That sound you hear?
That’s Republicans dancing a merry jig, and Benghazi investigators sharpening their subpoenas, because 2016 just got a lot more interesting with the revelation that as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton conducted all official business using a personal email account on her own web domain.
Here’s what happened, and why it matters. A lot.
Hillary Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, violating federal regulations that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record and thus subject to Freedom of Information Act and Congressional requests. Clinton did not have a government email address during her entire four-year tenure, and her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act.
It was only two months ago, in response to a new State Department effort to comply with federal record-keeping practices, that Clinton’s personal advisers reviewed tens of thousands of pages of her emails and decided which ones to turn over to the State Department. All told, 55,000 pages of emails were given to the Department. The contents of the rest are known only to Clinton insiders. The process Clinton’s advisers used to determine which emails related to her work at the State Department were turned over has not been explained.
Instead, Clinton appears to have used email service through her own domain, clintonemail.com under the name firstname.lastname@example.org. The domain was created on January 13, 2009, just before Obama was sworn into office, and the same day that Clinton’s confirmation hearings began before the Senate.
In March 2013, an adviser to Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal, had his e-mail through the clintonemail.com domain hacked.
The Clinton email domain is officially registered to a Jacksonville, Florida company called PERFECT PRIVACY, LLC. The company advertises itself by saying “By signing up for Perfect Privacy when you register your domain, our information is published in the WHOIS database, instead of yours.” That means Perfect Privacy acts as a cut-out, hiding the actual person or organization that set up the domain by sticking its own information online instead.
Clinton as Secretary of State held herself to lower standards than the rank and file. According to eight pages of State Department regulations (5 FAM 440, 443.1), “All Government employees and contractors are required by law to make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency (Federal Records Act, or “FRA,” 44 U.S.C. 3101 et seq).”
It is also apparent no one at State raised any questions. A large number of IT staff must have been aware that Clinton had no official email address, as must have security staff. Everyone who traded email with Clinton also knew. And no one said anything.
Why It Matters
The most basic reason this all matters is because it is the law. As Secretary of State, Clinton was required to maintain her emails as official records. She did not. She choose not to follow the law. Saying “everybody else did it” does not work for teenagers, felons in court or Secretaries of State. Since 2009, said Laura Diachenko, a National Archives and Records spokeswoman, federal regulations have stated that “agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency record-keeping system.” The question isn’t whether Clinton was allowed to have a private email account; she was, as secretaries of state before her did. The question is whether she was allowed to be the steward of the archives under the 2009 Federal Records Act. She was not. That’s where the violation occurs.
It also matters because Clinton’s email actions were deliberate, and included an effort to hide what she was doing. Her email domain was registered in a way to hide its actual ownership (still unknown), and was set up just as she re-entered public life. Clinton never disclosed the email account until the New York Times learned of it. That lack of disclosure continued even as she testified about the tragedy in Benghazi, assuring the public her Department’s internal review represented the full story.
That review clearly did not represent the full story, in that it did not include any of Clinton’s emails. The review also did not note that the documents it had access to somehow did not include any emails from the Secretary of State. A careful analysis of Clinton’s testimony on Benghazi will need to be made to look for signs of possible perjury. If anything in the Clinton emails is new and relevant to understanding what happened in Benghazi, she should be held to explain why it was not revealed at the time of her testimony.
The contents of whatever small portion of Clinton emails released to State, and questions about what is in the tens of thousands of pages withheld, will revive hearings into what happened in Benghazi and what role Clinton played. There remain questions about what information was withheld from Congress. Even of the thousands of pages State received from Clinton, only 900 have been turned over to Congress.
Use of personal email to conduct government business in the age of hacking raises serious security questions, and calls into question Clinton’s commitment to protecting America’s secrets. According to The New York Times, Clinton also used a gmail account, email@example.com, to conduct her official business.
With no oversight, the only check on Clinton not discussing classified information in her emails was Clinton herself. “We have no indication that Secretary Clinton used her personal e-mail account for anything but unclassified purposes,” State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said Tuesday. “While Secretary Clinton did not have a classified e-mail system, she did have multiple other ways of communicating in a classified manner (assistants printing documents for her, secure phone calls, secure video conferences).” Of course, since no one at State has seen the bulk of Clinton’s emails, they indeed may have “no indication.”
2016 just got much more interesting. Republicans will raise the email issue in great detail, especially since Jeb Bush has already released his own email stash from his time as governor. Clinton does not seem prepared to address the question; her spokesperson said incongruously that her use of a personal email account was in compliance with the “letter and spirit of the rules.”
Clinton as a leader allowed herself to be held to lower standards than that of her own rank and file. This, along with the decision to hide the emails itself and the violations of law, will raise questions about what type of president she might make.
Not the First
[In 2009, as Clinton took office] The Bush administration had just left office weeks earlier under the shadow of, among other things, a major ongoing scandal concerning officials who used personal email addresses to conduct business, and thus avoid scrutiny.
The scandal began in June 2007, as part of a Congressional oversight committee investigation into allegations that the White House had fired U.S. Attorneys for political reasons. The oversight committee asked for Bush administration officials to turn over relevant emails, but it turned out the administration had conducted millions of emails’ worth of business on private email addresses, the archives of which had been deleted.
The effect was that investigators couldn’t access millions of internal messages that might have incriminated the White House. The practice, used by White House officials as senior as Karl Rove, certainly seemed designed to avoid federal oversight requirements and make investigation into any shady dealings more difficult. Oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman accused the Bush administration of “using nongovernmental accounts specifically to avoid creating a record of the communications.”
That scandal unfolded well into the final year of Bush’s presidency, then overlapped with another email secrecy scandal, over official emails that got improperly logged and then deleted, which itself dragged well into Obama’s first year in office. There is simply no way that, when Clinton decided to use her personal email address as Secretary of State, she was unaware of the national scandal that Bush officials had created by doing the same.
Clinton knew what she was doing, and was aware of the consequences for herself and the White House. She did it anyway. Under such conditions, people will be muttering “Hey, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”
One of the main reasons government officials use personal email is because it is not clearly subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as it is not a government document. Since Clinton now admits at least some of her personal email is indeed part of her official record as Secretary, will does emails become subject to FOIA? One assumes most major new organizations are drafting their FOIA requests as we speak.
And speaking of FOIA, since many/most of Clinton’s emails were not a part of official State Department records until recently means they would not have been identified in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, subpoenas or other document searches conducted over the past six years. Is anyone planning to reexamine those requests in light of developments?
There is also the question of how many email accounts where. Republican Trey Gowdy, who chairs the House committee investigating Benghazi stated Clinton had more than one private email account. “The State Department cannot certify that have produced all of former Secretary Clinton’s emails because they do not have all of former Secretary Clinton’s emails nor do they control access to them,” he said.
Who administered Clinton’s personal email network? S/he was not a government employee but had unfettered, Snowden-like access to government information conveyed at the Cabinet-level. As she also used a Gmail account, an unknown number of Google employees enjoyed a level of access unavailable to Clinton’s own State Department staff. Clinton’s personal email server backed up to a Google drive, wide-open to hackers both foreign and domestic.
Why didn’t Clinton turn over her personal emails years ago? Why only recently?
Instead of focusing on the “but was it illegal?” smokescreen, ask the simpler question: why did Clinton alone in her State Department rely 100 percent on a personal email account?
And what about that famous Clinton Blackberry? Blackberry messages go through a special server run by an organization itself. State maintains such a server for its staff’s required use. Did Hillary’s Blackberry run through a State server or a private one? Let’s ask.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
In the age of the all-volunteer military and an endless stream of war zone losses and ties, it can be hard to keep Homeland enthusiasm up for perpetual war. After all, you don’t get a 9/11 every year to refresh those images of the barbarians at the airport departure gates. In the meantime, Americans are clearly finding it difficult to remain emotionally roiled up about our confusing wars in Syria and Iraq, the sputtering one in Afghanistan, and various raids, drone attacks, and minor conflicts elsewhere.
Fortunately, we have just the ticket, one that has been punched again and again for close to a century: Hollywood war movies (to which the Pentagon is always eager to lend a helping hand).American Sniper, which started out with the celebratory tagline “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history” and now has the tagline “the most successful war movie of all time,” is just the latest in a long line of films that have kept Americans on their war game. Think of them as war porn, meant to leave us perpetually hyped up. Now, grab some popcorn and settle back to enjoy the show.
There’s Only One War Movie
Wandering around YouTube recently, I stumbled across some good old government-issue propaganda. It was a video clearly meant to stir American emotions and prepare us for a long struggle against a determined, brutal, and barbaric enemy whose way of life is a challenge to the most basic American values. Here’s some of what I learned: our enemy is engaged in a crusade against the West; wants to establish a world government and make all of us bow down before it; fights fanatically, beheads prisoners, and is willing to sacrifice the lives of its followers in inhuman suicide attacks. Though its weapons are modern, its thinking and beliefs are 2,000 years out of date and inscrutable to us.
Of course, you knew there was a trick coming, right? This little U.S. government-produced film wasn’t about the militants of the Islamic State. Made by the U.S. Navy in 1943, its subject was “Our Enemy the Japanese.” Substitute “radical Islam” for “emperor worship,” though, and it still makes a certain propagandistic sense. While the basics may be largely the same (us versus them, good versus evil), modern times do demand something slicker than the video equivalent of an old newsreel. The age of the Internet, with its short attention spans and heightened expectations of cheap thrills, calls for a higher class of war porn, but as with that 1943 film, it remains remarkable how familiar what’s being produced remains.
Like propaganda films and sexual pornography, Hollywood movies about America at war have changed remarkably little over the years. Here’s the basic formula, from John Wayne in the World War II-era Sands of Iwo Jima to today’s American Sniper:
*American soldiers are good, the enemy bad. Nearly every war movie is going to have a scene in which Americans label the enemy as “savages,” “barbarians,” or “bloodthirsty fanatics,” typically following a “sneak attack” or a suicide bombing. Our country’s goal is to liberate; the enemy’s, to conquer. Such a framework prepares us to accept things that wouldn’t otherwise pass muster. Racism naturally gets a bye; as they once were “Japs” (not Japanese), they are now “hajjis” and “ragheads” (not Muslims or Iraqis). It’s beyond question that the ends justify just about any means we might use, from the nuclear obliteration of two cities of almost no military significance to the grimmest sort of torture. In this way, the war film long ago became a moral free-fire zone for its American characters.
*American soldiers believe in God and Country, in “something bigger than themselves,” in something “worth dying for,” but without ever becoming blindly attached to it. The enemy, on the other hand, is blindly devoted to a religion, political faith, or dictator, and it goes without saying (though it’s said) that his God — whether an emperor, Communism, or Allah — is evil. As one critic put it back in 2007 with just a tad of hyperbole, “In every movie Hollywood makes, every time an Arab utters the word Allah… something blows up.”
*War films spend no significant time on why those savages might be so intent on going after us. The purpose of American killing, however, is nearly always clearly defined. It’s to “save American lives,” those over there and those who won’t die because we don’t have to fight them over here. Saving such lives explains American war: in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, for example, the main character defuses roadside bombs to make Iraq safer for other American soldiers. In the recent World War II-themed Fury, Brad Pitt similarly mows down ranks of Germans to save his comrades. Even torture is justified, as in Zero Dark Thirty, in the cause of saving our lives from their nightmarish schemes. In American Sniper, shooter Chris Kyle focuses on the many American lives he’s saved by shooting Iraqis; his PTSD is, in fact, caused by his having “failed” to have saved even more. Hey, when an American kills in war, he’s the one who suffers the most, not that mutilated kid or his grieving mother — I got nightmares, man! I still see their faces!
