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Nobel Peace Prize laureates call on Obama to release CIA torture report

RT | October 27, 2014

Twelve winners of the Nobel Peace Prize have urged fellow laureate, US President Barack Obama, to release a Senate report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s post-9/11 Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation Program, also known as the torture report.

The laureates revealed late Sunday an open letter that called for “full disclosure to the American people of the extent and use of torture and rendition by American soldiers, operatives, and contractors, as well as the authorization of torture and rendition by American officials.”

The letter, posted on TheCommunity.com, also asked for a concrete plan to close secret international “black site” prisons – used by the US to hide, hold, and interrogate post-9/11 detainees – as well as the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, where many War on Terror captives languish with few or inconsistent legal maneuvers, if any at all, at their disposal.

The letter was signed by past Nobel winners José Ramos-Horta, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, F.W. De Klerk, Leymah Gbowee, Muhammad Yunus, John Hume, Bishop Carlos X. Belo, Betty Williams, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Jody Williams, Oscar Arias Sanchez, and Mohammad ElBaradei.

“In recent decades, by accepting the flagrant use of torture and other violations of international law in the name of combating terrorism, American leaders have eroded the very freedoms and rights that generations of their young gave their lives to defend,” the laureates wrote.

“They have again set an example that will be followed by others; only now, it is one that will be used to justify the use of torture by regimes around the world, including against American soldiers in foreign lands. In losing their way, they have made us all vulnerable.”

The letter called on Obama, winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize after less than a year in the White House, to follow principles of international law outlined in the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions.

The US Senate Intelligence Committee’s $40 million investigation into the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation Program – which was active from September 11, 2001 to 2006 – has found that the spy agency purposely deceived the US Justice Department to attain legal justification for the use of torture techniques, among other findings. The investigation and subsequent crafting of the report ran from March 2009 to December 2012.

Of that 6,000-page investigative report, the public will only see a 500-page, partially-redacted executive summary that is in the process of declassification.

According to sources familiar with the unreleased report, the CIA, and not top officials of the George W. Bush administration, are blamed for interrogation tactics that amount to torture based on international legal standards.

The report outlines 20 main conclusions about the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program which, according to the investigation, intentionally evaded White House, congressional, and intra-agency oversight.

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You can join the laureates’ call by signing a petition to President Obama here.

October 27, 2014 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama Increases Nuclear Weapons Production and Research

By Noel Brinkerhoff | AllGov | October 27, 2014

The U.S. nuclear weapons complex is greatly expanding the production of fissile cores to levels not seen since the end of the Cold War three decades ago.

The dramatic increase comes as part of a long-term billion-dollar effort to renew the nuclear arsenal under President Barack Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize largely because of his promise to greatly reduce the nation’s stockpile of these weapons—a promise he has not kept.

Instead, the Department of Energy, which oversees the nuclear weapons laboratories, is planning to produce 80 explosive plutonium cores—the key to every warhead—a year by 2030, according to The Guardian. The U.S. hasn’t needed this level of production since it was facing nuclear Armageddon with the former Soviet Union last century.

Over the next decade, the federal government plans to spend $355 billion modernizing the nuclear arsenal even though there are 15,000 cores in reserve in a Texas facility.

“I’ve never seen the justification articulated for the 50-80 pits per year by 2030,” James Doyle, a former scientist in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Division at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said. Doyle was fired last summer for publishing an article that urged nuclear disarmament, even though the laboratory had approved the article for publication.

The commitment to build more cores stands in stark contrast to Obama’s declaration after taking over the White House in 2009 to cut the stockpile from 5,113 warheads to 1,500 by 2016. Only 309 weapons have been destroyed under his watch. His predecessor, George W. Bush, “cut the nuclear stockpile in half during his eight years in office,” Caty Enders at The Guardian reported.

Plans to expand nuclear weapons production come at a time when the Energy Department is still recovering from a significant accident earlier this year at the nation’s only repository for nuclear weapons waste. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico has been closed since February, when a drum of radioactive waste exploded and exposed 22 workers to radiation.

To Learn More:

Nuclear Weapons Expansion Pushed in Congress Despite Accidents at Lab (by Caty Enders, The Guardian)

What Happened at WIPP in February 2014 (Department of Energy)

Nuclear Weapons are not Going Away…3,970 Still Deployed (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

GAO Audit Accuses Obama Administration of Lowballing Cost of Maintaining Nuclear Arsenal (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

October 27, 2014 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, War Crimes | , | Leave a comment

The Troubling Arguments from the Government in Smith v. Obama

We’ve filed our reply brief in the appeal of Smith v. Obama, our case challenging the NSA’s mass telephone records collection on behalf of Idaho nurse Anna Smith.  The case will be argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal on December 8, 2014 in Seattle, and the public is welcome to attend.

Another case challenging the telephone records program, Klayman v. Obama, will be argued on November 4 in Washington DC before the DC Circuit and EFF will be participating as an amicus.

The Smith v. Obama case records are all here: but we thought we’d highlight three of the more outrageous arguments the government made, and our responses debunking them.

The Cases

Mrs. Smith doesn’t think her phone records are any of the government’s business. That’s why, only a few days after the Guardian published a secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court revealing the government’s bulk collection of the telephone records of millions of innocent Americans, she sued. Smith v. Obama challenges the government’s collection of call detail records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. Mrs. Smith is represented by her husband, attorney Peter Smith, along with the ACLU, EFF, and Idaho State Rep. Luke Malek.

The district court said it felt bound to dismiss her claims because of a 1979 Supreme Court case, Smith v. Maryland. That case involved the collection of the phone numbers dialed by a criminal suspect over the course of three days. It’s one of the cornerstones of the so-called “third party doctrine,” the idea that people have no expectation of privacy in information they entrust to others—and it’s outdated to say the least.

The centerpiece of Mrs. Smith’s case is the issue of whether the government’s collection of our telephone records in bulk, and retention of those records for five years, triggers the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. The warrant requirement applies if there is a legitimate and reasonable expectation of privacy in those records. And if the warrant requirement applies, the collection is unconstitutional, since there is no warrant (everyone agrees that the secret FISA Court rulings allowing the bulk collection under Section 215 of the Patriot Act are NOT warrants).

We argue that there is a legitimate and reasonable expectation of privacy violated by the bulk collection of telephone records, because unlike the narrow situation the Supreme Court considered in 1979, they can reveal an incredible amount of sensitive information. For example, in one short-term study of only a few months of telephony metadata from 546 people, researchers at Stanford were able to identify one plausible inference of a subject obtaining an abortion; one subject with a heart condition; one with multiple sclerosis; and the owner of a specific brand of firearm.The government wants the court to simply ignore these differences. Alternately, the government argues that even if there is an expectation of privacy, it is so small compared to the government’s interest that the warrant requirement can be ignored, under something called the “special needs” test (more on that below).

But, as we emphasize our reply brief, this is wrong, in part because we are living in what member of the President’s Review Group Professor Peter Swire calls the “Golden Age of Surveillance.” As we argue: “technological advances have vastly augmented the government’s surveillance power and exposed much more personal information to government inspection and intrusive analysis. If courts ignored this reality, the essential privacy long preserved by the Fourth Amendment would be eliminated.”

