• You Can Play the Home Torture Game

    December 18, 2014 // 2 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    torture


    Jealous that CIA torturers get all the fun? Want to virtually torture someone right from your own desktop? Want to encourage your kids to see torture as fun and help desensitize them? Why not play the torture game, your very own torture simulator!


    Torture Game 3 is the most up-to-date version of the popular bloody game (rated 8/10!) where you use different tools to torture the victim. You can cut the hands off the victim using a chainsaw saw, you can use a pistol or a shotgun to blow holes in the body, you can even break the body parts apart from the body itself.

    My favorite: using the Spike tool to tear off flesh.

    The variety of torture tools that can be found on the right side of the “action border panel” is robust. Why, there’s something for everyone. The most popular tools include ropes, a knife, a shotgun, a razor and of course the chainsaw. While the game loads with a generic male victim’s image, the designers explain you can upload any picture — even your own! — and torture a man or woman you hate.

    The game designers promise “this game is a good way how to spend several minutes after a difficult day.”

    Here’s the link. The game is NSFW. The game runs under Adobe Flash, so you need that on your computer, but otherwise no download is necessary; the game runs right in your browser. There is no cost, no ads, no sign up. Just hit the link and torture. And it is all nice and legal, just like in real life.

    I wish to God this was satire, but it is not. We are a sick, sick people. But have fun!

    My “thanks” to alert commenter Pitch for the tip on this game!




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  • Torture and the Company We Keep

    December 16, 2014 // 25 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State, Military, Post-Constitution America

    proud-american


    A new poll finds majority of Americans — 59 percent — believe torture was justified after the 9/11 attacks.

    Look around you at the company you keep. The people who support torture, six out of ten, are your neighbors, your co-workers, the people on the bus with you. If you live in Washington DC, they are your children’s friends parents, the people at Safeway, the folks you go to church with.

    Now, let’s have a look at the company the United States keeps.



    Tortures Human Beings

    United States – YES
    ISIS – YES
    North Korea – YES
    China – YES
    Russia – YES
    Nazi Germany – YES
    Apartheid-Era South Africa – YES


    Uses Medical Personnel to Enhance Torture

    United States – YES
    ISIS – NO
    North Korea – Unknown
    China – Unknown
    Russia – YES
    Nazi Germany – YES
    Apartheid-Era South Africa – YES


    Maintains Third Country Detention Facilities

    United States – YES (including Poland)
    ISIS – NO
    North Korea – NO
    China – NO
    Russia – NO (once including Poland)
    Nazi Germany – NO (once including Poland)
    Apartheid-Era South Africa – NO


    Kidnaps/Renders People from Other Countries to Torture

    United States – YES
    ISIS – YES
    North Korea – YES
    China – Unknown
    Russia – Unknown
    Nazi Germany – YES
    Apartheid-Era South Africa – NO


    Sends Prisoners to Other Governments for Torture

    United States – YES (including Libya, Egypt and Syria)
    ISIS – NO
    North Korea – NO
    China – NO
    Russia – NO
    Nazi Germany – NO
    Apartheid-Era South Africa – NO


    Holds Prisoners Indefinitely without Trial

    United States – YES
    ISIS – Sort Of
    North Korea – YES
    China – YES
    Russia – YES
    Nazi Germany – YES
    Apartheid-Era South Africa – NO


    Kills Prisoners Under Torture

    United States – YES
    ISIS – YES
    North Korea – YES
    China – YES
    Russia – YES
    Nazi Germany – YES
    Apartheid-Era South Africa – YES


    Holds Innocents for Torture

    United States – YES
    ISIS – YES
    North Korea – YES
    China – YES
    Russia – YES
    Nazi Germany – YES
    Apartheid-Era South Africa – YES


    Assassinates Opponents

    United States – YES
    ISIS – YES
    North Korea – YES
    China – YES
    Russia – YES
    Nazi Germany – YES
    Apartheid-Era South Africa – YES


    Had Some Sort of Reconciliation Once Torture Exposed

    United States – NO
    ISIS – NO
    North Korea – NO
    China – NO
    Russia – Sort Of (Post-Stalin)
    Nazi Germany (Post-War)- YES
    (Post) Apartheid-Era South Africa – YES

    Claims to be a Christian Nation

    United States – YES
    ISIS – Hells NO
    North Korea – NO
    China – NO
    Russia – NO
    Nazi Germany – NO
    Apartheid-Era South Africa – YES, mostly.

    BONUS: Has its State Department write sanctimonious yearly human rights reports about other countries: USA! USA! USA!




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  • Torture and the Destruction of the Human Being Shaker Aamer by the United States

    December 16, 2014 // 2 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Military, Post-Constitution America

    torturediagram



    The Bush and Obama administrations have gone to extraordinary lengths to hide America’s archipelago of secret prisons and systems of torture.

    For all the empty talk of “transparency” being high-fived around following the Senate Report, they at first denied any of that nasty stuff even existed, then used an ever-so-compliant media to call it all necessary for our security and very survival, then shaping dumb-cow public opinion with ersatz terms like enhanced interrogation to keep the word torture out of the discourse, then having the CIA destroy videos of the brutality, then imprisoning officials, such as John Kiriakou, who sought to expose it all, then refusing to hold hearings or conduct investigations, then employing black ops to try and derail even a cursory Senate report and finally allowing the torturers at the CIA themselves the final word on the watered-down public version of a Senate report on torture.


    The Torture of Shaker Aamer by the United States

    Yet, like a water leak that must find it’s way out from inside the dark place within your walls, some things become known. Now, we can read a psychiatrist’s report which includes, in detail, the torture enacted on just one prisoner of the United States, Shaker Aamer.

    The once-U.S. ally Northern Alliance captured Aamer in Afghanistan and sold him to the United States as an al Qaeda member. Who knows at this point who Aamer was at that time, or what he did or did not do. If you think any of that matters, and perhaps justifies what was done to him, stop reading now. This article cannot reach you.


    What was Done to One Human

    In his own words, Aamer describes the casual way his Western jailers accepted his physical presence, and skinny confessions made under Afghan torture, as all the proof necessary to imprison him in U.S. custody from 2002 until forever. The U.S. created a world of hell that only had an entrance, not caring to conceive of an exit. In no particular order (though the full report dispassionately chronicles every act by time and location), the United States of America did the following to Aamer:

    – On more than one occasion an official of the United States threatened to rape Aamer’s five year old daughter, with one interrogator describing in explicit sexual detail his plans to destroy the child;

    — “Welcoming Parties” and “Goodbye Parties” as Aamer was transferred among U.S. facilities. Soldiers at these “parties” were encouraged and allowed to beat and kick detainees as their proclivities and desires dictated. Here’s a video of what a beating under the eyes of American soldiers looks like.

    — Aamer was made to stand for days, not allowed to sleep for days, not allowed to use the toilet and made to shit and piss on himself for days, not fed or fed minimally for days, doused with freezing water for days, over and over again. For twelve years. So far.

    — Aamer was denied medical care as his interrogators controlled his access to doctors and made care for the wounds they inflicted dependent on Aamer’s ongoing compliance and repeated “confessions.”

    — Aamer was often kept naked, and his faith exploited to humiliate him in culturally-specific ways. He witnessed a 17-year-old captive of America sodomized with a rifle, and was threatened with the same.

    — At times the brutality took place for its own sake, disconnected from interrogations. At times it was the centerpiece of interrogation.

    — The torture of Aamer continues at Gitmo, for as an occasional hunger striker he is brutally force-fed.



    Torture Works

    The obsessive debate in this country over the effectiveness of torture rings eternally false: torture does indeed work. Torture is invariably about shame and vengeance, humiliation, power, and control, not gathering information. Even when left alone (especially when left alone) the torture victim is punished to imagine what form the hurt will take and just how severe it will be, almost always in the process assuming responsibility for creating his own terror.

    And there you have the take-away point, as briefers in Washington like to say. The real point of the torture was to torture. Over twelve years, even the thinnest rationale that Aamer was a dangerous terrorist, or had valuable information to disclose, could not exist and his abusers knew it. The only goal was to destroy Shaker Aamer.

    The combination of raw brutality, the careful, educated use of medical doctors to fine-tune the pain, the skills of psychiatrists and cultural advisors to enhance the impact of what was done worked exactly as it was intended. According to the psychiatrist who examined Aamer in detail at Guantanamo, there is little left of the man. He suffers from a broad range of psychiatric and physical horrors. In that sense, by the calculus his torturers employ, the torture was indeed successful.

    The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan failed at great cost, al Qaeda has been reborn in Africa and greater parts of the Middle East and the U.S. has willingly transformed itself into at best a bully abroad, and a police state at home. But no mind; the full force and credit of the United States of America destroyed Shaker Aamer as revenge for all the rest, bloody proof of all the good we failed to do.


    Never Again, Always Again

    Despite the horrors of World War II, the mantra– never again– becomes today a sad joke. The scale is different this time, what, 600? 6000? men destroyed by torture not six million, but not the intent. The desire to inflict purposeful suffering by government order, the belief that such inhuman actions are legal, even necessary, differs little from one set of fascists to more modern ones. Given the secrecy the Nazis enjoyed for years, how full would the American camps be today? Kill them all, and let God sort them out is never far from the lips.

    Torture does not leave its victims, nor does it leave a nation that condones it. The ghosts don’t disappear the way the flesh and bone can be made to go away.

    The people who did this, whether the ones in the torture cell using their fists, or the ones in the White House ordering it with their pens, walk free among us. They’ll never see justice done. There will be no Nuremburg Trials for America’s evils, just a collapsing bunker in Berlin. But unlike Shaker Aamer, you are sentenced to live to see it.



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  • On The BBC Defending Not Torturing People

    December 15, 2014 // 10 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    photo (1)

    I joined fellow whistleblower and former chief Guantanamo prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis on the BBC’s World TV recently to speak out against torture.

    Because most “journalism” these days defines objectivity as having people from bizarrely opposite sides of an issue yell at each other until time is up, I found myself “rebutting” a handful of nut jobs whose argument was basically that torture is good, or maybe useful, or vengeful, or whatever, as long as it hurts dirty brown Muslims because, 9/11. Witches deserved it. Also, torture works.


    Torture Worked at Salem

    Torture does indeed work, if your goal is simply to punish, humiliate or extract false confessions. One example of torture’s very successful use in American history was with the Salem witch trials. Innocent women in 17th century America were brutalized until they admitted to being witches. In one ingenious twist of logic worthy of their post-9/11 successors, the torturers devised a 100 percent effective strategy: hold a suspected witch under water until she either drowns (oops, not a witch, exonerated) or magically floats (confirming she is a witch) and then execute her. One way or another, you’re always correct!

    The logic holds for our modern day torturers. We learned than some 26 men held by the United States and tortured, some for years, truly had no connection to terrorism. Everytime they were waterboarded, threatened with death or beaten, they told the truth: they were not terrorists. However, their denials of culpability were taken merely as signs that more torture was needed to get them to confess.


    9/11 Left Us with No Choice

    One of the other points the troglodytes supporting torture, from the other guests on the BBC show to the Director of the CIA and the President, have brought up is the urgency and seriousness of the post-9/11 environment. They insist torture must be viewed in that light, not from the soft comfort of 2014. America had been attacked, and only through any and all means necessary could we protect her.

    Many other times America faced dire circumstances, most far more dangerous to the nation, when government-sponsored torture on a massive scale somehow wasn’t needed to prevail. The American Civil War, and WWII, especially in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, are two examples that come to mind. What made a handful of jihadis more dangerous?


    Ticking Time Bomb Scenario

    OK, OK, the ticking time bomb scenario. This one pops up as regular as bowel movements. Isn’t torture justified under a situation where a captured terrorist knows information that would stop a bus full of patriotic orphans from being blown up?

    Of course, no such scenario has ever existed, and is unlikely ever to exist. For a real 24 TV-like ticking time bomb scenario to exist, here’s what would need to fall into place: the U.S. would have to capture a terrorist in a timely fashion who knew the full, precise details (Monday morning, corner of 5th and Main, Columbus, Ohio, bad guy in white Prius), the U.S. would need to know that the terrorist indeed possessed this information, the U.S. would have to know only torture would elicit the information, the terrorist would need to “break” and give up the full, true information in a timely manner and the information would need to be transmitted to the appropriate law enforcement authorities wherever they were and they would need to act conclusively under whatever time pressures existed, and be successful in their intervention.

    Absent even one of those elements, there is no ticking time bomb scenario. It is a false argument for torture, as they all are.


    17th Century Morality

    But at the end of the day, what troubled me most was not the odd idea that the venerable BBC had stooped to scouring the world to find advocates of torture and given them an audience larger than those they normally addressed from under the rocks they live hidden beneath, or that journalism stoops so low now.

    The saddest thing of all is that in what is supposed to be the enlightened 21st century, with so many cries of “never again” echoing in our historical background, we are still forced to defend the notion that a country like the United States should not torture people. We have reverted to a 17th century morality.




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  • TV Interview on PBS Kentucky: Iraq, and Ghosts of Tom Joad

    December 13, 2014 // 4 Comments

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    Posted in: #99Percent, Economy, Embassy/State, Iraq, Minimum Wage

    bill goodman




    As part of the 2014 Louisville Idea Festival, I spoke with Bill Goodman of KET, Kentucky Educational Television, the PBS station in Louisville about both of my books, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent.

    Have a look at the video!




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  • Can We Sue the Government over Torture?

    December 12, 2014 // 6 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    torture


    Can We Sue the Government over Torture? Yes. But not really.

    Anyone can sue the government; Van Buren v. Barack Obama. I just need to file the papers in Federal court. Oh, a couple of issues.


