"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘International Law’

How Intelligence Was Twisted To Support A U.S. Attack On Syria

In Uncategorized on September 5, 2013 at 3:26 pm
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In a White House handout photo, President Barack Obama meets with his national security staff to discuss the situation in Syria, in the Situation Room of the White House, in Washington, Aug. 31, 2013. (Photo: Pete Souza / The White House via The New York Times)

Oldspeak: “Disregard Obama Administration propaganda passing as an “intelligence estimate”. It’s bullshit. Very similar to the steaming pile of bullshit that was served up as justification for the illegal war of aggression in Iraq. Distorted, doctored, misleading and secret intelligence that cannot be publicly and independently verified. Nonsense visual evidence of chemical weapons use, in which victims exhibit none of the usual signs of exposure to chemical weapons. Physical evidence collected with no clear chain of custody by U.S. friendly “Syrian Opposition” groups. Open contempt for and attempts to discredit and curtail the investigations of U.N. weapons inspectors, pushing for an attack before independently collected and analyzed to determine what kind of chemical was used and who’s it was. We do not know much of anything for certain as our leaders are leading us to believe. Any so-called “definitive” intelligence is classified. So we’re supposed to trust that our leaders, who’ve repeatedly lied through their teeth on a whole host of issues, are sure “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Syria used chemical weapons?! RIIIIIIGHT…. My thing is, this has ZERO to do with the U.S., it is as Representative Alan Grayson said:

Our responsibilities are not to ignore the United Nations. Our responsibilities are not to ignore NATO or the Arab League. Our responsibility is not to ignore the international court of The Hague. Our responsibility is not to make vague remarks about red lines and to follow them up with equally vague remarks about violating international norms, which is a cover for saying that they have—that the Syrians have not violated international laws.

I’m very disturbed by this general idea, this notion, that every time we see something bad in the world, we should bomb it. And, in fact, the president himself has criticized that mindset, and now he’s adopted it. It’s simply not our responsibility to act alone and punish this. I’ll give you an example. There is substantial evidence right now, which the Russians have chosen to actually present to the United Nations, unlike the United States at this point, of the rebels using poison gas. Are we going to bomb both sides?

The Daily Caller reported in great detail that the report that the administration relied upon, in which the administration said that the Assad government must have been involved in this attack and ordered this attack because afterward one of the Assad generals commented on it, well, according to The Daily Caller, the comment was “We didn’t do this,” or words to that effect. And the administration has—if that’s the case, if that was the comment, the administration has completely mischaracterized it.

And, in fact, as far as I can tell, not a single member of Congress has actually seen the underlying document. What’s been provided to us so far is a four-page unclassified document and, if we bother to go down to the bowels of the congressional facility here, a 12-page classified document. But that classified document cites 300 underlying intelligence reports, none of which have been released to any member of Congress, despite the fact that we all have classified clearance. And I indicated that if there is some possibility that the administration is misleading the public regarding any of those 300 documents, then that has to be dispelled. We can’t go to war by mistake again.

We are three weeks away from the government shutting down. We are five weeks away from the government running out of money. And we’ve already spent two weeks engaged in a subject where almost everyone feels it’s simply not our responsibility. I said on MSNBC recently that the entire U.S. government, both Democratic and Republican, seems to be suffering from a very bad case of attention deficit disorder. We’re not showing any ability to focus on the things that actually matter in the lives of our constituents. And it’s not getting better; it’s getting worse.

Getting worse is Iran vowing to support Syria “to the end”. This situation can very quickly escalate from the proxy war it currently is to a regional firestorm. Do we really want to risk wider death and destruction on a war we can’t afford based on unverified evidence to “send a message”? -OSJ

Related Stories:

To Some, U.S. Case For Syrian Gas Attack Has Too Many Holes

Rep. Alan Grayson on Syria: Congress Should Reject “Warmongering” and Focus on Problems at Home

Russia Says it’s Compiled A 100 Page Report Blaming Syrian Rebels For A Chemical Weapons Attack

By Gareth Porter @ Truthout:

Secretary of State John Kerry assured the public that the Obama administration’s summary of the intelligence on which it is basing the case for military action to punish the Assad regime for an alleged use of chemical weapons was put together with an acute awareness of the fiasco of the 2002 Iraq WMD intelligence estimate.

Nevertheless, the unclassified summary of the intelligence assessment made public August 30, 2013, utilizes misleading language evocative of the infamous Iraq estimate’s deceptive phrasing. The summary cites signals, geospatial and human source intelligence that purportedly show that the Syrian government prepared, carried out and “confirmed” a chemical weapons attack on August 21. And it claims visual evidence “consistent with” a nerve gas attack.

But a careful examination of those claims reveals a series of convolutedly worded characterizations of the intelligence that don’t really mean what they appear to say at first glance.

The document displays multiple indications that the integrity of the assessment process was seriously compromised by using language that distorted the intelligence in ways that would justify an attack on Syria.

Spinning the Secret Intelligence

That pattern was particularly clear in the case of the intelligence gathered by covert means. The summary claims, “We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence.”

That seems to indicate that U.S. intelligence intercepted such communiations. But former British Ambassador Craig Murray has pointed out on his blog August 31 that the Mount Troodos listening post in Cyprus is used by British and U.S. intelligence to monitor “all radio, satellite and microwave traffic across the Middle East … ” and that “almost all landline telephone communications in this region is routed through microwave links at some stage [and] picked up on Troodos.”

All intelligence picked by the Troodos listening post is shared between the U.S. and British intelligence, Murray wrote, but no commmunictions such as the ones described in the U.S. intelligence summary were shared with the British Joint Intelligence Organisation.  Murray said a personal contact in U.S. intelligence had told him the reason was that the purported intercept came from the Israelis. The Israeli origin of the intelligence was reported in the U.S. press as well, because an Israeli source apparently leaked it to a German magazine.

The clumsy attempt to pass off intelligence claimed dubiously by the Israelis as a U.S. intercept raises a major question about the integrity of the entire document. The Israelis have an interest in promoting a U.S. attack on Syria, and the authenticity of the alleged intercept cannot be assumed. Murray believes that it is fraudulent.

But even if the intercept is authentic, the description of it in the intelligence summary appears to be misleading. Another description of the same intercept leaked to The Cable by an administration official suggests that the summary’s description is extremely tendentious. The story described those same communications as an exchange of “panicked phone calls” between a Syrian Defense Ministry official and someone in a chemical weapons unit in which the defense ministry official was “demanding answers for [about?] a nerve agent strike.” That description clearly suggests that the Syrian senior official’s questions were prompted by the charges being made on August 21 by opposition sources in Ghouta. The use of the word “panicked”, which slants the interpretation made by readers of the document, may have been added later by an official eager to make the story more compatible with the administration’s policy.