The Government’s Arguments

So with that background, let’s look at three of the most troubling claims the government makes.

Call Detail Records Don’t Actually Identify People

The government still claims with a straight face that call detail records don’t reveal private information, because they “do not include information about the identities of individuals,” including “the name, address, [or] financial information” of any telephone subscribers.

That’s technically true, of course, but who cares? It’s not like this prevents the government from identifying you in less than a millisecond after it gets your telephone number. Last time we checked, the government did have access to, say, telephone books and the many public online services that can do reverse number lookup. That’s why we point out that: “phone numbers are every bit as identifying as names. Indeed, they are more so: while many people in the country may share the same name, no two phone subscribers share the same number.”

It’s pretty ridiculous for the government to continue to try to convince the court that the absence of the names in calling records represents any real privacy protection for the millions of Americans whose records are collected. It plainly does not.

We Have to Collect Everything for the Program to Work. But We’re Not Collecting Everything.

The government tries to challenge Mrs. Smith’s standing to sue by repeatedly alleging that the call detail records “program has never encompassed all, or even virtually all, call records and does not do so today.” It claims that the case should be dismissed because Mrs. Smith cannot immediately “prove” that her records were included. Of course, that’s not how litigation works. Mrs. Smith has good reason to believe that her records have been included—the government’s own public statements give her good reason. The district court properly rejected this argument, but the government continues to press it on appeal.

The government also seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth here, since, as we note in our brief:“In explaining the program to Congress and the public…the government has emphasized not only that the program is comprehensive, but that this comprehensiveness is the key to its utility.”

In fact, Robert Litt, General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence told Congress: “In order to find the needle that matched up against that number, we needed the haystack, right. That’s what the premise is in this case.” And NSA Deputy Director John Inglis defended the program by saying: “If you’re looking for a needle in the haystack you need the haystack. So you wouldn’t want to check a database that only has one third of the data, and say there’s a one third chance that I know about a terrorist plot, there’s a two thirds chance I missed it because I don’t have that data.”

So to get the case dismissed they want to convince the court that they aren’t really collecting “virtually all” of the telephone records, but their public justifications rely on the fact that they are. So either they are collecting Mrs. Smith’s records, along with every other Verizon Wireless customer—Verizon is the second largest wireless service in the U.S. after all—or they are not very good at meeting their own stated goals. Which is it, government?

And that goes right to the heart of the government’s next argument:

Bulk Telephone Records Collection Isn’t Necessary to Protect Us—But Is Still Allowed Under the “Special-Needs Doctrine”

The government’s fallback argument is that even if the call detail records triggered the Fourth Amendment, a warrant is still not required under a narrow legal precedent called the “special-needs doctrine.” It allows warrantless searches of a few small categories of people who have a reduced privacy expectation, like students in schools or employees who handle dangerous equipment. It also only applies when compliance with probable-cause and warrant requirements would be “impracticable” and the government’s primary goals are not law enforcement.

The first problem here is that the millions of ordinary Americans affected by the government’s bulk collection do not have a reduced expectation of privacy in the records of their telephone calls. The privacy interests here are great, since with a trail of telephone records, the government can learn extremely sensitive information.

The second problem is that no less than the White House itself has said that the government can accomplish its goals without bulk telephone records collection. This has been confirmed by the President’s two hand-picked panels as well as several Congressmembers who have seen the intelligence information. As we point out in our reply brief, the best the government can say about the program is that it “enhances and expedites” certain techniques it uses in its investigations. So getting a warrant isn’t impracticable, it’s just, at most, inconvenient. But as we point out: “If efficiency alone were determinative, the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement would have no force at all.”

The special-needs argument is especially concerning because if the courts were to accept it, the special-needs doctrine could become an exception that swallows the Fourth Amendment’s rule against general searches. It could, de facto, create a national security exception to the Constitutional rights enjoyed by ordinary, nonsuspect Americans, something the founders plainly did not do when they created this country in the midst of a national security crisis.

We expect an interesting argument on December 8.

October 21, 2014 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Leave a comment

More Police Departments than Previously Thought Use Portable Surveillance Systems to Spy on almost Everyone

By Steve Straehley and Noel Brinkerhoff | AllGov | October 21, 2014

More U.S. police departments are employing electronic surveillance technology that can collect information from cell phones and laptop computers belonging not just to criminal suspects but also law abiding citizens.

The Charlotte Observer found the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have for eight years used such equipment, which goes by many names: Stingray, Hailstorm, AmberJack and TriggerFish.

But the technology, which mimics cell towers, is also used by other law enforcement around the country. It’s just not clear which departments, the newspaper says, because the federal government has helped to shield police from disclosing their owning and operating the spy hardware. In fact, the Obama administration “has ordered cities not to disclose information about the equipment,” the Observer’s Fred Classen-Kelly reported.

However, members of the administration might also be among those spied upon. Through an open records request, VICE News has learned that Washington, D.C., is another city whose police department is using the technology. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) there purchased the Stingray system in 2003, purportedly to use for anti-terrorism efforts.

In 2008, however, the system was brought out of storage and is now used in regular criminal cases. But the system doesn’t discriminate between calls made by those suspected of wrongdoing and those of ordinary citizens, which means anyone’s whereabouts can be tracked.

Nathan Wessler, an attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, told VICE News “If the MPD is driving around D.C. with Stingray devices, it is likely capturing information about the locations and movements of members of Congress, cabinet members, federal law enforcement agents, and Homeland Security personnel, consular staff, and foreign dignitaries, and all of the other people who congregate in the District…. If cell phone calls of congressional staff, White House aides, or even members of Congress are being disconnected, dropped, or blocked by MPD Stingrays, that’s a particularly sensitive and troublesome problem.”

Some in Charlotte have those concerns as well. “The thought of police or another agency collecting data on communications devices is troubling,” Charlotte City Councilman John Autry told the Observer. “I understand the balance between security and privacy, but I think we should honor the privacy protection in the Constitution. … What happens to the data? Who sees it? Who has access to it?”

The ACLU estimates that at least 46 local law enforcement agencies nationwide have cell phone tracking systems.

To Learn More:

Charlotte Police Investigators Secretly Track Cellphones (by Fred Classen-Kelly, Charlotte Observer)

Police in Washington, D.C. Are Using the Secretive ‘Stingray’ Cell Phone Tracking Tool (by Jason Leopold, VICE News)

After Months of Denial, Sacramento Sheriff Admits Using Stingray Cellphone Surveillance (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Local Police Departments Use Non-Disclosure Agreements to Hide Cellphone Tracking (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

October 21, 2014 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , | 1 Comment

Obama considers [officially] allowing torture overseas

chair-banana

RT | October 20, 2014

The White House is reportedly wrestling over how to interpret a ban on “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” ahead of a meeting in Geneva next month concerning the United Nations charter on torture.

