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Obama Moves to Massively Expand Covert Military Abroad

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Via The New York Times, President Obama has just ordered a “broad expansion of clandestine military operations” in an attempt to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda”. The ‘covert operations’ will likely include anything from target assassinations, ‘drone’ attacks in Pakistan, secret bombing campaigns, money transfers to client states (a la Karzai and Maliki), and many things in-between. This is a significant move for a variety of reasons, not least of which stands the utter lack of public consultation for such a policy.

Mr. Greenwald has a timely essay on why Mr. Obama can undertake such extreme actions in the absence not only of opposition to his imperial policy, but indeed, any discussion whatsoever. Our major news outlets have reported the order in classic ‘objective’ style, assigning as little controversy to it as possible and treating it instead as a run-of-the-mill executive action. But it is interesting to examine why, in this year 2010, after nine continuous years of war, public opinion is such that a unilateral expansion of our secret military complex can occur with as little discussion as imaginable.

First, Mr. Greenwald notes, because this military expansion is taking place under a “Democratic” President, it creates the illusion of so-called ‘bipartisan support’. Back when President Bush was carrying out covert operations in Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc., they were painted as the actions of an ‘extremist’ administration, one which regards the opposition with disdain and made a point of treating international law with utter contempt. However, after 18 months of military escalation, these wars are as much Mr. Obama’s (that is, “Democratic” wars), as they were Mr. Bush’s. As such, the number of “Democrats” willing to risk their political futures by opposing military action has dropped precipitously, as have the number of war-opposers in the general population. Specifically, the subset of people for whom Mr.Obama can do no wrong will automatically agree with his war policy – or if they disagree, put forth some excuse as to how Mr. Obama ‘has no choice’.

The biggest reason Mr. Greenwald identifies, however, is the complete lack of documented impact these wars have on our livelihood. It has been often mentioned that, unlike in Vietnam, very few Americans have had to go to war against their will. Our press is largely censored as to the true cost of our warfare not only on the beleaguered people of Iraq and Afghanistan, but even our own soldiers. Recall the recent dust-up when our Secretary of War, Robert Gates, “harshly condemned” the media’s display of a flag-draped coffin. And that was just one soldier, who had admittedly died in combat, but whose grisly death we had been totally shielded from.  As much as possible, we citizens are encouraged not to think about our military “commitments” abroad, and instead to simply carry on with our daily lives, a few dollars shorter than the day before, a little more ragged perhaps, but still inestimably “proud” of our “commitment” to “democracy in the Middle East”. One wonders just how far that pride would take us if more than 1% of the US population was involved in our military escapades, as the statistic stands now.

But beyond that, what Mr. Greenwald hints at but never explicitly states, is the psychology of powerlessness to which we citizens are routinely subjected. We literally have no say in what our government does abroad, and we have less and less of a say in even its domestic policies. In the 2008 elections, both candidates were unabashedly pro-war, Mr. Obama more so than even his most fervent supporters might have dreamt. For whom are we to vote if we wish to exit Iraq and Afghanistan immediately? Which Congressman, which Senator would even entertain such a possibility? To whom do we donate that we can be sure our paltry $50 will not be rendered irrelevant by the millions of dollars industry interests donate in order to keep these wars going? It is an implacable question, one made all the more urgent by President Obama’s dramatic escalation of our already over-stretched ‘commitments’.

The feeling of powerlessness can lead to apathy, but also to fear. When one recalls the brutality to which previous “anti-war protesters” have been subjected in the US, including savage beatings with nightsticks, water-cannons, ear-splitting sound emitters, tear gas and rubber bullets, it is not hard to imagine from whence this fear of dissent arises. Recall, also, that since the Homegrown Terrorism Act of 2007 passed, civil disobedience – the mere act of peaceful protest – has been defined as ‘terrorism’. And once you are accused of ‘terrorism’, citizen or no, you are immediately stripped of every right you think you have.

This latest move towards military hegemony is particularly insidious, and I suppose it follows that Mr. Obama merely announced his policy, in true decree style, with little or no discussion. With one stroke of a pen, Mr. Obama has resserved the right to carry out military operations anywhere around the globe, from “surgical strikes”, bombing campaigns, ground incursions, assassinations, or, indeed, anything his enigmatic mind may wish. It is worth remembering at this point that Mr. Obama also reserves the right to assassinate US citizens in their beds (that is, far from a battlefield), and ‘render’ accused terrorists to a global prison complex where no defense attorney dares enter. There, they can be beaten, tortured, or even murdered, far from the watchful eye of the Red Cross.

It is easy to imagine this latest move on the part of Mr. Obama is merely a continuation of Mr.  Bush’s odious policies. It is that, of course, but its implications go far deeper. Mr. Bush’s covert actions were largely piecemeal: an assassination here, a few ‘drone’ attacks there, maybe some ‘cash assistance’ to some friendly dictator or another for spice. In contrast, Mr. Obama’s new ‘national security strategy‘ systematizes these covert acts of aggression, and sets up, in essence, a new governmental body, with no congressional or popular oversight, to carry out his murderous will around the globe. It is difficult to overstate the significance of this ‘overhaul’, yet it is even more difficult to convince anyone of that significance.

Mr. Hitler once coined the term for the Germans as a ‘sleep-walking people’, but the same could easily be said of Americans (or, for that matter, anyone else). We face, in our generation, a confluence of crises of which we are only just beginning to see the magnitude, and unfortunately the first step to solving a crisis is to realize it exists, something for which, at least with regards to our present constitutional crisis, we still have quite some ways to go.

Written by pavanvan

May 27, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Hamid Karzai: The NYT’s Faithful Client

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The New York Times has a rather fluffy article in today’s issue about how Abdullah Abdullah, the gentlemen from whom Hamid Karzai stole last year’s election in Afghanistan, was given a “cold shoulder” from the White House.  The United States, it seems, did not want to give an impression of “doubt” that Mr. Karzai, whose brother is Afghanistan’s biggest drug kingpin, is serious about “combating drugs and corruption”. A more clear and direct vote of confidence for our faithful client in Afghanistan, one can hardly envision.

The article stands as a tract to justify Karzai’s illegitimate rule in Afghanistan, but it does more than that. The most interesting quote comes halfway through the piece:

“There is no point in rolling out the red carpet for a guy who is wanting recognition for being himself,” said a senior European diplomat who is involved in Afghanistan. “The world doesn’t work that way. Karzai is the elected leader of Afghanistan.”

Forgive me, but why did this “senior European diplomat” need anonymity to state such a trite banality? Did they really need to hide his identity so that he could spout the US governnment’s “line” with an air of objectivity? And who is this mystery diplomat anyway?

A clue comes in his final statement: “Karzai is the elected leader of Afghanistan”. Now, it should be clear to anyone who has even loosely followed the debacle of Afghanistan’s election last August that Hamid Karzai is not the rightfully elected leader of Afghanistan, that he fabricated at least one-third of his votes, that he engaged in widespread voter intimidation and ballot-box stuffing, and that nearly every international monitoring agency declared the election in which Karzai won a sham.

The only “senior European diplomat” who has consistently apologized for Karzai’s election “engineering” is Kai Eide, who summarily fired his subordinate, Peter Galbraith, for breaking the story that one-third of Karzai’s votes were fraudulent last October. Kai Eide is one of the most odious UN officials working for Afghanistan, one who has consistently and repeatedly covered up for Hamid Karzai’s staggering corruption, his lawless reprisals against dissent, and his slavish devotion to the US occupation of Afghanistan. It would make perfect sense for him to lend his “expertise” to the New York Times for a hit-piece on his best buddy Karzai’s biggest rival.