But the main problem with the description is that it doesn’t answer the most obvious and important question about the conversation: Did the purported chemical weapons officer at the other end of the line say that the regime had used chemical weapons or not? If the officer said that such weapons had been used, that would obviously have been the primary point of the report of the intercept. But the summary assessment does not say that, so the reader can reasonably infer that the officer did not make any such admission. The significance of the intercept is, therefore, that an admission of chemicals weapons use was not made.

The carefully chosen wording of the summary – the ministry official was “concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence” – suggests that the official wanted to make sure that UN inspectors would not find evidence of a nerve gas attack. But it could also mean precisely the opposite – that the official wanted the inspectors to be able ascertain that there was no use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces in eastern Ghouta. The latter possibility is bolstered by the fact that the regime agreed within 24 hours of the first formal request on August 24 from UN envoy Angela Kane for unimpeded access to eastern Ghouta. As late as Friday, August 23, the UN Department of Safety and Security had not yet decided to give permission to the UN investigators to go into the area because of uncertainties about their safety.

The intelligence summary makes no effort to explain why the regime promptly granted access to the investigators. Another anomaly: the fact that the UN investigators were already present in Damascus, having been initially requested by the Assad regime to look into a gas attack the regime had charged was carried out by the rebels on March 19. The two-page assessment by the British Joint Intelligence Organisation released August 29, pointed to this question:”There is no obvious political or military trigger,” it said, “for regime use of Chemical War on an apparently larger scale now, particularly given the current presence of the UN investigating team.”

Another obvious case of a misleading description of intelligence in the summary involves information from US geospatial and signals intelligence purporting to show that the Assad regime was preparing for a chemical attack in the three days prior to August 21. The intelligence summary describes the intelligence as follows: “Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin.”

That seems like damning evidence at first glance. However, despite the use of the term “operating,” the US intelligence had no information about the actual activities of the individual or individuals being tracked through geospatial and signals intelligence. When administration officials leaked the information to CBS news last week, they conceded that the presence of the individual being tracked in the area in question had been viewed at the time as “nothing out of the ordinary.”

Yet, after the August 21 event, the same information was suddenly transformed into “evidence” that supports the official line. The summary refers to “streams of human signals and geospatial intelligence that revealed regime activities that we assessed were associated with preparations for a chemical attack.” Thus the same information that provided no indication of “preparations” was now presented as though it included knowledge of some “activities” somehow related to getting ready for chemical warfare.

A third piece of intelligence cited in the summary – unsourced but presumably from an intelligence agent – might seem to denote the intent to carry out a chemical weapons attack. However, the wording is slippery. “On August 21,” the document says, “a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilization of gas masks.” That intelligence, if accurate, doesn’t establish an intent by the government to carry out an attack; it could conversely suggest the government’s anticipation of a chemical attack by the rebels. The intelligence’s language is ambiguous; it contains no certainty that the chemical weapons attack for which the regime was preparing was one it intended to initiate itself.

Behind the Uncertainty on “Nerve Gas”

The intelligence summary includes a notable indication that the intelligence community was far from convinced that nerve gas had been used August 21.

The summary said the intelligence community had “high confidence” that the government had carried out a “chemical weapons attack,” and added, “We further assess that the regime used a nerve agent in the attack.” The fact that a separate sentence was used to characterize the assessment of the nerve agent issue and that it did not indicate any level of confidence is a signal that the intelligence community does not have much confidence in the assessment that nerve gas was used, according to a former senior US intelligence official who insisted on anonymity. The former official told Truthout that the choice of wording actually means the intelligence analysts “do not know” if nerve gas was used.

The summary includes yet another sign of the analysts’ lack of confidence that nerve gas was used, which was equally well-disguised. “We have identified one hundred videos attributed to the attack,” it said, “many of which show large numbers of bodies exhibiting physical signs consistent with, but not unique to, nerve agent exposure.” Unless it is read carefully, the use of the word “bodies” – meaning corpses – instead of “victims” might be missed. But why would the intelligence community be focused on how many “bodies” – meaning corpses – exhibit particular “physical signs” when the far more relevant indicator of nerve gas would the number of “victims” exhibiting certain symptoms?

That strange choice averts acknowledgement of a fundamental problem for the intelligence community: Most of the alleged victims being shown in the videos posted online do not show symptoms associated with exposure to nerve agent. Corpses without any sign of wounds, on the other hand, would be “consistent” with a nerve agent attack.

The symptoms of a nerve agent attack are clear-cut: Soon after initial symptoms of tightness of chest, pinpoint pupils and running nose, the victim begins to vomit and to defecate and urinate uncontrollably, followed by twitching and jerking. Ultimately, the victim becomes comatose and suffocates in a series of convulsive spasms. The symptoms shown in dozens of videos of victims being treated in medical centers in Ghouta, however, are quite different. In an interview with Truthout, Dan Kaszeta, a specialist on chemical, biological and radiological weapons who has advised the White House on those issues, pointed out that a nerve gas attack would have been accompanied by a pattern of symptoms that are not shown in the videos posted online. “There should be more or less universal vomiting,” Kaszeta said. But he did not see any vomiting or evidence of such vomiting on the clothing or on the floor in any of the videos he saw. Stephen G. Johnson, a chemical weapons forensics expert at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, noticed the same thing. “Why aren’t more people vomiting?” he asked Truthout in an interview.

A number of specialists, including Kaszeta and Johnson, also noticed that personnel were shown handling the victims without any special protective clothing but not exhibiting any symptoms themselves. Paula Vanninen, director of the Finnish Institute for Verification of Chemical Weapons, and Gwynn Winfield, the editor of CBRNe World, a magazine specializing in chemical weapons, made the same point in interviews with AFP on August 21. The only evidence of such effects is secondhand at best: Statements issued the following day by both the spokesman for the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, Khaled Saleh, and the spokesman for its Washington, DC, arm, the Syrian Support Group, said that doctors and “first responders” had reported that they were suffering symptoms of neurotoxic poisoning. Saleh claimed that at least six doctors had died.

Experts noticed yet another anomaly: The number of those treated who survived far outnumbered the dead, contrary to what would be expected in a nerve gas attack. Dr. Ghazwan Bwidany told CBS news August 24 that his mobile medical unit had treated 900 people after the attack and that 70 had died. Medecins Sans Frontieres reported that 3,600 patients had been treated at hospitals in the area of the attack and that 355 had died. Such ratios of survivors to dead were the opposite of what chemical weapons specialists would have expected from a nerve gas attack. Kaszeta told Truthout that the “most nagging doubt” he had about the assumption that a nerve gas attack had taken place is the roughly 10-to-1 ratio of total number treated to the dead. “The proportions are all wrong,” he said. “There should be more dead people.” Johnson agreed. In an actual nerve gas attack, he said, “You’d get some survivors, but it would be very low. This [is] a very low level of lethality.”

