• Dead Is Dead: Drone-Killing the Fifth Amendment

    July 25, 2014 // 7 Comments »



    You can’t get more serious about protecting the people from their government than the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, specifically in its most critical clause: “No person shall be… deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” In 2011, the White House ordered the drone-killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki without trial. It claimed this was a legal act it is prepared to repeat as necessary. Given the Fifth Amendment, how exactly was this justified? Thanks to a much contested, recently released but significantly redacted — about one-third of the text is missing — Justice Department white paper providing the basis for that extrajudicial killing, we finally know: the president in Post-Constitutional America is now officially judge, jury, and executioner.

    Due Process in Constitutional America

    Looking back on the violations of justice that characterized British rule in pre-Constitutional America, it is easy to see the Founders’ intent in creating the Fifth Amendment. A government’s ability to inflict harm on its people, whether by taking their lives, imprisoning them, or confiscating their property, was to be checked by due process.

    Due process is the only requirement of government that is stated twice in the Constitution, signaling its importance. The Fifth Amendment imposed the due process requirement on the federal government, while the Fourteenth Amendment did the same for the states. Both offer a crucial promise to the people that fair procedures will remain available to challenge government actions. The broader concept of due process goes all the way back to the thirteenth-century Magna Carta.

    Due process, as refined over the years by the Supreme Court, came to take two forms in Constitutional America. The first was procedural due process: people threatened by government actions that might potentially take away life, liberty, or possessions would have the right to defend themselves from a power that sought, whether for good reasons or bad, to deprive them of something important. American citizens were guaranteed their proverbial “day in court.”

    The second type, substantive due process, was codified in 1938 to protect those rights so fundamental that they are implicit in liberty itself, even when not spelled out explicitly in the Constitution. Had the concept been in place at the time, a ready example would have been slavery. Though not specifically prohibited by the Constitution, it was on its face an affront to democracy. No court process could possibly have made slavery fair. The same held, for instance, for the “right” to an education, to have children, and so forth. Substantive due process is often invoked by supporters of same-sex unions, who assert that there is a fundamental right to marry. The meaning is crystal clear: there is an inherent, moral sense of “due process” applicable to government actions against any citizen and it cannot be done away with legally. Any law that attempts to interfere with such rights is inherently unconstitutional.

    Al-Awlaki’s Death

    On September 30, 2011, on the order of the president, a U.S. drone fired a missile in Yemen and killed Anwar al-Awlaki. A Northern Virginia Islamic cleric, in the aftermath of 9/11 he had been invited to lunch at the Pentagon as part of a program to create ties to Muslim moderates. After he moved to Yemen a few years later, the U.S. accused him of working with al-Qaeda as a propagandist who may have played an online role in persuading others to join the cause. (He was allegedly linked to the “Underwear Bomber” and the Fort Hood shooter.) However, no one has ever accused him of pulling a trigger or setting off a bomb, deeds that might, in court, rise to the level of a capital crime. Al-Awlaki held a set of beliefs and talked about them. For that he was executed without trial.

    In March 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder made quite a remarkable statement about the al-Awlaki killing. He claimed “that a careful and thorough executive branch review of the facts in a case amounts to ‘due process’ and that the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protection against depriving a citizen of his or her life without due process of law does not mandate a ‘judicial process.’” In other words, according to the top legal authority in the nation, a White House review was due process enough when it came to an American citizen with al-Qaeda sympathies. In this, though it was unknown at the time, Holder was essentially quoting a secret white paper on that killing produced by the Office of Legal Counsel, located in the department he headed.

    In June 2014, after a long court battle to shield the underlying legal basis for the killing, the Obama administration finally released a redacted version of that classified 2010 white paper. In the end, it did so only because without its release key senators were reluctant to confirm the memo’s author, David Barron, who had been nominated by President Obama to serve on the First Circuit Court of Appeals. (Once it was made public, Barron was indeed confirmed.)

    The importance of the white paper to understanding Post-Constitutional America cannot be understated. Despite all the unconstitutional actions taken by the government since 9/11 — including striking violations of the Fourth Amendment — this paper is to date the only glimpse we have of the kind of thinking that has gone into Washington’s violations of the Bill of Rights.

    Here’s the terrifying part: ostensibly the result of some of the best legal thinking available to the White House on a issue that couldn’t be more basic to the American system, it wouldn’t get a first-year law student a C-. The arguments are almost bizarrely puerile in a document that is a visibly shaky attempt to provide cover for a pre-determined premise. No wonder the administration fought its release for so long. Its officials were, undoubtedly, ashamed of it. Let’s drill down.

    Death by Pen

    For the killing of an American citizen to be legal, the document claims, you need one essential thing: “an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government [who] has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.” In addition, capture must be found to be unfeasible and the act of killing must follow the existing laws of war, which means drones are okay but poison gas is a no-no.

    The rest of the justification in the white paper flows from that premise in a perverse chain of ankle-bone-connected-to-the-leg-bone logic: the president has the obligation to protect America; al-Qaeda is a threat; Congress authorized war against it; and being in al-Qaeda is more relevant than citizenship (or as the document crudely puts it, “citizenship does not immunize the target”). International borders and the sovereignty of other nations are not issues if the U.S. determines the host nation is “unwilling or unable to suppress the threat posed by the individual targeted.” Basically, it’s all an extension of the idea of self-defense, with more than a dash of convenience shaken in.

    When the white paper addresses the Fifth Amendment’s right to due process, and to a lesser extent, the Fourth Amendment’s right against unwarranted seizure (that is, the taking of a life), it dismisses them via the “balancing test.” Not exactly bedrock constitutional material, it works this way: in situations where the government’s interest overshadows an individual’s interest, and the individual’s interest isn’t that big a deal to begin with, and a mistake by the government can later be undone, the full due process clause of the Fifth Amendment need not come into play.

    The three-point balancing test cited by the white paper as conclusive enough to justify the extrajudicial killing of an American comes from a 1976 Supreme Court case, Mathews v. Eldridge. There, the court held that an individual denied Social Security benefits had a right to some form of due process, but not necessarily full-blown hearings. In Anwar al-Awlaki’s case, this translates into some truly dubious logic: the government’s interest in protecting Americans overshadows one citizen’s interest in staying alive. Somehow, the desire to stay alive doesn’t count for much because al-Awlaki belonged to al-Qaeda and was in the backlands of Yemen, which meant that he was not conveniently available by capture for a trial date. Admittedly, there’s no undoing death in a drone killing, but so what.

    The white paper also draws heavily on the use of the balancing test in the case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, in which the U.S. rendered from Afghanistan Yaser Hamdi, a Saudi-American citizen, and sought to detain him indefinitely without trial. After a long legal battle that went to the Supreme Court, the balance test was applied to limit — but not fully do away with — due process. Despite limiting Hamdi’s rights in service to the war on terror, the court was clear: Yaser Hamdi should have a meaningful opportunity to challenge his status. Fearing that giving him his moment in court would expose the brutal reality of his capture, interrogation, and detention, the U.S. government instead released him to Saudi Arabia.

    Hamdi’s case dealt with procedural questions, such as whether he should be allowed a trial and if so, under what conditions. As with Mathews v. Eldridge, Hamdi never focused on issues of life and death. Cases can be (re)tried, prisoners released, property returned. Dead is dead — in the case of al-Awlaki that applies to the drone’s target, the balance test, and the Fifth Amendment itself.

    What Do Words Mean in Post-Constitutional America?

    Having dispensed with significant constitutional issues thanks to some exceedingly dubious logic, the white paper returns to its basic premise: that a kill is legal when that “informed, high-level official” determines that an “imminent threat” to the country is involved. In other words, if the president is convinced, based on whatever proof is provided, he can order an American citizen killed. The white paper doesn’t commit itself on how far down the chain of “high-level officials” kill authority can be delegated. Could the Secretary of the Interior, for instance, issue such an order? He or she is, after all, eighth in the line of succession should the president die in office.

    The white paper does, however, spend a fair amount of time explaining how the dictionary definitions of “imminent” and “immediate” do not apply. For kill purposes, it says, the U.S. must have “clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons will take place in the immediate future.” However, the paper goes on to explain that “immediate” can include a situation like al-Awlaki’s in which a person may or may not have been engaged in planning actual attacks that might not be launched for years, or perhaps ever. The paper claims that, since al-Qaeda would prefer to attack the U.S. on a continual basis, any planning or forethought today, however fantastical or future-oriented, constitutes an “imminent” attack that requires sending in the drones.

    And if, as perhaps the author of the paper suspected, that isn’t really enough when faced with the bluntness of the Constitution on the issue, the white paper haphazardly draws on the public authority justification. According to this legal concept, public authorities can, in rare circumstances, violate the law  — a cop can justifiably kill a bad guy under certain conditions. By extension, the white paper argues, the government of the United States can drone-kill a citizen who is allegedly a member of al-Qaeda. The white paper conveniently doesn’t mention that police shootings are subject to judicial review, and those who commit such unlawful acts can face punishment. The laws behind such a review are unclassified and public, not the rationed fodder of a redacted white paper.

    For the final nail in the coffin of some American citizen, the white paper concludes that, Fifth Amendment violation or not, its arguments cannot be challenged in court. In cases of “foreign policy,” courts have traditionally almost always refused to intervene, holding that they are in the realm of the executive branch in consultation, as required, with Congress. Killing an American abroad, the white paper insists, is a foreign policy act and so none of any courts’ business.

    Principles

    Substantive due process legally applies only to legislation, and it is highly unlikely that the Obama administration will seek legislative sanction for its kill process. So it is in one sense not surprising that the white paper makes no mention of it. However, looking at what we can read of that redacted document through the broader lens of substantive due process does tell us a lot about Post-Constitutional America. In Constitutional America, the idea was that a citizen’s right to life and the due process that went with it was essentially an ultimate principle that trumped all others, no matter how bad or evil that person might be. What is important in the white paper is not so much what is there, but what is missing: a fundamental sense of justness.

    As medieval kings invoked church sanction to justify evil deeds, so in our modern world lawyers are mobilized to transform government actions that spit in the face of substantive due process — torture, indefinite detention without charge, murder — into something “legal.” Torture morphs into acceptable enhanced interrogation techniques, indefinite detention acquires a quasi-legal stance with the faux-justice of military tribunals, and the convenient murder of a citizen is turned into an act of “self-defense.” However unpalatable Anwar al-Awlaki’s words passed on via the Internet may have been, they would be unlikely to constitute a capital crime in a U.S. court. His killing violated the Fifth Amendment both procedurally and substantively.

