|Archive for leftalternatives.myfineforum.org An independent left forum to promote debate with the aim of providing practical political solutions to the problems that face us all in the world today.
Jon is to be applauded for setting the record straight.
Thanks Lee. To underline just how duplicitous and complicit Wilson and his government were in tacitly supporting US aggression in Vietnam, Curtis quotes from many documents which have only been released into the public domain relatively recently, including a Foreign Office brief from 18 March 1965:
|Although from time to time we have expressed cautionary views in response to notifications of US plans for attacks against the North, we have at no time opposed them. Our comments have been mostly on the timing or public presentation of the attacks...HMG... have at no stage opposed the policy being followed by the US but rather by suggesting minor changes in timing or presentation from time to time, have acquiesced in it. |
And an excerpt from a letter by Wilson to President Johnson dated August 2 1965 which reads:
|Our attitude has been of great benefit to the United States governmentin terms of international opinion, for our example has helped to restrain a number of European and Commenwealth countries from giving more vocal and forceful expression to their own apprehensions about the course of American policy in Vietnam. |
As Curtis points out on the same page in relation to the latter quote: 'The comparisons with Iraq in 2003 are difficult to avoid'.
From Atlee onwards, Labour has been, among the UK parties, the most obedient facilitator of American imperial aggression. Blair was the culmination and Ed Miliband is the continuation.
If Blair was the culmination how can Ed Miliband be the continuation ? There you go playing fast and loose with logic again. One might also accuse you of rather labouring the point ! Ha! HA! HA!
Culmination: "The highest or climactic point of something, esp. as attained after a long time." This in no way excludes the possibility of a continuation. It is a continuation, not at Blair's level, but, according to the grammar of the sentence, of "obedient facilitator of American aggression". Seems you weren't an English major.
I take your points over Harold Wilson on board Jon, and will certainly try and get hold of Curtis's book.
However what are your thoughts on the deliberate blackening of Wilson's reputation, by as Wilson stated himself the CIA and MI5/MI6. The claims he was a soviet agent, the alleged phone tapping, that made Wilson paranoid. The US demanding immediate repayment of loans for his refusal to engage british troops in Vietnam?
Lee is certain.
I don't see any evidence that Ed is an obedient facilitator of American aggression. He did distance himself from the Iraq war. I do see evidence that Lee is an obsessive personality.
I'm not an English major. I left secondary modern school at 15, having attended elementary school until I was 13. Backward or what ?
I would like to read more about the attempts to destabalise Wilson Brian, but my tentative explanation is that it would have been other factors than his position on Vietnam which would have disturbed right-wing elements in the secret services - for example economics and social policy.
It is true that Wilson's refusal of Johnson request to send (openly at least) any British troops to Vietnam in 1965 apparently 'infuriated' the latter, but in April 1967 the Vice President Hubert Humphrey was still happy to tell Wilson that: 'there were two Prime Ministers on who whom he could really rely - those of the United Kingdom and Australia'. (p 236)
And since by early 1965 British officials including - the Foreign Office - were convinced that the Americans could no longer win in Vietnam (nor extricate themselves from the mess without a loss of prestige) it seems unlikely that MI6 would disagree - let alone be offended - by Wilson's entirely rational decision to not send British soldiers to a lost cause. (For example a Minute by a F.O. official M.Palliser dated 28 July 1965 noted:'what the President wants is for a few British soldiers to get killed in Vietnam alongside the Americans so that their photographs can appear in the American press.' (p 232)
As Lee has alluded to it is enitrely possible to pursue a social democratic agenda at home while simultaneously carrying an imperialist Foreign Policy (although I think Labour governments have been no more aggressive than Tory administrations with thge possible exception of Heath - although the records show that under MacMillian's government the latter was willing to mislead the public over British policy regarding Vietnam). Attlee and Wilson are good examples of this approach.
However I would not use the word 'obedient' because as I have argued before the motivation was primarily to safeguard British Imperial interests (and the markets and resources thereby accessed) rather than out of any sense of being subservient to the US by appeasing its interests; it appears to me more the case that it was believed that both their narrow interests could be furthered by cooperation, hence the willingness to share information and collaborate over international issues (although as the US had by far superior resources at its command it is little surprise that it was the dominant partner).
Jon, in Blair's case it was more than obedience; it was obsequiousness such as Britain has never seen before, and that, we now know, had nothing to do with Britain's own imperial interests. This was simply a case of personal enrichment. About other Labour leaders and Tory leaders who collaborated, I would accept your characterisation.
|I don't see any evidence that Ed is an obedient facilitator of American aggression. He did distance himself from the Iraq war. |
a. This is what Ed said about Iraq:
|“I do believe that we were wrong. Wrong to take Britain to war and we need to be honest about that. Wrong because that war was not a last resort, because we did not build sufficient alliances and because we undermined the United Nations. America has drawn a line under Iraq and so must we…” |
The only concrete thing he says is that the alliance (Coalition of the Willing) was insufficient. This suggests that if there were other European nations with as many troops committed as Britain, he would have been quite happy. And he says explicitly that he agrees with the current US position on Iraq !!
b. He has always been strongly in favour of the occupation of Afghanistan, and he cheered loudly the bombing of Libya.
|Ed Miliband made the mistake of backing NATO over Libya |
|UK Labour leader, Ed Miliband, told the House of Commons on 21 March 2011 that “by taking action in Kosovo we saved the lives of tens of thousands of people” |
|Ed Miliband made the mistake of backing NATO over Libya |
|“I don’t accept that we were complicit in torture. I know something about this because my brother was, er, Foreign Secretary" |
Jim Murphy articulating Ed Miliband's policy:
|The third challenge is the recognition that NATO, not the European Union, will be the forum through which action is agreed and taken but for that to be successful a greater contribution is needed from European nations. NATO is more reflective of the breadth required of coalitions which will have the might and influence to help support indigenous populations and facilitate regional solutions. NATO is key also to the continued support and engagement of the United States |
While Ed tries very hard to keep a low profile, he has been captured by the Labour friends of Israel. The Tories have no equivalent as far as I know.
|Obama has authoritarian powers Bush could only dream of
Barack Obama campaigned in 2008 as a civil libertarian, a former professor of Constitutional Law who promised to close the military prison at Guantanamo, Cuba, undo the unconstitutional excesses of the Bush administration's "War on Terror" and stop the relentless accumulation of power in the presidency. Yet since taking power, Obama has undone little, and has in fact been amassing additional powers to himself and the presidency.
In what ways has President Obama increased his arsenal of powers? Let us list the ways:
-- Obama has ordered the killing of U.S. citizens abroad whom he has deemed terrorists, without any opportunity to deny the accusation or present a defense.
-- Despite promising to shut down the Bush system of trying terrorism detainees before military tribunals where their due process rights are severely limited, Obama instead signed the Military Commissions Act of 2009, essentially codifying the Bush policy.
-- Obama has not only continued to use the Guantanamo prison, but also brought the underlying policy home by signing the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which allows the military to arrest and indefinitely detain anyone, including citizens, merely suspected of assisting terrorists. That codifies the Bush administration's treatment of Jose Padilla, a citizen arrested in 2002 and transferred from civil to military custody. It also reverses the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act's ban on the government using the military for domestic matters.
-- Obama has refused to reveal how his Justice Department is interpreting the Patriot Act, despite requests from Democratic Senators and others.
-- One of George W. Bush's worst civil liberties violations, using the telecom system to spy on virtually all Americans starting in 2003 (which Obama has since defended in court) also has been expanded. The National Security Agency (NSA) is now building its largest data processing center ever, which will go beyond the public Internet by also snooping into password-protected networks. The NSA is also relying on private corporations to mine data as a way to avoid the Constitutional requirement of obtaining search warrants, as the Constitution limits only government searches and seizures. The federal government continues to require that computer makers and big Web sites provide access for domestic surveillance purposes.
-- The Bush administration practice of secretly abducting people and sending them to countries that cooperate with the U.S. has been widely condemned, including by Obama, but that did not stop him from signing an Executive Order in 2009 allowing the CIA to continue carrying out so-called extraordinary renditions.
-- Even on the issue of torture, where condemnation of U.S. policy was worldwide, Obama has not entirely broken with Bush policies, as the U.S. continues to maintain a formerly secret prison at the Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, where abusive interrogations continue.
Many years ago, Republican President Richard Nixon, a lifelong strident anti-communist, opened diplomatic relations with the ’Peoples Republic of China, a step that, if taken by a Democratic president, would have elicited howls from conservative Republicans of the era. We are now seeing a similar phenomenon with Obama, human rights and the expansion of presidential power. Obama has taken advantage of the reticence of Democratic politicians, many of whom vocally condemned similar policies when they were carried out by the Republican Bush administration, to criticize a fellow Democrat in the White House.
|US Muslim: I was tortured at FBI's behest in UAE
STOCKHOLM (AP) - A Muslim American seeking asylum in Sweden claimed Wednesday he was detained at the U.S. government's request while in the United Arab Emirates last summer, tortured in custody and interrogated about the activities of a Portland, Oregon, mosque.
Yonas Fikre told a news conference Wednesday that he was held for 106 days and was beaten, threatened with death and kept in solitary confinement in a frigid cell.
The 33-year-old, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Eritrea, says he had attended the same mosque in Portland as a man who has been charged in a plot to detonate a bomb in the northwestern U.S. city. He moved to Sudan in 2009 and later to the United Arab Emirates. He went to Sweden, where he has relatives, after being released from detention on Sept. 15.
Fikre, who converted to Islam in 2003, is the third Muslim man from Portland to publicly say he was detained while traveling abroad and questioned about Portland's Masjid-as-Sabr mosque. Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali American who is awaiting trial on a charge of plotting to set off a bomb in downtown Portland in November 2010, occasionally worshipped there. A decade ago, seven Muslims with ties to the mosque were arrested following a failed effort to enter Afghanistan and fight U.S. forces.
Fikre says he met Mohamud a handful of times, but wouldn't call him a friend or even an acquaintance.
Fikre says he was arrested on June 1 in the United Arab Emirates and taken to a prison in Abu Dhabi, where he was questioned about the activities of the Portland mosque and its imam, Mohamed Sheikh Abdirahman Kariye.
When he first suggested that his UAE interrogators were working for the FBI, they became very upset, he said.
"They got very angry and they said: We don't work with the Americans, we are an independent country," he said. However, in the final days of his confinement, Fikre said that one interrogator acknowledged that the FBI had been involved in his questioning.
"He confirmed to me that the FBI was there. Also when I was getting beaten, they did admit that the FBI knew exactly what was happening and they were working with the FBI," Fikre said.
Beth Anne Steele, a spokeswoman for the FBI office in Portland, said she could not discuss specifics of the case.
"I can tell you that the FBI trains its agents very specifically and very thoroughly about what is acceptable under U.S. law," she said. "To do anything counter to that training is counterproductive - we risk legal liability and potentially losing a criminal case in court."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called upon the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether Fikre was tortured at the behest of the FBI.
"Barack Obama said that America doesn't torture," said Gadeir Abbas, the group's attorney. "We didn't see the footnote that America relies on others to do its torture."
An aide to Oregon congressman Earl Blumenauer told the AP that last June, Blumenauer's office had been contacted by Fikre's wife and lawyer after he vanished. The aide, Willie Smith, said State Department officials confirmed to the congressman's office that Fikre was detained June 20 in the United Arab Emirates.
A few days later a U.S. official went to the prison where Fikre was being held, Smith said. According to Smith, U.S. government officials told Fikre's wife that he "was fine and that he wasn't being mistreated."
Fikre said he moved to Sudan in late 2009 to pursue business opportunities. A few months later, he was asked to contact the U.S. Embassy to discuss safety and security concerns for Americans in the unstable country. He was met by two men who identified themselves as FBI agents and asked questions about the Portland mosque. Fikre says the agents told him he had been placed on the federal no-fly list, and could only return to the U.S. if he agreed to become an informant, an offer he refused.
In the ensuing weeks, the FBI met a relative of Fikre's in Portland and urged that person to encourage Fikre to cooperate with authorities, he said. Fikre said he began to notice he was being followed on the streets of Sudan, prompting him to leave the country on June 15, 2010. Fikre then visited relatives in Europe for three months and flew to the United Arab Emirates after his European Union visa expired.
In a phone interview with The AP, Smith read what he said was an email from the American Citizens Services bureau about its contact with Fikre and with his family.
"After contacting multiple legal authorities in the UAE and the ministry of foreign affairs, we finally got confirmation that he was being held by the state security department. We were able to conduct a consular visit today and have contacted his wife to update her," the bureau wrote to Blumenauer's office.
Fikre said the person who visited him was a low-ranking embassy official. Fikre said he was warned to say he was being treated well or "more torture would take place." He said the beatings and interrogation continued until his September release.
|The Torture Trials At Guantánamo – OpEd
Written by: Andy Worthington
April 21, 2012
In the last few weeks, Guantánamo has been under the spotlight as, for the first time since President Obama took office, the military commission trial system — the government’s preferred method for trying terror suspects held in Guantánamo — has been readied for trying “high-value detainees”; those who, as well as being held in Guantánamo, were previously held in “black sites” run by the CIA, where the use of torture was widespread.
This has always been a problem for the government — under George W. Bush as well as under Obama — because the use of torture is not only illegal, but information derived through its use cannot be used in US courts. To get around the first inconvenience, President Bush’s lawyers arranged for torture to be redefined, and, to overcome the second, the Bush administration initially brought the military commissions out of retirement with the intention that the prohibition on torture could be ignored.
When the first incarnation of the commissions was felled by the Supreme Court in June 2006, and Congress then dutifully brought the trial system back to life a few months later, the use of information derived through torture was banned, although gray areas were acceptable at the discretion of the military judges. To get around this, the Bush administration tried, at one point, to send in “clean teams” of FBI agents and military interrogators to try and persuade those who had been tortured to repeat their tortured confessions voluntarily. Presumably, there was as little concern about the accuracy of the confessions as there was when the men were first being tortured, because, as any expert can confirm, torture is not a useful method for extracting reliable information, but is very good for producing false confessions.
However, although the existence of the “clean teams” was touted by the Bush administration at the time that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other “high-value detainees” were first charged in connection with their alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks, back in February 2008, no trial ever took place, even though, throughout 2008, Mohammed and some of the men accused with him had their only opportunities, since their capture, to address the wider world, when pre-trial hearings took place before George W. Bush left office.
How torture taints the planned trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators
Four years later, President Obama has finally decided to proceed with the trial of Mohammed and four of his alleged accomplices, although, as the New York Times reported last week, in an editorial entitled, “The Road We Need Not Have Traveled,” there is nothing to celebrate about this milestone finally being reached. Over ten and a half years after the attacks that spawned the disastrous “war on terror,” the dark reverberations of the Bush administration’s brutal response continue to echo throughout America, and also to pervade America’s reputation around the world.
Although Barack Obama revived the commissions for a second time in the summer of 2009, they remain a flawed and largely untested forum for trials of huge importance both domestically and internationally. The Obama administration’s revival of the commissions faced profound criticism from those who had served in Bush’s military commissions — via Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld and Maj. David Frakt, for example — but the administration pressed on regardless. When the news was announced, two weeks ago, that the Pentagon’s prosecutors had “formally charged” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men with war crimes “for planning and carrying out the murder of 2,976 people on Sept. 11, 2001,” the New York Times noted that their case had been referred to “a constitutionally flawed military tribunal” to be held at Guantánamo, which the editors described as “a global symbol of human rights abuses.”
In seeking to endorse the validity of the forthcoming trial by military commission, Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief military prosecutor, told a Harvard audience that the use of military commissions had become “a matter of the rule of law and of recognizing that at some point justice delayed really is justice denied,” but as the New York Times countered, it does not look that way when the compromised path to this forthcoming trial is analyzed.
Describing the commissions, and their location at Guantánamo as constituting “the worst way to administer justice” to the men accused of planning and supporting the 9/11 attacks, the Times first of all took exception to the delay in bringing the men to trial, noting that they “could have been brought to trial years ago, but President Bush decided he could ignore the Constitution,” by ordering them to be held in secret CIA prisons where they were “subjected to brutal and illegal interrogations.”
These, of course, involved torture, but whereas the Times has, since 9/11, been averse to using the word torture, an exception was made in the recent editorial. After explaining how Khalid Sheikh Mohammed “was waterboarded 183 times in one month alone,” the Times added, “That torture produced no useful intelligence, according to virtually all accounts, except those offered by people like former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was the key architect of the Bush administration’s lawless detention and interrogation policies.”
The above is certainly true, and it is important to have torture declared for what it is, and also to call out Dick Cheney for his self-serving lies. However, President Obama is also to blame for the delay in launching the 9/11 trial. The Times noted that, although he took office “pledging to close Guantánamo Bay and restore the rule of law to the treatment of terrorism suspects,” he had “largely failed.”
Looming large in this failure is the fallout from Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement in November 2009 that the five men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks would be tried in federal court in New York. As the Times noted, “He was absolutely right, but he failed to prepare local politicians, who claimed the trial would pose a security threat.” This problem could and should have been have been dealt with in Congress, but was not tackled adequately.
After President Obama effectively capitulated to the critics, putting the trial on hold, Congress responded by passing legislation that prevented the administration from bringing any prisoner from Guantánamo to be tried in federal court. Beaten by Congress, the administration — which, in my opinion, had fatally undermined its case for federal trials in the first place by announcing the revival of the military commissions on the same day that the 9/11 trial was announced — was obliged to announce that the men would face military commission trials at Guantánamo instead. The Times described the commissions as “a tribunal system improved from the kangaroo courts that Mr. Bush created, but still profoundly flawed.”
In conclusion, noting that, at Harvard, Gen. Martins “spoke eloquently about the need for real justice,” explaining, “If we treat the law as a luxury, we sacrifice legitimacy,” the Times stated, “We hope General Martins’s commitment to justice will persuade a highly skeptical world to accept the legitimacy of these trials; convicting and executing the prisoners after a tainted trial would be a disaster.”
However, the editors’ final words made clear that this legitimacy seemed unlikely — as indeed it does. “[A]fter all that has happened,” they wrote, “even the best-managed trial will not be able to change the fact that this country has in the last decade accepted too many damaging and unnecessary changes to its fundamental principles of justice and human rights.”
If Eric Holder’s credibility was shot when, after telling Jane Mayer of the New Yorker that history would judge how the administration handled the trial of the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators in federal court, he was obliged to accept that there would be no federal court trial at all, what remains of it, where Guantánamo is concerned, is also being tested. Along with the credibility of Barack Obama, what remains of Holder’s reputation will be under examination in the trial that will precede that of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four alleged accomplices — that of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Chinese “justice” in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri
Al-Nashiri was one of five men who, in November 2009, Eric Holder announced would stay at Guantánamo for trials by military commission, while Mohammed and the other men would be tried in federal court in New York. Three of the five (Omar Khadr, Ibrahim al-Qosi and Noor Uthman Muhammed) have been successfully prosecuted — or, to be more accurate, have helped the administration avoid the inconvenience of actual trials by accepting plea deals — and another man, Majid Khan, an alleged “high-value detainee,” accepted a plea deal in February, apparently in exchange for agreeing to testify against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. However, the trial of al-Nashiri is the first that involves the death penalty, and, as it is also intended to pave the way for the 9/11 trial, it needs to appear as convincing and legitimate as possible.
However, whether this is possible is in serious doubt. The case against al-Nashiri, which involved an uncomfortable pre-trial hearing in August 2010 and an uncomfortable arraignment in October last year, is tainted because of some very obvious torture — he was threatened with a gun and a power drill in a secret CIA prison in Thailand, and was then moved to a secret prison in Poland, where, notoriously, he was one of three “high-value detainees” whose waterboarding has been acknowledged by the CIA. In September 2010, he was granted “victim” status in an ongoing investigation into Polish complicity in the establishment of a secret CIA prison at Stare Kiejkuty, near Szymany.
Following the criticism of the planned 9/11 trial in the New York Times, Britain’s Daily Telegraph — a bastion of Conservatism — nevertheless savaged al-Nashiri’s trial. Peter Foster, the US editor who “moved to America in January 2012 after three years based in Beijing,” wrote an article entitled, “The Guantánamo war crimes tribunal is worse than a Bush-era horror show: it reminds me of Chinese ‘justice.’”
Despite the headline, Foster began by noting that Gen. Martins had told his Harvard audience that US military juries were “often superior to their civilian counterparts,” and that those who chose them were “mindful” that “diversity and representativeness on military panels serve the interests of justice,” adding that the convening authority exercised his or her “independent opinion” when deciding who was “best qualified for the duty by reason of age, education, training, experience, length of service, and judicial temperament.”
This sounded very promising, of course, but Foster immediately followed up by stating:
To say with a straight face that al-Nashiri — terrorist or no — should be expected to trust to the “mindfulness” and “independent opinion” of the legal face of his torturers only points up the levels of double-think required to take these “fair” trials at face value. Just take a look at this redacted CIA inspector-general report from 2004 [PDF] to get an idea of what was done to al-Nashiri as he was subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” in CIA detention in Afghanistan, Thailand and Poland after his arrest in 2002.
He was subjected to mock executions, simulated drowning by water-boarding, scrubbed with stiff brushes until his skin was raw, threatened with a revving power drill as he stood hooded and naked, kept in such filthy conditions his CIA interrogators smoked cigars to mask the stench, held in stress positions for days on end and hauled up by his arms to the point where his shoulders were about to dislocate.
Drawing on his personal experience, he added, “If you want to live in a society where ends justify the means, where torture and inhumane treatment is inflicted in the name of the ‘greater’ good, then go and live in China and see what kind of fearful, introverted society that breeds.” He also noted that, although everyone involved — the judge, the prosecution and the defense — play their allocated roles, it “cannot disguise the fundamental lopsidedness” of the commissions, especially as, in the unlikely event that al-Nashiri is acquitted, he won’t be released because he can continue to be held as an “enemy combatant” in a “war on terror” that still seems to have no end in sight. “How very Chinese,” Foster concluded.
In another article, Foster continued his assault on the commissions, reporting from the press conference that followed the pre-trial hearings, when Richard Kammen, al-Nashiri’s lead lawyer, and “one of America’s most experienced death penalty lawyers,” launched what Foster described as “a furious broadside” against the commissions, declaring, “This will be the only court in the history of America, in our view, since the founding of the United States, where the constitution of the United States didn’t apply.”
Reeling off a catalog of complaints, Kammen “objected strenuously to being asked to submit an outline of defence arguments without seeing summaries of secret documents used by the prosecutors.” The originals are classified, and “cannot be shown to the defence because of national security concerns,” but as Kammen explained, “It is the equivalent of me saying to a member of the press, tell us what is in this briefcase and you’d better get it right, because if you don’t, we will kill you, because this document may be the critical piece of evidence that the government uses to try and kill Mr. al-Nashiri.”
The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, also rejected a request by Kammen for support to “translate up to 150,000 pages of ‘discovery’ evidence into Arabic,” to help al-Nashiri to assist his defense team. As Kammen explained, “It was extraordinarily frustrating to us … that the judge ruled that Mr. al-Nashiri, who speaks very little English, and reads none, is not entitled as a matter of law to translations of the documents underpinning the evidence that the government uses to try and kill him.” He added, “The subtext of all of this seems to be the cost. It seems to be the attitude of the military that we can kill him and do it cheaply. We think that is transparently unfair.”
It is hard not to agree, and as this dark farce, with its echoes of Chinese “justice,” rumbles on, with al-Nashiri’s case adjourned until July, and his trial unlikely to start until November at the earliest, it is difficult to see how the trials of Guantánamo’s torture victims can end well for any of those involved. The lesson must be that black sites and torture must not be revisited, but how this particular chapter in America’s recent history can be brought to a satisfactory conclusion is still difficult to discern.
|Harold Koh: President Obama's Drones Defender-in-Chief
The Daily Beast recently published Tara McKelvey's interview with Harold Koh, the human rights lawyer and former dean of Yale Law School who has since become a legal advisor for the Obama administration, specializing in justifying the exercise of unrestrained executive authority.
While the interview portion of the article is negligible – out of three pages, Koh's remarks consist of just seven short sentences – the portrait McKelvey paints of Koh is of a rather unpersonable, prickly man. According to retired General James Cartwright, Koh was "hated" in the opening months of the Obama administration. Cartwright also claims that Koh described drone strikes as "extrajudicial killings" in some of these early meetings, something that Koh denies ever saying.
Of course, Koh's personality, unpleasant or not, is less important than his significant changes of heart (although the interview quotes Koh himself saying "I have never changed my mind") on national security issues. In 2002, Koh referred to George Bush as the "torturer in chief" and expressed concerns over the targeted killings carried out under the Bush administration. By contrast, in 2012, Koh answered the question: "How do we deliver justice to the enemy?" with the flippant: "I think there are different ways. It can be delivered through trials. Drones also deliver."
Providing legal justification for drone executions seem to be one of Koh's recurring duties. In 2010, he defended them, saying, "Our procedures and practices for identifying lawful targets are extremely robust, and advanced technologies have helped to make our targeting even more precise." The death and disfigurement of civilians that seem to accompany every drone strike don't seem to figure into Koh's precise targeting technologies, much to the anguish of the drone policy's victims.
In the context of the Obama presidency, Koh's sudden conversion to assassination advocacy is somewhat less surprising, however. Despite the rhetoric of the campaign trail (and the oft-repeated assurances of Obama's remaining fans), the Obama administration's record on human rights has more often than not been a continuation of the policies favored by its predecessor (not exactly surprising, given how many members of the Obama national security team are Bush-era appointees). Despite promises to close Guantanamo, America's most famous prison camp remains open. Despite grandiose claims of ending torture, loopholes in Obama's orders kept torture a viable policy, and with the signing of the 2012 NDAA, it was reauthorized under the auspices of "enhanced interrogation."
The Obama administration has refused to investigate the war crimes of Bush, saying "it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice, that they will not be subject to prosecution." In other words, if you were just following orders, don't worry, you won't be prosecuted for torturing.
Obama has also declined to release further photo documentation of torture by American forces, interceding to reverse a Pentagon decision to make public hundreds of images of detainee abuse. Obama described the Abu Ghraib abuse photos as "painful,"a curiously elastic use of the word in the context of a discussion on torture.
In some areas, such as the prosecution of whistleblowers, the current administration is exceeding its predecessor in the zeal with which it defends the excesses of the national security state. From the attempted prosecution of an NSA agent leaking information on unauthorized government surveillance techniques to the recent prosecution of former CIA agent John Kiriakou for revealing information related to the abuse of prisoners, the Obama administration has made it very clear it has little tolerance for anyone taking campaign promises of transparency seriously. The Espionage Act has been used as the principle tool for silencing whistleblowers - six times so far this administration. Prior to Obama's administration, the act had only been used three times in the nation's history.
So what are we to conclude from all this? Certainly, not that the Obama administration is uniquely awful in its policies. Even disregarding the perverse willingness of the previous administration to make its crimes publicly known, torture is nothing new for America; the "water cure" was practiced in the Philippines long before it was applied to captured Afghans. Nor is the trite phrase "power corrupts" useful as an analysis, especially if we hope to even begin to affect change.
What we must recognize is that on a structural level, our government and its obsession with secrecy engenders these abuses. No matter who sits in the Oval Office, without massive outcry and organized resistance to the status quo, nothing will change, no matter who is voted in or out.
|Obama’s dismal civil liberties record
Despite vows to increase transparency, the president has made the government ever more authoritarian and intrusive
BY STEVEN ROSENFELD, ALTERNET
When Barack Obama took office, he was the civil liberties communities’ great hope. Obama, a former constitutional law professor, pledged to shutter the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and run a transparent and open government. But he has become a civil libertarian’s nightmare: a supposedly liberal president who instead has expanded and fortified many of the Bush administration’s worst policies, lending bipartisan support for a more intrusive and authoritarian federal government.
It started with the 9/11 attacks. Within a week, Congress, including many liberals, gave the White House blanket authority to wage a war on the terrorists. A month after that, Congress passed the USA Patriot Act, authorizing many anti-terrorism measure including expanded surveillance. By mid-November, the White House ordered creation of military tribunals to try terrorists who were not U.S. citizens.
Bush quickly expanded covert operations, creating a shadow arrest, interrogation and detention system based at Guantanamo that violated international law and evaded domestic oversight. While the Supreme Court eventually ruled that detainees have some rights, the precedent that the Constitution does not restrict how a president conducts an endless war against a stateless enemy was firmly planted. In response, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union proposed reforms the newly elected president could make. What few anticipated was how he would embrace, expand and institutionalize many of Bush’s war on terror excesses.
President Obama now has power that Bush never had. Foremost is he can (and has) ordered the killing of U.S. citizens abroad who are deemed terrorists. Like Bush, he has asked the Justice Department to draft secret memos authorizing his actions without going before a federal court or disclosing them. Obama has continued indefinite detentions at Gitmo, but also brought the policy ashore by signing the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which authorizes the military to arrest and indefinitely detain anyone suspected of assisting terrorists, even citizens. That policy, codifying how the Bush administration treated Jose Padilla, a citizen who was arrested in a bomb plot after landing at a Chicago airport in 2002 and was transferred from civil to military custody, upends the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878’s ban on domestic military deployment.
Meanwhile, more than a decade after the 9/11 attacks, Washington’s wartime posture has trickled down into many areas of domestic activity — even as some foreign policy experts say the world is a much safer place than it was 20 years ago, as measured by the growth in free-market economies and democratic governments. Domestic law enforcement has been militarized — as is most visibly seen by the tactics used against the Occupy protests and also against suspected illegal immigrants, who are treated with brute force and have limited access to judicial review before being deported.
One of Bush’s biggest civil liberties breaches, spying on virtually all Americans via their telecommunications starting in 2003, also has been expanded. Congress authorized the effort in 2006. Two years later, it granted legal immunity to the telecom firms helping Bush — a bill Obama voted for. The National Security Agency is now building its largest data processing center ever, which Wired.com’s James Bamforth reports will go beyond the public Internet to grab data but also reach password-protected networks. The federal government continues to require that computer makers and big websites provide access for domestic surveillance purposes. More crucially, the NSA is increasingly relying on private firms to mine data, because, unlike the government, it does not need a search warrant. The Constitution only limits the government searches and seizures.