According to the New York Times, the Obama administration remains divided over what stance a Washington delegation will officially take at the UN-sponsored Committee Against Torture panel early next month in the Swiss city.

Although Barack Obama said before and after being elected to the White House that United States officials should never engage in torturous activity, Times national security journalist Charlie Savage reported on Sunday this week that administration officials might formally adopt another stance — one on par with the policies of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush — when the panel convenes in a couple of weeks.

The Times reported that the attorneys who answer to the president are conflicted over whether or not the White House should revisit the Bush administration’s interpretation of a UN treaty, the likes of which authorized the use of enhanced interrogation tactics, like waterboarding and sleep deprivation, on individuals detained by military and intelligence agencies in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at facilities such as the Guantanamo Bay detention center and CIA so-called “black sites.”

The upcoming meeting will be the first one of Obama’s presidency, Savage acknowledged, presenting the commander-in-chief with a rare opportunity to speak of the UN Convention Against Torture, a treaty that since the 1980s has aimed to ensure prisoners the world over aren’t subjected to inhumane conditions.

In Sunday’s report, Savage wrote that Obama, then a US senator, spoke out adamantly against Pres. Bush when it was revealed in 2005 that his administration had been interpreting the UN treaty in a manner that they argued made it acceptable for CIA and Pentagon officials to disregard the prohibitions against torture if they weren’t on American soil.

Obama the president later condemned that reasoning with an executive order “ensuring lawful interrogations,” Savage added, although next month’s meeting may change that.

“But the Obama administration has never officially declared its position on the treaty, and now, President Obama’s legal team is debating whether to back away from his earlier view,” Savage wrote. “It is considering reaffirming the Bush administration’s position that the treaty imposes no legal obligation on the United States to bar cruelty outside its borders, according to officials who discussed the deliberations on the condition of anonymity.”

“State Department lawyers are said to be pushing to officially abandon the Bush-era interpretation,” Savage added, which would simply continue to let the 2009 Obama-signed executive order stand as Washington’s official word and further ensure that American officials are obligated to adhere to the torture treaty regardless of where in the world they are located.

Other attorneys, he added, have a different idea of what to do at next month’s meeting, however. “But military and intelligence lawyers are said to oppose accepting that the treaty imposes legal obligations on the United States’ actions abroad,” Savage wrote. “They say they need more time to study whether it would have operational impacts. They have also raised concerns that current or future wartime detainees abroad might invoke the treaty to sue American officials with claims of torture, although courts have repeatedly thrown out lawsuits brought by detainees held as terrorism suspects.”

Should those arguing on the latter side provoke, then the current administration could soon find itself agreeing with past policies that continue to be controversial nearly a decade after the Bush White House’s use of torture started to surface.

“Many foreign political leaders and non-governmental organizations have called for members of the Bush administration, including Bush himself, to face prosecution for allowing the abuse of detainees in US custody during the course of the US campaign against Islamic militant groups spurred by the 9/11 attacks,” Mark Hanrahan wrote for the International Business Times on Sunday. “The Bush administration, which launched the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had to contend with a number of allegations it allowed US officials to use torture against detainees during the course of its campaigns,” including the infamous Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq.

If the Pentagon and CIA attorneys prevail, then Washington could once again interpret the UN treaty in a manner that allows those same torturous practices to be performed on detainees once against, as long as any such instances occur abroad.

Last week, McClatchy news service reported that a classified $40 million probe launched by the Senate to investigate the CIA’s Bush-era detention and interrogation program concludes without holding any administration officials responsible for the scandals at Abu Ghraib and other facilities that to this day remain a major scar on the presidency.

“This report is not about the White House. It’s not about the president. It’s not about criminal liability. It’s about the CIA’s actions or inactions,” a person familiar with the report told McClatchy. “It does not look at the Bush administration’s lawyers to see if they were trying to literally do an end run around justice and the law.”

October 20, 2014 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Subjugation - Torture, War Crimes | , , , , | 1 Comment

Why Military Intervention Will Never “Fix” the Middle East

Who Will Show the Moral Courage to End the US’s Middle East Wars?

By Col. DOUGLAS MACGREGOR | CounterPunch | October 17, 2014

American military interventions tend to follow a familiar pattern. The path to intervention begins when Washington decides to support one side in an ongoing conflict. Regardless of its true nature, the side Washington chooses is elevated to sainthood while the side Washington decides to attack is demonized.

Soon, the usual suspects, Neocons and Liberal Interventionists who are only nominally Republicans or Democrats, trot out the old mantra, “It’s the 1930s and we can’t we can’t let another Hitler rise again.” In 1991 it was Saddam Hussein. In 1995, the villains were Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić.  In 1999, the principle villain was Slobodan Milošević. All were guilty of heinous crimes and deserved the worlds’ contempt, but none were radically different from most of their contemporaries governing peoples at the same time in the Balkans and the Middle East.

To the uniformed American public remote from the regions where their armed forces will operate, it did not matter. With the added boost from America’s enthusiastic media, the usual suspects stampeded the nation into military action.

Today, things are a little different.  After 13 years of ‘mission accomplished’ in Afghanistan and Iraq, and, after watching 123 Islamist Militias overrun Libya in the aftermath of the United States-led NATO bombing campaign, Americans are more circumspect. True, ISIS, the Sunni Islamists in pickup trucks ransacking towns across the wastelands of the Middle East, is barbarous and savage, but the support for all-out war to destroy ISIS involving tens of thousands of American Soldiers and Marines is tenuous. The solution: an “airpower only” answer to Washington’s need to “do something.”

Today, it’s a re-run of the Kosovo Air Campaign across Mesopotamia. It’s worth pausing to recall the events of the air campaign that lasted from 28 February 1998 until 11 June 1999.

In Kosovo American and NATO pilots found few if any good targets on the ground. Once Yugoslav (Serbian) tanks, artillery and troops dispersed across mountainous and forested terrain inside a region smaller than Wales, American Airpower had enormous trouble finding and attacking Serb forces. Old, but robust Serb air defenses skillfully integrated with commercial radars made effective air strikes launched from below 11,000 to 15,000 feet extremely dangerous, if not impossible.

Confronted with this situation, General Wes Clark expanded the air war beyond Kosovo into Serbia where the aircraft could easily identify and strike infrastructure. Initially, the resulting strikes in Serbia looked impressive on television and acted as a tonic for NATO’s beleaguered leaders. The destruction of electrical power plants and bridges over the Danube ruined Serbia’s economy, but it did little to influence events on the ground in Kosovo.

America’s European allies grew impatient. Why, Europeans asked, had NATO’s military Leaders not anticipated Serb military action to expel Kosovo’s Muslim Albanian population?  Why not refocus the air campaign on Serb forces in Kosovo? To make matters worse, small numbers of Serb and Albanian civilians died in air strikes meant for Serb troops or infrastructure. Predictably, public support for the air campaign in the United States and Europe weakened.

Undeterred, General Clark pressed for the commitment of U.S. and European ground forces. Clark believed the air campaign was the equivalent of “Rolling Thunder;” the 1965 air campaign that led to the commitment of U.S. Ground Forces to Vietnam. It was not to be.