    Despite its gravity, once the white paper was pried loose from the White House few seemed to care what it said. Even the New York Times, which had fought in court alongside the ACLU to have it released, could only bring itself to editorialize mildly that the document offered “little confidence that the lethal action was taken with real care” and suggest that the rubber-stamp secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court be involved in future kill orders. The ACLU’s comments focused mostly on the need for more documentation on the kills. Meanwhile, a majority of Americans, 52%, approve of drone strikes, likely including the one on Anwar al-Awlaki.

    The Kind of Country We Live In

    We have fallen from a high place. Dark things have been done. Imagine, pre-9/11, the uproar if we had learned that the first President Bush had directed the NSA to sweep up all America’s communications without warrant, or if Bill Clinton had created a secret framework to kill American citizens without trial. Yet such actions over the course of two administrations are now accepted as almost routine, and entangled in platitudes falsely framing the debate as one between “security” and “freedom.” I suspect that, if they could bring themselves to a moment of genuine honesty, the government officials involved in creating Post-Constitutional America would say that they really never imagined it would be so easy.

    In one sense, America the Homeland has become the most significant battleground in the war on terror. No, not in the numbers of those killed or maimed, but in the broad totality of what has been lost to us for no gain. It is worth remembering that, in pre-Constitutional America, a powerful executive — the king — ruled with indifference to the people. With the Constitution, we became a nation, in spirit if not always in practice, based on a common set of values, our Bill of Rights. When you take that away, we here in Post-Constitutional America are just a trailer park of strangers.




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

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Here’s How it is Legal for the Government to Kill an American Citizen

    July 7, 2014 // 12 Comments »




    When you are saying something true, pure, clean and right, you often do not need many words. Like most of the Bill of Rights, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution is beautiful in its brevity. Americans may not “…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

    There are no footnotes in the Fifth Amendment, no secret memos, no exceptions. Those things were unnecessary, because in what Lincoln offered to his audience as “a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” the government was made up of us, the purpose of government was to serve us, and the government was beholden to us. Such a government should be incapable of killing its own citizens without an open, public trial allowing the accused to defend him/herself.

    Oh how times have changed.

    Killing an American

    On September 30, 2011 a U.S. drone fired a missile in Yemen and killed American Citizen Anwar al Awlaki, born in the United States. A few days later the U.S. also killed al Awlaki’s 16 year old American Citizen son. Al Awlaki had once been a friend of the American military, invited in the aftermath of 9/11 to speak and lunch at the Pentagon. A few years later, al Awlaki was connected by the same U.S. government to al Qaeda, apparently mostly as a propagandist who may or may not have taken on an online role in persuading other Westerners to join the cause.

    In 2012 Attorney General Holder said of the al Awlaki killing and the Fifth Amendment “that a careful and thorough executive branch review of the facts in a case amounts to ‘due process’ and that the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protection against depriving a citizen of his or her life without due process of law does not mandate a ‘judicial process.’” It was unknown at the time, but Holder was referring to a secret white paper prepared by the Office of the Legal Counsel laying out the legal justification for the U.S. government to kill one of its own citizens extrajudicially, in apparent violation of the Fifth Amendment.

    Orwellian Legality

    A hallmark of Post-Constitutional America, of which the U.S. government killing its own citizens without due process by drone surely is a part, is the manipulation of existing rights and laws without just doing away with them. Unlike national security states and tyrannies of the past, which overtly declared constitutions and laws obsolete and crumpled up the parchment, America’s new state twists the old into something new, and sinister.

    After a long legal battle to keep secret the underlying “legal” basis for its killing of al Awlaki (and others in the past, or to come?), the Obama administration released in June 2014 a redacted text of the Office of Legal Counsel’s white paper drawn up to justify the action. With some irony, the release of the 2010 document was facilitated by the Obama administration’s desire to placate senators reluctant to approve the memo’s author, David Barron, to serve on the First Circuit Court of Appeals (Barron was indeed approved.)

    Reading the Kill Justification Paper: Death, With a Stroke of a Pen

    Here’s what the kill white paper says in order to make legal the killing of an American Citizen by his/her government without trial (the full memo is here.)

    The essential element for the kill to be legal, the document says, is “an informed, high level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.” (Also, capture must be found to be unfeasible, and the kill must follow the existing laws of war.)

    The rest of the justification simply flows from there in a perverse chain of logic: the president has the obligation to protect America, al Qaeda or its like are a threat, Congress has authorized war against al Qaeda, and being in al Qaeda is more relevant than whatever citizenship the target may hold or where s/he is located (“citizenship does not immunize the target.”) Basically, it is all simply an extension of the idea of self-defense. International borders and other nations’ sovereignty are not an issue if the U.S. determines the host nation is “unwilling or unable to suppress the threat posed by the individual targeted.”

    The Balancing Test

    The Fifth Amendment right to due process, and perhaps to a lesser extent, the Fourth Amendment right against unwarranted seizure (i.e., a life) are dismissed casually in the white paper by a claim that the U.S.’ interest in “forestalling the threat of violence and death to other Americans that arises” trumps any constitutional rights for the individual. This is described as part of the traditional Fifth Amendment “balancing process.”

    The balancing process cited as conclusive enough to justify the extrajudicial killing of an American comes, according to the kill white paper, stems from a 1976 Supreme Court case, Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976), where the Court held that individuals have a statutorily granted property right in Social Security benefits, that the termination of those benefits implicates due process, but that the termination of those benefits does not require a pre-termination hearing. Stick with me on this.

    The balance test for the Fifth Amendment to apply as laid out in that case has three components [notes added]:

    (1) The importance of the private interest affected. [In a kill case, the private interest is the life of an American citizen]

    (2) The risk of erroneous deprivation through the procedures used, and the probable value of any additional or substitute procedural safeguards. [In a kill case, since the American will be dead, the impossibility of ever "correcting" the mistake. The Court held that "If the risk of error is minimal, then the need for additional procedures declines. If the risk is high then additional procedures would be merited." So, with the potential of a recoverable error, less process is needed. The more serious a mistake might be if committed, the more process needed.]

    (3) The importance of the state interest involved and the burdens which any additional or substitute procedural safeguards would impose on the state. [According to the kill white paper, the idea that killing the American saves potentially thousands of other Americans lies is the state's interest. The burden of the U.S. government to follow any procedural safeguards, such as a trial in absentia where the target could have his/her side presented by a lawyer, is not addressed in the kill white paper]

    In short, the balancing test says that in some situations, where the government’s interest overshadows an individual’s interest, and the individual interest isn’t that big of a deal, and where a mistake by the government can be fixed, the full due process clause of the Fifth Amendment may not have to apply.


    An Imbalance

    The kill white paper draws heavily on the case Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, in which the U.S. rendered from Afghanistan an American citizen and sought to detain him indefinitely without trial as an enemy combatant.

    After a long legal battle that went to the Supreme Court, the three-part balance test of Mathews v. Eldridge was decided to apply to the case and allow the U.S. to limit– but not fully do away with as in the drone killings– the due process to be received. The most important point here is that despite limiting his rights, the Court was clear that the prisoner Hamdi should have a meaningful opportunity to challenge his enemy combatant status.

    Interestingly, likely to avoid a court challenge to the conditions of this detention and the exposure of whatever details of his capture and possible torture might come out, the U.S. government released Hamdi without charge and forcibly sent him, an American citizen, to Saudi Arabia, and required him then to “voluntarily” renounce his U.S. citizenship. Of course the deportation and renunciation are themselves of dubious constitutionality; U.S. citizens have a right under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution to return to U.S. territory after traveling abroad.

    That the kill white paper makes much of the Hamdi case suggests the lack of sound legal argument. Claiming killing an American by his/her own government without trial is allowed by the balance test, the white paper ignores the fact that Hamdi was not killed. A mistake in his case can be largely corrected, possibly in the future as a result of a court appeal, simply by reinstating his U.S. citizenship and allowing him to return to the U.S.

    A broader critical issue not addressed in the kill white paper is that Hamdi’s case deals with (albeit serious) administrative questions, such as should he be allowed a trial and if so under what conditions. The government never proposed a death sentence for Hamdi. The underlying case the kill white paper bases its whole argument on, Mathews v. Eldridge, deals with relatively routine administrative government procedures, and certainly not ones of life and death of a citizen. The case was of course about denied Social Security benefits.

    What Do Words Even Mean Anymore?

    With significant constitutional issues dispensed with via some dubious logic and creaky legal citations, the kill white paper returns to its base premise, that a kill is legal when “an informed, high level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.”

    The white paper does not identify what level of proof is needed to meet the test of “informed” and it does not explain who is and is not a “high level official of the U.S. government” for the purposes of killing an American.

    The paper does spend a fair amount of time explaining how the standard dictionary definition of “imminent” does not apply here. The paper says for kill purposes the U.S. need not actually have “clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons will take place in the immediate future.” Instead, imminent can mean a person such as al Awlaki is generally engaged in planning attacks that may or may not possibly be launched until years from now, or that may or may not happen at all. The paper says that since al Qaeda would prefer to continually attack the U.S., essentially any action, planning or forethought today, however fantastical or future-oriented, constitutes an “imminent” attack and allows for a legal kill of an American citizen by the government.

    And if somehow all that is not enough, the white paper also invokes the “public authority justification.” This concept says that public authorities can sometimes violate the law– a cop can justifiably shoot and kill an armed bad guy in some circumstances, and it’s a lawful kill. By extension, the government of the United States can drone down a citizen because s/he is allegedly a member of al Qaeda. The white paper does not address the fact that police shootings in the U.S. are subject to investigation and judicial review, and cops who commit an unlawful kill can face punishment.

    None of this Can be Challenged in Court

    The white paper also makes clear its conclusions cannot be challenged in any court. Courts have almost always refused to intervene in cases of “foreign policy,” holding constitutionally that is the realm of the Executive in consultation as required with Congress. Killing Americans, the white paper says, is a foreign policy act and thus none of any courts’ business. The issue of the white paper citing several court decisions to justify the killings while claiming the killings are not a court matter is not addressed.

    Comment

    It should be obvious that the kill white paper, ostensibly the result of some of the best legal thinking available to the White House, wouldn’t get a C- for a first year law student. The arguments are weak at best, the legal cites and logic rarely directly support the rationale, and the entire document seems a shaky attempt to justify however it can a pre-determined premise. The vagueness of word usage, the key terms left undefined, the odd definitions of common words like “imminent” employed, all strain against reality.