But the article is even more insidious than that. Nowhere does it even mention that Karzai’s August 2009 victory was fradulent, save for a single mention that Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s vanquished rival, “accused the Karzai government of profound corruption and electoral fraud“, a sling which could be interpreted as mere sour grapes, if it didn’t happen to be true. An uninformed reader, after digesting this one-sided pap, would come away with the clear impression that Hamid Karzai legitimately won the August 2009 election, and that the United States is correct in giving his losing rival the “cold shoulder”. This is a falsehood and a fallacy. Karzai did not legitimately win the election, and the US is wrong and undemocratic to deny the rightful victor, Abdullah Abdullah, an audience with President Obama, who, after all, is leading a vicious occupation of his country.

A sad showing from the once-venerable Gray Lady.

Written by pavanvan

May 21, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Lieberman Wants to Revoke NYC Bomb Suspect’s Citizenship

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At Harper’s, Scott Horton makes a great catch:

Senator Joseph Lieberman has developed a knack for craven fearmongering. His latest proposal was born from the police operation by New York’s finest that led to the capture of Faisal Shahzad last weekend. Shahzad, a financial analyst, is a United States citizen and, as a long-time resident of Bridgeport, one of Lieberman’s constituents, which Lieberman considers a troublesome complication. Lieberman says he will sponsor legislation under which the president will be given the power to deprive a person of his citizenship simply by bringing certain charges.

Lieberman is vague about the proposals, and he offers no explanation of how a citizen could be stripped of his citizenship by executive fiat consistently with the Constitution,a step that would have all the traditional badges of tyrannical government. He also apparently believes, incorrectly, that only U.S. citizens have a right to receive aMiranda warning. (That’s the sort of mistake that a young lawyer sitting for the bar would never make, although Lieberman has been a lawyer since 1967 and was a former Connecticut attorney general.)

Though obviously legislative adventures such as those of Mr. Lieberman should be avoided at all costs, I think it is important to remember that the “facts” of the Times Square incident are now murky and inconclusive at best. We have a “suspect”, but no idea if he actually did it; we have a confession, but no idea how it was extracted. For all the front-page accusations of his supposed “links” to “The Taliban”, we know only for sure that

1) – A crude, incompetent bomb consisting of M-88 firecrackers (the sort children play with), a sealed tank of propane, and a couple bags of fertilizer was placed at the back of an SUV in Times Square. This is not how you make a bomb, and given that the sort of firecracker he bought cannot undergo self-reignition (one M-88 can’t set off another M-88 with its detonation), I have real doubts that the “explosion” would have even broken through the car. It was hardly the sort of device one envisions upon hearing the phrase “car bomb”, particularly as the citizens of Baghdad have come to know it.

2) – A Pakistani-American citizen was picked up at an airport attempting to leave the country with a ticket he paid for in cash. The Times sent its reporters scurrying to find his relatives the moment the NYPD released his name, and they emerged with a hit piece on how the suspect, Mr. Shahzad, “fit the profile of a Terrorist”. Rife with circumstantial evidence, the article describes his “‘money woes”, his newfound “zeal for Islam”, his “strong religious identity” and so forth. The article does not mention the evidence against Mr. Shahzad, and takes his guilt as a foregone conclusion.

3) – The suspect confessed. But I should stress emphatically that that is all we know of his confession. Mr. Shahzad has been accused of five terrorism-related charges, according to the New Statesman, and apparently gave his interrogates “the goods” – that is, he confessed to having trained in Pakistan, having “links” with “The Taliban”, etc – precisely what our policy planners might have wanted. The AFP was kind enough to note that Mr. Shahzad has not been in a court, and has in fact, “disappeared” since his “dramatic arrest” 4 days ago. We don’t know where he was taken, who interrogated him, or what exactly he confessed to.

I do not wish to be called a “conspiracy theorist”, but it is well known (and given the tone of coverage, tragically well accepted) that if you are accused of the crime of Terrorism, you will be interrogated in secret and tortured at the very least by days or weeks of sleeplessness (try it, reader!). I have no idea how Mr. Shahzad was interrogated, except that it was done by the military. Unless I see documentary evidence to suggest otherwise, I think that given the military’s past experiences with interrogation, we can assume Mr. Shahzad was tortured.

Then what is his confession worth? Very little, it would seem, and even less given the almost hilarious nature of his “crime”. The contents of his car were essentially inert. Is it a crime to have firecrackers, a sealed propane tank, and a few bags of fertilizer in your car at Times Square on a Saturday night? Evidently, if you happen to be on a particular list, everything is a crime.

It would be difficult to overstate the danger of Mr. Lieberman’s proposal and those like it. By classifying a certain class of crime (“Terrorism”) as one for which normal rules do not apply, one creates a dangerous precedent. Who, after all, is a Terrorist? Mostly Muslims, for now, but the Administration has given indications for years that it plans on expanding the definition to, say, civil disobedience.

This is an unhealthy trend, and ought to be stopped. To have two sets of laws – one for people accused of “Terrorism” and the other for everyone else – is illogical and absurd; and worse, it demolishes the idea of whether or not we can conclusively ascertain a “Terrorist’s” guilt. Precisely because Mr. Shahzad likely confessed under torture, we shall never know whether or not he was actually guilty.

Written by pavanvan

May 7, 2010 at 9:20 pm

“Warrior Transition”

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The Times is out today with an excellent article on the military’s so-called “Warrior Transition Units”, wherein our traumatized soldiers who return from Iraq and Afghanistan can “unwind” in warehouses across the country. They’re given free drugs and told not to think about things so much. There are, of course, too many ex-soldiers who have been permanently scarred by the things they saw on duty to adequately counsel all of them, but the military makes up for it in painkillers, anti-depressants, and sleeping pills.

The article has some pretty juicy examples:

He was prescribed a laundry list of medications for anxiety, nightmares, depression and headaches that made him feel listless and disoriented. His once-a-week session with a nurse case manager seemed grossly inadequate to him. And noncommissioned officers — soldiers supervising the unit — harangued or disciplined him when he arrived late to formation or violated rules.

Oh, and:

Sgt. John Conant, a 15-year veteran of the Army, returned from his second tour of Iraq in 2007 a changed man, according to his wife, Delphina. Angry and sullen, he reported to the transition unit at Fort Carson, where he was prescribed at least six medications a day for sleeping disorders, pain and anxiety, keeping a detailed checklist in his pocket to remind him of his dosages.

“They didn’t want to do anything but give him medication,” she said.

Also:

“These kids change their medication like they change their underwear,” said a psychotherapist who works with Fort Carson soldiers and asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the transition unit. “They can’t even remember which pills they’re taking.”

Two points emerge which The Times clearly hints at, but doesn’t come out and say:

1) These cases are bound to happen when you force 18-year-old kids fresh out of high school to travel to a godforsaken desert they know nothing about, kill people for basically no reason, watch their best friends die, and come home to a country that barely even knows they’re at war.

2) There has to be some kind of agreement with the pharmaceutical industry at work here to defraud taxpayers. We’re prescribing these kids pills like they’re candy, and there’s hardly any evidence as to these drugs’ efficacy. How much is the pharmaceutical industry making off of these prescription-happy doctors and the taxpayers who are footing the bill?

Those two points aside, a really excellent effort out of The New York Times.

