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.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense or any other entity of the US Government. The Department of State does not approve, endorse or authorize this blog or book. Follow us on Twitter!
Colonel Morris Davis was the Chief Prosecutor for the terrorism trials at Guantanamo Bay for more than two years. He resigned rather than be forced to use information obtained by torture in his prosecutions.
More than 160 men who have never been charged with any offense, much less convicted of a war crime, remain at Guantanamo with no end in sight. There is something fundamentally wrong with a system where not being charged with a war crime keeps you locked away indefinitely and a war crime conviction is your ticket home. Over 100 of the 166 men who remain in Guantanamo are engaged in a hunger strike in protest of their indefinite detention. Twenty-one of them are being force-fed and five are hospitalized.
Some of the men have been in prison for more than eleven years without charge or trial. The United States has cleared a majority of the detainees for transfer out of Guantanamo, yet they remain in custody year after year because of their citizenship and ongoing political gamesmanship in the U.S.
This year, for Mom’s sake (you know she’ll be proud of you!), help Davis tell the President it is time to end Guantanamo. What you need to do is simple: add your name to Davis’ petition right now.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense or any other entity of the US Government. The Department of State does not approve, endorse or authorize this blog or book. Follow us on Twitter!
“The card was from Lesotho, a country I learned which was one of them African nations you never hear about. The Lesothoians wrote ‘Thanks for Not Invading Us’ and claimed to be one of the last places on earth that had not been invaded by the United States, either on foot or by drone or via our sneaky Pete special forces. Got me to thinking, so I called up Barack. We talk from time to time, usually when he can’t find something around the White House and needs my help.”
“It was George’s call that made me get out the map,” said Obama. “I didn’t want to bother the Joint Chiefs, and the CIA was tied up with new prisoners, so I just used one of Sasha’s from school. Turns out George was right, there was a country called Lesotho– it was even on Wikipedia– and as best I could tell the U.S. had not ever invaded it. I made a quick call to the Pentagon and they said they weren’t sure if it was a country, but they were sure we had not invaded it. The guy over there asked me if I wanted to invade it, he’d get things started, but I said I’d want to think about it.”
“So Barack called me back, and as we were talking we realized between the two of us we had invaded, droned, sent Special Forces, set up secret prisons, had CIA sites and what have you just about everywhere else in the world. You know, there after 9/11 I kinda let Dick Cheney run things for awhile, and he may have done a lot of it but darn it, it turns out I signed off on a bunch of them myself. You don’t think of it as you do them one-by-one but over time the countries really add up.”
“Once I started making my own list,” continued Obama, “it was damn near everywhere.”
“Everywhere,” said Bush, “‘Cept maybe that Lesotho place.”
“I was faced with a real quandary,” continued Obama. “But then George and I got to talking.”
“Turns out,” said Bush, “between the two of us we had damn near bankrupted the U.S. with wars every freaking place, but Lesotho. I logged on my secret worldwide cabal account, and sure enough, almost all of the U.S. tax money had been transferred into my Rothschild MegaFund, in Chinese currency no less. Since I was online anyway– damn AOL account is so slow and I hate that modem sound– I started reading these ‘blogs’ and message boards and it turns out most people around the world hate the U.S. Nobody told me.”
“George was right. The Secret Service doesn’t let me get online much, but I kept this kinda secret account from Michele so I could, um, look at, um, nature photography sites, and people really did hate us. Pretty much everyone except Lesotho.”
“So me and Barack put two and two together. We made a list of all the places the U.S. had messed up since 9/11 and then sent a note to the Pentagon and Langley recalling every soldier, spook, analyst, torturer, diplomat and all the rest. Everybody– just brought them all back to the U.S. in one awesome Executive Order.”
“Should I tell him George?”
“Nah, it’s a surprise… oh hell, go ahead Barack.”
“We didn’t recall any Americans. I just ordered a nuke strike on Lesotho. April Fool!”
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense or any other entity of the US Government. The Department of State does not approve, endorse or authorize this blog or book. Follow us on Twitter!
In his State of the Union Address, the president said that the federal minimum wage should be raised to nine dollars an hour. He said also that a person holding down a full-time job should not have to live in poverty in a country like America. I could not agree more; for the last few months I’ve lived like the people the president referred to and it is not a pretty picture.
As research for my new book, I have been working in the minimum wage economy and trying to live on the money I make. The situation is much, much worse than the president described in his Address, a tragedy for our society. Here’s what it looks like.
Once Upon A Time
The last time I worked for minimum wage was in a small store in my Ohio hometown, almost a right of passage in high school, pulling in about four bucks an hour stocking shelves alongside my friends. Our girlfriends ran the registers, our moms and dads shopped in the store and a good story about a date could get you a night off from the sympathetic manager. When someone graduated, the manager would hire one of the workers’ friends and the cycle continued.
The New World
At age 53 I expected to be quizzed about why I was looking for minimum wage work in a big box retail store. No one cared; instead, the application process included a background and credit check, along with a drug test. Any of those anonymous agencies could have vetoed my employment and I’d never even know about it. Most places that don’t pay much seem really concerned that their workers are drug-free. I’m not sure why this is, because you can be a banker or lawyer and get through the day higher than angels on a cloud. Regardless, I did what I had to in front of another person, handing him the cup. He gave me one of those universal signs of the underemployed I now recognize, a “we’re all in it, what’re ya gonna do” look, just a little upward flick of his eyes.
After hiring I watched a video on theft. The interesting thing was that in addition to warning us about stealing candy for breaks, we were not to steal time. The store paid us for our time and so even if we snuck out for a breath of air or flipped through a magazine, we were stealing time. Would we have liked someone from the store to come to our home (or, I guess, day-rate motel room, car back seat, shelter bunk or cardboard box under a bridge) and have them do whatever the heck the store would want from us there?
New break policy: zero to five and a half hour shift, no break. New schedule policy: all shifts reduced to five and a half hours or less. Somebody said it was illegal not to give us breaks, but what can you do, call the cops like it was a real crime? It turns out in fact that in my state employers are not required to grant breaks to anyone over age 16; in some places minimum wage workers do eight and nine hours shifts without a meal or a chance to get off their feet for a few minutes. No one gets sick leave, holidays or accrues vacation time. No health benefits.
Eight hours on your feet is tough, but what about sixteen? At age 53 I was the third oldest minimum wage worker at the store. With one or two exceptions, everyone on the schedule worked multiple jobs, often in adjacent stores in the same strip mall. They have to: even if the store gave us 40 hours a week for a year (a big, big if, as most places cap workers at 39 hours to avoid them becoming “full time” and possibly qualifying for benefits. In my case, as work expands and contracts, I’ve been scheduled for as few as seven hours a week at one store, without notice that my hours were going to be cut), your annual income would be only about $15k, before taxes of course. The stores adapted, actually trying pretty hard to create schedules that allowed everyone to hold down their two or three jobs. It was the norm, a fact of life, something for business to adjust to.
Who We Are
Who are the workers? They are adults, many single moms (64% of minimum wage employees are women), a veteran from Iraq (“the Army taught me to drive a Humvee which turns out not to be a marketable skill”), another retired guy, a couple of students who alternate semesters at work with semesters at the local community college and a small handful of recent immigrants. One guy said that because the big boxer drove his small store out of business he had to take a minimum wage job, which only pays him enough so that he sort of has to buy at the big box store. They made him a greeter at the front door and told him to be enthusiastic. He was. That guy was like Patient Zero in our New Economy.
There is no ladder up, no promotion path. Most of us were just trying to make a little money. But some people had been yelled at too many times, or were too afraid of losing their jobs. They were broke. People—and dogs—don’t get like that quickly; it has to build up on them, or tear down on them, like erosion, one thing after another nudging them deeper into it. Then one day, if the supervisor told them by mistake to hang a sign upside down, they’d do it, more afraid of contradicting the boss than making an obvious mistake. You’d see them rushing in early to stand next to the timeclock so they would not be late. One broke down in tears when she accidentally dropped something, afraid she’d get fired on the spot for it. They walk around like the floor was all stray cat tails. It is a lousy way to live as an adult, your only incentive for doing good work being they’d let you keep a job that made you hate yourself for another day.
You had to pay attention, but not too much. It was an acquired skill. Enough time in this retail minimum economy and it was trained into you for life, but for newcomers like me it was a slow process of getting pushed back into the ground every time we had a accidental growth spurt. None of us was trying to be great, just satisfied. This was just grey bread as you felt yourself getting more and more tired each day.
About 30 million Americans work this way, live this way, at McJobs. We pop up like Brigadoon during election cycles, often as caricatures like Joe the Plumber, or as props for an important speech. In between such appearances, about half of all single-parent families live in poverty. These situations are not unique. Wal-Mart has more than two million employees; if Wal-Mart was an army, it would be the largest military on the planet behind China. Wal-Mart is the largest overall employer in the U.S., and the biggest employer in twenty-five states.
More than Minimum
I did work in retail for minimum wage, both at age 16 and again at age 53. While I lived a life from teenager stocking shelves to older adult stocking shelves, the minimum wage only rose by a few bucks. The minimum wage today is $7.25—is a big latte really what an hour of my labor is worth? While the money has not changed, what has changed is who is now working these minimum wage jobs. Once upon a time they were filled with high school kids earning pocket money. In 2013, the jobs are encumbered by adults struggling to get by. Something is wrong.
So to the president I say, yes, please, do raise the minimum wage. But how far is the proposed nine bucks an hour going to go? Are we going to do eight hours of labor for the cell phone bill? Another twelve for the groceries each week? Another twenty or thirty for a car payment? How many hours are we going to work? How many can we work? Nobody can make a real living doing these jobs. You can’t raise a family on minimum wage. And you can’t build a nation on the working poor. Maybe what we need is to spend more on education and less on war, even out the tax laws and rules just a bit, require a standard living wage instead of a minimum one. That’s not all the answer, but it is a start. The president is right that it is time for a change, but what is needed is much more than a nudge up on the minimum wage.
Working for minimum wage, I came to know that these were real problems, with real people behind them, lives. We have to decide if all this is just about money or if it is about more, about society, about how we live, about people, about America.