The government’s endless wartime footing is also seen in its war on whistle-blowers. Obama has continued cases brought by Bush, such as going after the “leaker” in the warrantless wiretapping story broken by the New York Times in 2005, as well as the WikiLeaks case, prosecution of Bradley Manning, and others for allegedly mishandling classified materials related to the war on terrorism. Its suppression of war-related information given to journalists extends overseas, where the State Department this month has blocked a visa for a Pakistani critic from speaking in the U.S. The White House also recently pressured Yemen’s leader to jail the reporter who exposed U.S. drone strikes. Meanwhile, the administration has stonewalled Freedom of Information Act requests, particularly the Justice Department, which has issued the secret wartime memos.
How bad is it? Anthony Romero, the ACLU executive director, exclaimed in June 2010 that Obama “disgusted” him. Meanwhile, the most hawkish Bush administration officials have defended and praised Obama.
Last summer, liberal lawyer-journalist Glenn Greenwald tallied a list of Bush warrior endorsements. Jack Goldsmith, the former DOJ officials who approved the torture and domestic spying efforts, wrote in the New Republic in May 2009 that Obama actually was waging a more effective war on terror than Bush.
“The new administration has copied most of the Bush program, has expended some of it, and has narrowed only a bit,” Goldsmith wrote. “Almost all of the Obama changes have been at the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol and rhetoric.” Bush’s final CIA director, Gen. Michael Hayden — whose confirmation Obama opposed as a senator — told CNN there was a “powerful continuity between the 43rd and 44th presidents.” And in early 2011 Vice President Dick Cheney told NBC News, “He’s learned that what we did was far more appropriate than he ever gave us credit for while he was a candidate.”
All of these civil liberties issues — executive authority to order assassination of citizens, unlimited detention without charges at Guantanamo, authority to deploy the military domestically to arrest and indefinitely detail terrorism suspects, a parallel “due process” that is outside the judicial branch, the expansion of the surveillance state, the increased militarization of local police and federal agencies especially ICE, the increasingly punitive treatment of protesters including strip searches, the war on whistle-blowers, and others — are very complicated. The details are filled with shades of gray.
Bradley Manning’s harsh treatment, for example, is thought to be tied to the White House’s fear that the vast WikiLeaks cache contained references to the pursuit of Osama Bin Laden before his assassination — and could have alerted al-Qaida. Better data mining and analysis could have detected the 9/11 attacks, the Patriot Act’s defenders past and present have repeatedly argued. But from a civil liberties perspective, Obama has more than chipped away at freedom from federal intrusion. The underlying problem is the tactics and values forged in foreign war have seeped into domestic policing.
“We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national security state,” Jack Balkin, a liberal Yale University Law School professor, told the New Yorker in a 2011 feature about a prominent NSA whistle-blower. “The question is not whether we will have a surveillance state in the years to come, but what sort of state we will have,” he wrote in a prescient law review article published early in Obama’s presidency.
The larger dangers, Balkin said, was that the government is creating a “parallel track of preventative law enforcement that bypasses traditional protections in the Bill of Rights.” Moreover, he worries “traditional law enforcement and social services will increasingly resemble the parallel track.” And because the Constitution only restricts government actions, not “private parties, government has increasing incentives to rely on private enterprise to collect and generate information for it.”
“The major defining feature of the Obama administration on this issue is the eagerness with which it embraced the stunning evisceration of civil rights and liberties that was a hallmark of the Bush administration, and then deepened those outrageous programs,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, who is an attorney representing many Occupy protesters swept up in last fall’s mass arrests. “He has successfully counted on the acquiescent silence of the liberals.”
Eric Holder, the Defender
The biggest difference between Bush and Obama on civil liberties and the war on terror is the Obama administration is more attuned to the optics of trying to appear reasonable as it conducts much of the same policies. To be fair, Obama has not kidnapped innocent people en masse in Afghanistan and warehoused them in Cuba, as Bush did. But he has launched drone strikes in numerous counties, where the victims include children.
In 2010, the ACLU and New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented many Guantanamo detainees, filed a suit asking a federal court to set legal standards when the government could use lethal force against a U.S. citizen who was overseas but not on an active battlefield. That suit was dismissed. But Eric Holder, perhaps giving a victory to critics who have condemned the administration’s secrecy, gave a speech this March at Chicago’s Northwestern University School of Law explaining Obama’s wartime actions and authority. The speech was exactly what Goldsmith had described a year earlier in the New Republic — nearly identical on substance to Bush administration policy, but with more attention to the packaging for the public.
“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger,” Holder began, quoting President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural at the height of the Cold War. “But just as surely as we are a nation at war, we are also a nation of laws and values,” Holder continued, saying, “Our actions must always be grounded on the bedrock of the Constitution.”
Holder explained the challenge for government was what to do after someone is found who is suspected of participating in a terrorist plot against the United States. He said the federal courts have done an excellent job in dealing with suspected terrorists since 9/11—and those who claim otherwise “are simply wrong.” But then Holder built the case for using a “reformed” military commission system—granting foreign detainees a right to counsel, a right to see evidence against them, and a right to cross-examine witnesses.
Moreover, Holder defended the administration’s right to transfer a terrorism suspect from civilian courts to military custody “based on the considered judgment of the President’s senior national security team.” And he said that in a “war with a stateless enemy” that the federal government has a right an obligation “to target specific senior operational leaders of Al Qaeda and associated forces,” just as the military shot down the plane with the top Japanese Admiral who led the Pearl Harbor attacks in World War II. “It is important to explain these legal principles publicly,” Holder said. “The Constitution does not require the President to delay action until some theoretical end stage of planning—when the precise time, pace and manner of an attack become clear.”
Holder then said there is no constitutional requirement that the president “get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or associated forces. This is simply not accurate. ‘Due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.”
Holder’s arguments sound reasonable until you stop and ask where it ends up. The U.S. is still involved in dubious warfare efforts overseas — particularly Afghanistan. But the full wartime powers invoked by Obama to endlessly fight stateless terrorists, which are on par to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s suspension of civil liberties in World War II, arguably are disproportionate to the scope of military actions. Moreover, people like Obama who are schooled in constitutional law know there are reasons why the foundation of American democracy is based on being a nation of laws — not arbitrary decisions by men — and are expected to respect that distinction and govern with due deference and restraint.
Those who understand Obama’s civil liberties failing best include lawyers serving in the military, like David Frakt, a lawyer in the Air Force and Barry University School of Law professor. He recently wrote on Jurist.org that Obama’s targeted assassinations — a word Holder rejected in the speech — was the foreign policy equivalent of the domestic “stand your ground” laws that led to Trayvon Martin’s killing.
“During the Bush administration, we developed the rule of ‘we can kill you, but you can’t kill us,’” Frakt wrote. “Now, under the Obama administration, we have added a corollary … namely, ‘you can’t kill us, only we can kill us,’” referring to killing U.S. citizens abroad where “capture is not feasible.” The stand your ground laws “are the logical domestic criminal counterpart to our nation’s aggressive pre-emptive self defense doctrine, under which we have gone to war on the same flimsy suspicions that George Zimmerman acted upon.”
The problem — as seen with more than 600 innocent people taken to Guantanamo — is that the White House can make mistakes. Cheney famously called them “the worst of the worst,” but by 2009 only one in seven were seen as being enemy combatants. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., responding to Holder’s talk, said that, “Based on what I’ve heard so far, I can’t tell whether or not the Justice Department’s legal arguments would allow the president to order intelligence agents to kill an American inside the United States.”
Domestic civil liberties are fragile. They are not the same as a World War II battlefield where a grunt shoots first and asks questions later. Civil liberties take years to create and accrue, whereas a domestic terrorist attack can occur in a flash and then unwind those protections quickly and for many years. What started under Bush and has continued under Obama are battlefield values that have been conflated with domestic policing.
Just as stand your ground laws turn every American going about their lives into a threat that needs to be measured, so too does a growing surveillance state encroach on privacy and specific constitutional rights, such as freedom from warrantless searches, judicial review and other constitutional checks and balances.
The question, as Balkan noted at the start of the Obama presidency, is not whether we will have a growing surveillance and police state, but what that state will be like. Obama has begun to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he hasn’t begun to roll back the most extreme civil liberties abuses tied to the earliest phases of that war. Liberals expected otherwise from a former constitutional law professor and candidate who campaigned against the excesses of the Bush administration.
My only request to Obama, when he can find enough time between starring on saturday night live, and becoming a budding soul singer is. US isolationism is a policy that would be a big hit, especially for the rest of the world.
Romney could well be pushed by the isolationist wing of the Republicans, which has always been quite strong, to severely tone down the over-the-top imperialist aggression being pushed by Obama. He will also not provide the TonyBlair-style poodle subservience to Israel that Obama has. If only there were a way that both Romney and Obama could lose ! Four years of Ron Paul, nutty as he is, could possibly bring Murka to its senses. Four more years of Obama, and progressives will look back at Bush with nostalgia.
Mmmmmmm ! McDonalds !!!!!!!
|Fed on Blood and the Fat of Dead Cattle
America’s Mad Cow Crisis
by JOHN STAUBER
Americans might remember that when the first mad cow was confirmed in the United States in December, 2003, it was major news. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had been petitioned for years by lawyers from farm and consumer groups I worked with to stop the cannibal feeding practices that transmit this horrible, always fatal, human and animal dementia. When the first cow was found in Washington state, the government said it would stop such feeding, and the media went away. But once the cameras were off and the reporters were gone nothing substantial changed.
In the United States, dairy calves are still taken from their mothers and fed the blood and fat of dead cattle. This is no doubt a way to infect them with the mad cow disease that has now been incubating here for decades, spread through such animal feeding practices. No one knows how the latest dairy cow was infected, the fourth confirmed in the United States. Maybe it was nursed on cow’s blood. Perhaps it was fed feed containing cattle fat with traces of cattle protein. Or perhaps there is a mad cow disease in pigs in the United States, which simply has not been found yet, because pigs are not tested for it at all, even though pigs are fed both pig and cattle byproducts, and then the blood, fat and other waste parts of these pigs are fed to cattle.
All these U.S. cattle feeding methods are long banned and illegal in other countries that suffered through but eventually dealt properly with mad cow disease. Here, rather than stopping the transmission of the disease by stopping the cannibal feeding, mad cow is simply covered up with inadequate testing and very adequate public relations. US cattle are still fed mammalian blood, fat and protein, risking human deaths and threatening the long term safety of human blood products, simply to provide the U.S. livestock industry with a cheap protein source and a cheap way to get rid of dead animal waste.
I began researching this issue around 1989, long before the disease was confirmed to have jumped from cattle to the people eating them, as announced by the British government in 1996. In 1997 I co-authored Mad Cow USA, warning that the disease was likely already here and spreading, since the animal cannibalism that caused its outbreak in Britain and spread it to other countries was actually more widespread in the United States than anywhere.
Some years ago responsible U.S. beef companies wanted to test their animals for mad cow disease and label their beef as being disease free, but they were forbidden under penalty of law from doing so. Only the USDA can test for mad cows in America. In 2004 and 2005, after two additional mad cows were discovered in Texas and Alabama, the United Sates government declared that obviously mad cow wasn’t much of a problem and gutted it’s anemic testing program. Today only about 40,000 cattle a year are tested, out of tens of millions slaughtered. It’s amazing that the California cow was even detected given this pathetic testing program that seems well designed to hide rather than find mad cows.
The prevention of mad cow disease is relatively simple. If your country has it, test each animal at slaughter to keep the diseased animals out of the food chain. Cheap, accurate and easy tests are now available in other countries but illegal here. Testing cattle both identifies the true extent of the disease, and keeps infected animals from being eaten in your sausage or hamburger. In this manner countries like Britain, Germany, France and Japan have controlled their problem through testing and a strict ban on cannibal feed.
Once mad cow disease moves into the human population of a country, all bets are off as to what could happen next. It’s a very slow disease, it develops invisibly over decades in someone who has been infected, and it is always fatal. We’ll know a lot more in fifty years, but the future looks worrisome. In Britain people are dying from mad cow disease, people who never consumed infected meat. They used medical products containing human blood, and that blood was infected because it was from infected people. There is no test to identify infectious prions, the causal agent, in blood.
Almost none of this information appeared in news stories about the California mad cow. Instead the headlines and the talking heads fed us the line that the United States fixed this problem long ago, and the fact that only 4 mad cows have been detected so far is proof of our success. Oprah Winfrey once tried via her talk show to warn about this, way back in 1996, but Texas cattlemen dragged her and her guest Howard Lyman into court and she had to spend many millions of dollars defending herself from the supposed crime of slandering meat.
Oprah won her case, which was probably unfortunate for the rest of us because had she been convicted the ensuing appeals court trial might have gotten enough attention to wake up Americans to the truth. Instead Oprah learned her lesson – shut up and you won’t get sued. Other media learned too that if the government and industry can silence Oprah, they can muzzle anyone. (One of the 4 confirmed U.S. mad cows was later found in Texas, appropriately enough.)
There are a handful of dedicated activists such as Howard Lyman who have been sounding the alarm on this. They include the ecologist Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumers Union and Dr. Michael Greger, a physician. Terry Singeltary Sr., whose mom died of a version of the human form of mad cow disease, has been a relentless, unpaid activist on this issue.
Despite their dedicated work, there is no indication that anything is going to change here in America. The U.S. government refuses to implement the feed ban and the animal testing necessary. It doesn’t matter if the President is named Clinton, Bush or Obama because their bureaucrats in the USDA and FDA stay the course and keep the cover up going. Docile, eating what they are fed, trusting the rancher all the way to the slaughterhouse. Is that just the cows, or is it us too?
Famous author on the jaundiced state of Murka
Unexceptionalism: A Primer
by E.L. Doctorow
To achieve unexceptionalism, the political ideal that would render the United States indistinguishable from the impoverished, traditionally undemocratic, brutal or catatonic countries of the world, do the following:
If you’re a justice of the Supreme Court, ignore the first sacrament of a democracy and suspend the counting of ballots in a presidential election. Appoint the candidate of your choice as president.
If you’re the newly anointed president, react to a terrorist attack by invading a nonterrorist country. Despite the loss or disablement of untold numbers of lives, manage your war so that its results will be indeterminate.
Using the state of war as justification, order secret surveillance of American citizens, data mine their phone calls and e-mail, make business, medical and public library records available to government agencies, perform illegal warrantless searches of homes and offices.
Take to torturing terrorism suspects, here or abroad, in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. Unilaterally abrogate the Convention Against Torture as well as the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war. Commit to indeterminate detention without trial those you decide are enemies. For good measure, trust that legislative supporters will eventually apply this policy as well to American citizens.
Suspend progressive taxation so that the wealthiest pay less proportionately than the middle class. See to it that the wealth of the country accumulates to a small fraction of the population so that the gap between rich and poor widens exponentially.
By cutting taxes and raising wartime expenditures, deplete the national treasury so that Congress and state and municipal legislatures cut back on domestic services, ensuring that there will be less money for the education of the young, for government health programs, for the care of veterans, for the maintenance of roads and bridges, for free public libraries, and so forth.
Deregulate the banking industry so as to create a severe recession in which enormous numbers of people lose their homes and jobs.
Before you leave office add to the Supreme Court justices like the ones who awarded you the presidency.
If you’re one of the conservative majority of a refurbished Supreme Court, rule that corporations, no less than human beings, have the right under the First Amendment to express their political point of view. To come to this judgment, do not acknowledge that corporations lack the range of feelings or values that define what it is to be human. That humans can act against their own interest, whereas corporations cannot act otherwise than in their own interest. That the corporation’s only purpose is to produce wealth, regardless of social consequences.
This decision of the court will ensure tremendous infusions of corporate money into the political process and lead to the election in national and state legislatures of majorities of de facto corporate lobbyists.
Given corporate control of legislative bodies, enact laws to the benefit of corporate interests. For example, those laws sponsored by weapons manufacturers wherein people may carry concealed weapons and shoot and kill anyone by whom they feel threatened.
Give the running of state prisons over to private corporations whose profits increase with the increase in inmate populations. See to it that a majority of prisoners are African-American.
When possible, treat immigrants as criminals.
Deplete and underfinance a viable system of free public schools and give the education of children over to private for-profit corporations.
Make college education unaffordable.
Inject religious precepts into public policy so as to control women’s bodies.
Enact laws prohibiting collective bargaining. Portray trade unions as un-American.
Enact laws restricting the voting rights of possibly unruly constituencies.
Propagandize against scientific facts that would affect corporate profits. Portray global warming as a conspiracy of scientists.
Having subverted the Constitution and enervated the nation with these measures, portray the federal government as unwieldy, bumbling and shot through with elitist liberals. Create mental states of maladaptive populism among the citizenry to support this view.
If you’re a justice of the Supreme Court, decide that the police of any and all cities and towns and villages have the absolute authority to strip-search any person whom they, for whatever reason, put under arrest.
With this ruling, the reduction of America to unexceptionalism is complete.
|Celebrating our “Warrior President”
The Democratic case for Obama's foreign policy greatness is most significant for what it blissfully ignores
By Glenn Greenwald
April 29, 2012 "Salon" - - Peter Bergen, the Director of National Security Studies at the Democratic-Party-supportive New America Foundation, has a long Op-Ed in The New York Times today glorifying President Obama as a valiant and steadfast “warrior President”; it begins this way:
THE president who won the Nobel Peace Prize less than nine months after his inauguration has turned out to be one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades.
Just ponder that: not only the Democratic Party, but also its progressive faction, is wildly enamored of “one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades.” That’s quite revealing on multiple levels. Bergen does note that irony: he recalls that Obama used his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to defend the justifications for war and points out: “if those on the left were listening, they didn’t seem to care.” He adds that “the left, which had loudly condemned George W. Bush for waterboarding and due process violations at Guantánamo, was relatively quiet when the Obama administration, acting as judge and executioner, ordered more than 250 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2009, during which at least 1,400 lives were lost.”
To explain the behavior of “the left,” Bergen offers this theory: “From both the right and left, there has been a continuing, dramatic cognitive disconnect between Mr. Obama’s record and the public perception of his leadership: despite his demonstrated willingness to use force, neither side regards him as the warrior president he is.” In other words, progressives are slavishly supportive of “one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades” because they have deluded themselves into denying this reality and continue to pretend he’s some sort of anti-war figure.
That’s not unreasonable speculation, but I ultimately don’t believe that’s true. Leaving aside Bergen’s over-generalization — some factions on “the left” have been quite vocal in condemning Obama’s actions in these areas — most Democrats are perfectly aware of Obama’s military aggression. They don’t support him despite that, but rather, that’s one of the things they love about him. After years of being mocked by the Right as Terrorist-coddling weaklings, Obama — strutting around touting his own strength — lets them feel strong and powerful in exactly the way that Bush and Cheney’s swaggering let conservatives prance around as tough-guy, play-acting warriors. Rather than ignore this aggression, Democratic think tanks point with beaming pride to the corpses piled up by the Democratic Commander-in-Chief to argue that he’s been such a resounding foreign policy “success,” while Democratic pundits celebrate and defend the political value of his majestic kills.
Yesterday on his MSNBC morning show, Chris Hayes conducted an excellent, two-part discussion of Obama’s escalated civilian-killing drone attacks, with a heavy emphasis on the innocent people, including numerous children, who have been killed. He showed a harrowing video clip of a Yemeni man’s anguish as he described the pregnant women and children killed by Obama’s 2009 cluster bomb strike; featured the U.S. drone killing of 16-year-old American citizen Abdulrahman Awlaki in Yemen; and interviewed human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who described the 16-year-old Pakistani boy he met at a meeting to discuss civilian drone deaths and who, a mere 3 days later, had his own life ended by an American drone.
Later that day, Hayes tweeted this: “A bit taken aback by the ugliness that drone conversation seems to bring out in some people.” What he meant was the avalanche of angry Twitter attacks from steadfast Obama loyalists who gleefully defended the drone program, mocked concerns over civilian deaths, and insisted that he should not be covering such matters because they may harm Obama in an election year (of course, it’s not only the President’s followers, but, as Hayes noted, the President himself who is quite adept at finding humor in his drone attacks).
Contrary to Bergen’s generous belief that progressives are deluding themselves about Obama’s militarism, many are fully aware of it and, because it’s a Democrat doing it, have become aggressively supportive of it. That, without a doubt, will be one of Obama’s most enduring legacies: transforming these policies of excessive militarism, rampant secrecy and civil liberties assaults from right-wing radicalism into robust bipartisan consensus (try though they might, not even progressives will be able to turn around and credibly pretend to object to such things the next time there is a GOP President).
Now, there is one element of delusion to Democratic support for Obama’s militarism, and it plagues not only his most ardent supporters but also Bergen’s Op-Ed. Most Democratic praise for “Obama’s foreign policy successes” fails even to acknowledge, let alone condemn, the thousands of innocent people whose lives have been extinguished by his militarism. These deaths simply do not exist in their world. When you force them to address it, they’ll simply dismiss it away with the military terminology first popularized by Timothy McVeigh (that’s just “collateral damage”) and then quickly return to the Bush-era mantra of mindlessly invoking the word “Terrorism” to justify whatever violence the U.S. Government commits. They see themselves, and especially their leader, as so righteous and noble that incidents like this and this and so many others are blissfully kept far away from their consciousness because the reality of what they support cannot be reconciled with their self-perception; that, more than anything, is what explains the bitterness directed at Hayes yesterday: he publicized facts which they desperately prefer be hidden, not just from others but from themselves.
Thus, Bergen — who has spent the last several years dutifully defending in Democratic journals Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan and escalated drone war – writes almost 2,000 words hailing Obama’s spectacular foreign policy achievements. And not once do the words “civilians” or “innocent” appear. There is no mention — zero — of the numerous innocent civilians who have been killed by the policies of militarism Bergen celebrates. They simply do not exist. Bergen — who has previously claimed, contrary to substantial evidence, that civilian deaths from drones in Pakistan are overstated — here does not even acknowledge their existence. As usual, the deaths of numerous innocent foreigners from American drones and bombs and missiles, including children, is the unspeakable, irrelevant truth about American militarism.
It’s certainly not surprising that some think tank “terrorism expert” like Bergen finds civilian deaths at the hands of American militarism to be too insignificant to note, let alone to interfere with his giddy veneration. But the fact that so much of the Democratic Party, including its progressive faction, now follows suit is telling indeed.
One last point: for the full eight years of the Bush administration, Bush, Cheney and scores of other political and media supporters of their militarism who had not served in the military were routinely derided by Democrats and progressives as “chickenhawks” (an accusation, which, with some caveats and modifications, I supported). What happened to that? Now we have a President whom Bergen hails as “one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades” despite having not served a day in the military, and hordes of non-military-serving Democrats who cheer him as he does so. Similarly, George Bush was mercilessly mocked for declaring himself a “war President,” yet here is Bergen — writing under the headline “Warrior in Chief” — twice christening the non-serving Obama as our “Warrior President.” Did the concept of chickenhawkism, like so many other ostensible political beliefs, cease to exist on January 20, 2009?
UPDATE: As several commenters suggest, there is another delusional aspect to the Democratic glorification of Obama’s foreign policy which I did not mention here (though I have on many other occasions): the ludicrous notion that continuously killing civilians in the Muslim world — more than a decade after 9/11 — is Keeping Us Safe rather than exacerbating the very Terrorist threat it is ostensibly intended to solve. The crux of the Bush/Cheney mentality was that Terrorism will end just as soon as you kill all the Terrorists — even as those efforts did more to ensure the continuation and escalation of anti-American hatred than any other single cause — and that’s the same mindset at the core of the Obama defense.
On another issue, Reason‘s Jesse Walker emails with a correction: “‘Collateral damage’ entered the general lexicon during the first Iraq War, not after Oklahoma City. I imagine that’s where McVeigh picked it up, too.” He then added that perhaps “it was widely used pre-Iraq and I just didn’t notice it until then. So maybe I should say it entered the general lexicon *at least* as early as Iraq I. But it was definitely in wide use then. I remember us in the antiwar movement mocking news reports for uncritically repeating the euphemism. There was even a book that used the phrase as its title.”
Finally, Jeremy Scahill delivered a superb speech at yesterday’s drone summit on what he called “Obama’s actual death panels”; Kevin Gosztola has a typically excellent summary along with the video of the speech.
UPDATE II: According to CNN today, “a suspected U.S. drone strike killed three people Sunday at a high school in northern Pakistan.” The article cites “intelligence officials” as claiming that “militants were hiding” at the school. There is apparently no information yet on who was killed, though I hope — and trust – that this won’t impede the celebrations over our “Warrior in Chief.”
|Obama’s Death Panels: Jeremy Scahill at the Drone Summit
Activists, lawyers, human rights advocates, civil liberties defenders and others came together for a major international summit on drone warfare and the issues created by drone use yesterday. The summit was co-organized by CODEPINK, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Reprieve. An exceptional lineup of speakers addressed participants detailing salient and significant aspects around the Obama administration’s expansion of the covert drone wars in countries like Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.
Part 1 of 4 videos (see below for others): (all videos shown on link below)
The day wrapped up with a speech from Jeremy Scahill of The Nation, who has been one of the few journalists to actually travel to these countries where the covert drone war is playing out. Scahill has produced reports on Yemen and Somalia that show how the US is carrying out its “war on terrorism” and using drones to target and kill people.
Scahill opens his speech by saying, “The real death panels that we have in this country were unleashed on our own citizens. Republicans like to talk about death panels having to do with health care. President Obama is the one that is operating secret death panels” that include United States citizens and often include non-US citizens. The vast majority of the victims of this policy around the world are not US citizens.
He strongly condemns the al-Majalah massacre that was authorized by Obama and was a brutal massacre, more brutal than anything that has been done in Yemen in the past decade. The strike was authorized on a Bedouin village because “intelligence” showed it was an al Qaeda training facility at the time. “Cruise missiles and cluster bombs rained down.” The US was not mentioned and did not take credit for the attack. Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a journalist, who is now imprisoned by order of the Obama administration, went and took photos. His photos gave human rights groups evidence that weapons used were not weapons the Yemen government had. And then WikiLeaks released cables that “confirmed” what was suspected—that there was a coverup. General David Petraeus conspired with Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh to prevent anyone from knowing the US was bombing Yemen.
Noting how the Obama administration has approved expanded authority for the CIA to carry out “signature strikes,” which basically is profiling, he explains:
The “signature strikes” are anything but surgical. The idea of the signature strikes is that you can develop a pattern of life and you can study a pattern of life being engaged in by certain people in Yemen and you can determine without knowing their identity or knowing that they’ve had any connection to terrorism whatsoever that they are a terrorist – because of how they act, because of who they associate with. And that once you develop that pattern of life, you then create a very efficient pattern of death for those people, which is to bring in the drones and take them out.
He mentions how Anwar al-Awlaki was not an al-Qaeda leader. Only after he was killed was he the “head of external operations” for al Qaeda. Obama was able to get away with this because of the Authorized Use of Military Force (AUMF), which was passed under President George W. Bush and is still in effect. Al-Awlaki was killed by the President of the United States, who served as “judge, jury and executioner.”
Scahill then gave a stirring account of a meeting he had with the mother of Samir Khan, who was killed in the same strike that killed al-Awlaki.
She told me about how disturbed he was when he saw the images that came out of Abu Ghraib in the mid-2000s and he started blogging about US policy and eventually he went to Yemen to study Arabic and somehow he got hooked up with Anwar al-Awlaki. But, the reason I am bringing up is this: the FBI began visiting that family in 2007, when Samir Khan was still living in the United States, and they were concerned about his speech. They visited Samir Khan’s mother and father to express concern about his blogging and the things that he was saying. And they were very clear with the Khans. They said he’s engaged in First Amendment-protected activities. And they were sort of incredulous. “Well, then why are you here?” Well, we’re just concerned about your son.
And then they got in touch with them multiple other times when Samir was in Yemen. And each time the FBI came to the Khans, they told them that they have no evidence that he had done anything criminal and that he was engaged in First Amendment-protected activities. The next time they heard from the United States government was the State Department calling them to tell them that Samir had been killed in Yemen. When they asked who killed them, they said we can’t talk about that.
The critical nature of this anecdote from Scahill cannot be overstated. Tarek Mehanna, who refused to become an FBI informant, was charged and convicted of “terrorism” for venting his frustrations with US policies. The FBI has spied on Muslims looking for “suspicious” speech. They have manipulated impoverished and sometimes mentally unstable Muslims and pushed those who have engaged in aggressive rhetoric against the US to take that rhetoric to the next level and engage in “plots” against the US.
The FBI has also targeted activists like Hatem Abuddayeh, who engages in Palestinian solidarity activism. Abuddayeh is one of twenty-three activists in the Midwest to have his home raided by the FBI. He was given a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury. He also has had his bank account frozen by the Treasury Department. This is presumably all because of the “First Amendment-protected activities,” which the FBI has “concern” about.
Here is Scahill’s speech, up on YouTube in four parts: (all videos shown on link below)
The Constitutional Crimes of Barack Obama
As we slog towards another vapid, largely meaningless exercise in pretend democracy with the selection of a new president and Congress this November, it is time to make it clear that the current president, elected four years ago by so many people with such inflated expectations four years ago (myself included, as I had hoped, vainly it turned out, that those who elected him would then press him to act in progressive ways), is not only a betrayer of those hopes, but is a serial violator of his oath of office. He is, in truth, a war criminal easily the equal of his predecessor, George W. Bush, and perhaps even of Bush’s regent, former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Let me count the ways:
* For starters, in vowing to “preserve, protect and defend the US Constitution of the United States,” President Obama, upon taking office, had a sacred obligation to prosecute the people who had gravely wounded that document prior to his assuming office. It was clear, as I wrote in my book The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office (St. Martin’s Press, 2006), that Bush and Cheney had ordered and condoned and covered up torture of captives in their so-called “War” on Terror, as well as in the very real wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, committing grievous war crimes that are not only violations of international law, but of the US Criminal Code, given that the US is a leading author and signatory of the Geneva Accords). They also were war criminals of the first degree for orchestrating, through lies to both the UN Security Council and the US Congress and the American people, about the alleged threat and imminence of any threat by Iraq to the US or its allies. President Obama, under the UN Charter and under US law, as the president, commander in chief and top law officer in the nation, was bound to investigate and prosecute those crimes. Instead, he ordered that there would be no prosecutions.