These multiple anomalies prompted some specialists to come up with the theory that the government had somehow diluted the nerve gas to make it less detectable and thus made it less lethal. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of the chemical biological and nuclear terrorism unit in the UK Ministry of Defense, told USA Today August 23 that the absence of symptoms associated with nerve gas attack might be explainable by a “low dose” chemical weapons attack.

Three days later, Winfield wrote in an article for CNN that the symptoms seen in the videos indicated “lower toxicity” than was associated with nerve agents. Winfield suggested that nerve agent might have been mixed with other substances that were likely to remain in the environment longer than a nerve agent such as sarin.

But Kaszeta cast doubt on the idea of a “low dose” nerve agent being used. In an interview with blogger Eliot Higgins, who specializes in weapons associated with the Syrian conflict under the name Brown Moses, he said, “There’s not much leeway between the incapacitating doses and lethal doses with Sarin.” The concentration causing any symptoms at all, he said, “would quickly lead to absorption of a lethal dose.”

Case Not Closed

If it wasn’t a nerve gas attack, then, what other chemical weapon could have produced the symptoms exhibited in the videos? In an analysis on the Strongpoint Security website, Kaszeta considered each known type of chemical weapon in turn and concluded that the symptoms exhibited in the videos were not consistent with those associated with any of them. And as Kaszeta told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, the fact that none of the people treating casualties were suffering obvious symptoms “would seem to rule out most types of military-grade chemical weapons. … ”

Instead of addressing the issue, the intelligence community opted to accept information about the numbers and the cause of death provided by sources that were presumably subject to the influence of opposition forces in the area. The intelligence summary cites a “preliminary U.S. government assessment” that 1,429 people were killed by chemical weapons, including “at least 426 children.” It provides no indication of how the analysts arrived at such a precise estimate, which is highly unusual for an intelligence assessment. The normal practice in arriving at such an estimate is to give a range of figures reflecting different data sources as well as assumptions.

The intelligence community’s main center for analyzing all issues relating to weapons of mass destruction is the CIA’s Office of Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control (WINPAC) Center. It is the same center that tilted the 2002 Iraq estimate toward conclusions that were not supported by technical facts. As the Robb-Silverman report on the Iraq WMD intelligence fiasco pointed out, intelligence analysts at WINPAC explained to the staff privately that they had reversed the normal intelligence analysis burden of proof and operated on the assumption that Iraq did have WMD programs.

That dynamic seems to have re-emerged in the case of Syrian chemical weapons, especially with the appearance of hundreds of videos containing highly emotive scenes of children suffering and, in many cases, already having died. The contradiction between the emotionally charged visual evidence and the technical analysis by chemical weapons specialists, however, poses an unresolved issue. The uncertainty about what actually happened on August 21 can be resolved only on the basis of actual blood samples from victims who have been gathered by the UN inspectors and are now being analyzed in European laboratories.

Both Médecins Sans Frontières and Human Rights Watch issued statements citing statistics and descriptions of symptoms provided by local medical personnel and, in the case of Human Rights Watch, local activists and other contacts. However Human Rights Watch acting Middle East Director Joe Stork stated, “The only way to find out what really happened in Ghouta is let the UN inspectors in.”

Médecins Sans Frontières made it clear in its original August 24 statement that it could not confirm the figure of 3,600 patients with “neurotoxic symptoms,” because its own staff did not have access to the medical facilities in question. And in an August 28 statement, the organization said scientific confirmation of the toxic agent was required, and that the data it had been given could not be a “substitute for the [UN] investigation.”

But the advocates of an attack on Syria within the Obama administration have not demonstrated a willingness to rely on the definitive evidence from the UN investigators. Instead, they have evinced a strong hostility toward the UN investigation ever since the Syrian government agreed to allow it unimpeded access to the locations where chemical attacks were alleged. National Security Adviser Susan Rice sent an e-mail to key officials August 25 asserting that the UN investigation was pointless.

Since then, administration officials have dismissed the UN investigation as representing a Syrian political tactic. Kerry claimed in his statement Friday that when the UN inspections were “finally given access, that access – as we now know – was restricted and controlled.”

But Farhan Haq, the associate spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who has been getting regular reports from the UN team on its work in Syria, told Truthout that he was unaware of any restrictions on the team’s work.

The Obama administration has made it clear it does not intend to rely on the UN investigation’s findings. Kerry declared on Sunday that samples of blood and hair from medical personnel in eastern Ghouta had been found to contain traces of sarin nerve gas.

However, those samples did not go through the UN investigators, but were smuggled out of Syria by opposition activists. The spokesman for the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme National Council, Khaled Saleh, had announced August 22 that “activists” had collected their own hair, blood and soil samples and were smuggling them out of the country.

The Obama administration had obtained physiological samples related to previous alleged nerve gas attacks, which had tested positive for sarin, but administration officials had insisted that, without being certain of the chain of custody, “they couldn’t be sure who had handled those samples,” as one official put it.

Despite the knowledge that samples lacking a clear chain of custody could have been tampered with, however, the administration began to disregard that key factor in June. It adopted a policy of accepting such samples as evidence of government guilt, on the argument, as one official explained, “It’s impossible that the opposition is faking the stuff in so many instances in so many locations.”

That policy shift is part of the undeclared framework in which the intelligence assessment was carried out.

Regardless of what evidence emerges in coming weeks, we would do well to note the inconsistencies and misleading language contained in the assessment, bearing in mind the consequences of utilizing ambiguous intelligence to justify an act of war.

Secretary of State John Kerry assured the public that the Obama administration’s summary of the intelligence on which it is basing the case for military action to punish the Assad regime for an alleged use of chemical weapons was put together with an acute awareness of the fiasco of the 2002 Iraq WMD intelligence estimate.  

Nevertheless, the unclassified summary of the intelligence assessment made public August 30, 2013, utilizes misleading language evocative of the infamous Iraq estimate’s deceptive phrasing. The summary cites signals, geospatial and human source intelligence that purportedly show that the Syrian government prepared, carried out and “confirmed” a chemical weapons attack on August 21. And it claims visual evidence “consistent with” a nerve gas attack.  

But a careful examination of those claims reveals a series of convolutedly worded characterizations of the intelligence that don’t really mean what they appear to say at first glance.  

The document displays multiple indications that the integrity of the assessment process was seriously compromised by using language that distorted the intelligence in ways that would justify an attack on Syria.

Spinning the Secret Intelligence

That pattern was particularly clear in the case of the intelligence gathered by covert means. The summary claims, “We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence.”

That seems to indicate that U.S. intelligence intercepted such communiations. But former British Ambassador Craig Murray has pointed out on his blog August 31 that the Mount Troodos listening post in Cyprus is used by British and U.S. intelligence to monitor “all radio, satellite and microwave traffic across the Middle East … ” and that “almost all landline telephone communications in this region is routed through microwave links at some stage [and] picked up on Troodos.”