After weeks of negotiations, Ambassador Strobe Talbot succeeded in persuading Moscow to abandon Belgrade. Moscow deserted Belgrade because Moscow needed American and European support to cope with Russia’s shattered economy and a relentless Muslim rebellion in Chechnya.

Without Russian material support in terms of food and fuel, Milošević had no choice but to capitulate. Without food and fuel, hundreds of thousands of Serbs would die in the fierce Balkan winter.  Serbian forces withdrew in good order from Kosovo. Pushing the Serbs out of Kosovo cost roughly $4.5 billion. Air strikes inflicted $9 billion of damage on little Serbia.  Damage to the economies of the States in the Danube River Valley, to Italy and Greece ran into the billions of dollars too.

President Clinton was understandably relieved. He’d escaped from the Balkan disaster just in time.

Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, the Middle East is not tiny Kosovo. There is no easy retreat from the strident declarations made at the outset of his generals’ hasty, ill-conceived policy of intervention from the air. Once again, there are few, if any, lucrative target sets for American Airpower. Worse, the Middle East is in the grip of societal collapse and radicalization.

From the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, the old Cold War military alliances are crumbling and many of the Sunni Arab ruling elites that supported them fear their own populations. Millions of Sunni Muslim Arabs admire ISIS. They do so because they are struggling with dysfunctional governments mired in corruption and they fear the encroaching power and influence of Shiite Iran in Damascus, Baghdad, and the Persian Gulf Emirates.

More significantly, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is leading Turkey’s population of 77 million on an Ottoman Revival intertwined with the re-invigoration of Turkey’s centuries’ old Islamic identity. Since taking office, Erdogan has rejected every American diplomatic and military initiative in the region. Frustrated with the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood to secure power in Egypt, Erdogan has no interest in obstructing ISIS’s attacks on his regional opponents, apostate Shiites, Christians, Jews and, most of all, Kurds.

Erdogan and his Sunni Islamist supporters in the region are furious with Washington’s support for the Kurdish independence and Iran’s client Shiite State Baghdad. American air strikes are rescuing Ankara’s enemies from destruction at the hands of ISIS. Whatever else ISIS may be, in Erdogan’s mind, they are fellow Sunni Islamists and many of its fighters are Turks from the Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as Anatolia. Under these circumstances no one in Washington should be surprised that the Turkish Army, the largest in NATO, obedient to Erdogan’s orders recently attacked Kurds, but not ISIS fighters.

More time, new tactics, more money, more troops and better strategic “partners” will not change these regional realities. The logical choice for President Obama is to tell the American people the truth: America’s military interventions in the Middle East and Southwest Asia are festering sores, bottomless pits for American blood and treasure. Americans can secure their own borders, enforce the rule of law and build economic prosperity at home, but Americans in uniform cannot and will not “fix” the Middle East.

Of course, suspending military operations that are both ineffective and counterproductive takes both understanding and moral courage. In Washington DC, moral courage is always in short supply. British Prime Minister, Sir Benjamin Disraeli made the same point over a hundred years ago: “You will find as you grow older,” Disraeli said to a new member of the House of Commons, “that courage is the rarest of all qualities to be found in public life.”

 

October 17, 2014 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

Longest in US history: Afghan War turns 13, US military deaths grow 4-fold under Obama

RT | October 7, 2014

Tuesday this week commemorates 13 years since the start of the Afghan War — America’s longest running campaign of its kind — yet an end to the operation is hardly on the horizon.

Under the terms of the Bilateral Security Agreement, the pact signed last week by representatives for both the United States and Afghanistan, the US will significantly reduce the number of soldiers involved in its post-9/11 Operation Enduring Freedom at the end of this year. Troop numbers will shrink to 10,000, signaling indeed a major step towards ending the war in Afghanistan — a campaign promise made by US President Barack Obama during the lead-up to his re-election in 2012. With this week’s anniversary, however, the costs incurred already appear more evident than ever, and the length of the operation may be endless.

Combined with the only recently concluded war in Iraq, the financial toll of the Afghan war on Uncle Sam’s pocketbook could range in $4 trillion to $6 trillion, according to research published last year out of Harvard University. Additionally, the iCasualties website claims the US military has suffered 2,349 deaths during Operation Enduring Freedom — including 48 this year, or as many lives lost in that war in 2003 when it was still relatively new. Of that tally, Breitbart News recently reported, 1,649 deaths or about 75 percent, have occurred since the start Pres. Obama’s first term in early 2009.

Even with last week’s agreement, however, the Afghan War will only end in name, if at all. Under the terms of the pact, the roughly 9,800 US troops that will remain in Afghanistan past the end of this year will be cut in half by the end of the next, with a full-scale withdrawal tentatively slated for the end of 2016. By keeping US troops overseas for now, the State Department said recently, Afghanistan, the US and international community at large will “maintain the partnership we’ve established to ensure Afghanistan maintains and extends the gains of the past decade.” Once the last of the US forces leave, the Afghan army will again be tasked with preserving national security, and for the first time without American troops since 2001.

When those troops actually will exit Afghan for good, however, remains up in the air. Under the terms of the BSA, US and NATO troops have already been cleared to stay “until the end of 2024 and beyond,” suggesting Operation Enduring Freedom could extend for another decade even after already being America’s longest running war.

Thirteen years ago this Tuesday, George W Bush, then the president of the United States, said the Pentagon had officially begun a mission “designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.”

“This military action is a part of our campaign against terrorism, another front in a war that has already been joined through diplomacy, intelligence, the freezing of financial assets and the arrests of known terrorists by law enforcement agents in 38 countries,” Bush said from the White House. “Given the nature and reach of our enemies, we will win this conflict by the patient accumulation of successes, by meeting a series of challenges with determination and will and purpose.”

That patience is still at play today, however, and has led Operation Enduring Freedom into the record books of being the longest-running US war ever. Now despite campaign promises made by Obama, even Bush’s successor might not see the end of a war in Afghanistan anytime soon: 13 years after Bush announced the start of a military operation against terrorists, the US and its allies are now in the midst of conducting an aerial campaign against the so-called Islamic State, a terrorist organization that even Al-Qaeda has distanced itself from over concerns involving the group’s violent practices. According to new research published last month by USA Today, Washington is investing roughly $10 million a day on fighting a campaign against that group. If the Pentagon’s numbers don’t change drastically over time, then the cost of fighting that war could come to over $3 billion annually — a fraction of the $77.7 billion spent during the last fiscal year on Operation Enduring Freedom, but costly nonetheless.

October 7, 2014 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Illegal Occupation, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , | 1 Comment

American Airstrikes & the Universal Language of Force

In his speech before the meeting of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, U.S. President Barack Obama resurrected yet another turn of phrase used most often by those wishing to make the case for dropping bombs on people and things.In an effort to justify U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria, Obama declared that the militant organization known as ISIS (or ISIL or IS, the ‘Islamic State’) not only commits the “most horrific crimes imaginable,” but is so vicious, violent, and uniquely brutal that it “forces [the international community] to look into the heart of darkness,” adding later:

No god condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.