    Torts

    Torture is a crime but it is arguably also a tort. Torts are civil wrongs recognized as grounds for a lawsuit. These wrongs result in an injury or harm constituting the basis for a claim by the injured party. While some torts are also crimes, the primary aim of tort law is to provide relief for the damages incurred and deter others from committing the same harms. The injured person may sue for an injunction to prevent the continuation of the tortious conduct or for monetary damages.

    Sounds like the kind of stuff we all would like in regards to torture. Compensation for victims and no more torture.


    Standing

    But before I call up a lawyer, I first need standing or the government will can my suit in a quick motion filing to dismiss. Standing means in this case I have to show I was personally affected by the torture. I wasn’t tortured, so this will be hard. Attorneys for Anwar al Awlaki’s father previously tried to persuade a U.S. District Court to issue an injunction a few year’s ago preventing the government from the targeted killing of his son. A judge dismissed the case, ruling the father did not have standing to sue. Awlaki was killed by the government.


    What About a Victim Filing Suit?

    OK, so maybe someone who was tortured himself could sue the U.S. government. That’d get around the question of standing.

    First problem with one of the victim’s suing the USG is persuading the relevant U.S. courts that they have jurisdiction over the acts committed by Americans overseas and are prepared to apply U.S. laws extra-territorially. This gets even dicier because the torture took place sorta-kinda during a sort-kinda kind of war-thing.

    This issue has been batted around the court system over Guantanamo for years, inconclusively.



    Government Immunity

    But what if somehow victim actually did file a lawsuit in the U.S. against those Americans who tortured them?

    Government officials acting under the “legitimate scope of their employment” are immune from suit. This is the “Westfall Act Certification” defense, via the Westfall Act of 1988. The Act permits the Attorney General, at his or her discretion, to substitute the United States as the defendant and essentially grant absolute immunity to individual government employees for actions taken within the scope of their employment.

    The government would only have to say the torturers were just doing their jobs, which in a sad way they were, and that ends the suit.

    There is an exception in Westfall for unconstitutional acts. The person filing the lawsuit would have to prove torture of a foreigner abroad was in fact prohibited by the Constitution. That would be one helluva hard sell.


    But the Game’s Already Been Decided

    And just to make this very clear, all the way back in 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder closed without charges the only two cases ever under investigation in connection with U.S. torture program. One case resulted in the 2002 death of an Afghan detainee at a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan, and the other the 2003 death of an Iraqi citizen in CIA custody at Abu Ghraib. Holder’s decision, said the New York Times, “eliminates the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the CIA”.

    Obama also made clear the idea of suing the government, or anyone connected with torture, was a non-starter.

    Long before throwing out the two cases noted above, way back in 2009 Obama said his desire was to look forward rather than conduct investigations that could alienate the intelligence community. “This is a time for reflection, not retribution,” Obama said in a statement, even as he noted torture was a “dark and painful chapter in our history.”

    “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department,” Attorney General Holder said in a 2009 statement.

    Obama officials also stated some five years ago that they would provide legal representation at no cost to CIA employees subjected to international tribunals or inquiries from Congress. They also said they would indemnify CIA staff against any financial judgments.


    Short version for non-lawyers: if two presidents order it done, whatever is done is legal, and there is not a damn thing you can do about it. Thanks for playing and have a super day!


    (I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice)

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  • Torture and the Myth of Never Again: The Persecution of John Kiriakou

    December 11, 2014 // 8 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Iraq

    johnkiriakou

    No one except John Kiriakou is being held accountable for America’s torture policy. And John Kiriakou didn’t torture anyone, he just blew the whistle on it.


    In a Galaxy Far, Far Away

    The United States sanctioned acts of torture by the Central Intelligence Agency and others. The acts took place in secret prisons (“black sites”) against persons detained indefinitely without trial. They were described in detail and explicitly authorized in a series of secret torture memos drafted by John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, senior lawyers in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. (Office of Legal Counsel attorneys technically answer directly to the DOJ, which is supposed to be independent from the White House, but obviously was not in this case.) Not one of those men, or their Justice Department bosses, has been held accountable for their actions.

    Some tortured prisoners were killed by the CIA. Attorney General Eric Holder announced recently that no one would be held accountable for those murders either. “Based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths,” he said, “the Department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    Jose Rodriguez, a senior CIA official, admitted destroying videotapes of potentially admissible evidence, showing the torture of captives by operatives of the U.S. government at a secret prison thought to be located at a Vietnam-War-era airbase in Thailand. He was not held accountable for deep-sixing this evidence, nor for his role in the torture of human beings.


    John Kiriakou Alone

    The one man in the whole archipelago of America’s secret horrors who went to jail is former CIA officer John Kiriakou. Of the untold numbers of men and women involved in the whole nightmare show of those years, only one.

    And of course, he didn’t torture anyone.

    The charges against Kiriakou alleged that in answering questions from reporters about suspicions that the CIA tortured detainees in its custody, he violated the Espionage Act, once an obscure World War I-era law that aimed at punishing Americans who gave aid to the enemy. It was passed in 1917 and has been the subject of much judicial and Congressional doubt ever since. Kiriakou is one of six government whistleblowers who have been charged under the Act by the Obama administration. From 1917 until Obama came into office, only three people had ever charged in this way.

    The Obama Justice Department claimed the former CIA officer “disclosed classified information to journalists, including the name of a covert CIA officer and information revealing the role of another CIA employee in classified activities.”

    The charges resulted from a CIA investigation. That investigation was triggered by a filing in January 2009 on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo that contained classified information the defense had not been given through government channels, and by the discovery in the spring of 2009 of photographs of alleged CIA employees among the legal materials of some detainees at Guantanamo. According to one description, Kiriakou gave several interviews about the CIA in 2008. Court documents charge that he provided names of covert Agency officials to a journalist, who allegedly in turn passed them on to a Guantanamo legal team. The team sought to have detainees identify specific CIA officials who participated in their renditions and torture. Kiriakou was accused of providing the identities of CIA officers that may have allowed names to be linked to photographs.

    The real “offense” in the eyes of the Obama administration was quite different. In 2007, Kiriakou became a whistleblower. He went on record as the first (albeit by then, former) CIA official to confirm the use of waterboarding of al-Qaeda prisoners as an interrogation technique, and then to condemn it as torture. He specifically mentioned the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah in that secret prison in Thailand. Kiriakou also ran afoul of the CIA over efforts to clear for publication a book he had written about the Agency’s counterterrorism work.

    If Kiriakou had actually tortured someone himself, even to death, there is no possibility that he would be in trouble. In the national security state that rules the roost in Washington, talking out of turn about a crime has become the only possible crime.

    Facing decades away from his family and young children, Kiriakou agreed to a plea bargain and is still in prison serving a 30-month sentence.


    Never Again

    For years it was the policy of the United States of America to torture and abuse its enemies or, in some cases, simply suspected enemies. It has remained a U.S. policy, even under the Obama administration, to employ “extraordinary rendition” — that is, the sending of captured terror suspects to the jails of countries that are known for torture and abuse, an outsourcing of what we no longer want to do.

    Techniques that the U.S. hanged men for at Nuremburg and in post-war Japan were employed and declared lawful. To embark on such a program with the oversight of the Bush administration, learned men and women had to have long discussions, with staffers running in and out of rooms with snippets of research to buttress the justifications being so laboriously developed. The CIA undoubtedly used some cumbersome bureaucratic process to hire contractors for its torture staff. The old manuals needed to be updated, psychiatrists consulted, military survival experts interviewed, training classes set up.

    Videotapes were made of the torture sessions and no doubt DVDs full of real horror were reviewed back at headquarters.

    Torture techniques were even reportedly demonstrated to top officials inside the White House. Individual torturers who were considered particularly effective were no doubt identified, probably rewarded, and sent on to new secret sites to harm more people.

    America just didn’t wake up one day and start slapping around some Islamic punk. These were not the torture equivalents of rogue cops. A system, a mechanism, was created. That we now can only speculate about many of the details involved and the extent of all this is a tribute to the thousands who continue to remain silent about what they did, saw, heard about, or were associated with. Many of them work now at the same organizations, remaining a part of the same contracting firms, the CIA, and the military. Our torturers.

    What is it that allows all those people to remain silent? How many are simply scared, watched what happening to John Kiriakou and thought: not me, I’m not sticking my neck out to see it get chopped off. They’re almost pathetically forgivable, even if they are placing their own self-interest above that of their country.

    But what about the others, the ones who remain silent about what they did or saw or aided and abetted in some fashion because they still think it was the right thing to do? The ones who will do it again when another frightened president asks them to? Or even the ones who enjoyed doing it?

    The same Department of Justice that hunted down the one man who spoke against torture from the inside still maintains a special unit, 60 years after the end of WWII, dedicated to hunting down the last few at-large Nazis. They do that under the rubric of “never again.” The truth is that same team needs to be turned loose on our national security state. Otherwise, until we have a full accounting of what was done in our names by our government, the pieces are all in place for it to happen again. There, if you want to know, is the real horror.




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  • The Torture Never Stops

    December 10, 2014 // 8 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy



    With the release of the Senate torture report, media accounts are quick to add a variant of the phrase that “Obama discontinued the enhanced interrogation programs soon after coming into office.”

    That is not true.


    Force-Feeding at Guantanamo

    Imad Abdullah Hassan has spent twelve years in Guantanamo in a cage without ever being charged with anything. A judge cleared Hassan for release, finding there was not enough incriminating evidence to justify keeping him imprisoned. Hassan’s clearance came in 2009, yet he remained at America’s off-shore penal colony without explanation or hope of release. He went on a hunger strike in protest (the U.S. military refers to it as a “long-term non-religious fast”), and is being force-fed.

    Hassan sued the president of the United States, claiming being force-fed at Guantanamo is torture. The lawsuit describes his treatment:

    — Prisoners are strapped to a hospital bed or special restraint chair for feeding.

    — Large tubes are used, and they cause undue pain when forced into the nostrils of the prisoners. Hassan was originally force-fed with a Number 8 gauge tube, later increased to a Number 14 that barely fit as it was pushed through his nostril into his stomach.

    — A funnel was used to channel large amounts of liquid into the tube to feed him faster.

    — So much liquid was forced through that the second time Hassan underwent this procedure, he lost consciousness and spent two days in critical condition.

    — Prisoners were force-fed drugs causing them to defecate on themselves as they sat in the chair being fed. “People with hemorrhoids would leave blood on the chair and the linens would not always be changed before the next feeding,” said Hassan in the lawsuit.

    — Prisoners would be be strapped down on top of others’ stool and blood for up to two hours at a time.

    — Hassan was at times forcibly sedated so he could be force-fed more easily.

    — If Hassan vomited on himself at any time during the procedure, the force-feeding would restart from the beginning.

    — Guards took Hassan and two others to another prison block so that others would see what was being done to them, as a deterrent.

    — Air-conditioning was sometimes turned up and detainees were deprived of a blanket. This was particularly difficult for the hunger strikers, as they felt the cold more than someone who was eating.

    — Guards would bang hunger-striking prisoners’ cells every five minutes day and night to prevent sleep.

    — The force-feeding procedures described in the lawsuit were done twice a day, every day, on prisoners.

    — Even after Hassan broke down at one point and began eating again, he continued to be force-fed anyway.

    — Hassan’s recorded weight fell from 119 pounds to 78 pounds. The military, in its force-feeding manual, states “Patients with weight loss can be expected in any detained population.” The manual advises “When detainees are weighed… wearing shackles or other restrictive devices, the weight of those devices will be subtracted from the measured weight.”

    — Hassan has been force-fed in this manner for eight years.



    Why Doesn’t He Just Eat?

    At this point some will be asking: why doesn’t Hassan just eat? That would stop the force-feeding torture.

    It is likely Hassan himself has thought about the same question. In my former career working for the Department of State, I was responsible for the welfare of arrested Americans abroad. Many threatened hunger strikes for reasons ranging from superficial to very serious. However, in my 24 years of such work, only one prisoner carried it out for more than a day or two, taking only small sips of water for days. His captors, one of America’s allies in Asia, choose to not force-feed him, stating due to the nature of his political crime that they’d prefer to see him die.

    I watched the man deteriorate before my eyes, starving to death in real-time. It requires extraordinary will and strength to do that, pushing back against all of evolution and biology screaming inside your head to just eat. Close to death, the man choose to stay alive and eat for the sake of his family. It is no casual decision to do what Hassan is doing. Something very important must be at stake for a man to do what Hassan has done.

    For eight years.

    And of course Hassan was still force-fed at one point when he did start eating. Imprisoned wrongly in the first place, and cleared to leave Gitmo for the last five years but still locked up, Hassan is worthy of protesting his incarceration via the only means available to him. He also understands that the force-feeding is not about keeping him alive per se, but about forcing him and others to comply with his jailers.


    Dr. Mengele at Gitmo

    The procedures at Guantanamo (as well as at the CIA Black Sites) are performed by or supervised by U.S. military and CIA doctors who, though they had taken the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm to a patient, do anyway.

    The Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) issued a lengthy study on the abandonment of millennia-old medical ethics in the post-9/11 U.S. torture programs. IMAP is a respected source of ethical comment; its board members include physicians from Columbia University, Harvard, the University of Toronto, Johns Hopkins, Boston University and a number of other prominent hospitals and medical research facilities. These are non-political, dispassionate people whose work has ended up as political under the extraordinary circumstances of our world.

    IMAP produced a report entitled Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror, based on two years of review of public records. The report details how military and CIA policies institutionalized a variety of acts by military and intelligence agency doctors and psychologists that breached ethical standards. These include:

    — Involvement in abusive interrogation;

    — Consulting on conditions of confinement to increase the disorientation and anxiety of detainees;

    — Using medical information for interrogation purposes; and

    — Force-feeding of hunger strikers.