* A federal court also ruled that President Bush had committed a felony in using the National Security Agency and several complicit telecommunications companies to spy on massive numbers of Americans with no warrants. Again, instead of prosecuting the president once he replaced him, President Obama said there would be no prosecution, and he went on to expand that spying program exponentially, effectively shredding beyond recognition the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures, which had been a leading rallying issue for the revolutionists of 1776.
* President Obama, on his own initiative, has moved beyond the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, launching illegal wars against Libya, Yemen and Pakistan, largely through the use of American military aircraft, cruise missiles and especially pilotless drones
In addition to being illegal acts of war against nations that pose no imminent threat to the US, these clear acts of war have caused vastly disproportionate civilian deaths -- reportedly as many as 40 civilians, including many children, are being killed by drone strikes inside Pakistan for each of the supposed targeted “terrorists.” Jist the disproportionality of such "collateral damage" is a heinous war crime, even leaving aside the illegality of such strikes being conducted by the US within the border of a sovereign nation not at war with the US.
* The president and his surrogates, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have committed one of the gravest of crimes in the world, a Crime Against Peace under the UN Charter (which as a signed and Senate-ratified treaty is the law of the land under our Constitution), by threatening a war of aggression against the nation of Iran. Under the Charter’s terms, it is the number one war crime to attack a nation that does not pose an imminent threat to the attacker, and a nearly equally grievous crime to threaten such a crime, as the president and his secretary of state have done on multiple occasions, warning Iran that “all options are on the table” should Iran not halt its (totally legal) nuclear fuel enrichment program. Beyond just words, the President as Commander in Chief has moved several fully armed, Tomahawk Cruise-missile-equipped aircraft battle groups to positions off the coast of Iran, sent squadrons of new F22 stealth fighter bombers to airfields directly across the Persian Gulf from Iran, and positioned troops and missile-equipped submarines in invasion-ready locations, as well as providing specialized bombs and refueling aerial tankers to Israel, which itself is preparing for an attack on Iran. Yet even the most hawkish Israeli and US military and intelligence experts concede that Iran is years away from having an operational nuclear weapon even if it were to begin a bomb-development program, which there is no evidence of at present. Obama has already ordered an ongoing campaign of terrorist attacks and bombings inside of Iran, which has led to the deaths of many Iranians, including civilians.
* President George W. Bush committed an impeachable crime when he had Jose Padilla, an American citizen born in New York, arrested, held without charge on a military base in South Carolina a for years and tortured mercilessly to the point of madness, before he was finally ordered released to a civilian prison where he faced trial in a civilian court. But President Obama has moved well beyond that travesty by issuing, in April 2010, and then acting on an Executive Order that he claims allows him, on his sole authority, to declare American citizens to be “terrorists” and to have them killed anywhere in the world. Under this clearly unconstitutional order, there is no trial, no judicial ruling. Just an execution order. At least two citizens have been killed in this way, including the wholly innocent young son of an American-born target, Anwar al-Awlaki, killed by a Predator drone in Yemen. President Obama has also, short of killing them, signed an order authorizing the arrest and secret detention indefinitely of American citizens, again on his own authority, without trial or legal recourse.
* He has also continued to claim the right to rendition and to torture captives that he on his own authority declares to be terrorists.
* President Obama, as president, is responsible for a program organized out of his Department of Homeland Security last year, to coordinate and help finance a nationwide violent crackdown on the Occupy Movement which swept the country in a wave of popular anger at the crimes of the US financial industry and the massive corruption of the political process. Hundreds if not thousands of people who were peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights to assemble, speak and seek redress were battered, shot, gassed, pepper-sprayed, beaten, arrested and jailed by local, state and sometimes federal police urged on by the central government’s internal security agencies. Participants in these legitimate protests have been photographed, investigated, spied on, subjected to the deceits of agents provocateur, and now are in data bases in federal, state and local computer systems, where they are classified as national security threats, making a mockery of the claim that America is still a free, democratic society.
* As a special category of crime, this repression, orchestrated by the White House through its Homeland Security (sic) and Justice (sic) Departments, targeted the press, with clearly identified reporters, even including those from major corporate news organizations, being subjected to arrest, having their cameras snatched or destroyed, or at a minimum being forcibly removed from the scene of repressive police actions against demonstrators.
* The president, initially lying to the American public about the goals of the raid, ordered the slaying -- not the capture -- of Osama Bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon in 2001, thus continuing the cover-up of the truth about that event which precipitated the current crisis of American democracy. With Bin Laden located and easily trapped within his compound in Pakistan, the president sent a US Navy Seal team in under cloak of night with the express goal of killing Bin Laden, thereby assuring that he would never be interrogated or put on the stand where he could potentially have revealed what really happened on 9-11, who knew about the plans, and how he was able to pull off such an improbable attack on the most powerful nation in the history of the world.
* Corruption: There is so much corruption in this administration that it can hardly be tallied up. There is clear evidence that officials appointed by the administration from the banking industry, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, presidential economic advisor Lawrence Summers, and “Jobs Czar” Jeffrey Immelt, are guilty of frauds, crimes and coverups in the financial crisis that since 2008 have allowed them and their financial industry patrons and compatriots to steal literally trillions of dollars from American citizens and the US treasury. Only criminal prosecutions or a no-holds-barred Congressional investigation could lay out these crimes, but neither is remotely likely. There is similar corruption, on a smaller scale in dollars, but perhaps more devastating in its long-term impact, in the Education Department, where the private charter school industry is gradually taking over education policy with the connivance of Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
* President Obama has violated the Posse Comitatus Act barring the use of federal troops on American soil, creating a domestic military command and using federal troops to bar the media and environmental activists from inspecting the damage from the BP Gulf oil spill, and later helping to try to break a strike at port facilities at Pacific coast ports by the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union.
* There has been an abject failure by President Obama to protect the United States from the terrible looming threat of climate change. Although his own Pentagon has declared that climate change poses far greater threats to US national security than terrorism, the president has over four years in office not only done almost nothing to try and combat this threat; he has actively undermined diplomatic efforts to achieve some kind of international coordinated action, even punishing those countries, like Bolivia and the Maldives, that have sought to do something concrete, and has adopted policies domestically, like approving more offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, that only make the crisis worse.
When I was writing my book about the impeachable crimes of the Bush/Cheney administration, there was at least a hope that Congress, then in the hands of the Democratic Party, might actually act and impanel an Impeachment Committee in the House. In the end, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) nixed that idea and strong-armed Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) into never seriously investigating that administration’s crimes, much less impaneling an impeachment committee.
I have no illusions that the current even more craven and spineless Congress, even with the House in the hands of Republicans, would seek to impeach this president. Indeed, many of the crimes listed above involve activities that the Republicans in Congress themselves actively support and are thus also guilty of, such as threatening Iran with war, supporting the ongoing theft of the nation’s wealth by the financial industry, or ignoring the threat of climate change.
It is nonetheless important, I believe, to publicly announce this bill of particulars, so that it is clear that we continue in the United States to be led by a gang of thieves and sociopaths.
The election of 2008 proved yet again that voting in the US is simply for show, at least as long as the public continues to be suckered into accepting the fake limitation of choice to the two parties, which actually compete only for the right to the patronage and financial spoils that come with winning. The real politics must be in our communities and in the street.
Obama paves the way for America to become a full-blooded Police State
|Police State Harshness
CISPA about destroying freedom, not cybersecurity.
by Stephen Lendman
On April 26, the House passed HR 3523: Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) of 2011 248 - 168.
A companion S. 2105: Cybersecurity Act of 2012 awaits Senate consideration. Obama promised a veto if passes. He lied. He does it repeatedly.
The Senate will pass or defeat what he wants. More than likely, it'll make cosmetic changes agreed to by House/Senate negotiators. Either that or they'll draft a new bill, under a new name, little different from CISPA to matter.
Last year, Obama promised to veto the draconian FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. It authorizes detaining US citizens indefinitely without charge or trial based solely on suspicions, baseless allegations or none at all.
US military personnel are authorized to arrest and indefinitely detain anyone globally, including US citizens.
Due process, civil protections, and judicial fairness are null and void. Presidents may order anyone arrested and imprisoned for life without charge or trial. Abuse of power replaced rule of law protections.
After refusing support, Obama signed it into law. Doing so enacted tyranny. Cybersecurity harshness hardens it. If Congress sends him a bill, he'll sign it. He's gone along with everything he pledged opposition to as a candidate.
CISPA is more about personal freedom than online security. Post-9/11, it eroded steadily en route to destroying it altogether. CISPA is another nail in its coffin. Its burial plot awaits.
The bill gives government and corporate supporters unlimited power to access personal/privileged information online. Civil liberty concerns are ignored. Before passage, security experts, academics, and other professionals published an open letter to Congress, saying:
We are writing you today as professionals, academics, and policy experts who have researched, analyzed, and defended against security threats to the Internet and its infrastructure."
"We have devoted our careers to building security technologies, and to protecting networks, computers, and critical infrastructure against attacks of many stripes."
"We take security very seriously, but we fervently believe that strong computer and network security does not require Internet users to sacrifice their privacy and civil liberties."
"The bills currently under consideration, including Rep. Rogers' Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 (H.R. 3523) and Sen. McCain's SECURE IT Act (S. 2151), are drafted to allow entities who participate in relaying or receiving Internet traffic to freely monitor and redistribute those network communications."
"The bills nullify current legal protections against wiretapping and similar civil liberties violations for that kind of broad data sharing. By encouraging the transfer of users' private communications to US Federal agencies, and lacking good public accountability or transparency, these "cybersecurity" bills unnecessarily trade our civil liberties for the promise of improved network security."
"As experts in the field, we reject this false trade-off and urge you to oppose any cybersecurity initiative that does not explicitly include appropriate methods to ensure the protection of users' civil liberties."
"In summary, we urge you to reject legislation that:
Uses vague language to describe network security attacks, threat indicators, and countermeasures, allowing for the possibility that innocuous online activities could be construed as 'cybersecurity' threats."
"Exempts 'cybersecurity' activities from existing laws that protect individuals' privacy and devices, such as the Wiretap Act, the Stored Communications Act, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act."
"Gives sweeping immunity from liability to companies even if they violate individuals' privacy, and without evidence of wrongdoing."
"Allows data originally collected through 'cybersecurity' programs to be used to prosecute unrelated crimes."
"We appreciate your interest in making our networks more secure, but passing legislation that suffers from the problems above would be a grave mistake for privacy and civil liberties, and will not be a step forward in making us safer."
The Free Market Coalition and Ron Paul called CISPA provisions "dangerously vague." Already eroded privacy laws will be gutted. Online content may be freely accessed covertly, including personal emails and web sites visited.
Last minute amendments put lipstick on a pig. Bill sponsor Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) packaged five.
(1) Minimization Retention and Notification Amendment
It does little to "minimize" retaining sensitive information. Nothing with teeth prevents authorities from accessing whatever they wish for whatever alleged reasons. Privacy and civil liberty protections aren't considered.
(2) Definitions Amendment
The amendment excludes intelligence pertaining to gaining unauthorized access that "solely involves violations of consumer terms of service or consumer licensing agreements and do not otherwise constitute unauthorized access."
However, vague definitions remain. Authorities can use them to access whatever information they wish.
(3) Liability Amendment
It's one of the bill's biggest problems. It creates "expansive legal immunity." It leaves government and corporations largely unaccountable. It provides "good faith" immunity.
It means government and business can't be held liable for acting "in good faith." Who'll prove otherwise if they say so, no matter who's harmed or how badly.
(4) Limitation Amendment
It leaves civil liberty concerns unaddressed. Its language changed nothing.
(5) Use Amendment
It deals with usage of data collected. CISPA's original language let business share it for "cybersecurity" purposes. Government can use it for "national security" reasons.
New language modestly narrows usage but not enough. It still allows data sharing for cybersecurity purposes, to investigate alleged online crimes, to supposedly protect users from death or harm, to prevent minors from accessing pornography, be sexually exploited online, or otherwise threatened, and for national security.
The latter's a catch-all excuse to authorize unlimited spying. Parents, not government, should handle their children's online usage. Alleged online crimes aren't defined, and no one ever died or experienced bodily harm through cyberspace.
Free Press.net's Action Fund Policy Director Matt Wood called CISPA "a dangerous piece of legislation and it's worrisome that the House has passed such an overreaching bill."
"The bill still lacks effective oversight and accountability for companies and government agencies collecting massive amounts of our personal data. It would curtail Internet openness and freedom by stripping away crucial privacy protections, and without providing any guarantee of protection for critical infrastructure."
"If the Senate chooses to move forward with cybersecurity legislation, we urge senators to make the changes necessary to protect civil liberties and Internet freedom."
CISPA's little changed from its original form. It lets government and companies bypass existing laws, access whatever they wish, filter content, and potentially shut down online access for cybersecurity or national security reasons.
Enactment assures abuse. Telecommunication companies could monitor personal/privileged content. Vague language permits virtually anything. Privacy and First Amendment rights will be further eroded en route to destroying them altogether.
Freedoms now taken for granted will disappear. Any site, blog, or personal content could be called a cyber threat. The current Senate version differs little from the House bill. It states:
"(C)ybersecurity threat means any action that may result in unauthorized access to, exfiltration of, manipulation of, or impairment to the integrity, confidentiality, or availability of an information system or information that is stored on, processed by, or transiting an information system."
A "cybersecurity threat indicator" is defined in hugely disjunctive vague scenarios. They include, for example, "a method of defeating a technical (or operational) control." Merely using "a proxy or anonymization service" to access sites could be called a "cybersecurity threat indicator."
So could using cryptography to protect personal communications or be able to access systems securely. Nearly anything could be called a threat. Everyone is vulnerable for any reason.
Government and business may monitor online traffic and communications without Wiretap Act or other legal restrictions.
Vague definitions immunize government and business abusers. Whatever ways House and Senate bills reconcile differences, existing ones are so minor, a final version for Obama to sign will change little from what already passed.
Online users will lose out. So will everyone. Police state harshness will be hardened. America's already hugely repressive.
Police State America
Post-9/11 draconian legislation, executive orders, National and Homeland Security Presidential Directives, and other measures eroded personal freedoms gravely.
Little more remains to eliminating them altogether. Unprecedented presidential authority alone was freed from constitutional restraints. National emergencies and martial law can be declared without congressional approval.
Military commissions legislation scrapped habeas protections. FY 2007 NDAA annulled the 1807 Insurrection Act and 1878 Posse Comitatus Act. They prohibited federal or National Guard troops for law enforcement unless expressly authorized by Congress in times of a national emergency like an insurrection.
Continuity of Government (COG) authority effectively gives presidents and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials police state powers to rule extrajudicially without congressional authority. They need only declare a national emergency, whether or not justified.
Whistleblowers are an endangered species. So are First Amendment and other fundamental rights.
The USA Patriot Act enacted sweeping new powers. Bill of Rights Amendments were eroded or ended. First Amendment free expression and association rights were targeted. Belonging to an "undesirable group" was criminalized.
Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable searches and seizures eroded. Personal privacy rights were lost.
First, Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights were violated. Dissent was targeted. Illegal searches and seizures were authorized. The right to counsel and due process were compromised.
Unchecked government surveillance powers to access personal records (including online), monitor financial transactions, student, medical and other information were authorized.
"Sneak and peak" searches permit "delayed notice" warrants, roving wiretaps, email tracking, and Internet and cell phone monitoring. Domestic spying became easier than ever.
For the first time, the crime of "domestic terrorism" was enacted. As a result, anti-war activists, global justice demonstrators, environmental and animal rights adherents, civil disobedience, and dissent of any kind may be included under its umbrella definition.
Under the Patriot Act's Section 806, with no hearing or notice, Washington may confiscate or freeze all foreign and domestic assets of any individual, entity, or organization accused of engaging in, planning, supporting, concealing, or perpetrating any act called domestic or international terrorism against America. Nonviolent protesters are included.
Other provisions are just as harsh. Using vague language, authorities have wide latitude to twist the law perversely. Anyone can be targeted for any reason. Anything can be called terrorism, whether or not true.
Democracy was largely ripped up by the roots and destroyed. Constitutional protections were trashed. Centralized power was enhanced. Personal freedoms eroded or ended.
In March 2006, Congress renewed most Patriot Act powers. In May 2011, three key provisions were extended for another four years. Little debate assured swift passage. As a result:
(1) Unlimited roving wiretaps continue unchecked.
(2) Section 215 pertains to alleged suspects. It authorizes government access to "any tangible item." They included financial records and transactions, student and medical records, phone conversations, emails, other Internet use, and whatever else Washington claims essential.
(3) Alleged suspect organizations and individuals can be surveilled, whether or not evidence links them to terrorism or complicity to commit it. In other words, police state powers to monitor anyone for any reason or none at all remain unchecked.
CISPA and whatever else becomes law further enhances unchecked police state powers. Democracy no longer exists.
How can it if constitutional, statute and international law protections no longer apply.
|Hail to the Cheerleader-in-Chief!
The National Security State Wins (Again)
by WILLIAM ASTORE
Now that Mitt Romney is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, the media is already handicapping the presidential election big time, and the neck-and-neck opinion polls are pouring in. But whether President Obama gets his second term or Romney enters the Oval Office, there’s a third candidate no one’s paying much attention to, and that candidate is guaranteed to be the one clear winner of election 2012: the U.S. military and our ever-surging national security state.
The reasons are easy enough to explain. Despite his record as a “warrior-president,” despite the breathless “Obama got Osama” campaign boosterism, common inside-the-Beltway wisdom has it that the president has backed himself into a national security corner. He must continue to appear strong and uncompromising on defense or else he’ll get the usual Democrat-as-war-wimp label tattooed on his arm by the Republicans.
Similarly, to have a realistic chance of defeating him — so goes American political thinking — candidate Romney must be seen as even stronger and more uncompromising, a hawk among hawks. Whatever military spending Obama calls for, however much he caters to neo-conservative agendas, however often he confesses his undying love for and extols the virtues of our troops, Romney will surpass him with promises of even more military spending, an even more muscular and interventionist foreign policy, and an even deeper love of our troops.
Indeed, with respect to the national security complex, candidate Romney already comes across like Edward G. Robinson’s Johnny Rocco in the classic film Key Largo: he knows he wants one thing, and that thing is more. More ships for the Navy. More planes for the Air Force. More troops in general — perhaps 100,000 more. And much more spending on national defense.
Clearly, come November, whoever wins or loses, the national security state will be the true victor in the presidential sweepstakes.
Of course, the election cycle alone is hardly responsible for our national love of weaponry and war. Even in today’s straitened fiscal climate, with all the talk of government austerity, Congress feels obliged to trump an already generous president by adding yet more money for military appropriations. Ever since the attacks of 9/11, surging defense budgets, forever war, and fear-mongering have become omnipresent features of our national landscape, together with pro-military celebrations that elevate our warriors and warfighters to hero status. In fact, the uneasier Americans grow when it comes to the economy and signs of national decline, the more breathlessly we praise our military and its image of overwhelming power. Neither Obama nor Romney show any sign of challenging this celebratory global “lock and load” mentality.
To explain why, one must consider not only the pro-military positions of each candidate, but their vulnerabilities — real or perceived — on military issues. Mitt Romney is the easier to handicap. As a Mormon missionary in France and later as the beneficiary of a high draft lottery number, Romney avoided military service during the Vietnam War. Perhaps because he lacks military experience, he has already gone on record (during the Republican presidential debates) as deferring to military commanders on decisions such as whether we should bomb Iran. A President Romney, it seems, would be more implementer-in-chief than civilian commander-in-chief.
Romney’s métier at Bain Capital was competence in the limited sense of buying low and selling high, along with a certain calculated ruthlessness in dividing companies and discarding people to manufacture profit. These skills, such as they are, earn him little respect in military circles. Compare him to Harry Truman or Teddy Roosevelt, both take-charge leaders with solid military credentials. Rather than a Trumanesque “the buck stops here,” Romney is more about “make a buck here.” Rather than Teddy Roosevelt’s bloodied but unbowed “man in the arena,” Romney is more bloodless equity capitalist circling high above the fray in a fancy suit.
Consider as well Romney’s five telegenic sons. It’s hard to square Mitt’s professions of love for our military with his sons’ lack of interest in military service. Indeed, when asked about their lack of enthusiasm for joining the armed forces during the surge in Iraq in 2007, Mitt off-handedly replied that his sons were already performing an invaluable national service by helping him get elected.
An old American upper class sense of noblesse oblige, of sons of privilege like George H.W. Bush or John F. Kennedy volunteering for national service in wartime, has been dead for decades in our otherwise military-happy country. When it comes to sending American sons (and increasingly daughters) into harm’s way, for President Romney it’ll be another case of chickenhawk guts and working-class blood.
For election 2012, however, the main point is that the Romney family’s collective lack of service makes him vulnerable on national defense, a weakness that has already led Mitt and his campaign to overcompensate with ever more pro-military policy pronouncements supplemented with the usual bellicose rhetoric of all Republicans (Ron Paul excepted). As a result, President-elect Romney will ultimately find himself confined, cowed, and controlled by the national security complex — and he’ll have only himself (and Barack Obama) to blame.
Obama, by way of contrast, has already shown a passion for military force that in saner times would make him invulnerable to charges of being “weak” on defense. Fond of dressing up in military flight jackets and praising the troops to the rafters, Obama has substance to go with his style. He’s made some tough calls like sending SEAL Team 6 into Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden; using NATO airpower to take down Qaddafi in Libya; expanding special opsand drone warfare in Afghanistan, Yemen, and elsewhere, including the assassination of U.S. citizens without judicial process. America’s Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2009 has become a devotee of special forces, kill teams, andhigh-tech drones that challenge the very reality of national sovereignty. Surely such a man can’t be accused of being weak on defense.
The political reality, of course, is different. Despite his record, the Republican Party is forever at pains to portray Obama as suspect (that middle name Hussein!), divided in his loyalties (that Kenyan connection!), and not slavish enough in his devotion to “underdog” Israel. (Could he be a crypto-Muslim?)
The president and his campaign staff are no fools. Since any sign of “weakness” vis-à-vis Iran and similar enemies du jour or any expression of less than boundless admiration for our military will be exploited ruthlessly by Romney et al., Obama will continue to tack rightwards on military issues and national defense. As a result, once elected he, too, will be a prisoner of the Complex. In this process, the only surefire winner and all-time champ: once again, the national security state.
So what can we expect on the campaign trail this summer and fall? Certainly not prospective civilian commanders-in-chief confident in the vitally important role of restraining or even reversing the worst excesses of an imperial state. Rather, we’ll witness two men vying to be cheerleader-in-chief for continued U.S. imperial dominance achieved at nearly any price.
Election 2012 will be all about preserving the imperial status quo, only more so. Come January 2013, regardless of which man takes the oath of office, we’ll remain a country with a manic enthusiasm for the military. Rather than a president who urges us to abhor endless war, we’ll be led by a man intent on keeping us oblivious to the way we’re squandering our nation’s future in fruitless conflicts that ultimately compromise our core constitutional principles.
For all the suspense the media will gin up in the coming months, the ballots are already in and the real winner of election 2012 will be the national security state. Unless you’re a denizen of that special interest state, we know the loser, too. It’s you.
|America as a Shining Drone Upon a Hill
On Staring Death in the Face and Not Noticing
By Tom Engelhardt
May 14, 2012
Here’s the essence of it: you can trust America’s crème de la crème, the most elevated, responsible people, no matter what weapons, what powers, you put in their hands. No need to constantly look over their shoulders.
Placed in the hands of evildoers, those weapons and powers could create a living nightmare; controlled by the best of people, they lead to measured, thoughtful, precise decisions in which bad things are (with rare and understandable exceptions) done only to truly terrible types. In the process, you simply couldn’t be better protected.
And in case you were wondering, there is no question who among us are the best, most lawful, moral, ethical, considerate, and judicious people: the officials of our national security state. Trust them implicitly. They will never give you a bum steer.
You may be paying a fortune to maintain their world -- the 30,000 people hired to listen in on conversations and other communications in this country, the 230,000 employees of the Department of Homeland Security, the 854,000 people with top-secret clearances, the 4.2 million with security clearances of one sort or another, the $2 billion, one-million-square-foot data center that the National Security Agency is constructing in Utah, the gigantic $1.8 billion headquarters the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency recently built for its 16,000 employees in the Washington area -- but there’s a good reason. That’s what’s needed to make truly elevated, surgically precise decisions about life and death in the service of protecting American interests on this dangerous globe of ours.
And in case you wondered just how we know all this, we have it on the best authority: the people who are doing it -- the only ones, given the obvious need for secrecy, capable of judging just how moral, elevated, and remarkable their own work is. They deserve our congratulations, but if we’re too distracted to give it to them, they are quite capable of high-fiving themselves.
We’re talking, in particular, about the use by the Obama administration (and the Bush administration before it) of a growing armada of remotely piloted planes, a.k.a. drones, grimly labeled Predators and Reapers, to fight a nameless, almost planet-wide war (formerly known as the Global War on Terror). Its purpose: to destroy al-Qaeda-in-wherever and all its wannabes and look-alikes, the Taliban, and anyone affiliated or associated with any of the above, or just about anyone else we believe might imminently endanger our “interests.”
In the service of this war, in the midst of a perpetual state of war and of wartime, every act committed by these leaders is, it turns out, absolutely, totally, and completely legal. We have their say-so for that, and they have the documents to prove it, largely because the best and most elevated legal minds among them have produced that documentation in secret. (Of course, they dare not show it to the rest of us, lest lives be endangered.)
By their own account, they have, in fact, been covertly exceptional, moral, and legal for more than a decade (minus, of course, the odd black site and torture chamber) -- so covertly exceptional, in fact, that they haven’t quite gotten the credit they deserve. Now, they would like to make the latest version of their exceptional mission to the world known to the rest of us. It is finally in our interest, it seems, to be a good deal better informed about America’s covert wars in a year in which the widely announced “covert” killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan is a major selling point in the president’s reelection campaign.
No one should be surprised. There was always an “overt” lurking in the “covert” of what now passes for “covert war.” The CIA’s global drone assassination campaign has long been a bragging point in Washington, even if it couldn’t officially be discussed directly before, say, Congress. The covertness of our drone wars in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere really turns out to have less to do with secrecy -- just about every covert drone strike is reported, sooner or later, in the media -- than assuring two administrations that they could pursue their drone wars without accountability to anyone.
A Classic of Self-Congratulation
Recently, top administration officials seem to be fanning out to offer rare peeks into what’s truly on-target and exceptional about America’s drone wars. In many ways, these days, American exceptionalism is about as unexceptional as apple pie. It has, for one thing, become the everyday language of the presidential campaign trail. And that shouldn’t surprise us either. After all, great powers and their leaders tend to think well of themselves. The French had their “mission civilisatrice,” the Chinese had the “mandate of heaven,” and like all imperial powers they inevitably thought they were doing the best for themselves and others, sadly benighted, in this best of all possible worlds.
Sometimes, though, the American version of this does seem... I hate to use the word, but exceptional. If you want to get a taste of just what this means, consider as Exhibit One a recent speech by the president’s counterterrorism “tsar,” John Brennan, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. According to his own account, he was dispatched to the center by President Obama to provide greater openness when it comes to the administration’s secret drone wars, to respond to critics of the drones and their legality, and undoubtedly to put a smiley face on drone operations generally.
Ever since the Puritan minister John Winthrop first used the phrase in a sermon on shipboard on the way to North America, “a city upon a hill” has caught something of at least one American-style dream -- a sense that this country’s fate was to be a blessed paragon for the rest of the world, an exception to every norm. In the last century, it became “a shining city upon a hill” and was regularly cited in presidential addresses.
Whatever that “city,” that dream, was once imagined to be, it has undergone a largely unnoticed metamorphosis in the twenty-first century. It has become -- even in our dreams -- an up-armored garrison encampment, just as Washington itself has become the heavily fortified bureaucratic heartland of a war state. So when Brennan spoke, what he offered was a new version of American exceptionalism: the first “shining drone upon a hill” speech, which also qualifies as an instant classic of self-congratulation.
Never, according to him, has a country with such an advanced weapon system as the drone used it quite so judiciously, quite so -- if not peacefully -- at least with the sagacity and skill usually reserved for the gods. American drone strikes, he assured his listeners, are “ethical and just," "wise," and "surgically precise” -- exactly what you’d expect from a country he refers to, quoting the president, as the preeminent “standard bearer in the conduct of war.”
Those drone strikes, he assured his listeners, are based on staggeringly “rigorous standards” involving the individual identification of human targets. Even when visited on American citizensoutside declared war zones, they are invariably “within the bounds of the law,” as you would expect of the preeminent “nation of laws.”
The strikes are never motivated by vengeance, always target someone known to us as the worst of the worst, and almost invariably avoid anyone who is even the most mediocre of the mediocre. (Forget the fact that, as Greg Miller of the Washington Post reported, the CIA has recently received permission from the president to launch drone strikes in Yemen based only on the observed “patterns of suspicious behavior” of groups of unidentified individuals, as was already true in the Pakistani tribal borderlands.)
Yes, in such circumstances innocents do unfortunately die, even if unbelievably rarely -- and for that we couldn’t be more regretful. Such deaths, however, are in some sense salutary, since they lead to the most rigorous reviews and reassessments of, and so improvements in, our actions. “This too,” Brennan assured his audience, “is a reflection of our values as Americans.”
“I would note,” he added, “that these standards, for identifying a target and avoiding... the loss of lives of innocent civilians, exceed what is required as a matter of international law on a typical battlefield. That’s another example of the high standards to which we hold ourselves.”
And that’s just a taste of the tone and substance of the speech given by the president’s leading counterterrorism expert, and in it he’s no outlier. It catches something about an American sense of self at this moment. Yes, Americans may be ever more down on the Afghan war, but like their leaders, they are high on drones. In a February Washington Post/ABC News poll, 83% of respondents supported the administration’s use of drones. Perhaps that’s not surprising either, since the drones are generally presented here as the coolest of machines, as well as cheap alternatives (in money and lives) to sending more armies onto the Eurasian mainland.
In these last years, this country has pioneered the development of the most advanced killing machines on the planet for which the national security state has plans decades into the future. Conceptually speaking, our leaders have also established their “right” to send these robot assassins into any airspace, no matter the local claims of national sovereignty, to take out those we define as evil or simply to protect American interests. On this, Brennan couldn’t be clearer. In the process, we have turned much of the rest of the planet into what can only be considered an American free-fire zone.