Written by pavanvan

April 26, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Posted in War

Kyrgyzstan Clients and the Afghan War

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Aram Roston is out with another fantastic investigation in this week’s The Nation about how no-bid contracts and an obedient client-dictator in Kyrgyzstan has allowed one company to control virtually all the oil that enters into Afghanistan:

This is the story of two interlinked and secretive offshore companies run by a former Army intelligence officer. The firms run a specialized monopoly of massive proportions. Their niche: supplying aviation fuel for US military operations in Afghanistan–enough to fill two Olympic-size swimming pools each and every day of the year.

The companies’ names are Red Star Enterprises and Mina Corp. In Afghanistan, Red Star Enterprises has a sole source contract worth more than $1 billion, won without competition, to deliver fuel to Bagram Air Base, that central hub of the war effort.The Nation has obtained an unusual “memorandum of agreement” between Red Star and the US military authorities, giving the firm exclusive ownership of a fuel pipeline that feeds directly into the base.

Written by pavanvan

April 23, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Posted in War

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Prime Minister Ayad Allawi

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I mentioned previously that the Iraq election was a sham not because it was rigged (though it certainly was) but because the Iraqis had to choose between two pro-occupation candidates, Al-Maliki and Allawi.

The vote was inconclusive, but those two candidates were widely trumpeted as the “frontrunners”, and many of our newspapers expressed the US government’s opinion on the matter by claiming Allawi won. But few have very much to say about him, now that the initial excitement is over. To fill the silence, I wanted to point out a curious fact about him that Ron Suskind revealed in his latest book, The Way of the World.

Apparently Allawi was involved in the manufacture of false evidence connecting Saddam to 9/11. He was at the CIA headquarters immediately before President Bush gave the order to the CIA to “manufacture evidence” that Al-Qaeda had training camps in Iraq. I cannot dismiss the coincidence of a major Iraqi politician meeting with the CIA immediately before they set to work manufacturing evidence. On some level at least, Allawi was a collaborator.

And he still is.

Written by pavanvan

April 18, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Posted in War

Tagged with , , ,

How The US Funds the Taliban

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I want to draw attention to this article by legendary investigative journalist Aram Roston in last November’s The Nation, which gives some pretty compelling evidence that the US plans Afghanistan to be an endless war. The US taxpayer is apparently the Taliban’s single biggest donor.

Now, many would argue that we’re merely ending the war through monetary means, but you have to really think about what this implies. The Taliban may decide not to shoot at us for the time being, but this money being  given to them now can be used against us at any future date. The Taliban are evidently a cheap organization to run, and with millions of US dollars they can continue resisting forever.

This is simply not rational behavior for a country who’s avowed goal is to “defeat the Taliban”. It is rational for a country who wishes always to have a “Taliban” around to fight.

As one of the truck drivers on the route we pay the Taliban not to fire upon says:

Hanna explained that the prices charged are different, depending on the route: “We’re basically being extorted. Where you don’t pay, you’re going to get attacked. We just have our field guys go down there, and they pay off who they need to.” Sometimes, he says, the extortion fee is high, and sometimes it is low. “Moving ten trucks, it is probably $800 per truck to move through an area. It’s based on the number of trucks and what you’re carrying. If you have fuel trucks, they are going to charge you more. If you have dry trucks, they’re not going to charge you as much. If you are carrying MRAPs or Humvees, they are going to charge you more.”

We have been pursuing the same strategy as part of our “Surge” in Iraq with the so-called “Sunni Awakening”, and while every pundit to the right of an anarchist crows that “The Surge Worked”, we have not seen any political reconciliation there, no disarmament, and no end to suicide attacks (an average of 1.5 of which occurred every week in 2009).

I have no doubt that the “Afghan Surge” or whatever it is they’re calling it nowadays will be trumpeted from every news outlet within six months as the greatest victory since Julius Caesar. But, as in Iraq, I think we will find a full withdrawal to be still in the infinite future.

Written by pavanvan

April 18, 2010 at 9:07 pm

Why Ben Metcalf Pays His Taxes

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Harper’s has just made for free an outstanding essay by their literary editor, Ben Metcalf, entitled “Why I Pay My Taxes“. It was first published in April, 2008, and should be required reading for everyone on tax day.

Excerpts:

Who has nottoppled republics and tyrannies alike so that a corporation he took no personal interest in might enhance by meaningless increment an already criminal profit? Who has notwatched on his television set as a bomb or a tank he helped personally to pay for made a charred and limbless stump out of what previously was an innocent (if un-American) child? I might also ask, if only out of curiosity: just how many of these children needed to be chopped up and burnt before at last my fellow citizens thought to stop payment on the meat grinder and the furnace? One hundred? One thousand? Ten thousand? More?

Does not a single such death constitute a villainy no latter-day tax protest could hope to overcome? Was even that one small tragedy not predicted by our military accountants well in advance of any physical war, to be folded neatly into their projections of “collateral damage”? And have we not all of us long understood this phrase to be but a transparent attempt to log beforehand a formal regret over the slaughter to come while implying also that said slaughter will be accidental and therefore, magically, unforeseen?

_____

In 2007, to take but my most recent foray, I paid something on the order of $20,000 into the federal pail. Of this sum, I can be assured that 31 percent, or $6,200, was put toward current military expenses (which would strike me as almost miserly if it did not far surpass what I have given at any one time to any other cause). Of this $6,200, I know that roughly 23 percent, or $1,400 (also more than I have given at any one time to any other cause), went immediately to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which our current administration, the second Bush, claims already to have won.

_____

Surely, though, I can say with some certainty that the $1,400 I sent last year to the wars abroad scored at least on occasion. That unassuming sum, after all, would have paid for 5,000 M16 machine-gun bullets at 28 cents per. Five thousand bullets! Is notone of these now lodged in a foreign corpse on my tab and my behalf? True, the price has gone up since then (by a whopping 2 cents), but that still promises a good 4,666-bullet year, and with luck I might get a cost-of-living raise to make up the difference.

The whole thing is grimly hilarious, and well worth reading.

Written by pavanvan

April 16, 2010 at 10:09 am

‘Penny Pinching’ in Afghanistan

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The Times has a blatantly pro-war screed masquerading as unbiased news today, as they attempt to bully Britain into providing more money for Afghanistan. Just look at this lede:

Has a “penny pinching” approach to defense spending by Prime Minister Gordon Brown kept British troops in Afghanistan disastrously short of the helicopters and other equipment their commanders have long demanded, causing unnecessarily heavy combat losses to the Taliban’s most devastating weapon, roadside bombs?

“Disastrously short of helicopters”, “commanders have long demanded”, “unnecessarily heavy combat losses”, “most devastating weapon” – Gee, I wonder if the author thinks Britain ought to invest more money in this black hole of a war! (the answer is yes.)

Then it gets even worse. The author, John F. Burns, decides his best source for this matter is a retired British general – one who was Britain’s top military officer back in 2001:

Gen. Charles Guthrie, Britain’s top military officer until 2001, has spoken bitterly of Mr. Brown’s paring of budgets for helicopters and other defense priorities. “Gordon never cared” about defense, he said in an interview last summer with the Times of London. “It’s no good the prime minister one moment saying success is all important, and then for the sake of a few extra helicopters and 2,000 men allowing the mission in Afghanistan to fail.

You can’t go to war in a penny-pinching way,” he said.

What exactly is the “mission” I hear everyone talking about? What does “success” even mean in this context? And isn’t ‘penny-pinching’ a rational policy if your country is totally broke? I know we live in a culture that worships success, but this is going a little too far.