    In addition, IMAP says that military policies and practices impeded the ability to provide detainees with appropriate medical care and to report abuses against detainees under recognized international standards. The report explains how agencies facilitated these practices by adopting rules for military and CIA health personnel that substantially deviate from ethical standards traditionally applied. For example, violations of ethical standards were “excused” by designating health professionals not as doctors, but as “interrogation safety officers,” personnel not bound by any ethics.


    Medical Ethics

    The basis of medical ethics, the Hippocratic Oath which says “first, do no harm,” is understood in the real world to come into conflict with the demands on doctors in wartime. Such complicated circumstances have been dealt with, and evolved standards do exist. Here are some from a recognized international body:

    Voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential. This means that the person involved should have legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, over-reaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved as to enable him to make an understanding and enlightened decision… [procedures] should be so conducted as to avoid all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury… proper preparations should be made and adequate facilities provided to protect the experimental subject against even remote possibilities of injury, disability, or death.

    These standards were written in 1947 in Nuremberg, Germany, to guide future medical experimentation on human beings held captive. The authors were Americans sitting in judgment of 23 Nazi physicians accused of murder and torture in the concentration camps. Of course many will argue circumstances in Dachau and Guantanamo are different; this is true. The former was run by the Third Reich and the latter by the World’s Indispensable Nation.


    Bad Dreams

    It is like I’ve had a bad dream and awoken to remember it all.

    As pundits falsely applaud the end of the U.S.’ torture regime following the election of Barack Obama, one should spare a thought for those people still in Guantanamo who endure America’s pointless wrath. The irony that the same president who said he ended torture also said he would close Guantanamo once in office is noted, but is really not much more than another spot on the white wall we imagine we are as a nation.

    Why do we do it? The doctors who conduct the torture are not stupid, especially evil as we traditionally define it, or unaware of the ethics of their profession. They know as well as anyone Hassan is approved for release, and so even any piggish notions of revenge or pay back do not apply. Some of the doctors involved were likely in junior school when 9/11 happened and know about that day the same way they know about Gettysburg or the Battle of the Bulge.

    We might also remind ourselves that after their military careers, some of those same young doctors will move among us in private practice, perhaps holding their dark secrets inside, perhaps enjoying them a bit too much in private moments.

    I don’t know why they do it. They’ll say, perhaps to themselves in some death-bed moment of desperate remorse, that they were only following orders. One hopes their god is more understanding, because we here have heard that one before.


    (Long-time readers of this blog will note I am re-running some earlier torture articles in lieu of the Senate report’s release)



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  • Thinking About Torture Ahead of the Senate Report

    December 9, 2014 // 19 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Police State, Post-Constitution America

    torture



    The highly-redacted Senate Intelligence Committee report on post-9/11 torture is being released as you read this. It will likely contain few details on what actually happened by America’s hand.

    But details or not, at the most fundamental level the report does not matter. America will sidestep the most important lessons that could have emerged: we have left the door open to torture, and torture will ultimately harm the nation more profoundly than any terrorist could.

    Information already in circulation makes clear the report will reveal America’s regime was more horrific than what we already know and that torture did not generate any of the life-saving intelligence it was designed and tolerated to do.

    There will be articles and talk shows pulling out every grotesque detail, played as horror porn, a real-life Saw. There will be think pieces reflecting on the terribleness of war, likely quoting some scraps of ancient text (save us from more Wikipedian Herodotus and Thucydides.) A main theme will be that while wrong and repugnant, one must view torture through the lens of those post-9/11 days when our very America was at grave risk. Torture is always unpleasant but sometimes necessary, people will say.


    President Obama already staked out this position on behalf of the nation way back on August 1, saying “I understand why [torture] happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.”

    The reality is, and was, different. The torture programs continued for years after 9/11, with most officially concluding (we are lead to believe) only after Obama took office in January 2009. Despite the fear-mongering, standard intelligence tools (including, we now know, blanket NSA surveillance) painted a clearer and clearer picture that there were no more imminent attacks coming. As for the “tough job” the “folks” responsible for the torture had, it is unclear that that job was any tougher than in other times of challenge for America– during the Civil War when the nation was truly at risk, after Pearl Harbor, during tense moments of the Cold War– when fear did not congeal into torture.

    No, no the idea that torture, as well as the other post-9/11 violations of acceptable human behavior such as renditions, indefinite detention without trial and the dilution of civil rights, held by American citizens for over two hundred years, can in any way be justified by their circumstances is simply wrong.

    The purposeful harming of prisoners has never in human history been considered acceptable or justified, except by the torturers themselves perhaps. Does the U.S. wish to stand in history among the Inquisition, Genghis Khan and the Stasi, all of whom felt torture was justified? Torture has otherwise been broadly held evil when done by frightened soldiers in the heat of battle, and it has been held evil when sanctioned by governments. It has been outlawed by international conventions and agreements.

    No U.S. president would find it acceptable if done to fellow citizens. Obama should be ashamed of himself for suggesting anything different about America’s own actions. He displays a lack of courage to confront his own national security apparatus by in any way leaving open the door that what was done was something he could “understand.” The horror was excusable once, and thus can be again. Pandora’s box has been left open.


    The second expected theme of the Senate report, that torture failed to produce results, bares similar shame.

    Leaving aside how unlikely a true 24 “ticking time bomb” scenario really is (no torture was needed after the Boston Marathon bombing when there might actually have been a ticking bomb), it does not matter whether torture produced “results.” If somehow one could cite an example of some useful intelligence, would that justify all that was done? Would it at that point be simply a math problem — if torture saved two lives it was still bad, but if it saved 54, or a 106, or 3,013, then it was justified and thus needed to be kept in America’s global toolbox for the “next time?”

    What matters more is that the long-term result of choosing expediency over morality has always resulted in great harm to a nation. Now, look to Thucydides, the ancient historian — the abandonment by Athens those centuries ago of its core principles in the destruction of innocents lead to the destruction of Athenian democracy. The lessons of history matter, especially for the first democracy founded since Athens.

    America, as national policy, tortured human beings. It did so out of fear, out of revenge, because it wanted to lash out and it could. Unless the president will step back from complicity on behalf of our nation and admit torture was simply wrong, and risked greater long-term harm to America than a terrorist could inflict, well ahead of the Senate report’s release we already know it doesn’t matter.



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  • Redneck Georgia Town Bans Mosque

    December 8, 2014 // 7 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    muslimLet’s see, got my Bible right here… a lot of stuff in this thing about tolerance, loving each other, specifically love they neighbor.

    Hmm. They must be using a different version in Georgia, where a small town has used some odd twists on traffic laws to violate the First Amendment’s right to practice one’s religion, banning a mosque from opening. All together now — Freedumb!


    Kennesaw, Georgia, a pus-filled, hateful ashtray of a city of about 30,000 people in north Georgia, voted down a Muslim group’s request to rent an unused retail space and open a mosque in the city.

    The vote was 4-1 against as anti-Muslim protesters stood outside the meeting with signs such as “Ban Islam” and “Islam Wants No Peace!”

    Mayor Mark Matthews forbade comment inside from the public about religion, so critics instead said they opposed the mosque on the grounds parking. This despite the fact that the Muslim group had already agreed to limit attendance to 80 worshipers at a time in the 2,200 square foot space. The group also agreed to build 40 new parking spaces well-away from the nearby shopping area.

    The clever haters in Georgia figured they would get around that naughty old First Amendment to the Constitution (Note: the Constitution is that thingie that defines the freedom our troops are always fighting Muslims overseas to protect) by not, no sir, not in any way at all, making the mosque ban about religion. Nope. All the good white people of Kennesaw are concerned about is traffic issues in what no doubt is their busy and thriving downtown area.

    “This is not intended to be a religious debate or a discussion about people’s religious beliefs. It’s a purely technical hearing on the appropriate land use for a piece of property in the city of Kennesaw,” the mayor said.


    Oh wait, that’s bullsh*t.


    At a public hearing last month that had no limits imposed on discussing religion, Kennesaw residents shared things like this: “I am first a Christian and then an American citizen,” resident Jo Talley said. “As a Christian I am to put no other God before my Lord, and I am also to love my neighbor. If you know me, then you know that I do my best to do those things… but I also have the right to protect myself. This project has to do with Sharia law.”

    “You know, if Christianity were killing people, I’m pretty sure I would have a problem with it,” Pastor C.S. Clarke of the Redeemed Christian Fellowship Church added.

    Ashley Haspel, who owns a beauty salon, said she is concerned people attending the mosque would use too many parking places, leaving no room for her customers. “A worship center has no place being in a retail center… It would hurt our business not having the parking for our customers.”

    According to the application for the mosque, the daily prayer services would likely be attended by 10-20 people and the weekly prayer service 60-80 people. There are already 127 parking space, which would increase to 167 if the mosque is approved.

    Resident Anthony Bonner said the debate was “bigger than just zoning and parking. This is bigger than right and wrong. This is not a religious debate. This is about a comment on the value and the merits of a community.”

    A commenter added “Islam is a discriminatory religion so it is quite ironic to hear all the supporters of the mosque crying about discrimination.”

    Here’s one: “Should we accommodate a religion aiming to convert or kill the infidel, including the citizens of the United States? Islam is NOT a peaceful religion based on love. Should we aid the enemy?”

    An upstanding citizen stated “The scumbag lawyer for the terrorist organization says he will sue… good luck with that.”


    Another says on video “A retail space is not appropriate to a house of worship,” though by some odd quirk, the city allowed a Pentecostal church to rent a retail space for exactly the same purpose in July.



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  • Adding Up Eric Garner

    December 6, 2014 // 13 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    eric-garner


    The argument you hear a lot is about not taking one case — Eric Garner for us now — and extrapolating too much from it. A cop killed an African-American man. That is one case, with its own unique circumstances, so you can’t claim it is just another example of a broad pattern of racism. Or, racism aside, that police violence and deadly force against citizens has become unmanageable.

    Maybe. At least until you add it all up. Here are some numbers, so as they say, you do the math.


    Three
    The New York police officer who killed Eric Garner has been sued three times for allegedly violating the constitutional rights of other blacks he and fellow cops arrested.

    A 2013 federal court lawsuit alleges that Daniel Pantaleo and other officers subjected Darren Collins and Tommy Rice to “humiliating and unlawful strip searches in public view.” They said Pantaleo “slapped and tapped” their testicles. The officers insisted they acted reasonably and exercised their discretion, but the lawsuit was settled last year for $30,000.

    Rylawn Walker’s 2012 lawsuit alleged Pantaleo and other officers falsely arrested him for marijuana. The charges against Walker were dismissed.

    A third suit involved Kenneth Collins, who alleged Pantaleo violated his rights during a 2012 marijuana arrest, including “a degrading search of his genitals” (disposition unknown)


    59 Pages

    A 59-page report released by the United States Department of Justice on Thursday reveals widespread, excessive use of force by police officers in Cleveland. Cleveland is the city where cops recently killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice while he was carrying a toy gun. Before that, Tanesha Anderson died in police hands when cops were supposed to be transporting her for mental health treatment.

    In another incident from the report, a 300-pound officer sat on a 13 year-old boy and punched the boy in the face repeatedly while the boy was handcuffed in the back of a police car. In another incident, police used their stun gun on a juvenile suspect, despite the fact that the boy was being held on the ground by two officers. In a third incident, an officer fired upon a man who fled after repeatedly asking the officer to produce his badge in order to prove that he was, in fact, a cop. The cop did not do so.

    The overarching conclusion of the report is that Cleveland police “too often use unnecessary and unreasonable force in violation of the Constitution,” and that “supervisors tolerate this behavior and, in some cases, endorse it.”


    Hundreds

    More than 550 homicides by police officers between 2007 and 2012 were missing from the federal statistics or not attributed to the law enforcement agency involved, the Wall Street Journal reported.

    This makes it nearly impossible to figure out how many people cops kill — justifiably or not — every year. To compile the report, the Journal looked at the internal figures of killings by police from 105 of the nation’s 110 largest police departments. Five declined the request for access. The internal records show at least 1,800 deaths during the aforementioned timeframe. That is about 45 percent higher than the FBI’s tally of 1,242. Some law enforcement agencies are not reporting all the police killings that happen on their watch.


    Thousands

    Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.

    One way of appreciating that stark disparity is to calculate how many more whites would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring – 185 – more than one per week over the three year period the statistics cover.

    ProPublica’s risk analysis on young males killed by police supports what has been an article of faith in the African American community: Blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population.

    Details matter. Did police always list the circumstances of the killings? No, there were many deadly shootings where the circumstances were listed as “undetermined.” 77 percent of those killed in such instances were black.



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  • The System “Worked,” and That’s Wrong: The Murder of Eric Garner

    December 5, 2014 // 15 Comments

    Tags:
    Posted in: Police State

    eric-garner


    A grand jury chose to not bring charges against a New York police officer for his part in killing Eric Garner. Garner was an unarmed man accused of illegally selling loose cigarettes in front of a store on Staten Island. His death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. The act was captured in its entirety on video. See it here.



    Did you watch the video? The question almost every person asks at that point is the same: how could that cop not be indicted for some type of crime?

    What play out as racist and fascist actions in our “justice” system are built right into the law.

    Finding a cop indictable, never mind guilty, is very difficult. The law heavily presumes the cop did the right thing, well beyond the concept of innocent until proven guilty. With the police, the presumption is that the act of violence was justified, and through that, that the cop is innocent.