We have, in short, established a remarkably expansive set of drone-war rules for the global future. Naturally, we trust ourselves with such rules, but there is a fly in the ointment, even as the droniacs see it. Others far less sagacious, kindly, lawful, and good than we are do exist on this planet and they may soon have their own fleets of drones. About 50 countries are today buying or developing such robotic aircraft, including Russia, China, and Iran, not to speak of Hezbollah in Lebanon. And who knows what terror groups are looking into suicide drones?
As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius put it in a column about Brennan’s speech: “What if the Chinese deployed drones to protect their workers in southern Sudan against rebels who have killed them in past attacks? What if Iran used them against Kurdish separatists they regard as terrorists? What if Russia used them over Chechnya? What position would the United States take, and wouldn’t it be hypocritical if it opposed drone attacks by other nations that face ‘imminent’ or ‘significant’ threats?”
This is Washington’s global drone conundrum as seen from inside the Beltway. These are the nightmarish scenarios even our leaders can imagine others producing with their own drones and our rules. A deeply embedded sense of American exceptionalism, a powerful belief in their own special, self-evident goodness, however, conveniently blinds them to what they are doing right now. Looking in the mirror, they are incapable of seeing a mask of death. And yet our proudest export at present, other than Hollywood superhero films, may be a stone-cold robotic killer with a name straight out of a horror movie.
Consider this as well: those “shining drones” launched on campaigns of assassination and slaughter are increasingly the “face” that we choose to present to the world. And yet it’s beyond us why it might not shine for others.
In reality, it’s not so hard to imagine what we increasingly look like to those others: a Predator nation. And not just to the parents and relatives of the more than 160 children the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has documented as having died in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. After all, war is now the only game in town. Peace? For the managers of our national security state, it’s neither a word worth mentioning, nor an imaginable condition.
In truth, our leaders should be in mourning for whatever peaceful dreams we ever had. But mention drones and they light up. They’re having a love affair with those machines. They just can’t get enough of them or imagine their world or ours without them.
What they can’t see in the haze of exceptional self-congratulation is this: they are transforming the promise of America into a promise of death. And death, visited from the skies, isn’t precise. It isn’t glorious. It isn’t judicious. It certainly isn’t a shining vision. It’s hell. And it’s a global future for which, someday, no one will thank us.
|The Non-Campaign of 2012
Wed, 05/16/2012 — Margaret Kimberley
The biggest bank in the nation loses billions betting on derivatives, but the media are more concerned to report “which celebrities support gay marriage and which do not.” A symbolic comment on gays rates higher than issues of war and peace. “Capitalism has reached its inevitable crisis, but because there is little acknowledgement of this fact, there has been almost no discussion of what that means.”
Media reporting on the campaign between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney shows the clear lack of difference between the two major American political parties and also the demise of good journalism. This campaign ought to be treated like the important story that it is but instead is nearly devoid of serious content, and there is no worthwhile discussion of the most serious issues facing American voters in their daily lives. That is partly the result of the way the corporate media operates and also the result of President Obama and the Democrats now supporting policies which used to be the province only of the Republicans. The old saw that there isn't a dimes worth of difference between Democrats and Republicans is truer every day.
Because the differences which remain continue to diminish, issues which shouldn't be significant are given undue attention and those which are important are ignored. The president's announcement that he personally supported gay marriage is the latest example. The brouhaha began after Vice President Biden once again showed his amazing ability to blurt out his opinions in ways that most mid-level managers know would get them fired. Without informing his boss, Biden announced on Meet the Press that he approved of gay marriage, and thus forced the president's hand. The supposedly progressive Obama was thus dragged, kicking and screaming, to do the right thing.
“The news that even the mighty J.P. Morgan Chase can lose $2 billion on bad trades took second place in the amount of airtime and newsprint generated.”
Marriage equality is supported, obviously, by the LGBT community, but also by millions of other people too. Most of those people are Democrats, who now care only about issues of personal choice, the only issues which now separate Democrats from Republicans. Obama and his supporters are at great pains to remind voters that he assassinated Osama bin Laden and that he continues to kill people in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is willing to let Israel kill people in Iran. The bailouts of the banks continue and the president and his attorney general loudly proclaim that they have the right to lock up or drop drones on American citizens, without having to so much as give a reason. None of these positions has lost the president much support among his party.
The gay marriage story has now taken up a disproportionate amount of time in the news cycle.
The news that even the mighty J.P. Morgan Chase can lose $2 billion on bad trades took second place in the amount of airtime and newsprint generated when it is actually the event which effects us more. The loss isn't just about incompetence at a big bank, or why more regulation is needed, but about how Chase and its counterparts do nothing but gamble and create financial bubble after financial bubble. That is all financial capital is capable of doing at this juncture in history, and it is why our financial future continues to look bleak.
Employment numbers may go up or down, but jobs have been lost forever because the people at the top don't need employees anymore. The government at the local, state and federal level does nothing but serve the interests of Chase and company because finance capital has swallowed government whole. Of course, this is the story which should be on the news every day.
“There is endless rehashing of faulty assumptions and dubious data alleging that black people are more homophobic than anyone else.”
Capitalism has reached its inevitable crisis, but because there is little acknowledgement of this fact, there has been almost no discussion of what that means not only for 300 million Americans but for people around the world.
Instead of getting thorough information about the world’s economy, we are told which celebrities support gay marriage and which do not. There is endless rehashing of faulty assumptions and dubious data alleging that black people are more homophobic than anyone else.
When North Carolinians passed a law which forbade gay marriage in that state the news was disseminated far and wide. Democrats suddenly demanded that the national convention be moved away from the city of Charlotte. Never mind that Charlotte does not have one unionized hotel, an issue which should have sparked outrage yet that went unnoticed among the supposedly pro-labor Democratic party.
This year will be remembered as the year of the non-campaign. Was Romney a teenage bully? Did Obama really ask his kids what they thought of gay marriage? Who knows, and who really cares. (Actually, if Romney was a teen torturer, he proved himself a worthy candidate for the presidency.) We know what Bristol Palin thinks of Obama and we know about the dog atop the Romney family car. Anyone who relies on the corporate media for information won’t know much else, and that is just fine with Obama and Romney. They wouldn’t have it any other way.
|The United States: An Impoverished, Delusional Society
When Europeans resist corporate austerity measures, they are struggling to avoid “being forced to live like most Americans, at the total mercy of the rich.” The U.S. safety net hardly exists. The “American way of life” is a state of profound insecurity and social disconnectedness.
“Europe is headed for deep turmoil because Europeans have something to defend.”
Thanks to the U.S. corporate media’s great skills of obfuscation, omission and just plain lying, Americans are quite confused about the political and financial crisis in Europe, and what it means on this side of the Atlantic. People in the United States harbor vague fears that the social turmoil they see playing out in European elections and on the streets may come here. This scares them, which is almost funny, in a very sad way, since what European working people are struggling to avoid is being forced to live like most Americans, at the total mercy of the rich.
Europeans are righteously upset because they have something quite precious to lose: a social safety net that provides levels of security that Americans have never experienced, and that many cannot even imagine. Since most overworked or underemployed Americans don’t know how Europeans actually live, they find it difficult to understand what all the fuss is about.
U.S. corporate media fill in the vast blanks in American consciousness with slanders against Europe – the relatively comfortable French and the devastated Greeks, alike – branding them all lazy slackers who don’t want to work hard or pay their bills. America’s damn near nonexistent social welfare structure is packaged as a virtue, while the sights and sounds of European protest are made to seem ominous, dangerous, selfish.
Most Americans of modest means don’t travel to countries where the people live better than they do, or are so oblivious that they don’t notice the deep social service networks that underlie these societies. Americans cannot understand, for example, that higher educational achievement is so often tied to strong national compacts among citizens and fundamental notions of social equality – these qualities being absent in American life. CNN is quick to cite figures on European unemployment, but tells its U.S. audience virtually nothing about the social safety net that makes unemployment in Europe a very different experience than being without a job in the United States.
“America’s damn near nonexistent social welfare structure is packaged as a virtue.”
A young relative of mine happened to graduate with a professional degree just in time for the 2008 meltdown, which wiped out all the new jobs in his profession. He sought work in France, being fluent in the language, and found it a far more welcoming society than his own. More than half of his rent was subsidized, because the French believe that people younger than 26 should have a chance to begin independent lives without undue burdens. My young Black American relative rode public transportation for half fare, as did his young French peers. While working, he considered getting another professional degree, which would have cost him less than $2,000 a year at a fairly prestigious French school. And he was a foreigner! A French student who had already paid into the health care system, could study for a year for less than $1,000.
My young relative eventually came home – because…well, this is home. It is a materially rich country, but one that is socially impoverished and, frankly, too ignorant to know it. Europe is headed for deep turmoil because Europeans have something to defend. They’ll fight to keep a decent social welfare net. The Americans don’t even know what a minimally just society looks like or feels like. We’ll have to create that society through struggle, and almost from scratch.
Obama defeated in his effort to abolish habeas corpus
|A Victory for All of Us
May 18, 2012
In January, attorneys Carl Mayer and Bruce Afran asked me to be the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that challenged the harsh provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). We filed the lawsuit, worked for hours on the affidavits, carried out the tedious depositions, prepared the case and went to trial because we did not want to be passive in the face of another egregious assault on basic civil liberties, because resistance is a moral imperative, and because, at the very least, we hoped we could draw attention to the injustice of the law. None of us thought we would win. But every once in a while the gods smile on the damned.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest, in a 68-page opinion, ruled Wednesday that Section 1021 of the NDAA was unconstitutional. It was a stunning and monumental victory. With her ruling she returned us to a country where -- as it was before Obama signed this act into law Dec. 31 -- the government cannot strip a U.S. citizen of due process or use the military to arrest him or her and then hold him or her in military prison indefinitely. She categorically rejected the government's claims that the plaintiffs did not have the standing to bring the case to trial because none of us had been indefinitely detained, that lack of imminent enforcement against us meant there was no need for an injunction and that the NDAA simply codified what had previously been set down in the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act. The ruling was a huge victory for the protection of free speech. Judge Forrest struck down language in the law that she said gave the government the ability to incarcerate people based on what they said or wrote. Maybe the ruling won't last. Maybe it will be overturned. But we and other Americans are freer today than we were a week ago. And there is something in this.
The government lawyers, despite being asked five times by the judge to guarantee that we plaintiffs would not be charged under the law for our activities, refused to give any assurances. They did not provide assurances because under the law there were none. We could, even they tacitly admitted, be subject to these coercive measures. We too could be swept away into a black hole. And this, I think, decided the case.
"At the hearing on this motion, the government was unwilling or unable to state that these plaintiffs would not be subject to indefinite detention under [Section] 1021," Judge Forrest noted. "Plaintiffs are therefore at risk of detention, of losing their liberty, potentially for many years."
The government has 60 days to appeal. It can also, as Mayer and Afran have urged, accept the injunction that nullifies the law. If the government appeals, the case will go to a federal appellate court. The ruling, even if an appellate court upholds it, could be vanquished in the Supreme Court, especially given the composition of that court.
We had none of the resources of the government. Mayer and Afran worked for weeks on the case without compensation. All of us paid for our own expenses. And few people, including constitutional lawyers of Glenn Greenwald's caliber, thought we had a chance. But we pushed forward. We pushed forward because all effort to impede the corporate state, however quixotic, is essential. Even if we ultimately fail we will be able to say we tried.
This law was, after all, not about foreign terrorism. It was about domestic dissent. If the state could link Occupy and other legitimate protest movements with terrorist groups (US Day of Rage suffered such an attempt), then the provisions in the NDAA could, in a period of instability, be used to "disappear" U.S. citizens into military gulags, including the government's offshore penal colonies. And once there, stripped of due process, detainees could be held until, in the language of the law, "the end of hostilities." In an age of permanent war that would be a lifetime.
Human existence, as I witnessed in war, is precarious and often very short. The battles that must be fought may never be won in our lifetime. And there will always be new battles to define our struggle. Resistance to tyranny and evil is never ending. It is a way, rather, of defining our brief sojourn on the planet. Revolt, as Albert Camus reminded us, is the only acceptable definition of the moral life. Revolt, he wrote, is "a constant confrontation between man and his obscurity. ... It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it."
"A living man can be enslaved and reduced to the historic condition of an object," Camus warned. "But if he dies in refusing to be enslaved, he reaffirms the existence of another kind of human nature which refuses to be classified as an object."
The lawyers and I and the other plaintiffs mounted this challenge because what had been solidified into the legal code was a palpable wrong. Victory or defeat was not part of the equation. Not to challenge this law would have meant being complicit in its implementation. And once resistance defines a life it becomes reflexive.
"You do not become a 'dissident' just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career," Vaclav Havel said when he was battling the communist regime in Czechoslovakia...
"You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society. ... The dissident does not operate in the realm of genuine power at all. He is not seeking power. He has no desire for office and does not gather votes. He does not attempt to charm the public. He offers nothing and promises nothing. He can offer, if anything, only his own skin -- and he offers it solely because he has no other way of affirming the truth he stands for. His actions simply articulate his dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost."
Rebellion is an act that assures us of remaining free and independent human beings. Rebellion is not waged because it will work; indeed in its noblest form it is waged when we know it will fail. Our existence, as Camus wrote, must itself be "an act of rebellion." Not to rebel, not to protect and nurture life even in the face of death, is spiritual and moral suicide. The Nazi concentration camp guards sought to break prisoners first and then kill them. They understood that even the power to choose the timing and circumstances of one's death was an affirmation of personal freedom and dangerous to the status quo. So although the guards killed at random they went to great lengths to prevent people in the camps from committing suicide. Totalitarian systems, to perpetuate themselves, always seek to break autonomy and self-determination. This makes all acts of resistance a threat, even those acts that will not succeed. And this is why in all states that rule by force any act of rebellion, even one that is insignificant, must be ruthlessly crushed. The goal of the corporate state, like that of any totalitarian entity, is to create a society where no one has the capacity to resist.
It is not going to get better. The climate crisis alone will assure that. The corporate state knows what is coming. Globalization is breaking down. Our natural resources are being depleted. Economic and political upheavals are inevitable. And our corporate rulers are preparing a world of masters and serfs, a world where repression will be our daily diet, a world of hunger and riots, a world of brutal control and a world where our spirits must be broken. We have to stop asking what is reasonable or practical, what the Democratic Party or the government can do for us, what will work or not work. We must refuse now to make any concessions, large or small. We must remember that the lesser of two evils is still evil. We must no longer let illusions pacify us. Hell is truth seen too late. In large and small ways we are called to resist, resist, resist, as we race heedlessly into the abyss.
Its instructive that Obama is now so right-wing in the neo-con tradition that it takes a Republican to expose him
|On Indefinite Detention: The Tyranny Continues
By Rep. Ron Paul
The bad news from last week's passage of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act is that Americans can still be arrested on US soil and detained indefinitely without trial. Some of my colleagues would like us to believe that they fixed last year's infamous Sections 1021 and 1022 of the NDAA, which codified into law the unconstitutional notion that some Americans are not subject to the protections of the Constitution. However, nothing in this year's bill or amendments to the bill restored those constitutional rights.
Supporters of the one amendment that passed on this matter were hoping no one would notice that it did absolutely nothing. The amendment essentially stated that those entitled to habeas corpus protections are hereby granted habeas corpus protections. Thanks for nothing!
As Steve Vladeck, of American University's law school, wrote of this amendment:
"[T]he Gohmert Amendment does nothing whatsoever to address the central objections.... [I]t merely provides by statute a remedy that is already available to individuals detained within the United States; and says nothing about the circumstances in which individuals might actually be subject to military detention when arrested within the territory of United States.... Anyone within the United States who was subject to military detention before the FY2013 NDAA would be subject to it afterwards, as well..."
Actually, the amendment in question makes matters worse, as it states that anyone detained on US soil has the right to file a writ of habeas corpus "within 30 days" of arrest. In fact, persons detained on US soil already have the right to file a habeas petition immediately upon arrest!
I co-sponsored an amendment offered by Reps. Adam Smith and Justin Amash that would have repealed the unconstitutional provisions of last year's NDAA by eliminating Section 1022 on mandatory military detention and modifying Section 1021 to make it absolutely clear that no one can be apprehended on US soil and held indefinitely without trial or be held subject to a military tribunal. Our language was clear: "No person detained, captured, or arrested in the United States, or a territory or possession of the United States, may be transferred to the custody of the Armed Forces for detention under the Authorization for Use of Military Force, this Act, or the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013."
The term "person" is key in our amendment, as our Founders did not make a distinction between citizens and non-citizens when determining who was entitled to Constitutional protections. As the father of the Constitution James Madison wrote, "[I]t does not follow, because aliens are not parties to the Constitution, as citizens are parties to it, that whilst they actually conform to it, they have no right to its protection."
We should not forget that our Article III court system is a strength not a weakness. The right to face our accuser, the protections against hearsay evidence, the right to a jury trial – these are designed to protect the innocent and to determine and then punish guilt. And they have been quite successful thus far. Currently there are more than 300 individuals who have been tried and convicted of terrorism-related charges serving lengthy terms in US federal prisons. Each of the six individuals tried in US civilian courts for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center are serving hundreds of years in prison, for example.
Last week was discouraging and disappointing to those of us who value our Constitution. That the US government asserts the legal authority to pick up Americans within the United States and hold them indefinitely and secretly without a trial should be incredibly disturbing to all of us. Americans should check how their representative voted. Politicians should not be allowed to get away with undermining our liberties in this manner.
This is why Britain must stay in the EU !!! Yvette Cooper would love to install the same in the UK if ever she has a chance. The EU provides us protections from the tyranny Obama is inflicting on America
|The Police State Is Here
By Tim Kelly
May 22, 2012 "Information Clearing House" -- “There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom.”
Those are the words of Garet Garrett, the 20th-century journalist and writer, who lamented the collapse of the old Republic and the rise of the American managerial/administrative state — the consummation of which he had witnessed in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Garrett’s observation came to mind the other day as I was contemplating the current state of civil liberties and privacy in 21st-century America. Could it be that rather than fending off the possibility of a police state arising in the future, we are already confronted with the grim reality of one in the present?
The country’s degeneration into a police state has been observable for decades, but it accelerated after 9/11 when the George W. Bush administration exploited the crisis atmosphere to ram through a series of unconstitutional and tyrannical measures. Fear became the coin of the realm as the American people traded away their liberties for the empty promise of security.
That such a deal would turn sour was foreseeable. Benjamin Franklin told his fellow countrymen 250 years ago, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
His admonition, of course, hasn’t always been heeded. The country’s history is replete with examples of the American people succumbing to paroxysms of fear and hysteria, often resulting in gross violations of civil liberties. But these episodes, however terrible, were short-lived because they were reactions to temporary crises. Today Americans are confronted with something entirely different — we are told this crisis is permanent.
The federal government now boasts 16 national intelligence agencies, spending an estimated $100 billion per year and employing an army of staffers and contractors who routinely (and illegally) spy domestically. Investigative journalist James Bamford recently wrote in Wired magazine that the National Security Agency is putting finishing touches on a massive data storage center in Utah as part of its “Stellar Wind” program, a massive surveillance and data-mining operation that involves collecting, storing, and examining billions of domestic phone calls and email messages.
This project is a culmination of a decade-long effort by the nation’s spy agencies to create a panoptic society, in which the entire population is brought under round-the-clock government surveillance. This is no longer the stuff of dystopian futuristic novels and is now a grim reality, largely because of the stupendous increases in computing power and storage capacity achieved in recent years. “Total information awareness” is now feasible thanks to the geniuses in Silicon Valley — and it is now considered permissible by the psychopaths and control freaks running the national-security state.
John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute provided an excellent summation of the problem in a piece he wrote late last year:
The U.S. government now has at its disposal a technological arsenal so sophisticated and invasive as to render any constitutional protections null and void. And these technologies are being used by the government to invade the privacy of the American people. Several years ago, government officials acknowledged that the nefarious intelligence gathering entity known as the National Security Agency (NSA) had exceeded its legal authority by eavesdropping on Americans’ private email messages and phone calls. However, these reports barely scratch the surface of what we are coming to recognize as a “security/industrial complex” — a marriage of government, military and corporate interests aimed at keeping Americans under constant surveillance. The increasingly complex security needs of our massive federal government, especially in the areas of defense, surveillance and data management, have been met within the corporate sector, which has shown itself to be a powerful ally that both depends on and feeds the growth of governmental bureaucracy.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently made headlines when it purchased 450 million rounds of .40-caliber ammunition. Why is DHS hoarding that much ammo? What kind of trouble are they expecting?
The Transportation Security Agency has extended its jurisdiction beyond airports and now is groping and irradiating Americans at train stations, bus depots, and the nation’s highways.
So-called fusion centers have popped up in 49 states, amassing files on ordinary Americans for doing the most ordinary of things.
State and local police departments have been gradually assimilated into what journalist William Norman Grigg calls the “vertically integrated Homeland Security State.” This integration has largely been a function of the federal government’s so-called wars on drugs and terrorism.
In this process, police departments have been transmogrified into virtual standing armies, endowed with an array of military-grade weapons and equipment. SWAT teams, once a rarity, have proliferated throughout the country and are increasingly used in routine police work. And this militarization of the police has been coupled with the use of actual military personnel domestically.
The emergence of the police state has predictably resulted in the swelling of the nation’s prison population, which is now the largest in the world. Police are now jailing people for the “crimes” of selling raw milk or buying too much Sudafed. A massive snarl of regulatory red tape dangles above the head of every American, threatening to impose crushing fines and even imprisonment. As former assistant Treasury Secretary Paul Craig Roberts says, “long before 9/11 US law had ceased to be a shield of the people and had been turned into a weapon in the hands of the government.”
The nation’s courts, rather than checking the police state’s relentless expansion, have become its enabler. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled in Barnes v. State that citizens do not have the right to resist police officers who enter their homes illegally. The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a severe blow to the Fourth Amendment when it ruled in Kentucky v. King that police could break into a home without a warrant so long as they suspected that those inside were in possession of illegal drugs. And just a few weeks ago, the court ruled that law-enforcement officials, whether local, state, or federal, have the authority to strip-search anyone they arrest for any reason.
What recourse do the people have when police forces violate the very law they are sworn to uphold and the courts become complicit in their abuse? As disturbing as that question is, it is one that American people must ask themselves if the country’s descent into tyranny is to be arrested.
The recently passed Federal Aviation Administration Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Act includes an amendment authorizing the use of spy drones in American airspace. The bill’s passage was apparently anticipated by law-enforcement agencies across the nation, as many of them had already deployed spy drones as part of their domestic police work. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the FBI, and the DEA are also using spy drones in their operations.
The Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, the Protect America Act, and the more recent National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA) are all grossly unconstitutional, yet they passed through Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. The NDAA is particularly egregious, for it not only explicitly authorizes indefinite detentions of U.S. citizens on American soil but also requires that detainees be held in military custody.
The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act codifies the federal government’s practice of intimidating and silencing protestors. The ostensible purpose of the law is to prevent the unlawful disruption of government business or “official functions,” but what is “unlawful” is left to the discretion of federal agents. Indeed, the language of the law is so vague that it arguably constitutes a suspension of the First Amendment right to free speech and peaceful assembly.
And then there is the National Defense Resources Preparedness executive order, which authorizes a federal-government takeover of the entire economy during a declared “national emergency.” President Obama claims this authority under the Constitution, of course, and the Defense Production Act of 1950, a law that historian Robert Higgs says gives the president “lawful authority to control virtually the whole of the U.S. economy whenever he chooses to do so and states that the national defense requires such a government takeover.”
So all the president has to do is to declare a nebulous “national emergency,” and his agents can seize control of every factory, farm, and business in the country and lay claim to all its resources, including labor.
The intent of this short essay is not to provide a “list of horribles” committed by the government (although such an accounting is useful) but to point out that the much-feared police state has come into being. Its growth had been gradual, which contributed to the public’s indifference, but it metastasized after 9/11, when the remaining legal barriers to the state’s expansion were taken down in the name of “national security.” A large portion of the public appears to be appropriately alarmed, but it remains to be seen whether this will reach a critical mass in time to reverse the country’s destructive course.
|Obama hails police state methods in Chicago
22 May 2012
President Barack Obama on Monday praised the performance of Chicago city officials and the Chicago Police Department after a week of violence, repression and frame-ups directed against antiwar demonstrators in the city.
Speaking at the conclusion of the NATO summit, Obama paid tribute to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his political crony and former White House chief of staff, and added, referring to the thousands of police mobilized against protesters, “Chicago’s finest did a great job under significant pressure and a lot of scrutiny.”
What was this “great job?”
• Downtown Chicago was effectively shut down for four days, Friday through Monday, not by the protesters, never more than 5,000 people, but by a huge mobilization of police and paramilitary forces who frequently outnumbered the demonstrators. The entire area around McCormick Place, site of the summit, was under lockdown.
• Police arrested well over 100 demonstrators in the course of the week, including more than 60 Sunday, a day of tense confrontations in which police continually vented their hostility towards the demonstrators, who were opposing the US-NATO war in Afghanistan and other imperialist military interventions.
• The violent dispersal of the protesters late Sunday afternoon was entirely one-sided, as described by the Chicago Sun-Times—a staunchly pro-police tabloid—which headlined its account, “Riot Gear Cops Rain Down Blows on Protesters.” The beatings were so widespread and indiscriminate that one of the newspaper’s own reporters was among those bloodied. At least 25 demonstrators were injured, with a dozen requiring hospital treatment.
• Most ominously, five protesters were arrested in police raids targeting individuals supposedly preparing “terrorist” attacks on the NATO summit. The same two informants fingered all five men, after the undercover cops had circulated widely among the protesters looking for anyone they could instigate or entrap.
The charges of “conspiring to commit domestic terrorism during the NATO summit,” brought before the Cook County Circuit Court, are a deliberate attempt to intimidate opponents of the US-NATO war in Afghanistan and other imperialist military interventions either under way or being planned by the Obama administration.
The whole machinery of provocation and frame-up, erected over the past decade in the name of the “war on terror,” is now being used against the democratic rights of working people and youth who oppose the policies of the American government. As the World Socialist Web Site has consistently warned, the methods tested out against immigrants and Muslims are now being unleashed against the American people as a whole.
The Chicago frame-ups of antiwar protesters follow in the footsteps of previous provocations: last month’s arrest of five Cleveland-area Occupy protesters on similarly trumped-up charges; the systematic police violence against Occupy encampments last fall and winter; the FBI raids on the homes of antiwar activists in Minneapolis and Chicago in the fall of 2010.
They are part of a broader assault on democratic rights being carried out by the Obama administration, which has gone even further than the Bush White House in erecting the scaffolding of a police state. Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which gives the president the right to order the military detention, without trial, of anyone he designates as a terrorist threat, including US citizens. Obama has sharply increased targeted assassinations of alleged terrorists, including the murder of US citizens, and openly defended the president’s supposed unilateral “right” to do so.
Both big business parties are systematically shredding the Bill of Rights and stripping the American people of their constitutionally guaranteed rights.
These heavy-handed measures expose the fraudulent character of the claims by Democratic and Republican politicians that American imperialism is on the side of “democracy” and “freedom” when it wages wars against countries that possess vast reserves of oil and natural gas, or occupy strategic locations adjacent to such resources.
America is the most heavily policed of the industrialized countries. The combined forces of repression—local and state police, the military, the FBI, the CIA and other intelligence agencies, the vast apparatus of the Department of Homeland Security, the endless armies of private security personnel—number in the many millions.
In the final analysis, this vast apparatus of repression testifies to the crisis of American capitalism, not its strength. The more acute the social tensions, the more charged the political atmosphere, the deeper the resentment of working people towards the privileged elite, the more the ruling class is compelled to surround itself with what Marx and Engels described as the essence of the state—“bodies of armed men.”
The working class must take a warning from the events in Chicago on the role of the police, including their informants and provocateurs, and the role of the Obama administration.
The decisive issue is the political clarification of the working class and the development of a mass, independent political mobilization of working people and youth based on a socialist and internationalist program. Only such a mass movement, fighting to take political power and establish a workers government, can forestall the drive towards repression and dictatorship by the corporate elite and its political defenders, both Democratic and Republican.
One for Lee.
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 24 May 2012 22.00 BST
Obama and Romney have both shown themselves to be frontmen for big business and big finance. Illustration: Satoshi Kambayashi
Poor Mitt Romney. Despite defeating a weird and wacky line-up of candidates in a gruelling Republican primary race, and despite selling himself as "the CEO president", he can't seem to shake off his image as a slash-and-burn private equity boss, a modern-day incarnation of Gordon Gekko.
It hasn't escaped his opponents' attention. In 2008, Romney's then rival for the nomination, Mike Huckabee, mocked him for looking like "the guy who laid you off". Last year, during his own brief and bizarre bid for the presidency, the billionaire entrepreneur Donald Trump ridiculed Romney as "a funds guy" who would "buy companies … close companies [and] get rid of the jobs". And, last week, Team Obama released a campaign ad attacking Romney's private equity firm, Bain Capital, and referring to the Republican candidate as a "vampire".
In a show of co-ordinated faux outrage, Republicans have since called on the president to disown such attack ads. But drawing attention to Romney's record as a corporate raider is fair game. As co-founder and chief executive of Bain Capital, Romney did make hundreds of millions of dollars from private equity deals, and did lay off hundreds of workers in the process.
Banks such as Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley have poured tens of thousands of dollars into Romney's campaign coffers. Key members of his fundraising team include the hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer and three JP Morgan executives. Is it any wonder, then, that Romney responded to the recent news of JP Morgan Chase's $2bn trading blunder by blaming the "market" and saying he didn't "want to punish companies"?
The Republican nominee is a shill for big business and, in particular, big finance. But – and here's where it gets tricky for the Democrats and depressing for the rest of us – so is President Obama. Yes, I know, it's to a lesser extent than Romney, but the fact is that Obama has been a shameless apologist for Wall Street.
Take the case of JPMorgan Chase. Official records show that the bank's chief executive, Jamie Dimon, a major Obama donor, has made at least 18 visits to the White House since the start of 2009, meeting the president himself on at least three separate occasions. So should we have been surprised when Obama heaped praise upon the bank and its now-disgraced boss, in an interview with ABC last week? "JP Morgan is one of the best-managed banks there is," he said. "Jamie Dimon, the head of it, is one of the smartest bankers we've got, and they still lost $2bn and counting."