*Our soldiers are human beings with emotionally engaging backstories, sweet gals waiting at home, and promising lives ahead of them that might be cut tragically short by an enemy from the gates of hell. The bad guys lack such backstories. They are anonymous fanatics with neither a past worth mentioning nor a future worth imagining. This is usually pretty blunt stuff. Kyle’s nemesis in American Sniper, for instance, wears all black. Thanks to that, you know he’s an insta-villain without the need for further information. And speaking of lack of a backstory, he improbably appears in the film both in the Sunni city of Fallujah and in Sadr City, a Shia neighborhood in Baghdad, apparently so super-bad that his desire to kill Americans overcomes even Iraq’s mad sectarianism.
*It is fashionable for our soldiers, having a kind of depth the enemy lacks, to express some regrets, a dollop of introspection, before (or after) they kill. In American Sniper, while back in the U.S. on leave, the protagonist expresses doubts about what he calls his “work.” (No such thoughts are in the book on which the film is based.) Of course, he then goes back to Iraq for three more tours and over two more hours of screen time to amass his 160 “confirmed kills.”
*Another staple of such films is the training montage. Can a young recruit make it? Often he is the Fat Kid who trims down to his killing weight, or the Skinny Kid who muscles up, or the Quiet Kid who emerges bloodthirsty. (This has been a trope of sexual porn films, too: the geeky looking guy, mocked by beautiful women, who turns out to be a superstar in bed.) The link, up front or implied, between sexuality, manhood, and war is a staple of the form. As part of the curious PTSD recovery plan he develops, for example, Kyle volunteers to teach a paraplegic vet in a wheelchair to snipe. After his first decent shot rings home, the man shouts, “I feel like I got my balls back!”
*Our soldiers, anguished souls that they are, have no responsibility for what they do once they’ve been thrown into our wars. No baby-killers need apply in support of America’s post-Vietnam, guilt-free mantra, “Hate the war, love the warrior.” In the film First Blood, for example, John Rambo is a Vietnam veteran who returns home a broken man. He finds his war buddy dead from Agent Orange-induced cancer and is persecuted by the very Americans whose freedom he believed he had fought for. Because he was screwed over in The ‘Nam, the film gives him a free pass for his homicidal acts, including a two-hour murderous rampage through a Washington State town. The audience is meant to see Rambo as a noble, sympathetic character. He returns for more personal redemption in later films to rescue American prisoners of war left behind in Southeast Asia.
*For war films, ambiguity is a dirty word. Americans always win, even when they lose in an era in which, out in the world, the losses are piling up. And a win is a win, even when its essence is one-sided bullying as in Heartbreak Ridge, the only movie to come out of the ludicrous invasion of Grenada. And a loss is still a win in Black Hawk Down, set amid the disaster of Somalia, which ends with scenes of tired warriors who did the right thing. Argo — consider it honorary war porn – reduces the debacle of years of U.S. meddling in Iran to a high-fiving hostage rescue. All it takes these days to turn a loss into a win is to zoom in tight enough to ignore defeat. In American Sniper, the disastrous occupation of Iraq is shoved offstage so that more Iraqis can die in Kyle’s sniper scope. In Lone Survivor, a small American “victory” is somehow dredged out of hopeless Afghanistan because an Afghan man takes a break from being droned to save the life of a SEAL.
In sum: gritty, brave, selfless men, stoic women waiting at home, noble wounded warriors, just causes, and the necessity of saving American lives. Against such a lineup, the savage enemy is a crew of sitting ducks who deserve to die. Everything else is just music, narration, and special effects. War pornos, like their oversexed cousins, are all the same movie.
A Fantasy That Can Change Reality
But it’s just a movie, right? Your favorite shoot-em-up makes no claims to being a documentary. We all know one American can’t gun down 50 bad guys and walk away unscathed, in the same way he can’t bed 50 partners without getting an STD. It’s just entertainment. So what?
So what do you, or the typical 18-year-old considering military service, actually know about war on entering that movie theater? Don’t underestimate the degree to which such films can help create broad perceptions of what war’s all about and what kind of people fight it. Those lurid on-screen images, updated and reused so repetitively for so many decades, do help create a self-reinforcing, common understanding of what happens “over there,” particularly since what we are shown mirrors what most of us want to believe anyway.
No form of porn is about reality, of course, but that doesn’t mean it can’t create realities all its own. War films have the ability to bring home emotionally a glorious fantasy of America at war, no matter how grim or gritty any of these films may look. War porn can make a young man willing to die before he’s 20. Take my word for it: as a diplomat in Iraq I met young people in uniform suffering from the effects of all this. Such films also make it easier for politicians to sweet talk the public into supporting conflict after conflict, even as sons and daughters continue to return home damaged or dead and despite the country’s near-complete record of geopolitical failures since September 2001. Funny thing: American Sniper was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture as Washington went back to war in Iraq in what you’d have thought would be an unpopular struggle.
Learning From the Exceptions
You can see a lot of war porn and stop with just your toes in the water, thinking you’ve gone swimming. But eventually you should go into the deep water of the “exceptions,” because only there can you confront the real monsters.
There are indeed exceptions to war porn, but don’t fool yourself, size matters. How many people have seen American Sniper, The Hurt Locker, or Zero Dark Thirty? By comparison, how many saw the anti-war Iraq War film Battle for Haditha, a lightly fictionalized, deeply unsettling drama about an American massacre of innocent men, women, and children in retaliation for a roadside bomb blast?
Timing matters, too, when it comes to the few mainstream exceptions. John Wayne’s The Green Berets, a pro-Vietnam War film, came out in 1968 as that conflict was nearing its bloody peak and resistance at home was growing. (The Green Berets gets a porn bonus star, as the grizzled Wayne persuades a lefty journalist to alter his negative views on the war.) Platoon, with its message of waste and absurdity, had to wait until 1986, more than a decade after the war ended.
In propaganda terms, think of this as controlling the narrative. One version of events dominates all others and creates a reality others can only scramble to refute. The exceptions do, however, reveal much about what we don’t normally see of the true nature of American war. They are uncomfortable for any of us to watch, as well as for military recruiters, parents sending a child off to war, and politicians trolling for public support for the next crusade.
War is not a two-hour-and-12-minute hard-on. War is what happens when the rules break down and, as fear displaces reason, nothing too terrible is a surprise. The real secret of war for those who experience it isn’t the visceral knowledge that people can be filthy and horrible, but that you, too, can be filthy and horrible. You don’t see much of that on the big screen.
The Long Con
Of course, there are elements of “nothing new” here. The Romans undoubtedly had their version of war porn that involved mocking the Gauls as sub-humans. Yet in twenty-first-century America, where wars are undeclared and Washington dependent on volunteers for its new foreign legion, the need to keep the public engaged and filled with fear over our enemies is perhaps more acute than ever.
So here’s a question: if the core propaganda messages the U.S. government promoted during World War II are nearly identical to those pushed out today about the Islamic State, and if Hollywood’s war films, themselves a particularly high-class form of propaganda, have promoted the same false images of Americans in conflict from 1941 to the present day, what does that tell us? Is it that our varied enemies across nearly three-quarters of a century of conflict are always unbelievably alike, or is it that when America needs a villain, it always goes to the same script?
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
I see you out there.
Sitting in front of your computer. I see what you’re wearing, who you are with. I know where you have been today, and who you interacted with. I know where you were last night.
We are shocked on a daily basis at the degree our cell phones can be used to monitor our movements. The most basic technique is via the phone’s built-in GPS; heck, that system is actually designed to locate the phone in physical space, and can at least be turned on and off (though it appears the NSA may be able to remotely trigger the system.)
Next up is the way that cell phones work. Your phone is constantly seeking to connect to three cell towers at once. As you move around, it drops the connection to the weakest signal, holds on to two others, and reconnects to a new third. This happens seamlessly, and so you can keep talking to your girlfriend even as you drive (don’t use your phone while driving.) Your location can be tracked fairly accurately by someone who is measuring your triangulated point among the three towers.
And when your phone connects to a Wi-Fi signal (how’s that Starbucks latte?), your location is easily determined.
Lastly, the NSA has access to the SIM chip in your phone, which basically opens up the basic encryption used that might have in olden days offered some modicum of privacy.
Location via Battery Levels
Now, here’s another way.
A team of security researchers from Stanford and the Israeli government (!) just published the details of a technique that lets spies watch as you move around by monitoring tiny changes in your phone’s battery level. It all comes down to how hard your phone has to work to ping those three cell towers. The towers that are further away or obscured by a building or hill cause your phone to use a little bit more power. If the spies know your normal routine, they can track your movements with 90 percent accuracy. If they don’t know your routine, that accuracy drops to about 60 percent. That may still be enough to place you close enough for whatever purpose, or to find you for closer monitoring.
This is especially concerning because there’s not really any way to protect yourself from this kind of surveillance, aside from taking out your phone’s battery. Most any app can gain access to battery usage data, so a hacker could either build a fake app to monitor that data or pull data from another app.
Funny thing: in the Edward Snowden documentary, CitizenFour, Snowden tells reporters visiting him to remove the batteries from their phones and place everything inside the metal box of the room fridge.
And Oh Yes, They’re Watching You
And oh my does the NSA like tracking your phone.
The National Security Agency is gathering nearly five billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable. The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices 24/7.
Sophisticated mathematical techniques then enable NSA analysts to map cellphone owners’ relationships by correlating their patterns of movement over time with thousands or millions of other phone users who cross their paths. So let’s also hope you don’t accidentally find yourself nearby anyone the NSA is interested in. Since the ever-hungry NSA cannot know in advance which tiny fraction of the records it may need, it collects and keeps as many as it can — 27 terabytes, by one account, or more than double the text content of the Library of Congress’ print collection.
And for those last seven or eight people who still cling to “Hey, I’ve got nothing to hide,” good for you. You may not be an ISIS super-villain, but really, nothing to hide from your girlfriend, boyfriend, boss, creditors, stalkers, ex-spouse, creepy guy downstairs, complete strangers, nobody? Because once information is collected, it exists, and once it exists it can be hacked, shared with foreign governments, your local cops, leaked or otherwise made available.
So smile, and speak up — somebody’s paying attention!
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Chris Appy’s American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity is a book-length essay on the Vietnam War and how it changed the way Americans think of ourselves and our foreign policy. This is required reading for anyone interested in foreign policy and America’s place in the world, showing how events influence attitudes, which turn to influence events.
Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam
Appy’s book is valuable to its readers in showing how Vietnam became the template for every American war since, from novelties like the invasion of Grenada to the seemingly never-ending conflicts post-9/11. But before all that, there was Vietnam, and, larger lessons aside, Appy’s book is a fascinating, insightful, infuriating and thought-provoking study of that conflict, from its earliest days when America bankrolled the French defeat, to the final, frantic evacuation of Saigon. This is a history, yes, but one where events are presented not as isolated factoids but toward building a larger argument. Drawing from movies, songs, and novels, as well as official documents, example after example shows how America was lied to and manipulated.
We begin with Tom Dooley, a Navy physician who had one of the best-selling books of 1956, Deliver Us from Evil. Presented as fact, the book was wholly a lie, painting a picture of Vietnam as a struggling Catholic nation under attack by Communists, with only America as a possible Saviour. Despite Dooley’s garbage selling millions of copies in its day, few have ever heard of it since. It did however establish a forward-leaning pattern of lies to engage and enrage the American public in support of pointless wars.