    In a civilian murder case, absent self-defense, the presumption is that you have no inherent right, never mind a duty, to kill someone.


    Meanwhile, keep in mind every cop is empowered to take a life any day of the week. The standard is low, conveying something like the cop felt his life or someone else’s was threatened, or believed the (dead) man had a weapon, or the like. It is based on what was happening inside the cop’s head, not on what actually took place on the ground. Tremendous discretion is given to the cop, acting “under the circumstances.” These cases are by definition decided from the perspective of the cop, not the victim or society.

    For example, a lay explanation of the law governing the use of deadly force by cops, as determined by two Supreme Court cases, is that the cop reasonably believed at that moment that he or others were in imminent danger. It does not matter whether any danger actually existed.

    The intention of the officer is thus critical, often overshadowing the statements of witnesses or even a video of the killing itself. None of that can show what the cop was thinking, and a grand jury essentially has to decide if they believe what the cop tells them or not. Throw into that pot a jury that may be biased toward authority, and/or a jury that is made up of racist people, and you have some answers to how cases like those of Michael Brown and Eric Garner end up as they do.

    I understand most cops are not bad people, that all cops have a difficult job, that it is easy to Monday morning quarterback, along with the rest of the standard arguments. Those do apply to specific cases, but when you look at these cop-on-black actions in the aggregate in general, and the lack of accountability for the deaths in the particular, the patterns are clear enough that we can come to conclusions.


    The legal basis for a grand jury’s decision in a cop case was not created and is not maintained in a vacuum. The system works exactly the way it is supposed to work.

    Understand that and the rest of what is going on in our streets falls into place.



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  • Ferguson in NY as Cop Acquitted after Killing Unarmed Man

    December 4, 2014 // 16 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    eric-garner


    A grand jury will bring no charges against a white New York City cop who strangled an unarmed African-American man to death. Watch him die in the video.

    Watch Him Die

    Daniel Pantaelo, the NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner with a chokehold on Staten Island on July 17, will not face charges for the killing, a grand jury decided yesterday. You can hear Garner, who was asthmatic, plead with police about his inability to breathe several times during the struggle that led to his death. Watch him die in the video.

    The grand jury did not bring charges against Officer Pantaelo despite the fact that the NYPD’s own patrol guide explicitly prohibits the chokehold used to kill Garner.

    The grand jury did not bring charges against Officer Pantaleo despite Garner’s death being ruled a homicide by the New York City medical examiner in August.

    The cause of Garner’s death was “compression of neck (chokehold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police,” the medical examiner’s office said.

    Eric Garner was a 43-year-old father of six. Police said they approached Garner because he was selling unlicensed cigarettes — known as loosies — and that he resisted arrest.


    Watch him die in the video:


    In preparation for the Garner decision today, the NYPD sent detectives to Ferguson during recent demonstrations to gather intelligence on so-called professional protesters. In New York, cops will be looking for outside agitators and vowed to arrest demonstrators interfering with traffic. There will be a heavy presence of cops on foot, in the air and on horseback throughout the city.


    Comment
    We are left at this point only to wonder under what circumstances a cop may actually be indicted after killing someone on the street. In the Garner case, there is no doubt that he was unarmed. He did raise his hands. He did not endanger the police, and they had no clear reason to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone around them. There is no question about the events that unfolded, as the entire scene was filmed at close range. The police office who did the killing used a chokehold, a technique specifically outlawed by the NYPD. The medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide.

    This is not Michael Brown. There are no conflicting witnesses, no ambiguous testimony, no need to decide who to believe. Believe your eyes.

    If under such conditions a grand jury comes to the conclusion that no crime was committed, it is hard to imagine what conditions could cause a grand jury to conclude a crime was committed.

    No amount of police body cameras, or blue ribbon panels, or meetings or additional training will help. This is just a slaughter and the people who can stop it won’t. Watch him die in the video.



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  • Lebanon Arrests ISIS Leader Baghdadi’s Wife and Child

    December 3, 2014 // 4 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Syria

    baghdadi


    Lebanese security forces have detained a wife and nine-year-old child of Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The pair were picked up after entering Lebanon with forged passports ten days ago, and are being interrogated at the defence ministry. Baghdadi is the leader of the “caliphate” created by ISIS in the parts of Syria and Iraq it controls.

    Describing them as “a valuable catch”, the Lebanese newspaper al-Safir said that the IS leader’s wife and child had been detained in coordination with foreign intelligence services. Indeed, CNN cites a “source” with knowledge of the arrest, describing the wife as a “powerful figure who is heavily involved in ISIS.”


    So let’s drill down a bit into this story.

    Given that ISIS is a strict, conservative, fundamentalist Islamic organization that follows Sharia law and uses captive women for rape and as slaves, the statement that one of Baghdadi’s three wives is indeed a “powerful figure who is heavily involved in ISIS,” seems suspect at best. She would be in fact the only woman ever connected with ISIS with any known power at all. Her role as an ISIS leader has certainly not been discussed before. It is not common anywhere in the conservative Muslim world for powerful men to share responsibilities with their spouses; among the reasons, other men would be unlikely to take orders from a woman, regardless of who she was married to. In addition, having one’s wife play such as role would certainly weaken the status of the husband.

    Given that, and given that a child was also arrested, one cannot avoid the term hostage. By coincidence, Lebanon is deeply engaged in negotiations to free more than 20 Lebanese Army soldiers held hostage since August by ISIS and the al-Nusra Front.

    In a better world, one would expect to hear the United States condemning the arrest of a woman and a child simply because she is married to a bad guy. Even more so when there is the appearance that her arrest has some connection to ongoing hostage negotiations, and that it involved a young child.


    I will update this story when the U.S. issues its condemnation of the hostage taking…

    A Different Update: An Iraqi official denied that a woman detained in Lebanon is a wife of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, claiming she is the sister of a terror suspect being held in Iraq. Same church, different pew.



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  • U.S. to Use Psych Tests to Vett Syrian Rebels for Moderateness

    December 2, 2014 // 6 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Military, Syria

    blot


    Many have compared those “moderate Syrian rebels” the U.S. keeps looking for to unicorns. The U.S. now thinks it has a new set of tools to scare the unicorns out of hiding, and to tell the nasty terrorists from the good terrorists: psychological evaluations, biometric checks and stress tests. It is unlikely this will help.


    Call of Duty: Problems One-Four

    According to the Washington Post, “moderate” Syrian fighters will be evaluated on an ongoing basis. Successful participants “would gradually attain access to higher levels of training and weaponry.” So basically this is going to work something like Call of Duty leveling-up. Problem One.

    The Post goes on to say that the American government hopes “to lessen the risk that U.S.-trained fighters sent back into Syria to combat ISIS will use their weapons on civilians or — like the Afghan mujahideen fighters Washington backed in the 1980s — later turn against the United States and its allies.” This is of course a good goal, considering those U.S.-backed 80s-era mujahideen fighters went on to become al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS. Problem Two.

    The psych screening and stress testing will not stand alone. Biometric data will be gathered from the recruits, and along with their names, run through all sorts of databases. Needless to say, a person must exist in one of those databases for the checking to do any good. And in a region of the world where last names and birthdays are not always recorded, there may be some problems with that. There are a lot of “Muhummed, FNU, 01/01/01″ entries in the databases that match everyone and no one (FNU = First Name Unknown). Problem Three.

    “In the special operations community, we have a pretty long history of vetting and screening surrogate forces that we’ve worked with,” said an official at CENTCOM who apparently is unfamiliar with the success of the 1980s mujahideen fighters experiment, America’s near-endless work with human rights violating Central and South American thug armies (see School of the Americas) and so forth. That official appears also unaware of the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan in the present war by their Afghan partners, so called “Green-on-Blue” attacks. Problem Four.


    Problem Five: No Leahy Vetting

    For all the Hail-Mary style “vetting” that will sort-of take place, one thing which will not happen is Leahy Vetting.

    Leahy Vetting is a process, albeit flawed as it is run by a small office located deep inside the State Department, put in place during the 1990s precisely to stop the U.S. from funding and partnering with human rights violators who might fulfill America’s short term goals but ultimately alienate the very populations the U.S. seeks to win over.

    But because the Syrian rebels will not be part of a state-sponsored force, the Leahy Vetting laws will not apply, according to an interpretation announced by the Obama Administration (existing Department of Defense regulations classify “paramilitary forces” as included, so we’ll call that Problem 5.5). That means even the very light touch of Leahy won’t be applied to America’s new partners in the fight against ISIS. Persons who at this point may be concerned that the U.S. will be backing one group of human rights-violating Islamic fundamentalists against another group of human rights-violating Islamic fundamentalists are excused from the final exam. You already got it.


    Comment

    I sometimes label things I write as “satire,” as without the label I often received both well-meaning and incredibly obscene comments and emails challenging the stories. After learning of these nearly-pointless psych evaluation vetting procedures (“Now look at this ink blot. Does it look like a splatter of ISIS brain matter on the end of your rifle butt, or moderate brain matter?”), I feel it may be clearer to label posts such as this one “Not Satire” and leave the purposefully satirical ones alone.




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  • Italians Pay Attention to Naples Story Americans Ignore

    December 1, 2014 // 1 Comment

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State




    A few days ago I ran an update on how the State Department is trying to block a lawsuit and investigation into allegations that its former Consul General, pictured, in Naples, Italy had a sexual relationship with a subordinate at work on taxpayer time, in his office, submitted false expense claims, served out-of-date food to official guests and saw long-time employees fired in what some claim are retaliatory acts.

    The Smaller Point
    While traffic to my blog from the U.S. was the usual, over 1/3 of all accesses last week came out of Italy. So while we may not care what “our” representatives might be doing abroad, foreigners sure do.

    Oh, and yeah, the point of having that Consulate in Naples has something to do with maintaining a positive relationship with the Italians. How’s that working out over this you suppose?

    The Bigger Point

    The pattern shown by this relatively minor alleged incident is repeated over bigger issues such as drone killings, torture and rendition, NSA global spying and the like.

    Americans have grown, at the risk of a pun, stunted over the near-endless thudding of alleged heinous acts by their own government in general, and against far-away countries in the specific. We assume our tiny, tiny attentions spans (Black Ferguson? No, Black Friday!) are shared throughout the world. We assume the legal hijinks used to stymie investigations that are now commonplace in the Homeland are equally seen as business as usual in other countries.

    We casually reach the ethnocentric conclusion that what matters little to us matters little to people in other nations, and then are repeatedly surprised when it doesn’t turn out that way. Explains a lot, really.



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  • Excerpt from Ghosts of Tom Joad

    November 28, 2014 // 4 Comments

    Tags:
    Posted in: Economy

    0100025-R1-E009


    My current book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percentis a complex novel telling the story of America from the end of World War II through the present day.

    You’ll travel through the economic boom years and the rise of a robust middle class, fueled by union wages and industrialization, peaking in the mid-1970s. The decline of all those factors is the second half of the book, the story of how we became a nation defined by the working poor, the 99 percent.

    Here’s what one reviewer said:

    I wasn’t ready for this one. I guess I was expecting something a little more MSNBC. You know, the kind of book that contains nothing but glowing praise for the Occupy movement and endless tirades about how shopping at Wal-Mart makes you an evil person. The kind of book that you can almost tell was written on an iMac computer over three weeks in a Starbucks café by a dude wearing those thick hipster glasses.

    Man, I wasn’t even close. “Ghosts of Tom Joad” is a heartbreaking tale of one man against the world, or rather the world against one man. I don’t think you can call it an epic since it takes place almost entirely within a small town in rust-belt Ohio, but it’s definitely raw, gritty, and painful. The narrator pulls no punches when it comes to describing his downward spiral into underemployment and homelessness, and the novel that results is heartbreakingly authentic.

    The beginning of the book shows a simpler time for the main character, Earl. His boyhood is not idyllic, however, and the scene excerpted below foreshadows the problems he will experience in the New Economy.

    Excerpt from Ghosts of Tom Joad

    Jeff’s old man kept a small boat. It had seen better days, floating as much out of stubbornness any more than anything else. Seats two safely. Rides low in the water. We’d take it out on the river from time to time, drinking beer when we could, horsing around.

    It was a heavy, humid Ohio night, still then soft around us. Car sounds far off. The current was light and the river half dry in summer, so we figured loading the four of us into a boat made for two wouldn’t be a problem. Then we met Pam, this girl Tim sort of liked and Tim made us take her along. Tim had it on good authority she had lost her virginity already and was willing to lose it some more. She had a Farrah ’do, as this was the late 1970s.

    We got the boat into the water and climbed in well enough. Pam devoted herself to worrying about five people in a boat that might safely hold two. Pam was right, like girls then usually were about those kind of things. The boat drifted along with the current, ending up in the center of the river two beers later. We could see a few lights reflecting off the water, pretty, and I guess that’s what inspired Tim to try and put his arm around Pam, who was less inspired by the romantic scene and shrugged him off a bit too hard. The boat rocked and water came over the shallow sides. I was laughing, and so was Jeff, when the whole thing flipped over, dumping the five of us into the river. I couldn’t touch the bottom, but it was easy enough to doggy paddle over to the far bank. I looked over, laughing, at Tim, Rich and a really unhappy Pam. Her Farrah ’do was ruined. The boat was gone.

    So was Jeff.

    Tim and Pam went off looking for him down the river bank, thinking maybe he swam off that way. Rich heard him first – Jeff, in the water, shouting for us. I figured he was kidding around like always, pretending to drown in eight feet of warm water, when I saw Rich dive back in. I went right after him, and we reached Jeff in a few wet splashes. Rich grabbed him first, and we pulled him over to the bank. He was crying, snot all down his face, white as Wonder Bread. He had been wearing his heavy work boots, lace-ups, and they’d filled with water, pulling him under. Jeff was a strong kid back then, and was able to claw his way up to the surface and shout, but if Rich had not gone in after him, he’d have drowned that night while we watched.