    Yet despite all this (and keep in mind portions of the paper were redacted, there may be more legal falsities not yet seen), the sixteen pages described above were considered enough in Post-Constitutional America for president Obama to justify pushing aside the Fifth Amendment, ignoring due process, and ordering the death of an American citizen.

    Oh how times have changed.



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

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Radio Interview: Between the Lines, with Scott Harris

    June 22, 2014 // 2 Comments »




    Here’s a radio interview I did with Scott Harris, host of Between the Lines. Follow this link for the full interview.

    The focus of the interview is how the 2003 invasion of Iraq upset a fragile but workable balance of power in the Middle East, unleashing the chaos we are witnessing today playing out in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. So the short version: yes, it is all our fault, and more airstrikes and drone killings will work out in current Iraq about as well as they have in Yemen, Libya and all the other places where lacking any alternative besides getting out, the U.S. just lashes out.

    Between The Lines describes itself as “a weekly syndicated half-hour news magazine featuring progressive perspectives on national and international political, economic and social issues” which seems about right. Have a listen to the interview!



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

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    The National Security State Continues to Militarize the Homeland

    August 3, 2013 // 16 Comments »




    (This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post)


    While poets and psychologists talk about soldiers bringing the battlefield home with them, in fact, the U.S. is doing just that. More and more, weapons, tactics, techniques and procedures that have been used abroad in war are coming home, this time employed against American Citizens.

    Armor, Drones and Armed Drones

    Others have written about the rise of warrior cops. Armored military-style vehicles are now part of most big-city police forces, as are military-style weapons. The FBI has admitted to using drones over America. In a 2010 Department of Homeland Security report, the Customs and Border Protection agency suggests arming their fleet of drones to “immobilize TOIs,” or targets of interest.

    Stingray Knows Where You Are

    Much of the technology and methodology the NSA and others have been shown to be using against American Citizens was developed on and for the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular the advanced use of cell phones to track people’s movements.

    A technique now at use here at home is employing a fake cell phone tower under a program called Stingray. Stingrays spoof a legitimate cell phone tower in order to trick nearby cellphones and other wireless devices into connecting to the fake tower instead of a nearby real one. When devices connect, stingrays can harvest MAC addresses and other unique identifiers and data, as well as location information. To prevent detection, the stingray relays the call itself to a real tower so the pickup is transparent to the caller. By gathering the wireless device’s signal strength from various locations, the Feds can pinpoint where the device is being used with much more precision than they can get through data obtained from the mobile network provider’s fixed tower location.

    Better yet, stingray bypasses the phone company entirely. Handy when the phone company is controlled by the enemy, handy when laws change and the phone companies no longer cooperate with the government, handy when you simply don’t want the phone company to know you’re snooping on its network.

    Meta-Your-Data

    Also refined in Iraq, Afghanistan and the greater archipelago of the war of terror was the use of metadata and data-mining, essentially amassing everything, however minor or unimportant, and then using increasingly powerful computers to pull out of that large pile actionable information, i.e., specific information to feed back to combat commanders and special forces to allow them to kill specific people. Knowing, for example, the name of a guy’s girlfriend leads to knowing what car she drives which leads to knowing when she left home which leads to listening to her make a date via cell phone which leads a credit card charge for a room which leads to a strike on a particular location at a specific time, high-tech flagrante delicto.

    The FBI has followed the NSA’s wartime lead in creating its Investigative Data Warehouse, a collection of more than a billion documents on Americans including intelligence reports, social security files, drivers’ licenses, and private financial information including credit card data. All accessible to 13,000 analysts making a million queries monthly. One of them called it the “uber-Google.”

    Welcome Home Aerostat

    The latest (known) example of war technology coming home is the aerostat, a medium-sized blimp tethered high above its target area. Anyone who served in Iraq or Afghanistan will recognize the thing, as one or more flew over nearly every military base of any size or importance (You can see photos online).

    What did those blimps do in war? Even drones have to land sometime, but a blimp can stay aloft 24/7/forever. Blimps are cheaper and do not require skilled pilots. Blimps can carry tons of equipment, significantly more than a drone. The blimps can carry any sensor or technology the U.S. has available, suspending it at altitude to soak up whatever that sensor is aimed at– cell calls, radio waves, electronic whatevers. The aerostats also carried high-powered cameras, with heat and night vision of course. While in Iraq, I had the aerostat video feed on my desktop. Soldiers being soldiers, occasional diversions were found when a camera operator spotted almost anything of vague interest, including two dogs mating, an Iraqi relieving himself outdoors or on really dull days, even a person hanging out laundry. The device obviously also had much less benign tasks assigned to it.

    The war has come home again, as the Army announced this week that by 2014 at least two of these aerostats will be permanently over Washington DC. They will be run by the Army, using operators who likely learned their trade at war. The aerostats are brought to you by the Raytheon company, who also makes some of America’s favorite weapons and surveillence gear.

    It’s All Good

    No need to worry Citizens, as the aerostats will only be used for your own good. In fact, their sensors will scan for incoming cruise missiles, mine-laying ships, armed drones, or anything incoming from hundreds of miles away, because of course Washington is constantly being attacked by those sorts of things (I love the idea of protecting the city from mine-laying ships sneaking up the Potomac River).

    Those DC-based aerostats will certainly not have employed the Gorgon Stare system, now in use in Afghanistan to rave reviews. Gorgon Stare, made up of nine video cameras, can transmit live images of physical movement across an entire town (four km radius), much wider in scope than any drone. Might be handy for VIP visits and presidential stuff, however, right?

    And of course the temptation to mount a stingray device where it can ping thousands of cell phones would be ignored.

    But I could be wrong about all the 1984-stuff, in which case the multi-million dollar aerostat program to protect against mines in the Potomac would be noteworthy only as another waste of taxpayer money. Remember when that was what made us the maddest about the government?



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

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    This Memorial Day: Remembering 4,700 Killed by US Drones

    May 25, 2013 // 22 Comments »

    This Memorial Day, in addition to our own dead, we remember the 4,700 people (estimated; the actual body count is classified and/or unknown) killed by American drones. While some were terrible people, many were collateral damage, innocents murdered by accident and simply tossed into the ever-growing pile of horrors the United States has created through its fear and paranoia (some, such as Nobel Peace Prize recipient Obama, still insist on calling it self-defense.)

    The drone death toll is subject to debate; the 4,700 number is from Senator Lindsey Graham, a happy proponent of drone killings. Other have placed the count as low as 1,700. Some use a higher number than Graham, including in the math military strikes in combat. We now know that whatever the total number, at least four of the dead were American Citizens murdered by their own government without due process in clear violation of the Constitution.

    So here they are. Pick an X below and imagine a person. Then kill him. It is your right as an American.

    Happy Memorial Day.

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    (As a secular act of Kaddish, a meditation, I typed the X’s one by one, all 4,700 of them. Amen)



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Obama Killed Four Americans with Drones Since Nobel Peace Prize

    May 23, 2013 // 13 Comments »

    Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress that U.S. drone strikes since 2009 have killed four Americans — three of whom were “not specifically targeted.”

    As Dangeroom reports, for all the effort that Obama has gone to in asserting that its drones only kill the people that the administration selects to kill, Holder wrote in a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy that Samir Khan, 16-year-old Abdulrahman Awlaki and Jude Kenan Mohammad were “not specifically targeted by the United States.” The fourth American to die in a drone strike since 2009 was Abdulrahman’s father Anwar Awlaki, an al Qaeda propagandist who never fired a shot in anger, but whom the U.S. killed in Yemen in 2011.

    I have re-read the Constitution and it says nothing about the Bill of Rights not applying to Americans who join terror groups. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees “no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law” and include no exceptions for war, terrorism, or being a really bad human being.

    I don’t like terrorists, but I do love our Rights as Citizens. If you support rights such as the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms for example, you gotta also take the rest. It is not a menu.

    Well, some say, the police shoot criminals who pose an imminent threat without due process all the time. True enough, but the police shootings are often unjustified, but when they are the event happens spontaneously and the cop has to make a life-or-death decision in a split second. The drone killings are planned and well-thought out– premeditated murder.

    Drones are surgical strikes, precision smiting of only America’s worst enemies? Then how come the White House admits that three of the four Americans it killed were “not specifically targeted.” In other words, fatal mistakes, collateral damage. Same dead Citizens.

    The actual acknowledged death count of Americans killed by their own government is five. Prior to the Obama administration, Kamal Derwish died in a strike launched in Yemen in 2002 under George W. Bush.

    We have survived as a nation a very long time without having to resort to this. Why now? Are terror groups so uniquely and specially dangerous? No, of course not. What has happened is that a technology– drones– has morphed into a policy. Obama falsely thinks the drones are clean and of little risk. By stepping off the edge and throwing out the Constitutional protections we have enjoyed for so many years, and for which so many have fought and died, he is doing more damage to America than some bomb. The arguments are old, but I guess we need to roll them out once more: once you unleash the authority to kill you do not know where it will stop. Once you start killing to prevent the possibility of a future act, where will it stop? Once you start creating unconstitutional exceptions to the Constitution, where will it stop? Blasting away a slug like Awlaki is not worth this.

    Can’t happen here? FBI Director Mueller, appearing before a House subcommittee, said that he simply did not know whether he could order an assassination of his own against an American here in the U.S. “I have to go back. Uh, I’m not certain whether that was addressed or not” and added “I’m going to defer that to others in the Department of Justice.”

    The Constitution was drafted to protect especially citizens whose actions were disfavored by the majority. We cannot let terrorism change the very fabric of America. We must stop now and see past the anger and fear to the bigger picture. This is the government assassinating U.S. citizens without even an indictment–much less a trial. We should all be concerned.

    And afraid. I don’t like that as an American I must live in fear.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Eric Holder is Not a Patriot

    May 15, 2013 // 9 Comments »

    Eric Holder has told us that he “recused” himself from decisions the organization he heads made to help destroy freedom of the press in the United States by seizing the phone records of the Associated Press. He simply said that he was not involved, so please address your concerns somewhere else. The President, Holder’s boss, made similar remarks. The government did things to belittle the Constitution and neither the President nor the Attorney General has much concern or connection with it all. Things happen.

    The pattern is not unique to the phone records, nor to even the nobody-is-responsible actions of the IRS against organizations seeking non-profit status whose political beliefs ran counter to the Obama Administration. Indeed, even as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton claimed that she had no idea of what was going on underneath her in the organization vis-vis Libya, and that counted as a defense. Hell, we fire football coaches when the team loses, even though they don’t punt, pass or kick themselves. Leaders are responsible for what their organizations do. That’s what the job is, not just photo-ops and world travel.