The Dooley line runs through the faux Gulf of Tonkin Incident to fake stories from Gulf War 1.0 of Iraqi troops throwing infants from their incubators to Gulf War 2.0’s non-existent WMDs to Gulf War 3.0’s “Save the Yazidi’s” rationale for America re-entering a war already lost twice. “Saving” things was a common sub-theme, just as Vietnam was to be saved from Communism. It was no surprise that one of the last American acts of the Vietnam War was “Operation Babylift,” where thousands of children were flown to the U.S. to “save” them.
Vietnam as a Template
Vietnam set the template in other ways as well.
— The 1960’s infamous domino theory was raised from the grave not only in the 1980’s to frighten Americans into tacit support for America’s wars in Central America, but then again in regards to the 1991 model of Saddam, never mind the near-constant invocations of tumbling playing pieces as al Qaeda and/or ISIS seeks world domination.
— Conflicts that could not stand on their own post-WWII would be wrapped in the flag of American Exceptionalism, buttressed by the belief the United States is a force for good/freedom/democracy/self-determination against a communist/dictator/terrorist evil. Indigenous struggles, where the U.S. sides with a non-democratic government (Vietnam, the Contras), can never be seen any other way, truth be damned to hell. Wars for resources become struggles for freedom, or perhaps self-preservation, as we fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.
— A sidestory to such memes is the invocation of “Munich.” If we don’t stop _____ (Putin?) now, he’ll just go on to demand more. Better to stand and fight than commit the cardinal sin of appeasement. That “appeasement” and “diplomacy” are often confused is no matter. We are not dealing in subtleties here.
— Killing becomes mechanical, clean, nearly sterile (remember the war porn images of missiles blasting through windows in Gulf War 1.0?) Our atrocities — My Lai in Vietnam is the best known, but there were many more — are the work of a few bad apples (“This is not who we are as Americans.”) Meanwhile, the other side’s atrocities are evil genius, fanaticism or campaigns of horror.
No More Vietnams
Appy accurately charts the changes to the American psyche brought on by the war. Never before had such a broad range of Americans come to doubt their government. The faith most citizens had in their leaders coming out of WWII was so near complete that the realization that they had been lied to about Vietnam represents the most significant change in the relationship between a people and their leaders America, perhaps much of history, has ever seen.
The aftermath — No More Vietnams — is well-covered in Appy’s work. The No More Vietnam mantra is usually presented as avoiding quagmires, focusing on quick, sharp wins. Instead, Appy shows politicians have manipulated No More Vietnams into meaning greater secrecy (think Central America in the 1980’s), more over-the-top justifications (“You don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”) and an emphasis on keeping American deaths inside the acceptable limits of the day to tamp down any public anti-war sentiment.
Throw in increasingly clever manipulation of the media (“Pat Tillman was a hero,” “Malaki/Karzai is a democratic leader with wide support”) and indeed there will be no more Vietnams per se, even as conflicts that bear all the hallmarks continue unabated. Americans may have developed an intolerance for Vietnam-like wars, but failed to become intolerant of war.
For readers of the 9/11 era, explaining the changes America underwent because of Vietnam seems near-impossible, though American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity succeeds as well as anything else I have read.
Before Vietnam, we accepted it all. That was the way of it. You could call it patriotism, or you could call it naivety, or even faith. We hadn’t yet realized our leaders would lie to us about things as important as war. There had been no Watergate, no fake WMDs. American Exceptionalism was not a right-wing trope twirled inside the confection of “Morning in America.” Our education was very expensive in the form of that blood and treasure commentators love to refer to.
You finish with the feeling that Appy wishes the lesson of Vietnam would be for the American people to rise up and shout “we won’t be fooled again,” but close the book sharing with Appy the thought that we have, and will. “There remains,” concludes Appy, “a profound disconnect between the ideals and priorities of the public and the reality of a permanent war machine that no one in power seems able or willing to challenge or constrain… the institutions that sustain empire destroy democracy.”
How did we reach such a state? Better read this book to find, in Appy’s words, what our record is, and who we now are.
— African-American teen killed by a white cop;
— Grand jury won’t indict, cop walks free;
— Family wins wrongful death lawsuit;
— Taxpayers lay out $3.9 million to pay for their killer cops on the loose.
And now, the details.
The family of slain Bronx teen Ramarley Graham accepted $3.9 million in taxpayer money from the city to settle their wrongful death lawsuit.
Police had claimed that Graham was suspected of purchasing an amount of marijuana small enough that its possession is now decriminalized in New York.
Cops chased him into his home without a warrant. The cop who shot the teen, Officer Richard Haste, claimed that he had heard over the police radio that Graham was armed. No gun was found.
After Graham was gunned down in his own bathroom, the cops threatened to shoot his grieving grandmother, according to the suit.
“Why did you shoot him? Why you killed him?” the grandmother allegedly asked the officer who had just fired a fatal bullet into her grandson’s chest.
“Get the f*ck away before I have to shoot you, too,” the suit said Haste shouted after pushing the 58-year-old grandmother backward.
The elderly woman was detained at the local precinct for seven hours and forced to give a statement against her will.
Officer Richard Haste, who fired the fatal shot, was initially indicted for manslaughter, but a judge threw out the case on a legal technicality.
A second grand jury declined to indict the cop.
“This was a tragic case,” said a spokesman for New York City.
An ongoing federal investigation into possible civil rights violations by the NYPD moves into the third year since the killing. The lawsuit itself took two years after the teen’s death to reach settlement.
As best I can tell Officer Haste, below, is still patrolling the streets as I write this.
Examples of police abuse of power are not hard to locate, typically involving deadly force where none is needed.
Many of these examples appear to involve racism, white cops misusing their authority over African-Americans. Examples are often dismissed by police supporters over some ambiguity or another. What makes the following example so compelling is not the extremes of violence (none take place) but the clarity of the power dynamic, and the clarity of how easy it is for cops to misuse the power granted to them.
Arrested for Having a Golf Club
We learn that 70-year-old Air Force veteran (twenty years of service) and retired Seattle bus driver William Wingate had a daily habit of walking and using a golf club like a cane. He typically took a walk to pick a newspaper. Wingate was not unknown in the neighborhood. He had no arrest record. He was not using drugs. He wasn’t even wearing a hoodie. The day was sunny and clear, the video in focus and the audio clear.
But Seattle Police Department (SPD) officer Cynthia Whitlatch pulled over her patrol car, got out, and yelled at Wingate to drop his golf club. The incident was caught on her vehicle’s dash-cam video recording system. Unlike some recorded incidents, where what happened before the encounter was not recorded, in this case we have a full 1:40 on tape of nothing happening.
Officer Whitlatch insists that the recording instead would show Wingate swinging his golf club at her and hitting a stop sign with it. According to the Seattle Police Department, there exists no video to back up this claim.
Nonetheless, Whitlatch, standing behind her car, shouts at Wingate to drop his golf club 17 times, and claims that “it is a weapon.”
“You just swung that golf club at me,” Whitlatch yells.
“No, I did not!” exclaims Wingate.
“Right back there,” Whitlatch says back. “It was on audio and video tape.”
(The action begins at 1:40 on the video, but the fact that nothing happens prior to that is important to understanding how wrong this all is)
If you don’t see the embedded video, it is also online here.
Welcome to the Judicial System
Eventually, she tells him he’s going to be arrested and charged with obstruction. She calls for backup. A second officer arrives and Wingate promptly hands over the golf club. Nonetheless, the officers went on to handcuff him. Police walked him down the street to the East Precinct, where the desk sergeant approved the decision to book Wingate into jail on harassment and obstruction charges.
While still handcuffed, Wingate had difficulty stepping up and into the back of the paddy wagon. On video, an officer can be seen sliding a stool toward the back of the vehicle, using his foot. Wingate spent the night in jail.
The next day, city prosecutors filed misdemeanor charges of unlawful use of a weapon against Wingate based solely on the arresting officer’s incident report. In that report, the officer stated she was “fearful of being assaulted by him.”
Wingate agreed to a plea agreement after being told by a public defender “If you sign this stipulated order of continuance, it will all be over, basically.”
Finally, a rational head entered the story. Two months after the arrest a municipal judge dismissed the case following public outcry that attracted both social media and a private lawyer.
Maybe It Was All Just a Mistake?
So maybe Officer Whitlatch just made a mistake. You know, pressure of the moment. Maybe on a bright sunny day she thought she saw an elderly African-American man swing a golf club at her, when no such thing happened. Maybe. But, as prosecutors say when they bring up a suspect’s past history in court, let’s look at the record.
Officer Whitlatch was one of 126 police officers who sued the government last year, at both the federal and city level, to block the Department of Justice–ordered use of force policies. The SPD is under a federal consent decree and is being forced to address the DOJ’s concerns over racial bias and its finding that Seattle police routinely and unconstitutionally use excessive force. Officer Whitlatch and the others claimed in their suit that the new policy will result in citizens and officers being “killed.” They said the regulations require cops to “under-react to threats of harm until we have no choice but to overreact.”
Whitlatch’s ex-girlfriend, who claims she spoke up because both she and her father were police officers, claims Whitlatch made racist comments about black people she’d encountered while on patrol and, in the spring of 2005, stole marijuana from police evidence that the couple then smoked together.
About one month after she arrested Wingate for his golf club, Officer Whitlatch took to Facebook to share some thoughts. While protests raged in Ferguson, Missouri over the police shooting death of African-American Michael Brown, Whitlatch wrote she was tired of “black peoples paranoia” and wrote of “chronic black racism that far exceeds any white racism in this country.”
The Next Steps
The next part is as predictable as day following night.
— Officer Whitlatch remains employed by the police department, albeit on desk duty. Whitlatch was not disciplined. She received counseling from her supervisor, a course of action that the department believes to be “an appropriate resolution.”
— The Seattle Police Department insists racial bias played no role in the incident.
— Wingate is suing the city for $750,000 claiming violations of his civil rights. Should he prevail, the taxpayers will foot the bill for the settlement.
Here’s a flash in the dark peek at justice in America, all in the name of keeping us safe from terrorism by using the tools of law enforcement to terrorize us.
If that’s not the case, then why is Charles Kieser still employed by the TSA?
Random American Citizen Roger Vanderklok (aka “Josef K.“) had the misfortune of going through TSA Supervisor Charles Kieser’s security-screening area. Vanderklok, 57, pictured with his wife, is a Philadelphia architect who runs half-marathons. He flies around the country for weekend races.
The TSA said it was concerned about the gear in his carry-on bag, and pulled him out of line. The items of concern turned out to be only a running watch and some Power Bars, wrapped in a small PVC pipe for protection against crushing. Nonetheless, for the next 30 minutes, screeners checked and rechecked the bag. They found nothing dangerous. Vanderklok protested that he was no threat, and that the items were of no danger to anyone, and insisted on making a complaint.
Electronics and “organic mass” can be used to make bombs, TSA Supervisor Charles Kieser said in response to Vanderlok’s complaint. “The passenger made a bomb threat to me,” Kieser testified later according to a court transcript. “He said ‘I’ll bring a bomb through here any day that I want… and you’ll never find it.'”
Kieser did not evacuate the area or follow TSA protocol to contact the FBI, as required in the face of a bomb threat. Instead, he just summoned the Philadelphia Police. Vanderklok was taken to an airport holding cell, and his personal belongings, including his phone, were confiscated while police “investigated” him. Vanderklok was detained for three hours in the holding cell, missing his plane. He was not questioned. Instead, after waiting the three hours, he was handcuffed, taken to a downtown police station and placed in another cell. He says that no one, not the police officers at the airport nor the detectives downtown, told him why he was there. He didn’t find out until he was arraigned at 2 a.m. that he was being charged with “threatening the placement of a bomb” and making “terroristic threats.” Despite all that threat stuff, he was released on bail. His wife, worried about not hearing from her husband, was never notified of his arrest until Vanderklok was allowed to phone her for bail money.