    It was either Jeff’s earlier laughing or Jeff’s recent shouting that brought out the cops. One fat one came up to me and said, “Son, how many kids were in that boat?” And I said, truthfully, “Sir, there were five of us.” Me, Jeff and Rich were right there. Tim and Pam hadn’t come back, likely seeing the cop car lights and running. Five of us, just like I said.

    “Don’t worry son, we’ll find your friends.” The cop put me in the back of his car with a blanket, right before that fire truck came and all those men waded into the shallow part of the river. Flashlights were swinging criss-cross over the water and the men would yell for a bit, then tell each other to “Be quiet and just listen for a minute dammit, there’s two kids out there somewhere. We ain’t gonna let them die for no reason –”

    I figured out the reason. When the now tomato-faced fat cop came over to see how I was doing, I told him that Tim and Pam probably weren’t coming back. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Not if I can help it, son.” I told him Tim and Pam weren’t in the river. Nobody drowned. Nobody was missing. Tim and Pam had just run away. When he asked me how many in the boat a first, I didn’t want to lie and so I said, “Five officer, honest.”

    We heard Tim never got to make out with Pam that night, but he walked her home and she said maybe she’d think about it. It was the first time I realized you could die without getting old first, and that stuck with me.


    You can buy Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent from Amazon now, in hardcover, paperback and Kindle formats.



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  • Walmart Again Holds Food Drive for Own Underpaid Workers

    November 26, 2014 // 3 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Economy, Minimum Wage

    walmart-food


    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Walmart, who pays its workers so little and/or gives them so few hours, that they cannot feed themselves while the Walton family rakes in billions, does have its sense of humor. Either that or they could just care so little about what anyone thinks that they are just like, whatever, what are you going to do about it anyway except buy more junk you don’t need from us on Black Friday?


    As it did to national scorn last Thanksgiving, Walmart raised a smiley-faced middle finger to its own “associates” by asking some of them to dig deep into their low-wage pockets to give to each other. An Oklahoma City Walmart is asking employees to donate food to help their coworkers make ends meet during the holiday season, according to a photo posted by the labor-backed coalition Making Change At Walmart. A sign on the collection bin reads, “Let’s succeed by donating to associates in need!!!” In 2013, the same thing happened at a Walmart store in Canton, Ohio.

    Technically,the food drives are not Walmart corporate policy, so hey, all is forgiven, amiright? Though hey, a Walmart spokesperson did characterize the Ohio effort as “part of the company’s culture to rally around associates and take care of them when they face extreme hardships.” And Walmart checked, ’cause it cares you know, and the Oklahoma food drive is just for two associates who don’t have health insurance because Walmart doesn’t provide any to its hourly workers, so it is not like the whole freaking store is starving or anything. You can have it both ways apparently at Walmart.


    And who wants to subsidize freeloaders with our hard-earned tax dollars anyway? Oh, wait. Actually Walmart hauls in a monster truck load of public assistance for itself. Those low, low daily wages are subsidized by your taxes. The company’s low wages leave huge numbers of its employees on public assistance programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. By one estimate, a single Walmart superstore requires up to $1.7 million in public assistance spending every year. The company eats up a total public assistance cost of $6.2 billion per year. That’s how Walmart can “afford” to pay its associates so little and yet they don’t pass out from hunger in the aisles during your Black Friday orgy of consumerism. Neat!


    But Walmart loves its food stamps as more than just fodder to feed the work animals. Walmart loves selling to stuff to the food stamp people of America. A lot of stuff.

    How much profit does Walmart make from public assistance? In one year, nine Walmart Supercenters in Massachusetts received more than $33 million in SNAP dollars. In two years, Walmart received about half of the one billion dollars in SNAP expenditures in Oklahoma. Overall, 18 percent of all food benefits money is spent at Walmart. That’s about $14 billion.


    But maybe all is not lost. Protesters left a huge food bin outside of Walmart heiress Alice Walton’s $25 million Manhattan condo. Alice has a net worth of $35 billion dollars. Alice made $100 million this past year, so at least she is doing OK this Thanksgiving.




    It can’t get any plainer than this friends: Walmart’s owners make profits on an amazing scale by giving workers as little as possible while scooping up as much government money as possible.

    Do your soul a favor and stay out of Walmart this holiday season.



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  • Questions from Ferguson

    November 25, 2014 // 8 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State

    photos_of_Darren_Wilson



    I woke up this morning with the worst kind of hangover: anger, confusion, wondering what happened last night. Without a drop of alcohol to explain how I felt. So here are some of the questions I have about Michael Brown, Darren Wilson and Ferguson.


    Why was the Announcement Made as it Was?

    The grand jury made its decision no later than early afternoon on Monday. Why was the announcement held until 9pm EST? That put the announcement at the end of hours of tension allowed to build, after dark, and suspiciously smack in TV prime time. There was nothing more to “get ready” on the streets except to allow crowds to gather and frustration to ramp up. Why not make the announcement as soon as a decision was rendered? Why not hold it until say 7am Tuesday morning when people were asleep and not yet gathered? In daytime? Wouldn’t those actions have reduced somewhat the potential for violence?


    Why was the prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, Seemingly Smirking?

    Why was the prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, whose very title implies his task before a grand jury, seemingly so pleased with the result? Throughout his press conference, he went out of his way to chastise the media and mock discrepancies among the witnesses to Brown’s shooting. This was unprofessional at the very minimum, and did nothing to calm tensions or create the impression of a fair process.

    Every attorney knows that in any situation witnesses will disagree with one another. The shooting occurred within seconds, and each witness saw it from a different location, so of course statements will vary. And indeed it is possible in any criminal situation that some witnesses may lie. McCulloch essentially treated this as some sort of unique facet of the Brown case. He kept referring to the significant gaps between the physical evidence and witness statements, yet the key thing, what initially happened between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson at the window of the police car, was by its nature not able to be supported or refuted by any physical evidence (What was said? Who acted first? At what point did Wilson shoot?)


    Why was the Physical Evidence of Wilson’s Injury Not Seen as More Significant?

    A key element of showing Darren Wilson was justified in his use of deadly force was the claim that Michael Brown punched/attacked him in his police cruiser, causing Wilson to fear for his life and fire his weapon. The law governing this states “An officer may use lethal force only when the officer reasonably believes that the action is in defense of human life, including the officer’s own life.” To a casual observer, the injuries Wilson sustained, which appear to be minor bruises, do not support the criteria necessary to have fired the first shots or Wilson’s statements that his life was in danger. It was the action at the door of the police car precipitated everything that followed.

    Wilson’s injuries were testified to on page 25 of the transcript. The questions appear only to describe for the record what was evident in the hospital photos, nothing more.


    Given McCulloch’s Personal History, Which Creates the Appearance of Bias, Why did He Handle the Case?

    Everyone knew the Brown killing was among the most controversial and sensitive cases Missouri had seen for a long time. Given the racial tensions and violence that both happened and were worried to happen, avoiding even the appearance of bias seemed a key element in helping tamp down concerns that the issue was treated unjustly. So why was McCulloch allowed to shepherd the case?

    McCulloch has a tragic, close, familial connection to violence. In 1964 his father, a police officer, was shot and killed by an African-American man in a public housing complex. In 2000 McCulloch controversially declined to bring charges against two detectives accused of excessive force in the killing of two unarmed black men, who died after 20 shots were fired into their car by police.

    McCulloch made questionable statements in August as protests unfolded in Ferguson. He criticized Missouri Governor Nixon for replacing St. Louis County police control of the Ferguson protests with officers and leadership from the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “It’s shameful what he did today, he had no legal authority to do that,” McCulloch said at the time. “To denigrate the men and women of the county police department is shameful.” He also praised police: “The abuse that they took on that line was incredible,” he said, in reference to the SWAT and riot teams on call in Ferguson in the early days of the protests. “The use of force, while they were doing it under the circumstances, I don’t think was excessive,” he said.

    A formal accusation of bias towards the police on the part of McCulloch is impossible to demonstrate. The appearance of bias is impossible to ignore. Given the controversy and sensitivity of the Brown killing, was there not anyone else in the state of Missouri who could have prosecuted the case? Why didn’t the governor appoint a special prosecutor as he was able to do?


    Why Did the Grand Jury Take it Upon Themselves to Sort Out the Witnesses Conclusively?

    The point of a grand jury is only to determine if probable cause of a crime, a very low legal hurdle, exists. If it does, they return an indictment and the case goes to trial for resolution. There, in open court with all sides publicly testifying, a jury selected for the specific case goes through all the evidence, and decides which witnesses to believe and which to discard. Cross-examination occurs, particularly of critical witnesses such as Darren Wilson.

    The most significant elements of the case could only be accounted for by Wilson, or Brown. One is dead, and one is fighting for his life. The latter point is often a critical one in a criminal trial and a defendant’s statements exonerating themselves are often looked at very closely. One of the key points of even having a trial is for the trial jury to sort out conflicting evidence; absent a confession, every criminal case has some sort of conflicting evidence.

    It appears that the grand jury took it upon itself not just to decide if probable cause existed, but to try Darren Wilson in secret, without the checks and balances of an open trial.


    What was Said by Prosecutors in Front of the Grand Jury?

    Did prosecutors actually ask for the grand jury to indict? If they did not believe the evidence supported an indictment, why did they take the case to the grand jury instead of dismissing the charges themselves as if normal procedure? It is clear that prosecutors went to great efforts to challenge the credibility of outside witnesses, going as far as labeling some as making up their stories to match publicly-available details.

    Were the same standards applied to the ultimate witness, Darren Wilson? Were his conclusive statements, which some could consider to be self-serving, aggressively challenged? If they were, exposing that would help to calm tensions.

    Wilson’s grand jury testimony is here; it does not appear to contain challenging questioning, but have a look yourself.

    The key element in determining whether Wilson was justified in shooting was the the question of whether Wilson thought his own life was in mortal danger. Wilson made the following statements to the grand jury; were they seen by the jury as unbiased or self-serving, or simply truthful?

    Brown had the “crazy” look of a “demon… It looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him,” Wilson told the grand jury

    Wilson described Brown as “very aggressive” and was convinced the teen was “gonna kill me.” “It was just like intense,” the officer said. “I’ve never seen anybody look that, for lack of a better word, crazy.”

    Wilson also stated: “He turned, looked at me, made like a grunting noise and had the most intense aggressive face I’ve ever seen on a person.”

    Wilson was a veteran cop. Did anyone challenge his assertion, after years on the streets, that 18-year-old Michael Brown did indeed display the “most intense aggressive face I’ve ever seen on a person.”

    By the way, Brown, according to Wilson on page 225 of the transcript, only made that aggressive face after Wilson shot him the first time.


    So is This Over?

    This one we pretty much know the answer to. With the grand jury’s decision, Darren Wilson will not be criminally charged for killing Michael Brown by the state of Missouri.

    The Federal Department of Justice can charge Wilson with violating Brown’s civil rights, under the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, for “depriving him of his life.” Civil rights investigations can drag on for years. The Justice Department’s civil rights investigation into George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, is still active after two years with no results expected, well, for a long time.



    More to Come

    I am not a lawyer, and in the short time since the grand jury’s announcement have obviously not yet waded through all 70 hours of testimony and thousands of pages of written documentation, so it is possible that answers to some of these questions may already exist. I hope so, but I worry they don’t.

    What happened in Ferguson matters to us all as Americans. Are we doomed to remain a nation hopelessly, violently adrift in a swamp of racism? Do we have a justice system that is indeed just? Can everyone expect to receive fair treatment in our system, from the moment police confront an alleged criminal to the moment some sort of final decision is reached? Do our police forces exist to “protect and serve,” or does that only apply to some groups of Americans, while for others the police are deadly enemies?

    Without any disrespect, Michael Browns’ come and go. There have been young black men killed under dubious circumstances by the police before Brown, and God help us, there will be more killed under dubious circumstances by the police after Brown.

    Until the real questions of Ferguson are answered, we will do this over and over and over again.



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  • Indict? Just Try It Amerika

    November 25, 2014 // 1 Comment

    Tags:
    Posted in: Police State

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  • Next Steps in the Naples Saga?

    November 24, 2014 // 5 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State




    The American Consulate in Naples, Italy, has been the scene of much alleged nooky, naughtiness and nasty bureaucracy.

    Following allegations that then-Consul General Donald Moore (pictured) had a sexual relationship with a subordinate at the U.S. Consulate in Naples, Italy on taxpayer time, in his office, submitted false expense claims, served out-of-date food to official guests and saw long-time employees fired in what some claim are retaliatory acts when they tried to expose his shenanigans, the State Department followed its standard procedure of promising to investigate, not investigating, firing or transferring all involved and then hoping it would all go away.

    The New York Post dubbed the whole thing as the “Neapolitan Nookie Campaign.” Il Mattino (a Naples newspaper) has a headline “Bunga-Bunga Consulato Americano.” Bunga-Bunga is apparently an Italian term for the horizontal mambo. One Italian paper, Corriere Del Mezzogiorno, ran with the headline “Sexygate al Consolato USA.” The influential Times of London headlined “Prostitution ‘rampant’ at US Consulate in Naples.” The FBI even appears to have been involved.

    The campaign moves to its next step, but one that might see State Department bureaucracy triumph over all else.