Q: If the United States kills an American overseas for political reasons, it is called…
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.
Here are the Department of Justice’s legal arguments granting permission to the president to assassinate Americans if they are connected with al Qaeda, essentially destroying rights guaranteed citizens since the Magna Carta– right to life, right to a trial, right to due process.
This will be one of the documents historians study years from now while chronicling the end of the American experiment in democracy. Those historians will conclude that no foreign power defeated us; we ate ourselves.
Torture as American Policy
The release of these legal arguments comes on the same day that the Open Society Foundation detailed the CIA’s effort to outsource torture since 9/11 in excruciating detail. Known as “extraordinary rendition,” the practice concerns taking detainees to and from U.S. custody without a legal process — think of it like an off-the-books extradition — and often entailed handing detainees over to countries that practiced torture. The Open Society Foundation found that 136 people went through the post-9/11 extraordinary rendition, and 54 countries were complicit in it. The U.S. worked with Iran to take new prisoners, and sent others into Assad’s Syria for torture.
Justification to Ignore the Constitution
According to MSNBC, the undated DOJ memo is entitled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qa’ida or An Associated Force.” It was provided to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees in June by administration officials on the condition that it be kept confidential and not discussed publicly. The white paper was represented by administration officials as a policy document that closely mirrors the arguments of classified memos on targeted killings by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The administration has refused to turn over to Congress or release those more detailed memos publicly, or even to overtly confirm they existence.
In the DOJ white paper, it is determined that in order for the United States of America to kill one of its own citizens, all that is needed is that “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,” and that capture is not feasible and of course that the laws of war are followed. For those tracking the amount of blood on the president’s hands, note that no review takes place, no due process, no jury, no anything, just death because the president (or, technically, any anonymous informed high-level official) says kill that man, woman or child. This is considered by the Department of Justice to be “a lawful act of national self-defense.”
DOJ specifically states that if the targeted individual had rights under the Fourth Amendment and the Due Process Clause, such rights would not “immunize him from a lethal operation.”
The Fourth Amendment is a now-quaint part of the U.S. Constitution that guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. The Due Process Clause is contained in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. It once acted as a safeguard from arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by the Government. The clear intent of Due Process, appearing twice in the Constitution, is to assure Americans that the government cannot act against them outside of a judicial process, a set of laws to protect against the government having too much power.
The Department of Justice also concludes that the murder of an American Citizen under such circumstances “would not violate certain criminal provisions prohibiting the killing of U.S. nationals outside the United States; nor would it constitute the commission of a war crime or an assassination prohibited by Executive Order.”
It was found that “the realities of the conflict and the weight of the government’s interest in protecting its citizens from an imminent attack are such that the Constitution would not require the government to provide further process to such a U.S. Citizen before using lethal force.”
The document notes that “the condition that the operational leader present an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” Instead, DOJ asserts a “broader definition of imminence.”
Neatly, to conclude their argument, the Department of Justice states that due to the unique circumstances of the conflict with terror, “there exists no appropriate judicial forum to evaluate these constitutional considerations.”
The End of the Experiment
One is left literally gasping for air, pale with anger, wondering what we have become in America. Have we stooped to the level of the Nazi Nuremberg Laws, which in precise legalese justified the Holocaust? Have we reached the point where we believe we must destroy our beautiful Constitution in order to save it?
Of what value anymore is the oath all Federal employees take, the same oath Obama took on the steps of the Capitol last month, promising to defend and uphold the Constitution? What value is that oath when with a memo he deems that that Constitution does not apply when there is killing to be done abroad. What type of nation declares war on its own citizens?
Those questions are left rhetorical for now, but this much is now true: the president of the United States has granted himself legal justification to ignore the most basic tenet of freedom– the right to live– and empowered himself to kill his own citizens without any form of due process or judicial procedure. It is an easy way for a writer to grab headlines, claiming such-and-such is the end of our rights, such as the limits imposed on habeas corpus, online spying, no-fly lists, restrictions on free speech, etc. But now we have truly approached the edge, because when you are dead, killed extra judicially by your own government, well, no other theoretical rights really matter anymore.
Abu Graid, Guantanamo, the CIA secret prisons, imprisonment without trial of Bradley Manning, those are not aberrations or exceptions– they were practice. These are indeed the darkest of days for our democratic experiment.
During those eight years we lost ourselves. Following a singular day– one day– of terror attacks, we set fire to the whole world. Willingly, almost gleefully, we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the former on the promise of bloody revenge and the latter based on flimsy falsehoods that today seem as real as childhood beliefs. But we wanted to believe and so it was easy to lie to us, just like with the Tooth Fairy.
Worse yet, we turned on ourselves. With a stroke of a pen, we did away with 200 some years of bitterly fought for civil rights– silence the First Amendment and do away with critics and whistleblowers, rip open the Fourth Amendment and allow the government to spy into our lives. Plumbing for the depths of evil, we as a nation tortured men, created an archipelago of secret prisons, a regime of indefinite confinement and renditions to feed our concentration camps, hungering for flesh. How much would be enough for revenge? When even that was not enough, we unleashed death from the sky, smiting people who bothered us, maybe occasionally threatened us, often times simply people who were near by or looked like our possible enemies. In the calculus of the day, we would kill them all without a concern that any deity would sort the bodies out later.
Then in 2008 hope we were sold and we slobbered over it like the pigs we had become. He was a king, awarded a Noble Peace Prize simply for not being George W. Bush. He could have turned it all around, in those first weeks he could have asked the rivers to flow backwards and they just might have. He could have grounded the drones, torn up the Patriot Act, held truth commissions to bring into the light our tortures, re-emancipated America in ways not unlike Lincoln did in the 1860s. Slam shut the gates of Guantanamo, close the secret prisons that even today still ooze pus in Afghanistan, stop the militarization of Africa, bring the troops home, all of it, just have done it. What a change, what a path forward, what a rebirth for an America who had lost her way so perilously.
Today, this day, four years later we are left with only ironic references to where we were and what we had been. We re-elected him mainly just because he wasn’t the other guy, everybody’s reluctant guilty choice. We now today go though the motions of a celebratory inauguration like an old married couple dutifully maintaining civility where joyous lust once was. We are raising a second generation who accept that their nation tortures, invades, violates and assassinates, all necessary evils requiring us to defame democracy while pretending to protect it.
People who saw the movie Lincoln were struck by the personal anguish the president then brought upon himself ordering men to their deaths in support of a moral cause, ridding this nation of the horrors of slavery, human bondage, once and for all. That president enduring many necessary evils in pursuit of a goal he knew to be noble, the unfinished work of creating a truly democratic and just nation. On this same day we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, who wrote to us all from a jail cell in sweltering Birmingham to remind that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. King’s guidance in that letter was that the “means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” We cannot fight wrongs by committing wrongs.
So you Barack, who so shallowly call forth Lincoln’s legacy (and goddamn you, the legacy of Dr. King on this day, a man whose piss you are not qualified to swallow), for what cause do you condone our modern necessary evils? For what noble crusade do you allow the torturers to walk free? To claim the right to kill people, even Americans, anywhere in the world simply because you can do so? Why do you prolong the war, long ago not just lost but rendered pointless, in Afghanistan? On what crusade do you keep your enemies in Guantanamo?
Lots of talk today, inauguration day, Martin Luther King Day. But those are the questions Mr. Lincoln and Dr. King would demand answers for from their graves, Mr. Obama.
Mother Jones weighs in with an excellent analysis of the a new law supposedly expanding whistleblower protections for some government employees. Obama also signed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which extends similar protections to defense contractors who expose waste and corruption. But the NDAA signing came with a caveat that blindsided the bill’s backers and has some in the whistleblower community up in arms: In a “signing statement,” (remember how George W. used those to circumvent the law?) Obama wrote that the bill’s whistleblowing protections “could be interpreted in a manner that would interfere with my authority to manage and direct executive branch officials,” and he promised to ignore them if they conflicted with his power to “supervise, control, and correct employees’ communications with the Congress in cases where such communications would be unlawful or would reveal information that is properly privileged or otherwise confidential.”
Mother Jones was also kind enough to quote me in the article as saying the signing statement “is merely another expression of [the Obama] administration’s hostile policy toward all whistleblowers…It disappoints me, and devalues my own efforts to bring transparency to the government.”
Read the full article on Mother Jones.
I grow weary of “journalists” who don’t get counterinsurgency. So I’ll try and use simple words: We kill the bad guys so that the LEGITIMATE GOVERNMENT can assert its control. The key to why almost every counterinsurgency struggle fails (Vietnam and Iraq are my faves) is the absence of that legitimate government. The U.S., using massive firepower, clears a hole that is filled either by the legitimate government should one exist, or, if not, by the insurgents, or, in worse case scenarios like Libya, no one and chaos ensues.
If you are Alissa Rubin of the New York Times, or know her, or read her dumb ass piece on Afghanistan in the Times, please re-read that opening paragraph above until it makes sense. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Reporting from Helmand Province
Rubin reports to us from Helmand Province, Afghanistan, the once-to-be center of Greater Georgebushistan, when the U.S. had any plans for Afghanistan other than trying to figure out the best way to just make it all go away. It seems while we’ve been at the bar waiting for a table, 21,000 Marines have been surging the heck out of Helmand, clearing naughty Taliban out left and right. Rubin is now surprised that since the Marines have cut back to about 6500 on the ground, the Taliban are “creeping back.”
Counterinsurgency tip no. 147: Don’t fight the big guys, especially when you know they’ll only be around for a short while. Let them surge in as you surge out and then when their numbers drop off, move back in and reclaim your turf. Still not sure? Watch what cockroaches do when you flip on the kitchen light at night– do they stand on their hind legs and try to tear the insecticide can from your hands?
Now back to that legit government. Rubin does seem to have a bit of a clue when she quotes a local:
Afghan forces now control his district, he said, but will not be able to hold it unless “the foreigners manage to get rid of corruption in the Afghan government, in the districts and the province levels.”
“Before the Marines launched this big offensive, Marja was the center of the opium trade,” said Ahmad Shah, the chairman of the Marja development shura, a group of elders that works with the government to try to bring change here. “Millions and millions of Pakistani rupees were being traded every day in the bazaar. People were so rich that in some years a farmer could afford to buy a car.