When Vanderklok finally had his case brought to court, the charges were quickly dismissed. A review of airport surveillance videos showed that TSA Supervisor Kieser simply made everything up. Vanderklok made no threats. The security video shows him standing calmly with his arms in front of him holding a laptop. Prosecutors called no witnesses against Vanderklok except TSA Supervisor Kieser.
As you may have guessed, Vanderklok has now filed a civil suit against the TSA, the Philadelphia Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security, alleging that he was willfully deprived of his liberty, and his Fifth Amendment rights were violated, by the false statements made against him. Kieser remains employed by the TSA. No charges have been filed against him for what appears to have been outright perjury in his court testimony.
Homeland Security has made no public comment, citing the pending lawsuit. Taxpayers will of course be on the hook for any settlement coming out of the lawsuit.
BONUS: Taxpayers, on behalf of Philadelphia Airport TSA, recently paid out a $25,000 settlement over detaining a college student for possessing Arabic language flashcards.
What stands out for you, young voter? Is it the sense of dynastic ascension? The air of entitlement? The We Will Rock You handclaps near the end? The tired trope of the beautiful blond woman hidden beneath the black motorcycle helmet? The fact that the whole thing looks like a pickup truck commercial? Or the cheesy glass ceiling thing?
Please, take a moment and share your thoughts below as we all stand with Hillary.
Jesus would want that.
Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?
Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.
And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.
–C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems.
We must remember that the progressive debasement of international law and comity has reached such a stage that all the concepts of internal sovereignty, respect for international boundaries, and even of a formal state of war have well-nigh disappeared from the book of rules. [The situation is] now rapidly approaching comparison with the lawless era of the Thirty Years’ War.
–Bernard Fall, Two Vietnams.
Looking at the world as a whole, the drift for many decades has been not towards anarchy but towards the reimposition of slavery. We may be heading not for general breakdown but for an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity. James Burnham’s theory has been much discussed, but few people have yet considered its ideological implications — that is, the kind of world-view, the kind of beliefs, and the social structure that would probably prevail in a state which was at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of “cold war” with its neighbors.
–George Orwell, You and the Atomic Bomb
The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side.
–George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism
The Obama administration, in its war on whistleblowers, just lost a major battle. Major in its venue — the Supreme Court — and major in its implications for future whistleblower cases.
The Court’s decision in Department of Homeland Security v. Robert MacLean curtails the government’s manipulation of pseudo-classified information to punish whistleblowers, and strengthens the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA).
In July 2003, TSA alerted all marshals of a possible hijacking plot. Soon after, TSA sent an unclassified, open-air text message to marshals’ cell phones canceling several months of missions to save on hotel costs. Fearing such cancellations in the midst of a hijacking alert created a danger to the flying public, veteran Air Marshal Robert MacLean tried to get TSA to change its decision.
After hitting a dead end, MacLean spoke anonymously to MSNBC, who published a critical story. Only 24 hours later, and after 11 members of Congress voiced concern, TSA reversed itself, putting marshals back on the flights. A year later, MacLean appeared on TV in disguise to criticize agency policies he felt made it easier for passengers to recognize undercover marshals. The TSA recognized MacLean’s voice and discovered he had also released the unclassified 2003 text message. He was fired in April 2006.
MacLean discovered that months after firing him, TSA had retroactively classified as “security sensitive information” (SSI) the unclassified text message he had leaked. SSI is a designation created by TSA via administrative memo, and had no basis in law. TSA decided nonetheless that leaking a retroactively SSI-classified document was cause enough to fire a federal worker. MacLean fought back.
In 2013, after a long series of legal wrangles, a United States Court of Appeals decided that MacLean was entitled to his old marshal job back under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. The act generally limits its protections to “disclosures not specifically prohibited by law.” The court said SSI information was not really “classified” at all, and thus MacLean’s disclosure was not a violation of law.
The Department of Justice challenged the decision in front of the Supreme Court. The Supremes agreed on January 21 with the lower court’s decision, ruling in favor of MacLean and against the government.
Significance of the Decision
The Court made clear TSA’s self-created classification, SSI, did not have the power of law. MacLean’s disclosure of SSI material thus did not violate any actual laws making disclosure of properly classified material a crime. There were no grounds to have fired him.
While by law the U.S. government recognizes only three basic levels of classification (confidential, secret, top secret), since 9/11 government agencies on their own have created pseudo categories of secrecy like SSI, hybrids that casually seek to incorporate the full weight of formal law. There are currently 107 designations just for “sensitive” information alone, none of which receive any review outside of the agency that created them. Allowing any part of the government to declare this or that classified under their own rules means everything can be classified, and every statement by every official potentially actionable, with no external oversight or redress possible.
The Court also shot down government claims that a law allowing TSA to “prescribe regulations” means the agency can otherwise control disclosures with the force of law. The statute, the Court said, “does not [itself] prohibit anything; instead, it authorizes” the TSA to make choices. No one prohibited MacLean from disclosing an at-the-time unclassified text, nor would it be reasonable to assume something unclassified couldn’t be disclosed.
The Court did agree with TSA that actions such as MacLean’s can have legitimate national security repercussions. Dealing with that issue “must be addressed by Congress or the President, rather than by this Court,” and, by extension, not by TSA acting on its own.
Regulation is Not Law
And as if the point was not clear enough, the Supreme Court stated “interpreting the word ‘law’ to include rules and regulations could defeat the purpose of the whistleblower statute. That interpretation would allow an agency to insulate itself… simply by promulgating a regulation that ‘specifically prohibited’ all whistleblowing.”
The Supreme Court’s decision answers a key question regarding the scope of exemptions to federal whistleblower protection law. In a blow to the self-proclaimed “most transparent administration ever,” the Court ruled against the use of pseudo-classification as a tool to hide from the public embarrassing or even criminal information. Had the Court held otherwise, no act of whistleblowing could be considered protected. All the government would have had to do to stop an act by a conscientious employee would be to retroactively slap a self-made category of secrecy on whatever was disclosed, and wash its hands of the miscreant.
Attorney Tom Devine,of the Government Accountability Project, was part of the team that represented MacLean. “This victory,” Devine said, “means that the cornerstone of whistleblower rights has survived — the supremacy of statutory rights passed by Congress over agency secrecy rules. If Mr. MacLean had lost, agencies could cancel those rights through internal regulations, and the Whistleblower Protection Act would have been an unenforceable honor system. In the aftermath, the WPA is alive, well and stronger than ever.”
What About that Retroactive Classification?
Also a part of MacLean’s firing from TSA was the issue of the agency retroactively marking the information he was punished for leaking as SSI, some time after it was sent out to all air marshals in an unclassified open text. The Court let stand this government power to retroactively classify information.
According to MacLean attorney Tom Devine, retroactively pseudo-classifying information as SSI was not an issue in MacLean’s appeal, and should not inhibit all whistleblowing. Following MacLean’s firing, Executive Order 13556 in 2010 made clear categories such as SSI alone does not affect disclosure laws such as the Whistleblower Protection Act. In addition, the “anti-gag” provision of the later Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act already outlawed liability for disclosures involving “unmarked but classified” information. That law’s definitions require information to be specifically designated as classified, not just to deserve secret status.
That’s the bigger picture. On a more personal level, what’s next for MacLean?
“I’m a sheepdog, I fight until I’m unconscious or dead,” said MacLean. “The public paid me considerably more than most federal employees. I had the power to arrest people. I was extensively trained and gave an oath that I would risk my life engaging in firefights inside crowded missiles.”
“I want to resume serving in law enforcement,” said MacLean. “If my country wants me back serving as an air marshal, I will serve to the best of my ability and with honor.”
As regular readers of this blog know, a central theme of mine is Post-Constitutional America, the third great era of our history.
The Way It Was
In the first era, the colonial years, a unitary executive, the King of England, ruled without checks and balances, allowing no freedom of speech, due process, or privacy when it came to protecting his power.
In the second, the principles of the Enlightenment and an armed rebellion were used to push back the king’s abuses. The result was a new country and a new constitution with a Bill of Rights expressly meant to check the government’s power. As imperfect as all that was, it represented a concept of moving toward the better. Those ideas — enshrined in the Bill of Rights — are disarmingly concise. Think of them as the haiku of a genuine people’s government.
The Way It Is
Now, we are wading into the ever-deeper waters of a third era, a time when that government is abandoning the basic ideas that saw our nation through centuries of challenges far more daunting than terrorism.
America has entered its third great era: the post-constitutional one. Here we have only the rights the government allows us to have. Think of it as a variable totalitarian system. Free speech is not outlawed, but can be restricted at will — a punk cop Tasers a legitimate protester, the Federal government slams a prominent journalist away. Privacy exists, but only as the government doles it out, often as a reward for not being a troublemaker, while retaining the “right” to pull it away. The Stasi and 1984‘s Big Brother sought total control over every aspect of peoples’ lives; today’s power is used as needed, though the mechanisms of broad application exist and grow.
Not by Any Recognizable Rules
On or about Sept. 11, 2001, American character changed. What Americans had proudly flaunted as “our highest values” were now judged to be luxuries that in a new time of peril the country could ill afford. Justice, and its cardinal principle of innocent until proven guilty, became a risk, its indulgence a weakness. Asked recently about an innocent man who had been tortured to death in an American “black site” in Afghanistan, former Vice President Dick Cheney did not hesitate. “I’m more concerned,” he said, “with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.” In this new era in which all would be sacrificed to protect the country, torture and even murder of the innocent must be counted simply “collateral damage.”
At its root is a maddening ambiguity born of a system governed not by any recognizable rules of evidence or due process but by suspicion, paranoia and violence.
That sums it up for me about as well as anything else I’ve been allowed by the government to read.
…And then there are those days that challenge even a First Amendment/Free Speech absolutist like me.
Freedom Fighter and uneducated state legislator Molly White (could her last name be any more appropriate?), pictured, couldn’t be in Austin, Texas to celebrate Texas Muslim Capitol Day. But she left instructions (on her Facebook page!) for the staff in her Capitol office on how to handle Muslim visitors, including asking them to declare allegiance to the United States:
“I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws,” she posted on Facebook. “We will see how long they stay in my office.”
Texas Muslim Capitol Day
Texas Muslim Capitol Day, which began in 2003, is organized by the Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and brings members of Muslim communities in Houston, Dallas and other areas of the state to the Capitol to learn about the political process and meet state lawmakers. It is unclear how many risk their lives to actually attend.
Oh, wait, we know: about 100 Muslims, mostly children brought on a school trip, showed up. Though as we know Representative Molly White didn’t drop by to hiss at the kids, they were met by 25 alleged adults outside the Capitol holding signs saying “Radical Islam is the New Nazi” and “Go Home and Take Obama With You.”
As a small group of Muslim group held a press conference on the steps of the Capitol, one of the protesters grabbed the microphone and shouted “Islam will never dominate the United States and by the grace of God, it will never dominate Texas.” As the Muslims sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” protesters yelled “Islam is a lie!” and “No Sharia here!”
Neither the Texas Governor nor the Lieutenant Governor had any comment on the matter.
Good Golly Miss Molly!
But not Molly White. She doubled-down with a follow-up Facebook post: “I do not apologize for my comments. If you love America, obey our laws and condemn Islamic terrorism, then I embrace you as a fellow American. If not, then I do not.” She later released a third statement that did not appear intentionally ironic, saying she welcomes “all of my constituents who would like to come and visit our office in the Texas State Capitol.”