    But for all the recent “-gates” and scandals, let’s take a moment to remember the uber-scandal of the Obama Administration: it’s claim that it may legally kill Americans by drone, with no due process.

    Looking Back

    Historians of the future, if they are not imprisoned for saying so, will trace the end of America’s democratic experiment to the fearful days immediately after 9/11, what Bruce Springsteen called the days of the empty sky, when frightened, small men named Bush and Cheney made the first decisions to abandon the Constitution in the name of freedom and created a new version of the security state with the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, secret prisons and sanctioned torture by the US government. They proceeded carefully, making sure that lawyers in their employ sanctioned each dark act, much as kings in old Europe used the church to justify their own actions.

    Those same historians will remark from exile on the irony that such horrendous policies were not only upheld by Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and professor of Constitutional law, but added to until we came to the place we sadly occupy today: the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, publicly stating that the American Government may murder one of its own citizens when it wishes to do so, and that the requirements of due process enshrined in the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, itself drawn from the Magna Carta that was the first reflowering of basic human rights since the Greeks, can be satisfied simply by a decision by that same President.

    We will thus be remembered as the ones who gave up. No more clever wordplay (enhanced interrogations, “patriot” act, targeted killing, kinetic operations) but a simple declaration that the US Government will kill its own citizens when it wishes to, via a secret process we, and our victims, are not allowed to know or contest.

    Brevity in Our Freedom

    Like most of the Bill of Rights, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution is beautiful in its brevity and clarity. When you are saying something true, pure, clean and right, you often do not need many words: “…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

    There are no footnotes in the Fifth Amendment, no caveats, no secret memos, no exceptions for war, terrorism, mass rape, creation of concentration camps, acts of genocide, child torture or any evil. Those things are unnecessary, because in the beauty of what Lincoln offered to his audience as “a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” the government would be made up of us, the purpose of government was to serve us, and the government would be beholden to us. Such a government would be incapable of killing its own citizens without care and debate and open trial.

    With the excuse all tyrants proclaim, protecting the nation, on or about September 30, 2011 a US drone fired a missile in Yemen and killed American Citizen Anwar al Awlaki, born in the United States and tragically devoted to al Qaeda. A few days later the US also killed al Zawaki’s 16 year old American Citizen son. The US had shot at the elder al Awlaki before, on May 7, 2011 under Obama’s orders, and under the Bush administration. Before the US government killed his son, attorneys for al Awlaki’s father tried to persuade a US District Court to issue an injunction preventing the government killing of al Awlaki. A judge dismissed the case, ruling the father did not have standing to sue. This was the first time in our nation’s history that a father sought to sue to prevent the government from extra-legally killing his son. The judge in the case surrendered to his post-9/11 fear and wrote that it was up to the elected branches of government, not the courts, to determine whether the United States has the authority to murder its own citizens by decree.

    Fear Shaped by Lies to Compel Compliance

    Attorney General Holder said things no honest man would ever believe would be said by the highest law officer in the United States.

    Holder said “that a careful and thorough executive branch review of the facts in a case amounts to ‘due process’ and that the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protection against depriving a citizen of his or her life without due process of law does not mandate a ‘judicial process.’”

    Holder thus also declaimed that the victim also has no right to a defense, no right to speak on his behalf, no right to examine and refute the evidence against him and no right even to know his life will be taken under the decision of a few men in Washington. Indeed, Holder made clear that the government’s decision to kill overshadowed the right to self-defense in saying “An individual’s interest in making sure that the government does not target him erroneously could not be more significant. Yet it is imperative for the government to counter threats posed by senior operational leaders of al Qaeda, and to protect the innocent people whose lives could be lost in their attacks.”

    Holder said he rejected any attempt to label such operations assassinations, invoking the same airbrush of lawfulness that fueled the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials and the Holocaust. “Assassinations are unlawful killings. The US government’s use of lethal force in self-defense against a leader of al-Qaeda or an associated force who presents an imminent threat of violent attack would not be unlawful.” In other words, if the President does it, it is no illegal.

    Sluts All

    Historians will look back on us as the people of America who gave up on its experiment with unalienable rights, rights that are natural, not given, rights independent of governments, what our Declaration explained to an unsure forming nation as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

    America was different. We became a country not based on a common language, or religion or anything else except adherence to a common set of beliefs, our Bill of Rights. When you take that away, there is nothing left in common, and dammit Eric Holder and Barack Obama know that.

    The saddest part of a very sad day: the majority of Americans– the consent of the governed– seemingly do not care what Holder said, and are even now bleating on internet forums and likely in comments below to this article about the need to kill more, adding terrified, empty justifications to Holder’s clever statements. We did not have our freedom taken from us, we gave it away. That is real terror.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Review: Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam

    April 25, 2013 // 12 Comments »

    There are ghosts in Washington that few will talk about, roaming the halls of the Pentagon, inside the State Department and the CIA, and at the White House, moaning “Vietnam, Vietnam.” Nick Turse, in his new book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, awakens those ghosts and gives them a voice, and in the process has written one of the most important books about the American War in Vietnam. As America again makes war on an industrial scale on nations far less advanced, and commits again torture, assassinations, mass killings and keeps secret prisons while all the while trying to hide its dirty hands from the American public, that Turse’s book was published in 2013 is no accident.

    Kill Anything That Moves is a painstaking, detailed, minutely-cataloged 370 pages of the atrocities America committed in Vietnam . Like much of the scholarship of the Holocaust, Turse seeks to document in straight forward, simple language what happened so that no one will be able to someday pretend—as the men who run from the ghosts in Washington now do—that it never happened. To make clear his intent, Turse gives us a trail to follow, 85 dense pages of sources and footnotes.

    What Happened

    The slaughter at My Lai is the signature event for most Vietnam war historians (the massacre took place almost 45 years ago to date, on March 16, 1968), the single instance, the aberration, the time when a small group of poorly-led soldiers went rogue and gunned down civilians. There were photos this time. Everything else, TV and movies tell us, is an exaggeration, propaganda, the drunken and drugged memories of freaked out veterans who came to hold Jane Fonda in too high a regard.

    What really happened is Turse’s story. His book began with a different focus when as a graduate student in Public Health, Turse began looking into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among Vietnam vets. By chance an archivist asked Turse whether he thought witnessing war crimes might be a cause of PTSD and directed Turse to the forgotten papers of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group. That group had been set up by the military in the wake of My Lai to compile information on atrocities, not so much to punish the guilty as to “to ensure that the army would never again be caught off-guard by a major war crimes scandal.” Turse tells us the group’s findings were mostly kept under cover and the witnesses who reported the crimes were ignored, discredited or pushed into silence.

    Until Now

    Kill Anything That Moves is a hard book to read. You want to look away but finally turn the pages and read of mass killings and targeted assassinations of Vietnamese civilians, rape committed casually and coldly in sight of officers, sport killings and road rage incidents. Turse painstakingly documents each incident, in many cases starting with the War Crimes Working Group reports and then adding his own first-person interviews conducted in Vietnam with eye witnesses. Mostly aged, the witnesses speak calmly now, and Turse reports what they say without embellishment. Still, the ghosts are there and you half expect to see drops of sweat on the pages.

    But however horrific the many, many individual acts of brutality are to read about, Turse’s larger conclusion is even worse. Turse comes to understand that most of the atrocities were committed with official sanction, in fact, were committed because of U.S. policy that demanded body counts, number of “enemy” killed, as the borderless war’s only metric of accomplishment. He writes, “U.S. commanders wasted ammunition like millionaires and hoarded American lives like misers, and often treated Vietnamese lives as if they were worth nothing at all.”

    Officers, seeking validation and promotion, made it clear in case after case that their troops must come back from the field with a high body count. Given that demand, standards of accountability were purposefully loose. Any Vietnamese man killed was labeled Viet Cong (VC). When that number was not enough, orders were given to sweep through areas and kill anything that moved or ran, man, woman or child, on the assumption that only a Viet Cong would run. When even that tally was insufficient, civilians were executed in place, the soldiers planting captured Chinese weapons on them to justify the ‘Count. Once reality became so flexible, soldiers lost touch with any standard, creating “rules” that allowed them to kill everyone—if she stands still she is a trained VC, if she runs she is a VC taking evasive action. If men are present the village is VC, if men are missing the village has sent its males off to fight with the VC and so either way, burn it all down.

    America’s actions were, in Turse’s words, “Not a few random massacres… But a system of suffering.” The deaths were “widespread, routine and directly attributable to U.S. command policies.”

    In short, the atrocities were not war crimes, they were policy.

    Iraq is the Arabic Word for Vietnam

    Nick Turse’s book wasn’t published by accident in 2013. While it details terrible, terrible things Americans did in Vietnam some 45 or more years ago, one need only open a web browser to see that the atrocities have not stopped—call them out now, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the secret CIA prisons across the world, the black sites in Afghanistan.

    As the Iraq War sputtered to a close, at least for America, Liz Sly of the Washington Post wrote a sad, important story about the legacy of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

    The story highlights, if that word is even permissible here, some of the long series of atrocities committed by the U.S. in Iraq, instances where our killing of civilians, whether by accident or purposeful or something smeared in-between, ruined any chance that the U.S. could in fact capture those hearts and minds and build a stable society in our image. We could hold ground with tanks but only achieve our broader national security goals via memory. It was true in Vietnam, and it will be true in Syria or the Horn of Africa or wherever we drag the fight on to next. Vietnam’s CIA assassination program, Phoenix, was just a low-tech version of today’s drone killings.

    While focusing on the massacre at Haditha, Sly also referenced the killings at Nisoor Square by Blackwater under the “control” of the State Department and several other examples. In a sad coda to the war, even online she did not have space to touch upon all of the incidents, so ones like the aerial gunning down of civilians captured so brilliantly in the film Incident in New Baghdad, or the rape-murder of a child and her family from the book Black Hearts, are missing. There are just too many.

    Accountability?

    Sly’s article quotes retired Army Colonel Pete Mansoor, who commanded a combat brigade in Baghdad in 2003-04 and then returned as executive officer to David Petraeus during the Surge, explaining the fog of war, the ambiguity of decision making in a chaotic urban counter-insurgency struggle, and exonerating those who made wrong, fatal decisions by saying “when you look at it from the soldiers’ point of view, it was justified. It’s very hard.”

    Though I doubt he would find many Iraqis who would agree with him, and though I do doubt Mansoor would accept a similar statement by an Iraqi (“Sorry we killed your soldiers, it was hard to tell the good ones from the bad ones”), his point carries some truth. I cannot let this review of Nick Turse’s book end without asking the bigger questions outside of his scope as a documentarian.