“We were part of the eradication efforts by the government, and if they had provided the farmer with compensation, we could have justified our act. But the government failed to provide compensation, and unless it does so, the people will turn against us or join the insurgency and be against development, as they were during the Taliban.”
A corrupt government that fails to ensure the livelihood of its people will not win a counterinsurgency war. The Marines can hold off the Taliban temporarily indefinitely, but they will never be an Afghan government.
To wit from a half-wit:
Hajji Atiqullah, the tribal leader in Nawa, says the road between his city and the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, has been life-changing. “This road will last for many years, and I think people will remember it as one of the biggest contributions of the American Marines,” he said.
Other economic benefits, however, are dwindling as the Western troops leave. The surge brought jobs for many rural residents. There were small irrigation and construction projects, which are finished now. In Marja alone, about 1,400 people were hired to work for the informal security forces set up by the Marines at the height of the surge, according to elders in Marja. But when the Interior Ministry began to integrate these forces into the Afghan Local Police, they offered places to only 400, said Mr. Shah, the chairman of the development shura. As the rest find themselves jobless, village elders say, they will turn to whoever will protect them, even if that is the Taliban or criminals.
Counterinsurgency tip no. 672: If the government must rely on foreign troops to protect the people, it cannot be seen by the people as legitimate.
Looking for an Optimist
Rubin wonders “So why, then, was it so difficult to find an optimist in Helmand Province?”
Let’s help her figure that out by calling the Times and reading out loud to her: “Counterinsurgency will always fail without a legitimate government and Afghanistan does not have one. The Afghan government was created by the U.S. for our own domestic political purposes. It is corrupt. It cannot secure its people and cannot provide them with a way of living.”
Let us now return to the words of the best writer on counterinsurgency, Bernard B. Fall, who covered both the French and the American defeats in Vietnam. Fall said:
The French in Algeria learned every lesson from the French in Viet-Nam. The troop ratio there was a comfortable 11-to-1. The French very effectively sealed off the Algerian-Tunisian border, and by 1962 had whittled down the guerrillas from 65,000 to 7,000… It cost 3 million dollars a day for eight years, or $12 billion in French money. The “price” also included two mutinies of the French Army and one overthrow of the civilian government. At that price the French were winning the war in Algeria, militarily. The fact was that the military victory was totally meaningless. This is where the word “grandeur” applies to President de Gaulle: he was capable of seeing through the trees of military victory to a forest of political defeat and he chose to settle the Algerian insurgency by other means.
Some of these wars, of course, can be won, as in the Philippines, for example. The war was won there not through military action (there wasn’t a single special rifle invented for the Philippines, let alone more sophisticated ordnance) but through an extremely well-conceived civic action program and, of course, a good leader–[Ramon] Magsaysay.
Civic action is not the construction of privies or the distribution of antimalaria sprays. One can’t fight an ideology; one can’t fight a militant doctrine with better privies. Yet this is done constantly. One side says, “land reform,” and the other side says, “better culverts.” One side says, “We are going to kill all those nasty village chiefs and landlords.” The other side says, “Yes, but look, we want to give you prize pigs to improve your strain.” These arguments just do not match. Simple but adequate appeals will have to be found sooner or later.
W-a-y back in October 2011 the U.S. invaded, albeit in a small way, the Central African Republic, because, well, big countries can still do stuff like that in Africa. Now, in December 2012, we’ve evacuated our diplomats and civilians because the invasion failed and chaos reigns in yet another place the U.S. muddled. Happy New Year!
Obama sent some 100 U.S. troops to central Africa to help battle a rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army. American troops deployed to South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The troops were combat-equipped to “fight only in self-defense,” a dubious statement given that as armed troops they are stomping around someone else’s country. That sort of calls for an armed response by the homeboys, and thus the need to self-defend, yes?
FYI, The Lord’s Resistance Army are a bunch of terrible thugs who have conducted a two-decade spree of murder, rape and kidnapping. They have not, however, attacked the U.S. They live really far away from America.
Anyway, like Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and pretty everywhere else the U.S. has bumbled into, things are not working out in the Central African Republic. Another 50 U.S. troops have deployed to the African country of Chad to help evacuate U.S. citizens and embassy personnel from the neighboring Central African Republic’s capital of Bangui in the face of rebel advances toward the city. Obama informed congressional leaders of Thursday’s deployment in a letter Saturday citing a “deteriorating security situation” in the Central African Republic.
For those keeping score at home, this all tracks the growing US military presence throughout Africa (Admitted: Uganda, South Sudan, Mali, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Botswana, Kenya, Burundi, Ethiopia and Djibouti, currently some 5,000 personnel), complete with complex special ops, US troops on the ground engaged in “training” and occasional combat, along with the sad, usual accidents involving prostitutes and naughty boys that follow our military worldwide, most recently in Mali.
Bonus: As part of our ongoing public service, Where’s Hillary?, we note that the elusive still-recovering SecState had no comment on the evacuation of her diplomats from the Central African Republic.
Extra New Year’s Bonus: While the primary US engagement in Africa continues to morph into a military one, China’s dominant relationships on the continent are economic.
“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.”
“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.”
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.
I couldn’t vote for Romney. He is a guy who made money destroying America. He started a firm whose only purpose was to buy other companies and squeeze them. It had a nice name, dividend recapitalization, and like the shell game it was, you had to watch closely or you’d be broke before you figured it out. Say you are the We Meant Well Company, on hard times, but still make things, employ people and have assets like land and machinery. A venture firm comes along, figures the We Meant Well Company is worth $100 million. The firm invests say $10 million of its own money, and buys the rest with money borrowed against the value of the We Meant Well Company as collateral.
BANG! The We Meant Well Company now is in debt to who-knows-who for $90 million. The venture firm, which owns it based on the borrowed money, starts having the We Meant Well Company pay it out a management fee while at the same time laying off workers to raise the cash for the fee. The venture ain’t done, though. It has the We Meant Well Company issue stock to the venture firm, then declare a dividend to be paid to itself. Where’s that dividend money come from? More debt for the corporate entity of the We Meant Well Company. If the We Meant Well Company’s managers and board members start complaining, well, that venture firm simply cuts them in on the deal, with bonuses and buyouts and severance packages your dad never got. It is like using someone else’s credit card for a cash advance for yourself.
Once the vultures are done picking the bones, the We Meant Well Company dies in bankruptcy. The bank that made the initial loans loses money, sure, but passes that on as a cost of business risk to its own customers if the government isn’t rushing in with a bailout to protect the economy or some such too-big-to-fail bull. The government actually incentivizes this kind of deal making. The federal tax code allows the venture company to deduct their debt interest, so they pay little to no tax, all supposedly to encourage them to invest more in this sleazy cycle while pretending to create jobs. Romney helped change us from a place that made things—radiators, cash registers, gaskets, ball bearings, TVs– into a place that just makes deals. Making things creates jobs and jobs create broad prosperity. Making deals just creates wealth for the dealers. You might as well just write-in “Goldman Sachs” and cut out the middle man.
As for Obama, I cannot vote for someone who institutionalized the murder of American citizens based on His decision that they must die by drone (as terrorists, or whatever else is justified), and then rationalized it as “justice being done.” I voted for him in 2008 in large part because he said he opposed indefinite detention without trial and would close Guantanamo. He did not, and expanded the secret national security state. He never sought resolution about America’s horrific policy of torture, never mind justice. Bradley Manning still has not had a trial. Obama makes war around the world in an ever-expanding ring of fire.
Such things matter. If you read the dialogue among the Founders, one of the things they feared most for the nation was an omnipotent leader, a king they said because they did not know the word dictator. A president who kills on his own decisions cannot be my America. The potential damage to the social agenda of another Republican president bothers the hell out of me, though at the same time I am reminded that Obama did not seek to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act or do anything on immigration. I grew weary of arguments that said “Vote Obama so we don’t get Romney.” I want my vote to be an act of conscience, a measure of support and not something as weak as better than the alternative. I wish I could vote for someone.
I understand about third party candidates, but at this point that is just a feel-good-about-myself symbolic gesture, and I don’t really feel good about things right now.
When I speak publicly about my book We Meant Well and the failure of reconstruction and nation building, there is usually an older man in the crowd who will bring up the successes of the Marshall Plan, and ask me why that succeeded where we failed so completely and conclusively in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are a lot of historical factors, but one of the biggest single issues is that a man like George Marshall was not in charge in Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, men like Marshall simply do not exist in high positions in government anymore. Instead of selfless public servants who care about our country, we instead find a government, Republicans and Democrats equally, full of self-serving men and women who exist only as appetite. They see “public service” only as a stepping stone for their own advancement, either in terms of money, power, prestige or all of the above. The most significant cause they support is their own. They are cynical about it, openly mocking the democratic process, buried in mistruths, holding allegiance more to party and self than nation, and are supported by patrons who have so, so much money already but somehow still want more. My politics is no longer about left or right anymore, it’s about up and down.
So I did not vote for a presidential candidate this year, the first time I did not in the nine presidential elections I have been eligible to vote in. I did vote in this election by the way, just not for president. So it’s not as if I have dishonored the sacrifices of those who protected my right to vote. It’s just that I have a conscience and I am writing about my dilemma in honoring it. You’d think people would admire that as a fundamental requirement for an effective democracy rather than dismissing it out of hand or claiming it is wrong.
I never thought it would come to this. I’m sorry.
William Astore, in a HuffPo column, nails it:
Both President Obama and Governor Romney prefer to praise the troops rather than to address the tragic consequences of continuing military action in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The latter, when they’re addressed at all, are reduced to sound bites and homilies about the need to “stay the course” and “support our troops.”
So what’s to talk about?
Candidates, we have been at war in Afghanistan for eleven years, three times as long as World War II. What has the U.S. gained? If we have gained anything, have the gains been worth the costs in lives and money?
Based on Afghanistan, what lessons have you derived that will inform your future decisions to invade/intervene/occupy other countries?