All intelligence picked by the Troodos listening post is shared between the U.S. and British intelligence, Murray wrote, but no commmunictions such as the ones described in the U.S. intelligence summary were shared with the British Joint Intelligence Organisation.  Murray said a personal contact in U.S. intelligence had told him the reason was that the purported intercept came from the Israelis. The Israeli origin of the intelligence was reported in the U.S. press as well, because an Israeli source apparently leaked it to a German magazine.

The clumsy attempt to pass off intelligence claimed dubiously by the Israelis as a U.S. intercept raises a major question about the integrity of the entire document. The Israelis have an interest in promoting a U.S. attack on Syria, and the authenticity of the alleged intercept cannot be assumed. Murray believes that it is fraudulent.

But even if the intercept is authentic, the description of it in the intelligence summary appears to be misleading. Another description of the same intercept leaked to The Cable by an administration official suggests that the summary’s description is extremely tendentious. The story described those same communications as an exchange of “panicked phone calls” between a Syrian Defense Ministry official and someone in a chemical weapons unit in which the defense ministry official was “demanding answers for [about?] a nerve agent strike.” That description clearly suggests that the Syrian senior official’s questions were prompted by the charges being made on August 21 by opposition sources in Ghouta. The use of the word “panicked”, which slants the interpretation made by readers of the document, may have been added later by an official eager to make the story more compatible with the administration’s policy.

But the main problem with the description is that it doesn’t answer the most obvious and important question about the conversation: Did the purported chemical weapons officer at the other end of the line say that the regime had used chemical weapons or not? If the officer said that such weapons had been used, that would obviously have been the primary point of the report of the intercept. But the summary assessment does not say that, so the reader can reasonably infer that the officer did not make any such admission. The significance of the intercept is, therefore, that an admission of chemicals weapons use was not made.

The carefully chosen wording of the summary – the ministry official was “concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence” – suggests that the official wanted to make sure that UN inspectors would not find evidence of a nerve gas attack. But it could also mean precisely the opposite – that the official wanted the inspectors to be able ascertain that there was no use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces in eastern Ghouta. The latter possibility is bolstered by the fact that the regime agreed within 24 hours of the first formal request on August 24 from UN envoy Angela Kane for unimpeded access to eastern Ghouta. As late as Friday, August 23, the UN Department of Safety and Security had not yet decided to give permission to the UN investigators to go into the area because of uncertainties about their safety.

The intelligence summary makes no effort to explain why the regime promptly granted access to the investigators. Another anomaly: the fact that the UN investigators were already present in Damascus, having been initially requested by the Assad regime to look into a gas attack the regime had charged was carried out by the rebels on March 19. The two-page assessment by the British Joint Intelligence Organisation released August 29, pointed to this question:”There is no obvious political or military trigger,” it said, “for regime use of Chemical War on an apparently larger scale now, particularly given the current presence of the UN investigating team.”

Another obvious case of a misleading description of intelligence in the summary involves information from US geospatial and signals intelligence purporting to show that the Assad regime was preparing for a chemical attack in the three days prior to August 21. The intelligence summary describes the intelligence as follows: “Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin.”  

That seems like damning evidence at first glance. However, despite the use of the term “operating,” the US intelligence had no information about the actual activities of the individual or individuals being tracked through geospatial and signals intelligence. When administration officials leaked the information to CBS news last week, they conceded that the presence of the individual being tracked in the area in question had been viewed at the time as “nothing out of the ordinary.

Yet, after the August 21 event, the same information was suddenly transformed into “evidence” that supports the official line. The summary refers to “streams of human signals and geospatial intelligence that revealed regime activities that we assessed were associated with preparations for a chemical attack.” Thus the same information that provided no indication of “preparations” was now presented as though it included knowledge of some “activities” somehow related to getting ready for chemical warfare.  

A third piece of intelligence cited in the summary – unsourced but presumably from an intelligence agent – might seem to denote the intent to carry out a chemical weapons attack. However, the wording is slippery. “On August 21,” the document says, “a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilization of gas masks.” That intelligence, if accurate, doesn’t establish an intent by the government to carry out an attack; it could conversely suggest the government’s anticipation of a chemical attack by the rebels. The intelligence’s language is ambiguous; it contains no certainty that the chemical weapons attack for which the regime was preparing was one it intended to initiate itself.

Behind the Uncertainty on “Nerve Gas” 

The intelligence summary includes a notable indication that the intelligence community was far from convinced that nerve gas had been used August 21.  

The summary said the intelligence community had “high confidence” that the government had carried out a “chemical weapons attack,” and added, “We further assess that the regime used a nerve agent in the attack.” The fact that a separate sentence was used to characterize the assessment of the nerve agent issue and that it did not indicate any level of confidence is a signal that the intelligence community does not have much confidence in the assessment that nerve gas was used, according to a former senior US intelligence official who insisted on anonymity. The former official told Truthout that the choice of wording actually means the intelligence analysts “do not know” if nerve gas was used.  

The summary includes yet another sign of the analysts’ lack of confidence that nerve gas was used, which was equally well-disguised. “We have identified one hundred videos attributed to the attack,” it said, “many of which show large numbers of bodies exhibiting physical signs consistent with, but not unique to, nerve agent exposure.” Unless it is read carefully, the use of the word “bodies” – meaning corpses – instead of “victims” might be missed. But why would the intelligence community be focused on how many “bodies” – meaning corpses – exhibit particular “physical signs” when the far more relevant indicator of nerve gas would the number of “victims” exhibiting certain symptoms?  

That strange choice averts acknowledgement of a fundamental problem for the intelligence community: Most of the alleged victims being shown in the videos posted online do not show symptoms associated with exposure to nerve agent. Corpses without any sign of wounds, on the other hand, would be “consistent” with a nerve agent attack.  

The symptoms of a nerve agent attack are clear-cut: Soon after initial symptoms of tightness of chest, pinpoint pupils and running nose, the victim begins to vomit and to defecate and urinate uncontrollably, followed by twitching and jerking. Ultimately, the victim becomes comatose and suffocates in a series of convulsive spasms. The symptoms shown in dozens of videos of victims being treated in medical centers in Ghouta, however, are quite different. In an interview with Truthout, Dan Kaszeta, a specialist on chemical, biological and radiological weapons who has advised the White House on those issues, pointed out that a nerve gas attack would have been accompanied by a pattern of symptoms that are not shown in the videos posted online. “There should be more or less universal vomiting,” Kaszeta said. But he did not see any vomiting or evidence of such vomiting on the clothing or on the floor in any of the videos he saw. Stephen G. Johnson, a chemical weapons forensics expert at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, noticed the same thing. “Why aren’t more people vomiting?” he asked Truthout in an interview.  