    The issue is not so much how/when/should we assign blame and punishment to an individual soldier, but to raise the stakes and ask: why have we not assigned blame and demanded punishment for the leaders who put those 19-year-old soldiers into the impossible situations they faced? Before we throw away the life of a kid who shot when he should not have done so, why don’t we demand justice for those in the highest seats of power for creating wars that create such fertile ground for atrocity? The chain of responsibility for the legacy left behind in our wars runs high.

    In this rare moment of American reflection Turse’s book offers, ask the bigger question, demand the bigger answer. Those Vietnamese, those Iraqis, those Afghans — and those Americans — killed and died because they were put there to do so by the decisions of our leaders. Hold them accountable for their actions, hold them accountable for America.

    Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam is available from Amazon.com




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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Sticking to Our Rights to Protect Our Rights

    February 8, 2013 // 44 Comments »

    Q: If a foreign organization kills an American overseas for political reasons, it is called…
    A: Terrorism.

    Q: If the United States kills an American overseas for political reasons, it is called…
    A: Justice.

    The Government of the United States, currently under the management of a former professor of Constitutional law, is actively killing its own citizens abroad without any form of due process. This is generally seen as a no-no as far as the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta and playground rules goes. The silly old Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees “no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law” and include no exceptions for war, terrorism, or being a really shitty human being.

    On or about May 7, 2011 a US military drone fired a missile in Yemen (which is another country that is not our country) aimed at American Citizen Anwar al Awlaki, a real-live al Qaeda guy. The missile instead blew up a car with two other people in it, quickly dubbed “al Qaeda operatives” since we killed them. The US has shot at al Awlaki before, including under the Bush administration. In justifying the assassination attempt, Obama’s counterterrorism chief Michael Leiter said al Awlaki posed a bigger threat to the U.S. homeland than bin Laden did, albeit without a whole lot of explanation as to why this was. But, let’s be charitable and agree al Awaki is a bad guy; indeed, Yemen sentenced him to ten years in jail (which is not execution, fyi) for “inciting to kill foreigners” and “forming an armed gang.”

    While the al Awlaki killing is old news, the new news is that the drone that did him fly out of a previously secret U.S. base in Saudi Arabia. Conveniently, that base was secret pretty much only from the American public, as it turns out that an “informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.” Those news organizations included the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press and Fox. The limp newsies kept the secret because the Obama administration claimed disclosure might carry “potential national-security risks.” The U.S. militarization of Saudi Arabia after the 1991 Gulf War is often cited by al Qaeda as one of its prime recruitment tools, so the disclosure indeed reveals a significant dumb ass decision by the U.S.

    Attorneys for al Awlaki’s father tried to persuade a US. District Court to issue an injunction preventing the government from the targeted killing of al Awlaki in Yemen, though a judge dismissed the case, ruling the father did not have standing to sue. My research has so far been unable to disclose whether or not this is the first time a father has sought to sue the US government to prevent the government from killing his son but I’ll keep looking. The judge did call the suit “unique and extraordinary” so I am going to go for now with the idea that no one has previously sued the USG to prevent them from murdering a citizen without trial or due process. The judge wimped out and wrote that it was up to the elected branches of government, not the courts, to determine whether the United States has the authority to murder its own citizens abroad.

    Just to get ahead of the curve, and even though my own kids are non-terrorists and still in school, I have written to the president asking in advance that he not order them killed. Who knows what they might do? One kid has violated curfew a couple of times, and another stays up late some nights on Facebook, and we all know where that can lead.

    The reason I bring up this worrisome turn from regular person to wanted terrorist is because al Awlaki used to be on better terms with the US government himself. In fact, after 9/11, the Pentagon invited him to a luncheon as part of the military’s outreach to the Muslim community. Al Awlaki “was considered to be an ‘up and coming’ member of the Islamic community” by the Army. He attended a luncheon at the Pentagon in the Secretary of the Army’s Office of Government Counsel. Al Awlaki was living in the DC area at that same, the SAME AREA MY KIDS LIVE, serving as Muslim chaplain at George Washington University, the SAME UNIVERSITY MY KIDS might walk past one day.

    Even though Constitutional law professor Obama appears to have skipped reading about the Fifth Amendment (release the transcripts! Maybe he skipped class that day!), courts in Canada have not.

    A Toronto judge was justified in freeing an alleged al Qaeda collaborator given the gravity of human rights abuses committed by the United States in connection with his capture in Pakistan, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled. Judges are not expected to remain passive when countries such as the US violate the rights of alleged terrorists, the court said Friday.

    “We must adhere to our democratic and legal values, even if that adherence serves in the short term to benefit those who oppose and seek to destroy those values,” said the Canadian court.

    Golly, this means that because the US gave up its own principles in detaining and torturing this guy, the Canadians are not going to extradite him to the US. That means that the US actions were… counterproductive… to our fight against terrorism. The Bill of Rights was put in place for the tough cases, not the easy ones. Sticking with it as the guiding principle has worked well for the US for about 230 years, so why abandon all that now?

    Meanwhile, I’ll encourage my kids to stay inside when they hear drones overhead.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Spirit in the Night

    November 23, 2012 // 7 Comments »

    “Who the hell are you?”

    “Why Barack, I’m the Ghost of Presidential Legacies Past.”

    “What are you doing here? It’s just Thanksgiving. I thought you guys visited on Christmas Eve, anyway. It starts earlier every year, doesn’t it?”

    “You’re confusing me with other spirits, Barack. I visit second-term presidents just after they are reelected to help them map out their foreign policy legacy.”

    “I’m calling the Secret Service. Get out of my bedroom!”

    “No need Mr. President. No one can see me but you. I’m here to talk about the future, about America overseas, so you can achieve your place in history. I am here to help guide you.”

    “You do this for all presidents? What happened with Bush, then?”

    “That was unfortunate. It turned out Rove had been a hyena in a previous life and could somehow still smell me, so I got chased out. And see how it ended up for Bush? His legacy is fear of overseas travel, wondering how far the Hague’s reach really is.”

    “OK Spirit, what do you want from me?”

    “Barack, you were elected the first time on the promise of hope and change. You got reelected mostly by not being Mitt Romney. You need to reclaim the original mantel. You need to be bold in foreign affairs and leave America positioned for this new world. You won the election by not being the candidate from the 1950s. Now, you need to establish a foreign policy for an America of 2012 instead of 1950.”

    “What do you mean, Spirit?”

    “Stop searching for demons. Let’s start with the Middle East. You inherited a mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, certainly, thanks to Rove and his canine sense of smell, but what did you do with it?”

    “I ended the war in Iraq.”

    “No, you agreed not to push back when the Iraqis threw the troops out in 2010. The war continues there, fought in little ugly flare-ups among Iranian proxies. But that’s spilled milk. What you need to do is reclaim your State Department from what is now a lost cause.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Much like the way Vietnam destroyed the army, Iraq and Afghanistan gravely wounded your State Department. Why does America still maintain its largest embassy in a place like Baghdad? That massive hollow structure sucks money and, more importantly, personnel, from your limited diplomatic establishment. Scale it back to the mid-size level the situation there really requires, and move those personnel resources to places America badly needs diplomacy. As a bonus, you’ll remove a scab. That big embassy is seen throughout the Middle East as a symbol of hubris, a monument to folly. Show them better — repurpose most of it into a new university or an international conference center and signal a new beginning.”

    “You mentioned Iranian influence in Iraq, so yeah, thanks, George, for that little gift. I have the Israelis up my ass looking for a war, and it seems every day another thing threatens to spark off a fight with the Iranians.”

    “Iran can be your finest achievement. Nixon went to China, remember.”

    “You know Spirit, you actually look a little like Henry Kissinger in this light.”

    “Yeah, I get that a lot. Coincidences, right? Barack, you can start the process of rebalancing the Middle East. Too many genies have slipped out of the bottle to put things back where they were and, like it or not, your predecessor casually, ignorantly allowed Iran to reclaim its place as a regional power. Let’s deal with it. Don’t paint yourself into a corner over the nukes. You know as well as I do that there are many countries who are threshold nuclear powers, able to make the jump anytime from lab rats to bomb holders. You also know that Israel has had the bomb for a long time and, despite that, despite the Arab hatred of Israel and despite the never-ending aggressive stance of Israel, their nukes have not created a Middle East arms race. Start talking to the Iranians. There are any number of would-be middle men out there, and even Iran’s foreign minister has floated a few trial balloons. Follow the China model — set up the diplomatic machinery, create some fluid back channels, maybe try a cultural exchange or two. They don’t play ping-pong over there, but they are damn good at chess. Feel your way forward. Bring the Brits and the Canadians along with you. Give the good guys in Tehran something to work with, something to go to their bosses with.”

    “But they’ll keep heading toward nuclear weapons.”

    “That may be true. America’s regular chest-thumping military action in the Middle East has created an unstoppable desire for Iran to arm itself. They watched very, very closely how the North Koreans insulated themselves with a nuke. The world let that happen and guess what? Even George W. stopped talking about North Korea and the stupid Axis of Evil. And guess what again? No war, and no nuclear arms race in Asia. Gaddafi went the opposite route, and look what happened to him, sodomized on TV while your Secretary of State laughed about it on TV.”

    “But sanctions are working on Iran. We’re crushing their economy.”

    “Maybe, though there are lots of holes. Regardless, real change in Iran, like anywhere, is going to have to come from within. Think China again. With prosperity comes a desire by the newly-rich to enjoy their money. They start to demand better education, more opportunities and a future for their kids. A repressive government with half a brain yields to those demands for its own survival and before you know it, you’ve got iPads and McDonalds happening. Are you going to go to war with China? Of course not. We’re trading partners, and we have shared interests in regional stability in Asia that benefit us both. Sure, there will be friction, but it can be managed. We did it, with some rough spots, in the Mediterranean with the Soviets and we can do it in the Gulf, what President Kennedy called during the Cold War the “precarious rules of the status quo.” I don’t think this will result in a triumphant state visit to Tehran, but get the game started. Defuse the situation, offer to bring Iran into the world system, and see if they don’t follow.”

    “I can’t let them go nuclear.”

    “Well, I don’t know if you can stop it, and focusing just on that binary black and white blocks off too many other, better options. Look, they and a whole bunch of other places can weaponize faster than you can stop them. What you need to do is work at the need to weaponize, pick away at the software if you will, the reasons they feel they need to have nukes, instead of just trying to muck up the hardware. Use all the tools in the toolbox, Barack.”

    “But they’re Islamos.”