You talk a lot about supporting the troops. Good for you. Very specifically, what are you planning to do to help veterans find employment, reduce suicide and get out of debt? For Obama, you’ve been president for almost four years. What, very specifically, HAVE you done to do to help veterans find employment, reduce suicide and get out of debt?
John Nagl, who teaches at the Naval Academy and has been a strong proponent of U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, defines “success” in Afghanistan in part as “maintaining our own bases in the region from which to operate drones, manned aircraft and Special Operations forces.” Do you agree with this? If you do, then does Iraq qualify as a “defeat” given that we have no bases there?
If you accept/desire/support maintaining U.S. drone and special forces in Afghanistan indefinately, explain how this is anything but a prescription for endless war.
The U.S. stood by as Afghan president Karzai stole the last election and installed a government that can be defined only as a kleptocracy. How has this benefited the U.S.?
The war in Afghanistan has spread to Pakistan. The U.S. is engaged in combat there, via drones and special forces. Pakistan sheltered bin Laden for years. Define our relationship with Pakistan and your goals there, without using the word “ally.”
Or anything else, just please talk about Afghanistan and the 2000 dead Americans there in any way you like other than tired bromides about “the troops.” I dare you.
(This article originally appeared on TomDispatch and Huffington Post on October 11, 2012. It seems especially useful to review in light of both candidates demanding that the moderator of tonight’s debate not be allowed to ask follow-up questions. Softballs only, please. Indeed, the entire lengthy memo of understanding between the two candidates is an insult to democracy and shows their contempt for the entire process.)
We had a debate club back in high school. Two teams would meet in the auditorium, and Mr. Garrity would tell us the topic, something 1970s-ish like “Resolved: Women Should Get Equal Pay for Equal Work” or “World Communism Will Be Defeated in Vietnam.” Each side would then try, through persuasion and the marshalling of facts, to clinch the argument. There’d be judges and a winner.
Today’s presidential debates are a long way from Mr. Garrity’s club. It seems that the first rule of the debate club now is: no disagreeing on what matters most. In fact, the two candidates rarely interact with each other at all, typically ditching whatever the question might be for some rehashed set of campaign talking points, all with the complicity of the celebrity media moderators preening about democracy in action. Waiting for another quip about Big Bird is about all the content we can expect.
But the joke is on us. Sadly, the two candidates are stand-ins for Washington in general, a “war” capital whose denizens work and argue, sometimes fiercely, from within a remarkably limited range of options. It was D.C. on autopilot last week for domestic issues; the next two presidential debates are to be in part or fully on foreign policy challenges (of which there are so many). When it comes to foreign — that is, military — policy, the gap between Barack and Mitt is slim to the point of nonexistent on many issues, however much they may badger each other on the subject. That old saw about those who fail to understand history repeating its mistakes applies a little too easily here: the last 11 years have added up to one disaster after another abroad, and without a smidgen of new thinking (guaranteed not to put in an appearance at any of the debates to come), we doom ourselves to more of the same.
So in honor of old Mr. Garrity, here are five critical questions that should be explored (even if all of us know that they won’t be) in the foreign policy-inclusive presidential debates scheduled for October 16th, and 22nd — with a sixth bonus question thrown in for good measure.
1. Is there an end game for the global war on terror?
The current president, elected on the promise of change, altered very little when it came to George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror (other than dropping the name). That jewel-in-the-crown of Bush-era offshore imprisonment, Guantanamo, still houses over 160 prisoners held without trial or hope or a plan for what to do with them. While the U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq — mostly because our Iraqi “allies” flexed their muscles a bit and threw us out — the war in Afghanistan stumbles on. Drone strikes and other forms of conflict continue in the same places Bush tormented: Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan (and it’s clear that northern Mali is heading our way).
A huge national security state has been codified in a host of new or expanded intelligence agencies under the Homeland Security umbrella, and Washington seems able to come up with nothing more than a whack-a-mole strategy for ridding itself of the scourge of terror, an endless succession of killings of “al-Qaeda Number 3” guys. Counterterrorism tsar John Brennan, Obama’s drone-meister, has put it this way: “We’re not going to rest until al-Qaeda the organization is destroyed and is eliminated from areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Africa, and other areas.”
So, candidates, the question is: What’s the end game for all this? Even in the worst days of the Cold War, when it seemed impossible to imagine, there was still a goal: the “end” of the Soviet Union. Are we really consigned to the Global War on Terror, under whatever name or no name at all, as an infinite state of existence? Is it now as American as apple pie?
2. Do today’s foreign policy challenges mean that it’s time to retire the Constitution?
A domestic policy crossover question here. Prior to September 11, 2001, it was generally assumed that our amazing Constitution could be adapted to whatever challenges or problems arose. After all, that founding document expanded to end the slavery it had once supported, weathered trials and misuses as dumb as Prohibition and as grave as Red Scares, Palmer Raids, and McCarthyism. The First Amendment grew to cover comic books, nude art works, and a million electronic forms of expression never imagined in the eighteenth century. Starting on September 12, 2001, however, challenges, threats, and risks abroad have been used to justify abandoning core beliefs enshrined in the Bill of Rights. That bill, we are told, can’t accommodate terror threats to the Homeland. Absent the third rail of the Second Amendment and gun ownership (politicians touch it and die), nearly every other key amendment has since been trodden upon.
The First Amendment was sacrificed to silence whistleblowers and journalists. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments were ignored to spy on Americans at home and kill them with drones abroad. (September 30th was the one-year anniversary of the Obama administration’s first acknowledged murder without due process of an American — and later his teenaged son — abroad. The U.S. has similarly killed two other Americans abroad via drone, albeit “by accident.”)
So, candidates, the question is: Have we walked away from the Constitution? If so, shouldn’t we publish some sort of notice or bulletin?
3. What do we want from the Middle East?
Is it all about oil? Israel? Old-fashioned hegemony and containment? What is our goal in fighting an intensifying proxy war with Iran, newly expanded into cyberspace? Are we worried about a nuclear Iran, or just worried about a new nuclear club member in general? Will we continue the nineteenth century game of supporting thug dictators who support our policies in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Libya (until overwhelmed by events on the ground), and opposing the same actions by other thugs who disagree with us like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad? That kind of policy thinking did not work out too well in the long run in Central and South America, and history suggests that we should make up our mind on what America’s goals in the Middle East might actually be. No cheating now — having no policy is a policy of its own.
Candidates, can you define America’s predominant interest in the Middle East and sketch out a series of at least semi-sensical actions in support of it?
4. What is your plan to right-size our military and what about downsizing the global mission?
The decade — and counting — of grinding war in Iraq and Afghanistan has worn the American military down to its lowest point since Vietnam. Though drugs and poor discipline are not tearing out its heart as they did in the 1970s, suicide among soldiers now takes that first chair position. The toll on families of endless deployments is hard to measure but easy to see. The expanding role of the military abroad (reconstruction, peacekeeping, disaster relief, garrisoning a long necklace of bases from Rota, Spain, to Kadena, Okinawa) seems to require a vast standing army. At the same time, the dramatic increase in the development and use of a new praetorian guard, Joint Special Operations Command, coupled with a militarized CIA and its drones, have given the president previously unheard of personal killing power. Indeed, Obama has underscored his unchecked solo role as the “decider” on exactly who gets obliterated by drone assassins.
So, candidates, here’s a two-parter: Given that a huge Occupy Everywhere army is killing more of its own via suicide than any enemy, what will you do to right-size the military and downsize its global mission? Secondly, did this country’s founders really intend for the president to have unchecked personal war-making powers?
5. Since no one outside our borders buys American exceptionalism anymore, what’s next? What is America’s point these days?
The big one. We keep the old myth alive that America is a special, good place, the most “exceptional” of places in fact, but in our foreign policy we’re more like some mean old man, reduced to feeling good about himself by yelling at the kids to get off the lawn (or simply taking potshots at them).
During the Cold War, the American ideal represented freedom to so many people, even if the reality was far more ambiguous. Now, who we are and what we are abroad seems so much grimmer, so much less appealing (as global opinion polls regularly indicate). In light of the Iraq invasion and occupation, and the failure to embrace the Arab Spring, America the Exceptional, has, it seems, run its course.
America the Hegemonic, a tough if unattractive moniker, also seems a goner, given the slo-mo defeat in Afghanistan and the never-ending stalemate that is the Global War on Terror. Resource imperialist? America’s failure to either back away from the Greater Middle East and simply pay the price for oil, or successfully grab the oil, adds up to a “policy” that only encourages ever more instability in the region. The saber rattling that goes with such a strategy (if it can be called that) feels angry, unproductive, and without any doubt unbelievably expensive.
So candidates, here are a few questions: Who exactly are we in the world and who do you want us to be? Are you ready to promote a policy of fighting to be planetary top dog — and we all know where that leads — or can we find a place in the global community? Without resorting to the usual “shining city on a hill” metaphors, can you tell us your vision for America in the world? (Follow up: No really, cut the b.s and answer this one, gentlemen. It’s important!)
6. Bonus Question: To each of the questions above add this: How do you realistically plan to pay for it? For every school and road built in Iraq and Afghanistan on the taxpayer dollar, why didn’t you build two here in the United States? When you insist that we can’t pay for crucial needs at home, explain to us why these can be funded abroad. If your response is we had to spend that money to “defend America,” tell us why building jobs in this country doesn’t do more to defend it than anything done abroad.
Now that might spark a real debate, one that’s long, long overdue.
This article is hilarious, just LOL funny. I gotta catch my breath. OK, The piece is from the ultra-conservative Hoover Institute at Stanford (Motto: Opposing Whatever You Like), people who still think Condi Rice was a great leader and that George Bush had nothing at all– nothing– to do with the mess in Iraq.
Ok, spoiler alert: It is all the black guy’s fault.
Where to begin? The Hooverite says:
Little more than two years ago, Iraq seemed headed on a sure path to stability. A new Iraqi state seemed to be emerging in which enduring U.S. interests—ensuring the stable flow of Iraq’s oil, denying Iraq as a base for terrorist groups, and preventing Iraq from destabilizing the broader region—would be secure.
All true, as long as you also don’t believe in gravity (“just a theory”) and ignore the constant sectarian violence that has eaten Iraq alive since unleashed by the US invasion of 2003.