A number of specialists, including Kaszeta and Johnson, also noticed that personnel were shown handling the victims without any special protective clothing but not exhibiting any symptoms themselves. Paula Vanninen, director of the Finnish Institute for Verification of Chemical Weapons, and Gwynn Winfield, the editor of CBRNe World, a magazine specializing in chemical weapons, made the same point in interviews with AFP on August 21. The only evidence of such effects is secondhand at best: Statements issued the following day by both the spokesman for the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, Khaled Saleh, and the spokesman for its Washington, DC, arm, the Syrian Support Group, said that doctors and “first responders” had reported that they were suffering symptoms of neurotoxic poisoning. Saleh claimed that at least six doctors had died. 

Experts noticed yet another anomaly: The number of those treated who survived far outnumbered the dead, contrary to what would be expected in a nerve gas attack. Dr. Ghazwan Bwidany told CBS news August 24 that his mobile medical unit had treated 900 people after the attack and that 70 had died. Medecins Sans Frontieres reported that 3,600 patients had been treated at hospitals in the area of the attack and that 355 had died. Such ratios of survivors to dead were the opposite of what chemical weapons specialists would have expected from a nerve gas attack. Kaszeta told Truthout that the “most nagging doubt” he had about the assumption that a nerve gas attack had taken place is the roughly 10-to-1 ratio of total number treated to the dead. “The proportions are all wrong,” he said. “There should be more dead people.” Johnson agreed. In an actual nerve gas attack, he said, “You’d get some survivors, but it would be very low. This [is] a very low level of lethality.”

These multiple anomalies prompted some specialists to come up with the theory that the government had somehow diluted the nerve gas to make it less detectable and thus made it less lethal. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of the chemical biological and nuclear terrorism unit in the UK Ministry of Defense, told USA Today August 23 that the absence of symptoms associated with nerve gas attack might be explainable by a “low dose” chemical weapons attack.  

Three days later, Winfield wrote in an article for CNN that the symptoms seen in the videos indicated “lower toxicity” than was associated with nerve agents. Winfield suggested that nerve agent might have been mixed with other substances that were likely to remain in the environment longer than a nerve agent such as sarin. 

But Kaszeta cast doubt on the idea of a “low dose” nerve agent being used. In an interview with blogger Eliot Higgins, who specializes in weapons associated with the Syrian conflict under the name Brown Moses, he said, “There’s not much leeway between the incapacitating doses and lethal doses with Sarin.” The concentration causing any symptoms at all, he said, “would quickly lead to absorption of a lethal dose.” 

Case Not Closed 

If it wasn’t a nerve gas attack, then, what other chemical weapon could have produced the symptoms exhibited in the videos? In an analysis on the Strongpoint Security website, Kaszeta considered each known type of chemical weapon in turn and concluded that the symptoms exhibited in the videos were not consistent with those associated with any of them. And as Kaszeta told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, the fact that none of the people treating casualties were suffering obvious symptoms “would seem to rule out most types of military-grade chemical weapons. … “ 

Instead of addressing the issue, the intelligence community opted to accept information about the numbers and the cause of death provided by sources that were presumably subject to the influence of opposition forces in the area. The intelligence summary cites a “preliminary U.S. government assessment” that 1,429 people were killed by chemical weapons, including “at least 426 children.” It provides no indication of how the analysts arrived at such a precise estimate, which is highly unusual for an intelligence assessment. The normal practice in arriving at such an estimate is to give a range of figures reflecting different data sources as well as assumptions.

The intelligence community’s main center for analyzing all issues relating to weapons of mass destruction is the CIA’s Office of Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control (WINPAC) Center. It is the same center that tilted the 2002 Iraq estimate toward conclusions that were not supported by technical facts. As the Robb-Silverman report on the Iraq WMD intelligence fiasco pointed out, intelligence analysts at WINPAC explained to the staff privately that they had reversed the normal intelligence analysis burden of proof and operated on the assumption that Iraq did have WMD programs.

That dynamic seems to have re-emerged in the case of Syrian chemical weapons, especially with the appearance of hundreds of videos containing highly emotive scenes of children suffering and, in many cases, already having died. The contradiction between the emotionally charged visual evidence and the technical analysis by chemical weapons specialists, however, poses an unresolved issue. The uncertainty about what actually happened on August 21 can be resolved only on the basis of actual blood samples from victims who have been gathered by the UN inspectors and are now being analyzed in European laboratories.

Both Médecins Sans Frontières and Human Rights Watch issued statements citing statistics and descriptions of symptoms provided by local medical personnel and, in the case of Human Rights Watch, local activists and other contacts. However Human Rights Watch acting Middle East Director Joe Stork stated, “The only way to find out what really happened in Ghouta is let the UN inspectors in.”

Médecins Sans Frontières made it clear in its original August 24 statement that it could not confirm the figure of 3,600 patients with “neurotoxic symptoms,” because its own staff did not have access to the medical facilities in question. And in an August 28 statement, the organization said scientific confirmation of the toxic agent was required, and that the data it had been given could not be a “substitute for the [UN] investigation.”

But the advocates of an attack on Syria within the Obama administration have not demonstrated a willingness to rely on the definitive evidence from the UN investigators. Instead, they have evinced a strong hostility toward the UN investigation ever since the Syrian government agreed to allow it unimpeded access to the locations where chemical attacks were alleged. National Security Adviser Susan Rice sent an e-mail to key officials August 25 asserting that the UN investigation was pointless.

Since then, administration officials have dismissed the UN investigation as representing a Syrian political tactic. Kerry claimed in his statement Friday that when the UN inspections were “finally given access, that access – as we now know – was restricted and controlled.”  

But Farhan Haq, the associate spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who has been getting regular reports from the UN team on its work in Syria, told Truthout that he was unaware of any restrictions on the team’s work.

The Obama administration has made it clear it does not intend to rely on the UN investigation’s findings. Kerry declared on Sunday that samples of blood and hair from medical personnel in eastern Ghouta had been found to contain traces of sarin nerve gas.

However, those samples did not go through the UN investigators, but were smuggled out of Syria by opposition activists. The spokesman for the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme National Council, Khaled Saleh, had announced August 22 that “activists” had collected their own hair, blood and soil samples and were smuggling them out of the country.

The Obama administration had obtained physiological samples related to previous alleged nerve gas attacks, which had tested positive for sarin, but administration officials had insisted that, without being certain of the chain of custody, “they couldn’t be sure who had handled those samples,” as one official put it.

Despite the knowledge that samples lacking a clear chain of custody could have been tampered with, however, the administration began to disregard that key factor in June. It adopted a policy of accepting such samples as evidence of government guilt, on the argument, as one official explained, “It’s impossible that the opposition is faking the stuff in so many instances in so many locations.”

That policy shift is part of the undeclared framework in which the intelligence assessment was carried out.

Regardless of what evidence emerges in coming weeks, we would do well to note the inconsistencies and misleading language contained in the assessment, bearing in mind the consequences of utilizing ambiguous intelligence to justify an act of war.