I guess the point of the article is that Conservative leader David Cameron is using this “issue” to score some quick points against Labour in the upcoming election. Mr. Burns writes:

Mr. Cameron quoted a former British paratroop commander in Afghanistan as saying that “repeated demands for more helicopters fell on deaf ears” with the Brown government, and that troops ended up “driving into combat when they should have been flying.

Why don’t they just leave? They would neither have to drive nor fly into combat in that case. The BBC and several other opinion polls all show the war to be deeply unpopular with the British public. But since all of America’s so-called ‘allies’ are shying away from this insane and endless conflict, we have to rely once again on our ‘oldest ally’ to fill the gap – and that often means having to bully them a bit on the front page of our leading newspaper.

Written by pavanvan

April 15, 2010 at 11:23 am

How Not to End the War in Afghanistan

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A rather disappointing article in The New York Review of Books by British Labour politician David Miliband this week entitled “How to End the War in Afghanistan” prominently displays all the hang-ups our ‘coalition forces’ suffer when contemplating that quagmire of a war. It would be interesting to discuss this article because it contains within it the genealogy of orientalist Western thought toward that unfortunate desert; from British gamesmanship during the 19th century to hedge against Russia to the 21st century Anglo-American occupation of the same desert, ostensibly to hedge against Iran and China. Astoundingly, it seems we have learned nothing of imperialism, of cultural imposition and brute coercion in the intervening centuries. Then, as now, we marched in and expected the Afghans to listen to us because, after all, it was in their best interest to do so. Then, as now, we expressed our bewilderment that they could not grasp so easy a concept. And then (as now) we wrung our hands and lamented that we wish there were another way, but we must, unfortunately, continue our occupation until we achieve a “stable” “friendly” “democracy” in that far-off, warlord-plagued desert.

For an article with such a direct title, Mr Milibrand chooses a roundabout method of answering his implied question. After all, “How to End the War in Afghanistan” could be summed up in about a paragraph: NATO-led coalition forces should immediately cease all combat operations, issue an apology to the Afghan people for using them as pawns in macabre game of geopolitical chess, withdraw all troops and war material, and extend some manner of reparations for the thirty years of horrific destruction the US and Britain collectively wrought upon their land.

From the first sentence of his article, we can see Mr. Milibrand rejects that method of “ending the war”. He repeats, with no sense of irony, the prevailing narrative which brought us into the war in the first place, a narrative which has been shown to be false, and which goes directly against the stated aim of Milibrand’s article (‘ending the war’). In his opening paragraph below, I have bolded the most dubious claims:

In the 1990s that country’s Taliban government provided a safe haven and support for al-Qaeda. In return Osama bin Laden provided the Taliban with money and fighters. Afghanistan became the incubator for the September 11 attacks. The international intervention in response to those attacks had widespread support around the world. But we never meant for our militaries to be there forever. Eight years later, with al-Qaeda pushed into Pakistan, it is not enough to explain to people why the war started. We need to set out how it will be ended—how to preserve what has been achieved and protect South Asia from a contagion that would affect us all.

Now, it is clear that one would not begin an article with such fantastic mendacity if one were serious about “ending the war”. As Milibrand well knows, 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, not Afghanistan; the US provided far more dollars to the Taliban than Osama Bin Laden (and continues to do so); the 2001 invasion saw massive, worldwide protests that were the largest yet seen (but were surpassed two years later against the Iraq War); and the so-called “contagion” that would “affect us all” has neither been defined nor genuinely demonstrated.

And so on. The article continues to detail the pernicious “insurgent” problem that threatens the “stability” of Hamid Karzai’s US-imposed dictatorship, the opium which continues to be a “major problem” for Afghanistan (even though the premier opium kingpin in Afghanistan is on the CIA’s payroll), and the problems of “corruption” (even though the US-supported Karzai regime is widely considered to be one of the most corrupt in the world.)

The mendacity displayed here is astonishing, but it is the natural result of the inherent contradictions in Mr Miliband’s position. On one hand, like all politicians seeking election, he wants this unpopular war to “end”. On the other hand, like all geopolitical power players, he wants a US-friendly regime in Afghanistan, one which will act precisely as we wish it to act and will acquiesce to the permanent stationing of US troops, should China, Pakistan or Iran begin to act uppity. Now, obviously, imposing an illegitimate, unelected government like that of Mr Karzai would tend to make a few of his citizens upset, and just as obviously, the US would have to use force, perhaps indefinite force, to defend its client. Hence the contradiction. “Ending the War” implies letting go of our client state in Afghanistan, something which Mr Miliband and our US policy planners are evidently unwilling to do.

Hence the vague threats of “contagion”, the constant apology for the Karzai dictatorship (He has, after all, “promised to tackle corruption”), the rancid bellicosity toward “extremists” (“They must be beaten back”, says Miliband, which sounds pretty “extreme” to me), etc.

The most astounding line in the whole essay comes when Mr Miliband says: “The idea of anyone reaching out to political engagement with those who would directly or indirectly attack our troops is difficult.” The lack of self-awareness in such a pronouncement is almost too much to be believed. Let us imagine that Britain had been invaded by Germany in 1940, as was then thought to be a serious possibility. The British had been preparing for guerrilla warfare to repel the Nazis, but, under Milibrand’s logic, any British resistance would have been illegitimate! After all, the German general could say, “The idea of reaching out to those who would attack our troops is difficult.” How dare those British attack good German soldiers? And likewise, how dare those dastardly Afghans attack our stalwart American forces, who only invaded their country and installed a corrupt and unpopular dictator in order to bring them Peace™ and Democracy™ !

So, in the end, despite a confused list of policy suggestions that happen not to make a lick of sense (how the hell does he expect to “eradicate corruption” while supporting stolen elections and massive payments to drug kingpins?!), Mr Miliband’s essay argues cogently in favor of the Afghan war. If there is one thing we are meant to take away from this essay, it is that these desert wogs simply have no idea how to govern themselves and need constant oversight from their best friends in the United States and Britain. Doing so, of course, requires a long-term military presence (something which Mr Miliband curiously appears to support). He ought to have titled it “How not to End the War in Afghanistan”.

Written by pavanvan

April 12, 2010 at 1:11 pm

WikiLeaks Plans to Reveal Pentagon Cover-Up of Massacre

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Wikileaks, a whistle-blower site where anyone can safely and anonymously reveal classified documents, has been the victim of an international campaign on the part of several governments to destroy it. Spearheaded by the US and the Pentagon, the governments of the world have much reason to see this site go down. Recently, Wikileaks revealed documents which detail the Pentagon and CIA’s extensive propaganda activities in the US and Europe.

Today, Alternet reports that Wikileaks plans to reveal a video that conclusively shows a cover-up at the highest levels of the Pentagon to conceal a massacre that occurred on their watch. Naturally, our intelligence agencies are going to extreme lengths to prevent this from happening:

In a recent editorial that was later scrubbed, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange claimed WikiLeaks is under fire from American and international intelligence agencies angered by his site’s oversharing of the global village’s dark political and financial secrets, and that they are responding with harassment, surveillance, unnecessary detention and worse.

“We’ve become used to the level of security service interest in us and have established procedures to ignore that interest,” Assange wrote in the editorial. “But the increase in surveillance activities this last month, in a time when we are barely publishing due to fundraising, are excessive.”