The political pact among Iraq’s main parties—the accommodation that has guaranteed the dramatic reduction in violence since mid-2008—is unraveling. Whether driven by fear, or tempted by an opportunity not to be missed, or both, Prime Minister Nuri Maliki’s Da’wa party sparked a crisis on December 15 by moving to purge its top political rivals within hours of the ceremony marking the departure of the last U.S. forces.
What political pact? The half-assed efforts wrought by the US, or the Shiite-dominated power structure put in place by the Iranians eight months after the last US-led election failures.
Our troops have left Iraq because Prime Minister Maliki and his Da’wa party saw no compelling interest in our staying. Nor do Maliki and Da’wa see a compelling interest, at present, in securing the country against Iranian influence. This is because he and Da’wa are embarked on a project to consolidate power and permanently eliminate Baathism and former Baathists from public life, aims that our military presence tends to impede but that the Iranian regime and its Iraqi militant proxies often support.
Where to begin. Removing the Baathists was America’s goal in 2003, dumbass. Maliki spent his Saddam years in exile in Iran, and came to power in 2010 through Iranian influence. Of course he will seek closer ties with Iran. Why could anyone possibly be surprised by this?
Historians will puzzle over how a nine-year American military campaign resulted not in democracy, but in an Iraq led by a would-be strongman, riven by sectarianism and separatism, and increasingly aligned with America’s regional adversaries… Perhaps, in the end, this is what comes of having declared an end to a war that is not over.
I am speechless. Hooverman, read my book if you want answers. If you don’t like my version, try Tom Rick’s Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. America got exactly the Iraq we created. The problems began in 2003, because of 2003. Don’t try now to blame it on Obama.
While Barack “Blood on My Hands Ya’ll” Obama bullied his way through the United Nations, basically saying he was too busy ordering drone strikes with his new NSA-supplied iPhone app to meet with any world leaders, and making a speech demanding regime change Armageddon style in Syria, Russia’s bare chested leader… made… sense.
Putin said things like: “Violence only begets violence,” and that the international community should operate as a united front to soothe the tensions in the Mideast. Looking at how well things have worked out in Iraq, Libya and in Syria, Putin claimed that bloody regime change only fuels further unrest.
Putin also said that attempts to circumvent U.N.-led diplomatic efforts would prove destructive. “Such action is fraught with potential for destabilization and chaos. Life has recently given us proof that this is correct. It is time for us to draw lessons from what is happening.”
FYI: Estimate are that at least 30,000 people have been killed since the Syrian revolt began and hundreds of thousands have been displaced, many fleeing to neighboring countries such as Turkey and Jordan. Iraq took some 100,000 lives in its US-sponsored regime-change-a-poolza, and they still aren’t done counting heads (when they can be located) in Libya.
It is way whack ya’ll when Bond-villain in waiting Putin makes more sense than our Nobel Peace Prize winning president.
This article originally appeared on TomDispatch, HuffPo, Salon, the Nation and other sites on 9/11/12.
Here is what military briefers like to call BLUF, the Bottom Line Up Front: no one except John Kiriakou is being held accountable for America’s torture policy. And John Kiriakou didn’t torture anyone, he just blew the whistle on it.
In a Galaxy Far, Far Away
A long time ago, with mediocre grades and no athletic ability, I applied for a Rhodes Scholarship. I guess the Rhodes committee at my school needed practice, and I found myself undergoing a rigorous oral examination. Here was the final question they fired at me, probing my ability to think morally and justly: You are a soldier. Your prisoner has information that might save your life. The only way to obtain it is through torture. What do you do?
At that time, a million years ago in an America that no longer exists, my obvious answer was never to torture, never to lower oneself, never to sacrifice one’s humanity and soul, even if it meant death. My visceral reaction: to become a torturer was its own form of living death. (An undergrad today, after the “enhanced interrogation” Bush years and in the wake of 24, would probably detail specific techniques that should be employed.) My advisor later told me my answer was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise spectacularly unsuccessful interview.
It is now common knowledge that between 2001 and about 2007 the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) sanctioned acts of torture committed by members of the Central Intelligence Agency and others. The acts took place in secret prisons (“black sites”) against persons detained indefinitely without trial. They were described in detail and explicitly authorized in a series of secret torture memos drafted by John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, senior lawyers in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. (Office of Legal Counsel attorneys technically answer directly to the DOJ, which is supposed to be independent from the White House, but obviously was not in this case.) Not one of those men, or their Justice Department bosses, has been held accountable for their actions.
Some tortured prisoners were even killed by the CIA. Attorney General Eric Holder announced recently that no one would be held accountable for those murders either. “Based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths,” he said, “the Department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Jose Rodriguez, a senior CIA official, admitted destroying videotapes of potentially admissible evidence, showing the torture of captives by operatives of the U.S. government at a secret prison thought to be located at a Vietnam-War-era airbase in Thailand. He was not held accountable for deep-sixing this evidence, nor for his role in the torture of human beings.
John Kiriakou Alone
The one man in the whole archipelago of America’s secret horrors facing prosecution is former CIA agent John Kiriakou. Of the untold numbers of men and women involved in the whole nightmare show of those years, only one may go to jail.
And of course, he didn’t torture anyone.
The charges against Kiriakou allege that in answering questions from reporters about suspicions that the CIA tortured detainees in its custody, he violated the Espionage Act, once an obscure World War I-era law that aimed at punishing Americans who gave aid to the enemy. It was passed in 1917 and has been the subject of much judicial and Congressional doubt ever since. Kiriakou is one of six government whistleblowers who have been charged under the Act by the Obama administration. From 1917 until Obama came into office, only three people had ever charged in this way.
The Obama Justice Department claims the former CIA officer “disclosed classified information to journalists, including the name of a covert CIA officer and information revealing the role of another CIA employee in classified activities.”
The charges result from a CIA investigation. That investigation was triggered by a filing in January 2009 on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo that contained classified information the defense had not been given through government channels, and by the discovery in the spring of 2009 of photographs of alleged CIA employees among the legal materials of some detainees at Guantanamo. According to one description, Kiriakou gave several interviews about the CIA in 2008. Court documents charge that he provided names of covert Agency officials to a journalist, who allegedly in turn passed them on to a Guantanamo legal team. The team sought to have detainees identify specific CIA officials who participated in their renditions and torture. Kiriakou is accused of providing the identities of CIA officers that may have allowed names to be linked to photographs.
Many observers believe however that the real “offense” in the eyes of the Obama administration was quite different. In 2007, Kiriakou became a whistleblower. He went on record as the first (albeit by then, former) CIA official to confirm the use of waterboarding of al-Qaeda prisoners as an interrogation technique, and then to condemn it as torture. He specifically mentioned the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah in that secret prison in Thailand. Zubaydah was at the time believed to be an al-Qaeda leader, though more likely was at best a mid-level operative. Kiriakou also ran afoul of the CIA over efforts to clear for publication a book he had written about the Agency’s counterterrorism work. He maintains that his is instead a First Amendment case in which a whistleblower is being punished, that it is a selective prosecution to scare government insiders into silence when they see something wrong.
If Kiriakou had actually tortured someone himself, even to death, there is no possibility that he would be in trouble. John Kiriakou is 48. He is staring down a long tunnel at a potential sentence of up to 45 years in prison because in the national security state that rules the roost in Washington, talking out of turn about a crime has become the only possible crime.
Welcome to the Jungle
John Kiriakou and I share common attorneys through the Government Accountability Project, and I’ve had the chance to talk with him on any number of occasions. He is soft-spoken, thoughtful, and quick to laugh at a bad joke. When the subject turns to his case, and the way the government has treated him, however, things darken. His sentences get shorter and the quick smile disappears.
He understands the role his government has chosen for him: the head on a stick, the example, the message to everyone else involved in the horrors of post-9/11 America. Do the country’s dirty work, kidnap, kill, imprison, torture, and we’ll cover for you. Destroy the evidence of all that and we’ll reward you. But speak out, and expect to be punished.
Like so many of us who have served the U.S. government honorably only to have its full force turned against us for an act or acts of conscience, the pain comes in trying to reconcile the two images of the U.S. government in your head. It’s like trying to process the actions of an abusive father you still want to love.
One of Kiriakou’s representatives, attorney Jesselyn Radack, told me, “It is a miscarriage of justice that John Kiriakou is the only person indicted in relation to the Bush-era torture program. The historic import cannot be understated. If a crime as egregious as state-sponsored torture can go unpunished, we lose all moral standing to condemn other governments’ human rights violations. By ‘looking forward, not backward’ we have taken a giant leap into the past.”
One former CIA covert officer, who uses the pen name “Ishmael Jones,” lays out a potential defense for Kiriakou: “Witness after witness could explain to the jury that Mr. Kiriakou is being selectively prosecuted, that his leaks are nothing compared to leaks by Obama administration officials and senior CIA bureaucrats. Witness after witness could show the jury that for any secret material published by Mr. Kiriakou, the books of senior CIA bureaucrats contain many times as much. Former CIA chief George Tenet wrote a book in 2007, approved by CIA censors, that contains dozens of pieces of classified information — names and enough information to find names.”
If only it was really that easy.
For at least six years it was the policy of the United States of America to torture and abuse its enemies or, in some cases, simply suspected enemies. It has remained a U.S. policy, even under the Obama administration, to employ “extraordinary rendition” — that is, the sending of captured terror suspects to the jails of countries that are known for torture and abuse, an outsourcing of what we no longer want to do.
Techniques that the U.S. hanged men for at Nuremburg and in post-war Japan were employed and declared lawful. To embark on such a program with the oversight of the Bush administration, learned men and women had to have long discussions, with staffers running in and out of rooms with snippets of research to buttress the justifications being so laboriously developed. The CIA undoubtedly used some cumbersome bureaucratic process to hire contractors for its torture staff. The old manuals needed to be updated, psychiatrists consulted, military survival experts interviewed, training classes set up.
Videotapes were made of the torture sessions and no doubt DVDs full of real horror were reviewed back at headquarters. Torture techniques were even reportedly demonstrated to top officials inside the White House. Individual torturers who were considered particularly effective were no doubt identified, probably rewarded, and sent on to new secret sites to harm more people.