    Quick Recap

    One of Donald Moore’s employees filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State John Kerry (Case 2:14-cv-00194-ADS-AKT). The plaintiff, Kerry Howard, tried to get someone at the U.S. Consulate in Naples to care about what was going on around her, or at the State Department in Washington. She got fired. Her lawsuit alleges that her alleged civil rights were violated by Moore’s alleged sexual harassment, his alleged bullying of staff and overall alleged slime-coated daily antics. Allegedly.


    The End?

    Attorney Lawrence Kelly, who represents Ms. Howard in her lawsuit against the Department of State, sends this update:

    The Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) at the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, DC made a motion to dismiss “for failure timely to contact an EEO Counselor.” As opposed to New York (300 days) or civilian EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint] (180 days), the State Department claims a 45 day notice period in order to “investigate” effectively.

    I sent copies of emails to the AUSA indicating a six month effort by Kerry Howard to have an EEO counselor designated. These emails covered the period of time the AUSA and State were describing as the time lapse which barred her claim.

    I received an email response from the AUSA and a “cc” to his State Department point of contact indicating he did not know about this email stream, but “we” (State and the Department of Justice) feel we are still correct.

    I sent a supplemental note to the AUSA indicating he is the attorney on the file, it is his motion to dismiss, and his application arguing the lack of EEO contact is now, officially, frivolous, and should be withdrawn.

    Attorney Kelly goes on to say:

    Every employee at the Department of State should be aware that they should file their EEO complaint within 45 days of an incident separate and apart from any grievance they file. No if, ands or buts. The Department of Justice argues in their brief in the Howard case that the Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual demand that employees discuss the matter before filing a formal complaint is irrelevant to the 45 day filing requirement. State employees should know that at the end of day, no one at State is there for them. “Defendant’s grievance procedures are separate and distinct from the EEO process, as stated in Defendant’s Foreign Affairs Manual (“FAM”)… Compare 3 FAM 4400… with 3 FAM 1500″ states the AUSA brief in Howard v Kerry.

    I have uncovered Ms. Howard’s multiple attempts to have an EEO counselor appointed in a timely manner. All of these emails were suppressed by the Department of State throughout the process. Even now, when I have disclosed them to DOJ and to State, they have not discontinued the motion to dismiss based on the disinformation provided the federal court by DOJ and State.



    Comment

    The Department of Justice, supposedly representing the People and using taxpayer funds to do so, is seeking to use one of the State Department’s internal regulations, not a law or legal precedent, to block any further action on what appears to be serious allegations against an American diplomat and the Department of State itself. If DOJ is successful in getting the case dismissed, that will close off any further attempt to learn what really happened at the American Consulate in Naples.

    Also under question is the State Department’s core interest. Aware of both Ms. Howard’s and others allegations against Donald Moore in Naples, it is unclear that State proactively advised her of the 45 day deadline, itself arbitrary and at variance with other organizations’ deadlines. If State did not advise Ms. Howard, and instead quietly allowed the deadline to pass, that may suggest its interest was never with its own employee, or with investigating fully what happened. Its interest was in covering things up.


    Attorney Kelly opines: You understand the institutions are corrupt. But you start with hope for the individual.



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  • Ferguson Tourist Board Admits Bad Timing (Satire)

    November 22, 2014 // 19 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State

    ferguson


    “Yep, we blew it,” said a sheepish spokesperson for the Ferguson, Missouri tourist promotion board. “We really, really picked a bad week to go all in on our ‘urban young people’ tourism promotion campaign– Ferguson, It’ll Be Cray-Cray Ya’ll!

    With a grand jury decision on the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson expected Sunday, and with many predicting violence to follow that decision in the racially divided city, the tourism board admitted they had egg on their faces.

    “At first we were kind of excited. The hashtag we had been promoting, #Ferguson, really blew up on Twitter, and we were hearing that media from all over the world were block-booking hotel rooms. We mistakenly took all that as signs that our social media campaign had really caught on, until we read about the whole grand jury thing and Michael Brown. I guess we should get a news app on our phones or something. Really, we checked Instagram three or four times and there was nothing. Awkward!”

    In its own defense, the tourism board did emphasize that the campaign had been in the works for months, and that many of the contracts for advertising, billboards and fake friends on social media had to be lined up quite a while ago. “And besides,” said one anonymous staffer, “nobody at city hall returned a phone call or responded to even one of our emails for like, four months, so we just said to ourselves, better ‘go for it!'”

    “And yes, we have already heard that saying we were specifically ‘targeting’ the African-American community with our promotional campaign is really awkward in so many ways. It’s just that our market research showed that so few African-Americans wanted to come to Ferguson for some reason that we figured they were an underserved demographic for us. Then we heard from two different restaurants in town that they actually don’t serve African-Americans, which we obviously misunderstood the meaning of. And who doesn’t make mistakes? That’s why pencils come with erasers. We feel really bad.”

    “But the saddest part of all is that so many people are going to miss some of the great attractions we have here in Ferguson. We have a movie theatre, which we now hope will not be burned down, and the Rite Aid is still open despite the plywood they now have up. For military buffs, the National Guard is going to hold some sort of parade soon. And we heard the state is considering legalized casino gambling, so keep us on your vacation radar.”

    “But maybe wait a week or so.”



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  • U.S. Garrisoning Chad

    November 21, 2014 // 3 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Military

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    Here’s a guest post from Nick Turse, first published on TomDispatch. All opinions are those of the author, though he is damn spot on with this update on America’s continuing efforts to militarize Africa.

    Admit it. You don’t know where Chad is. You know it’s in Africa, of course. But beyond that? Maybe with a map of the continent and by some process of elimination you could come close. But you’d probably pick Sudan or maybe the Central African Republic. Here’s a tip. In the future, choose that vast, arid swath of land just below Libya.

    Who does know where Chad is? That answer is simpler: the U.S. military. Recent contracting documents indicate that it’s building something there. Not a huge facility, not a mini-American town, but a small camp.

    That the U.S. military is expanding its efforts in Africa shouldn’t be a shock anymore. For years now, the Pentagon has been increasing its missions there and promoting a mini-basing boom that has left it with a growing collection of outposts sprouting across the northern tier of the continent. This string of camps is meant to do what more than a decade of counterterrorism efforts, including the training and equipping of local military forces and a variety of humanitarian hearts-and-minds missions, has failed to accomplish: transform the Trans-Sahara region in the northern and western parts of the continent into a bulwark of stability.

    That the U.S. is doing more in Chad specifically isn’t particularly astonishing either. Earlier this year, TomDispatch and the Washington Post both reported on separate recent deployments of U.S. troops to that north-central African nation. Nor is it shocking that the new American compound is to be located near the capital, N’Djamena. The U.S. has previously employed N’Djamena as a hub for its air operations. What’s striking is the terminology used in the official documents. After years of adamant claims that the U.S. military has just one lonely base in all of Africa — Camp Lemonnier in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti — Army documents state that it will now have “base camp facilities” in Chad.

    U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) still insists that there is no Chadian base, that the camp serves only as temporary lodgings to support a Special Operations training exercise to be held next year. It also refused to comment about another troop deployment to Chad uncovered by TomDispatch. When it comes to American military activities in Africa, much remains murky.

    Nonetheless, one fact is crystal clear: the U.S. is ever more tied to Chad. This remains true despite a decade-long effort to train its military forces only to see them bolt from one mission in the face of casualties, leave another in a huff after gunning down unarmed civilians, and engage in human rights abuses at home with utter impunity. All of this suggests yet another potential source of blowback from America’s efforts in Africa which have backfired, gone bust, and sown strife from Libya to South Sudan, the Gulf Guinea to Mali, and beyond.


    A Checkered History with Chad

    Following 9/11, the U.S. launched a counterterrorism program, known as the Pan-Sahel Initiative, to bolster the militaries of Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Chad. Three years later, in 2005, the program expanded to include Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia and was renamed the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP). The idea was to turn a huge swath of Africa into a terror-resistant bulwark of stability. Twelve years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, the region is anything but stable, which means that it fits perfectly, like a missing puzzle piece, with the rest of the under-the-radar U.S. “pivot” to that continent.

    Coups by the U.S.-backed militaries of Mauritania in 2005 and again in 2008, Niger in 2010, and Mali in 2012, as well as a 2011 revolution that overthrew Tunisia’s U.S.-backed government (after the U.S.-supported army stood aside); the establishment of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2006; and the rise of Boko Haram from an obscure radical sect to a raging insurgent movement in northern Nigeria are only some of the most notable recent failures in TSCTP nations. Chad came close to making the list, too, but attempted military coups in 2006 and 2013 were thwarted, and in 2008, the government, which had itself come to power in a 1990 coup, managed to hold off against a rebel assault on the capital.

    Through it all, the U.S. has continued to mentor Chad’s military, and in return, that nation has lent its muscle to support Washington’s interests in the region. Chad, for instance, joined the 2013 U.S.-backed French military intervention to retake Mali after Islamists began routing the forces of the American-trained officer who had launched a coup that overthrew that country’s democratically elected government. According to military briefing slides obtained by TomDispatch, an Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) liaison team was deployed to Chad to aid operations in Mali and the U.S. also conducted pre-deployment training for its Chadian proxies. After initial success, the French effort became bogged down and has now become a seemingly interminable, smoldering counterinsurgency campaign. Chad, for its part, quickly withdrew its forces from the fight after sustaining modest casualties. “Chad’s army has no ability to face the kind of guerrilla fighting that is emerging in northern Mali. Our soldiers are going to return to Chad,” said that country’s president, Idriss Deby.


    Still, U.S. support continued.

    In September of 2013, the U.S. military organized meetings with Chad’s senior-most military leaders, including Army chief General Brahim Seid Mahamat, Minister of Defense General Bénaïndo Tatola, and counterterror tsar Brigadier General Abderaman Youssouf Merry, to build solid relationships and support efforts at “countering violent extremist operations objectives and theater security cooperation programs.” This comes from a separate set of documents concerning “IO,” or Information Operations, obtained from the military through the Freedom of Information Act. French officials also attended these meetings and the agenda included the former colonial power’s support of “security cooperation with Chad in the areas of basic and officer training and staff procedures” as well as “French support [for] U.S. security cooperation efforts with the Chadian military.” Official briefing slides also mention ongoing “train and equip” activities with Chadian troops.

    All of this followed on the heels of a murky coup plot by elements of the armed forces last May to which the Chadian military reacted with a crescendo of violence. According to a State Department report, Chad’s “security forces shot and killed unarmed civilians and arrested and detained members of parliament, military officers, former rebels, and others.”

    After Chad reportedly helped overthrow the Central African Republic’s president in early 2013 and later aided in the 2014 ouster of the rebel leader who deposed him, it sent its forces into that civil-war-torn land as part of an African Union mission bolstered by U.S.-backed French troops. Soon, Chad’s peacekeeping forces were accused of stoking sectarian strife by supporting Muslim militias against Christian fighters. Then, on March 29th, a Chadian military convoy arrived in a crowded marketplace in the capital, Bangui. There, according to a United Nations report, the troops “reportedly opened fire on the population without any provocation. At the time, the market was full of people, including many girls and women buying and selling produce. As panic-stricken people fled in all directions, the soldiers allegedly continued firing indiscriminately.”

    In all, 30 civilians were reportedly killed and more than 300 were wounded. Amid criticism, Chad angrily announced it was withdrawing its troops. “Despite the sacrifices we have made, Chad and Chadians have been targeted in a gratuitous and malicious campaign that blamed them for all the suffering” in the Central African Republic, declared Chad’s foreign ministry.

    In May, despite this, the U.S. sent 80 military personnel to Chad to operate drones and conduct surveillance in an effort to locate hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in neighboring Nigeria. “These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area,” President Obama told Congress. The force, he said, will remain in Chad “until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required.”

    In July, AFRICOM admitted that it had reduced surveillance flights searching for the girls to focus on other missions. Now AFRICOM tells TomDispatch that, while “the U.S. continues to help Nigeria address the threat posed by Boko Haram, the previously announced ISR support deployment to Chad has departed.” Yet more than seven months after their abduction, the girls still have not been located, let alone rescued.

    In June, according to the State Department, the deputy commander of U.S. Army Africa (USARAF), Brigadier General Kenneth H. Moore, Jr., visited Chad to “celebrat[e] the successful conclusion of a partnership between USARAF and the Chadian Armed Forces.” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus arrived in that landlocked country at the same time to meet with “top Chadian officials.” His visit, according to an embassy press release, “underscore[d] the importance of bilateral relations between the two countries, as well as military cooperation.” And that cooperation has been ample.

    Earlier this year, Chadian troops joined those of the United States, Burkina Faso, Canada, France, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Senegal, the United Kingdom, and host nation Niger for three weeks of military drills as part of Flintlock 2014, an annual Special Ops counterterrorism exercise for TSCTP nations. At about the time Flintlock was concluding, soldiers from Chad, Cameroon, Burundi, Gabon, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, the Netherlands, and the United States took part in another annual training exercise, Central Accord 2014. The Army also sent medical personnel to mentor Chadian counterparts in “tactical combat casualty care,” while Marines and Navy personnel traveled to Chad to train that country’s militarized anti-poaching park rangers in small unit tactics and patrolling.

    A separate contingent of Marines conducted military intelligence training with Chadian officers and non-commissioned officers. The scenario for the final exercise, also involving personnel from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mauritania, Senegal, and Tunisia, had a ripped-from-the-headlines quality: “preparing for an unconventional war against an insurgent threat in Mali.”

    As for U.S. Army Africa, it sent trainers as part of a separate effort to provide Chadian troops with instruction on patrolling and fixed-site defense as well as live-fire training. “We are ready to begin training in Chad for about 1,300 soldiers — an 850 man battalion, plus another 450 man battalion,” said Colonel John Ruffing, the Security Cooperation director of U.S. Army Africa, noting that the U.S. was working in tandem with a French private security firm.

