• Captain Phillips Goes to Libya

    March 19, 2014 // 7 Comments »

    So here’s today’s puzzler: when is it cool to take over a ship in international waters and when is it piracy?

    Captain Phillips Goes to Libya

    A major American movie this year was Captain Phillips. It told the story of a brave ship captain (played by American Hero Tom Hanks) and the brave Navy SEALS who recaptured his ship off the coast of Somalia after it was hijacked by pirates who boarded it in international waters.

    For more than a week, an oil tanker from somewhere floated in the Mediterranean. The tanker at one point flew a North Korean flag, but even the North Koreans have disavowed any connection. The Libyan government announced they were going to bomb the tanker “into scrap” but somehow that did not happen and the ship put to sea.

    On March 17, U.S. Navy SEALS boarded the ship in international waters and seized it. Supposedly no shots were fired, and American Sailors took control of the ship and are sailing it back to Libya. No word on what happened to the “pirates” aboard. The “pirates” were “Libyan rebels” who were seeking “the black market.”

    The funny part is that the pirates/rebels, under their militia leader Ibrahim Jadran, had been recruited by the Libyan government to guard crucial oil ports. But eight months ago, they instead seized them, blocked some oil exports, and demanded shared revenues for their eastern region where most of the oil originates. Jadran, for his part, says the Libyan government is corrupt and unfit to rule.

    So Why the U.S.?

    Why did the U.S. do this? Grab a ship full of oil in international waters?

    The oil belongs “to the Libyan National Oil Company and its joint venture partners,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki explained. Those partners included some U.S. companies, which one guesses is the connection to the United States here. Supposedly the Libyan and for some reason the Cypriote governments requested the U.S. to do all this out in international waters.

    Psaki also said “Any oil sales without authorization from these parties places purchasers at risk of exposure to civil liability, penalties and other possible sanctions.” This would presumably involve someone suing the pirates for something. The imagine of lawyers parachuting in with the SEAL team is amusing.

    Also, per the New York Times, “the American intervention is a salvation to the fragile transitional government in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, which would have faced the loss of its main source of revenue and its sole source of political power if renegade militias succeeded in selling Libya’s oil.”

    Libya has seen its oil exports shrink to just 12.5 percent of its output since U.S. led bombing campaign that led to the death of longtime leader Qaddafi. Oops.

    Iraq Redux

    So, as a status check, here we are in late Winter 2014: shilling for American oil companies with the SEALS while trying to prop up a crappy U.S. puppet government in a country the U.S. helped turn from stability to chaos. Now, this is payback, or more like rent due: after making the same promises for Iraq and seeing those fall through, the USG is now showing it is indeed a government of its word.

    P.S. Denizens of the internet: I get it that the Somali’s boarded Captain Phillips’ ship to steal it, and the SEALS boarded the Libyan tanker to steal it back. The point here is to examine the use of military power for the sleaziest of purposes while trying to bathe it all in the perfume of truth, righteousness and the American Way.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Libya, Military

    How Many More Will We Kill Mr. President?

    September 18, 2012 // 6 Comments »

    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.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Libya, Military

    We must be clear-eyed, even in our grief.

    September 15, 2012 // 10 Comments »

    Hillary Clinton said regarding the tragic deaths in Libya “We must be clear-eyed, even in our grief” and so even in our sadness over the loss of lives it is important to not stop thinking.

    The anti-US attacks across the Middle East have spread– American School burned in Tunis, violence in Yemen and Egypt, Sudan, maybe more between the time I write this and when you read it. It is at the same time critical that the American government face the reality of its policies in the Middle East (more about that here.)

    It is in this same spirit that it is time for Clinton and others to stop, just please stop, prevaricating and playing with words in the teeth of this tragedy. It does not help and it makes it worse.

    SEAL Team

    Many wondered why the media was reporting from early this week the deaths of four Americans at the Benghazi Consulate, while Clinton continuously only mentioned two (Ambassador Stevens and computer person Sean Smith). Well, that’s because she did not want to tell us that the other two who lost their lives were “former” Navy SEALS now acting as State Department “contractors.” Even Friday, when Clinton finally acknowledged the SEALS’ deaths following widespread press reports, she only mentioned that one’s role was as security for the Ambassador.

    Clinton pointedly did not mention what the other SEAL was doing in Libya.

    That is because the other deceased man was in Libya on an intel mission, search and destroy. The SEAL told ABC News that he was in Libya in the field tracking down and blowing up so-called MANPADS, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. The US saw its way to allowing those weapons to be used against Qaddafi and now wants to take them back so they are not used against us.