    “Whatever you want to call it. Islam is a powerful force in the Middle East and it is not going away. Your attempts, and those of your predecessor, to try and create ‘good’ governments failed. Look at the hash in Syria, Libya and, of course, Iraq, real sacks of it. You need to find a real-politick with Islamic governments. Look past the rhetoric and ideology and start talking. Otherwise you’ll end up just like the U.S. did all over Latin America, throwing in with crappy thugs simply because they mouthed pro-American platitudes. Not a legacy move, Barry. You’re sorting your way through this in Egypt. It will feel odd at first, but the new world order has created a state for states that are not a puppet of the U.S., and not always an ally, but typically someone we can deal with, work with, maybe even influence occasionally. That’s diplomacy, and therein lies your chance at legacy. Demilitarize your foreign policy. Redeploy your diplomats from being political hostages in Baghdad and Kabul and put them to work all over the Middle East.”

    “Sure Spirit, nothing to it. Anything else you want me to do before breakfast?”

    “Hey, you asked for the job — twice — not me.”

    “Spirit, sorry to go off topic, but is that an 8-track tape player you’re carrying around?”

    “Hah, good eye Barack. KC and the Sunshine Band, Greatest Hits. Things work oddly in the spirit world and one of the quirks is that unloved electronics from your side migrate to us. Here, look at my cell phone, big as a shoebox, with a retractable antenna. I still play games on an old Atari. We got Zunes and Blackberries piled up like snow drifts over there. But back to business.”

    “What else, Spirit?”

    “As a ghost of sorts, I’m used to taking the long view of things. I know better than most that memory lasts longer than aspiration, that history influences the future. You have it now in your power to amend an ugly sore, America’s dark legacy of the war of terror. Guantanamo. You realize that every day that place stays open it helps radicalize ten young men for every one you hold in prison. Demand your intel agencies give you a straight-up accounting on who is locked away there. For the very few that probably really are as horrible as we’d like to believe, designate them something and lock them away in an existing Federal Super Max. Just do it. Turn the others over to the UN for resettlement. It is an ugly deal, but it is an ugly problem. Close the place down early in your term, let the short-term heat burn off and move on.”

    “And Afghanistan?”

    “Same thing. Cut your losses. Accelerate the drawdown. You’ll keep your bases, so your back is covered against anything really awful happening and embarrassing you. The Taliban is disorganized enough, and under Pakistani ISA control enough, that there is unlikely to be any fall-of-Saigon scenarios. Afghanistan will be on a slow burn for, well, probably forever. Among other reasons, Pakistan needs it to stay that way. They like a weak but not failed state on their western border and you can manage that. The special ops guys you leave behind can deal with any serious messes. Corruption and internal disagreements mean there will never be a real Afghan nation-state, no matter how badly you want one. The soldier suicides and green-on-blue attacks are a horror. You are going to accomplish nothing by dragging that corpse of a war around with you for two more years, so cut it off now.”

    “Next is drones, right?”

    “Yes Barack, next is drones. This is fool’s gold and you bought into it big. You thought it was risk-free, no American lives in danger, always the 500 pound elephant in the room when considering military action. But, to borrow a phrase, look at the collateral damage. First, you have had to further militarize Africa, setting up your main drone base in Djibouti. The Chinese are building cultural ties and signing deals all over Africa, and we’re just throwing up barbed wire. Who’ll win in the long-run? Like Gitmo, every thug you kill creates more, radicalizes more, gives the bad guys another propaganda lede. Seriously, haven’t you noticed that the more you kill, the more there seem to be to kill? You need more friends for America and fewer people saying they are victims of America. Make your intel people truly pick out the real, real bad guys, the ones who absolutely threaten American lives. Be comfortable in publicly being able to articulate every decision. Don’t be lazy with bringing death. Don’t continue to slide downhill into killing easier and easier just because you have a new technology that falsely seems without risk. Seek a realistic form of containment, and stop chasing complete destruction. You need an end game. The risk is there my friend, you just have to pull back and see it in the bigger picture.”

    “Bigger picture, eh? That’s what this legacy business is all about, isn’t it? Seeing Iranian nukes not as the problem per se, but as part of a solution set that doesn’t just leave a glowing hole in the ground, but instead fills in things, builds a base for more building.”

    “You’re getting it now. And even as domestic politics suffers in gridlock, you have room to do things in foreign policy that will mark history for you. As a second term president, you are freed from a lot of political restraints, just like you told Medvedev you would be.”

    “Open mikes, who knew, right? But what about my successor? The party wants me to leave things ready for 2016.”

    “Don’t worry about that. I’ve got Springsteen working on new songs for the campaign. Hey, you know anything that rhymes well with ‘Hillary’? Right now we’ve only got ‘pillory’ and ‘distillery.’ Bruce is stuck on that.”

    “But look, Spirit, I appreciate the advice and all, but to be honest, all this you propose is a lot of work. It’s complicated, needs to be managed, has a lot of potential for political friction. I could, you know, just stick with things the way they are. People seem to have gotten used to a permanent state of low-level warfare everywhere, drone killings, the occasional boil flaring up like Benghazi. It wasn’t a serious election issue at all. Why should I bother?”

    “Well, among other things Barack, you’ve got two very sweet, wonderful reasons sleeping just down the hallway. It is all about their future, maybe even more than yours.”

    “You make a lot of sense Spirit. America retains immense power, to do good or to muck things up. I may even earn my Nobel Peace Prize this time. It will be my legacy. I don’t know how to thank you, Spirit.”

    “Well, actually, there is one small thing, ironically a domestic issue.”

    “Certainly. What can I do for you Spirit?”

    “It’s actually for a friend of mine, lives out in Colorado.”

    “He needs a job? Should I appoint him ambassador somewhere?”

    “No Barack, just two words. Legalize it.”



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Happy Day After Election Day

    November 7, 2012 // 13 Comments »

    I expect to wake up on November 7 late, with an angry absinthe and Miller Lite hangover, so decided to write this blog post ahead of time.

    Congratulations to _____, the winner. Democracy, peaceful transition, electoral college, who could have predicted it/it was just as we predicted.

    But even though _____ won:

    – We still will have tens of thousands of troops doing nothing more than dying at whack-a-mole in Afghanistan for another two years, followed by indefinite training missions and permanent bases in that God-forsaken country.

    – The US will continue its drone wars, foolishly believing that the technology means war without risk because American lives are not at stake. In the big picture, they still are.

    – Freed from election politics, the U.S. will resume making war against Iran.

    – Guantanamo remains open, though our child prisoners there have now all grown.

    – No one is accountable for a decade’s worth of kidnapping and torture.

    – The Patriot Act is still in place and Americans’ civil liberties are worth the value of an expired coupon.

    – In January 2013 the president will still order deaths off a disposition matrix. People will still be held in indefinite detention without trial at his mere word. Bradley Manning still will not have had his trial.

    –Climate change, the homeless, veteran’s suicides, the economy, gun control, immigration, blah blah blah.


    Hell, pass me that bottle. I’m gonna have another drink and go back to bed.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    America is Safer: Khan Detained and Questioned by TSA in Canada

    October 29, 2012 // 5 Comments »

    Imran Khan, a former cricket star, and Pakistani politician critical of U.S. drone strikes, says American authorities detained and questioned him at a Canadian airport.

    He had boarded a plane in Toronto bound for New York, but was removed from the plane and interrogated on his views on drones. This month he led a contentious march to the border of Pakistan’s tribal region to protest drone strikes. A person traveling with Khan said Khan was told there was concern about possible violence at an anti-drone protest the politician was scheduled to lead in the United States. But that protest had been canceled. Khan also was asked about the fund-raising he was doing in the country. He was allowed to enter the U.S. on a later flight, albeit after a two hour interrogation.

    So, whatever, freedom!

    What could be the possible point of detaining and interrogating Khan? Was he a threat to the passengers and the plane? Did he have Semtex stapled to his underwear? Was he planning to take the last chicken meal and leave everyone behind him with the fish?

    The only possible rationale of course was intimidation, the American government letting one of its critics know that We Are Watching, and even though we chose to let you go this time buddy boy, don’t assume it’ll always work this smoothly. Just like that– finger snap– you could be on another plane, straight to sunny Gitmo. Oh, and have a nice day.

    The intimidation game is amplified given who Khan is. A once and possibly future leader of Pakistan (he is aiming at Prime Minister, and is considered one of the most popular politicians in Pakistan), the U.S. is getting its licks in early and often. Also, with Khan’s status in Pakistan and the Muslim world, the U.S. knew his detention would make world news. It was intended to do so, warning non-celebrity drone opponents of what awaits them in free America. This should all buttress America’s “soft power” efforts to make friends abroad.

    Ya’ll watch your step now in this part of ‘da countryside boy!

    BONUS: What were U.S. law enforcement agents doing working in Canada? Why, enforcing U.S. law on foreign soil, of course! For the “convenience” of travelers, the U.S. has worked out pre-inspection regimes with certain countries, mostly Canada, Shannon, Ireland and some Caribbean nations. These agreements allow the U.S. to station law enforcement personnel abroad and throw people out of the U.S. even before they enter the U.S. The U.S. also has TSA “advisors” in fifteen other foreign airports. And what a nice cover job those make!

    From Glenn Greenwald, more on the use of border controls to intimidate and harass U.S. critics.




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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    US Drone Policy and Wedding Day Massacres

    June 18, 2012 // 14 Comments »

    It probably hasn’t been the most popular thing to do, but I’m glad that TomDispatch has been one place that has continued to focus on the “collateral damage” of our recent wars and is the only website that has kept a count of one of the more shocking aspects of those wars: the obliteration of wedding parties by the US using aerial strikes.

    The US recently killed 18 Afghan civilians (including nine children) at a wedding in a village in Logar Province. This — and TomDispatch has been counting over the years — is at least the seventh wedding party eviscerated by a US air strike since 2001.

    Why weddings? The US also has a policy of striking funerals, probably for the same reasons. The “policy” angle is that weddings and funerals are gatherings of important people targets at a known place and time. Killing Bad Guy No. 167 means wiping out the rest of the guests at the same time collaterally.

    TomDispatch, in an article subtitled Till Death Do Us Part, looks deeper into the shame of accepting such collateral damage, positing the use of armed drones inside the US as a way of making the murky ethics of all this clearer.

    An important article, read it online now at TomDispatch.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Eat This, Not That

    May 22, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    Eat this…






















    Not that.







    Yes, another great moment in public diplomacy. We congratulate the public diplomacists at the Department of State for changing minds and winning hearts with their wicked Tweeting. Seriously dudes, who is that lame ass Tweet intended to persuade?