The rhetoric used by Obama to defend yet another illegal and ill-conceived American air campaign in the Middle East – an undefined, unconstitutional operation designed to inevitably expand and escalate – is well-worn. The very same word salad, notably the “language of force” line, has been routinely served up to justify lethal action against a seemingly intractable foe and it puts the onus on the target of that aggression for bringing such violence upon itself: if they weren’t such barbarians, we too wouldn’t have to resort to barbarism.

So, bombs away. After all, military action was our only choice, we are told, despite the fact that the declared targets of our artillery pose no direct or imminent threat to the United States. The irrational and bloodthirsty comprehend only the heat-seeking and bunker-busting. Diplomacy is impossible, thus destruction is imperative.

In his 2005 book, Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counter-terrorism, Richard Jackson, deputy director at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago in New Zealand, explored this very kind of political messaging:

One of the most noticeable and ubiquitous features of the language of counter-terrorism is its invariable appeal to identity: terrorists are endlessly demonised and vilified as being evil, barbaric and inhuman, while America and its coalition partners are described as heroic, decent and peaceful – the defenders of freedom.

“At its most basic level, the language used by officials is attempt to convince the public that a ‘war’ against all forms of terrorism is necessary, reasonable, inherently good and winnable,” he added.

Over the past few decades, whenever bombing Iraq is on the horizon, we’ve heard much of the same from government officials and their pro-war mouthpieces in the media and think tank establishment.

In late 1990, Martin Indyk, founder and executive director of the AIPAC-launched Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and later senior advisor to presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, wrote, “Saddam Hussein has demonstrated that he only speaks and understands the language of force.”

In 1991, Maine Representative Olympia Snowe supported the authorization of Operation Desert Storm due to her determination that successfully confronting Saddam Hussein required “a credible military threat be maintained against a brutal aggressor who only understands the language of force.”

Just days before Bill Clinton’s first inauguration as president in January 1993, the George H.W. Bush administration was again bombing Iraq. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch insisted, “Unfortunately, Saddam Hussein knows only the language of force. President Bush has delivered a message that Saddam is certain to understand,” adding, “The air strikes are not enough.”

In September 1996, when the Clinton administration itself was routinely bombing Iraq, Secretary of State Warren Christopher expressed his frustration with Russian condemnation of such attacks. He told the press he was “disappointed” the Russians “don’t understand as we do that the only language that Saddam understands is the language of force.” This became a go-to phrase in the administration’s talking points.

Speaking to members of the group “Seeds of Peace” on September 3, 1996, Christopher made arguments eerily reminiscent of what we’ve heard recently with regard to Obama’s current operation:

The record is, unfortunately, all too clear. Saddam has threatened and invaded his neighbors, developed and used weapons of mass destruction, sponsored countless acts of terrorism, and for the last two decades he has relentlessly persecuted the Kurds and the Shiites. When Saddam tests the will and resolve of the international community, our response must be and will be forceful and immediate.

Time and again we’ve seen that the United States leadership is essential to provide that response. Military action that the United States launched today has made it clear that Saddam will pay a price whenever he engages in aggression. We are answering in the only language he understands, the language of force.

Later that month, on September 12, 1996, former Secretary of State James Baker testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee and encouraged more military attacks, saying, “Iraq under Saddam Hussein only understands force. And more to the point, it seems only to understand overwhelming force. When we respond in a situation like this, I do not believe that it needs to be limited so as to be proportionate to the provocation.”

In their book about the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation, New York Times correspondent Michael R. Gordon and former Marine lieutenant general Bernard Trainor recount the words of a high-ranking officer of the U.S. Army’s Fourth Infantry Division sent to attack the city of Tikrit. “The only thing these sand niggers understand is force,” the officer remarked, “and I’m about to introduce them to it.” General Ray Odierno, who led the 4th ID’s attack, is currently the U.S. Army’s Chief of Staff.

The messaging is clear. As Richard Jackson notes, “In this most rudimentary sense, the language accompanying the ‘war on terrorism’ is a public relations or propaganda exercise; it is designed to ‘sell’ the policies of counter-terrorism.” In order to build support for military action, the public is repeatedly told that “the terrorists are inhuman barbarians who deserve to be eradicated from civilised society; the threat posed by terrorism is catastrophic and it is only rational to respond with all due force; and the American-led war against terrorism is by definition a good and just war.”

Historically, however, this rhetoric has not been reserved solely for justifying American military action against predominately Muslim countries in the Middle East. Nor has this phrase been used only by one side of the conflict.

In a video message allegedly made and distributed on October 20, 2001, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden declared, “Bush and Blair… don’t understand any language but the language of force. Every time they kill us, we kill them, so the balance of terror is achieved,” according to a declassified report released by British intelligence in November 2001.

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, in a 2003 sermon, reportedly announced, “The Crusaders [Americans] and the Jews only understand the language of force, and they only understand the return of coffins and destroyed interests and burned towers and destroyed economy.”

In a statement claiming responsibility for simultaneous suicide bombings that killed 155 people in Baghdad on October 25, 2009, an anti-occupation, al-Qaeda linked group known then as the Islamic State in Iraq explained, “Among the chosen targets were the ministry of oppression known as the Ministry of Justice and the Baghdad provincial assembly… The enemies only understand the language of force.”

Prior to the beheading of American journalist James Foley, on August 12, 2014, ISIS reportedly sent an email to Foley’s family announcing their intention to murder him in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes and delivering a wider message to the American government and people. Claiming to have provided “many chances to negotiate the release of your people via cash transactions” and “prisoner exchanges,” ISIS wrote that it was clear “this is NOT what you are interested in.”

The email went on: “You have no motivation to deal with the Muslims except with the language of force, a language you were given in ‘Arabic translation’ when you attempted to occupy the land of Iraq! Now you return to bomb the Muslims of Iraq once again, this time resorting to Arial [sic] attacks and ‘proxy armies’, all the while cowardly shying away from a face-to-face confrontation!”

“You do not spare our weak, elderly, women or children so we will NOT spare yours!” the email warned. “You and your citizens will pay the price of your bombings!”

In his speech before the United Nations last week justifying expanded airstrikes against ISIS, Obama thus recycled the very phrase used by ISIS to justify its own violence.

Still, the phrase has even older roots.

Zionism and Its Malcontents

In 1891, after one of his frequent travels through Palestine, Ahad Ha’am, the Ukrainian-born Jewish essayist known widely as the founder of cultural Zionism, lamented that Zionist settlers acted like “the only language the Arabs understand is that of force” and “behave towards the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, trespass unjustly upon their boundaries, beat them shamefully without reason and even brag about it, and nobody stands to check this contemptible and dangerous tendency.”

This same, possibly apocryphal, formulation has been credited over the years to Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, second prime minister Moshe Sharett, and IDF commander Raphael Petan, and is widely considered the immutable underlying assumption guiding racist, hawkish Israeli attitudes towards Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular.