YES WE CAN! Obama Administration Affirms Right To Use The Military To Assassinate Americans On American Soil Without Due Process

In Uncategorized on March 6, 2013 at 3:36 pm

THE SINKHOLE OF LIBERTYOldspeak: “It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.” –U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. It’s official. You can be killed by the U.S. military on American soil at the whim of the President without due process or any discernible evidence of wrongdoing, suspicion and or accusation from an “Informed, high-level” administration official is all that is required. Never mind that it is a flagrant violation of the Posse Comitatus act. Never mind that it is a flagrant violation of the 5th & 6th amendments to the constitution. Never mind that there is no appropriateness under the constitution and applicable laws to extrajudicial killing as claimed in this executive branch decree. Your rights to freedom from being deprived of  life, without due process of law, have been suspended. With zero oversight from congress, the lawmaking body, that is supposed to represent the will of the people.   How much more will the power of the Unitary Executive be expanded before the people oppose it?”

By Washington’s Blog:

Because America Is a Battlefield In The Eyes of the Government

Attorney general Eric Holder wrote the following to Senator Rand Paul yesterday:

On February 20, 2013, you wrote to John Brennan requesting additional information concerning the Administration’s views about whether “the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial.”

As members of this administration have previously indicated, the US government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so. As a policy matter moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat. We have a long history of using the criminal justice system to incapacitate individuals located in our country who pose a threat to the United States and its interests abroad. Hundreds of individuals have been arrested and convicted of terrorism-related offenses in our federal courts.

The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances like a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.

Were such an emergency to arise, I would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the President on the scope of his authority.

There’s more to the following statement than appears at first blush:

As a policy matter moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat.

Specifically, Holder did not say “we are legally constrained by the Constitution from depriving people of life, liberty or property without due process of law, and from using military force on U.S. soil”.  Instead, he said that the Obama administration was so far abstaining from using a power it already has as a current “policy” decision.

John Glaser notes:

The concluding legal opinion represents a radical betrayal of constitutional limits imposed on the state for depriving citizens of life, liberty and property. Officially now, Obama’s kingly authority to play Judge, Jury, and Executioner and deprive Americans of their life without due process of law applies not only to Americans abroad but to citizens that are inside the United States.

“The US Attorney General’s refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening – it is an affront the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans,” Sen. Paul said in a statement.

Holder, along with the Obama administration, is making it seem as if the President’s use of lethal force, as in the drone war, would only be used in circumstances like another impending 9/11 attack or something. Only when an attack is imminent.

But that categorical limitation on the President’s authority to kill depends upon their definition of “imminence,” which we learned from a leaked Justice Department white paper last month, is extremely broad.

The memo refers to what it calls a “broader concept of imminence” than what has traditionally been required, like actual intelligence of an ongoing plot against the US.

“The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo states, contradicting conventional international law.

Instead, so long as an “informed, high-level” US official claims the targeted American has been “recently” involved in “activities” that pose a threat and “there is  no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities,” then the President can order his assassination. The memo does not define “recently” or “activities.”

Holder also insists that in the case of such “extraordinary circumstances,” like another impending 9/11, he ”would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the president of the scope of his authority.”

Boy, do I feel comforted.

This is not entirely surprising.  As we noted in December 2011, a top constitutional expert confirmed that Obama was claiming the authority to assassinate Americans on U.S. soil.   We reported that month:

For more than a year and a half, the Obama administration has said it could target American citizens for assassination without any trial or due process.

But now, as shown by the debates surrounding indefinite detention, the government is saying that America itself is a battlefield.

AP notes today:

U.S. citizens are legitimate military targets when they take up arms with al-Qaida, top national security lawyers in the Obama administration said Thursday.

***

The government lawyers, CIA counsel Stephen Preston and Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson … said U.S. citizens do not have immunity when they are at war with the United States.

Johnson said only the executive branch, not the courts, is equipped to make military battlefield targeting decisions about who qualifies as an enemy.

The courts in habeas cases, such as those involving whether a detainee should be released from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, make the determination of who can be considered an enemy combatant.

We pointed out a year ago, the director of the FBI said he’d have to “check” to see if the president had the authority to assassinate Americans on U.S. soil. We reported last October that form Department of Justice lawyer John Yoo – the guy who wrote the memo justifying torture, even of children, which was used to justify torture of innocent people, including children – said that the president has the power to assassinate Americans on U.S. soil in times of war.

And Mother Jones notes:

In a Google+ Hangout last month, President Obama refused to say directly if he had the authority to use lethal force against US citizens. As Mother Jones reported at the time, the reason the president was being so coy is that the answer was likely yes. Now we know that’s exactly what was happening.

It is not very reassuring that the same unaccountable agency which decides who should be killed by drones also spies on all Americans.

Indeed:

You might assume – in a vacuum – that this might be okay (even though it trashes the Constitution, the separation of military and police actions, and the division between internal and external affairs).

But it is dangerous in a climate where you can be labeled as or suspected of being a terrorist simply for questioning war, protesting anything, asking questions about pollution or about Wall Street shenanigans, supporting Ron Paul, being a libertarian, holding gold, or stocking up on more than 7 days of food. And see this.

And it is problematic in a period in which FBI agents and CIA intelligence officials, constitutional law expert professor Jonathan Turley, Time Magazine, Keith Olbermann and the Washington Post have all said that U.S. government officials “were trying to create an atmosphere of fear in which the American people would give them more power”, and even former Secretary of Homeland Security – Tom Ridge – admitst hat he was pressured to raise terror alerts to help Bush win reelection.

And it is counter-productive in an age when the government – instead of doing the things which could actually make us safer – are doing things which increase the risk of terrorism.

And it is insane in a time of perpetual war. See this, this, this and this.

And when the “War on Terror” in the Middle East and North Africa which is being used to justify the attack on Americans was planned long before 9/11.

And when Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser told the Senate in 2007 that the war on terror is “a mythical historical narrative”. And 9/11 was entirely foreseeable, but wasn’t stopped.   Indeed, no one in Washington even wants to hear how 9/11 happened, even though that is necessary to stop future terrorist attacks.  And the military has bombed a bunch of oil-rich countries when it could have instead taken out Bin Laden years ago.

As I noted in [an analogous context]:

The government’s indefinite detention policy – stripped of it’s spin – is literally insane, and based on circular reasoning. Stripped of p.r., this is the actual policy:

  • If you are an enemy combatant or a threat to national security, we will detain you indefinitely until the war is over
  • But trust us, we know you are an enemy combatant and a threat to national security

See how that works?

And – given that U.S. soldiers admit that if they accidentally kill innocent Iraqis and Afghanis, they then “drop” automatic weapons near their body so they can pretend they were militants – it is unlikely that the government would ever admit that an American citizen it assassinated was an innocent civilian who has nothing at all to do with terrorism.

Read this if you have any doubt as to how much liberty Americans have lost.