Like Romney, Obama ascribed the JP Morgan debacle to a failure of the free market, rather than to the recklessness and greed of its bosses, prompting the influential economist Robert Reich, who served as labour secretary under Bill Clinton, to respond: "Bain Capital and JP Morgan are parts of the same problem. The president should be leading the charge against both."
He won't – and it is worth noting that, despite the drop in financial support for him from the financial sector, the president and his party still managed to secure $152,000 from employees of – wait for it – Bain Capital. Such is his love affair with the guys who work on Wall Street – "very savvy businessmen", to borrow a stomach-churning line from Obama – that each of the three men who has filled the role of White House chief of staff during the president's first term has been an investment banker.
Perhaps the most shocking moment in the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job is when director Charles Ferguson – extracts from his book of the same name have appeared in this week's Guardian – draws the viewer's attention to the revolving door between the White House and Wall Street, including Obama's appointment of Mark Patterson, a former Goldman Sachs lobbyist, to be chief of staff to the treasury secretary, Tim Geithner; of Gary Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs executive, to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission; of Mary Schapiro, the former chief executive of Finra, the investment-banking industry's self-regulation body, to run the Securities and Exchange Commission. This is government of the bankers, by the bankers, for the bankers.
In his defence, Obama's supporters point to his overhaul of US financial regulation in 2010. But those reforms have since been denounced as weak and ineffective; they did little to regulate credit-rating agencies, restrict financial lobbyists or curb bank bonuses. The Obama administration has also refused to go after banks and bankers in the courts. As Yale University's Bruce Judson pointed out in October 2011, at the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests: "So the tally to date: 2,511 people arrested for disturbing the peace and related activities; no arrests for any of the financiers who broke the law and plunged millions into untold misery."
Upon taking office, Obama spoke grandly of the need "to change Wall Street's culture". It hasn't changed at all. Banks are still too big to fail (and, for that matter, jail) and bonuses continue to rise uncontrollably.
The choice in November may not be, in the immortal words of the Rev Jesse Jackson, a choice between "Republican" and "Republican lite". That would be to ignore the sheer extremism of the modern Republican party on a whole host of issues, from healthcare reform to the Israeli occupation. However, it will be a choice between a pair of frontmen for financial interests, two nominees of the 1%. The inconvenient truth is that, whichever candidate is elected in November, Wall Street wins
That is about as good a reason i've heard recently for the US to go back to isolationism, Pakistan certainly agrees!
Hollywood Saves Obama. Capitalism may be degenerate and kitsch, but it knows how to get failures re-elected.
|How Osama re-elects Obama
By Pepe Escobar
A nuclear deal with Iran? An organized retreat from Afghanistan? The eurozone picking up a little bit of steam? Stable oil prices? Forget it. The crucial foreign elector recruited for Obama II at the White House is one Osama bin Laden. Call it the "Obama nails Osama" winning strategy.
No wonder the winning strategy has been subcontracted to the Hollywood/Pentagon combo. Washington lost the Vietnam War, but won it in on screen. Oscar-winning director Kathryn Hurt Locker Bigelow had already started the process of "winning" the Iraq War on screen - at least morally. Now it's time for her new project - an as yet untitled movie - on the "Get Osama" May 2011 Abbottabad raid and the events leading up to it. With POTUS (that's president of the United States) as the hero of his own action movie.
Move over, Spider Man
So essentially this will be a Hollywood 90-minute multi-million dollar campaign commercial, available all across America's screens, selling Obama as the macho commander-in-chief George W Bush always dreamed of being. It's the same modus operandi of the recent blockbuster Battleship - which was nothing but an extremely loud US Navy recruiting commercial.
The Washington, DC-based public-interest organization Judicial Watch  has just disclosed a series of documents - 153 pages from Pentagon records and 110 pages from Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) records - described as "almost as hard to get from the Obama administration as buying a winning lottery ticket at the local grocery store". It took Judicial Watch no less than nine months and a federal lawsuit to force the Obama administration to release the documents.
The records detail how Bigelow and her screenwriter Mark Boal became darlings of both the Pentagon and the CIA. They were granted privileged access to a "planner, Operator and Commander of SEAL Team Six" - the top Special Forces that may (or may not, according to millions around the world) have killed Bin Laden in a raid on his compound at Abbottabad in Pakistan a year ago.
The raid itself is described as "a 'Gutsy Decision' by the POTUS'," and "WH [White House] involvement was critical."
Bigelow and Boal were even given access to "the vault" - the CIA bunker that was the site of some crucial tactical planning for the raid.
As for the photos and video that should prove - beyond reasonable doubt - that it was really Bin Laden who was killed in the raid, Judicial Watch has been relentlessly stonewalled. For the Obama administration, this is a matter of national security.
What matters is that everything's cool with the Spider Man Obama operation; with crucial timing, the commercial goes live all across US cinemas on October 12. Talk about an October non-surprise.
|MAY 31, 2012
The Kill List of Barack Obama
by RAY McGOVERN
In an extraordinary article in Tuesday’s New York Times, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” authors Jo Becker and Scott Shane throw macabre light on the consigliere-cum-priestly role that counterterrorist adviser John Brennan provides President Barack Obama.
At the outset, Becker and Shane note that, although Obama vowed to “align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values,” he has now ordered the obedient Brennan to prepare a top secret “nominations” list of people whom the President may decide to order killed, without charge or trial, including American citizens.
The authors understate this as “a moral and legal conundrum.” It is, in fact, a moral and legal impossibility to square “kill lists” for extrajudicial murders with traditional legal and moral American values.
Enter the legal consiglieres. Attorney General Eric Holder and Harold Koh, the State Department’s top lawyer, seem to have adopted the retro (pre-1215) practices of their immediate predecessors (think Ashcroft, Gonzales, Mukasey) with their extraordinary ability to make just about anything “legal.”
Even torture? No problem for the earlier trio. Was not George W. Bush well-armed with the perfect squelch, when NBC’s Matt Lauer asked him about waterboarding in November 2010?
Lauer: Why is waterboarding legal, in your opinion?
Bush: Because the lawyer said it was legal. He said it did not fall within the anti-torture act. I’m not a lawyer. But you gotta trust the judgment of the people around you, and I do.
So there! You gotta trust those lawyers. The legal issue taken care of – though early in his presidency, Bush had ridiculed other lawyers who thought international law should apply to him. “International law?” he asked in mock fear. “I better call my lawyer.” He surely knew his lawyer would tell him what he wanted to hear.
President Obama has adopted a similar attitude toward the moral conundrum of targeted killings around the world. Just turn to Consigliere John Brennan for some “just war” theorizing. We have it from Harold Koh that Brennan is “a person of genuine moral rectitude. … It’s as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”
So, like the Caesars of old or the generals of World War I, Obama consults a priest or minister before having folks killed. And in this case the “priest” is Brennan, “whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama, echoing the President’s attempt to apply the ‘just war’ theories of Christian philosophers to a brutal modern conflict,” write Becker and Shane.
If, as the New York Times writers claim, President Obama is a student of the writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he seems to be getting very warped exegesis from Brennan.
Cameron Munter, Obama’s ambassador to Pakistan, is just one who seems inadequately schooled in those theories. According to Becker and Shane, Munter has complained to his colleagues that the CIA’s strikes are driving American policy in Pakistan, saying, “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people.”
Western news reports have Munter leaving his post this summer, after less than two years — an ambassador’s typical tenure.
Now, don’t “mis-underestimate” John Brennan. His heart is in the right place, we’re told. The authors quote him as insisting, “The President, and I think all of us here, don’t like the fact that people have to die.” Yes, it really is too bad, don’t you know; but, hey, sometimes you just have to belly-up to the really tough decisions.
In Brennan’s and Obama’s world, some suspects just have to die, partly because they seem to look/act like “militants,” and partly because it is infeasible to capture them (while unprecedentedly easy, and safe, to kill them — by missiles from drones).
Thus far, the words of today’s Gospel by post-9/11 “Christian philosophers.” No doubt, these “just war” enthusiasts would brand hopelessly naïve, or “quaint-and-obsolete,” the words seen recently on a bumper sticker: “When Jesus told us to love our enemies, I think he probably meant not to kill them.”
Not one of the thousand cars driving onto the Bronx campus of Fordham University for commencement on May 19 was sporting that bumper sticker, nor was there any attention given to the general concept at commencement.
That kind of thinking was hardly welcome that day at the “Jesuit University of New York City,” after the Jesuits and their trustees decided to give Brennan the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, and asked him to give the commencement address.
Several of the Fordham graduates, though, did take the trouble to learn more about Brennan’s role in “war-on-terror” practices like kidnapping, torture, black-site prisons, illegal eavesdropping on Americans, and extrajudicial murder by drone. They found it preposterous that Obama would seek “priestly” advice from Brennan. At commencement, they orchestrated some imaginative protests.
Fordham and the Prestige Virus
Fordham is the college that blessed the “priest” that blessed the president that killed from a list compiled in a White House that slaves built. And looking on silently from his commencement seat of honor atop the steps to Fordham’s Keating Hall was fellow honorary doctorate awardee, “pro-life” Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York and head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
I wonder if it occurred to Dolan that from these same steps an honorary degree was conferred in 1936 on Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, author of the Vatican’s Concordat with Nazi Germany. Later, as Pope Pius XII, Pacelli could not find his voice to speak out forcefully against the wars and other abuses of the Third Reich, including genocide against the Jews.
So too, the new archbishop of New York and his fellow bishops cannot find their voice on the transcendent issues of aggressive war and its accumulated evil, preferring to focus on pelvic issues.
A few summers ago, I spent a couple of hours in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in West Jerusalem. Decades earlier while serving in Germany, I had made it a custom to devote the last day of a visitor’s stay to Dachau, the first concentration camp, established in 1933.
At the end of the barracks at Dachau stands the famous caution from Santayana, “Those who do not remember history are condemned to relive it.” That dictum kept racing through my mind as past and present merged on the walls of Yad Vashem, mocking the ubiquitous “Never Again.”
There were parallels that stood stark naked for any thinking American to see: parallels between Hitler’s success in grabbing dictatorial power in Germany — largely because of a supine Parliament, an acquiescent Church, a careerist Army leadership, and a fearful populace — and the situation we Americans face today with “kill lists,” unconstitutional “laws,” and Gestapo-style police armed to the teeth.
There they were in photos on the walls. It was 1934, and the German Army generals were in the limelight swearing allegiance to Hitler — not the German Constitution (what was left of it); the German Supreme Court swearing allegiance to Hitler — not to the law and Constitution; and, not least, the Reich’s bishops swearing allegiance to Hitler — not to God and the people they were supposed to serve.
I noticed that one of the English-speaking guides pointed to the generals and jurists but avoided mentioning the bishops, so I insisted he make full disclosure. (It occurred to me that Hitler might have been stymied, had the Catholic and Lutheran bishops been able to find their voice.)
On an adjacent wall was the Hamlet-like Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, trying to make up his mind on whether he should put the Catholic Church at risk, while Jews were being murdered by the train-full.
The most compelling story was that of Imre Bathory, a Hungarian who, like many other Hungarians, put their own lives at grave peril by trying to save fugitive Jews. Asked to explain, Bathory said that because of his actions:
“I know that when I stand before God on Judgment Day, I shall not be asked the question posed to Cain; ‘Where were you when your brother’s blood was crying out to God?’”
At Fordham’s commencement, one would have taken considerable risk in alluding to the crying-out blood of Iraqis and Afghans. Only happy, prideful talk is de rigueur on such occasions, together with honoring prominent people — with little heed paid to how they earned such prominence. A White House post suffices.
From the Grave, Albert Camus
In 1948, still under the dark cloud of what had been a disastrous world war, the French author/philosopher Albert Camus accepted an invitation to come to the Dominican Monastery of Latour-Maubourg.
To their credit, the Dominicans wanted to know what an “unbeliever” thought about Christians in the light of their behavior during the Thirties and Forties. Camus’s words seem so terribly relevant today that it is difficult to trim them down:
“For a long time during those frightful years I waited for a great voice to speak up in Rome. I, an unbeliever? Precisely. For I knew that the spirit would be lost if it did not utter a cry of condemnation…
“It has been explained to me since, that the condemnation was indeed voiced. But that it was in the style of the encyclicals, which is not all that clear. The condemnation was voiced and it was not understood. Who could fail to feel where the true condemnation lies in this case?
“What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today.
“It may be … that Christianity will insist on maintaining a compromise, or else on giving its condemnations the obscure form of the encyclical. Possibly it will insist on losing once and for all the virtue of revolt and indignation that belonged to it long ago.
“What I know – and what sometimes creates a deep longing in me – is that if Christians made up their mind to it, millions of voices – millions, I say – throughout the world would be added to the appeal of a handful of isolated individuals, who, without any sort of affiliation, today intercede almost everywhere and ceaselessly for children and other people.” (Excerpted from Resistance, Rebellion, and Death: Essays)
It may be that the Dominican monks took Camus seriously; monks tend to listen. Vatican functionaries, on the other hand, tend to know it all, and to urge pope, cardinals and bishops to be highly “discreet” in what they say and do.
Help From the Outside
Sometimes it takes a truth-telling outsider to throw light on our moral failures.
South African Methodist Bishop Peter Storey, erstwhile chaplain to Nelson Mandela in prison and outspoken opponent of Apartheid, has this to say to the platitude-inclined, patriotism-preaching American clergy in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks:
“We had obvious evils to engage; you have to unwrap your culture from years of red, white and blue myth. You have to expose and confront the great disconnect between the kindness, compassion and caring of most American people and the ruthless way American power is experienced, directly or indirectly, by the poor of the earth.
“You have to help good people see how they have let their institutions do their sinning for them. All around the world there are those who long to see your human goodness translated into a different, more compassionate way of relating with the rest of this bleeding planet.”
Albert Camus and Peter Storey are among the true prophets of our time. I think the late Madeleine L’Engle also had it right when she wrote:
“I think if we speak the truth and are not afraid to be disagreed with, we can make big changes.” The biggest obstacle is often within us, she observes. “We get so frightful.”
In A Stone for a Pillow: L’Engle adds:
“The true prophet seldom predicts the future. The true prophet warns us of our present hardness of heart, our prideful presuming to know God’s mind.
“We must be careful … that we are not being false prophets fearing only for our own selves, our own families, our own country. Our concern must be for everybody, for our entire fragile planet, and everybody on it. …
“Indeed, we must protest with loving concern for the entire universe. A mark of the true prophet in any age is humility. … And the final test of the true prophet is love.”
After ten years of ecclesiastical silence regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be a cop-out — pure and simple — to expect the leaders of the institutional “Christian” churches in the United States to act any differently from the way the German churches did during the Thirties in Germany.
Americans can no longer in good conscience expect bold action for true justice from the largely domesticated clergy; nor can we use that feckless expectation as an excuse to do nothing ourselves. As theologian Annie Dillard has put it: “There is only us; there never has been any other.”
And, she might have added, we don’t do “kill lists.”
No doubt Romney and Obama will vie for a stronger god to be on each other's side, Mitt will be calling for thunderbolts on high to strike the unbelievers.
Which in Mitts case is anyone who calls him a glorified hedge fund manager, and as a recent headline said "a guy that looks like he is about to fire you". Obama will just keep praying that the republicans only actually have Mitt Romney, and that the next Michael Moore documentary comes out after the election.
For America, it may be marginally better to have Obama than Romney. For the outside world, it really doesnt matter. Romney is likely to abolish presidential murder and assassination, as that goes beyond the pale for many Republicans and probably more Democrats. But he will make up for that in other ways.
|Romney is likely to abolish presidential murder and assassination... |
I'd be pleasantly surprised if he did. My opinion is that governments on both side of the Atlantic tend to retain the reactionary aspects of the previous admininstration however much they criticised them while in opposition. Obama's retention of Guantánamo Bay and the continuation of the war in Afghanistan are obvious examples.
Perhaps Romney would cease or at least decrease the use of drones purely on the grounds that they are counter productive rather than for ethical concerns. But my hunch is that the practice will continue to escalate whoever is elected as it keeps mainstream attention way from foreign policy by keeping US casualties so low (at least in the short run).
|My opinion is that governments on both side of the Atlantic tend to retain the reactionary aspects of the previous admininstration however much they criticised them while in opposition. |
|An Interview with Tariq Ali
The Obama Syndrome
by COLLIN HARRIS
I have no animosity towards people who supported and voted for President Obama. Well maybe a little, but only because I know your energy could have been put to better use. But if you vote, then given the options available, which is insanity or maybe slightly less insanity, then you could argue that it was perfectly reasonable for you to vote for what you perceived to be slightly less insanity. Maybe there was a time when there was some truth to this logic, and many would argue that there still is. This prevailing logic of supporting the lesser-than-two-evils, fitting for an era of diminished expectations, is the most important political resource of the Democratic Party and the typical cop-out for its “progressive” supporters.
It’s a useful cop-out. After all, how can we say a McCain Presidency, or now a Romney Presidency, wouldn’t be worse? How can you disprove such a statement? How can you compare Obama’s policies to the non-existent policies of some hypothetical Republican Presidency? Obviously, you can’t. Sadly, progressives have been reduced to comparing Obama’s record, atrocious by any measure, with what one of those crazy, rightwing nutjobs might have done, or might do in the future. That’s right, they’re using the counterfactual to explain away the cognitive dissonance induced by the reality of supporting a pro-corporate imperialist Democrat. This is the state of the mainstream American Left today. After all, we do have a rightwing lunatic to compare Obama to: George W. Bush, whom progressives proudly held in contempt as he plundered and blundered his way into the history books. What do we find when comparing Obama’s record to Bush’s? Nearly perfect continuity, even on policies that many people assumed were peculiar byproducts of a uniquely criminal Bush regime. It was clear from the beginning Obama didn’t intend to rock the boat, leading even Karl Rove, boogeyman to Obama’s progressive base, to praise the President for his reassuring commitment to the status quo. What is it that will finally deliver a deathblow to the logic of lesser evil-ism? What’s the tipping point for disillusioned progressives? If giving trillions to Wall Street or assassinating American citizens without due process isn’t extreme enough then what is? Maybe we’ll find out in Obama’s second term. For those who don’t want to wait that long, a brief conversation with one-man political think tank Tariq Ali should do the trick. Ali is a prolific author, journalist, novelist, historian, veteran activist, and world-renowned public intellectual. His most recent book is The Obama Syndrome.
Can you describe what you mean by the Obama Syndrome?
A political disease. An ailment that afflicts even the most intelligent politicians—those desperate to enter the White house whatever the financial and political price they have to pay… in the US and we know only too well that there are not too many of them. Politics these days is little more than concentrated economics. No alternative to the neo-liberal system are permitted except the State is encouraged to bail-out the very rich and the rich. The Obama syndrome is a sensational demonstration of this fact: a mixed-race President and his black family enter the White House. The symbolism is important, but symbols often disappear rapidly as the rigours of everyday life and politics intervene. Then people see that politicians whatever theier race or gender must be judged on the basis of what they do…
What’s the role of mainstream progressives in perpetuating the messianic delusion of President Obama?
They’re desperate. They like to think anyone but Bush and when the anyone, give or take a few token measures, essentially carries on like his predecessor many mainstream progressives go into denial mode. They blind themselves to the reality. When Jeffrey Sachs criticises Obama’s new budget from the left then the self-style progressives look very stupid stuck in coital lock with the President.
What’s your take on the logic of lesser evil-ism, the default, kneejerk response for defending one’s allegiance to Obama and the Democrats in general? What does this say about Americans’ political imagination?
The traditional politicians of the United States are bereft of imagination or vision, with the marginal exception of Ron Paul on foreign policy. He wants the Empire dismantled and he speaks out against the craziness of even considering an attack on Iran.
An alternative political approach is desperately needed in the United States and, I must add in Europe and other parts of the world. Living in a hollowed-out democracy where the form is preserved and much else is becoming rotten is depressing. We live under the dictatorship of capital. At times it is necessary to vote against the incumbent of whatever party simply to register anger, but America needs a new political movement/organisation, call it what you will, to challenge the logic of capital and its wars.
What has been its effect on the chances for serious social change in the U.S.?
Bad. Very bad. To get trapped in the dilemma as to whether Obama will fight better wars and torture people more ‘humanely’ than Romney or some other Republican is foolish. When you accept the battleground of the centre you get lost.
Some would argue Obama can actually get away with more than a Republican president because of his savvy PR skills and the middle-class liberal propensity for hypocrisy and self-deception. It seems inconceivable that Bush and Cheney could have passed NDAA or claimed the right to assassinate American citizens without massive popular outcry. What do you think?
This is certainly the case. One can even imagine Senator Obama jumping up and down in manufactured rage denouncing these assaults on the Constitution.
How does Occupy fit into this picture? Do you agree that Obama and the Democrats are the biggest threat to the movement in terms of being co-opted and channeling that energy back into electoral politics?
The Occupy movement is important precisely because it grew out of disenchantment with Obama. I’ve been arguing that a vital next step must be a Charter for Democratic and Social Rights that can be used to build strong bases against mainstream politics in every city. This means an agreed, minimum political program whose aim is to include rather than exclude people.
It seems that a massive, coordinated departure from the arena of partisan electoral politics and into the arena of movement politics is the most obvious course of action for dismantling America’s two-party duopoly. What do you think about this?
I agree totally, but movement politics on its own can disappear like a whirlwind does. A foundation for something lasts must be laid now.
What’s the cure for the Obama Syndrome? Is it much different from what’s needed to restore meaning to the American political system itself?
No. The two objectives are, in fact, the same.
The situation in the USA is, in some ways, similar to the one we have here, where the extra-Labour Party left have failed completely to develop an alternative politics and just go on banging on the same old drum endlessly.
Dugsie: this is correct; but it is important to recognise the significance of the political situation in the UK and the US compared to the rest of the west.
Since the fall of the USSR, there has been only one dominant formula for the west: parliamentary democracy, and this has spread into many other parts of the developing world. This system is predicated on the idea that those competing for power, typically political parties, represent the full spectrum of political opinion in the electorate. In other words, for parliamentary democracy to function, one needs a spectrum of parties from the left to the right.
There have been endless debates here on how the left has become eroded with the victory of the New World Order and the compromise with global neo-liberalism. On the other hand, there is a huge supply of information that indicates very significant differences in income inequality and social justice across the OECD. That means that even although traditional left parties in western democracies have been eroded, their presence still makes a powerful difference. There has been a consistent effort by some comrades here to deny this reality.
Look at the bottom of the totem pole among the leading democracies in terms of wealth inequality and social justice, and what do you find ? The US and the UK. And these are major differences with the rest.
There are very few countries in the west where the parliamentary left wing has all but vanished. The US and the UK are the prime examples of democracies in which the entire parliamentary spectrum is right-of-centre. That means that democracy is not operating in the US and UK, and the left opposition has been effectively squeezed out of the parliamentary arena.
Because the UK and US has the most reactionary laws in the west regarding political protest, and because both have given vast powers to the police, left opposition in the US and UK, now entirely outside the parliamentary arena, has been virtually criminalised. That is not an accident. It is intentional. Both the Democrats in the US and Labour in the UK applaud police clamp-downs on protest. In the USA Obama is doing it as effectively as Bush; and in the UK, a Labour government under Blair and Brown did the same, and one under Ed Miliband would be no different.
In the US there is still the remnants of the Occupy Movement. In the UK there is nothing at all in terms of left protest. In Canada, the parliamentary left has been almost as marginalised as it is in the US and UK, except that it remains alive in Quebec, just as a limited left survives in Scotland. Quebec is seeing the most effective left-wing protest outside of Greece, and it is growing apace. But its still extra-parliamentary. And that means it is still criminalised, as police violence in Quebec and Montreal is demonstrating.
How far Hollande and Tspiras can take democracy we will have to wait and see. The prospects are not promising but at least democracy is working. In Canada, we may see a revival of the movement for independence of Quebec. In the US and UK, it doesnt matter much whether the Democrats or Republicans, or whether the Tories or Labour win. The result will be a right-of-centre government with a virtually right-of-centre parliament.
I know other comrades will disagree with me, but I dont believe it is conceptually possible in 21st century western democracies, for the left to achieve anything significant as long as it is operating entirely outside the parliamentary arena. That doesnt mean it should suspend its efforts; but it does mean that our expectations should be very modest. The answer is obvious. Somehow, the US and UK need the authentic left-wing parties in the parliamentary arena. Without that, the scope open to the left will be very limited and amount to banging the old drum. I dont see how it could be anything different.
|Broken Shards of My Heart: The US in Decline
By David Michael Green
June 09, 2012 "Information Clearing House" -- I could tell you that my heart was broken by what happened in Wisconsin this week, but in truth that’s not quite accurate.
I grew into political awareness and maturity in the middle of the 1970s. For people my age, then, our entire adult lives have been one long witness to the dismantling of that which we grew up taking for granted as a foundation for any further progress that might come. We lived in the relatively egalitarian country of the New Deal and the Great Society, with its robust middle class and a measure of earnest compassion for the poor. Today, that seems like a foreign country, if not a remote planet.
Over the course of our adult lives:
We watched in shock and horror as the country turned to a Hollywood washout, who was literally a national joke candidate five years earlier, and made him president, following him down every path of joyful self-destruction and absurd deceit.
Our jaws dropped in the 1990s at the visage of New Gingrich, the most overtly petulant and destructive piece of self-loathing to ever occupy a human body, as he was elevated to the highest position in the United States Congress, and pioneered the basest politics and the shattering of our government that remains our inheritance today. As if that weren’t shameful enough, at the same time Gingrich’s buddy down at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue was destroying the meaning of the Democratic Party, aping the Republican sell-out to corporate thieves and the abandonment of the public interest – especially the poor, the first to be thrown under the bus.
And, despite the fact Bill Clinton deserves to rot in hell for the damage he did in exchange for his personal joyride in the White House, we were nevertheless forced to watch in horror the relentless and destructive lunacy of the president’s impeachment for the high crime of lying about a blow-job.
We had to endure the travesty of Bush versus Gore, one of the most egregious tramplings of democratic practice imaginable, then watch the sickening product of that judicial rape: the swaggering wars based on lies, the torture, the doubling of the national debt, the environmental depredations, the economic melt-down, and the raison-d’etre for it all: the radical shifting of wealth from the 300 million of us to the one-tenth of one percent who own everything in sight.
Perhaps most emotionally devastating of all – Et tu, Brute? – we’ve suffered the betrayal these last years of another Democratic sell-out, a supposedly liberal-if-not-socialist president actually so conservative and so sold-out that he couldn’t even bear to pursue his own personal interest sufficiently to produce a successful presidency, but has rather continued and amplified the worst characteristics of the open sore that was the Bush presidency, even in the midst of crisis opportunities not seen since the 1930s.
So, no, by this time, my heart was not really broken when my former home-state, Wisconsin, voted emphatically to commit suicide this week. But only because there’s so little of that heart left to break. Shards here and there were crushed and extinguished, to be sure, but I am becoming rapidly beyond caring about the country I live in, a place and a people so determined to get it wrong at every juncture imaginable. At some point, don’t you just have to stop trying and let the substance-abuser finish the job on their own?
This country is dying, let’s be clear. It may live yet. It may survive for decades in slow decline. It may find a way in utter crisis to throw off, before it is too late, the fat slimy boa which is squeezing every last cent of value out of it. Its political class may invent a devastating foreign crisis with massively grim consequences in order to deflect public attention from its manifest failings. Maybe it will even be some combination of all of the above.
Who knows? What we can be sure of, however, is that what was once a great and promising idea as much as a nation is now decrepit to the core, and rapidly rotting away, and that these wounds are entirely self-inflicted. That, for me, is the kicker. The Soviets didn’t invade and take us over. We didn’t succumb to some raging virus like the Black Plague. A meteor didn’t blast a hole in the middle of North America.
We just killed the goose ourselves, through a toxic mix of greed, laziness and stupidity.
Imagine the conversation to be heard if nations like America were to go to the Pearly Gates when they die, seeking forgiveness, and anxiously awaiting their dispensation for the rest of eternity:
St. Peter: So, the Big Guy wants to know what the hell (get it?) you’re doing here.
America: Um, well, we’re dead.
Peter: Yeah, we get that. Even if we did create the Catholic Church, we’re not complete idiots up here, you know. What he means is, how did a country like you, with all the tremendous advantages you were given, wind up so dead, so fast?
America: Well, uh, we made some bad choices, I guess.
Peter: Do you mean like when you traded George McGovern for Karl Rove, for example?
America: Well, I suppose. But McGovern...
Peter: Shut up, you insolent little turd. Do you mean like when you traded Franklin Roosevelt for Barack Obama or George Bush – sorry, I always get those two confused – is that what you mean?
America: Yeah, that was prolly not the smartest deal.
Peter: Or could it be when you swapped the First Amendment to get Citizens United instead?
America: Golly, you mean corporations really aren’t people, after all?
Peter: It’s really not looking too good for you lot, I’m afraid.
America: Listen, do you have to go to Hell for just being stupid, or is something worse like wholesale venality or mass murder required?
Peter: Dude, you’re America! Isn’t that question kinda moot?
America: What does moot mean? And what happened to the pearls that are supposed to be on the gates?
Peter: Koch Brothers got ‘em.
Peter: Jesus Christ, you’re dumb. Maybe an exception could be made for you, come to think of it. After all, we don’t send microbes or amoeba to Hell either, even when they’re very bad.
America: Oh, thank you, Mr. Peter. You’re very kind. Say, where do we sign-up for our choice of cable packages?
Though Wisconsin managed to only break the few shards of my unbroken heart still remaining, it’s worth considering the details of the episode to get a sense of how truly wrecked we are as a people. Much like George W. Caligula, who campaigned as the compassionate conservative but governed as a Cheneybot monster, Scott Walker came to office without mentioning in the campaign any of the scorched earth policies he was actually hired by the Koch Brothers and their ilk to foist upon his hapless state. So the first thing he does after his inauguration is give away hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthy. Then, lo and behold, there appears a shortfall in the state’s budget of precisely that amount – almost as if that whole math thing actually works, after all – and so he declares a crisis which can, of course, only be solved by draconian burdens being imposed upon non-one percenters.