One cannot overstate the value of an organization such as WikiLeaks at a time when investigative journalism is dying and government secrecy is as an all-time high. The ‘war on terror’ has managed to convince much of the public that government secrecy is not only unnecessary, it may even be dangerous (“putting our troops at risk”), while both the CIA and the Pentagon have engaged in massive propaganda offensives with nearly every mainstream outlet in complicity.  In such a media landscape, Wikileaks plays a role too important to estimate. Its video detailing the Pentagon massacre comes out on April 5th.

Written by pavanvan

April 3, 2010 at 6:15 pm

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Ghosts of Vietnam

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I want to draw attention to the Chicago Tribune’s fantastic investigative series on the long-term effects of our chemical warfare in Vietnam (euphemistically, “Agent Orange”). Millions of Vietnamese and thousands of former US infantry continue to suffer the effects of our indiscriminate spraying of “herbicides” throughout Vietnam during the ’70s, with birth defects, limb amputations, mental degradation and premature death.

An excerpt from their flagship article:

In central Indiana, two sisters struggle through another day, afflicted by a painful condition in which their brains are wedged against their spinal cords. They are in their 30s, but their bodies are slowly shutting down.

Thousands of miles away, amid the rice paddies of Vietnam, a father holds down his 19-year-old daughter as she writhes in pain from a seizure brought on by fluid in her skull, which has been drained four times in the past four years.

“The doctors said that they were sorry, but they could not cure her,” the father says. “They told me I should take her home and that she would pass away very soon.”

These women come from different cultures, from nations separated by more than 8,300 miles. Their fathers fought on opposite sides of the Vietnam War, but they are linked by the stubborn legacy of Agent Orange and other defoliants sprayed by the U.S. military decades ago.

Contaminated with dioxin, a chemical now considered the most toxic ever created by man, the defoliants are linked to a higher risk of multiple cancers, birth defects and other conditions that are contributing to a dramatic increase in financial compensation for U.S. veterans and their families.

Remember when we invaded Iraq because we thought Saddam Hussein was planning to manufacture chemical weapons?

Written by pavanvan

March 31, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Iraq Elections: US Chooses its Favorite

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It looks as though our trusty client Maliki will come out ahead in the 2010 Iraqi elections after all, if this McClatchy dispatch is any indication. Carrying out long-standing political discrimination against the disgraced Ba’ath party, six major candidates will lose their votes and seats, costing Allawi (another US client) his victory. The six candidates committed the awful crime of having been associated with the Ba’ath party before the US invasion:

Six winning candidates in Iraq elections will be stripped of their votes and lose their seats – which would cost secular politician Iyad Allawi’s bloc its narrow victory – if a federal court upholds a broad purge of candidates who are suspected of past involvement with the late dictator Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath Party, Iraqi officials said Monday.

What’s most appalling about this development is not that the Iraqis had to choose between two pro-occupation candidates, but that Ahmad Chalabi is in charge of the so-called ‘de-baathification”, and thus in a position to unilaterally decide who can and cannot contest elections in Iraq. Chalabi, you must remember, was a major architect of the 2003 invasion, and went so far as to provide fake intelligence to convince Bush to bomb Baghdad. Astoundingly, Chalabi also contested the 2010 Iraqi Elections, while retaining the power to disqualify candidates at will. (Unsurprisingly, he won re-election.)

Aram Roston has written several excellent articles detailing Ahmad Chalabi’s crucial role in the Iraq invasion, and his 2008 article in The Nation entitled “Chalabi’s lobby” is a must read. Why Chalabi is still in such a powerful position after the Senate Intelligence Committee determined he had (in their words) “attempted to influence United States policy on Iraq by providing false information” is totally beyond me.

Somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon, some master brain or another must have decided that the US would rather have Maliki in the Prime Minster’s seat rather than Allawi, and gave the order to Chalabi (who has been collaborating with the US Department of War since the ’90s) to disqualify such-and-such candidates to make Maliki come out on top.

The truth is, it doesn’t really matter – not to the Iraqis, anyway. Either Allawi or Maliki would have carried out US policy like the obedient servants they are. Whoever won, the Iraqis would still be saddled with a long-term occupation force of 50,000, their oil would still have gone up on the international market, with no chance of nationalizing it, and their elections would continue to be rigged in favor of the US – just as this one was.

When they said we’d be bringing “democracy” to Iraq, I’m sure our leaders meant “US-style democracy”. You know, the kind where the electorate chooses between two candidates with identical policies and who are funded by the same corrupt sources. Just like we have it here!

Written by pavanvan

March 30, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Mendacity and the Recent Iraq Elections

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The Times has a review of Iraq’s recent parliamentary elections that is written from a rather blatant pro-occupation standpoint. Our main client, Nuri al-Malki, the current Prime Minister, has apparently just lost, leaving Iraq’s future “uncertain” and maybe provoking “violence that could threaten plans to withdraw American troops.”

The rest of the article covers how our client is outraged that he lost and demands a recount, something of which the Times would seem to approve. The Times quotes some scary-sounding US generals to justify its fears of “violence”, even though very little has yet occurred. Then comes the obligatory “one side says – the other side says”, as they give us a couple spot interviews with Allawi supporters and detractors. They end the article with speculation that Allawi may  not be able to form a government, and if this is the case, the Prime Ministership will go back into the hands of our faithful client Maliki. After reading the article one gets the distinct impression that the Iraqis have to choose between Allawi and Maliki, with Al-Sadr (the “anti-American cleric) a somewhat distant third.

Mind-bogglingly, The Times completely neglects to mention that Ayad Allawi is also an American client, having led the Iraqi interim government along with Ahmed Chalabi, the main Iraqi collaborator in the US invasion. (It was Chalabi that sold us fake records of Saddam’s WMD program). I cannot wrap my mind around why The Times would not consider this important information. All they say is that Allawi was “once derided as an American puppet”, a phrase that gives the distinct impression Allawi has stoped collaborating with the US – but he hasn’t.

By focusing primarily on the mysterious “violence” that may or may not occur as a result of this election, the Times elides the true scandal of this election, that only pro-occupation candidates are allowed to win. Hyping up this rather pathetic squabble between to very similar candidates does nothing to help us understand the political undercurrents in Iraq. Al-Sadr was mentioned only once in this article (as a “possible kingmaker”), but remains largely irrelevant to the narrative The Times purveys, one which seeks to justify further US occupation of Iraq and gives voice only to candidates who will ensure that.

Written by pavanvan

March 27, 2010 at 11:46 am

New “Enemy Belligerent” Act Allows for Indefinite Detention of US Citizens

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Lilliana Segura of Alternet reports:

The bill is only 12 pages long, but that is plenty of room to grant the president the power to order the arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment of anyone — including a U.S. citizen — indefinitely, on the sole suspicion that he or she is affiliated with terrorism, and on the president’s sole authority as commander in chief.

A subsequent section, titled “Detention Without Trial of Unprivileged Enemy Belligerents,” states that suspects “may be detained without criminal charges and without trial for the duration of hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” In a press conference introducing the bill earlier this month, Sen. Joe Lieberman said, “I know that will be — that may be — a long time, but that’s the nature of this war.”

I’ve never seen a piece of legislation so baldly committed to subverting the rule of law. Remember, former Chief of Defense Staff has explicitly stated that the War on Terror (‘hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners’) could last 50 years. Or forever! No one knows!

Thankfully we still have a half-way independent judiciary which has repeatedly struck down similar legislation; so the odds are that this bill, if passed, will eventually be found unconstitutional (which, of course it is). But until then, anyone caught up in the drag-net of police state action this bill recommends will find themselves very lonely indeed, while they wait for the ‘war on terror’ to end.