    And, with respect to the deceased and Mrs. Clinton, I would look hard at the depiction of the man as a “former” SEAL and thus a “contractor.” Send such a man into Libya as a SEAL and he is a foreign soldier at war with a sovereign nation supposedly our friend. Have him “quit” the Navy and be hired for the same duties as a “contractor” and on paper it is just the same as if he was the Consulate janitor. Just the same I guess if you are a Washington lawyer, but to the people on the ground the cat can’t change stripes that fast.

    Purpose of the Attacks?

    There’s more. The State Department has been quick to say the attacks were carried out by, Clinton’s words, “by a small and savage group– not the people or Government of Libya.” The U.S. quickly promoted the meme that the attackers were terrorists, or angry about 9/11, or about that damn film. They were out to just kill Americans in their jihadi rage and the attack was not planned. The US says no Libyan government collusion.

    However, the UK’s Independent tells a different story, noting that the Consulate attackers made off with documents listing names of Libyans who are working with Americans, and documents related to oil contracts. This strongly suggests the attack itself may have been a diversion to steal these documents and the Ambassador’s death, in U.S. terms, merely collateral damage.

    (And for those offended by my referring to the death of a US Ambassador as collateral damage, imagine how the families of America’s drone death mistakes might feel, and then shut the hell up.)

    As for the unorganized nature of the attack, the Independent also tells us that concurrent with the Consulate attack, the Consulate safe house, located elsewhere in the city, came under accurate, aimed mortar fire. This was no unplanned attack. The newspaper also said according to “senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert.” CNN confirms the warning to Cairo.

    Why They Hate Us

    Libya closed its air space over Benghazi airport because of heavy anti-aircraft fire by Islamists aiming at U.S. reconnaissance drones flying over the city. US Marines have been sent to Tripoli and Sanna to reinforce the embassies there. US warships have moved closer to the Libyan coast line, and another American president is once again threatening “justice.” We all know that American justice in this regard means killing.

    Meanwhile, ignoring the complexity of the situation in Libya and America’s rough relationship there, the CIA chief quickly wraps it all up by blaming who else, al Qaeda again. Sure, whatever, blame the freaking Joker.

    And what does Clinton say for the United States? She said as part of her eulogy for the deceased:

    I am enormously proud of the men and women who risk their lives every day in the service of our country and our values. They help make the United States the greatest force for peace, progress, and human dignity that the world has ever known.

    At this tragic time, with America prevaricating on what really happened in Libya, with mobs across the world seeking to burn American embassies, really– really, does anyone outside of Clinton’s own staff truly believe that the “United States the greatest force for peace, progress, and human dignity that the world has ever known”?

    And because they don’t, and because they are right not to believe it, the violence will continue unless and until America changes its words and deeds. I am not saying it is right, but I am saying it is what will happen.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Libya, Military

    Diplopundit: Sealed with a Kiss

    February 9, 2012 // 3 Comments »

    Fans of the best Foreign Service blog out there, Diplopundit, probably already know that the site has changed its address, but if not, the place to check every morning for news is now Diplopundit.net. Same insights, new location.

    Speaking of which, Diplopundit had some thoughts on the Great Great Seal Controversy, by which the 223 year old Department of State, our first Cabinet agency, the institution once led by giants such as Jefferson, Adams, Marshall, Hull, even Martin Van Buren (and of course Condi) got its panties tangled over my use of their official Seal as part of a satiric blog post.

    Diplopundit wrote:

    Just so I get this straight — 1) The US taxpayers are paying FSO [Van Buren] to stay away from work while he is suspended for writing a book that makes people looks bad. The suspended FSO, without his security clearance is technically consigned to cleaning latrines, except that is one job you cannot actually perform by telecommuting no matter what the work requirement statement says. 2) The US taxpayers are paying another employee, a Deputy Director no less, and who knows how many more, for monitoring the suspended FSO’s website, research the infractions in the FAM and write emails such as the one complaining about the misuse of the department’s seal. 3) The US taxpayers are paying these employees for the enviable chore of writing a weekly report of the various online infractions committed and email it to the suspended FSO, just so he knows and everyone knows that this is a job everyone at State takes seriously. Nothing is too small or too unimportant to get into this weekly report. By end of the year, the weekly report would make a nice thick book.

    Now what I’m really wondering is this — how many employees at the State Department has blog monitoring and weekly written reports on private Foreign Service blogs included in their work requirements?

    One slight correction. Diplopundit notes above that I am “technically consigned to cleaning latrines except that is one job you cannot actually perform by telecommuting.” Mrs. We Meant Well, noticing me around the house more often than before, has in fact enforced the cleaning the latrines duty on me, on behalf of State.

    Read the entire piece now at the new Diplopundit site.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Libya, Military

    Another State Department Seal

    February 6, 2012 // 3 Comments »

    After the hub-bub over my illicit use of the State Department Seal, I was pleased to receive in my email another Department of State Seal, this time from the Diplomatic Security Office of Security Technology, ironically probably one of the offices within State that has nothing better to do than monitor blogs.