That means that the public employee unions are called upon to bear the burden of massive givebacks of their salary and benefits. But then – this being America and the 21st century and all – the unions agree to one hundred percent of these demands. But Walker and his fellow Koch-class acolytes are not satisfied with having to take yes for an answer, because their real project is to crush the unions into political insignificance, if not to terminate them altogether. So the real issue was never the fiscal crisis, which was entirely fabricated, nor even finding a solution to it, which the already pathetic unions had readily agreed to. The real issue was to destroy the labor movement, and the political party it has (stupidly, in recent decades) supported for so long.
But when labor and some Democrats and a lot of courageous and determined ordinary Badgers decided that enough was finally enough, the question was ultimately presented to the public in the form of a recall election. Massive amounts of money (Walker outspent the other side by a ratio of about eight to one) paid for massive amounts of televised lies about how the brave governor was only fighting special interests on behalf of the people, and it worked. (Though, let’s be honest here – lots of Wisconsin voters knew exactly the score, and stupidly and self-destructively decided to tear down teachers and nurses and park rangers and the like from their decent middle class living, instead of drawing a line in the sand demanding that everyone to rise up to that modest standard.)
That’s the America of today, and it’s a glimpse of the very near-term future. The formula is pretty simple, really. Wealthy elites who have spent the better part of a century chafing under the unbearable burdens of the New Deal and Great Society (where they are rendered mere billionaires instead of zillionaires) have finally found a way to steal back ‘their’ money. Buy whole political parties, buy the media, buy – therefore – the entire mindset of the country, buy the Supreme Court, dumb down education, especially the study of history, make college prohibitively expensive, repress dissent, create distracting enemies abroad (towelheads) and at home (fags), replace jobs with machines and cheap overseas workers, squeeze the economy so that money is scarce, and divide and conquer the 99 percent, so that those who miraculously still maintain a vestige of decent wages and benefits from an ancient civilization called 20th century America will be resented and torn-down by those already drowning.
You gotta hand it to them, it works pretty well. (Being a sociopath evidently does not correlate at all with poor planning skills. But who knew there were so many amongst us?) As a measure of the sheer success of this project, consider how – even in a moment of crisis – there is nowhere on the horizon a politically viable alternative narrative about what ails the country and how to solve the problem. Sure, there is the odd Paul Krugman around, or Dennis Kucinich (whoops, never mind), but ask yourself this question: Can you name even a single prominent politician across the entire political landscape who is remotely telling the truth about the economic holocaust of American kleptocracy? Indeed, it is truly a measure of the stunning proportions of the overclass’s victory that even a water-carrier as devoted as Barack Obama is labeled a socialist, and both he and the ideas he doesn’t even remotely represent are thoroughly discredited. Even if the answers to the question of what would fix America weren’t manifestly obvious (as in, just do what we used to do before the right came along and dismantled everything), this is a stunning achievement of truly Orwellian proportions: For vast numbers of Americans, real understanding of the problem and real consideration of the solution cannot even be thought of.
It will get far worse before it gets better, if it does. The Wisconsin election was widely and correctly seen as a dry run for November, but in fact November is already as over as is May or April. The hapless Obama people may not have gotten the word, but they are as dead as the unions in Wisconsin that they didn’t bother to support. And Obama will go down in near-term, right-wing renderings of history as another Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile, stupid liberals, who slavishly admired a decidedly right-wing, militarist, ultra-statist, corporate-serving Democratic president, will sit holding their heads in surprise at the damage wrought to the president himself, to his party, and to their cherished liberal principles. Um, sorry, but have y’all been snoozing through Afghanistan and Pakistan? Did you miss the whole presidential-ordered assassinations program? Have you not heard what has happened to whistleblowers? Did you forget the tax cuts and the offer to dismantle Medicare? Have you been watching Fox and not heard about the growth of military spending? Did you not know that the health care bill was co-authored by, and for the benefit of, insurance and pharmaceutical companies? Have you not heard that our ultra-progressive president has done nothing whatsoever about the planetary über-crisis of global warming, other than to open vast new oil drilling fields? Did you not see in action the joy and wonder of Obamaism in 2010, the most devastating election for a political party in half a century, and coming only two years after the total meltdown of the GOP under Bush? Sorry, but this is the SOB you adored and went to the mat for?
This country’s future looks grim in so many ways. You can just feel the doors and windows shutting, one by one. Are we really so far off, given the displays we’ve already seen, from being a corporate-owned polity, in which oceans of Citizens United sponsored propaganda limits the cognitive landscape of an entire country, sham elections and a steady stream of brain-numbing high-def television gruel satisfies most of the (obese) public enough to keep them stuck on their sofas, while a massive police state armed with domestic drone aircraft and angry cops deal swiftly with the few remaining malcontents stupid enough to demand a return to the better country we once knew? You know, more or less a carbon copy of Putin’s Russia, here in North America.
I have no interest whatsoever in being a prophet of doom, but I ask you, is that really so far-fetched? If you look around you honestly today, is it not fair to say that we are pretty much already there? With the partial exception of social policy issues, do you really have any choice at the ballot box? Can anyone say that Democrats in Washington, including the sitting president and the astonishingly narcissistic whore that was Bill Clinton, represent corporate interests any less than Republicans, whatever their pathetic rhetoric? Has US foreign policy gotten even slightly more enlightened since Obama took over from the smirking troglodytes? Do Americans have any idea of what is truly happening to them, as opposed to being fixated on gays, immigrants, foreign bogeymen and spoon-fed celebrity drivel? And were not Occupy activists subjected to pepper spray, mass arrests and wholesale street clearings, even by supposedly liberal mayors and college presidents?
It’s possible, of course, that the end is not nigh after all. Indeed, I see something of a great historical race transpiring in America. On the one hand, the powers of greed are rapidly filling in all the puzzle pieces of their sociopathic conspiracy to own everything, including – yes, really, I’m not kidding – food, water and our very genes. They are relentless, they are rich, and they are talented in ways that would awe and possibly even repulse Machiavelli himself. Oh, and by the way, they are winning, too. Big time. Even when they lose, they win.
On the other hand, demographics are not so favorable to the destruction of the nation. Young people are far more progressive than their scary-stupid and mega-mean grandparents. The good news is that the latter are dying, and the former are taking their place. Moreover, demographic trends are also shifting the racial composition of the electorate. For whatever reason, whites tend to have horrible politics, so the browning of America is also a very good thing. (If we could pull off the same stunt with gender, that would be great news, too, since it indeed turns out that, that’s right, the women are smarter. Better politics through bioengineering, maybe? Soon to come to your local supermarket. Or at least obstetrician.)
We have also seen displays across the globe of Basta!-ism which raise hope. From Russia to Egypt to Israel to Greece to Canada to Wall Street and Santa Monica College, people are standing up and saying Enough! And it works. These schoolyard bullies crushing us are like ... well, schoolyard bullies. Call them out on their blustery braggadocio and watch them fold in the face of real power. True, it doesn’t always happen (see “Wisconsin, State of”), but it does often enough. And there is also the hope that as the plutocrats continue their insatiable campaign to impoverish the rest of us they will go a bridge too far, pushing by their own actions a squawking wholesale resistence out the proverbial birth canal and into being.
Indeed, if there is one bit of transcendent hope left it is that people in this country still seem non-comatose (or perhaps just self-interested) enough so as to make regressives their own worst enemy. Their shit sells well to dummies in campaigns, but it turns out that while you can lie about everything imaginable – right up to nice bearded people in the sky who control everything from war and peace to NFL touchdowns but somehow never seem to appear on Earth – the lies cannot ultimately withstand the laws of political physics. Those lovely pieties and viciously divisive tactics that are so successful at separating idiots from their votes on election day are rather less capable of doing magic tricks thereafter. Regressives may want very badly for Iraqis to lay down and accept American imperialism, but that doesn’t make it happen, and no amount of arrogant bring-it-on blustery by Vietnam-avoiding chickenhawks can change that. They may want voodoo economics to balance the budget, but those pesky mathematical equations keep getting in the damn way. They may tell you that global warming is a hoax, but nevertheless every day the planet gets relentlessly hotter.
In short, time after time there is no better antidote for regressive government than regressive government itself. That’s why the right always and endlessly pays homage to a ridiculously distorted version of Saint Ronald of Reagan, a guy so long departed from the White House that he might as well be James Buchanan as far as most contemporary Americans are concerned. Hmmm. Why not talk about the joys and wonders of George W. Bush, instead, who after all, was far more Reagan than Reagan, and who happened only just yesterday? Perhaps for the same reason that governments pursuing austerity in Europe are falling like dominoes. And also for the same reason that the sweep of regressive state governors brought in by the Obama debacle of Election 2010 are proving so unpopular, including even Scott Walker, who, despite surviving the vote, is only the third governor in all of American history to be subjected to a recall.
Thus, as much as it sickens me to say it, perhaps the best thing that could happen to us could be the election of a Mitt Romney, especially one, as this one is, so completely straightjacketed by the insane elements (that is to say, all of them) of his party. Unless Romney turns out to be very, very lucky, his policies will not only not turn the economy around, but they will saddle the country with vastly more debt than the right has managed to do so far already. It’s possible this could be the tipping point, once and for all, in the race between good demographics and bad demographics, between sanity and insanity. Maybe people will finally get what they’re buying, and start looking for a refund.
On the other hand – and be honest here – wasn’t that just what you were thinking after eight years of Bush and Cheney, the entire last four of which spent with the president’s job approval ratings in the toilet?
I sure as hell was, only to see Republicans (with a lot of help from Obama) win a crushing victory only a mere two years later.
In the end, there may be no bottom to the depths of self-destructive stupidity of which Homo Americanus is capable of stooping.
I’m pretty sure we’re gonna be finding out here, real soon.
Things not going too well in the States then ? Sorry.
Bubbles bursting everywhere. Neoliberalism is a system that is supposed to create bubbles for other people, not for us. It doesnt seem to understand its bubbles are in the wrong fucking place !!
|Guantanamo Bay considered as a Sado-Masochistic board game
I find it impossible not to be struck by the resemblance of prisoners at Camp X-Ray with the participants in an outlandish ritual of domination and submission. They half-kneel on the gravel in their orange nylon uniforms, wrists shackled in front of them, ankles chained together, faces hidden under rubber masks and mouths covered with surgical pads. They are contorted, hobbled, their midriffs and buttocks bulge out from the ill-fitting uniforms. They look like supplicants in front of some insectoid deity. Meanwhile, guards in camouflage fatigues, hair vengefully cropped, stride between them, barking commands.
We see them through the diamond-weave of wire, in their narrow pen, surrounded on all sides by long metal barriers, overhung by razor-coils. All this reinforcement for what? As if they could escape, paralysed as they are by their chains, watched over by men with machine guns, on a remote bluff at the far end of an obscure island, thousands of miles from home. No, these props, this fascia, has to have been built as a stage set for the playing out of some fanatic’s psychodrama. The paradox of fantasy is that its instantiation has to appear as realistic as possible without ever being realised. Because, for the fantasist, the reality destroys the illusion. Not so in the War on Terror. For the leaders and apparatchiks who invented and sanctioned this prison camp, and the brutality that is visited on its inhabitants, the thrill is in the vindicating connection of ideology and action. In the acting out of their repressed dreams of power.
Of course it would not be surprising to learn that the Guantanamo scenario had now become a popular fantasy, that some people liked to imagine being kidnapped, bound and detained in such a facility, interrogated by ruthless ‘contractors’. These kinds of imaginings are common, innocent, if politically tasteless. And this raises the distinct possibility of a sub-genre of BDSM literature, involving the conversion of Guantanamo into a kind of pornographic icon.
But this is to trivialise the very real connection between psychopathic mania and the exercise of political, military and judicial power. The delight of the Sadist is in the suffering of another, an object who is acted upon, controlled, abused, but who is close enough to observe and empathise with. The Sadist enjoys, up to a point, the signals of distress and suffering that come from their partners. The psychopath is unable to interpret them or appreciate them. In his world, there simply is no affective connection. The other is merely an object, to be manipulated, controlled, or killed, not for any vicarious pleasure but out of a confused self-interest. The psychopath is cunning and sophisticated, but illogical. His patterns of thought ultimately unravel because he cannot understand the world around him, or why his attempts to control it fail.
Guantanamo is the product of a psychopathic, paranoid rage, directed at the wild unpredictability of the foreign, the alien, the oriental. It is, ironically enough, an attempt to tidy up, to neaten the world, a kind of penal singularity, a black hole with its own event horizon. It is designed quite literally to take people ‘off the map’, to disappear them, to hold them in a place that is not visible, that is not recognisable, to maroon them forever in a legal vacuum. It is supposed to be out of sight, just as the CIA’s ‘black sites’ are out of sight because no information escapes from them, so that those who are sent there, the untidy, the awkward, are never seen again.
Of course it would be fatuous to deny the real danger that is posed by some of the people who have been detained in this way. But just because they pose a danger does not mean that they can simply be erased from the world. In fact, the opposite is true, and the act of trying to wipe them out undermines their prosecution and the defeat of their ideology and their movements.
Perhaps it is mere coincidence that the aesthetics of Guantanamo bear such a striking resemblance to those of a certain kind of BDSM sub-culture. But with what we know of the deliberate use of physical humiliation in interrogations, the sexual degradation meted out to Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, and the deep fetishization of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ and the rhetoric and mechanics of torture, how can we be so sure? It is part of a pattern of behaviour that, taken together, points to a vast subliminal desire to exert dominance over these captives, to humiliate and punish them in a way that goes beyond simple retribution.
At the centre of power, at the heart of this web of barely-concealed paraphilias, lie the security and military elite of the US Government. The Bush administration, and principally Dick Cheney, is responsible for introducing many of these measures and encouraging many abuses. The zeal of men like Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, their palpable pleasure in the suffering of detainees such as Khaled Sheikh Mohammed in their custody, their almost eagerness to see him tortured and broken, their smarmy amusement at the suggestion that this enhanced interrogation might not be morally excusable, all hint at a perverted eroticism, an intense love of punitive revenge.
It is the joy of the bully, the ecstasy of the insecure and the weak, to see your opponents crushed and destroyed. It borders very closely on a Sadistic delight. Especially when the opponent is, once captured, so puny, so helpless in the brawny arms of the Superpower. Of course, it is quite natural to feel ambivalent or even enthusiastic about the defeat and punishment of your enemy. But the symptoms exhibited by these lions of the neo-conservative movement, these heroes of the Project for the New American Century, are more like the symptoms of a psycho-sexual obssession.
And so it is hardly surprising that the prison they have designed for these ‘detainees’, the conditions they have subjected them to, the micro-management of the regime they live under and the ways in which they are coerced and questioned, the clothes they are made to wear and the positions they are forced to adopt, remind us of the appurtenances of a giant SM establishment. These counters have landed on the heads of snakes, they have slithered down to the bottom of the board, they have been thrown into Prison and they will not pass Go ever again.
It reminds me of a startling bravado statement made by one of the loathsome Coen brothers when during a TV interview they were asked for the "secret of their movie-making success". The response was [paraphrase]: We knew we where onto something big when we realised that the American movie audience is sexually turned-on by cruelty[/i]
A Lethal Hypocrisy
Obama's Robotic Assassins
by VIJAY PRASHAD
"It's drones, baby, drones."
- (former) United States Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, March 2011.
Unmanned U.S. aircraft now routinely fly over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Their cameras record the presence of men in motion. A commander sitting in a base thousands of kilometres away gives the kill order. The U.S. President had previously been over lists of alleged terrorists and marked off those who can be killed. This is the "kill list". If only one person is to be killed, the execution is called a "personality strike". If the drone kills more than one person, it is called a "signature strike".
On September 30, 2011, two U.S. Predator drones fired Hellfire missiles at a car in Yemen's al-Jawf province. The missiles destroyed the car. Among the four dead were two U.S. citizens, the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and the editor of Al Qaeda's English language magazine Inspire, Samir Khan. Two weeks later, on October 14, another U.S. drone fired at a group who were on their way to dinner. Among the 10 dead were 16-year-old Abdul Rahman al-Awlaki, the son of the cleric, and his 17-year-old cousin Abdulrahman.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) estimates that between 2001 and 2012, the U.S. launched about a hundred drone strikes in Yemen, killing between 317 and 826 people. The civilian casualty is estimated to be anywhere between 58 and 138, of them 24 being children. These are all very poor numbers, as the Bureau acknowledges. The U.S. has not released any firm data; indeed the U.S. continues to have an ambiguous attitude regarding its assassination policy. It takes credit for the killings, but does not take responsibility for the programme itself.
In a stinging 29-page report in 2010, former United Nations special representative on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston asked the major powers to lay out the legal limits to extrajudicial assassinations. In a statement that accompanied the report, Alston described the political problem for the U.S.: "I'm particularly concerned that the United States seems oblivious to this fact when it asserts an ever-expanding entitlement for itself to target individuals across the globe. But this strongly asserted but ill-defined licence to kill without accountability is not an entitlement which the United States or other states can have without doing grave damage to the rules designed to protect the right to life and prevent extrajudicial executions." In the quiet rooms of the U.N., such language is rare: it asserted that the continual U.S. use of drones was not only a violation of current norms but a threat to the architecture of conflict resolution and the rules of war.
The BIJ collected data not only from Yemen but also from Pakistan and Somalia. In Pakistan, U.S. drones have killed between 2,462 and 3,145 people, among whom 482 to 830 were civilians (including 175 children). The numbers of those injured are upwards of 3,000. After the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) summit in Chicago, the U.S. struck in Waziristan about seven times (by June 3). In Somalia, the U.S. conducted a handful of drone strikes, with deaths reported in the hundreds (among them three children). The BIJ's method is eclectic; it uses news reports and speeches. These are, therefore, not exact numbers, only indications of a trend. With no information forthcoming from the U.S., there is no way to have better figures.
The first public admission of extrajudicial executions came with the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, and the first public admission of the use of drones came from President Barack Obama in an Internet interview on January 30 this year. Of the drone attacks, Obama said, "This is a targeted, focussed effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases and so on." He said geographical conditions necessitated these attacks. According to him, the alleged terrorists are in a region in Pakistan that is not amenable to a simply military operation. "Obviously a lot of these strikes have been in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and going after Al Qaeda suspects who are up in very tough terrain along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan." The key phrase in his statement was that he had a "list of active terrorists" who could be killed by the unmanned drones.
On May 29, 2012, Jo Becker and Scott Shane of The New York Times confirmed the existence of this "kill list". Two dozen counterterrorism officials meet every Tuesday in the White House Situation Room to go over the "kill list", a scroll of names with biographies distilled onto "baseball cards". These lists are derived after a lengthy process. Once a week, a hundred members of the national security apparatus gather to study the biographies of suspects and to recommend who should be put on the kill list. "This secret 'nominations' process is an invention of the Obama administration," write Becker and Shane, "a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected
members of Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia's Shabab militia.. A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] focusses largely on Pakistan, where that agency conducts strikes." The nominated go onto the kill list that Obama and his counterterrorism chief John Brennan study and approve. Obama personally "signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan - about a third of the total."
Obama came to office promising to end the illegal aspects of the War on Terror. He campaigned against the extraordinary rendition programme and promised to shut down both the "black prisons" and the Guantanamo detention camp in Cuba. A concern for legality motivated some of these rhetorical gestures. Obama suggested that he was worried about the civilian casualties - not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they had begun to add up to totals that boggled the mind, but also through aerial strikes against alleged terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and eastern Africa.
On January 22, 2009, a few days after he took over as President, Obama gave orders for a strike in Pakistan. The first strike from a Predator drone hit two houses in the village of Zharki in Waziristan. It killed 10 people. A second attack, a few hours later, struck another village in Waziristan and killed eight. Most of those dead were civilians. The President apparently asked his advisers: "I want to know how this happened." The CIA promised to be more precise in its targets. Their claims of "precision" were overblown. Civilians (including children) continue to fall victim to the drone strikes.
As a result of the failure to target the alleged terrorists better, the Obama team has now come up with a unique method to define the kill zone. The administration "counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants," note Becker and Shane, "unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent." This is a remarkable standard. Anyone near an alleged terrorist is now a terrorist. The only way to know if they are terrorists or not is after they are dead. It is because of this that the Obama team accepts very low numbers for civilian deaths (as collateral damage).
This extraordinary standard makes it impossible for anyone to be a non-terrorist at the moment of the strike. This is the reason why after a strike the officials call everyone who has been killed a militant. It is also the reason why U.S. Foreign Service officials are bewildered by the new policy. The U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, apparently complained that he "didn't realise his main job was to kill people".
Extending the use of drones into uncharted territory matches another inflation of arms in the Obama presidency. Since 2006, the U.S. has experimented with cyberwarfare, notably against Iran. In his new book Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power (Crown Books, June 2012), the journalist David Sanger details the use of cyberweapons such as the Stuxnet. Once more in the White House Situation Room, Obama goes over detailed plans to strike at the Iranian nuclear production facilities and its grid with the scientists who planned this operation called Olympic Games. "From his first days in office," a senior administration official told Sanger, "he was deep into every step in slowing the Iranian programme - the diplomacy, the sanctions, every major decision. And it's safe to say that whatever other activity might have been under way was no exception to the rule." In other words, the President was at the centre of the cyberwar against Iran, including against the Natanz site in the summer of 2010. At the time, the U.S. denied use of cyberweapons, just as it now denies that the Flame virus is its invention. Several participants in the Situation Room meetings told Sanger that Obama "was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s, of intercontinental missiles in the 1950s and of drones in the past decade. He repeatedly expressed concerns that any American acknowledgment that it was using cyberweapons - even under the most careful and limited circumstances - could enable other countries, terrorists or hackers to justify their own attacks."
The use of drones and cyberweapons is significant because they allow the U.S. to use these lethal methods without a formal declaration of war. The U.S. denies that it is at war in Iran, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and yet it uses deadly technology to kill and maim. It is this technology that enables the U.S. to flout the rules of war and its own constitutional provisions that mandates Congressional approval for war-making. Drones and cyberworms befuddle the certainties of the existing laws of war. The U.S. has the political power to use these weapons (from atomic bombs to cyberworms) first before it gets sanctimonious about how they must be used and who must have access to them.
With infinite complacency, the U.S. administration has stretched and broken the rules of war, settling its little affairs in the name of a justice that is regularly undermined. Kill lists, signature kills, personality kills, beacons, electronic moats: a new vocabulary for a dangerous and destabilising new kind of warfare. With moral outrage, the U.S. turns against terrorists who use roadside bombs and suicide vests but reserves little of that moral fire to turn against aerial bombs and cybershocks. The hypocrisy sits uneasily on the surface. A senior U.S. official recognised this, but did not use the word "hypocrisy" to describe it. He used the word "irony".
Vijay Prashad's new book, Arab Spring, Libyan Winter , is published by AK Press.
Sadly, American culture, almost from its inception, has glorified heroes based on their callous brutality and disregard for life. At the time of the founding of America, that may not have been an uncommon sentiment elsewhere. But the world (at least the European world) changed and America did not. It is now a common expectation that an American President must act like a cheap thug, using massive power against defenceless people, and bypassing the requirement for any judicial process. Its enough to mumble "Godblessmurka". Last night, I watched Edgar J, Clint Eastwood's masterly portrayal of one of the most deranged and psychotic people ever to hold power in America. It was blood-chilling, especially the treatment of his kitsch personality (the fact that he was most excited by how he was portrayed in patriotic comic books). While Obama doesnt share Hoover's intellectual vacuity, he is no better. Just the latest in a series of cowboys in the white house.
Is this depraved, or what.
|Obama Redefines ‘Militants’ to Mean ‘All Military-Age Males’ in Deceptive Attempt to Avoid Counting Civilian Deaths
On Tuesday, the world learned all about President Barack Obama’s “kill list” of suspected terrorists, some of them just teenagers, targeted for assassination by unmanned aerial drone strikes. A lengthy New York Times piece by Jo Becker and Scott Shane detailed the supposedly painstaking process by which the commander-in-chief personally signs off on these targeted killings.
But buried about halfway into the story was the alarming revelation that the president has “embraced a disputed method” for counting innocent civilians killed in US air strikes, by which “all military-age males in a strike zone” are counted as combatants “unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” According to the Times, “several administration officials” confirmed this method’s use.
“Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good,” wrote Becker and Shane.
This speculative and highly deceptive counting method could explain why Pentagon and administration officials are able to get away with claims of unbelievably low civilian death tolls.
At times, these claims have been proven to be outright lies. Such was the case with John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism czar and director of the National Counterterrorism Center under former President George W. Bush. In his capacity as the latter, he supported and defended the torture of terror suspects. But that’s not what we’re here to discuss. Speaking about US drone strikes in Pakistan last June, Brennan claimed that “in the last year, there hasn’t been a single death because of the exceptional proficiency [and] precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.”
“If there are terrorists who are within an area where there are women and children or others, you know, we do not take such action that might put those innocent men, women and children in danger,” he added.
As Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism thoroughly investigated Brennan’s claim and found it to be completely false. The London-based group counted at least 10 different US drone strikes in which no less than 45 civilians perished during Brennan’s so-called “casualty-free” year.
As Greenwald also notes, the Obama administration practice of counting all military-age males as militants has already been exposed as a lie. When a US drone strike in Yemen killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old Colorado native whose terrorist father Anwar had been assassinated two weeks earlier, Pentagon officials and much of the corporate mainstream US media called the teen– who was an innocent bystander– a “militant.”
The alarming practice of counting all military-aged men as militants is disturbingly reminiscent of the US rules of engagement in operations like the multiple attempts to gain control of the Iraqi city of Fallujah, where American forces surrounded the city and refused to allow any males between the ages of 15 and 55 to leave.
“We were told… that every single person that was walking, talking, breathing was an enemy combatant,” Iraq war veteran Jeff Englehart told Democracy Now! “As such, every single person that was walking down the street or in a house was a target.” Hundreds of innocent civilians perished.
The method embraced by the president also harkens back to the Vietnam War, when US troops operating in “free-fire zones” were free to fire upon anyone they pleased. During the particularly brutal Phoenix Program, in which tens of thousands of innocent civilians were tortured and killed by US forces, Navy SEALs led by future Nebraska governor and US Senator Bob Kerrey slit the throats of unarmed women and children huddled in terror in a village hut. With logic not unlike that of Obama’s “all military-age males in a strike zone must be up to no good” hypothesis, CIA operative Robert Ramsdell, who was instrumental in planning the 1968 massacre of 504 civilians at My Lai, declared that “anyone in that area was considered a VC sympathizer because they couldn’t survive… unless they were sympathizers.”
The latest revelations about Obama’s willingness to deceive the American public, and the world, about the nature– and number– of those killed in the US-led War on Terror gives lie to the president’s claims that he, and our military leaders, really care about the lives of the innocent people in places being invaded, occupied or bombed by US forces. If the administration officials who blew the whistle on the deplorable Obama practice of counting all military-age males as miltants are brave enough to identify themselves, we could have proof that the president may be guilty of war crimes. And that would make him but the latest in a long procession of US presidents going back at least as far as Franklin D. Roosevelt to wear that ugly moniker.
An interesting article by Noam Chomsky (in two parts) which discusses the erosion of rights in the US and the UK and the subsequent effect this has in these countries and the wider world:
I found the second part more interesting and as some of the comments under the first part point out Chomsky appears to ignore the point that the Magna Carta was really about protecting the rights of the nobility than the commoners but the essay as a whole is still thought provoking and worth reading in my opinion.
Some interesting points as ever from Chomsky, but i also fail to understand the link between Magna Carta and his articles.
Saw an interesting debate on RT yesterday regards starting a third political party in the US that will truly represent democracy and the US people. Speaking for this was Roseanne Barr late of US TV sitcom fame who is now a political activist on the left. As we have pointed out in these pages on many occasions, she spoke out against the wall street bankers and corporates, and how they fund both the republicans and democrats. As well as a political system that assures the status quo by making it impossible for non millionaires to actually stand for the presidency. Public funded political parties and a genuine left of centre voice for american people she argued was imperative for the continuation of democracy. That argument is also valid now in the UK, as we see the same democratic erosion of our society.
There is a monument to the Great Charter in the UK donated by Americans. I have stood next to it more than once. It is clear from reading the inscription that they misunderstand what it was really all about. It gives us an insight into what counts as liberty in the USA.
At the time the Magna Carta was of huge significance - and as a consequence it contributed to the way history has developed. And I suppose as an inspirational concept it was important in US history too. But to use it as a starting point for now does appear a bit clumsy and remote. It would have been simpler and more direct to just ephasise the recent erosion of habeas corpus (both in the US and here) without having to veer off into English medieval history.
I suspect Roseanne Barr won't be getting much media coverage back home!
Listening to Roseanne Barr yesterday then hearing Mitt Romney really is galling, and only proves the point of money talking in politics. Roseanne was articulate on her subject and the unfairness of US society. While Romney calls Ed Miliband Mr leader, talks nonsense to the media, alienates Boris Johnson and David Cameron, then boasts about his wife's olympic horse. I'm sure the only sympathy Romney has actually had is from Blair, who no doubt agreed that the next war should be against Iran.
Carl Lewis commenting on Mitt Romney and why some americans should never leave their country. I would just like to add that some americans should also never stand for presidential elections. Could it be that Mitt is a male version of Sara Palin? but barclays bank don't care they've just donated some cash for his campaign.
They obviously do care.
I wonder what they specifically want in return?
The absence of Obama who is known for being a dangerous Red.
Either that or he has his current account at another bank!
Its being reported that Romney supports air srtikes against Iran and its nuclear facilities if he becomes president. Hopefully the US people will reject this rhetoric and the right wing's war mongering stance. This man is a continuation of Bush's wars and obviously agrees with the regime change strategies of that odious administration.
A reminder of Bush's target countries, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Iran, Sudan, Yemen with aggressive foreign policy towards China, Russia and Pakistan. This is highly dangerous and is a menace to peace and stability in the world, increases the arms race and hunt for nuclear capability to groups like al qaeda. Arms manufacturers and certain financial institutions who only care about profit will no doubt welcome this. Lets hope that even in the US people are sick of warfare and tell Romney to go back to salt lake city.
Didn't he used to be a liberal ?
Is this the biggest show of foreign policy ignorance since George W Bush, or just a dumb schmuck let loose, this man was a corporate CEO, what does that say about free market capitalism?
The republican double act that is so blatantly business as usual for war and corporate profit it makes Ronald Reagan look plausable.
Further proof if it was ever needed that Mitt Romney is as competent politically as a chocolate teapot.