And can we drop all this nonsense about “well, if you’re not a terrorist, you don’t need to worry”? Tell that to the 90% of inmates at Guantanamo Bay who are totally innocent. Tell that to the taxicab drivers, bakers and welders who were sold for bounties and found themselves held and tortured for years at the various US “black sites” around the globe. This bill isn’t so much an “anti-terrorism” bill as it is an “anti-Muslim” bill.

Seeing that the guy who flew his plane into a Texas IRS building (the very definition of Terrorism) was labeled a “tax protester” by our government and media, and our own Homeland Security department is on record saying that Timothy McVeigh (who bombed an Oklahoma government building, killing 168 people, including children) “wasn’t a terrorist“, it should be clear who that epithet refers to.

And if there’s any doubt still remaining, just check Newsweek‘s “handy guide” as to who is and is not a “terrorist”:

Lone wolfish American attacker who sees gov’t as threat to personal freedom: bomber, tax protester, survivalist, separatist

Group of Americans bombing/kidnapping to protest U.S. policies on war/poverty/personal freedom/ – radical left-wing movement, right-wing separatists

All foreign groups or foreign individuals bombing/shooting to protest American gov’t: terrorists

So it should be clear that this bill is specifically designed to more easily arrest “foreigners” (even those who happen to be US citizens), hold them indefinitely without trial, and – what the hell, why not – torture them. White people cannot, by definition, be terrorists. Only brown people can.

Written by pavanvan

March 19, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Obama Covers Up FBI Fraud in Anthrax Case

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You may remember the so-called anthrax attacks in 2001, which were widely cited as a reason to attack Iraq. The lasting image in the run-up to the war is of Colin Powell sitting in front of the UN, shaking a vial of anthrax and saying “We know this came from Saddam”. Of course it didn’t. And for years afterward, no one quite knew who the mysterious “anthrax attacker” was.

Then, in 2008, the FBI came out with its decision that the anthrax attacker was one Bruce Ivins, an apparently disgruntled Army biodefense expert who committed suicide just days before the justice department planned to formally charge him. Since Mr. Ivins was dead, the FBI saw no need to gather any additional evidence or reveal what evidence they had already gathered. Case Closed!

Not quite. Glenn Greenwald and several other bloggers have cast deep aspersions on the FBI’s investigation, stopping just short of calling it a fraud. In his sublime article, Greenwald noted several unresolved questions in the FBI’s investigation – questions which, it would now seem, will never be solved. Also see this, this, and this.

Greenwald isn’t the only one with questions. Last Thursday, Rep. Steve Holt called on Congress to begin a new investigation. As he wrote in a letter to Congress:

To date, there has been no comprehensive examination of the FBI’s conduct in this investigation, and a number of important questions remain unanswered.

We don’t know why the FBI jumped so quickly to the conclusion that the source of the material used in the attacks could only have come from a domestic lab, in this case, Ft. Dietrick. We don’t know why they focused for so long, so intently, and so mistakenly on Dr. Hatfill.

We don’t know whether the FBI’s assertions about Dr. Ivins’ activities and behavior are accurate. We don’t know if the FBI’s explanation for the presence of silica in the anthrax spores is truly scientifically valid. We don’t know whether scientists at other government and private labs who assisted the FBI in the investigation actually concur with the FBI’s investigative findings and conclusions.

We don’t know whether the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Postal Service have learned the right lessons from these attacks and have implemented measures to prevent or mitigate future such bioterror attacks.

You can read the full letter here. Rep. Holt joins Senator Pat Leahy, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Arlen Specter, and several others in expressing deep skepticism on the FBI’s narrative. What would cause all these senators and representatives, from both sides of the aisle, to question the FBI’s findings?

And on top of it all, President Obama has threatened to veto an intelligence budget bill (a move which I would normally be all for), because it carries a provision to investigate the FBI’s handling of the anthrax case. Why would he do this?

Well, according to him, an investigation “would undermine public confidence in a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of the attacks and unfairly cast doubt on its conclusions,”. To tell you the truth, that statement did far more to undermine my confidence in the FBI than any investigation would have.

This whole thing stinks of a cover-up. At this point I think it extremely likely that the anthrax scare was deliberately put on by the Bush Administration (at the cost of five lives) in order to drum up support for the Iraq War. It was just too convenient! Think of how many speeches in which President Bush or one of his flunkies accused Saddam of manufacturing anthrax. The only thing that made those threats credible was the anthrax attack that already happened in the US.

So the FBI, under immense public pressure to find someone responsible decides upon Bruce Ivins. But they know if the case went to court, their fraud would be exposed. So they “arrange” for him to commit suicide, thus precluding the possibility of a trial but still closing the case once and for all.

Then President Obama uses his muscle to make sure the case stays closed, by threatening his first veto over the matter. It’s all too easy.

Also, see this. Dr. Meryl Nass is an expert in the subject, and was intimately involved with Bruce Ivins’s research. She rounds up 16 major holes in the FBI’s case against Bruce Ivins, including the fact that no autopsy was performed on Ivin’s body (so we’re supposed to just take their word that it was a suicide).

Remember, without these anthrax attacks, President Bush would have had a far more difficult time convincing the country to go to war with Iraq, and many think he could not have done it. The FBI’s case is full of holes and begs for a more thorough investigation. Ask yourself: why is President Obama so intent on letting sleeping dogs lie? What does he think this investigation will reveal? Why is he willing to veto a major intelligence bill to make sure that Bruce Ivins remains the sole anthrax perpetrator?

FBI: “No Hard Evidence Linking Bin Laden to 9/11”

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No joke. Very few are aware of this, but the FBI has been on record at least since 2006 to say that they have “no hard evidence” that Bin Laden had anything to do with 9/11. And there goes yet another rationale for our Afghan adventure.

Source:

On June 5, 2006, the Muckraker Report contacted the FBI Headquarters, (202) 324-3000, to learn why Bin Laden’s Most Wanted poster did not indicate that Usama was also wanted in connection with 9/11. The Muckraker Report spoke with Rex Tomb, Chief of Investigative Publicity for the FBI. When asked why there is no mention of 9/11 on Bin Laden’s Most Wanted web page, Tomb said, “The reason why 9/11 is not mentioned on Usama Bin Laden’s Most Wanted page is because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11.”

Surprised by the ease in which this FBI spokesman made such an astonishing statement, I asked, “How this was possible?” Tomb continued, “Bin Laden has not been formally charged in connection to 9/11.” I asked, “How does that work?” Tomb continued, “The FBI gathers evidence. Once evidence is gathered, it is turned over to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice than decides whether it has enough evidence to present to a federal grand jury. In the case of the 1998 United States Embassies being bombed, Bin Laden has been formally indicted and charged by a grand jury. He has not been formally indicted and charged in connection with 9/11 because the FBI has no hard evidence connected Bin Laden to 9/11.”

Written by pavanvan

March 15, 2010 at 3:14 pm

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The Israeli Creep

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March 14, 2010 at 8:26 pm

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US Holding 27,000 Secret Prisoners Around the World

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Many people think that since Guantanamo only holds around 700 prisoners, and since that’s the only US secret prison that happens to be in the news, our crimes when it comes to torture and indefinite detention only extend to a few hundred prisoners. But Clive Stafford Smith, a valiant defense lawyer for many of the innocent US ‘ghost prisoners’, claims that the US is holding more than 27,000 secret prisoners in undisclosed hell-holes around the world.