Molly’s recent statements are at least consistent with her record of hate. She had previously explained “Remember, in the Koran, it is OK to lie for the purpose of advancing Islam. Texans must never allow fringe groups of people to come here so that they can advance their own culture instead of becoming an American and assimilating into the American way of life. That, I can assure is not the intent of most Muslims who move to America.”
As this article goes online, Texas unfortunately remains part of the United States. And yes, yes, comments people, I know parts of Austin are cool and have great music and chill bars.
The Dearborn, Michigan area is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the United States, so this can’t be blamed on some small-town cops ignorant of the law. Of course, since that “law” is actually the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantee of freedom of religion, even that is not much of an excuse.
So we’re left with the “What were they thinking?” defense.
A Muslim woman who was forced to remove her hijab by police in Michigan claims her religious rights were violated. She filed a civil rights lawsuit demanding the policy change.
Today’s American Traffic Stops
Malak Kazan, 27-years-old, pictured, is suing the police department and city of Dearborn Heights, a suburb of Detroit, after officers refused her request to keep her headscarf on while taking booking photos.
Kazan was stopped for a traffic violation and arrested after the cops found her license had been suspended for outstanding traffic tickets. Fair enough. At the police station she was told to remove her headscarf. When she said that would violate her religious beliefs, the cops said there were no exceptions. A supervisor said the same thing. Kazan says she then requested a female officer take the picture, also denied. Her lawsuit says she was threatened with further detention if she didn’t comply. Kazan reluctantly removed her hijab and was photographed under protest.
The lawsuit demands the police department change its policy to allow headgear worn for religious purposes.
The Fake Excuse
Dearborn Heights Police Chief Lee Gavin said his department requires individuals to remove head coverings, as they can “contain concealable items that could pose a threat or chance of injury to the cops or to themselves.” He said procedure is to have women remove hijabs in the presence of a female officer, but there aren’t always enough female officers at the station.
The Chief did not explain why any such search was not conducted prior to the booking photo, at which time Kazan had already been in police custody for some time. Any threatening objects concealed could have long come into play at that point. Typically suspects are searched at the time of arrest, and immediately upon arriving at the police station.
Dearborn Out of Sync
After various legal actions, several cities, including all of Orange County, California and Washington, DC, have changed their policies to allow hijabs and other religious headgear. Generally, so does TSA. An officer may request removal of religious headgear only when a traveler is unable to pass metal detection, or after a pat down when a concern has not been resolved.
Reminder: It will be the taxpayers on the hook for the costs of litigation, plus the inevitable settlement offered to Kazan.
A former college student, Nicholas George, the Face of Evil, pictured, was detained in 2009 for hours at Philadelphia International Airport because he was carrying Arabic flashcards and thus suspected by the TSA of having something to do with terrorism. With the assistance of the ACLU, George successfully sued the United States Government for abusing his First and Fourth Amendment rights. The $25,000 settlement ends five years of litigation, including numerous attempts to stall the case by the government, all paid for by you, the taxpayer. Because, freedom, ‘kay?
The government’s madness began after Nicholas George was detained for having Arabic-English flashcards with words like “terrorist” and bomb” written on them. He was 21-years-old at the time and on his way to California, where he was a senior at Pomona College majoring in — wait for it — Middle Eastern studies. The U.S. government actually encourages Americans to learn “critical languages” such as Arabic, and both the CIA and the State Department offer recruitment incentives to those who do. The government also offers generous grants and loans to those who study Arabic. In order to better decode what a bad guy might be saying, it would make sense for a student to learn words such as “bomb.” The term would also certainly come up in any contemporary reading about world events.
Back at the front lines of the war on terror, apparently the Philly airport, things played out a little differently.
“At the metal detector at airport security, Transportation Security Administration agents asked me to empty my pockets,” George said. “I took the set of flashcards from my pocket and handed them to the officers. After I cleared the metal detector, they asked me to step aside for additional screening. One of them started rifling through the cards, and another took a book critical of U.S. foreign policy written by a Reagan administration official out of my carry-on. The minutes ticked by, and I got more confused about why I was being detained and more concerned that I would miss my flight. One of them called a supervisor.”
Bin Laden Spoke Arabic
After a half-hour delay at the security line, the supervisor showed up. After looking at the book and flashcards, the supervisor asked “Do you know who did 9/11?” George answered: “Osama Bin Laden.” Then she asked him if he knew what language Osama Bin Laden spoke. “Arabic,” he replied. George was in college, after all, so knew the answers. “So do you see why these cards are suspicious?” she finished. George did not know the answer to that question.
George was then handcuffed and paraded through the airport to a police substation. Authorities searched his luggage and kept him locked up in a cell handcuffed. After about two hours George asked to go to the bathroom, and on the way back asked his jailer why he was being held. The cop answered, contending for the banality of evil award, “I dunno, what’d you do?” George was eventually set free without explanation. Having missed his flight, he was left on his own to get home.
First and Fourth Amendments? Never Heard of ‘Em
“Even after searching my luggage without probable cause of a crime and finding nothing out of the ordinary, TSA agents and the police felt they had the authority to detain and then arrest me, purely on ignorant assumptions about a language spoken by 295 million people worldwide,” George wrote in a blog post.
Another victory in the war on terror,or for bullying, or for the triumph of the will of ignorance. Thanks TSA!
Shannon Conley, circled in the photo above, a 19-year-old suburban Denver teen, was sentenced to four years in prison on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, ISIS. We’ll get to the specifics of Conley’s crime in a moment, but first some more details from her sentencing.
U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore said Conley needed psychological help. In addition to the four years behind bars, he also sentenced her to three years of supervised release and 100 hours of community service and barred her from possessing black powder used in explosives, saying, “I’m not going to take a chance with you.”
“I don’t know what has been crystallized in your mind,” Moore told her, adding that he hoped the sentence would discourage others with similar intentions. “I’m still not sure you get it.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Holloway also said Conley “continues to defy authority, making vitriolic comments about law enforcement even though authorities showed restraint in their handling of her case. That’s a troubling sign that she may reoffend.”
The Threat of Shannon Conley
To put Conley’s sentencing, and the government’s actions, in context, let’s look into her so-called material support for ISIS.
The government’s interest in Conley started thanks to two alert Citizens. A security guard and pastor at the Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colorado, contacted police to report the girl had been wandering their campus taking notes. The girl also became “confrontational” with church staffers when they asked to see her notes. The guard thought she was suspicious and that she seemed to be “visiting the church in preparation for an attack.” It is unclear how whatever the woman was doing appeared to be in preparation for an attack.
The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force went on to investigate Conley for eight months. They discovered that she had met a man online who identified himself as a 32-year-old Tunisian terrorist associated with ISIS and with whom she built what she felt was a romantic relationship. He encouraged her to travel to Syria to fight alongside him, because of course everyone you meet online is exactly who they say they are and especially guys who meet girls online never lie to them (there is at least some evidence that this whole thing jihad thing was just a trick to lure vulnerable foreign women into prostitution.)
The FBI’s “investigation” of all this included meeting with Conley in person on a near-weekly basis for six months. Even her attire was cited as “evidence” at her trial: At her first meeting with FBI agents she wore a T-shirt that read “Sniper. Don’t run, you’ll die trying.” We shall not comment on the irony of that when the movie “American Sniper” dominates the box office. The FBI also met with Conley’s parents, warning them of their daughter’s “radical beliefs.”
Here’s the serious part: The girl was interviewed by an FBI special agent, at which point she said she was training in military tactics through a non-profit youth group called the U.S. Army Explorers and that she hoped to share what she learned with Islamic jihadi fighters. A few weeks later, she told the FBI agent she would be “ready to wage jihad in a year.” The suspect told the FBI, however, that her knowledge of Islam and jihad was based mostly on her research conducted using Google.
The U.S. Army Explorers, where the girl was seeking training to enable her to survive on the battlefields of the MidEast alongside hardened terrorists, describes itself as a program that “exposes cadets to what career opportunities in the military are like, and provides them first hand knowledge and experience in the many military occupational skills… Our program is a part of the Learning for Life Explorer program with the Boy Scouts of America.” The group accepts cadets as young as age 13. It costs $85 to join, but that includes an ID card and uniform patches. The girl also told the FBI she planned to use her Army Explorer skills to “train Islamic Jihadi fighters in U.S. military tactics.”
The Price of Freedumb
So, in what was likely the worst online dating story of the year, the FBI launched an eight month investigation leading to an airport takedown when Conley sought to board a flight to Turkey, a country described as “near Syria.” In between, the Feds spoke numerous times to Conley, and her parents, and no doubt must have come to the conclusion that her chances of waging jihad were about the same as her chances of finding true love on the web.
But instead of advising her parents to take back their credit card, they busted her for planning to travel to Turkey. Even the antagonistic judge at her trial seemed to see another side of Conley at one point, stating “I’m not saying her actions were a direct product of mental illness, but she’s a bit of a mess. She’s pathologically naive.”
The really sad part, absent wrecking this girl’s already pathetic life (when released at age 23 she’ll be a convicted felon, hardened by three years inside, with a terror rap), is that this case will no doubt now be counted among the many other examples of how the government is protecting us from the terrorists in our midst.
This– THIS LINK– could have sent me to jail. Another link came very, very close to sending Barrett Brown to jail. Brown was just sentenced to five years in jail on other charges that the government could make stick, in another step towards the criminalization of everything.
The United States v. Barrett Brown
Brown, pictured, 33-years-old, was arrested in 2012 after his and his mothers’ homes were raided and he used “threatening” language toward FBI officers in a response posted to YouTube. He was subsequently accused of working with hackers, whose efforts yielded a huge tranche of embarrassing and revealing information concerning misbehavior and sleaze at U.S. government contractors, primarily Stratfor.
Among the secrets exposed were collaborative efforts between the government and private contractors to monitor social networks, and to develop online surveillance systems.
The charges against Brown included the claim that merely linking to the leaked information was illegal, an alleged crime for which prosecutors sought decades in prison. Brown ultimately signed a plea deal on three lesser charges: transmitting a threat (the YouTube video), trying to hide a laptop computer during a raid, and to being “accessory after the fact in the unauthorized access to a protected computer.” He spent a year awaiting trial in federal prison, and was subject to a six-month gag order prohibiting him from even discussing his case with the media.
On January 22, a Dallas court sentenced Barrett Brown to 63 months in federal prison, minus time already served. He was also ordered to pay $890,000 in restitution to the Stratfor Corporation.
Who is Barrett Brown?
Barrett Brown is an internet guy. He may or may not have been involved with web naughty boys Anonymous (he denies the association) and most certainly was deeply involved with broad free speech issues online. In 2011, Brown posted a link in a chatroom, pointing to data that was obtained during the late-2011 hack of Stratfor Global Intelligence. The link pointed to documents on the Wikileaks site. The docs are still there.
The government arrested Brown and charged him with a number of offenses, the most significant of which was for posting that link. The link, the government contended, exposed enormous amounts of credit card information, a crime. Not mentioned by the government, the link also documented discussions of assassination, rendition and how to undermine journalists and foreign governments, plus the social media stuff mentioned above.
To be clear, neither the government nor anyone else accused Brown of stealing the info himself, or misusing the info to use others’ credit cards, physically possessing the information, hosting it on a server he controlled or anything like that. His crime was simply linking to data that already existed on the Internet and which was already available worldwide for viewing.
Looking for a Test Case
Prior to Brown pleading guilty to the three lesser counts he was sentenced for January 22, the government dropped the other charges related to linking as a crime. Though the government in its Motion to Dismiss gave no reasons for its decision, the implication is that while they were clearly looking to set a precendent on the Brown case, they did not want that precedent to be a loss. Better to let a small fry like Brown swim away than risk the greater goal.