Is it any wonder that the corporate world is destroying our planet, and that bankers have caused a world wide recession. This man was a CEO and a banker, need i say more. The Obama campaign simply need to offer one slogan to win, namely "if you think our man is bad, take a look at the opposition".
Pretty bad for democracy, but that has been on the wain for years.
Yet another western election where the victor will succeed more by default than by design or merit...
Business as usual in US and UK political funding with democracy again the loser.
Here’s how we can defeat political corruption of the kind that’s destroying US democracy.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 30th October 2012.
It’s a revolting spectacle: the two presidential candidates engaged in a frantic and demeaning scramble for money. By November 6th, Obama and Romney will each have raised over $1bn(1). Other groups have already spent a further billion(2). Every election costs more than the one before; every election, as a result, drags the US deeper into cronyism and corruption. Whichever candidate takes the most votes, it’s the money that wins.
Is it conceivable, for example, that Mitt Romney, whose top five donors are all Wall Street banks(3), would put the financial sector back in its cage? Or that Barack Obama, who has received over $700,000 from both Microsoft and Google(4), would challenge their monopolistic powers? Or, in the Senate, that the leading climate change denier James Inhofe, whose biggest donors are fossil fuel companies, could change his views, even when confronted by an overwhelming weight of evidence?(5) The US feeding frenzy shows how the safeguards and structures of a nominal democracy can remain in place while the system they define mutates into plutocracy.
Despite perpetual attempts to reform it, US campaign finance is now more corrupt and corrupting than it has been for decades. It is hard to see how it can be redeemed. If the corporate cronies and billionaires’ bootlickers who currently hold office were to vote to change the system, they’d commit political suicide. What else, apart from the money they spend, would recommend them to the American people?
But we should see this system as a ghastly warning of what happens if a nation fails to purge the big money from politics. Ours, by comparison to the US system, looks almost cute. Total campaign spending in the last general election – by the parties, the candidates and independent groups – was £58m(6): about one sixtieth of the cost of the current presidential race. There’s a cap on overall spending and tough restrictions on political advertising.
But it’s still rotten. There is no limit on individual donations. In a system with low total budgets, this grants tremendous leverage to the richest donors. The political parties know that if they do anything which offends the interests of corporate power they jeopardise their prospects.
The solutions proposed by parliament would make our system a little less rotten. At the end of last year, the Committee on Standards in Public Life proposed that donations should be capped at an annual £10,000, the limits on campaign spending should be reduced, and public funding for political parties should be raised(7). Parties, it says, should receive a state subsidy based on the size of their vote at the last election.
The political process would still be dominated by people with plenty of disposable income. In the course of a five-year election cycle, a husband and wife would be allowed to donate, from the same bank account, £100,000(. State funding pegged to votes at the last election favours the incumbent parties. It means that even when public support for a party has collapsed (think of the LibDems), it still receives a popularity bonus.
Even so, and despite their manifesto pledges(9), the three major parties have refused to accept the committee’s findings. The excuse all of them use is that the state cannot afford more funding for political parties(10). This is a ridiculous objection. The money required is scarcely a rounding error in national accounts. It probably represents less than we pay every day for the crony capitalism the current system encourages: the unnecessary spending on the private finance initiative, on roads to nowhere(11), on the Trident programme(12) and all the rest, whose primary purpose is to keep the one per cent sweet. The overall cost of our suborned political process is incalculable: a corrupt and inefficient economy and a political system engineered to meet not the needs of the electorate, but the demands of big business and billionaires.
I would go much further than the parliamentary committee. This, I think, is what a democratic funding system would look like. Each party would be able to charge the same, modest fee for membership (perhaps £50). It would then receive matching funding from the state, as a multiple of its membership receipts. There would be no other sources of income. (Membership-based funding would make brokerage by trade unions redundant).
This system, I believe, would not only clean up politics, it would also force parties to re-engage with the public. It would oblige them to be more entrepreneurial in raising their membership, and therefore their democratic legitimacy. It creates an incentive for voters to join a party and to begin, once more, to participate in politics(13).
The cost to the public would be perhaps £50m a year(14), or a little over £1 per elector: three times the price of a telephone vote on the X-Factor(15). This, on the scale of state expenditure, is microscopic.
Both politicians and the tabloid press would complain bitterly about this system, claiming, as they already do, that taxpayers cannot afford to fund politics. But when you look at how the appeasement of the banking sector has ruined the economy, at how corporate muscle prevents action from being taken on climate change, at the economic and political distortions caused by the system of crony capitalism, and at the hideous example on the other side of the Atlantic, you discover that we can’t afford not to.
6. See Figure 19, Committee on Standards in Public Life, November 2011. Political party finance: ending the big donor culture. http://www.public-standards.gov.u...ce_FINAL_PDF_VERSION_18_11_11.pdf
7. Committee on Standards in Public Life, November 2011. Political party finance: ending the big donor culture. http://www.public-standards.gov.u...ce_FINAL_PDF_VERSION_18_11_11.pdf
8. The Committee says “it would be reasonable to allow spouses or partners each to donate up to £10,000 [per annum], even if the money comes from the same bank account.”
9. Figure 4 of the committee’s report quotes the commitments in the manifestos of the three main parties.
10. “The Conservative party co-chairman Baroness Warsi said: “the public will simply not accept a plan to hand over almost £100m of taxpayers’ money to politicians”(‘Reform party funding or politics will sink in sleaze, says watchdog’, The Independent, 23 November 2011); the Liberal Democrat president, Tim Farron MP, said: “While it is clear now is not the time for more public money to be spent on politicians, that shouldn’t stop us taking immediate action to reform political funding”(‘Political parties ‘should get more taxpayer funding”, BBC News online, 22 November 2011); and Michael Dugher MP, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, said: “In the current economic environment, we recognise that a significant increase in state funding for political parties is not a priority and any such measure would need to command broad public support” (‘Labour: Tories wouldn’t accept party funding cap’, Politics.co.uk, 22 November 2011).” http://www.publications.parliamen...cmselect/cmpolcon/1763/176304.htm
13. Membership of political parties has declined, in total, to 420,000, about one seventh of what it was in 1965. Committee on Standards in Public Life, November 2011, as above.
14. The committee reports that “Over the last decade the spending of the three main parties in total averaged £68 million a year. The smaller parties spent a fraction of that.”
Monbiot makes avery good case here Brian. At the very least individual donations should be limited.
|Cleveland anarchist bomb plot aided and abetted by the FBI
Rather than target real risks of domestic terror, like neo-Nazis, the FBI entrapment machine demonises anarchists and Muslims
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 28 November 2012
On 20 November, district court Judge David D Dowd Jr sentenced three anarchists with the Occupy Cleveland movement to prison terms ranging from 8 to 11.5 years for attempting to bomb a highway bridge last spring. US Attorney Steven Dettelbach trumpeted the successful prosecution:
"These defendants were found to have engaged in terrorist activities … These sentences should send a message that when individuals decide to endanger the safety of our community, they will be held to account."
Dettelbach, however, was trying to spin the judge's ruling that, in fact, rebuked the government. Dowd handed down far shorter sentences than the prosecutor sought, reportedly saying that the proposed prison terms were "grotesque" and "doesn't make any sense whatsoever". The prosecution had asked for sentences of 30, 25 and 19 years, respectively, for Douglas Wright, 27, Brandon Baxter, 20, and Connor Stevens, 20, in the failed plot to use plastic explosives to topple the Route 82 bridge spanning Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley National Park on 30 April 2012.
The prosecution was banking on decades-long sentences after negotiating a minimum of nearly 16 years for co-defendant Anthony Hayne, 35, in exchange for his testimony against his four associates. Hayne, who pled guilty 25 July on three charges, was told he would serve half the time of the other defendants. Dowd's decision sent Hayne's lawyer scrambling the same day to withdraw the guilty plea, with sentencing now set for 30 November. (The fifth man caught in the plot, Joshua Stafford, 23, is being evaluated for mental competency.)
After Hayne agreed to testify, Wright, Baxter and Stevens accepted guilty pleas 5 September, gambling that Dowd would reduce their sentences based on mitigating factors. But this nixed the defense plan to argue entrapment, detailing how Shaquille Azir, a paid FBI informant with a 20-year criminal record, facilitated every step in the plot.
Azir molded the five's childish bravado and drunken fantasies into terrorism. He played father figure to the lost men, providing them with jobs, housing, beer and drugs. Every time the scheme threatened to collapse into gutterpunk chaos, he kept it on track.
FBI tapes reveal Azir led the brainstorming of targets, showed them bridges to case out, pushed them to buy C-4 military-grade explosives, provided the contact for weapons, gave them money for the explosives and demanded they develop a plan because "we on the hook" for the weapons. At one point, Azir burst out in frustration at their ineptitude: "every time we meet, we leave saying, we're doing some research. And then get back together and go back to square one."
This case could have put on trial the post-September 11 strategy of "preventative prosecution", in which the FBI dispatches provocateurs to infiltrate targeted religious and political groups to see what they can stir up. The targeting is not based on who are the main domestic terrorist threats, such as neo-Nazis preparing to start a race war, and violent anti-abortion fanatics. The threat assessment singles out the already-demonized, such as Muslims. Jeanne Theoharis, professor of political science at Brooklyn College and co-founder of Educators for Civil Liberties, says:
"There's a tremendous amount of violent Christian religious speech in our airwaves and that's considered protected. It sounds very different to the government if the speaker is a Muslim."
Similarly, anarchists are inherently suspect. A recent FBI document calls anarchists "criminals seeking an ideology to justify their activities", warning they were engaged in "experimentation with new tactics, weapons … leading up to 2012 conventions". This tone pervades the government case against Wright, Baxter and Stevens. It claims the "brothers-in-arms" were united in "hatred of the government, and shared anarchist background" and had already decided "to carry out an attack that would, in their minds, lead to a larger civil war".
Pardiss Kebriaei, a senior attorney specializing in national security at the Center for Constitutional Rights, claims standard operating procedure in terror cases "starts with surveillance and profiling on the basis of religion, politics and national origin". She notes parallels between the Cleveland anarchists and the "Newburgh Four", named for the upstate New York town in which the plot was hatched. The Guardian reported they were convicted in 2010 "of an Islamic terrorist plot to blow up Jewish synagogues and shoot down military jets with missiles", and described them as "beset by drug, criminal and mental health issues". Kebriaei says the four men "are from the poorest community in New York, and the government was exploiting their needs".
The Cleveland anarchists are cut from the same cloth. Lea Tolls, 47, a self-described "Occu-mom", says, "Except for [Stevens] they were destitute. They are angry, some have mental illnesses, and there is alcoholism and abuse in their families." The FBI dispatched Azir to an Occupy Cleveland event on 21 October 2011, "based on an initial report of potential criminal activity and threats involving anarchists". Terry Gilbert, Stevens' defense attorney, questions why the feds would send "a plant into a peaceful demonstration with a very ambiguous claim of criminal behavior. Once you get an informant in there, they have every motive to get a case. They are trying to make money or are working off a criminal case."
This profile fits Azir to a T: he has filed nine bankruptcy petitions in 12 years and was indicted twice during the investigation for passing bad checks. It also fits the FBI plant in the Newburgh case, Shahed Hussain, a convicted fraudster who became an FBI asset in return for Etch-a-Sketching away his legal problems and for $100,000 in expenses and wages.
In a memo dated 14 November, Judge Dowd undercut the rationale for the investigation. The FBI's first report from Azir stated that Doug Wright and a group of white males at the Occupy Cleveland event "were expressing displeasure at the crowd's unwillingness to act violently". In actuality, Dowd found that Baxter and Wright "joined the others in the nonviolent approach".
Dowd also rejected the Bureau's description of Wright as being in the "planning phase" to topple a bank sign from a 947-foot-tall skyscraper in downtown Cleveland, finding that he was merely expressing his "fascination with the idea of pulling pranks by using spray paint, stink bombs and smoke bombs which he heard about in the Anarchist's Cookbook". Dowd noted as well that Azir "facilitated the criminal conduct of the defendants".
The Newburgh defense counsel, like the Cleveland attorneys, determined that entrapment offered the best chance of acquitting their clients. If they succeed, it will be the first time since 9/11 that entrapment has beaten a terror rap. Kebriaei says:
"Legally, entrapment is a very narrow and very difficult defense. It is very difficult for anyone to succeed in front of a jury if you're accused of terrorism in this country."
Entrapment turns on the question: were the accused predisposed toward violence? That's why the government wants to equate Islam with terror and anarchism with anti-state violence: once the ideas are planted in the public's mind, it can wave the red flags and prejudice the whole case. Theoharis says:
"Judges are not willing to challenge the government because if you take a bold stand that can mean you're not going to move up."
District court Judge Colleen McMahon blasted the government's conduct in the Newburgh Four, saying:
"Only the government could have made a terrorist out of Mr Cromitie, a man whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in its scope."
But, says Theoharis, the judge "wasn't actually willing to do anything courageous". Dowd didn't go out on a limb either, applying terrorism enhancement charges in a pre-sentence hearing, though Gilbert says he interprets this as a tactical move. "Dowd wanted to craft a reasonable sentence that gave the government less opportunity to challenge it on appeal."
The result, however is that the FBI continues to run rampant. To stop entrapment, says Kebriaei:
"The first step is more scrutiny of the process and how these convictions are coming about. Exposing these cases may effect prosecutorial and police practices in terms of targeting people."
The Newburgh and Cleveland cases may eventually turn out to be a nail in the coffin of the FBI's entrapment strategy. But it comes at the cost of nine men losing decades of their lives and nine devastated families. There are hundreds more cases like these ones, and no one knows how many still to come.
• For information on how to contact Brandon Baxter, Joshua Stafford, Connor Stevens and Douglas Wright, see cleveland4solidarity.org. For the Newburgh Four, see projectsalam.org
This case is indeed shocking but nonetheless not surprising, infiltration by government agencies and the police for agent provocateur purposes is nothing new. However as we saw in the UK with police wasting resources infiltrating green, peace and anti capitalism groups. The question that remains is, why are these groups being targeted and branded as "terrorists" while others are not? Again possibly because the so called "war on terror" has been used as a great excuse to tarnish any non neo liberal or anti aggressive foreign policy voices. Which again the left warned would happen when Bush and Blair brought these draconian laws into statute.
Drone strikes are killing innocent civilians, and it is the continuation of terror tactics that were learned and evolved from US policy against native americans and beyond, now with a 21st technology.
George Monbiot's very good take on this terrible tactic.
Some dead children are mourned; others are dehumanised.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 17th December 2012
“Mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts … These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”(1) Every parent can connect with what Barack Obama said about the murder of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut. There can scarcely be a person on earth with access to the media who is untouched by the grief of the people of that town.
It must follow that what applies to the children murdered there by a deranged young man also applies to the children murdered in Pakistan by a sombre American president. These children are just as important, just as real, just as deserving of the world’s concern. Yet there are no presidential speeches or presidential tears for them; no pictures on the front pages of the world’s newspapers; no interviews with grieving relatives; no minute analysis of what happened and why.
If the victims of Mr Obama’s drone strikes are mentioned by the state at all, they are discussed in terms which suggest that they are less than human. The people who operate the drones, Rolling Stone magazine reports, describe their casualties as “bug splats”, “since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.”(2) Or they are reduced to vegetation: justifying the drone war, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser Bruce Riedel explained that “you’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.”(3)
Like Bush’s government in Iraq, Barack Obama’s administration neither documents nor acknowledges the civilian casualties of the CIA’s drone strikes in north-west Pakistan. But a report by the law schools at Stanford and New York universities suggests that during the first three years of his time in office, the 259 strikes for which he is ultimately responsible killed between 297 and 569 civilians, of whom 64 were children(4). These are figures extracted from credible reports: there may be more which have not been fully documented.
The wider effects on the children of the region have been devastating. Many have been withdrawn from school because of fears that large gatherings of any kind are being targeted. There have been several strikes on schools since George W Bush launched the drone programme that Obama has expanded so enthusiastically: one of Bush’s blunders killed 69 children(5).
The study reports that children scream in terror when they hear the sound of a drone. A local psychologist says that their fear and the horrors they witness is causing permanent mental scarring. Children wounded in drone attacks told the researchers that they are too traumatised to go back to school and have abandoned hopes of the careers they might have had: their dreams as well as their bodies have been broken(6).
Obama does not kill children deliberately. But their deaths are an inevitable outcome of the way his drones are deployed. We don’t know what emotional effect these deaths might have on him, as neither he nor his officials will discuss the matter: almost everything to do with the CIA’s extrajudicial killings in Pakistan is kept secret. But you get the impression that no one in the administration is losing much sleep over it.
Two days before the murders in Newtown, Obama’s press secretary was asked about women and children being killed by drones in Yemen and Pakistan. He refused to answer, on the grounds that such matters are “classified”(7). Instead, he directed the journalist to a speech by John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism assistant. Brennan insists that “al-Qaida’s killing of innocents, mostly Muslim men, women and children, has badly tarnished its appeal and image in the eyes of Muslims”(. He appears unable to see that the drone war has done the same for the United States. To Brennan the people of north-west Pakistan are neither insects nor grass: his targets are a “cancerous tumour”, the rest of society “the tissue around it”. Beware of anyone who describes a human being as something other than a human being.
Yes, he conceded, there is occasionally a little “collateral damage”, but the US takes “extraordinary care [to] ensure precision and avoid the loss of innocent life.” It will act only if there’s “an actual ongoing threat” to American lives(9). This is cock and bull with bells on.
The “signature strike” doctrine developed under Obama, which has no discernable basis in law, merely looks for patterns(10). A pattern could consist of a party of unknown men carrying guns (which scarcely distinguishes them from the rest of the male population of north-west Pakistan), or a group of unknown people who look as if they might be plotting something. This is how wedding and funeral parties get wiped out; this is why 40 elders discussing royalties from a chromite mine were blown up in March last year(11). It is one of the reasons why children continue to be killed.
Obama has scarcely mentioned the drone programme and has said nothing about its killing of children. The only statement I can find is a brief and vague response during a videoconference last January(12). The killings have been left to others to justify. In October the Democratic cheerleader Joe Klein claimed on MSNBC that “the bottom line in the end is whose 4 year-old get killed? What we’re doing is limiting the possibility that 4 year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror.”(13) As the estimable Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, killing 4 year-olds is what terrorists do(14). It doesn’t prevent retaliatory murders; it encourages them, as grief and revenge are often accomplices.
Most of the world’s media, which has rightly commemorated the children of Newtown, either ignores Obama’s murders or accepts the official version that all those killed are “militants”. The children of north-west Pakistan, it seems, are not like our children. They have no names, no pictures, no memorials of candles and flowers and teddy bears. They belong to the other: to the non-human world of bugs and grass and tissue.
“Are we,” Obama asked on Sunday, “prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”(15) It’s a valid question. He should apply it to the violence he is visiting on the children of Pakistan.
Looks like the land of the free is choosing who actually fits into that category these days.
If assassinating suspects makes sense overseas, why not at home?
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 4th June 2013
Did the FBI execute Ibragim Todashev? He appears to have been shot seven times while being interviewed at his home in Orlando, Florida about his connection to one of the Boston bombing suspects.. Among the shots was the assassin’s hallmark: a bullet to the back of the head(1). What kind of an interview was it?
An irregular one. There was no lawyer present. It was not recorded(2). By the time Todashev was shot, he had apparently been interrogated by three agents for five hours(3). And then? Who knows? First, we were told, he lunged at them with a knife(4). How he acquired it, five hours into a police interview, was not explained. How he posed such a threat while recovering from a knee operation also remains perplexing.
At first he drew the knife while being interviewed. Then he acquired it during a break from the interview(5). Then it ceased to be a knife and became a sword, then a pipe, then a metal pole, then a broomstick, then a table, then a chair(6,7,. In one account all the agents were in the room at the time of the attack, in another, all but one had mysteriously departed, leaving the remaining officer to face his assailant alone.
If – and it remains a big if – this was an extrajudicial execution, it was one of hundreds commissioned by US agencies since Barack Obama first took office. The difference in this case is that it took place on American soil. Elsewhere, suspects are bumped off without even the right to the lawyerless interview Ibragim Todashev was given.
In his speech two days after Todashev was killed, President Obama maintained that “our commitment to Constitutional principles has weathered every war”(9). But he failed to explain which Constitutional principles permit him to authorise the killing of people in nations with which the United States is not at war. When his Attorney General, Eric Holder, tried to do so last year, he got himself into a terrible mess, ending with the extraordinary claim that “’due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same … the Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.”(10) So what is due process if it doesn’t involve the courts? Whatever the president says it is?
Er, yes. In the same speech Obama admitted for the first time that four US citizens have been killed by US drone strikes in other countries. In the next sentence he said “I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process.”(11) This suggests he believes that the legal rights of those four people had been respected before they were killed.
Given that they might not even have known that they were accused of the alleged crimes for which they were executed, that they had no opportunities to contest the charges, let alone be granted judge or jury, this suggests that the former law professor’s interpretation of constitutional rights is somewhat elastic. If Obama and his nameless advisers say someone is a terrorist, he stands convicted and can be put to death.
Left hanging in his speech is the implication that non-US citizens may be executed without even the pretence of due process. The many hundreds killed by drone strikes (who, civilian or combatant, retrospectively become terrorists by virtue of having been killed in a US anti-terrorism operation) are afforded no rights even in principle(12,13).
As the process of decision-making remains secret, as the US government refuses even to acknowledge – let alone to document or investigate – the killing by its drones of people who patently had nothing to do with terrorism or any other known crime, miscarriages of justice are not just a risk emerging from the deployment of the president’s kill-list. They are an inevitable outcome. Under the Obama doctrine, innocent until proved guilty has mutated to innocent until proved dead.
The president made his rejection of habeas corpus and his assumption of a godlike capacity for judgement explicit later in the speech, while discussing another matter. How, he wondered, should the US deal with detainees in Guantanamo Bay “who we know have participated in dangerous plots or attacks, but who cannot be prosecuted – for example because the evidence against them has been compromised or is inadmissible in a court of law”? If the evidence has been compromised or is inadmissable, how can he know that they have participated? He can suspect, he can allege, but he cannot know until his suspicion has been tested in a court of law.
Global powers have an antisocial habit of bringing their work back home. The British government, for example, imported some of the methods it used against its colonial subjects to suppress domestic protests and strikes. Once an administrative class becomes accustomed to treating foreigners as if they have no rights, and once the domestic population broadly accepts their justifications, it is almost inevitable that the habit migrates from one arena into another. If hundreds of people living abroad can be executed by US agents on no more than suspicion, should we be surprised if residents of the United States began to be treated the same way?
A unjustifiable abuse of power which further damages the reputation of the US.
|On whistleblowers and government threats of investigation
No healthy democracy can endure when the most consequential acts of those in power remain secret and unaccountable
guardian.co.uk, Friday 7 June 2013
We followed Wednesday's story about the NSA's bulk telephone record-gathering with one yesterday about the agency's direct access to the servers of the world's largest internet companies. I don't have time at the moment to address all of the fallout because - to borrow someone else's phrase - I'm Looking Forward to future revelations that are coming (and coming shortly), not Looking Backward to ones that have already come.
But I do want to make two points. One is about whistleblowers, and the other is about threats of investigations emanating from Washington:
1) Ever since the Nixon administration broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychoanalyst's office, the tactic of the US government has been to attack and demonize whistleblowers as a means of distracting attention from their own exposed wrongdoing and destroying the credibility of the messenger so that everyone tunes out the message. That attempt will undoubtedly be made here.
I'll say more about all that shortly, but for now: as these whistleblowing acts becoming increasingly demonized ("reprehensible", declared Director of National Intelligence James Clapper yesterday), please just spend a moment considering the options available to someone with access to numerous Top Secret documents.
They could easily enrich themselves by selling those documents for huge sums of money to foreign intelligence services. They could seek to harm the US government by acting at the direction of a foreign adversary and covertly pass those secrets to them. They could gratuitously expose the identity of covert agents.
None of the whistleblowers persecuted by the Obama administration as part of its unprecedented attack on whistleblowers has done any of that: not one of them. Nor have those who are responsible for these current disclosures.
They did not act with any self-interest in mind. The opposite is true: they undertook great personal risk and sacrifice for one overarching reason: to make their fellow citizens aware of what their government is doing in the dark. Their objective is to educate, to democratize, to create accountability for those in power.
The people who do this are heroes. They are the embodiment of heroism. They do it knowing exactly what is likely to be done to them by the planet's most powerful government, but they do it regardless. They don't benefit in any way from these acts. I don't want to over-simplify: human beings are complex, and usually act with multiple, mixed motives. But read this outstanding essay on this week's disclosures from The Atlantic's security expert, Bruce Schneier, to understand why these brave acts are so crucial.
Those who step forward to blow these whistles rarely benefit at all. The ones who benefit are you. You discover what you should know but what is hidden from you: namely, the most consequential acts being taken by those with the greatest power, and how those actions are affecting your life, your country and your world.
In 2008, candidate Obama decreed that "often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out," and he hailed whistleblowing as:
"acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush administration."
The current incarnation of Obama prosecutes those same whistlelblowers at double the number of all previous presidents combined, and spent the campaign season boasting about it.
The 2008 version of Obama was right. As the various attacks are inevitably unleashed on the whistleblower(s) here, they deserve the gratitude and - especially - the support of everyone, including media outlets, for the noble acts that they have undertaken for the good of all of us. When it comes to what the Surveillance State is building and doing in the dark, we are much more informed today than we were yesterday, and will be much more informed tomorrow than we are today, thanks to them.
(2) Like puppets reading from a script, various Washington officials almost immediately began spouting all sorts of threats about "investigations" they intend to launch about these disclosures. This has been their playbook for several years now: they want to deter and intimidate anyone and everyone who might shed light on what they're doing with their abusive, manipulative exploitation of the power of law to punish those who bring about transparency.
That isn't going to work. It's beginning completely to backfire on them. It's precisely because such behavior reveals their true character, their propensity to abuse power, that more and more people are determined to bring about accountability and transparency for what they do.
They can threaten to investigate all they want. But as this week makes clear, and will continue to make clear, the ones who will actually be investigated are them.
The way things are supposed to work is that we're supposed to know virtually everything about what they do: that's why they're called public servants. They're supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that's why we're called private individuals.
This dynamic - the hallmark of a healthy and free society - has been radically reversed. Now, they know everything about what we do, and are constantly building systems to know more. Meanwhile, we know less and less about what they do, as they build walls of secrecy behind which they function. That's the imbalance that needs to come to an end. No democracy can be healthy and functional if the most consequential acts of those who wield political power are completely unknown to those to whom they are supposed to be accountable.
There seems to be this mentality in Washington that as soon as they stamp TOP SECRET on something they've done we're all supposed to quiver and allow them to do whatever they want without transparency or accountability under its banner. These endless investigations and prosecutions and threats are designed to bolster that fear-driven dynamic. But it isn't working. It's doing the opposite.
The times in American history when political power was constrained was when they went too far and the system backlashed and imposed limits. That's what happened in the mid-1970s when the excesses of J Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon became so extreme that the legitimacy of the political system depended upon it imposing restraints on itself. And that's what is happening now as the government continues on its orgies of whistleblower prosecutions, trying to criminalize journalism, and building a massive surveillance apparatus that destroys privacy, all in the dark. The more they overreact to measures of accountability and transparency - the more they so flagrantly abuse their power of secrecy and investigations and prosecutions - the more quickly that backlash will arrive.
I'm going to go ahead and take the Constitution at its word that we're guaranteed the right of a free press. So, obviously, are other people doing so. And that means that it isn't the people who are being threatened who deserve and will get the investigations, but those issuing the threats who will get that. That's why there's a free press. That's what adversarial journalism means.
|NSA surveillance: The US is behaving like China
Both governments think they are doing what is best for the state and people. But, as I know, such abuse of power can ruin lives
The Guardian, Tuesday 11 June 2013
Even though we know governments do all kinds of things I was shocked by the information about the US surveillance operation, Prism. To me, it's abusively using government powers to interfere in individuals' privacy. This is an important moment for international society to reconsider and protect individual rights.
I lived in the United States for 12 years. This abuse of state power goes totally against my understanding of what it means to be a civilised society, and it will be shocking for me if American citizens allow this to continue. The US has a great tradition of individualism and privacy and has long been a centre for free thinking and creativity as a result.
In our experience in China, basically there is no privacy at all – that is why China is far behind the world in important respects: even though it has become so rich, it trails behind in terms of passion, imagination and creativity.
Of course, we live under different kinds of legal conditions – in the west and in developed nations there are other laws that can balance or restrain the use of information if the government has it. That is not the case in China, and individuals are completely naked as a result. Intrusions can completely ruin a person's life, and I don't think that could happen in western nations.
But still, if we talk about abusive interference in individuals' rights, Prism does the same. It puts individuals in a very vulnerable position. Privacy is a basic human right, one of the very core values. There is no guarantee that China, the US or any other government will not use the information falsely or wrongly. I think especially that a nation like the US, which is technically advanced, should not take advantage of its power. It encourages other nations.
Before the information age the Chinese government could decide you were a counter-revolutionary just because a neighbour reported something they had overheard. Thousands, even millions of lives were ruined through the misuse of such information.
Today, through its technical abilities, the state can easily get into anybody's bank account, private mail, conversations, and social media accounts. The internet and social media give us new possibilities of exploring ourselves.
But we have never exposed ourselves in this way before, and it makes us vulnerable if anyone chooses to use it against us. Any information or communication could put young people under the surveillance of the state. Very often, when oppressive states arrest people, they have that information in their hands. It can be used as a way of controlling you, to tell you: we know exactly what you're thinking or doing. It can drive people to madness.
When human beings are scared and feel everything is exposed to the government, we will censor ourselves from free thinking. That's dangerous for human development.
In the Soviet Union before, in China today, and even in the US, officials always think what they do is necessary, and firmly believe they do what is best for the state and the people. But the lesson that people should learn from history is the need to limit state power.
If a government is elected by the people, and is genuinely working for the people, they should not give in to these temptations.
During my detention in China I was watched 24 hours a day. The light was always on. There were two guards on two-hour shifts standing next to me – even watching when I swallowed a pill; I had to open mouth so they could see my throat. You have to take a shower in front of them; they watch you while you brush your teeth, in the name of making sure you're not hurting yourself. They had three surveillance cameras to make sure the guards would not communicate with me.