    In September, AFRICOM reaffirmed its close ties with Chad by renewing an Acquisition Cross Servicing Agreement, which allows both militaries to purchase from each other or trade for basic supplies. The open-ended pact, said Brigadier General James Vechery, AFRICOM’s director for logistics, “will continue to strengthen our bilateral cooperation on international security issues… as well as the interoperability of the armed forces of both nations.”


    The Base That Wasn’t and the Deployment That Might Be

    In the months since the Chadian armed forces’ massacre in Bangui, various U.S. military contract solicitations and related documents have pointed toward an even more substantive American presence in Chad. In late September, the Army put out a call for bids to sustain American personnel for six months at those “base camp facilities” located near N’Djamena. Supporting documents specifically mention 35 U.S. personnel and detail the services necessary to run an austere outpost: field sanitation, bulk water supply, sewage services, and trash removal. The materials indicate that “local security policy and procedures” are to be provided by the Chadian armed forces and allude to the use of more than one location, saying “none of the sites in Chad are considered U.S.-federally controlled facilities.” The documents state that such support for those facilities is to run until July 2015.

    After AFRICOM failed to respond to repeated email requests for further information, I called up Chief of Media Operations Benjamin Benson and asked about the base camp. He was even more tight-lipped than usual. “I personally don’t know anything,” he told me. “That’s not saying AFRICOM doesn’t have any information on that.”

    In follow-up emails, Benson eventually told me that the “base camp” is strictly a temporary facility to be used by U.S. forces only for the duration of the upcoming Flintlock 2015 exercise. He stated in no uncertain terms: “We are not establishing a base/forward presence/contingency location, building a U.S. facility, or stationing troops in Chad.”

    Benson would not, however, let me speak with an expert on U.S. military activities in Chad. Nor would he confirm or deny the continued presence of the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance liaison team deployed to Chad in 2013 to support the French mission in Mali, first reported on by TomDispatch this March. “[W]e cannot discuss ISR activities or the locations and durations of operational deployments,” he wrote. If an ISR team is still present in Chad, this would represent a substantive long-term deployment despite the lack of a formal U.S. base.

    The N’Djamena “base camp” is just one of a series of Chadian projects mentioned in recent contracting documents. An Army solicitation from September sought “building materials for use in Chad,” while supporting documents specifically mention an “operations center/multi-use facility.” That same month, the Army awarded a contract for the transport of equipment from Niamey, Niger, the home of another of the growing network of U.S. outposts in Africa, to N’Djamena. The Army also began seeking out contractors capable of supplying close to 600 bunk beds that could support an American-sized weight of 200 to 225 pounds for a facility “in and around the N’Djamena region.” And just last month, the military put out a call for a contractor to supply construction equipment — a bulldozer, dump truck, excavator, and the like — for a project in, you guessed it, N’Djamena.

    This increased U.S. interest in Chad follows on the heels of a push by France, the nation’s former colonial overlord and America’s current premier proxy in Africa, to beef up its military footprint on the continent. In July, following U.S.-backed French military interventions in Mali and the Central African Republic, French President François Hollande announced a new mission, Operation Barkhane (a term for a crescent-shaped sand dune found in the Sahara). Its purpose: a long-term counterterrorism operation involving 3,000 French troops deployed to a special forces outpost in Burkina Faso and forward operating bases in Mali, Niger, and not surprisingly, Chad.

    “There are plenty of threats in all directions,” Hollande told French soldiers in Chad, citing militants in Mali and Libya as well as Boko Haram in Nigeria. “Rather than having large bases that are difficult to manage in moments of crisis, we prefer installations that can be used quickly and efficiently.” Shortly afterward, President Obama approved millions in emergency military aid for French operations in Mali, Niger, and Chad, while the United Kingdom, another former colonial power in the region, dispatched combat aircraft to the French base in N’Djamena to contribute to the battle against Boko Haram.


    From Setback to Blowback?

    In recent years, the U.S. military has been involved in a continual process of expanding its presence in Africa. Out of public earshot, officials have talked about setting up a string of small bases across the northern tier of the continent. Indeed, over the last years, U.S. staging areas, mini-bases, and outposts have popped up in the contiguous nations of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and, skipping Chad, in the Central African Republic, followed by South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. A staunch American ally with a frequent and perhaps enduring American troop presence, Chad seems like the natural spot for still another military compound — the only missing link in a long chain of countries stretching from west to east, from one edge of the continent to the other — even if AFRICOM continues to insist that there’s no American “base” in the works.

    Even without a base, the United States has for more than a decade poured copious amounts of money, time, and effort into making Chad a stable regional counterterrorism partner, sending troops there, training and equipping its army, counseling its military leaders, providing tens of millions of dollars in aid, funding its military expeditions, supplying its army with equipment ranging from tents to trucks, donating additional equipment for its domestic security forces, providing a surveillance and security system for its border security agents, and looking the other way when its military employed child soldiers.

    The results? A flight from the fight in Mali, a massacre in the Central African Republic, hundreds of schoolgirls still in the clutches of Boko Haram, and a U.S. alliance with a regime whose “most significant human rights problems,” according to the most recent country report by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “were security force abuse, including torture; harsh prison conditions; and discrimination and violence against women and children,” not to mention the restriction of freedom of speech, press, assembly, and movement, as well as arbitrary arrest and detention, denial of fair public trial, executive influence on the judiciary, property seizures, child labor and forced labor (that also includes children), among other abuses. Amnesty International further found that human rights violations “are committed with almost total impunity by members of the Chadian military, the Presidential Guard, and the state intelligence bureau, the Agence Nationale de Securité.”

    With Chad, the United States finds itself more deeply involved with yet another authoritarian government and another atrocity-prone proxy force. In this, it continues a long series of mistakes, missteps, and mishaps across Africa. These include an intervention in Libya that transformed the country from an autocracy into a near-failed state, training efforts that produced coup leaders in Mali and Burkina Faso, American nation-building that led to a failed state in South Sudan, anti-piracy measures that flopped in the Gulf of Guinea, the many fiascos of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, the training of an elite Congolese unit that committed mass rapes and other atrocities, problem-plagued humanitarian efforts in Djibouti and Ethiopia, and the steady rise of terror groups in U.S.-backed countries like Nigeria and Tunisia.

    In other words, in its shadowy “pivot” to Africa, the U.S. military has compiled a record remarkably low on successes and high on blowback. Is it time to add Chad to this growing list?



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • ISIS has Enough Weapons for Up to Two Years

    November 20, 2014 // 5 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Syria

    Team-America


    And guess where the weapons came from?


    A new report prepared for the United Nations Security Council warns ISIS possesses sufficient reserves of small arms, ammunition and vehicles to wage its war in Syria and Iraq for up to two years. And that is assuming they do not capture more weapons, including heavy weapons, from the Iraqi Army, their accidental, primary supplier to date.

    The UN report has even more bad news to share: the size and breadth of the ISIS arsenal provides the group with durable mobility, range and even a limited defense against low-flying aircraft (ISIS has already shot down Iraqi helicopters.) Even if the U.S. bombing campaign continues to destroy the group’s vehicles and heavier weapons, the UN report states, it “cannot mitigate the effect of the significant volume of light weapons” ISIS possesses.


    Where to Begin

    So maybe someone should cut off the flow of weapons to ISIS? Here’s where to start: Almost 20 percent of the small arms ammunition used by ISIS could be traced to U.S. manufacturers. Additionally, the Islamic State appears to use “significant quantities” of ammunition manufactured in Russia under the Wolf brand and distributed by the U.S. to its own allied states in the Middle East. Hmmm.

    Meanwhile, ISIS seems to be getting weapons supplied by air, possibly from Russia, but who really can say.

    Anti-tank weapons that were likely once owned by moderate Syrian rebels have also landed in ISIS hands. In addition to U.S.-supplied arms, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been funneling weaponry to various rebel factions in the conflict.


    Who’s Number 1?

    The ISIS arsenal, according to the UN, includes older T-55 and modern, front-line T-72 tanks, anti-aircraft artillery, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft rockets captured from Iraqi and Syrian military stocks, and “extensive supplies of ammunition,” as well as some 250 light vehicles.

    The UN report does have a sense of humor embedded, noting that much of the ISIS weapons stock stolen from the U.S.-backed Iraqi military was “unused” before ISIS seized it.

    The weapons as a whole, the UN report finds, make ISIS not only the world’s best-funded terrorist group but among its best armed. ISIS is sufficiently armed to threaten the region “even without holding territory”, the report concludes.


    Money Matters

    The report recommends the UN adopt new sanctions designed to disrupt the well-financed ISIS’ economic health. Significant among them is a call for states bordering ISIS-controlled territory (a diplomatic way of saying mostly Turkey) to “promptly seize all oil tanker trucks and their loads” coming in or going out. While the report warns ISIS has alternate revenue sources, primarily ransom payments, and does not predict that truck seizures can eliminate ISIS’ oil smuggling money, it holds out hope that raising the costs to smuggling networks and trucking companies will deter them from bringing ISIS oil to market.

    The report comes on the heels of an October report to the Security Council assessing that 15,000 fighters from 80 countries have flooded into Syria and Iraq to fight alongside ISIS.


    So yeah, things seem to be going well for ISIS now, four months into the U.S. bombing campaign.



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  • I’ll Be at the Army Heritage Center at the War College

    November 19, 2014 // 6 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Iraq

    USAHEC_Seal


    The Army has a renewed interest in Iraq, to include what went wrong in Iraq War 2.0 as Iraq War 3.0 metastasizes. Who knew, right?


    Unlike many other parts of government involved in the Iraq swamp, the Army is a learning institution. Unlike my former employer, the Department of State, who prefers to stay warmly inside the bubble of agreeing with itself, I have found the Army is very interested in a range of opinions, and open to hearing a side of the story that some may disagree with. Indeed, they often seek out sides of the story they may disagree with.

    To this end, I’ll be speaking on November 19, 7:15 pm, at the Army Heritage Center, Carlisle Barracks, at the Army War College outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The event is free and open to the public. There will be a Q&A and a book signing as well.

    Any possibility of any definition of “success” in the current war in Iraq demands an understanding of how we lost the last time. The myth that “we won” only to have the victory messed up by the Iraqis because we left is very dangerous, and of course fully untrue. This uber myth plays out specifically in the belief, still a favorite among 2.0 apologists, that the Anbar Awakening/Surge was a strategic success.

    The two apparent pillars of America’s current strategy — that a unity government can be formed and that indigenous Sunnis can be split from ISIS — are exactly the two pillars that failed the last time (ISIS was al Qaeda then.) Repeating the strategy will result in repeating the mistakes. And that does little but sacrifice more at great cost in every definition of that word.

    It also sets up the inevitability of Iraq War 4.0, same as the failure in 2.0 begat 3.0. See the pattern?

    If you are in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area, please come out and see what I have to say!




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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • Voiceprints: Time to be Afraid Again

    November 18, 2014 // 12 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Police State, Post-Constitution America

    brazil


    The end of privacy in the United States was brought about as much by technology as intention. Those who claim there is little new here — the government read the mail of and wiretapped the calls and conversations of Americans under COINTELPRO from 1956 to at least 1971, for example – do not fully understand the impact of technology.


    Size Matters

    The spying and compiling of information on innocent Americans by J. Edgar Hoover’s low-tech FBI is well-known; files, recordings and photos secretly obtained exposed the lives of civil rights leaders, popular musicians and antiwar protesters. You will likely think of additional examples, or they’ll be in the next batch of Snowden documents.

    Technology now being employed by the NSA and others inside the U.S. has never before existed, in scale, scope or sheer efficiency. Size matters. We are the first people in history to deal with this kind of threat to privacy. Avoiding even the majority of encroaching digitalization essentially means withdrawing from society.



    Voiceprints

    The financial services company where I maintain my meager investments recently added a new feature. When I access my account via smartphone, instead of typing in a password that can be guessed, or stolen, I have the option of creating a voiceprint ID. I speak a specific phrase, which is broken down digitally and stored by the company. When I want to access my account, I simply repeat the phrase, as the parameters of one’s voice are as unique as a fingerprint. The company compares my speech to the stored example and if they match, I’m in.

    “We’ve done a lot of testing, and looked at siblings, even twins,” said one voiceprint analyst. “Even people with colds, we looked at that.” The results are clear: Your voice is another biometric, the same as DNA, finger and hand prints, iris patterns, facial recognition and the like. Voiceprinting is the technology employed when the media reports that the CIA has “authenticated” the latest pronouncement from the latest celebrity terrorist.

    But unlike those metrics, which require some level of contact, presence or connection between you and the collector of the data, voices can be accessed remotely from anywhere in the world, fully without your knowledge. Make a phone call, have a conversation with someone, use Skype or shout out the window and you can be collected. Your identity can be stored and compared to other instances when you make a phone call, have a conversation with someone, use Skype or shout out the window.

    It doesn’t matter at that point whether you use a stranger’s throw-away burner phone purchased with cash from a street corner in Istanbul to leave an anonymous tip on a fraud hotline. Or blowing the whistle on government malfeasance to a journalist. Compares the speech to the stored example and if they match, you’re in. Or maybe out.


    Here, Now

    The use of voiceprint technology is in regular use worldwide. The Associated Press reports the single largest known implementation is in Turkey, where a cell phone service provider has collected voiceprint data from 10 million customers. Never far behind on these matters, U.S. law enforcement officials use the technology to monitor inmates calling from inside prisons and to track offenders on the outside who have been paroled. In New Zealand, the Internal Revenue Department claims one million voiceprints on file, what its revenue minister says is “the highest level of voice biometric enrollments per capita in the world.” In South Africa, seven million voiceprints have been collected by the country’s Social Security Agency, in part to verify that those claiming pensions are still alive. Worldwide it is estimated that some 65 million voiceprints are on file in corporate hands.