What kind of test case? Having failed to find any legal or otherwise effective way to deal with sites like Wikileaks, or the publication of classified materials elsewhere on the Internet such as the Snowden documents, the government is taking a side-step in seeking to punish those that use, view or handle the material itself.
For example, when the Wikileaks information first started pouring out across the web, most government agencies blocked access to the data via their firewalls, claiming the content was still classified and thus could not be viewed on a government computer even while it could be viewed on any other web-connected computer from Cleveland to Karachi. Similar blocks have been put in place to prevent much of the Snowden material from being viewed at various work sites.
Before Barrett Brown, Me?
The attempt by the government to punish people for links to “objectionable” material did not start with Brown. Though I can’t promise I was the first test case, I was certainly an early attempt.
In 2010 the Department of State suspended the Top Secret security clearance I had held without incident or question for over twenty years because I linked to a supposedly classified document on the Wikileaks site from my blog.
State referred my linkage to the Department of Justice for prosecution in fall 2010. When Justice declined without reason to pursue the case, State took the non-judicial action of “temporarily” suspending my security clearance indefinitely, because of the link. State claimed that via that link I revealed classified information publicly, a major no-no for cleared personnel and sought to fire me. As in the Brown case, in the end State choose not to pursue charges, again without comment. I was defended by several excellent lawyers, and retired from State on my own terms, including no gag orders.
There may be other such link cases out there that we do not yet know of. They may be classified, or the parties involved may be under gag orders, as was Brown.
There appears little question that the government is testing the concept, looking for a case that it can win that would criminalize linking. From the government’s point of view, the win would pay off handsomely:
— With use of their content criminalized, sites like Wikileaks would slip beneath the world radar. People would be increasingly afraid of reading them, and the crowdsourcing critical to sifting through millions of documents would slow down significantly.
— In cases the government saw as particularly dangerous, people would disappear into jail. With a precedent set in a “good” test case, winning such prosecutions would be rote work for interns. Is there a link? Did Ms. X create the link? Does the link go to classified information? It’s a slam dunk.
— Best of all from a control standpoint, prosecuting links will have a chilling affect. Many people will simply be afraid to take the chance of legal trouble and stop creating links or following them. That will certainly be the case among the main stream media, already far too skittish about security matters. One wonders what effect such prosecuting of links will have on search engines like Google, essentially little more than a collection of links.
Another step toward a post-Constitutionalization of America is the creeping criminalization of everything. If every act is potentially cause for prosecution, the ability of the government to control what people do or say grows.
Who could have guessed that in 2015 a click of the mouse would be a subversive act?
One is an enemy of America, a group of evil Sunni terrorists who ruthlessly employ their own twisted vision of Islamic Sharia Law to behead people, punish homosexuality and criminalize adultery.
And the other’s one of America’s staunchest Sunni allies in the Middle East, on the road to democracy, albeit one that employs its own twisted vision of Islamic Sharia Law to behead people, punish homosexuality and criminalize adultery.
Having trouble telling the difference between ISIS and Saudi Arabia? It can happen to anyone! Let Middle East Eye help you out with this handy chart:
It was all kind of a trick question. See dummy, ISIS are terrorists. The Saudis just fund terrorists (including, perhaps until only recently, ISIS!) Duh.
There will be many, many articles today speculating what Dr. Martin Luther King would say about this event or that. There is much to talk about — the police killings of young black men, crippling economic inequality (today the 85 richest people on the planet have the same wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion combined), the use of gerrymandering and election day tricks to disenfranchise people — the list is a long one.
Dr. King’s most powerful message revolved around freedom. Freedom for blacks, freedom for whites, freedom for Americans, freedom. Writing from jail, in his famous letter from Birmingham, King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” King was rightly focused primarily on the injustices of segregation. But his concept of freedom extended far beyond simply race. He understood the word in the broadest possible sense, and so I’ll add one more article to the stack today putting words into Dr. King’s mouth, seeking to bring his message forward.
Following a singular day — one day — of terror attacks, we set fire to the whole world. Willingly, almost gleefully, we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the former on the promise of bloody revenge and the latter based on flimsy falsehoods that today seem as real as childhood beliefs. We reinvaded Iraq in 2014, and brought war to many other places. But we want to believe and so it is easy to lie to us, just like with the Tooth Fairy.
Worse yet, we turned on ourselves. With a stroke of a pen, we did away with 226 some years of bitterly fought for civil rights — silence the First Amendment and do away with critics and whistleblowers, cow journalists and use the police to break up the peaceful assembly of citizens seeking to address their government, rip open the Fourth Amendment and allow the government to spy into our lives. Plumbing for the depths of evil, we as a nation torture men, create an archipelago of secret prisons and make excuses to keep them still open, build a regime of indefinite confinement and rendition to feed our concentration camps, hungering for flesh. When even that was not enough, we unleashed death from the sky, smiting people who bothered us, maybe occasionally threatened us, often times simply people who were near by or looked like our possible enemies. In the calculus of the day, we kill them all without a concern that any deity would sort the bodies out later. How much would be enough for revenge?
That our nation can be both vengeful and impersonal at the same time horrifies. I wonder what Dr. King would say.
We thought we had a chance at change in 2008 but instead were proven again to be just dupes and amateurs. He could have turned it all around, in those first weeks he could have asked the rivers to flow backwards and they just might have. He could have grounded the drones, torn up the Patriot Act, held truth commissions to bring into the light our tortures, re-emancipated America in ways not unlike Lincoln did in the 1860s. Slam shut the gates of Guantanamo, close the secret prisons that even today still ooze pus in Afghanistan, stop the militarization of Africa, bring the troops home, all of it, just have done it. What a change, what a path forward, what a rebirth for an America who had lost her way so perilously. One man could have made a difference and when he did not even try, he helped solidify in America a sense of cynicism and powerlessness that empowers evil people further. I wonder what Dr. King would say.
Today, this day, we are left with only ironic references to where we were and what we had been. We now today go through the motions of a celebratory day like an old married couple dutifully maintaining civility where joyous lust once was. We are raising a new generation who accept that their nation tortures, invades, violates and assassinates, all necessary evils requiring us to defame democracy while pretending to protect it.
On this same day we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, who wrote to us all from a jail cell in sweltering Birmingham. King’s guidance in that letter was that the “means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” We cannot fight wrongs by committing wrongs. For what noble crusade do we allow the torturers to walk free? To claim the right to kill people, even Americans, anywhere in the world simply because we can do so? Why do we prolong wars, long ago not just lost but rendered pointless, in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere? For what crusade do we keep our enemies in Guantanamo? These are the features and questions of Post-Constitutional America. I wonder what Dr. King would say.
I’ve been accused of over-romanticizing America’s Constitutional Era, 1789-9/11/2001. Indeed, didn’t the worst of the abuses Dr. King fought against take place during that time, as King describe them “vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity.”
The horrors ranged from those depths to the smallest of examples; again, from Birmingham, King wrote “when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people.”
America’s Constitutional Era was grossly imperfect. Yet for its obvious failings, there was a sense of the possibility of progress; halting, awkward, unfinished, but, well, for lack of a better word and to use a word that has become a symbol of modern times’ irony, Hope. Dr. King believed in Hope, and indeed based the soul of his movement on it — things could be made better, saying “If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail.” I wonder what Dr. King would say today about America.
Lots of talk today, Martin Luther King Day. But those are some of the questions Dr. King would demand answers for from his grave.
A Saudi in the U.S. on a student visa (now where have we heard that one before?), who prompted a four-hour lockdown at a U.S. Army post in Texas when he claimed to have a bomb in his car, pleaded guilty to two federal charges. He agreed to leave the country with his only penalty being about seven weeks of time-served awaiting trial.
U.S. District Judge Fred Biery agreed not to sentence Mutasim Abdul-Aziz Alati, 24-years-old, to prison on condition he not return to the U.S. As soon as his family in Saudi Arabia buys him a one-way ticket, Alati will be escorted to the airport.
Prosecutors say Alati showed up at the main entrance to U.S. Army Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio in November and told military police he had a bomb in his vehicle. This prompted a high-speed chase through the post. He was apprehended and no bomb was found in the car.
Despite what might in other circumstances be called a terrorist bomb threat, Alati was only charged with evading authorities and illegally entering military property. Even if he had been sentenced, the likely time would have only been two years.
By way of explanation, Alati told the court he was “stressed out” by tests he was taking at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.
(By way of a quick comparison, Mohammed Hamzah Khan, 19, faces one count of “attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization,” which carries a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, after being arrested at a Chicago airport allegedly on his way to join ISIS, not having done anything else.)
The 9/11 Report and the Saudis
While these unusual events passed relatively unnoticed in Texas, other events related to Saudi citizens and possible terror acts passed relatively unnoticed in Washington DC.
Since the September 11 attacks, what Jeff Stein of Newsweek calls “dark allegations” remain about official Saudi ties to the terrorists, most of whom were Saudi citizens. Fueling the suspicions: 28 still-classified pages in the Congressional 9/11 Report. Former Florida Senator Bob Graham, a Democrat who co-chaired the joint investigation into the attacks, says the classified pages raise questions about Saudi financial support to the hijackers.
“There are a lot of rocks out there that have been purposefully tamped down, that if were they turned over, would give us a more expansive view of the Saudi role” in assisting the 9/11 hijackers, Graham said.
Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama refused to declassify the pages, citing “national security.” But critics, including members of Congress who have read the pages, say national security has nothing to do with it. U.S. officials, they charge, are trying to hide the double game that Saudi Arabia has long played with Washington, as both a close ally and a player in Islamic Sunni extremism.
One of course cannot forget the oddity in the days right after 9/11, when the Bush administration used the FBI to facilitate the departure of 160 Saudi nationals, including relatives of bin Laden, out of the United States. Their chartered planes were among the very few non-military flights allowed in the air at the time.
The Saudi ambassador to the United States at the time of the 9/11 attacks, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was known as “Bandar Bush” for his close ties to the Bush family in Texas. He went on to become chief of Saudi intelligence. Bandar had led Saudi efforts to coordinate the supply of weapons to Syrian rebels. He faced criticism for backing extreme Islamist groups and thus risking a repeat of the “blowback” that brought Osama bin Laden’s Saudi fighters home after the Saudi-sanctioned jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
And hey, just recently, Prince Khaled bin Bandar, the new chief of Saudi intelligence, arrived in Washington for “discussions on joint efforts to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).” The Saudi’s have been widely-held to have helped fund ISIS in the recent past.
Challenges to free speech don’t always involve guns.
Citizens, you have an obligation to remain silent. What you say online, once upon a time an arena of free speech, can and will be used against you.
Here are two creeping examples.
In the UK
Six British soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, what the Prime Minister called a “desperately sad day for our country.” A British teenager, Azhar Ahmed, went on Facebook to angrily object, saying innocent Afghans killed by British soldiers receive almost no attention from the media. He opined the UK’s soldiers in Afghanistan are guilty, their deaths deserved, and are therefore going to hell.
The following day Ahmed was charged with “a racially aggravated public order offense.” He was convicted “of sending a grossly offensive communication,” fined and sentenced to 240 hours of community service. The judge Ahmed’s opinions “beyond the pale of what’s tolerable in our society.”
The Independent newspaper noted that Ahmed “escaped jail partially because he quickly took down his unpleasant posting and tried to apologize to those he offended.” Apparently, says Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept, “heretics may be partially redeemed if they publicly renounce their heresies.”
Criminal cases for online political speech are now commonplace in the UK. Around 20,000 people in Britain have been investigated in the past three years for comments made online. The investigations have by no means been neutral, instead directed at the country’s Muslims for expressing political opinions critical of the state’s actions.