Remember, 95% of detainees in US custody were seized randomly and brought to us to us by bounty hunters – sold, essentially, for a few thousand dollars –  and ex-Bush officials are already on record saying that most of them are innocent. Everyone who has the rotten luck to end up in US custody gets tortured in some manner or another, be it by sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, “stress positions” (being forced to stand, arms outstretched for days at a time), or whatever else the soldiers decide to do with you. There are no exceptions.

And lest we forget, at least 100 of these detainees, and likely far more, were horrifically tortured to death. The most terrifying part about this is that there’s no law. None. You can be a US citizen, minding your own business one day, and the next be transported to an unknown location, placed in sensory deprivation for 1,301 days, pumped full of LSD and PCP, beaten within an inch of your life, shocked with electrodes, mock-executed, water-boarded, etc. The ‘interrogators’ are limited only by their imaginations. There are no written rules.

“Sensory deprivation” is a rather euphemistic phrase for what I am convinced is the most horrifying and brutal torture ever devised. The procedure is precisely as it sounds – you are “deprived” of your senses – but that description fails to convey the sheer terror involved. Imagine: you are sitting there with blackout goggles, thick ear-pads, and heavy gloves. You float in a sea of nothingness, seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling nothing. You don’t know how long this will last – maybe a day, maybe a week – but what’s more, you feel your sensation of time and space breaking down. Just imagine it! Total silence and darkness for days, weeks at a time!

Jose Padilla, who remained this way for 1,301 days.

Donald O. Hebb, the psychiatrist who pioneered the technique, found that his subjects experienced “acute hallucinations” after just one day in the “deprivation chamber” and “total psychosis” after only two days. He estimated that six to eight days would be the maximum anyone could endure while keeping their sanity intact, and later claimed he had “no idea what a potentially vicious weapon this technique could be”. Jose Padilla was kept in sensory deprivation for 1,301 daysthat is, 43 months. Can you imagine it – continuous silence and darkness for almost four years? They say “don’t try this at home”, but do try it! Sit in a room for just one day with blackout goggles and earmuffs on, wearing thick gloves, and preferably shackled to a fixed object. I have nightmares about this. But for Jose Padilla, a US citizen, it was all too real.

Finally, I should hasten to remind the Obama Administration, who has already endorsed kidnapping, interrogation by torture, and indefinite detention, that these practices are illegal via the Supreme Court’s Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision, which stipulates that all detention practices must conform to Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. I wonder if this constitutional lawyer cares with the Supreme Court thinks.

US Contractors Engage in Massive Iraq Fraud

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The Times with a startling report:

Some of the cases involve people who are suspected of having mailed tens of thousands of dollars to themselves from Iraq, or of having stuffed the money into duffel bags and suitcases when leaving the country, the federal investigators said. In other cases, millions of dollars were moved through wire transfers. Suspects then used cash to buy BMWs, Humvees and expensive jewelry, or to pay off enormous casino debts.

Some suspects also tried to conceal foreign bank accounts in Ghana, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Britain, the investigators said, while in other cases, cash was simply found stacked in home safes.

So the taxpayer paid to invade Iraq, then the taxpayer paid to rebuild Iraq. But really what the taxpayer was doing was paying corrupt “contractors” to shove money into duffel bags and make off into the sunset. Hooray for “deregulation!”

Written by pavanvan

March 14, 2010 at 3:03 pm

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So You’d Like to Waterboard: A Step-By-Step Manual

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Mark Benjamin at Salon reviews some CIA documents and emerges with the authoritative US Government Guide to Torture.

Some excerpts:

One of the more interesting revelations in the documents is the use of a saline solution in waterboarding. Why? Because the CIA forced such massive quantities of water into the mouths and noses of detainees, prisoners inevitably swallowed huge amounts of liquid – enough to conceivably kill them from hyponatremia, a rare but deadly condition in which ingesting enormous quantities of water results in a dangerously low concentration of sodium in the blood.

Interrogators were instructed to pour the water when a detainee had just exhaled so that he would inhale during the pour. An interrogator was also allowed to force the water down a detainee’s mouth and nose using his hands. “The interrogator may cup his hands around the detainee’s nose and mouth to dam the runoff,” the Bradbury memo notes. “In which case it would not be possible for the detainee to breathe during the application of the water.”

The CIA’s waterboarding regimen was so excruciating, the memos show, that agency officials found themselves grappling with an unexpected development: detainees simply gave up and tried to let themselves drown.

The memo also contains a last, little-noticed paragraph that may be the most disturbing of all. It seems to say that the detainees subjected to waterboarding were also guinea pigs. The language is eerily reminiscent of the very reasons the Nuremberg Code was written in the first place. That paragraph reads as follows:

“NOTE: In order to best inform future medical judgments and recommendations, it is important that every application of the waterboard be thoroughly documented: how long each application (and the entire procedure) lasted, how much water was used in the process (realizing that much splashes off), how exactly the water was applied, if a seal was achieved, if the naso- or oropharynx was filled, what sort of volume was expelled, how long was the break between applications, and how the subject looked between each treatment.”

But yeah, you know – torture is no big deal. Especially since most of these people we’re torturing are innocent anyway.

Written by pavanvan

March 11, 2010 at 10:35 am

Fallujah Sees Dramatic Rise in Birth Defects After US Battle

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From the BBC:

We went to a house where three children, all under six, were suffering from birth defects.

Two boys were partially paralysed, and their sister clearly had serious brain damage.

Like all the other parents we spoke to, their mother had no doubt that the American attacks were responsible.

Outside, a man who had heard we were there had brought his four-year-old daughter to show us. She had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot.

She was also suffering from a number of other serious health problems. The father told us that the house where they still lived had been hit by an American shell during the fighting in 2004.

There may well be a link with drinking-water, especially in al-Julan.

After the fighting was over, the rubble from the town was bulldozed into the river bank, and most people in this area get their water from the river.

Written by pavanvan

March 11, 2010 at 12:23 am

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The Times, Habeas Corpus, and those Bad Ol’ Terrorists

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The Times continues its faux-reporting over the “controversy” that has erupted over whether we should act like tyrants and keep “terror suspects” in cages indefinitely without trial, or act like decent adults and follow the rule of law. Previously, The Times came out in support of the former option, happily announcing that “Detainees will be Held, but not Tried” – but as the political winds shift, so do does the leading newspaper, which now plumps for the worst aspects of both, much like President Obama. They even invoked the mysterious “experts”, who, apparently, do not include the Supreme Court.

As Jane Mayer expertly analyzed in a recent New Yorker, the Justice Department is now in a state of civil war. One one side, Attorney General Eric Holder, who advocates that “terror suspects” be vetted in a court of law to determine what, if anything, they’re guilty of. He is joined by a majority of our Supreme Court, human-rights activists, and other so-called sympathizers of terrorism. Opposing him stands Rahm Emanuel, the President’s chief of staff, who contends these “enemy combatants” deserve no quarter and should be tried, without evidence, before a “military tribunal” after being held indefinitely (after an interrogation by torture). Joining Mr. Emanual, ironically, is the Tea Party faction, along with “Republicans” in general, all of whom claim that allowing suspects of terrorism a fair trial stands tantamount to treason.

President Obama, as is his wont, has opted for a “middle path”, as The Times reports today. Some detainees, specifically those whom he is sure to convict, will be publicly tried, and the rest will just be held indefinitely because it’s impossible to convict anyone you’ve tortured a confession out of without looking like a butcher.