    I mean, besides your boss.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    State Department to Acquire Own Drone Fleet

    April 11, 2012 // Comments Off

    According to NextGov, the State Department plans on acquiring its own fleet of (so far unarmed) aerial drones. Because sure, why not? Nothing says “diplomacy” these days better than showing some swag violating foreign air space because we freaking can. This development can only make the US more popular overseas, that is for certain.

    Just as a thought experiment, how do you think the US would feel if say the Chinese or the Iranians wanted to fly drones over the US to watch over their own diplomats (the Iranians have a UN mission in New York)? Any issues there?

    The State Department has issued a request for proposals for contractors to provide the aircraft, crew and support on a turnkey basis. The procurement request released last month and updated Monday marks the start of a project to provide the department with UAV assets that could be deployed anywhere in the world. State did not say how many aircraft it eventually planned to deploy.

    In its 2011 annual report, State’s Diplomatic Security Bureau said it tested UAVs in December 2010 in cooperation with the Defense Department and planned to deploy them to Iraq in 2011.

    The mission of the UAV program is to provide real-time air surveillance of fixed installations and the ground routes that diplomats travel “thereby improving security in high-threat environments,” State said.

    State intends to acquire two types of aircraft in conformance with standards established by the Air Force. It wants to operate Tier I hand-launched UAVs such as the Gnat-750, manufactured by General Atomics, which can operate at altitudes of 500 to 2,000 feet and at speeds up to 40 miles per hour. These aircraft should be equipped with video and heat sensors that downlink still and streaming video and use built-in GPS navigation with a range of 250 miles.

    The RFP also calls for contractors to supply Tier II and Tier II UAVs and aircraft such as the General Atomics Predator, which can fly as high as 18,000 feet and has a range of 250 miles. The original RFP sought aircraft with a range of 900 miles. Tier II UAVs must also be able to downlink still and streaming video and use GPS navigation.

    The State UAV project has already attracted 62 interested bidders, including manufacturers such as General Atomics and a number of aerospace companies, as well as systems integrators such as Computer Sciences Corp., General Dynamics Information Technology, L-3 Communications and Lockheed Martin Corp. Bids are due April 23.

    Maybe the State Department’s public diplomacy social media people can get in on this, say holding a contest on Twitter, the winner gets his/her house buzzed by a drone. Or something on Facebook where whomever gets the least “likes” has a Hellfire missile sent down their timeline?



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Michael Moore.com Supports We Meant Well

    March 21, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    Thinking they can sell their version of events– punish the whistleblower (me) instead of investigating the allegations ($44 billion wasted on Iraq reconstruction)– the State Department continues its dripping treacle hypocrisy, proclaiming rights for internet advocates and free speech abroad while citing “regulations” they wrote themselves that prevent free speech within its own ranks.

    Good news is that not everyone is swallowing this. MichaelMoore.com today asks:

    Dear Hillary: Please Speak Out Against
    This Attack on Free Speech in a Far-Away Land – Clinton’s State Department moves to fire Peter Van Buren, foreign service officer, author and MichaelMoore.com blogger for writing unflattering things about his time in Iraq

    Powerful Words! Where Is This Lady Now?
    “In America, we are proud of our long and distinctive record of championing [] freedom of speech … we have worked to share our best practices.” – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, three short months ago

    Awesome, Now We Need Russia to Protest for Us
    “The American media, always ready to stand behind Russian whistleblowers, shows remarkably little interest in whistleblowers operating closer to home.” –Voice of Russia, radio network run by Putin’s government

    DO SOMETHING: Call Hillary Clinton at 202-647-4000. Politely remind Secretary Clinton that her nice-sounding speeches about freedom of speech would come across better if they weren’t all a bunch of crap.


    Diplopundit today sadly catalogs the Foreign Service blogs (“free speech”) that have gone dark, wondering if this is “is the ‘Peter Van Buren’ effect on the FS blogosphere.”

    Some inside the State Department are secretly proud of the blogs closing down, knowing that by stiffling free speech they have made their internal bosses happy. State is a terminally inward looking bureaucracy, doomed to a slow ride into irrelevancy, largely because it is so inwardly focused. Drones will continue to write speeches for Hillary demanding free speech in China while two floors below them other drones crush dissent within Hillary’s own employee ranks.

    State doesn’t seem to care, or even realize, that the rest of the world sees through this hypocrisy. The result? Pretty soon no one will listen to Hillary anymore but her own loyal lickspittles, making a perfect circle inside the Department while the rest of the world turns the channel. No wonder Congress continues to cut back State’s budget and reduce its ranks year after year.

    With just a little more effort, the State Department will become the late-night cable public access show of the world, watched and listened to only by its own staff. They’ll be happy then.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    We Take Care of Our Own: Eric Holder and the End of Rights

    March 6, 2012 // 6 Comments »

    (This post also appeared on the Huffington Post on March 6, 2012)

    Historians of the future, if they are not imprisoned for saying so, will trace the end of America’s democratic experiment to the fearful days immediately after 9/11, what Bruce Springsteen called the days of the empty sky, when frightened, small men named Bush and Cheney made the first decisions to abandon the Constitution in the name of freedom and created a new version of the security state with the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, secret prisons and sanctioned torture by the US government. They proceeded carefully, making sure that lawyers in their employ sanctioned each dark act, much as kings in old Europe used the church to justify their own actions.

    Those same historians will remark from exile on the irony that such horrendous policies were not only upheld by Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and professor of Constitutional law, but added to until we came to the place we sadly occupy today: the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, publicly stating that the American Government may murder one of its own citizens when it wishes to do so, and that the requirements of due process enshrined in the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, itself drawn from the Magna Carta that was the first reflowering of basic human rights since the Greeks, can be satisfied simply by a decision by that same President.

    Today will thus be remembered as the day we gave up. No more clever wordplay (enhanced interrogations, “patriot” act, targeted killing, kinetic operations) but a simple declaration that the US Government will kill its own citizens when it wishes to, via a secret process we, and our victims, are not allowed to know or contest.

    Brevity in Our Freedom

    Like most of the Bill of Rights, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution is beautiful in its brevity and clarity. When you are saying something true, pure, clean and right, you often do not need many words: “…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

    There are no footnotes in the Fifth Amendment, no caveats, no secret memos, no exceptions for war, terrorism, mass rape, creation of concentration camps, acts of genocide, child torture or any evil. Those things are unnecessary, because in the beauty of what Lincoln offered to his audience as “a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” the government would be made up of us, the purpose of government was to serve us, and the government would be beholden to us. Such a government would be incapable of killing its own citizens without care and debate and open trial.

    With the excuse all tyrants proclaim, protecting the nation, on or about September 30, 2011 a US drone fired a missile in Yemen and killed American Citizen Anwar al Awlaki, born in the United States and tragically devoted to al Qaeda. A few days later the US also killed al Zawaki’s 16 year old American Citizen son. The US had shot at the elder al Awlaki before, on May 7, 2011 under Obama’s orders, and under the Bush administration. Before the US government killed his son, attorneys for al Awlaki’s father tried to persuade a US District Court to issue an injunction preventing the government killing of al Awlaki. A judge dismissed the case, ruling the father did not have standing to sue. This was the first time in our nation’s history that a father sought to sue to prevent the government from extra-legally killing his son. The judge in the case surrendered to his post-9/11 fear and wrote that it was up to the elected branches of government, not the courts, to determine whether the United States has the authority to murder its own citizens by decree.

    Fear Shaped by Lies to Compel Compliance

    In his speech, Attorney General Holder said things no honest man would ever believe would be said by the highest law officer in the United States.

    Holder said “that a careful and thorough executive branch review of the facts in a case amounts to ‘due process’ and that the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protection against depriving a citizen of his or her life without due process of law does not mandate a ‘judicial process.’”

    Holder thus also declaimed that the victim also has no right to a defense, no right to speak on his behalf, no right to examine and refute the evidence against him and no right even to know his life will be taken under the decision of a few men in Washington. Indeed, Holder made clear that the government’s decision to kill overshadowed the right to self-defense in saying “An individual’s interest in making sure that the government does not target him erroneously could not be more significant. Yet it is imperative for the government to counter threats posed by senior operational leaders of al Qaeda, and to protect the innocent people whose lives could be lost in their attacks.”

    Holder said he rejected any attempt to label such operations assassinations, invoking the same airbrush of lawfulness that fueled the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials and the Holocaust. “Assassinations are unlawful killings. The US government’s use of lethal force in self-defense against a leader of al-Qaeda or an associated force who presents an imminent threat of violent attack would not be unlawful.”

    Sluts All

    So while the popular media remembers today as the day Rush apologized for calling someone a slut and Republican candidates ignored the wave of history to carp about birth control, historians will look back on March 5, 2012 as the day America gave up on its experiment with unalienable rights, rights that are natural, not given, rights independent of governments, what our Declaration explained to an unsure forming nation as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

    America was different. We became a country not based on a common language, or religion or anything else except adherence to a common set of beliefs, our Bill of Rights. When you take that away, there is nothing left in common, and goddammit Eric Holder and Barack Obama know that.

    The saddest part of a very sad day: the majority of Americans– the consent of the governed– seemingly do not care what Holder said, and are even now bleating on internet forums and likely in comments below to this article about the need to kill more, adding terrified, empty justifications to Holder’s clever statements. We did not have our freedom taken from us, we gave it away.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Started They Have, the State Department Drone Wars

    January 30, 2012 // 12 Comments »

    Alert readers of this blog already knew that the State Department maintains its own air force at the World’s Most Expensive Embassy in Iraq, fixed wing, rotary wing and drones. The aircraft are flown by security contractors, mercenaries to the trade, and have been such an open secret that State’s own Diplomatic Security brags about them in its slick, expensive US Government-paid for propaganda, hidden away under the deceptive title “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” next to a photo of a DS thug launching one of the little drones.

    Why, US Ambassador Jeffrey even said the other day “Iraq is a sovereign democratic country. We have no role as outsiders in the democratic process other than to observe.”



    Apparently the rest of the Internet, and Iraq, missed all of this playing Angry Birds or something because a New York Times story set off a flurry of copy-cat articles.

    The Times reports “A senior American official said that negotiations were under way to obtain authorization for the current drone operations, but Ali al-Mosawi, a top adviser to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki; Iraq’s national security adviser, Falih al-Fayadh; and the acting minister of interior, Adnan al-Asadi, all said in interviews that they had not been consulted by the Americans.”

