks.

We Can’t Thank You Enough For Your Support!

By Clint Bailey, Team ‘THE VOICE OF EU

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