Wow, luckily this can’t ever happen in America… right? Oh wait, it just did.
A man convicted in a fatal car crash and released early from prison on parole has ended up back behind bars after an Ohio judge and the victim’s family took issue with a post he made on Facebook.
Ryan Fye’s post included a photo of him making an obscene gesture and a message saying, “Prison didn’t break me. It MADE me.” Fye claims he was responding to a Facebook threat from someone unrelated to his case who said they “couldn’t wait to bump into” him and that prison ought to have made him tough enough to handle the encounter.
The message upset relatives of the man killed by Fye in the 2013 crash. A judge also found the Facebook posting disrespectful toward the family and concluded it violated parole sanctions imposed on Fye.
While typical terms of probation prohibit threats, intimidation, harassment, and retaliation against the victims, prosecution, judges, family of victims and so on, it is quite unclear that Fye’s Facebook posting is even directed at any such people, or that it is even a threat or act of intimidation. Many people might characterize it as boastful at worst.
Fye’s defense attorney said Fye didn’t violate probation or the law. “Committing a crime is a probation violation, not abiding by the rules is a probation violation. Mr. Fye didn’t do any of those things.” Fye is back in custody while he appeals the judge’s decision to lock him up.
Over a Facebook posting.
Let’s all do something useful today. Call it a New Year’s Resolution.
Prison sucks. Being in prison because you blew the whistle on our government sucks harder. Getting a letter makes it suck less.
So if you want to do something good today, write a short letter to one of these guys. It need not be anything more than good wishes, or just introducing yourself as a supporter (if you can’t say anything nice, go post your bile somewhere else).
You should assume what you write will be reviewed by prison authorities, so don’t write anything that could conceivable cause trouble or harm for the guy you’re trying to support.
Both prisoners receive a lot of mail. Understand that they may face restrictions on how many letters they can receive each day, and are often restricted in how many they can send out. So, you may not get a reply, or it may take awhile. The point is to send something today to them.
You must address the letter EXACTLY as shown below. You cannot change “Bradley” to “Chelsea,” for example.
Bradley E. Manning
1300 N. Warehouse Road
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
I have been unable to locate information on what can and cannot be sent to Manning, so until/unless you know more, best to stick with short letters and no enclosures.
Federal Correctional Institution
Loretto, P.O. Box 1000
Loretto, PA 15940
John is permitted to receive mail from anyone, and soft cover books and magazines only from individuals. Hard cover books may be received if sent directly from a publisher, a bookstore or Amazon.com.
BONUS: Info on conditions in Leavenworth. I have seen the place (from the outside), and it is grim– heavy, Gothic castle in appearance.
The photo is of John and me at his going-away party before prison. That’s the White House in the background. The location was chosen because we look down on criminals.
Senator Mark Udall has called for the full release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture. However, as a still-sitting member of Congress, he has a constitutional protection to read most of the still-secret report on the Senate floor — and a group of intelligence veterans urges him to do just that.
We, the undersigned are veteran intelligence officers with a combined total of over 300 years of experience in intelligence work. We send you this open letter at what seems to be the last minute simply because we had been hoping we would not have to.
You seem on the verge of leaving the Senate without letting your fellow Americans know all they need to know about CIA torture. In the eight weeks since you lost your Senate seat you gave off signs that, during your last days in office, you would provide us with a fuller account of this sordid chapter in our country’s history, exercising your right to immunity under the “Speech or Debate” clause in Article 1 of the Constitution.
Your rhetoric against torture and in defense of the Constitution has been strong, but we now sense a white flag beneath it. We fear you intend to silently steal away, and thus deny the American people their last best chance to learn what they need to know about the record of CIA torture.
We had been encouraged by your December 10 speech on the Senate floor, in which you referred to the release of the Executive Summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Study on CIA torture the previous day and said: “My goal is to ensure the full truth comes out about this grim time in the history of the CIA and our nation, so that neither the CIA nor any future administration repeats the grievous mistake this important oversight work reveals.” (our emphasis)
Very quickly, though, your goal became fuzzier. When Scott Raab of Esquire Magazine asked you right after your speech, “Do you think the remaining 6,000 or so pages will become public?” You answered: “I do. It’s my fervent hope that they will be declassified. I will continue to call for the entire report to be declassified. The details are important … the entire report ought to be released.”
With all due respect, Senator, exactly who do you think is going to do that, if not you? Was your “goal to ensure the full truth comes out” more rhetoric than reality? We are extremely disappointed at your apparent readiness to throw in the towel.
You had told Raab on November 21, “What happened [the torture, lying, and cover-up] broke faith with the Constitution,” adding, “There are some that would like this report [the Senate Intelligence Committee Study] never to see the light of day. There are some that are running out the clock.” Clearly, you are on to their game. Are you going to let the clock run out, when what we actually need is a full-court press?
A Fine Floor Speech
You called, again, for CIA Director John Brennan to resign, while at the same time noting that President Obama has expressed full confidence in him and has “demonstrated that trust by making no effort at all to rein him in.” In your words, the CIA keeps “posing impediments or obstacles” to full disclosure of its “barbaric program” of torture. And you made light of Obama’s merely stating, “Hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.”
“That’s not good enough,” you added, and of course you are right. Finally, you complain: “If there’s no real leadership from the White House helping the public understand that the CIA’s torture program wasn’t necessary and didn’t save lives or disrupt terrorist plots, then what’s to stop the next White House and CIA director from supporting torture? …
“The CIA has lied to its overseers and the public, destroyed and tried to hold back evidence, spied on the Senate, made false charges against our staff, and lied about torture and the results of torture. And no one has been held to account. … There are right now people serving at high-level positions at the agency who approved, directed, or committed acts related to the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.”
QED – as you have demonstrated – there is no “real leadership” in the White House on this transcendentally important issue.
Thus, it struck us as disingenuous to finish, as you do, with a glaring non sequitur. You call on our timid President to “purge his administration” of a CIA director in whom he says he has “full confidence,” together with the torture alumni and alumnae still tenaciously protected by the same director.
Again, with all due respect, it seems equally disingenuous to appeal to this President to declassify and release the earlier review ordered by former CIA Director Leon Panetta, the conclusions of which directly refute several of Brennan’s claims – much less release the full 6,800-page study of which we are permitted only a heavily redacted “executive summary.”
You even include Panetta’s own observation that President Obama and Brennan both were unhappy with Panetta’s initial agreement with the committee to allow staff access to operational cables and other sensitive documents about the torture program.
So where is the real leadership going to come from? Clearly, not from the White House. Russian President Putin is going to give Crimea to NATO before Obama does any of the things you suggested. And you know it.
So where could the initiative come from in these final days before the Senate changes hands? Frankly, Senator Udall, we had been counting on you rising to the challenge before this unique opportunity is lost, probably forever.
Where We Are Coming From
We are, frankly, at a loss to explain your hesitancy – your lack of follow-through toward your stated goal “to ensure the full truth comes out … so that neither the CIA nor any future administration repeats the grievous mistake [of torture].”
If you summon the courage to discharge what you no doubt realize is your duty, there is no way you will end up in jail. Indeed, this is precisely the kind of situation the Founders had in mind when they wrote the “Speech or Debate” clause into Article 1 of the Constitution.
Whatever it is that you fear, you might keep in mind that several of us – who lack the immunity you enjoy – have paid and continue to pay a heavy price for exposing lies, injustice, and abuses like torture. One of us – the first to reveal that those grisly kinds of torture (aka “enhanced interrogation techniques”) were approved at the highest level of government – is in prison serving a 30-month sentence. A number of us have seen the inside of prisons for doing the right thing; and all of us know what it feels like to be shunned by former colleagues.
Also important, despite our many years of service as senior intelligence officers and our solid record for accuracy, we are effectively banned from the so-called “mainstream media,” which continues to prefer the role of security-state accomplice in disparaging, for example, the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee Study. (Never mind that the study is based on indisputably original CIA cables and other documents.) In contrast, you are not banned from the media – yet. You have a few more days; you need to use them.
In your “Additional Views” on the Senate committee Study released on Dec. 9, you applaud Sen. Dianne Feinstein “for seeing this project to completion.” But wait. You are surely aware (1) that the project remains far from complete; and (2) that if you or one of your Senate colleagues do not move tout suite to release the full Study together with the earlier review commissioned by Panetta, the “project” will not be brought to “completion” any time soon – unless a courageous whistleblower runs great risk and does what you can do with impunity.
Moreover, releasing the report, as you have the authority to do under the Constitution, would publicly demonstrate that at least one legal method of whistleblowing does exist. So when such truly illegal actions occur, even at the most senior levels, there is a way of righting wrongs.
You are correct to call the committee Study “one of the most significant examples of oversight in the history of the U.S. Senate.” We imagine that the strong support you and Sen. Ron Wyden gave Sen. Feinstein helped make it so. And we join you both in applauding Sen. Feinstein’s tenacity in getting the Study’s 500-page executive summary released. John Brennan used every conceivable ruse to slow-roll and eviscerate the summary, but Sen. Feinstein faced him down. She achieved all she could, given the circumstances. But the project remains far from “completion.”
In your “Additional Views” you note that, as a new member of the intelligence committee four years ago, you were “deeply disturbed to learn specifics about the flaws in the [torture] program, the misrepresentations, the brutality.” You add that you wrote the President letters about this in May, June, and July of this year. Surely the lack of response told you something. Please – not another letter to Obama. You need to go beyond letters.
Now it’s your turn, Senator Udall. Put Constitution and conscience into play, together with the immunity you enjoy. You can – and, in our view, your oath to the Constitution dictates that you must – rise to the occasion and find a way to release the entire 6,800-page Study, including CIA’s comments (but not redacted to a fare-thee-well). You need to put this at the very top of your job jar – now, before it is too late.
The American people are owed the truth. As you have noted more than once, they are not likely to get it from Brennan – or the President for that matter. Nor will it come from the mainstream media with their customary “on-the-one-hand-and-then-on-the-other” approach to journalism. Polling data on the widespread acceptance of using torture “to keep us safe” is a direct result of that kind of coverage – as well as of the artful crafting of words and phrases in the questions asked in those surveys.
The comments of the many of the TV talking-torture heads seem almost designed to discourage viewers from reading the damning executive summary itself. Who wants to read such abhorrent stuff at Christmastime, anyway?
If those who approved and conducted torture are not held accountable, torture is a virtual certainty for the future. In that sense, you are quite right in saying that the Committee staff has done “seminal” work. The seeds have been sown for reining in an executive agency acting lawlessly; or, alternatively, for endorsing, out of fear, the practice of torture in the future.
John Brennan, those who were in the CIA chain of command for torture, and the co-opted lawyers and faux-psychologists who lent their needed skills to the enterprise may be a bit nervous over the next few days until you are safely gone. But there is little sign they actually expect you to rise to the challenge.
Indeed, Brennan and Co. seem intent on advertising their power and impunity by recently leaking the latest demonstration of lack of accountability. Surprise, surprise: the panel appointed by Brennan to investigate Brennan and his people for hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers has reportedly decided to hold no one accountable, including Brennan himself, who initially lied about it. Now we learn that he apparently authorized the hacking in the first place, so everyone involved receives a stay-out-of-jail-free card. Smug impunity needs to be challenged using your immunity.
Finally, Senator Udall, history books will record the release of the highly redacted summary of the five-year-in-the-making Senate report on torture. It will also record whether or not the Senate rose – even if only in the form of a single, un-intimidated man, to expose truly and in fullness what was done in the name of the American people. Our history is replete with such individual acts of courage by Americans who put country before self. Will you join them?