This linguistic articulation of Zionist sentiment was already so prevalent prior to the establishment of the State of Israel that renowned political theorist Hannah Arendt turned the phrase on its head in her 1948 essay, “Peace or Armistice in the Near East?,” published two years later in the Review of Politics. “All hopes to the contrary notwithstanding,” she wrote, as the Nakba raged on, “it seems as though the one argument the Arabs are incapable of understanding is force.”

In February 1992, following the assassination of Hezbollah leader Sheikh Abbas Moussawi, killed in southern Lebanon in an Israeli airstrike along with his wife and five-year-old son, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens boasted, “We’ve learned that terror organizations like Hezbollah only understand one language – the language of force.”

Two weeks after the start of the Second Intifada, when Israel had already fired 1.3 million bullets at Palestinian demonstrators in the West Bank and Gaza, a military spokesman justified Israel actions, saying that force “will be the only language they understand.”

Prior to Israeli parliamentary elections in 2009, supporters of the fascistic Avigdor Lieberman enthusiastically endorsed this narrative. “He’s the kind of leader we’ve been waiting for, he knows how to talk to Arabs in their own language, the language of force,” an Israeli woman who resides in a town close to the border with Gaza told the press.

Predictably, those opposed to Israel policies of colonialism, annexation, occupation, and military aggression have also resorted to such rhetoric. “Our enemy knows only the language of force and negotiations are useless,” Palestinian officials have longed declared. In 1998, a resident of the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza said this of Israeli leadership: “They only understand the language of force, not of peace.” A decade later, a Palestinian professor in Gaza said that same of Hamas.

From Stalin to Putin

While the “language of force” has long been used in the West to describe the supposed base nature and unsophisticated lack of humanity of the savage “Oriental” – a colonial, supremacist discourse popularized all the more after the attacks of September 11, 2001 – this discursive process has not been reserved for Arab or Muslim targets alone.

In his famous March 1946 “Iron Curtain Speech,” Winston Churchill expressed his conviction that, for Soviet Russia and its Communist satellites, “there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.” Thus, he reasoned, “Western Democracies” must “stand together” lest “they become divided or falter in their duty and if these all-important years are allowed to slip away then indeed catastrophe may overwhelm us all.”

68 years later, speaking at a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum in March 2014, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen paraphrased Churchill’s admonition, saying of Russian president Vladimir Putin that “the language he understands is force” and warning that, “unless there is a strong response, and a united response above all,” to Russian actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, “from the United States and Europe together to this, and a reassertion of the transatlantic alliance and NATO, then we could be heading in a very worrying direction.”

In May 2014, prior to his election as new Ukrainian president, billionaire confectionery magnate Petro Poroshenko stated that, in order to deal with pro-Russian separatists — whom he called “terrorists” — “we should find out the right language they understand, and that would be the language of force.”

Vietnam

On April 19, 1965, as American bombs fell in Vietnam, conservative columnist Russell Kirk wrote, “Like the Nazis, the Asiatic Communists prefer guns to butter,” and accused North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh of aggressive “conquest”:

At this stage of affairs, only effective military resistance and retaliation can dissuade Ho Chi Minh from pursuing the war with increased vigor. The language of force, indeed, Communists understand.

General William C. Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam at the time of the My Lai Massacre, and soon-to-be Army Chief of Staff, often and openly maintained that “meaningful force” was “the only language they [the North Vietnamese] understood.”

As late as March 1975, after nearly all American troops had been withdrawn from the conflict, and following a meeting with President Gerald Ford, the then-retired Westmoreland told journalists that “the culprit in this whole thing is Hanoi,” adding, “The only language Hanoi understands is the language of force and I think it’s too bad that we couldn’t again mine Haiphong harbor and that the President doesn’t have authority to use tactical air and B52 strikes to hit the Communist supply lines.”

Six weeks later, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army.

Nicaragua

On the floor of the United States Congress on February 4, 1988, long-serving South Carolina Senator Ernest Hollings advocated for increased military aid sent to the Contras in Nicaragua. Denouncing Congressional Democrats as “not committed to fight for anything” and “only willing to posture and talk,” Hollings declared that “there is no hope in Nicaragua without aid to the Contras.” Dismissing diplomacy, he bellowed, “Peace plans? The Marxists only understand the language of force.”

Later that year, in August 1988, Nicaraguan Contra founder and commander Enrique Bermúdez also made the case for continued military support from the U.S. government. “The only language the Sandinistas understand or respect is the language of force,” he insisted. “If the Sandinistas weren’t receiving massive assistance from the Soviet Union, Cuba and other communist countries, the Nicaraguan people wouldn’t have any need of foreign sources of support.”

Repeated Rhetoric

The ubiquity of the “language of force” line has rendered the phrase effectively meaningless, levied at one’s enemies in order to silence debate and promote military action.

The same was said of South Africa’s Apartheid regime in the 1980s. Croatian officials, Kosovar separatists, and New York Times columnists said the same of Serbian president Slobodan Milošević in the 1990s. It’s been said about the “leaders of the Axis of Evil,” it was said about Gaddafi and Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and it is often said about Assad. It has been said about the Pakistani Taliban, the Somali militant group al-Shabab and the Nigerian Boko Haram.

The same rhetoric is used by tyrants as well to describe dissident, resistance, and revolutionary movements. For instance, in early February 2011, as Cairo’s Tahrir Square swelled with increasing demands for Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, a CNN report noted that the U.S.-backed leader had long “argued that Egypt had to adopt a tight security policy to combat terrorism; that the forces of political Islam do not understand anything but the language of force and a strong government grip.”

A year ago, in a September 20, 2013 article, David Sanger of the New York Times credited Obama’s economic warfare on Iran and threats of military action in Syria with restarting nuclear negotiations and, with the help of Russia, dismantling Assad’s chemical weapons. With regard to “President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, and Iran’s erratic mullahs,” Sanger wrote, Obama was experiencing “the long-delayed fruits of the administration’s selective use of coercion in a part of the world where that is understood.”

Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly two weeks later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that, “when it comes to Iran, the greater the pressure, the greater the chance” of successfully denying the nation their inalienable right to a domestic nuclear energy program.

For years, however, Iranian officials from three successive presidential administrations have consistently pushed back against this offensive presumption.

Back in June 2003, as U.S.-led pressure over Iran’s nuclear program increased, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi warned that unjust accusations and illegal threats would strengthen the resolve of conservative elements in the government opposed to diplomacy with the West. “Excessive pressure on Iran would untie the hands of those who do not believe in dialogue,” he said, “Even those who favour constructive talks would not accept the language of force and threat.”

Two years later, as dubious allegations, wild predictions, and threats of unprovoked attack mounted, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the nuclear issue in his first speech before the UN General Assembly on September 17, 2005. Western powers and Israel, he said,

have misrepresented Iran’s healthy and fully safeguarded technological endeavors in the nuclear field as pursuit of nuclear weapons. This is nothing but a propaganda ploy. The Islamic Republic of Iran is presenting in good faith its proposal for constructive interaction and a just dialogue. However, if some try to impose their will on the Iranian people through resort to a language of force and threat with Iran, we will reconsider our entire approach to the nuclear issue.