Granting civilian trials to some “terrorists” and secretly sentencing the others creates a multi-tiered justice system wherein only the suspects for whom conviction is assured will be allowed to go to trial. This is pre-judgment and worse.  It it is a system that does away with even the pretense of caring whether or not these detainees are actually guilty. The government clearly seeks a few nefarious-looking Terrorists to be convicted by a civilian jury – thus proving that “the system works” – and then machinery to convict the rest of the suspects who could not be tried by jury because they were interrogated by torture and their cases would be thrown out (as, indeed, many have already).

It’s worth remembering that a vast majority of Guantanamo detainees were guilty of nothing more than bad luck. An ex-Bush official is on record saying that most of the people we held there were totally innocent.

But beyond this, The Times completely neglects to mention that these military commissions are illegal. The Supreme court has ruled, in numerous landmark cases, that the whole military commissions process is unconstitutional.  Hamdan v. Rumsfeld effectively nullifies the necessary sections of the Military Commissions Act, and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld restored Habeas Corpus and Sixth Amendment rights (the right to a speedy trial) to detainees.

In fact, the majority opinion of Hamdan states that all detainees be given a “regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples“, and clearly states that the commissions system set up in Guantanamo does not fit that requirement.

Any article discussing discussing military commissions has the duty to mention these cases, but since they’re  inconvenient to the prevailing narrative, they become “non-newsworthy”. I’m sure the “experts” they quote (nearly all Bush flunkies) know better.

One hears often from opponents of civil liberties that it’s “borderline criminal” to read a terrorism suspect his rights, that such actions provide “comfort to the enemy”, or as Ms. Palin thundered in her memorable Tea Party speech, that we’re allowing Terrorists who “hate our freedoms” to “lawyer up”. As Scott Brown, Massachusetts Senator and Tea Party darling once remarked: “Some people believe our Constitution exists to grant rights to terrorists who want to harm us. I disagree.”

But of course it is not for this charlatan to decide, but for the Supreme Court, who, unfortunately for Mr. Brown, has consistently ruled in favor of detainee rights. And for the record, the Constitution prescribes the relevant clauses to protect the rights of people who have been accused of a crime but not yet found guilty, much like these so-called “terrorists”. Until convicted in a court of law, these people are, by definition, guilty of nothing.

The reasoning employed by the Palin-Brown faction makes the dangerous assumption that anyone the government accuses of terrorism magically becomes a terrorist. In the warped mind of a Tea Partier, suspicion is proof. This works fine for most people, so long as it’s only brown Arabs with weird squiggly writing whom we lock up in cages with no trial, but the danger of promoting totalitarian practices is that you never quite know against whom they’ll be used next.

Postscript:

It’s also worth mentioning that every other country that has had problems with terrorism – India, Greece, Spain, etc. – have all found ways to deal with it within their already existing legal structures. They saw no need to create new levels of “justice” wherein some suspects get trials and others simply go to jail forever.

Iraq Shiite Showdown

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A relatively decent article out of The Times on today’s election in Iraq. I must commend the NYT on it’s coverage out of Iraq this election cycle. They remain unabashedly pro-Maliki, but have begun to allow a few dissenting voices space in its articles (albeit, small space), including one standout gem in the linked report.

Many of you remember the famed “Basra Offensive” in March 2009 (just as the Dow was hitting bottom), which “flushed out” the Shi’a Mahdi Army and made Basra safe. That’s the prevailing narrative, anyway, and the Times basically assumes its true.

But they do allow this gem from an opposition Shi’a candidate aligned with the “defeated” Mahdi army regarding the Basra Offensive, what the Iraqis call the “Knights operation”:

“They did arrest criminal groups, but the groups only came back later with different names,” he said. “What they refer to as the Knights operation was really the targeting of political groups. They killed many. It was a crime against the Iraqi people.”

They spend the rest of the article tacitly supporting the opposite claim (that the Basra Offensive was a success and not a crime), but at least they entertained the possibility of it being a political pogrom instead of a legitimate military action.

A rare forum for dissent from a paper whose job is basically to manufacture consent for US actions in Iraq.

Written by pavanvan

March 7, 2010 at 9:07 pm

US Government Pays Its Companies To Violate Iran “Sanctions”

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The Times has a hilarious investigative report in today’s issue. Apparently $100 billion in government cash has gone into the pockets of energy companies doing business with the nefarious Iran.

Its worth getting out of the way first that sanctions don’t work. They never have. Numerous studies have concluded that the net effect of “sanctions” is invariably to strengthen the targeted regime, and an article on sanctions in Iran – especially on how US companies are violating them – should probably mention this.

Instead, The Times plumps for the opposite approach – that instead of the sanctions themselves being a vicious attack on the Iranian people, the violation on the part of the US companies of the sanctions is the real crime. It bears mentioning that the major Israeli paper, Haartez, ran a similar story, “US Rewarding Firms That Defy Iran Sanctions“, with a much angrier headline. The pro-Israel lobby clearly isn’t happy about this.

The whole Times article really deserves to be read in full, as it presents a case study in systemic bias. Observe:

For years, the United States has been pressing other nations to join its efforts to squeeze the Iranian economy, in hopes of reining in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Now, with the nuclear standoff hardening and Iran rebuffing American diplomatic outreach, the Obama administration is trying to win a tough new round of United Nations sanctions.

The third paragraph. Note how nonchalantly The Times speaks of “squeezing” the Iranian economy and “reining in” its nuclear ambitions, as though we have an implicit right to do such things. The next sentence accuses Iran of “rebuffing American diplomatic outreach” (an Orwellianism, that), completely ignoring Iran’s agreement to ship its uranium for inspection in Russia. The US demanded to send its own specialists into Iran to “inspect” their sites, something which Iran rightfully refused. Actually, when one thinks of it, the Americans rebuffed Iran’s outreach, but in true propaganda style, The Times reverses the accusation.

After a few paragraphs describing how easily US companies and those of our “allies” can operate in Iran and how eager Iran is for foreign investment, The Times says:

One of the government’s most powerful tools, at least on paper, to influence the behavior of companies beyond the jurisdiction of the embargo is the Iran Sanctions Act, devised to punish foreign companies that invest more than $20 million in a given year to develop Iran’s oil and gas fields. But in the 14 years since the law was passed, the government has never enforced it, in part for fear of angering America’s allies.

That has given rise to situations like the one involving the South Korean engineering giant Daelim Industrial, which in 2007 won a $700 million contract to upgrade an Iranian oil refinery.

Once again, the implicit assumption is that these “sanctions” (a) work, and (b) are legitimate. After all, why shouldn’t South Korea be allowed to invest where it wishes? The Times claims that the Army’s $111 million investment in S. Korea should have bought at least some respect for our sanctions, but this is a facile argument.

Later, they complain that Brazil, the Netherlands, France, and other “US allies” are investing in Iran while taking US dollars.

The Iranian government has engaged in some unsavory acts this past year, but the amount of violence it visited upon its citizens is minuscule compared to that of our “allies”, particularly Israel. Even the highest estimates of the death toll in Iran’s post-election violence only reach the low hundreds. In January of the same year, Israel killed more than 2,000 Gaza civilians, and dozens die from lack of food, water, or sanitation as a result of that action and the surrounding blockade every day.

If we’re really going to castigate countries for human-rights violations and write massive “exposes” on US companies violating sanctions , shouldn’t we focus on a more murderous country than Iran?

Written by pavanvan

March 7, 2010 at 8:09 pm