    The take away here is the absolute groovyness of their Seal. Note the righteous American Eagle snarling at the Dragon (representing evil of course, but perhaps Chinese evil????). Meanwhile, the dove of peace is scared shitless and just trying to get out of the way, all posed within an Illuminati-like pyramid.

    Despite appearing to have been designed by a frustrated tattoo artist who saw too many YES album covers stoned as a teenager, this Seal is real, and was in fact created with your tax dollars. No wonder the State Department keeps getting bigger and bigger budgets each year.

    I am unsure of the legal issues, but I am so looking into the idea of having this Seal inked on me somewhere where I’ll feel it everytime I sit down to write this blog.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Libya, Military

    State Department Demands I Remove Their Seal

    February 1, 2012 // 3 Comments »

    With war maybe on its way in Iran, problems in Syria and Iraq, never mind troubles everywhere else abroad, what does your Department of State have time to focus on? This blog apparently.

    Not to suggest State is overstaffed, but somehow in managing all those international thingies they also have time to demand that I remove the State Department Seal from a blog post. The post, linked here, used the Seal as part of a satirical/parody memo from Hillary to the media, instructing them on how the Department wants them to not tell the truth about events in Iraq. No sentient being could have confused that blog post with an actual State Department memo.

    If you want to see the offensive blog post, click here. If you want to see a real State Department memo, go troll through the 250,000 documents on Wikileaks. I shouldn’t post a link to Wikileaks on this blog, or I’ll get in trouble again with the nancy boys who run Diplomatic Security. Read’in is hard work, and they still are sorting out a “link” from a “leak.”

    If you’d like to read the State Department’s email to me demanding I remove the Seal from my blog, here it is.

    There is, as always, precedent. In 2005 the George W. Bush White House demanded that The Onion stop using George’s seal. So, um, right on State, you’re in lock step with the White House on this issue, albeit seven years late.

    Now of course the State Department hasn’t bothered to contact all the other people on the web using their Seal. They didn’t even bother to contact me when I last used that same Seal on this same blog a few months ago. Wonder why now?

    Timing is everything in life. Earlier this month I filed a complaint against the Department for retaliatory personnel practices with the Office of the Special Counsel. By coincidence, of course, State kicked its introspection of me and my blog into a higher gear that same week. For those keeping score, that is retaliation for complaining about earlier retaliation. More on this on a later blog post.

    Anyway, a lesser man would be angry, or bitter, over such pettiness, but me, I just want to be friends. Who can get mad over a cute, cuddly seal anyway? So be sure to check out my replacement seal.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Libya, Military

    Sealed with a Kiss: State Blogging Rules Unconstitutional

    September 12, 2011 // Comments Off on Sealed with a Kiss: State Blogging Rules Unconstitutional

    Though you cannot yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, actual restraints on free speech are rare (though law enforcement constantly seeks to criminalize political statements). Our courts have generally been loathe to support limits on speech, and particularly have demanded the government justify any instances where it believes it can regulate speech. Speaking freely, in all its forms, is the cornerstone of a government of, by and for the people. We need to be free to talk back, to be rude, to be foolish, to be offensive, to question. It is what America is when America is at its best.

    The State Department seems to know this. The Department famously asked Twitter to stay online while Iran was fussing around with an election, and State has spoken out for the rights of bloggers in China and elsewhere. Hillary herself said the Arab Spring owes much to social media and the free speech it engenders. State stated in reference to a Vietnamese blogger:

    No individual should be prosecuted for exercising the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Vietnam’s prosecution of individuals for expressing their views contradicts the government’s commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Closer to home, actually at home, State takes a different point of view. The Department has brainwashed its staff into believing they give up their First Amendment rights at the Foggy Bottom door, using internal regulations and the boogy man of “security” to exercise prior restraint inside its own hallways.

    The conundrum is seen clearly in the yes-no language concerning diplomats’ right to free speech in social media. Have a look at the regulations; State imposes a lot of restraints on speech quite casually, including a prohibition against its employees using the State Department Seal in any blog posting.

    State of course can’t stop real citizens from using the Seal, and a quick Google search shows it is employed by bloggers, news sites, commercial sites and pretty much anyone else.

    Now it seems the law has chipped away at State’s arbitrary restraints on speech, specifically the prohibition directed at its employees toward the damn Seal.

    In US District Court, restrictions on the use of a government seal were made clearly unconstitutional. In Rothamel v. Fluvanna County, the court very clearly stated that the government cannot restrict the use of a Seal. The court wrote:

    The loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury. Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373 (1976) (plurality opinion). The chilling of Rothamel’s expressive activity since the promulgation of the ordinance, causing Rothamel to forgo constitutionally protected activity out of a fear of arrest, thus constitutes irreparable injury.

    (Read more about this court case)

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Libya, Military