Senator Paul told MSNBC:

The response by Holder could lead to a situation where “an Arab-American in Dearborn (Mich.) is walking down the street emailing with a friend in the Mideast and all of a sudden we drop a drone” on him. He said it was “really shocking” that President Barack Obama, a former constitutional law professor, would leave the door open to such a possibility.

True … but you don’t have to be Arab-American to get in trouble.

Attack Of The Clones: China Is Developing Its Own Drone Technology – For Its Own Use & For Sale Around The World

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2013 at 7:55 pm
UAV

Oldspeak: “While U.S. Drone technology is highly restricted and expensive, China’s drone fleet is growing at a tenth of the cost. So these death machines are sure to proliferate as the world continues to militarize. Just as the U.S. has claimed the right to send remote controlled killing machines into foreign lands it has not declared war with, to kill enemies of the state, China has as well, with its recently planed hit on a drug boss in Myanmar. Just think, some time in the near future,  Americans will know the unique terror of being hunted and killed by foreign-made and operated flying deathbots!  Just as it started the nuclear arms race, with terrible results, the U.S. started the drone arms race. These armed robot chickens will one day come home roost in a really bad way.  It seems the global surveillance and control grid is slowly taking shape. “Skynet” soon come.

By Trefor Moss @ The Diplomat:

Unmanned systems have become the legal and ethical problem child of the global defense industry and the governments they supply, rewriting the rules of military engagement in ways that many find disturbing. And this sense of unease about where we’re headed is hardly unfamiliar. Much like the emergence of drone technology, the rise of China and its reshaping of the geopolitical landscape has stirred up a sometimes understandable, sometimes irrational, fear of the unknown.

It’s safe to say, then, that Chinese drones conjure up a particularly intense sense of alarm that the media has begun to embrace as a license to panic. China is indeed developing a range of unmanned aerial vehicles/systems (UAVs/UASs) at a time when relations with Japan are tense, and when those with the U.S. are delicate. But that hardly justifies claims that “drones have taken center stage in an escalating arms race between China and Japan,” or that the “China drone threat highlights [a] new global arms race,” as some observers would have it. This hyperbole was perhaps fed by a 2012 U.S. Department of Defense report which described China’s development of UAVs as “alarming.”

That’s quite unreasonable. All of the world’s advanced militaries are adopting drones, not just the PLA. That isn’t an arms race, or a reason to fear China, it’s just the direction in which defense technology is naturally progressing. Secondly, while China may be demonstrating impressive advances, Israel and the U.S. retain a substantial lead in the UAV field, with China—alongside Europe, India and Russia— still in the second tier. And thirdly, China is modernizing in all areas of military technology – unmanned systems being no exception.

New unmanned missions

Nonetheless, China has started to show its hand in terms of the roles that it expects its growing fleet of UAVs to fulfill. In a clear indication that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has an operational armed UAV capability in which it feels relatively confident, last week reports of a plan to send a UAV into Myanmar to assassinate a drug trafficker who had murdered 13 Chinese nationals came to light. The Chinese government ultimately rejected this tactic, but it is evidently tempted to follow Washington’s lead in reserving the right to use UAVs to target enemies of the state, even on foreign soil.

Territorial disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea have also persuaded Beijing to accelerate its deployment of UAVs, which are ideally suited to maritime surveillance missions. UAVs are already used routinely to monitor the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, a PLA general recently claimed. “[Both China and Japan] seem intent on establishing more presence in these disputed zones,” comments Peter Singer, Director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution,“both to establish their own claims … and to watch what the other is doing. UAS are helpful in those aims, especially with their longer duration versus traditional manned platforms.” The PLA Air Force has also converted its obsolete J-6 fighters into UAVs; based in Fujian, the J-6s are apparently being used for Diaoyu surveillance, as well as being expendable strike assets in the event of an armed engagement.

Nor is China’s deployment of UAVs limited to the military realm. The government of Liaoning Province is reportedly using UAVs to monitor the North Korean border, and is also said to be establishing two coastal UAV bases from which it will oversee its areas of jurisdiction in the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Gulf. Meanwhile, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) – one of China’s main maritime agencies – announced in August that it is setting up 11 UAV bases, one in each of China’s coastal provinces. It expects to have these bases up and running by 2015 (images of some of the SOA’s current UAVs can be seen here). It’s also worth recalling that all of China’s UAV advances have been enabled by the Beidou satellite constellation, which now includes 16 active satellites providing coverage across China and the Asia-Pacific.

If provincial governments and civilian law enforcement agencies plan to induct UAVs in tandem with the PLA, then that’s a large fleet of unmanned aircraft able to perform a variety of different functions that China will need to bring online over the next few years. But, there is no shortage of technology programs competing to make the cut.

China’s UAV programs

Dozens of Chinese UAV concepts have appeared over the years, most of which will never leave the laboratory, let alone the runway. However, the Chinese aerospace sector has clearly devoted a great deal of energy to producing a range of designs from which the PLA has been able to cherry-pick. Chinese engineers have also been able to draw on Israeli technology, having acquired Harpy UAVs from Israel Aerospace Industries in the 1990s. “They’ve gone in the last few years from having none in development to at least 25 different models displayed at arms shows,” says Singer.“So, it’s a very ambitious program. But again, it parallels their growth in capabilities and ambitions in many others beyond UAS, from jet fighters to missiles.” He warns against overhyping China’s UAV effort, noting that for now “we’re talking very small numbers [of Chinese UAVs] … and not yet near U.S. capabilities.”

If the example of the U.S military is anything to go by, the PLA should only have operational requirements for around six to ten UAVs. It appears closer to filling some of these operational niches than others.

The China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) has developed a number of ASN series UAVs, at least two of which appear to be in operational use. First is the ASN-15, a small intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) UAV similar to the U.S. RQ-11 Raven, a small, man-portable system able to perform basic battlefield ISTAR duties. Second is the ASN-209 medium altitude and medium endurance UAV comparable to the U.S. ScanEagle, a larger ISR asset than the Raven with up to 20 hours of flight time for longer-range battlefield and maritime surveillance. The ASN-209 is probably the same aircraft as the “Silver Eagle” which was widely reported to have taken part in naval exercises over the South China Sea in 2011.

Vertical takeoff UAVs (VTUAV), which are especially useful for naval ISTAR and fire control, are also beginning to enter service (though the U.S. Navy’s comparable MQ-8 Fire Scout is itself yet to receive operational clearance). A PLA Navy frigate was pictured in 2012 operating what was probably one of the 18 Camcopter S-100s China acquired from Austrian company Schiebel, supposedly intended for civilian use. Another VTUAV, the SVU-200, made its first flight late last year, while a third unmanned helicopter, the V750, recently entered civilian service. The PLA Navy is known to be exploring the possible applications of VTUAVs, including their use in anti-submarine warfare, and to be interested in the use of UAVs more broadly on its new and future aircraft carriers, not least because UAVs can significantly augment China’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities. “A2/AD places a premium on extending your range of monitoring and tracking targets from afar,” Singer says.“UAS are very helpful in that.”