America just didn’t wake up one day and start slapping around some Islamic punk. These were not the torture equivalents of rogue cops. A system, a mechanism, was created. That we now can only speculate about many of the details involved and the extent of all this is a tribute to the thousands who continue to remain silent about what they did, saw, heard about, or were associated with. Many of them work now at the same organizations, remaining a part of the same contracting firms, the CIA, and the military. Our torturers.
What is it that allows all those people to remain silent? How many are simply scared, watching what is happening to John Kiriakou and thinking: not me, I’m not sticking my neck out to see it get chopped off. They’re almost forgivable, even if they are placing their own self-interest above that of their country. But what about the others, the ones who remain silent about what they did or saw or aided and abetted in some fashion because they still think it was the right thing to do? The ones who will do it again when another frightened president asks them to? Or even the ones who enjoyed doing it?
The same Department of Justice that is hunting down the one man who spoke against torture from the inside still maintains a special unit, 60 years after the end of WWII, dedicated to hunting down the last few at-large Nazis. They do that under the rubric of “never again.” The truth is that same team needs to be turned loose on our national security state. Otherwise, until we have a full accounting of what was done in our names by our government, the pieces are all in place for it to happen again. There, if you want to know, is the real horror.
[Note to Readers: What’s next for Kiriakou? The District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia will begin Classified Information Procedures Act hearings in his case on September 12. These hearings, which are closed to the public, will last until October 30 and will determine what classified information will be permitted during trial. Kiriakou has pled "not guilty" to all charges and is preparing to go to trial on November 26.]
Your president said just a few days ago, following the deaths in Libya, “the United States of America will never retreat from the world.”
Now of course since then, the US Embassy in Libya announced its consular services closure through Saturday, September 29. The US Consulate in Benghazi has been burnt out and is thus closed.
US Mission Pakistan announced the temporary suspension of consular services in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi on September 17-19. U.S. government employees can now undertake essential travel only, including within the cities of Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar, due to possible demonstrations moving along major routes.
US Embassy Tunisia announced that the embassy will be closed to public access on September 17, 2012. All dependents and non-essential State Department personnel have been evacuated back to the US.
US Embassy Sudan announced that the embassy will be closed to public access. All dependents and non-essential State Department personnel have been evacuated back to the US.
US Mission India announced that due to planned demonstrations in New Delhi and Kolkata on September 18, 2012, the American Center including the library and USIEF in the two cities will be closed. All dependents and non-essential State Department personnel have been evacuated.
US Embassy Kabul is closed for routine services.
Even the US Consulate in Amsterdam closed to the public for a day.
In many other countries, the US Embassy is advising Americans to avoid, well, the US Embassy, as it will be the target of demonstrations that could get dangerously out of hand.
I don’t doubt the prudence of closing these embassies and consulates to the public, or withdrawing dependents and non-essential personnel. Safety matters and lives are important.
I just wish the president would stop saying stupid crap like “America will never retreat from the world” when it is butt obvious that we have to.
BONUS: US bails out GM with a gazillion tax dollars, then files complaint with WTO over China subsidizing its auto parts industry.
BONUS BONUS BONUS: If you do a Google search for “Susan Rice Libya” but mistype it as “Susan Rice Labya” and Google auto-corrects that to “Susan Rice Labia”, for the love of God and all things sacred don’t look at the image results.
Adnan Latif, a Yemeni, spent more than a decade at Guantanamo, where he repeatedly went on hunger strikes and once slashed his wrist and hurled the blood at his visiting lawyer.
The Pakistanis captured him near the border in late 2001 and he was among the first prisoners sold to the US and sent to Guantanamo. He was accused of training with the Taliban in Afghanistan but he was never charged and the military said there were no plans to ever prosecute him. At one point, military records show, Latif was cleared for release. But the U.S. has ceased returning any prisoners to Yemen because its government is considered ill-equipped to prevent former militants from resuming previous activities. Of course, it is unclear that Latif was a militant, or that after being driven insane in Guantanamo he posed any threat to anyone but himself.
Adnan Latif died of Guantanamo, the ninth prisoner to die in U.S. custody there. There are about 167 men left in Gitmo.
On August 1, 2007, Obama said that “As president I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions.”
So, he lied.
The fact that Latif was a Yemeni of course had nothing to do with the anti-American fervor in his home country. Those folks were upset over a bad movie.
Obama, who was elected in 2008 in part based on a campaign promise to close Guantanamo, lied. There is no plan to close the prison down, because the US has no plan for the 167 walking dead there. The plan seems to be to allow time and depression and deprivation and despair to kill them off one by one because while the President has signed their death sentences as clearly as he did bin Laden’s, he lacks the balls to carry it out. Better to let them whither away, “natural causes.” I guess he felt there was no political bragging rights in killing off Gitmo prisoners the way Obama made an orgy scene out of bin Laden’s death at the DNC.
So Mr. President, time to man up. Take five minutes out of your politicized mourning and make this decision.
Kill them all, but do it quickly. Send a SEAL team down there for target practice, or set dogs loose on them, or torture them to death on Pay-Per-View. Kill them all, but do it with our eyes open so the world can see clearly who we now are.
I was interviewed last night by BBC Radio regarding the sad news that an Iraqi court sentenced fugitive former Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi to death for his involvement in the killing of two people.
The news is sad not because Hashimi is likely innocent; almost all of the Iraqi leaders have blood on their hands (anybody think Sadr hasn’t whacked a couple of guys in his time?) The sad side is that this move represent a clear marker point for when historians will acknowledge the unambiguous and utter failure of the US to establish the rule of law in Iraq despite nine years of playing at it. Prime Minister Maliki began consolidating his power literally within hours of the last US troops leaving Iraq and has never slowed down. Announcing his government’s intent to “legally” kill off his Sunni opponent is simply another step beyond hope for a peaceful solution in Iraq. Oh, and some 92 people were killed across the country this same day by various suicide bombers and what have you. As best anyone knows, Hashimi is hiding out in Turkey waiting for the Apocalypse.
And just to make sure it remains a valid player in the rough and tumble world of Iraqi politics, on the day of Hashimi’s death sentence, and following the killings of 92 Iraqis, the US Embassy in Baghdad released this Tweet:
The other news from Iraq involves Syria.
The New York Times dutifully tells us that Iran is shipping military equipment to Syria over Iraqi airspace in a new effort to bolster the embattled government of President Assad of Syria. The Obama administration is pressing Iraq to shut down the air corridor, raising the issue with Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq. This has all been going on for some time now, with the US making its pleas quietly (“soft power”) but Obama, by going public, imagines he is turning up the heat.
Why, this is so important that Joe Biden is in charge. Uncle Joe discussed the Syrian crisis in a phone call with Maliki in mid-August. The White House has declined to disclose details, but an American official who would not speak on the record told the NYT that Biden had “registered his concerns” over the flights.
Ooooooooh you’re in trouble now. We’ve “registered our concerns.” Watch out, next we’ll “view you with increasing concern.”
That yawning sound you hear is from Baghdad. The Iraqis in general and PM Malaki in particular could care less what America thinks. Might have something to do with those nine years of failed occupation and reconstruction that turned his country into a crappy version of a used car junk yard, but what do I know.
So yes, yes, another round in the US-Iran proxy war. I wrote about this w-a-y back in November 2011.
The US is only now starting to publicly admit one of the many costs of losing the Iraq war, an empowered Iran bordered by at best a passive Iraq, more likely an allied Iraq. Never one to consider secondary or tertiary effects of failed empire, the US now cannot back away. Whatever forms of quiet persuasion the US thought would be effective in separating Maliki from his Iranian support have clearly failed, hence the (first?) public denunciations. What’s left to lose?
Once again the US kicked over another MidEast ant hill (Syria) without any clear idea what the end game would be. Sorry Syrian peoples! Iran has pushed into the gap, its efforts made easier with Iraq allowing transshipment of arms. Of course the US is only publicly talking about overflights, but there is an awful lot of Iranian truck traffic into Iraq and the Iraq-Syrian border is wholly porous.
I think we are seeing the first public admittance of failure in Iraq, albeit with an anti-Iran twist. But as I wrote in November 2011, this is nothing new. It just stinks more now for the extra time out in the sunlight.
The always-amusing show Boiling Frogs offers up an interview with me in which I discuss the Obama administration’s unprecedented persecution and prosecution of government whistleblowers, and how he has already charged more people under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information than all past presidencies combined.
I also talk about the retaliation I have experienced as the only Foreign Service Officer ever to have written a critical book about the State Department while still employed there, including the suspension of my security clearance, demotion, and being placed under surveillance at work.
Hear a sample for free on Boiling Frogs!
Never mind the high-fives at the DNC, Kelley Vlahos depresses us all with a piece reviewing the gains al Qaeda has made in Iraq as a result of the failed US invasion, alongside the geopolitical wins for Iran in Iraq as a result of the failed US invasion.
Al Qaeda, based out of Iraq and taking advantage of the Sponge Bobian porous border, continues to play a role in the Syrian civil war.
Neither presidential candidate has made a single mention of Iraq. They behave like those 4,486 dead Americans, the 100,000 or more dead Iraqis, the $44 billion in reconstruction funds wasted, the $3 trillion cost of the war that crippled our economy, never… even… happened.
As for the US’ desire for a new war in the Middle East, whether intervening in Syria or striking Iran, please do remember that every time you repeat a mistake of history, the price goes up.
Finally, a challenge: I challenge any journalist covering either campaign to ask Barack or Mitt a single question about Iraq sometime between now and November.
Some images remain like scars on my memory. One of the last things I saw in Iraq, where I spent a year with the Department of State helping squander some of the $44 billion American taxpayers put up to “reconstruct” that country, were horses living semi-wild among the muck and garbage of Baghdad. Those horses had once raced for Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein and seven years after their “liberation” by the American invasion of 2003, they were still wandering that unraveling, unreconstructed urban landscape looking, like many other Iraqis, for food.