But the guards whispered to me. They told stories about themselves. There is always humanity and privacy, even under the most restrictive conditions.
To limit power is to protect society. It is not only about protecting individuals' rights but making power healthier.
Civilisation is built on that trust and everyone must fight to defend it, and to protect our vulnerable aspects – our inner feelings, our families. We must not hand over our rights to other people. No state power should be given that kind of trust. Not China. Not the US.
Can we really believe that this surveillance is purely aimed at what the US states as "terrorists".
This is a generalisation that can be used as a means to spy on anybody that makes a political statement that the US does not like. Left wing politics especially, is at the very least viewed with suspicion in america. So with access and laws that allow spying on non US citizens this can be used with impunity. As for politicians stating that private internet data for individuals is completely secure. Well there may be just a touch of deja vu and lack of credibility in that.
Liberty are claiming that this is the snoopers charter via the back door, and pledge to fight against it.
|Justice for Charles Horman – and the truth about the US and Chile's coup
My journalist husband was murdered because he knew too much about Pinochet's US backers. Accountability is 40 years overdue
theguardian.com, Wednesday 11 September 2013
Forty years ago, during Chile's bloody coup of 11 September 1973, my husband, Charles Horman, stepped into a car driven by "Captain" Ray Davis, the head of the US military group in Chile, for a ride from the coastal resort town of Viña del Mar to the capital of Santiago. That one journey forever changed our family, and placed me on a quest for justice that persists to this day.
Charlie was a journalist, and we both were enthusiastic supporters of the democratically-elected socialist president, Salvador Allende. When General Augusto Pinochet launched his coup against Allende from the same coastal town Charles was visiting, my husband was surprised to see not only many Chilean tanks and helicopters moving out, but US warships cruising just off the coast, and US military personnel on the ground. He overheard some of those personnel enthusiastically and eagerly taking credit for the success of the coup, implying US military involvement. Charlie dutifully took his notes.
Before he, and our visiting friend from New York, Terry, began their journey with Davis, Charles knew he had come upon dangerous information. The drive past heavy military roadblocks into the heart of Santiago where Pinochet's forces were on a search-and-destroy mission for Allende supporters, provided the perfect opportunity for Davis to evaluate Charles and his loyalties. This reality did not escape my husband, and he began to fear Captain Davis.
Charles returned to our home in Santiago, and as he recounted his journey and discoveries to me, we resolved to leave the country. On 17 September, we separately embarked on our errands for the day, and kissed each other goodbye. I did not realize at the time that I would never see my husband alive again.
Later that day, Charles was abducted from our home by more than a dozen Chilean soldiers. He was brought to the national stadium, where some of the most brutal of the regime's crimes were carried out against presumed Allende "sympathizers". When I returned to find our home in disarray, and Charles missing, I feared the worst.
In the days and weeks that followed, Charles' father, Ed Horman, and I sought the help of American officials. Rather than aiding our search, however, they inquired about our social circles, and asked if we had been "annoying" the Chileans. Gradually, it dawned on us that our worst fears were well-founded. If it had been made public, the information that Charles had acquired would have risked derailing the recognition of Chile's junta by the US government. In that context, Charles was transformed from an American citizen who was entitled to protection, to a vulnerable and disposable threat to powerful forces.
A month would pass before it was revealed, through help from the Ford Foundation, that Charles had been executed – his bullet-ridden body buried in a wall in the national stadium. Yet, it was not until after Pinochet's 1998 arrest in London, that an era of renewed pressure for accountability regarding the regime's crimes would drive the Clinton administration to declassify many previously-redacted texts about that terrible time. According to one document:
"US intelligence may have played an unfortunate part in Horman's death. At best, it was limited to providing or confirming information that helped motivate his murder by the GOC [government of Chile]. At worst, US intelligence was aware the GOC saw Horman in a rather serious light and US officials did nothing to discourage the logical outcome of GOC paranoia."
Throughout these 40 years, our family has never relented in our search for truth and accountability around Charles' death. We filed a case against Henry Kissinger in 1976. In 1981, it was dismissed "without prejudice" – free to re-open when more evidence became available. I personally testified in the House of Commons during Pinochet's arrest in London. Our December 2000 case in Chile against Pinochet forces is still under investigation.
A year ago, Chile's supreme court approved investigative Judge Zepeda's request for extradition of Ray Davis to Chile concerning the deaths of Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, another American journalist who was killed during the coup. The US has not yet been served with the extradition request; if and when that happens, it would set an important precedent for a US military officer to be charged by another country for the death of American citizens.
In the 40 intervening years, some wrongs have been revealed and some cases have been tried in Chile, which is, again, a democracy. Pinochet's arrest certainly served as a lightning rod to broaden the global mechanisms to hold human rights violators accountable. But there is still a long way to go: the United States military continues to lie to the public, and take every opportunity available to cover up their abuses of power. We all have an interest in uncovering the truth about whether Captain Ray Davis played a role in the death of my husband.
In that sense, Charles' story is just as relevant today as it was 40 years ago, and makes the cases against those responsible just as pressing. Charles' mother, Elizabeth, often used the refrain, "we will leave no stone unturned." That, too, is my mission, and should be the goal of all those dedicated to a just world in which no individual is too big, or too powerful, to answer for their crimes.
Another damning indictment of US foreign policy throughout the years, and the odious regimes it has either created or sustained. The american people need to act to stop these policies, there are actually political parties in the US who will end this rhetoric, they just need to be supported.
I think it is at least gratifying that a majority of Americans oppose intervention in Syria and significantly don't believe what their government is claiming as justification for such action. Like Europeans it appears citizens in the US are both sceptical and aware of the motivations behind militarism.
Decades of media manipulation and abuse of state secrecy have managed to mislead and misinform people on both sides of the Atlantic to teh detriment of democracy and world peace. But as a consequence of this - combined with the brave work of whistle blowers, investiagative journalists and historians millions of people are now mor likely to see through the imperialist lies of politicians and their claims to be safeguarding democracy and freedom.
The more the people know the better their judgement and insight becomes. Their is at last some light at the end of the tunnel...
As i've said before Jon, instead of the US exporting neo liberal capitalism to europe and elsewhere. They should import european style social democracy, that would also put an end to their foreign policy disaster. Our leaders in europe need to stand up to the US and inform them that ultra free market societies are actually a step backwards.
|Published on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 by Common Dreams
US Wealthy Have Biggest Piece of Pie
Ever Recorded: Report
Since 2008 crash 1% have thrived far above the rest
- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer
U.S. inequality is at a record high, a new analysis shows.
The income gap between the wealthy 1% (families with incomes above $394,000 in 2012) and everyone else is the widest it's been since 1927, the new study from UC Berkeley, Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States, shows.
Breaking another record, the top 10% of earners took in "a level higher than any other year since 1917 and even surpasses 1928, the peak of stock market bubble in the 'roaring' 1920s," according to the analysis.
As the economy moved slowly away from the crash, incomes of the top 1% have grown more than 31%, while the incomes of the 99% grew 0.4%.
"The top 1% incomes captured just over two-thirds of the overall economic growth of real incomes per family over the period 1993-2012," the authors of the report, Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, write.
“In sum, top 1% incomes are close to full recovery while bottom 99% incomes have hardly started to recover,” states Saez.
According to their research, the continued increase in inequality can be attributed to a lack of progressive tax policies, weakened labor unions, and ongoing cuts to employee health and other benefits:
"The labor market has been creating much more inequality over the last thirty years, with the very top earners capturing a large fraction of macroeconomic productivity gains. A number of factors may help explain this increase in inequality, not only underlying technological changes but also the retreat of institutions developed during the New Deal and World War II - such as progressive tax policies, powerful unions, corporate provision of health and retirement benefits, and changing social norms regarding pay inequality. We need to decide as a society whether this increase in income inequality is efficient and acceptable and, if not, what mix of institutional and tax reforms should be developed to counter it."
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
|The American dream has become a burden for most
As wages stagnate and costs rise, US workers recognise the guiding ideal of this nation for the delusional myth it is
The Guardian, Sunday 22 September 2013
The final chapter of America's Promise, a high-school textbook on American history, ends with a rallying cry to national mythology. "The history of the United States is one of challenges faced, problems resolved, and crises overcome," it states. "Throughout their history Americans have remained an optimistic people, carrying this optimism into the new century. The full promise of America has yet to be realised. This is the real promise of America; the ability to dream of a better world to come."
Such are the assumptions beamed from the torch of Lady Liberty, coursing through the veins of the nation's political culture and imbibed with mothers' milk. Their nation, many will tell you, is not just a land mass but an ideal – a shining city on the hill beckoning a bright new tomorrow and a dazzling dawn for all those who want it badly enough. Such devout optimism, even (and at times particularly) in the midst of adversity makes America, in equal parts, both exciting and delusional. According to Gallup, since 1977 people have consistently believed their financial situation will improve next year even when previous years have consistently been worse.
But when President Barack Obama was planning his run for a second term his pollsters noticed a profound shift in the national mood. The optimism was largely gone – and with it both the excitement and the delusion. The time-honoured rhetorical appeals to a life of relentless progress, upward mobility and personal reinvention didn't work the way they used to.
"The language around the American dream wasn't carrying the same resonance," Joel Benenson, one of Obama's key pollsters, told the Washington Post. "Some of the symbols of achieving the American dream were becoming burdens – owning that house with the big mortgage was expensive, owning two cars and more debts; having your kid go to college. The cost and burden of taking out those loans was making a lot of Americans ambivalent. They weren't sure a college education was worth it."
This wasn't just about the recession – though of course that didn't help – but a far more protracted, profound and painful descent in expectations and aspirations that has been taking place for several decades. For underpinning that faith in a better tomorrow was an understanding that inequality in wealth would be tolerated so long as it was coupled with a guarantee of equality of opportunity. In recent years they have seen both heading in the wrong direction – the gap between rich and poor has grown even as possibilities for economic and social advancement have stalled.
Between 2007 and 2010 the median American family lost a generation of wealth, putting them on a par with where they were in 1992. Last week the census revealed that median household income is roughly the same as it was in 1988 and that the poverty rate had actually increased since 1973. Meanwhile, median male earnings in 2010 were on a par with 1964. This is not for want of effort. American workers continue to make gains in productivity and American companies continue to reap the benefits. Last year corporate profits, as a share of the economy, were the highest since the second world war. The trouble is, none of the benefits went back to them.
And while wages have stagnated and wealth has dissipated, costs have shot up. A family's health insurance contributions have increased 90% over the past decade. Over the past five years tuition costs have leapt 27% at state universities and 13% at private institutions above inflation. A nation that has long prided itself on being forward-thinking is reconciling itself to going backwards.
A Heartland Monitor poll last week showed that two-thirds of adults believe their children will enjoy less financial security than they do and face more challenges than opportunities. Last year the same pollsters found a slim majority defining getting ahead as simply "not falling behind". This lack of confidence in the ability to get ahead is twinned with almost total despair that the political class has neither the means nor the will to reverse the trend.
A Pew poll this month showed that they believed the government policies since the recession had helped the rich, banks and corporations and done nothing for the poor, the middle class or small businesses. They are right to be sceptical.
With the budget battle and raising the debt limit looming, the narrative will once again be that America's deadlocked political culture is crippling its economy. It's true that it certainly doesn't help. But it has done far more damage when its components have worked together.
For the root causes of this decline are not difficult to fathom. "One of the biggest drivers is deindustrialisation," explains James Meadway, senior economist at the New Economics Foundation. "Manufacturing used to provide good paying secure jobs for skilled workers in the west but much of that work has gone to emerging economies."
Both parties supported the financial deregulation and international trade liberalisation that laid the foundations for this despondency. Each blames the other for its consequences. Neither is capable of doing anything about it because the very monied interests that made this situation possible also make the politicians.
Little of this is unique to the US. The main countries within the European Union, including Britain, are suffering from wage stagnation, creating a squeezed middle class. The retraction has not been taking place as long as it has in the US, but has been on the same trajectory for quite some time. But there are two key differences. The Germans, British and French were not raised with a guiding myth that is being contradicted at the end of every month when families routinely find they can't meet their expenses. Second, most European nations do have a welfare state (at least for now) that contends with the fallout. Those who look to America as a trendsetter that maps our future should be careful what they wish for.
The self-proclaimed leader of the free world is turning into a low-wage economy with a class system more rigid than most and a middle class that wavers between poverty and precariousness. More than half the people using the food bank in Larimer County, Colorado, that I visited last year were working. More than one in four families in New York's homeless shelters includes at least one working adult. In the absence of a living wage and an ethical pay structure, the work ethic, on which the American dream is founded, doesn't work.
|The Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty is the complete opposite of 'free trade'
The TPP would strip our constitutional rights, while offering no gains for the majority of Americans. It's a win for corporations
theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 November 2013
The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement among 12 governments, touted as one of the largest "free trade" agreements in US history, is running into difficulties as the public learns more about it. Last week 151 Democrats and 23 Republicans (pdf) in the House of Representatives signed letters to the US chief negotiators expressing opposition to a "fast track" procedure for voting on the proposed agreement. This procedure would limit the congressional role and debate over an agreement already negotiated and signed by the executive branch, which the Congress would have to vote up or down without amendments.
Most Americans couldn't tell you what "fast track" means, but if they knew what it entails they would certainly be against it. As one of the country's leading trade law experts and probably the foremost authority on Fast Track, Lori Wallach of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, put it:
[Fast track] authorized executive-branch officials to set US policy on non-tariff, and indeed not-trade, issues in the context of 'trade' negotiations.
This means that fast track, which first began under Nixon in 1974, was not only a usurpation of the US Congress' constitutional authority "to regulate commerce with foreign nations".
It also gave the executive branch – which is generally much less accountable to public pressure than the Congress – a means of negating and pre-empting important legislation by our elected representatives. Laws to protect the environment, food safety, consumers (from monopoly pricing), and other public interest concerns can now be traded away in "trade" negotiations. And US law must be made to conform to the treaty.
How ironic that this massive transfer of power to special-interests such as giant pharmaceutical or financial corporations has been sold to the press as a means of holding "special interest" groups – who might oppose tariff reductions that harm them but are good for everyone else – in check.
But the TPP and its promoters are full to the brim with ironies. It is quite amazing that a treaty like the TPP can still be promoted as a "free trade" agreement when its most economically important provisions are the exact opposite of "free trade" – the expansion of protectionism.
Exhibit A was released by WikiLeaks last week: the latest draft of the "intellectual property" chapter of the agreement, one of 24 (out of 29) chapters that do not have to do with trade. This chapter has provisions that will make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to get patents, including in developing countries; have these patents for more years; and extend the ability of these companies to limit access to the scientific data that is necessary for other researchers to develop new medicines. And the United States is even pushing for provisions that would allow surgical procedures to be patented – provisions that may be currently against US law.
All of these measures will help raise the price of medicines and health care, which will strain public health systems and price some people out of the market for important medicines. It is interesting to see how much worse the TPP is than the WTO's Trips (Trade-Related Aspects of International Property Rights). This, too, was a massive rip-off of consumers and patients throughout the world, but after years of struggle by health advocates and public interest groups, some of its worst features were attenuated, and further consolidation of pharmaceutical companies' interests were blocked.
In case you were wondering why we had to get this information from WikiLeaks, it's because the draft negotiating texts are kept secret from the public. Even members of the US Congress and their staff have extremely limited access. Thus the much-maligned WikiLeaks has once again proven how valuable and justified are their efforts to bring transparency to important policy-making that is done in the darkness – whether it is "collateral murder", or other forms of life-threatening unaccountability.
One part of the TPP that shows why negotiators want to minimize public awareness of the agreement consists of provisions giving corporations the right – as is the case under the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) – to directly sue governments for regulations that infringe upon their profits or potential profits. This, too, is much worse than the WTO, where a corporation has to convince its government to file a case against another government. These private enforcement actions – which if won collect from the defendant government – are judged by special tribunals outside of either country's judicial system, without the kinds of due process or openness that exists, for example, in the US legal system. A currently infamous example is the action by Lone Pine Resources, a Delaware-incorporated company, against the government of Quebec for its moratorium on fracking.
Perhaps less known than its other failings, the TPP doesn't even offer any economic gains for the majority of Americans who are being asked to sacrifice their constitutional rights. The gains from increased trade turn out to be so small that they are equivalent to a rounding error in the measurement of our GDP. The study most touted by proponents of the agreement, published by the Peterson Institute of International Economics, shows a cumulative increase of 0.13% of GDP by 2025. This would be trivial in any case; but the worse news is that, taking into account some of the unequalizing effects of the agreement – these treaties tend to redistribute income upwards – a Centre for Economic and Policy Research study showed that most Americans will actually lose because of the TPP.
US corporate interests are, rather obviously in this case, driving the agenda of the TPP. The agreement is in many ways a "plan B" after the last 12 years of WTO negotiations have stagnated – in large part due to considerable, well-organized public resistance in dozens of countries – and failed to achieve many of the goals of its corporate architects. But other branches of the US government have geostrategic goals as well. The world's would-be rulers also hope to separate the "bad kids" from the "good kids" among developing countries. It is no coincidence that in Latin America, the negotiating partners are Mexico, Chile, and Peru, and none of the leftist governments that now prevail in most of the region. And of course, a main goal of the agreement is to try and "isolate" China.
The Obama administration will no doubt appeal to some members of Congress on the basis of this neocolonial world view. But for Americans who are learning about the agreement, it is clear that the real "us against them" is not America against the more independent nations of the developing world, but TPP countries' citizens against a corporate swindle being negotiated behind their backs.
|Published on Wednesday, December 12, 2013 by Common Dreams
The Peaceful Protest US Govt Doesn't Want World to Know About
Media blackout hides Gitmo hunger strikes in military bid to erode public support
- Sarah Lazare, staff writer
First it was the force-feedings, genital searches, and transfers to solitary confinement. Then came the media blackout.
In its latest bid to deprive Guantánamo Bay inmates of what Algerian prisoner Ahmed Belbacha has called their "sole peaceful means" of protest, the U.S. military announced it will stop providing information to the press about the ongoing hunger strikes within this notorious offshore prison.
"The hunger strike has been the only way the prisoners can effectively protest and force world attention back on Guantánamo Bay," said Omar Farah, staff attorney for Center for Constitutional Rights, in an interview with Common Dreams. "The government has tried to undermine that in many ways. We saw that in the summer with raids on Camp 6 and forcing prisoners into solitary confinement. This is a new and different way to silence the protests."
In an interview with Al Jazeera-America published Wednesday, Navy Commander John Filostrat acknowledged that the withholding of information is a deliberate move to undermine public knowledge of a protest that has garnered international support. “It’s [the strikers'] desire to draw attention to themselves, and so we’re not going to help them do that," he stated.
"JTF-Guantánamo allows detainees to peacefully protest but will not further their protests by reporting the numbers to the public," Filostrat told the Miami Herald last week upon announcing the blackout.
British Guantánamo inmate Shaker Aamer said last week that the hunger strike is growing despite the wall of silence. The “Guantánamo hunger strike is back on,” stated Aamer in a phone call with his attorney Clive Stafford Smith, director of the U.K.-based human rights charity Reprieve, that was reported by Al Jazeera-America. Aamer said at least 29 prisoners are still taking part—19 of them being subjected to painful force-feedings that have been widely denounced as torture.
"We are hearing that there have been increasing numbers of men who are hunger striking," Farah confirmed. "It is also important to recognize there are a number of men who are long-term hunger strikers. My client Tariq Ba Odah, who has already been cleared for release, has been on unbroken hunger strike since February 2007."
Hunger strikes have swept the prison since shortly after it opened in 2002, growing to over 100 participants who refused food for extended periods, many of whom were subject to the painful force-feedings.
U.S. military officials had previously disclosed the numbers of inmates who refused food. Yet, Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney of the Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative at the Center for Constitutional Rights, previously told Common Dreams that these numbers should be viewed with skepticism because the military "doctors them down."
162 people are still incarcerated at the military prison in Cuba that has been widely condemned for abusive and inhumane conditions, systematic torture, and lack of due process—including indefinite detentions without trial or formal charges. More than half of all inmates languish in prison despite having been cleared for release.
In a previous 60 Minutes broadcast from Guantánamo, Aamer could be heard declaring from his cell, "Leave us to die in peace or tell the world the truth!"
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
The hypocrisy of the US when it comes to the guantanamo inmates is truly breathtaking. The administration has no problem criticising Russia over the Greenpeace arrests and pussy riot inmates,
or human right violations in China and North Korea. However we see a "do as i say, not as i do" not only in guantanamo but in rendition, torture, spying and also in their treatment of the wall street protesters, utterly jaw dropping.
|Published on Thursday, January 16, 2014 by TomDispatch.com
The Special Ops Surge: America’s Secret War in 134 Countries
by Nick Turse
They operate in the green glow of night vision in Southwest Asia and stalk through the jungles of South America. They snatch men from their homes in the Maghreb and shoot it out with heavily armed militants in the Horn of Africa. They feel the salty spray while skimming over the tops of waves from the turquoise Caribbean to the deep blue Pacific. They conduct missions in the oppressive heat of Middle Eastern deserts and the deep freeze of Scandinavia. All over the planet, the Obama administration is waging a secret war whose full extent has never been fully revealed -- until now.
Since September 11, 2001, U.S. Special Operations forces have grown in every conceivable way, from their numbers to their budget. Most telling, however, has been the exponential rise in special ops deployments globally. This presence -- now, in nearly 70% of the world’s nations -- provides new evidence of the size and scope of a secret war being waged from Latin America to the backlands of Afghanistan, from training missions with African allies to information operations launched in cyberspace.
In the waning days of the Bush presidency, Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed in about 60 countries around the world. By 2010, that number had swelled to 75, according to Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post. In 2011, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told TomDispatch that the total would reach 120. Today, that figure has risen higher still.
In 2013, elite U.S. forces were deployed in 134 countries around the globe, according to Major Matthew Robert Bockholt of SOCOM Public Affairs. This 123% increase during the Obama years demonstrates how, in addition to conventional wars and a CIA drone campaign, public diplomacy and extensive electronic spying, the U.S. has engaged in still another significant and growing form of overseas power projection. Conducted largely in the shadows by America’s most elite troops, the vast majority of these missions take place far from prying eyes, media scrutiny, or any type of outside oversight, increasing the chances of unforeseen blowback and catastrophic consequences.
Formally established in 1987, Special Operations Command has grown steadily in the post-9/11 era. SOCOM is reportedly on track to reach 72,000 personnel in 2014, up from 33,000 in 2001. Funding for the command has also jumped exponentially as its baseline budget, $2.3 billion in 2001, hit $6.9 billion in 2013 ($10.4 billion, if you add in supplemental funding). Personnel deployments abroad have skyrocketed, too, from 4,900 “man-years” in 2001 to 11,500 in 2013.
A recent investigation by TomDispatch, using open source government documents and news releases as well as press reports, found evidence that U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in or involved with the militaries of 106 nations around the world in 2012-2013. For more than a month during the preparation of that article, however, SOCOM failed to provide accurate statistics on the total number of countries to which special operators -- Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALs and Delta Force commandos, specialized helicopter crews, boat teams, and civil affairs personnel -- were deployed. “We don’t just keep it on hand,” SOCOM’s Bockholt explained in a telephone interview once the article had been filed. “We have to go searching through stuff. It takes a long time to do that.” Hours later, just prior to publication, he provided an answer to a question I first asked in November of last year. “SOF [Special Operations forces] were deployed to 134 countries” during fiscal year 2013, Bockholt explained in an email.
Globalized Special Ops
Last year, Special Operations Command chief Admiral William McRaven explained his vision for special ops globalization. In a statement to the House Armed Services Committee, he said:
“USSOCOM is enhancing its global network of SOF to support our interagency and international partners in order to gain expanded situational awareness of emerging threats and opportunities. The network enables small, persistent presence in critical locations, and facilitates engagement where necessary or appropriate...”
While that “presence” may be small, the reach and influence of those Special Operations forces are another matter. The 12% jump in national deployments -- from 120 to 134 -- during McRaven’s tenure reflects his desire to put boots on the ground just about everywhere on Earth. SOCOM will not name the nations involved, citing host nation sensitivities and the safety of American personnel, but the deployments we do know about shed at least some light on the full range of missions being carried out by America’s secret military.
Last April and May, for instance, Special Ops personnel took part in training exercises in Djibouti, Malawi, and the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean. In June, U.S. Navy SEALs joined Iraqi, Jordanian, Lebanese, and other allied Mideast forces for irregular warfare simulations in Aqaba, Jordan. The next month, Green Berets traveled to Trinidad and Tobago to carry out small unit tactical exercises with local forces. In August, Green Berets conducted explosives training with Honduran sailors. In September, according to media reports, U.S. Special Operations forces joined elite troops from the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and Cambodia -- as well as their counterparts from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, China, India, and Russia for a US-Indonesian joint-funded counterterrorism exercise held at a training center in Sentul, West Java.
In October, elite U.S. troops carried out commando raids in Libya and Somalia, kidnapping a terror suspect in the former nation while SEALs killed at least one militant in the latter before being driven off under fire. In November, Special Ops troops conducted humanitarian operations in the Philippines to aid survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. The next month, members of the 352nd Special Operations Group conducted a training exercise involving approximately 130 airmen and six aircraft at an airbase in England and Navy SEALs were wounded while undertaking an evacuation mission in South Sudan. Green Berets then rang in the new year with a January 1st combat mission alongside elite Afghan troops in Bahlozi village in Kandahar province.
Deployments in 134 countries, however, turn out not to be expansive enough for SOCOM. In November 2013, the command announced that it was seeking to identify industry partners who could, under SOCOM’s Trans Regional Web Initiative, potentially “develop new websites tailored to foreign audiences.” These would join an existing global network of 10 propaganda websites, run by various combatant commands and made to look like legitimate news outlets, including CentralAsiaOnline.com, Sabahi which targets the Horn of Africa; an effort aimed at the Middle East known as Al-Shorfa.com; and another targeting Latin America called Infosurhoy.com.
SOCOM’s push into cyberspace is mirrored by a concerted effort of the command to embed itself ever more deeply inside the Beltway. “I have folks in every agency here in Washington, D.C. -- from the CIA, to the FBI, to the National Security Agency, to the National Geospatial Agency, to the Defense Intelligence Agency,” SOCOM chief Admiral McRaven said during a panel discussion at Washington’s Wilson Center last year. Speaking at the Ronald Reagan Library in November, he put the number of departments and agencies where SOCOM is now entrenched at 38.
134 Chances for Blowback
Although elected in 2008 by many who saw him as an antiwar candidate, President Obama has proved to be a decidedly hawkish commander-in-chief whose policies have already produced notable instances of what in CIA trade-speak has long been called blowback. While the Obama administration oversaw a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (negotiated by his predecessor), as well as a drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan (after a major military surge in that country), the president has presided over a ramping up of the U.S. military presence in Africa, a reinvigoration of efforts in Latin America, and tough talk about a rebalancing or “pivot to Asia” (even if it has amounted to little as of yet).
The White House has also overseen an exponential expansion of America’s drone war. While President Bush launched 51 such strikes, President Obama has presided over 330, according to research by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Last year, alone, the U.S. also engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Recent revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden have demonstrated the tremendous breadth and global reach of U.S. electronic surveillance during the Obama years. And deep in the shadows, Special Operations forces are now annually deployed to more than double the number of nations as at the end of Bush’s tenure.
In recent years, however, the unintended consequences of U.S. military operations have helped to sow outrage and discontent, setting whole regions aflame. More than 10 years after America’s “mission accomplished” moment, seven years after its much vaunted surge, the Iraq that America helped make is in flames. A country with no al-Qaeda presence before the U.S. invasion and a government opposed to America’s enemies in Tehran now has a central government aligned with Iran and two cities flying al-Qaeda flags.
A more recent U.S. military intervention to aid the ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi helped send neighboring Mali, a U.S.-supported bulwark against regional terrorism, into a downward spiral, saw a coup there carried out by a U.S.-trained officer, ultimately led to a bloody terror attack on an Algerian gas plant, and helped to unleash nothing short of a terror diaspora in the region.
And today South Sudan -- a nation the U.S. shepherded into being, has supported economically and militarily (despite its reliance on child soldiers), and has used as a hush-hush base for Special Operations forces -- is being torn apart by violence and sliding toward civil war.
The Obama presidency has seen the U.S. military’s elite tactical forces increasingly used in an attempt to achieve strategic goals. But with Special Operations missions kept under tight wraps, Americans have little understanding of where their troops are deployed, what exactly they are doing, or what the consequences might be down the road. As retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, has noted, the utilization of Special Operations forces during the Obama years has decreased military accountability, strengthened the “imperial presidency,” and set the stage for a war without end. “In short,” he wrote at TomDispatch, “handing war to the special operators severs an already too tenuous link between war and politics; it becomes war for its own sake.”
Secret ops by secret forces have a nasty tendency to produce unintended, unforeseen, and completely disastrous consequences. New Yorkers will remember well the end result of clandestine U.S. support for Islamic militants against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980s: 9/11. Strangely enough, those at the other primary attack site that day, the Pentagon, seem not to have learned the obvious lessons from this lethal blowback. Even today in Afghanistan and Pakistan, more than 12 years after the U.S. invaded the former and almost 10 years after it began conducting covert attacks in the latter, the U.S. is still dealing with that Cold War-era fallout: with, for instance, CIA drones conducting missile strikes against an organization (the Haqqani network) that, in the 1980s, the Agency supplied with missiles.
Without a clear picture of where the military’s covert forces are operating and what they are doing, Americans may not even recognize the consequences of and blowback from our expanding secret wars as they wash over the world. But if history is any guide, they will be felt -- from Southwest Asia to the Mahgreb, the Middle East to Central Africa, and, perhaps eventually, in the United States as well.
In his blueprint for the future, SOCOM 2020, Admiral McRaven has touted the globalization of U.S. special ops as a means to “project power, promote stability, and prevent conflict.” Last year, SOCOM may have done just the opposite in 134 places.
© 2014 Nick Turse
Maybe we should tell the US that we actually know that they have a global empire and it is on a scale only the romans could dream about. Secretely trying to run an empire on the quiet because it does'nt quite fit in with political correctness is not a good idea. Its best to be up front about these things, especially when history proves that all empires eventually collapse. The US can easily get advice, just ask the british.