The next year, leading Iranian cleric Ahmad Khatami, a senior member of the Assembly of Experts, noted in a nationally broadcast weekly sermon, “Iran is favourable toward negotiations that are just, logical and without preconditions, but refuses the language of force,” adding, “Using the language of force with Iran is a foolish and clumsy attitude.”

“Resolutions, sanctions and threats have always made the issue more complicated,” Iran’s IAEA envoy Ali-Asghar Soltanieh said in late 2009 before a Board of Governor’s vote on a resolution focusing on the recently-announced uranium enrichment facility at Fordow. “We recommend the IAEA not to refer to such methods and use the language of logic rather than force.”

Throughout 2012, Ahmadinejad reaffirmed his assertion that Iran would never buckle to the West’s “language of force and insult.”

Earlier this year, following a round of nuclear negotiations in Vienna, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif remarked that “the language of force has no place in foreign policy agendas” and that “any state using the ‘all-options-on-the-table’ rhetoric is actually taking outdated measures.”

In late 2009, then IAEA chief and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei concurred with this message. “[U]sing the language of force is not helpful. It leads to confrontation, to the other country taking counteraction,” he said in an interview with The Hindu. “It is better to forget the language of coercion and focus on trying to engage in dialogue.”

The Force of Language

Barack Obama, the drone president who defended perpetual war while receiving his own Nobel prize, disagrees. In his UN speech, Obama has again joined the ranks of those who justify the use of force through the abuse of weaponized language. The appeal to an adversary’s unprecedented “brand of evil” serves not to illuminate the challenges faced, but rather to obfuscate an informed comprehension of current affairs. It is the ultimate conversation-stopper.

As terrorism expert Richard Jackson explains:

… the language of good and evil suppresses questions: we don’t need to ask what the motivations or aims of the terrorists were if they are ‘evil,’ as ‘evil’ is its own motivation and its own self-contained explanation. Evil people do not have any politics and there is no need to examine their causes or grievances. Evil people do what they do simply because they are evil. Clearly, the use of this language is a way of encouraging quiescence and displacing more complex understandings of political and social events. As such, it qualifies as demagoguery by appealing to ignorance and arrogance through a distorted representation of the nature of evil.

As the United States and its coalition partners embark once again on an ill-fated, military misadventure in the Middle East, the recycled language used to promote such policies is predictable. And this time around, as in the past, it’s effectiveness is proven.

A FoxNews poll released this week shows that upwards of 78% of Americans approve of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, while 55% believe such action is “not aggressive enough.” Additionally, 57% of respondents are supportive of a ground operation if the bombing campaign proves ineffective or indecisive. A Washington Post/ABC News poll this week produced similar results.

Yet, beyond all the political rhetoric and domestic jingoism, for those on the ground in Iraq and Syria, including the dozens of civilians already killed in U.S. airstrikes against ISIS, bombs drop louder than words.

 

This article was cross-posted on Wide Asleep in America.

October 6, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

IS OBAMA PLANNING MASS ARRESTS?

By Sherwood Ross | October 3, 2014

Is the Obama regime preparing for mass arrests of American civilians? Some indicators suggest this is a real possibility.

It has all the laws it needs to imprison anyone should it plan to make mass arrests (thanks, Congress, for the unconstitutional Patriot Act and National Defense Authorization Act).

It has illegally compiled lists of some 8 million names, (thank you, FBI and NSA).

It has vast stockpiles of weapons and bullets, (salute the Pentagon!)

It has $385 million worth of new dormitories (i.e., prisons?) tucked away on military bases called “National Emergency Centers” (thanks, Halliburton construction subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root).

And it has invested 120,000 on-duty officers from 73 law enforcement agencies with authority to arrest “suspects.”

If you think “it can’t happen here,” as described in the 1935 Sinclair Lewis novel of that name, think again. What’s to stop USG from doing Stateside what it has been doing around the world? After all, who has already begun killing American citizens with illegal drone strikes if not totalitarian trendsetter President Barack Obama?

As Bill Blum, a Washington investigative journalist writes in his “Anti-Empire Report,” since the end of World War 2, the U.S. has interfered in the elections of at least 30 countries and dropped bombs on people in as many others and attempted to overthrow more than 50, mostly democratic, governments, such as Iran in 1953 and Chile in 1973. What’s stopping it from turning a democracy into a dictatorship?

President Obama has gone so far down the totalitarian road, American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU) Executive Director Anthony Romero proclaimed, “I am disgusted with this president…it’s (his) policies on civil liberties and national security issues I’m disgusted by.”

Romero added, Obama’s actions “raises serious questions about the administration’s commitment to the rule of law.” That’s a polite way of saying the president is a law-breaker. And extrajudicial killings are official Obama policy. As Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair claimed in Congressional testimony, the U.S. can, with executive approval, kill U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism.

“It is alarming to hear that the Obama administration is asserting that the president can authorize the assassination of Americans abroad, even if they are far from any battlefield and may have never taken up arms against the U.S., but have only been deemed to constitute and unspecified ‘threat,'” points out Ben Wizner, staff lawyer for the ACLU National Security Project.

The key phrase here is “unspecified ‘threat'”, another way of saying “suspected.” As George Mickum, a lawyer who has represented Guantanamo Bay prisoners, told Inter Press Service(IPS), “We have killed thousands of innocent civilians while attempting to target alleged operatives. And let us not forget how frequently our intelligence has been wrong about alleged operatives. As the civilians were not engaged in hostile actions, their murders by the Obama regime become ‘war crimes.'”

And constitutional scholar Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois, Champaign, told IPS, “This extrajudicial execution of human beings constitutes murder, war crimes, and because the drone strikes are widespread and systemic, crimes against humanity. Because Obama’s drone strikes almost exclusively target Muslims and People of Color, they verge upon genocide.”

Boyle said, further, “The U.S. government has now established a ‘death list’ for U.S. citizens abroad akin to those established by Latin American dictatorships during their so-called dirty wars.”

If you think the USG will not condemn more Americans to death without trials, ponder the words of attorney John Whitehead, head of the Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville, Va.: “Unfortunately, ‘we the people’ have become so trusting, so gullible, so easily distracted, so out-of-touch, so compliant and so indoctrinated on the idea that our government will always do the right thing by us that we have ignored the warning signs all around us, or at least failed to recognize them as potential red flags.” Whitehead is the author of “A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.”

To our knowledge, the Obama regime has not answered questions Whitehead put to it, which (my paraphrasing) include:

Q: Why did the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) buy 1.6 billion rounds of hollow-point ammunition and 7,000 fully-automatic 5.56x45mm NATO ‘personal defense weapons’?

Q: Why do the Postal Service, Department of Education, Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration buy up weapons and ammunition in bulk?

Q: Why does the Department of Agriculture need 320,000 rounds of hollow point bullets and .40 caliber submachine guns?

Q: Why is FEMA stockpiling massive quantities of emergency supplies?

Q: Why is DHS giving away millions of dollars’ worth of federal security grants to states that federal intelligence agencies ruled have “no specific foreign or domestic terrorism threat?”