I flew home that same day, a too-rapid change of worlds, to a country in which the schools of my hometown in Ohio could not afford to pay teachers a decent wage. Once great cities were rotting away as certainly as if they were in Iraq, where those horses were scrabbling to get by. To this day I’m left pondering these questions: Why has the United States spent so much money and time so disastrously trying to rebuild occupied nations abroad, while allowing its own infrastructure to crumble untended? Why do we even think of that as “policy”?
The Good War(s)
With the success of the post-World War II Marshall Plan in Europe and the economic miracle in Japan, rebuilding other countries gained a certain imperial patina. Both took relatively little money and time. The reconstruction of Germany and Japan cost only $32 billion and $17 billion, respectively (in 2010 dollars), in large part because both had been highly educated, industrialized powerhouses before their wartime destruction.
In 2003, still tumescent with post-9/11 rage and dreams of global glory, anything seemed possible to the men and women of the Bush administration, who would cite the German and Japanese examples of just what the U.S. could do as they entered Iraq. Following what seemed like a swift military defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the plan had gotten big and gone long. It was nothing less than this: remake the entire Middle East in the American image.
The country’s mighty military was to sweep through Iraq, then Syria — Marines I knew told me personally that they were issued maps of Syria in March 2003 — then Iran, quickly set up military bases and garrisons (“enduring camps”), create Washington-friendly governments, pour in American technology and culture, bring in the crony corporations under the rubric of “reconstruction,” privatize everything, stand up new proxy militaries under the rubric of regime change, and forever transform the region.
Once upon a time, the defeated Japanese and Germans had become allies and, better yet, consumers. Now, almost six decades later, no one in the Bush administration had a doubt the same would happen in Iraq — and the Middle East would follow suit at minimal cost, creating the greatest leap forward for a Pax Americana since the Spanish-American War. Added bonus: a “sea of oil.”
By 2010, when I wrote We Meant Well, the possibility that some level of success might be close by still occupied some official minds. American boots remained on the ground in Mesopotamia and looked likely to stay on for years in at least a few of the massive permanent bases we had built there. A sort-of elected government was more or less in place, and in the press interviews I did in response to my book I was regularly required to defend its thesis that reconstruction in Iraq had failed almost totally, and that the same process was going down in Afghanistan as well. It was sometimes a tough sell. After all, how could we truly fail, being plucky Americans, historically equipped like no one else with plenty of bootstraps and know-how and gumption.
Failure Every Which Way
Now, it’s definitive. Reconstruction in Iraq has failed. Dismally. The U.S. couldn’t even restore the country’s electric system or give a majority of its people potable water. The accounts of that failure still pour out. Choose your favorites; here are just two recent ones of mine: a report that a $200 million year-long State Department police training program had shown no results (none, nada), in part because the Iraqis had been completely uninterested in it; and a long official list of major reconstruction projects uncompleted, with billions of taxpayer dollars wasted, all carefully catalogued by the now-defunct Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction.
Failure, in fact, was the name of the game when it came to the American mission. Just tote up the score: the Iraqi government is moving ever closer to Iran; the U.S. occupation, which built 505 bases in the country with the thought that U.S. troops might remain garrisoned there for generations, ended without a single base in U.S. hands (none, nada); no gushers of cheap oil leapt USA-wards nor did profits from the above leap into the coffers of American oil companies; and there was a net loss of U.S. prestige and influence across the region. And that would just be the beginning of the list from hell.
Even former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush’s accomplice in the invasion of Iraq and the woman after whom Chevron Oil once named a double-hulled oil tanker, now admits that “we didn’t understand how broken Iraq was as a society and we tried to rebuild Iraq from Baghdad out. And we really should have rebuilt Iraq outside Baghdad in. We should have worked with the tribes. We should have worked with the provinces. We should have had smaller projects than the large ones that we had.”
Strange that when I do media interviews now, only two years later, nobody even thinks to ask “Did we succeed in Iraq?” or “Will reconstruction pay off?” The question du jour has finally shifted to: “Why did we fail?”
Corruption and Vanity Projects
Why exactly did we fail to reconstruct Iraq, and why are we failing in Afghanistan? (Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s new book, Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan, is the Afghan version of We Meant Well in detailing the catastrophic outcomes of reconstruction in that never-ending war.) No doubt more books, and not a few theses, will be written, noting the massive corruption, the overkill of pouring billions of dollars into poor, occupied countries, the disorganization behind the effort, the pointlessly self-serving vanity projects — Internet classes in towns without electricity — and the abysmal quality of the greedy contractors, on-the-make corporations, and lame bureaucrats sent in to do the job. Serious lessons will be extracted, inevitable comparisons will be made to post-World War II Germany and Japan and think tanks will sprout like mushrooms on rotted wood to try to map out how to do it better next time.
For the near term a reluctant acknowledgment of our failing economy may keep the U.S. out of major reconstruction efforts abroad. Robert Gates, who succeeded Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, told a group of West Point cadets that “any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” Still, the desire to remake other countries — could Syria be next? — hovers in the background of American foreign policy, just waiting for the chance to rise again.
The standard theme of counterinsurgency theory (COIN in the trade) is “terrorists take advantage of hunger and poverty.” Foreigners building stuff is, of course, the answer, if only we could get it right. Such is part of the justification for the onrushing militarization of Africa, which carries with it a reconstruction component (even if on a desperately reduced scale, thanks to the tightening finances of the moment). There are few historical examples of COIN ever really working and many in which failed, but the idea is too attractive and its support industry too well established for it to simply go away.
Why Reconstruction at All?
Then there’s that other why question: Why, in our zeal to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, we never considered spending a fraction as much to rebuild Detroit, New Orleans, or Cleveland (projects that, unlike Afghanistan and Iraq in their heyday, have never enjoyed widespread support)?
I use the term “reconstruction” for convenience, but it is important to understand what the U.S. means by it. Once corruption and pure greed are strained out (most projects in Iraq and Afghanistan were simply vehicles for contractors to suck money out of the government) and the vanity projects crossed off (building things and naming them after the sitting ambassador was a popular suck-up technique), what’s left is our desire for them to be like us.
While, dollar-for-dollar, corruption and contractor greed account for almost all the money wasted, the idea that, deep down, we want the people we conquer to become mini-versions of us accounts for the rest of the drive and motivation. We want them to consume things as a lifestyle, shit in nice sewer systems, and send everyone to schools where, thanks to the new textbooks we’ve sponsored, they’ll learn more about… us. This explains why we funded pastry-making classes to try to turn Iraqi women into small business owners, why an obsession with holding mediagenic elections in Iraq smothered nascent grassroots democracy (remember all those images of purple fingers?), why displacing family farms by introducing large-scale agribusiness seemed so important, and so forth.
By becoming versions of us, the people we conquer would, in our eyes, redeem themselves from being our enemies. Like a perverse view of rape, reconstruction, if it ever worked, would almost make it appear that they wanted to be violated by the American military so as to benefit from being rebuilt in the American fashion. From Washington’s point of view, there’s really no question here, no why at all. Who, after all, wouldn’t want to be us? And that, in turn, justifies everything. Think of it as an up-to-date take on that classic line from Vietnam, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”
Americans have always worn their imperialism uncomfortably, even when pursuing it robustly. The British were happy to carve out little green enclaves of home, and to tame — brutally, if necessary — the people they conquered. The United States is different, maybe because of the lip service politicians need to pay to our founding ideals of democracy and free choice.
We’re not content merely to tame people; we want to change them, too, and make them want it as well. Fundamentalist Muslims will send their girls to school, a society dominated by religion will embrace consumerism, and age-old tribal leaders will give way to (U.S.-friendly, media-savvy) politicians, even while we grow our archipelago of military bases and our corporations make out like bandits. It’s our way of reconciling Freedom and Empire, the American Way. Only problem: it doesn’t work. Not for a second. Not at all. Nothing. Nada.
From this point of view, of course, not spending “reconstruction” money at home makes perfect sense. Detroit, et al., already are us. Free choice is in play, as citizens of those cities “choose” not to get an education and choose to allow their infrastructure to fade. From an imperial point of view it makes perfectly good sense. Erecting a coed schoolhouse in Kandahar or a new sewer system in Fallujah offers so many more possibilities to enhance empire. The home front is old news, with growth limited only to reviving a status quo at huge cost.
Once it becomes clear that reconstruction is for us, not them, its purpose to enrich our contractors, fuel our bureaucrats’ vanity, and most importantly, justify our imperial actions, why it fails becomes a no-brainer. It has to fail (not that we really care). They don’t want to be us. They have been them for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. They may welcome medicines that will save their children’s lives, but hate the culture that the U.S. slipstreams in like an inoculation with them.
Failure in the strict sense of the word is not necessarily a problem for Washington. Our purpose is served by the appearance of reconstructing. We need to tell ourselves we tried, and those (dark, dirty, uneducated, Muslim, terrorist, heathen) people we just ran over with a tank actually screwed this up. And OK, sure, if a few well-connected contractors profit along the way, more power to them.
Here’s the bottom line: a nation spends its resources on what’s important to it. Failed reconstruction elsewhere turns out to be more important to us than successful reconstruction here at home. Such is the American way of empire.
If only the people who ordered torture as a policy of the once magnificent United States had the stones to actually get their own hands dirty, maybe– maybe– things would be different? Good God, what have we become?
(The image above floated to me from the internet. Anyone with Photoshop skills who wants to redo this with Obama and his torturous henchmen, because the use of torture by the Government of the United States continues, and because Obama has refused to investigate the horrific actions of his predecessor, is welcome to do so and send it to me to run in this space. I do not in any way let Obama off the hook. There is plenty of blood on the hands of those now in power.)
Sorry Michelle, the contents of the pantry are now classified. I can however leak to you that I bought those garlic pickles you love, on sale, validating that I am indeed a great husband.
Um, OK, so we don’t need pickles…
Michele, I’m afraid whether we do or do not have pickles remains classified. I don’t want to invoke the Espionage Act again, but…
So, well, um, Barack, Ok, do we need milk? I get it about no pickles.
(WHOOSH sound of Hellfire missile.)
I warned you about discussing pickles.