For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)
Thomas Drake, Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service, NSA (resigned)
Daniel Ellsberg, former State Dept. & Defense Dept. Official (VIPS Associate)
Mike Gravel, former Senator from Alaska; former Army intelligence officer
Larry Johnson, CIA analyst & State Department/counterterrorism, (ret.)
John Kiriakou, former CIA counterterrorism operations officer; federal prison, Loretto, Pennsylvania
Edward Loomis, former Chief, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA
David MacMichael, USMC & National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Ray McGovern, Army Infantry/Intelligence officer & CIA presidential briefer (ret.)
Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Middle East (ret.)
Todd Pierce, MAJ, U.S. Army Judge Advocate (ret.)
Coleen Rowley, Minneapolis Division Counsel & Special Agent, FBI (ret.)
Peter Van Buren, Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.)
Kirk Wiebe, Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA (ret.)
Ann Wright, Col., US Army (ret); Foreign Service Officer (ret.)
A handful of ragtag, plucky patriots defended their own misguided understanding of free speech by seeing the Seth Rogen-James Franco assassination bro-movie The Interview on our most American of holidays, Christmas.
God Bless The Interview
At the Austin Alamo Drafthouse (Remember the Alamo!) a few, proud moviegoers stood before the film ran to sing Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA”, and posted the effort to YouTube. The brave representative of that band of brothers and female virtual brothers, risking near-certain death at the hands of any North Korean sleeper agents in Austin, reminded the audience that beer is better in a democracy. The sing-along ended with chants of “USA! USA!”
The owner of the Alamo Drafthouse said “It’s more than watching a silly Seth Rogen buddy comedy. Today it’s really, in a small way, it is sort of an act of patriotism to come and watch this movie this week.”
In Atlanta, similar selfless acts were seen as the sold-out crowd sang along to Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” before the screening of Sony Pictures’ ode to free speech and assassination. “The movie, and the singing,” said the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, “served as a statement from many theatergoers that a foreign power would not dictate what forms of entertainment Americans could or could not enjoy.”
Perhaps a little insight is needed in these heady times.
In November someone hacked deeply in Sony Entertainment’s U.S. computer network. They dumped all sorts of data onto the Internet, including embarrassing racist emails by Sony execs mocking Obama, salary details of big stars and silly things about how bad Adam Sandler movies are. The initial hacks included nothing specific about “The Interview.” American mainstream media feasted on the dumped gossip, ensuring any embarrassment to Sony reached a worldwide audience. The FBI stated the hacks were not committed by North Korea (a suspect given the topic of Sony’s film) and DHS dismissed threats someone claiming to be the hackers made later against theatres that would show the film at Christmas. “The Interview” had its premiere in Hollywood and was shown in many locations as part of the usual media preview PR campaign. Nothing violent happened.
Oops! Major theatre chains decided on their own to not show the film. Sony pulled the film from distribution, a business decision, albeit a lame and weak one.
Then, in some sort of chum-churning all-American exercise (following the release of the Senate torture report — coincidence!) blame for the Sony hack was re-directed squarely at North Korea not only by the revised FBI, but by the President of the United States himself. This in spite of fairly weak explanations from the FBI about why the hacks seemed to come from North Korea, and fairly robust explanations from the tech media explaining why the hacks did not seem to come from North Korea.
The President vowed revenge on the North Koreans for what had morphed overnight from just another example of corporate hacking into a literal act of war, the first shots in the endless cyberwar the Pentagon had been
hoping for predicting for years. It was on! And Americans rose to the bait, fueled by a growing media hysteria over… free speech?
The First Amendment of the Constitution makes clear the government is not allowed to restrict speech: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The concept of free speech in the Bill of Rights is directed at OUR government stopping us, not whether or not some other government wants to stop us.
The First Amendment was meant to make one thing indisputably clear: free speech was the basis for a government of the people. Without a free press, as well as the ability to openly gather, debate, protest, and criticize, how would the people be able to judge their government’s adherence to the other rights? How could people vote knowledgeably if they didn’t know what was being done in their name by their government? An informed citizenry, Thomas Jefferson stated, was “a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”
“Free Speech” in our Constitutional context is speaking truth to our own government and society, not imagining you are flipping off Kim Jong Un.
What the faux-patriots ignore is that what Sony and the theatre chains did and did not do is far short of the ideals of “free speech” and much closer to the bowels of cold, hard business decisions. Sony’s and the theatre chains’ lawyers very likely decided that showing the film in light of weak threats would open them to liability should some nut case have done something, and/or that the weak threats would have scared moviegoers off anyway and they wouldn’t have made any money. That’s it. Cash.
The true patriotic exercise of free speech is not masking a business decision as a principled stand. It is not recycling some old jingoistic songs in front of a sympathetic group of beer drinkers. You want courage? Say something unpopular against the government. Blow the whistle at great personal risk on a wrong that needs to be exposed. March in protest at risk of a police beating or arrest.
By all means, go see any movie you want, and have fun (reviews suggest the Seth Rogen character hides an explosive device in his own butt in one scene from The Interview). But don’t conflate that with acts of true patriotism and the exercise of free speech.
Some eighteen months after the first Snowden revelations showed the government of the United States, primarily via the NSA, has created a near-complete surveillance state over its own frightened citizens, the people’s voice in Washington, Congress, has done exactly nothing in response. Even the comically-weak and Orwellian-named Leahy attempt at showpiece reform of the NSA, the USA Freedom Act, failed to move forward.
Once again the intelligence agencies’ allies in Congress fought to kill the bill, as they succeeded in doing with a companion House measure that passed in May. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, due soon for his upgrade, argued the bill would help ISIS. “God forbid that tomorrow we wake up to the news that a member of ISIS is in the United States,” claimed Senator Marco Rubio. Without the NSA’s call tracking program, he said, “that plot may go forward, and that would be a horrifying result.” “Let’s not have another repeat of 9/11,” added Senator Dan Coats. It is unlikely in the hyper-extreme that the Republican-controlled Senate would act any differently once they take power in January.
Utah Water Sports
So it is with some Quixotic pleasure that a Utah state legislative committee will vote on a bill that could deprive a National Security Agency facility just outside Salt Lake City of its water, all in protest of the government agency’s collection of civilian data.
Specifically, the Utah bill prohibits municipalities from giving “material support or assistance in any form to any federal data collection and surveillance agency,” a very thinly veiled reference to the NSA’s Utah Data Center, a massive collection facility in Bluffdale, outside Salt Lake City. The Bluffdale center is believed to be one of the world’s largest data warehouses, intended as the electronic realization of the NSA’s stated desire to “collect the whole haystack.” The haystack is every piece of data the NSA can collect on every single person and entity globally. The concept is to amass such data with the ability to later reach back into it as needs grow and emerge. The email you send today is likely of little value to the government, but will be stored anyway. If in three years you or someone you know becomes a “person of interest,” your entire life can then be reconstructed historically.
Power from the People
The Bluffdale facility consumes a staggering 65 megawatts of power, enough to run about 33,000 homes. Hardware that uses that much juice needs a lot of cooling, hence the center’s need for water. A lot of water. Cut off the water and you close down the center.
In the spirit of these Post-Constitutional times, the people are getting doused twice by the NSA. Not only are Constitutional rights being trod upon, but taxpayers are being made to pay for it. In addition to the actual construction and maintenance costs of the center, the city of Bluffdale chose to issue $3.5 million in bonds to pay for the water lines servicing the facility. Bluffdale also signed an agreement with the NSA that allows the agency to pay less for water than city ordinances would otherwise require.
And exactly how much cheap, taxpayer-subsized water is the NSA gulping down? That’s a secret. The Salt Lake Tribune has no far failed to force the NSA to reveal how much water the facility requires. The NSA contends information about water usage would allow someone to calculate the computing power inside the data center.
Though there is no chance that even one drop of water will be denied the NSA in Utah, the action is symbolic, and in troubled times symbols may count for something. Remember, Congress refused to endorse even the lightest of symbolic gestures, so the action of a Utah state legislative committee should not be dismissed.
Answer me punk! Is it true that you give toys to every child in the world? Even the ones whose moms and dads are terrorists?
Hah, that’s material support. Hit him with the electric shock.
Do you refuse to hand over the naughty or nice list for us to use in drone targeting? Tell me, do it now!
He won’t answer. Let’s anally feed him again.
My turn, my turn.
No, you did it last time.
Alfreda! Cheney! Stop fighting. Look at his jolly, round belly like bowl full of jelly. He’ll need plenty of anal feedings. There’ll be time for everyone.
I wanna use the candy cane on him.
No, no, chestnuts!
Alright, if you won’t cooperate old St. Nick, we’re going to rape a loved one in front of you. That should loosen your tongue. Bring in Rudolph.
Cheney, get off the damn reindeer. We’re only threatening to do that this year.
Damn reindeer was asking for it. Lookit the way she prances around with that saucy red nose.
Now old man, we’ll shave off your beard. I think that offends his North Pole religion.
And blast him with the music. No, no, not more Nine Inch Nails. Hit him with the ten minute Christmas song loop they play over and over while you’re in line for 40 minutes at Walmart.
Hey, who wants egg nog?
Feinstein, you came! We invited you again this year of course, but I never expected you to show up after everyone caught you with Brennan in the supply closet. I bet that hurt. It is good to see that whatever the CIA does to you, you are never fully humiliated.
Well, it is the season to be jolly.
So, everyone, gather round, Barack is about to waterboard Santa.
Aw, he always gets to do that first.
Now, now, boys, you all know you’re not spending this Christmas in jail because of Barack, so show some respect. Anyway, we’ll move the mistletoe over the waterboarding table and everyone will get a chance to torture Santa. Sheik Khalid Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times before he was made insane for freedom, so Santa will be screaming with us for a long time.
After that, can we watch the tapes again? Please?
Well, OK, Condi, one more time. Uncle Jose brought his own copies of the torture tapes again this year —
You said the T word, you said the T word! Five dollars into the jar.
Ugh, OK. Anyway, Uncle Jose brought the, er, enhanced interrogation tapes for us all to enjoy — really, Jose, you shouldn’t have — but after that, it is right to bed for everyone. We have to render Santa all around the world, to every country that tortures so they can all have a “crack” at the bastard, in just one night. Even with an early start, that takes some Christmas magic!
Hey, wasn’t Jesus tortured to death in a way?
You’re right, He was. Why, we’re putting the Christ right back into Christmas!
God bless torturers and those who support them, everyone!
Honey, I don’t know how you do it, but every year it just gets better.
Today’s guest post is reprinted by permission from the Facebook page of one Rick Sullivan. I don’t know Rick except via Facebook, but here he eloquently sums up an awful lot of what I, and perhaps others, have been thinking.
When a nation comes through back to back tectonic events like the depression and WWII, when they stand on the brink of total annihilation for half a century ready to spring into WWIII at a moment’s notice, when most of our wealth goes to building that umbrella of defense for the world while it rebuilds and invests in their populations, to have that role suddenly snatched away and made irrelevant inside of just a few years, they will clamor for any opportunity to jump back into that role.
We’re like an aging fighter who spent his life focused solely on being the master of his craft but now has no more bouts to fight. He suddenly finds himself faced with the prospect learning to be a real husband and a father. He looks for any opportunity to be his old self and have relevance with his himself and his family again, to prove he is still the man who will fight to protect them. So he finds any reason he can to come unglued and pummel the first poor sap to cross him in the slightest way.
Just like him, we no longer have meaning and relevance in this world or with our family. Who will we become? The humbled old man who learns and follows his heart? Or the bitter old curmudgeon who’s family abandoned him long ago for their own survival and happiness?
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!
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
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!
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.
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.
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.