    Nice diplomatic touch: trying to obtain authorization from the Iraqis for a program already underway anyway. Nothing says f*ck you better than asking for permission after the fact. Honest, honey, I thought you were OK with that…

    The Times emphasizes the Iraqis are in fact ever so upset that the US is flying drones over its “sovereign democratic country,” and rightly so. For the average Iraqi, a peace-loving State Department drone looks and sounds a lot like an Army or CIA Death from Above killer drone. The Iraqis remember that as long ago as one month, even unarmed observation drones overhead could mean an airstrike was imminent. For State to keep up the image of death from above happening at any moment = Worst Public Relations Fail Ever. In most other places, State tries hard to differentiate its diplomats from the military or the spooks, if for nothing more than their own safety. But, as we know, Iraq is complicated. Who knows, with the drones in Iraq, the US might end up as popular there as in Pakistan (“Drone Country“), where 100,000 people turned out Friday in protest.

    The other issue is State trying to maintain the illusion, at least inside Foggy Bottom because I doubt anyone outside buys it, that its mission in Iraq is just another ‘ole Embassy. One wonders how the US might react if the Chinese Embassy in Washington began flying drone missions over DC, citing the high rate of homicide and street violence in our nation’s capitol.

    We now also have four acknowledged agencies flying their own drones: Military, CIA, Homeland Security and the freaking State Department.

    If the Chinese, or perhaps the Iranian delegation to the UN which lives in New York, do however wish to kick off their own drone program, it is easy. The helpful folks at DIY Drones can get you started. Dronepedia is also helpful for beginners.

    Be sure not to leave rude remarks for the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus on Facebook about all this stuff.




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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Woo Hoo! Obama Sends Troops to Yet Another Country to Kill Muslims!

    January 10, 2012 // Comments Off


    Obama is sending five American military officers to South Sudan amid recent outbreaks of violence in the newly independent African nation. In response to the violence, Obama issued a separate memorandum last week giving the U.S. the ability to send weapons and defense assistance to South Sudan.

    The troops are expected to focus on “strategic planning and operations,” which I guess is the new way to say “plan drone strikes to kill more Muslims and other brown people.”

    Since gaining independence in July, South Sudan has been beset by internal conflict. Aid groups estimate that 60,000 people have been affected by recent outbreaks of violence, and the U.N. says tens of thousands have fled their homes and are in urgent need of high-nutritional food, clean water, health care and shelter.

    So it is obvious that the best way the US can help is by sending in military advisers, ‘natch.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Obama to Iran: Give Us Our Drone Back

    December 15, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Obama revealed the request for the return of the drone–which fell to earth in Iran recently, and has since been flaunted in video footage by the Iranian government–during a Monday White House news conference. “We’ve asked for it back,” President Obama said. “We’ll see how the Iranians respond. With respect to the drone inside of Iran, I’m not going to comment on intelligence matters that are classified.”

    Other statements made today by Obama include:

    –Iran cannot ask us to return any intelligence info our drones gathered.

    –Iraq should return all the bullets (and depleted uranium) fired at it since 2003.

    –Iran should not ask the US to return any hostages previously returned.

    –Iran can’t fly any drones over the US until they return our broken one.

    –Joe Biden should return his Netflix movies.

    –Return of the Drone would be a good movie title.

    How do you say “when pig-shaped drones fly?” in Farsi anyway?



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    CIA Lying to Who about Sexy Drones?

    December 6, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Who? Whom? I don’t know, but that is not today’s money question. Today is about those oh! so sexy drones that somehow make war even better.

    The Washington Post reports on a series of deceptive statements issued by NATO and the CIA over who controlled the drone that “fell down” in Iran earlier this week. The Post writer, largely because he had 500 words to kill, speculated that the misleading statements issued suggesting that it was a NATO drone off course, later clarified sort of to suggest it was a CIA drone on course spying on Iran, were a “head fake,” “an apparently deliberate media misdirect” by those wacky spooks.

    Post writer, you are a tool. It is much more likely that the various people seeking to lie about the drone just got their stories mixed up in their haste to make up shit for you to digest and spit back out in the newspaper. Or, the CIA was lying to YOU, young Paduwan Post writer, trying to hide the fact that not only was it blatantly violating another country’s airspace, it seems like they screw up at the same time.

    So, quick recap: CIA is flying war drones over Iran. Iran either shot one down, cyber-spaced it down or just had a lucky day. Media still clueless and willing to play along with whatever pablum they are fed.

    Also, in case you were sanguine about America’s war-to-be in Iran, some bone heads in Congress are seeking to make diplomacy with Iran actually illegal.

    OK, back to shopping– only 19 days left ’til Christmas!



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Drone News

    October 12, 2011 // Comments Off

    Given the state of affairs in Congress and Washington in general, it is no surprise that the big news is all about drones. Yes, America’s robotic killers in the sky– other than assassinating American Citizens, what have they been up to?

    Skynet Joke Already Made

    Well, to start, drone HQ has a computer virus. A computer virus has infected the cockpits of America’s Predator and Reaper drones, logging pilots’ every keystroke as they remotely fly missions over Afghanistan and other warzones. The virus, first detected nearly two weeks ago by the military’s Host-Based Security System, has not prevented pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada from flying their missions overseas. Nor have there been any confirmed incidents of classified information being lost or sent to an outside source. But the virus has resisted multiple efforts to remove it from Creech’s computers, network security specialists say. And the infection underscores the ongoing security risks in what has become the U.S. military’s most important weapons system.

    OK, point taken. A computer virus is messin’ with our drones. Nothing to see here, move along.

    Like Your Drone

    Like drones? Me too! Why not “like” them on Facebook? You can!

    The Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, a Congressional group made up of drone lovers, has its own Facebook page. You can see it, and “LIKE” it, here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Congressional-Unmanned-Systems-Caucus/222909124388885. I’ll try posting a link to this page, so look for that! DO NOT make Skynet comments there, it is too too obvious. C’mon, most of us are unemployed with free time, so be creative.

    Secret Drones

    Lastly, sad-as-a-hound-dog Leon Panetta was almost jolly as he confirmed that the CIA uses drones to kill people. That used to be secret. Oh well, now it is a “gaffe.” Leon said:


    “Obviously I have a helluva lot more weapons available to me in this job than I had at the CIA. Although the Predators aren’t that bad.” He added that the Predators were “something I was very familiar with in my last job.”



    A Drone of Your Own

    Want more? How about your own drone? Click on over to DIY Drones, “home for everything about amateur Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.” You can’t arm them (legally) but, good news!, while “commercial use of aircraft with cameras is regulated, UAV/drone aircraft flying under the recreational exemption may use cameras and GPS.”

    But don’t go to that site if you’re a hippie or a terrorist, because “if we see any discussion of UAV use that we feel is potentially illegal or intended to do harm, we will bring it to the attention to the relevant authorities.”

    And those relevant authorities (Hank Williams, Jr.) will hunt you down with a drone like a freaking dog and use a missile to stamp “Made in the USA” on your burning backside.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Is I a Real Juornalist?

    September 1, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    I thought journalists were supposed to think, but a piece by Tara McKelvey (photo), A Bigger Kill Than Bin Laden, is so sadly just stenography for the government that I hope she was paid off to jot it down instead of really being that stupid. She wrote about the US drone murder of the latest al Qaeda number 2 or 3 or 4.

    Tara (may I call you Tara?) wrote:


    Forget Osama bin Laden, the so-called terrorist mastermind. In real life, he was the guy watching videos of himself in a room in his Abbottabad compound; meanwhile, al-Rahman was making plans.



    Ok, check, Bin Laden was no big deal, which is why we took ten years to find him and everyone hated on him more than the Hamburgler. Tara, Tara, the US has killed al Qaeda’s number 2 or number 3 man so many times there are jokes about it.

    But wait, there is more from Tara. Here’s an objective paragraph that no doubt has her community college J-school prof in hiding:


    Obama supporters say the killing of al-Rahman is the latest in a string of White House successes against the terrorist group and further proof that the laserlike approach, with its reliance on drone strikes, is the right one. In this way, CIA officers are thinning the ranks of al Qaeda and gradually making them obsolete: Or, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month, Americans are “within reach of strategically defeating al Qaeda.”



    This is good news. With al Qaeda basically toast, we have repealed the Patriot Act, ended the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and can go back to wearing our shoes in the airport. Sweet. Thanks Tara!

    Ok, OK, here’s one more:


    Now that al-Rahman is gone, CIA officers in Langley, Va. and in stations around the world will double down on their efforts to pursue their other targets. These include al-Rahman’s boss, Ayman al-Zawahiri, (NOTE: He used to be al Qaeda NO. 2) who became bin Laden’s successor.

    In the meantime, CIA officials have reason to celebrate, since by almost any account the death of al-Rahman is significant. “Al Qaeda has not signed a surrender, and nor will it,” says Sageman, “but their ability to launch operations is diminished.”



    Now there’s the whole war of terror in a sentence. The goons celebrate some event as a major milestone (bin Laden dead, No. 2 killed) and then quickly add “but al Qaeda is still a threat” forever.

    It is almost as if the people making a living off of the war of terror just don’t want it to ever end.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Leaking: Intellectual Consistency is Inconvenient

    May 20, 2011 // Comments Off

    What happens to you when you leak classified information depends a lot on where you sit.

    If you sit in a grown up chair in the White House, you can leak just about anything without getting into trouble. “Sources” up high have discussed all sorts of bin Laden raid things, including details of the op and tales of stealth helos and drones. SecDef Gates said “Too many people in too many places are talking too much about this operation.” He added that the level of disclosures and blabbing violates an agreement reached in the White House Situation Room on May 8 to keep details of the raid private. “That lasted about 15 hours,” Gates said sourly.

    If you sit in a midlevel chair, you get the same request, only with a stern chaser. CIA director Leon Panetta warned employees in a memo obtained by The Associated Press that leakers will be investigated and possibly prosecuted after a flurry of reports in the media about the technology and methods used to track and ultimately kill Osama bin Laden.

    And if you sit in a low-level analyst’s chair with the words “Bradley Manning” stenciled on the back, you go to jail without trial for leaking things.

    But then again, what’s new here? High level officials at State and the Cheney Vice President’s office blew the cover for CIA officer Valerie Plame and were never punished. Outing a CIA clandestine officer is a Federal crime. It also wastes the incredible sums of money and time that went into creating a sustainable false identity (fake background, transcripts, job history, Facebook account, etc.) and endangers the lives of everyone that officer worked with.

    As a smart person said, “Intellectual consistency is inconvenient in the current political climate.” OK, I get it, nothing new to see here, move along folks.



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

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Police State, Post-Constitution America

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