If you missed my article on Obama’s Ultimate No-Fly List, targeted drone killings, and how they relate to his leaking of good news, prosecuting those who disclose bad news strategy, it is now available on a variety of outlets:
(If the video clip isn’t embedded above, see it here)
If you placed every article on the US’ war of terror end-to-end, it would be a very long string of bullshit. So, it is important when somebody– a Yemeni named Ibrahim Mothana in this case– just shows up and tells you the whole story in a few words. Mothana wrote in the New York Times:
Dear Obama, when a US drone missile kills a child in Yemen, the father will go to war with you, guaranteed. Nothing to do with Al Qaeda… Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair.
Anti-Americanism is far less prevalent in Yemen than in Pakistan. But rather than winning the hearts and minds of Yemeni civilians, America is alienating them by killing their relatives and friends. Indeed, the drone program is leading to the Talibanization of vast tribal areas and the radicalization of people who could otherwise be America’s allies in the fight against terrorism in Yemen.
Certainly, there may be short-term military gains from killing militant leaders in these strikes, but they are minuscule compared with the long-term damage the drone program is causing. A new generation of leaders is spontaneously emerging in furious retaliation to attacks on their territories and tribes.
This is why al Qaeda is much stronger in Yemen today than it was a few years ago.
Only a long-term approach based on building relations with local communities, dealing with the economic and social drivers of extremism, and cooperating with tribes and Yemen’s army will eradicate the threat of Islamic radicalism.
Best to read the entire article now online.
Michele Obama, if you are reading this, please clip out the article above and leave it on Barack’s pillow, thanks.
(This article originally appeared on TomDispatch, on June 12, 2012)
White is black and down is up. Leaks that favor the president are shoveled out regardless of national security, while national security is twisted to pummel leaks that do not favor him. Watching their boss, bureaucrats act on their own, freelancing the punishment of whistleblowers, knowing their retaliatory actions will be condoned. The United States rains Hellfire missiles down on its enemies, with the president alone sitting in judgment of who will live and who will die by his hand.
The issue of whether the White House leaked information to support the president’s reelection while crushing whistleblower leaks it disfavors shouldn’t be seen as just another O’Reilly v. Maddow sporting event. What lies at the nexus of Obama’s targeted drone killings, his self-serving leaks, and his aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers is a president who believes himself above the law, and seems convinced that he alone has a preternatural ability to determine right from wrong.
If the President Does It, It’s Legal?
In May 2011 the Pentagon declared that another country’s cyber-attacks — computer sabotage, against the U.S. — could be considered an “act of war.” Then, one morning in 2012 readers of the New York Times woke up to headlines announcing that the Stuxnet worm had been dispatched into Iran’s nuclear facilities to shut down its computer-controlled centrifuges (essential to nuclear fuel processing) by order of President Obama and executed by the US and Israel. The info had been leaked to the paper by anonymous “high ranking officials.” In other words, the speculation about Stuxnet was at an end. It was an act of war ordered by the president alone.
Similarly, after years of now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t stories about drone attacks across the Greater Middle East launched “presumably” by the U.S., the Times (again) carried a remarkable story not only confirming the drone killings — a technology that had morphed into a policy — but noting that Obama himself was the Great Bombardier. He had, the newspaper reported, designated himself the final decision-maker on an eyes-only “kill list” of human beings the United States wanted to destroy. It was, in short, the ultimate no-fly list. Clearly, this, too, had previously been classified top-secret material, and yet its disclosure was attributed directly to White House sources.
Now, everyone is upset about the leaks. It’s already a real Red v. Blue donnybrook in an election year. Senate Democrats blasted the cyberattack-on-Iran leaks and warned that the disclosure of Obama’s order could put the country at risk of a retaliatory strike. Republican Old Man and former presidential candidate Senator John McCain charged Obama with violating national security, saying the leaks are “an attempt to further the president’s political ambitions for the sake of his re-election at the expense of our national security.” He called for an investigation. The FBI, no doubt thrilled to be caught in the middle of all this, dutifully opened a leak investigation, and senators on both sides of the aisle are planning an inquiry of their own.
The high-level leaks on Stuxnet and the kill list, which have finally created such a fuss, actually follow no less self-serving leaked details from last year’s bin Laden raid in Pakistan. A flurry of White House officials vied with each other then to expose ever more examples of Obama’s commander-in-chief role in the operation, to the point where Seal Team 6 seemed almost irrelevant in the face of the president’s personal actions. There were also “high five” congratulatory leaks over the latest failed underwear bomber from Yemen.
On the Other Side of the Mirror
The Obama administration has been cruelly and unusually punishing in its use of the 1917 Espionage Act to stomp on governmental leakers, truth-tellers, and whistleblowers whose disclosures do not support the president’s political ambitions. As Thomas Drake, himself a victim of Obama’s crusade against whistleblowers, told me, “This makes a mockery of the entire classification system, where political gain is now incentive for leaking and whistleblowing is incentive for prosecution.”
The Obama administration has charged more people (six) under the Espionage Act for the alleged mishandling of classified information than all past presidencies combined. (Prior to Obama, there were only three such cases in American history, one being Daniel Ellsberg, of Nixon-era Pentagon Papers fame.) The most recent Espionage Act case is that of former CIA officer John Kiriakou, charged for allegedly disclosing classified information to journalists about the horrors of waterboarding. Meanwhile, his evil twin, former CIA officer Jose Rodriguez, has a best-selling book out bragging about the success of waterboarding and his own hand in the dirty work.
Obama’s zeal in silencing leaks that don’t make him look like a superhero extends beyond the deployment of the Espionage Act into a complex legal tangle of retaliatory practices, life-destroying threats, on-the-job harassment, and firings. Lots of firings.
Upside Down Is Right Side Up
In ever-more polarized Washington, the story of Obama’s self-serving leaks is quickly devolving into a Democratic/Republican, he-said/she-said contest — and it’s only bound to spiral downward from there until the story is reduced to nothing but partisan bickering over who can get the most advantage from those leaks.
But don’t think that’s all that’s at stake in Washington. In the ever-skittish Federal bureaucracy, among the millions of men and women who actually are the government, the message has been much more specific, and it’s no political football game. Even more frightened and edgy than usual in the post-9/11 era, bureaucrats take their cues from the top. So expect more leaks that empower the Obama Superman myth and more retaliatory, freelance acts of harassment against genuine whistleblowers. After all, it’s all been sanctioned.
Having once been one of those frightened bureaucrats at the State Department, I now must include myself among the victims of the freelancing attacks on whistleblowers. The Department of State is in the process of firing me, seeking to make me the first person to suffer any sanction over the WikiLeaks disclosures. It’s been a backdoor way of retaliating for my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, which was an honest account of State’s waste and mismanagement in the “reconstruction” of Iraq.
Unlike Bradley Manning, on trial under the Espionage Act for allegedly dumping a quarter million classified documents onto the Internet, my fireable offense was linking to just one of them at my blog. Just a link, mind you, not a leak. The document, still unconfirmed as authentic by the State Department even as they seek to force me out over it, is on the web and available to anyone with a mouse, from Kabul to Tehran to Des Moines.
That document was discussed in several newspaper articles before — and after — I “disclosed” it with my link. It was a document that admittedly did make the U.S. government look dumb, and that was evidently reason enough for the State Department to suspend my security clearance and seek to fire me, even after the Department of Justice declined to prosecute. Go ahead and click on a link yourself and commit what State now considers a crime.
This is the sort of thing that happens when reality is suspended in Washington, when the drones take flight, the worms turn, and the president decides that he, and he alone, is the man.
What Happens When Everything Is Classified?
What happens when the very definitions that control life in government become so topsy-turvy that 1984 starts looking more like a handbook than a novel?
I lived in Taiwan when that island was still under martial law. Things that everyone could see, like demonstrations, never appeared in the press. It was illegal to photograph public buildings or bridges, even when you could buy postcards nearby of some of the same structures. And that was a way of life, just not one you’d want.
If that strikes you as familiar in America today, it should. When everything is classified — according to the Information Security Oversight Office, in 2011 American officials classified more than 92,000,000 documents — any attempt to report on anything threatens to become a crime; unless, of course, the White House decides to leak to you in return for a soft story about a heroic war president.
For everyone else working to create Jefferson’s informed citizenry, it works very differently, even at the paper that carried the administration’s happy leaks. Times reporter Jim Risen is now the subject of subpoenas by the Obama administration demanding he name his sources as part of the Espionage Act case against former CIA officer Jeffery Sterling. Risen was a journalist doing his job, and he raises this perfectly reasonable, but increasingly outmoded question: “Can you have a democracy without aggressive investigative journalism? I don’t believe you can, and that’s why I’m fighting.” Meanwhile, the government calls him their only witness to a leaker’s crime.
One thing at stake in the case is the requirement that journalists aggressively pursue information important to the public, even when that means heading into classified territory. If almost everything of importance (and much that isn’t) is classified, then journalism as we know it may become… well, illegal.
Sometimes in present-day Washington there’s simply too much irony for comfort: the story that got Risen in trouble was about an earlier CIA attempt to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, a plot which failed where Stuxnet sort of succeeded.
James Spione, an Academy Award-nominated director who is currently working on a documentary about whistleblowers in the age of Obama, summed things up to me recently this way: “Beneath the partisan grandstanding, I think what is most troubling about this situation is the sense that the law is being selectively applied. On the one hand, we have the Justice Department twisting the Espionage Act into knots in an attempt to crack down on leaks from ‘little guys’ like Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou, while at the same time an extraordinarily detailed window into covert drone policy magically appears in the Times.
Here is the simple reality of our moment: the president has definitively declared himself (and his advisors and those who carry out his orders) above the law, both statutory and moral. It is now for him and him alone to decide who will live and who will die under the drones, for him to reward media outlets with inside information or smack journalists who disturb him and his colleagues with subpoenas, and worst of all, to decide all by himself what is right and what is wrong.
The image Obama holds of himself, and the one his people have been aggressively promoting recently is of a righteous killer, ready to bloody his hands to smite “terrorists” and whistleblowers equally. If that sounds Biblical, it should. If it sounds full of unnerving pride, it should as well. If this is where a nation of laws ends up, you should be afraid.
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