    One can speculate further. In the United States, where the NSA boasts of “collecting it all,” it seems unlikely that “all” does not include voiceprints. Allow your inner conspiracy theorist a little room, and circuitry designed to collect and pass on voiceprints might be surreptitiously built into nearly every audio device out there, from Bluetooth to Mr. Microphone.


    Off the Shelf

    The technology of voiceprints is available off the shelf. You likely know one provider already, Nuance Communications. Among other things, they make the popular Dragon Speaking software that allows home computer users to convert the spoken words into text in a document.

    The company is quite proud of its voiceprint technology; have a look at their web page. And hey, small world — Nuance also sells its own line of microphones and Bluetooth headsets.

    There are many more companies selling voiceprint technology over-the-counter; here’s just one other as an example.


    The New World Order

    What can be accessed can be collected. What can be collected can be stored. What can be stored can be leaked, hacked, shared and used. What can be used, well, can be used. Now, next Sunday, be a nice son or daughter and call your mom to say hello. Just be sure to speak slowly and clearly.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • Cop Slaps Man Exercising Rights

    November 17, 2014 // 8 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    cop


    The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees your right against an illegal search by the police. Basically, you can only be searched under two conditions: a “lawful” search as defined by decades of Supreme Court decisions and with a warrant.

    (Of course none of this is legal advice and I am not a lawyer. Never make decisions without the advice of a lawyer.)

    Lawful vs. Warranted Search

    What is and is not a “lawful” search can get complicated, and has been the subject of much case law. A really basic example is after you have been properly arrested and are on the way to jail, the cops can search you for weapons without your permission. A warranted search is everything else; the police need to go to court and get permission from a judge to search you. The latter especially applies to enclosed spaces such as your home and car.

    If the cop thinks he has a clear lawful search that will stand up in court, he’ll just go ahead and do it. He does not need your permission. If the cop thinks he would otherwise need a warrant, he will ask your consent to search. If you grant such permission, the search automatically becomes “lawful.” You do not have to consent, and many lawyers will tell you never to do so without legal advice. The cops can be tricky, saying things like “Hey, you don’t mind if I just take a look?” or “So it’s cool if I just check inside, right?” If you nod, shrug or in some cases say nothing in response, that is often seen as granting permission. Some courts have held if you even open a door, or leave one unlocked, or allow the cops into your home “just to talk out of the rain,” that is “permission.” The clearest thing is to say “NO, I do not consent to a search” if that is your intent.

    But the cops don’t always play by the rules. The video shows what happens when they don’t, and now, in America, what happens when you simply exercise your Constitutional rights.





    What Really Happens

    In yet another example of how police officers act today if they don’t know there’s a camera on, a New York sheriff’s deputy was suspended without pay after a video that appears to show him slapping a young man went online. The cop is seen quickly losing patience with a man who did not want his car searched, as is his right under the Fourth Amendment. The cop was suspicious of the two men when he saw a .22-caliber rifle on the back seat of the car. Note that the right to lawfully possess a firearm is also protected by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The men involved stated they had parked their car at a local business and were walking to a nearby party when confronted by the cop. The man stated his friend had purchased the .22-caliber rifle earlier that day, had a receipt for the weapon.

    “We’ll get a f*cking search warrant,” the cop says, apparently as a response to the man’s insistence that he did not consent to a search. “I wasn’t in my car when all this was happening,” the man says. “Why don’t you want to search my house or something?” The cops then replies “Let me see your f*cking keys.” When the man asks why, the cop is direct: “I’m going to search your f*cking car, that’s why… You wanna f*cking resist?” And that’s when the slap can be heard, although not seen.

    The second man, who was filming, tells the officer what just happened was “intense,” and the cop answers: “You like that, huh? I can get a lot more intense, believe me.” The man replies “Slap me around?” The cop’s answer: “Yeah, I’ll rip your f*cking head off and sh*t down your neck.”

    The cop was unapologetic when contacted by the media. He insisted he “was concerned [about] a public safety issue” and that if he “had to it all over again… I’d probably do the same thing.”


    So there you go, simply another story of what life is like for citizens in Post-Constitutional America. Your rights? You’ll get them when the cops are darn well ready to let you have them.


    Learn more about your right to video the police at Photography is Not a Crime.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • How to Communicate Securely with the Media

    November 15, 2014 // 5 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America




    Glenn Greenwald almost missed the story of his career because he didn’t understand how to communicate securely.

    The person Greenwald now knows as Edward Snowden began contacting him via open email, urging Greenwald to learn how to use encryption and other web tools to receive sensitive information. When Greenwald was slow to act, Snowden even made a video tutorial to baby-step him through the necessary procedures. Absent these extraordinary efforts by Snowden, who knows when or even if his game-changing NSA information would have come to light.

    You don’t have to wait for some future Snowden to teach you how to communicate securely, thanks to Trevor Timm, co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

    SecureDrop

    Freedom of the Press Foundation has helped news organizations install SecureDrop, an open-source whistleblower submission system that helps sources get documents to journalists in a much more anonymous and secure way than email. Currently, journalists at five major news organizations in the United States use SecureDrop. Here’s how to use it:

    — Find a public wifi internet connection that is not connected to your work or home, such as a coffee shop. Take the bus to a new place you’ll not visit again.

    Download and install the Tor Browser Bundle. For more security, also install and use the Tails operating system. For maximum security, run all this off a flash drive you bought with cash, and throw away the drive after one use.

    –Using the Tor Browser, enter in your news organization’s Onion URL (below). Only load this URL inside the Tor Browser.

    — Follow the instructions on the SecureDrop screen.


    Onion URLs

    Here are Onion URLs for the five groups of journalists currently operating SecureDrop:

    The Intercept: y6xjgkgwj47us5ca.onion

    ProPublica: pubdrop4dw6rk3aq.onion

    New Yorker: strngbxhwyuu37a3.onion

    Forbes: bczjr6ciiblco5ti.onion

    Wired’s Kevin Poulsen: poulsensqiv6ocq4.onion


    A Plea to Computer People

    I have heard from many journalists their concern that sources are unaware or incapable of communicating securely. Many times the journalist, who may or may not really understand this stuff, ends up trying to explain it to an already-nervous source whose computer skills may be basic at best. Every one of the writers say the same thing: someone please create a secure system for dummies.

    So, computer people of the web, please consider this. Create a one-button click piece of software that installs all the software needed on a flash drive. The users need only plug in the flash drive and click one button. Create the necessary front ends so that the software can be used by anyone. Please don’t write in and say “But it is already so easy to use.” Experience is that it is not. Think software that your grandma could make work. For better or worse, many people who are or who might communicate important information to responsible journalists need your help. Without your help, many will either not communicate at all, or put themselves at increased risk by communicating insecurely.

    Disclaimer

    Anyone takes great personal risk, including financial ruin and potential jail time, by transmitting to journalists, so all the warnings and caveats apply. Do not leak or transmit classified information. Courts are attacking journalists’ abilities to protect their sources. Though Snowden and others have endorsed the use of systems such as described here, there is no information now available on if/how the NSA can monitor such communications, now or in the future. The FBI has successfully, on a known, limited scale, monitored some parts of the Tor Network. Everything else. This is America, 2014. We’re on our own to fix our country.




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  • Jihadis Using Cruise Ships to Reach Middle East (Not Satire)

    November 14, 2014 // 3 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Syria

    LoveBoatHo ho, this is just hilarious. But serious.

    You know what cruises are, right? A couple of days at sea, a day or two in some cheesy port, mostly time spent eating madly at buffets, sucking down booze, laying in the sun in between turns at the buffet and the bar, that kind of thing. Other than regular occurrences of alcohol poisoning, heart attacks on the massage tables and the occasional passenger overboard, cruises are pretty laid back vacations.

    (Cue ominous music) Until. Now.


    The Threat

    Proving overreaction to terrorism is not merely an American hobby anymore, Interpol has said some of those jihadis trying to join militant groups in Iraq and Syria are using cruise lines now to get to countries like Turkey to infiltrate in. The answer? More invasive security with more secret watch lists of course, this time in the form of new name checks on passenger lists extended from airlines to cruise operators before, Interpol warns, “the issue became more of a problem.” This is not satire and is actually true. The BBC reported it.

    Unfortunately, Interpol could provide no figures on how many militants have travelled in this way.

    Interpol’s director of counterterrorism, Pierre St. Hilaire, a Bond-villain name if there ever was one, said Turkish authorities said they have deported hundreds of “suspected” jihadists in recent months after detaining them at airports and bus stations. This has led prospective fighters to make alternative travel arrangements in an effort to avoid detection. Regular stops at ports in the region would allow fighters to disembark undetected and make their onward journey to Syria or Iraq untracked by security agencies.

    Interpol officials said the militants’ use of cruise ships had emerged only in the “past three months or so.”

    Those cruise ships are big, but may need to add more capacity for the jihadi surge. A recent United Nations report estimated there were 15,000 foreign jihadists from more than 80 countries already fighting with Islamic State and other extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

    Leaving aside the fact that you can walk or take a taxi into Turkey, let’s examine this cruise ship idea. For it to work, jihadis would of course first need to pay the hefty fares. But they seem well-funded, in large part via black market oil smuggled onto international markets via Turkey, so the money’s covered. But the jihadis would also have to blend in with the rest of the Love Boat passengers. So with that in mind, we now segue into the See Something, Say Something advice of this article.


    Recognizing A Jihadi Aboard a Cruise Ship

    – Look for skinny people among your fellow cruisers. The vast majority of cruise passengers are obscenely obese Americans, Germans or rich Russians. A skinny jihadi is going to stand out like a McRib sandwich at a vegetarian restaurant.

    — Be very suspicious of sober people. Most cruisers are drunk off their butts even before boarding the ship, and maintain a state of constant drunkenness throughout. Bloodies at breakfast, buckets of beer by the pool, wine and champagne in the evenings, IV drips of vodka overnight, are all the norm. That flinty-eyed sneak nursing a Diet Coke is trouble.

    — Dress aboard a cruise ship is casual. Wear-your-bathrobe-without-underwear to dinner kind of casual. Keep a sharp eye out for passengers wearing head coverings and those checked scarves over their bathrobes. Exception: Hipsters and Russell Brand, who also wear those scarves but if either are thrown into Guantanamo by accident, no great loss.

    — Conversation aboard a cruise ship is largely about when to drink next and crude attempts to pick up men/women. Some passengers also chat about sexually harassing the staff or how much they ate at the all-you-can-eat lard bar. If someone keeps switching the topic to how many infidels can fit into the hot tub, be wary.


    Eternal vigilance is the price of cruising freedom. Don’t leave home without it!



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • Shakeup or Shakedown in Iraqi Army?

    November 13, 2014 // 4 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Military

    obama and abadi


    Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, as Commander-in-Chief of the belittled Iraqi Army, fired 26 military commanders on November 12 for corruption and incompetence.

    “The military leadership should have competence, and this is an important thing, as it is not possible for someone who is not efficient to do his work properly,” Abadi said in comments to army officers broadcast on state television. “The second thing is integrity, as efficiency without integrity produces a vacuum. The third is courage, so that the soldier will fight in a proper way when he sees his commander has such qualifications.”

    Abadi did not elaborate on his timing or the decision itself, and officials in his office did specify which commanders were removed.


    Timing is Everything

    The timing is however interesting. Iraq’s most influential Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said during Friday prayers that it was corruption in the armed forces which enabled ISIS to seize large amounts of Iraqi territory. Sistani has become increasingly critical of Iraqi leaders since ISIS’ advances spiraled the country into a crisis in general, and in particular how that crisis reinserted American troops into Iraq. Shia militias, with whom Sistani maintains links, have increasingly replaced the remnants of the Iraqi Army in the fight against ISIS. The militias have also, however, also continued the persecution and outright murder of Iraq’s indigenous Sunnis under the guise of fighting ISIS.


    Who Got the Axe?

    The other issues regarding the firing of those 26 military commanders are also of great importance.

    Until the affiliations of all 26 are known, Sunni or Shia, Abadi’s real intent is unknown. If a significant number of Sunni commanders were sacked, the action will be seen inside Iraq as more of a purge than any sort of reform. Same for the location of the commanders; if many are in Sunni-held areas to the west of Baghdad, suspicions that Abadi is looking to install more of his own adherents into power will arise. Another issue to watch is rank. If many of the commanders are senior leaders, that bodes well for reform. However, if the firings come from the lower ranks, most inside Iraq will see them simply as a show-event to please the Americans calling for reform. Finally, the disposition of the fired commanders will need to be watched closely. If some resurface in the near future in other jobs or locations, or remain attached to the government, Abadi’s reforms will need to be taken with a grain of salt.

    Keep in mind firing commanders is nothing new in Iraq. As recently as June, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki fired four senior officers after the collapse of Army north of Baghdad. He also fired the commander of the Third Infantry Division after he “fled the battle scene.”


    But It’s Progress, Right?

    The U.S. spent $25 billion and several years training the Iraqi Army prior to its near-total collapse at first-blood when ISIS moved into northern Iraq. The weapons abandoned by the Iraqi Army have also supplied ISIS with some of its heaviest artillery and armor. There most certainly is room for improvement.

    But whatever the ground truth of the firings in Iraq really turns out to be, expect Abadi’s actions to be much-praised by an Obama Administration obsessed with “doing something” as another sign of “progress.”



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