Whitehead points to a New York Times article quoting a Pentagon source who says that under Obama police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.

In addition to militarizing the police, Obama’s USG is building a Main Core database, Whitehead says, that “would be used by military officials to locate and round up Americans seen as threats to national security… to be carried out by the Army and FEMA.

Whitehead concludes, “Taken individually, these questions are alarming enough. However, when viewed collectively, they leave one wondering what exactly the U.S. government is preparing for and whether American citizens shouldn’t be preparing, as well, for that eventuality when our so-called ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’ is no longer answerable to ‘we the people.'” #

Sherwood Ross can be reached at sherwoodross10@gmail.com

October 3, 2014 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Civil Liberties | , , | Leave a comment

Official Washington’s Syrian ‘Fantasy’

By Robert Parry | Consortium News | October 1, 2014

What does it say when the capital of the world’s most powerful nation anchors a major decision about war in what every thinking person acknowledges is a “fantasy” – even the principal policymaker and a top advocate for foreign interventions?

It might suggest that the U.S. government has completely lost its bearings or that political opportunism now so overwhelms rationality that shortsighted expediency determines life-or-death military strategies. Either way, it is hard to see how the current U.S. policy toward Iraq, Syria and the larger Middle East can serve American national interests or translate into anything but more misery for the people of the region.

Official Washington’s most treasured “fantasy” today is the notion that a viable “moderate opposition” exists in Syria or could somehow be created. That wish-upon-a-star belief was the centerpiece of congressional action last month on a $500 million plan by President Barack Obama to train and arm these “moderate” rebels to combat Islamic State terrorists who have been plundering large swaths of Syria and Iraq — and also take on the Syrian army.

Yet, as recently as August, President Barack Obama publicly declared that trust in these “moderates” was a “fantasy” that was “never in the cards” as a workable strategy. Then, on Wednesday, David Ignatius, national security columnist for the neoconservative Washington Post and a prominent booster of U.S. interventionism, reported from a rebel staging area in Reyhanli, Turkey, the same reality in nearly the same language.

“The problem is that the ‘moderate opposition’ that the United States is backing is still largely a fantasy,” Ignatius wrote, noting that the greatest challenge would be to coordinate “the ragtag brigades of the Free Syrian Army into a coherent force that can fill the vacuum once the extremists are driven out.”

Ignatius quoted Syrian rebel commander Hamza al-Shamali, a top recipient of American support including anti-tank missiles, as saying, “At some point, the Syrian street lost trust in the Free Syrian Army,” the U.S.-backed rebel force that was the armed wing of the supposedly “moderate opposition” to President Bashar al-Assad. Ignatius added:

“Shamali explains that many rebel commanders aren’t disciplined, their fighters aren’t well-trained and the loose umbrella organization of the FSA lacks command and control. The extremists of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra have filled the vacuum. Now, he says, ‘the question every Syrian has for the opposition is: Are you going to bring chaos or order?’”

According to Ignatius, Shamali said he rejected a proposal to merge the FSA’s disparate brigades because “we refuse to repeat failed experiments.” He argued that an entirely new “Syrian national army” would be needed to fight both the Islamist radicals and Assad’s military.

But even the sympathetic Ignatius recognized that “the FSA’s biggest problem has been internecine feuding. Over the past two years, I’ve interviewed various people who tried to become leaders, such as: Abdul-Jabbar Akaidi, Salim Idriss and Jamal Maarouf. They all talked about unifying the opposition but none succeeded.

“An Arab intelligence source explains: ‘Until now, the FSA is a kind of mafia. … People inside Syria are tired of this mafia. There is no structure. It’s nothing.’ And this from one of the people who have struggled the past three years to organize the resistance.”

In other words, the “moderate” rebels – to the degree that they do exist – are viewed by many Syrians as part of the problem, not part of any solution.

Favoring Al-Qaeda

Another flaw in Obama’s strategy is that the Syrian “moderates” are much more opposed to Assad’s harsh but secular regime than they are to the Sunni jihadists who have emerged as the most effective fighting force against him.

“If U.S. airstrikes and other support are seen to be hitting Muslim fighters only, and strengthening the despised Assad, this strategy for creating a ‘moderate opposition’ will likely fail,” Ignatius concluded.

That complaint has given new hope to Washington’s influential neoconservatives that they can ultimately redirect Obama’s intervention in Syria from bombing the Islamic State terrorists to a full-scale “regime change” war against Assad, much like the neocons helped convince President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003. [See Consortiumnews.com’sNeocons’ Noses Into the Syrian Tent.”]

In this regard, Obama appears to be the proverbial deer in the headlights. He’s afraid of being called “weak” if he doesn’t go after the Islamic State for its hyper-violent attacks inside Iraq and its brutal executions of American hostages in Syria. Yet, Obama also can’t escape his earlier tough talk that “Assad must go.”

Obama’s core contradiction has been that by providing “covert” assistance to Syrian rebels, he has indirectly strengthened the Sunni extremists who have seized the Free Syrian Army’s weapons depots and won converts from the “moderate” rebels, some of whom were trained, armed and financed by the CIA. Meanwhile, other U.S. allies, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have been helping more extreme Syrian rebels, including al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.

A year ago, many of the “moderate” rebels publicly repudiated the Syrian political front that the Obama administration had put together and instead endorsed al-Nusra. According to one source with access to Western intelligence information, some “moderate” rebels – recruited from Muslim communities in Great Britain and other Western countries – have now taken their military skills (and passports) to the Islamic State.

Yet, instead of acknowledging that this strategy of relying on an unreliable “moderate opposition” is indeed a “fantasy,” President Obama and a majority in Congress have chosen to pursue this geopolitical unicorn with another $500 million and much political chest-thumping.

An Alternative Approach

At this late stage, the only practical strategy would be to press the non-extremist Sunni opposition to work out some form of unity government with Assad who retains strong support among Syria’s Alawite, Shiite and Christian minorities. By enlisting Russia and Iran, Obama might be able to secure concessions from Assad, including the possibility of a gradual transition to a post-Assad era.

With such a political settlement in hand, the focus could then be on defeating the Islamic State and al-Qaeda’s Nusra affiliate and restoring some order to Syria. But the problem is that Official Washington’s neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies are so fixated on “regime change” in Syria and are so hostile to Russia and Iran that any pragmatic strategy is effectively ruled out.

Though Obama may be a closet “realist” who would favor such a compromise approach, he has consistently lacked the political courage or the geopolitical foresight to impose this kind of solution on the powers-that-be in Washington. Any suggestion of collaboration with Russia and Iran or acquiescence to continued rule by Assad would touch off a firestorm of outrage in Congress and the mainstream U.S. media.

So, Obama instead has charted a course into what he knows to be a fantasyland, a costly pursuit of the chimerical Syrian “moderates” who – once located – are supposed to defeat both the Sunni extremists and the army of the secularist Assad. This journey is not simply a march of folly but a meandering into illusion.

~

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

October 2, 2014 Posted by | "Hope and Change" | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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