Bigger, more advanced UAVs are also now breaking cover. Two in particular appear to be similar to the U.S.’s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones, medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) UAVs best known for conducting lethal operations in Pakistan and elsewhere. These are the Yilong/Wing Loong “Pterodactyl”, built by the Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute (CADI), and the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s (CASC’s) CH-4. According to a recent Global Times report, the Yilong is primarily regarded as a Reaper-style strike aircraft, while the CH-4 is more of a multi-role aircraft that will be deployed by civilian agencies, as well as by the military, for surveillance purposes, though it can also be weaponized. These two UAVs appear to be in the same class as the CH-91, built by Aerospace Long March International (ALIT), an ISTAR system which is reported to have already entered production, and the more advanced CH-92, which is due to enter production in 2014. A similar class of UAV, the WJ-600, has been showcased by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), though this system – which is jet-powered, unlike the propeller-driven Yilong and the CH-4 – was not seen at the most recent China Air Show.

Finally, the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation is working on the Soaring Eagle, an analogue of the RQ-4 Global Hawk, Washington’s high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAV. Recent pictures of a Soaring Eagle on the runway suggest that its development is moving forward effectively. There are also hints that China is working on a stealthy UAV called the Wing Blade, which is reminiscent of the U.S.’s black-budget RQ-170 Sentinel, while a stealthy Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) called the Dark Sword – perhaps along the lines of the U.S. Navy’s experimental X-74B – may also be in development. Chinese technicians are also undoubtedly experimenting with a new generation of nano-UAVs, like the Black Hornet micro-helicopter now in action with the British Army.

China’s drone boom

The aerospace sector must now supply huge demand from both the PLA and civilian authorities. So it is not hard to envisage several of these seemingly competing UAVs, rather than just one winner, being produced in large numbers in order to help the defense industry meet its growing demand. In fact, last November a senior CASIC executive forecast that Chinese UAV sales would double in 2013.

Chinese firms also have high hopes for export sales. The Predator-style CH-4 in particular is being pushed for export, and was displayed at the recent IDEX defense expo in Abu Dhabi. The system is part of CASC’s CH “Rainbow” family of drones, and is understood to be an upgraded version of the CH-3 UAV, which China has already sold to Pakistan. The Yilong has also “already successfully entered the international market”, according to Chinese sources quoted by RIA Novosti at the recent China Air Show.

China has rightly identified a gap in the market, with relatively few countries having inducted UAVs so far, and few capable of building drones themselves, the low cost of Chinese systems will certainly be an advantage. A U.S. Predator costs around $4.5 million, while a Reaper is closer to $10 million for countries that manage to obtain clearance to buy them. Chinese sources have claimed that their equivalent UAVs cost less than $1 million, making them a highly affordable capability for a host of international customers, especially those unable or unwilling to source U.S. and Israeli technology.

So if there is an alarm bell worth ringing about the emergence of Chinese UAVs, it is probably not the threat they will pose to the U.S. or Japan in the Asia-Pacific – it is the proliferation to the developing world of armed, unmanned systems that China’s low prices, and even lower export barriers, may soon begin to drive.

Obama’s War On The Constitution & Other Misadventures In The Absurd

In Uncategorized on September 2, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Constitution

Oldspeak:” President Obama has not only maintained the position of George W. Bush in the areas of national security and in civil liberties, he’s actually expanded on those positions. He is actually WORSE than George Bush in some areas… President Obama outdid President Bush. He ordered the killing of two US citizens as the primary targets and has then gone forward and put out a policy that allows him to kill any American citizen when he unilaterally determines them to be a terrorist threat. Where President Bush had a citizen killed as collateral damage, President Obama has actually a formal policy allowing him to kill any US citizen.” –Johnathan Turley, Constitutional Law Professor.  Far too many progressives and Obama apologists have given this man a pass on far too many important issues.  He’s claimed unprecedented power to spy on, detain indefinitely and kill anyone (including U.S. citizens) he chooses, anywhere in the world. Continued to authorize the use of torture in a global network of secret prisons Signed treaties that will outsource American jobsSold record numbers of weapons of  death & destruction world-wide. Conducted a war the likes of which has never been seen, on whistleblowers who’ve tried to expose government corruption, crime, fraud, and waste.  Deported historic numbers of AmericansEngaged in a societal-level war on public education. Allowed “Too big to fail” banks to grow BIGGER & financial oligarchs to gain control of a majority of the U.S. economy.   Enacted a “Jobs Bill” that will have the net effect of CUTTING JOBS.  Weakened health and public safety regulationsSigned off on ending a decades old ban on domestic government-sponsored propaganda... The list of outlandishly ridiculous madness this man has had a hand in is frightfully long and far-reaching in its scope. The response from ‘progressives’ and ‘liberals’: Relative silence, ambivalence, even applause in some cases. What we’re seeing is the genius of this illusory “red state/blue state”, “Left/Right” paradigm. When a Demo is in power, the so-called “right-wing” is up in arms. When a Repub is in power, the so-called “left-wing” is railing against government over-reach. The “parties” take turns performing this farce that passes for representative government, enacting their own and each others morally and spiritually bankrupt policies. All the while, status quo is maintained, and the corporatocracy grows stronger on ever more flesh, blood, toil, destruction & fear. It’s getting late early for the people to open their eyes to the fact that their being farmed, like cattle. That their energy is being used to empower a select few.  That their “freedom” is in fact “slavery”.   Here’s hoping the tipping point isn’t far away.

By John Cusack @ Shannyn Moore: Just A Girl From Homer

I wrote this a while back after Romney got the nom. In light of the blizzard of bullshit coming at us in the next few months I thought I would put it out now.

______________

Now that the Republican primary circus is over, I started to think about what it would mean to vote for Obama…

Since mostly we hear from the daily hypocrisies of Mitt and friends, I thought we should examine “our guy” on a few issues with a bit more scrutiny than we hear from the “progressive left”, which seems to be little or none at all.

Instead of scrutiny, the usual arguments in favor of another Obama presidency are made: We must stop fanatics; it would be better than the fanatics—he’s the last line of defense from the corporate barbarians—and of course the Supreme Court. It all makes a terrible kind of sense and I agree completely with Garry Wills who described the Republican primaries as ” a revolting combination of con men & fanatics— “the current primary race has become a demonstration that the Republican party does not deserve serious consideration for public office.”

True enough.

But yet…

… there are certain Rubicon lines, as constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley calls them, that Obama has crossed.

All political questions are not equal no matter how much you pivot. When people die or lose their physical freedom to feed certain economic sectors or ideologies, it becomes a zero sum game for me.

This is not an exercise in bemoaning regrettable policy choices or cheering favorable ones but to ask fundamentally: Who are we? What are we voting for? And what does it mean?

Three markers — the Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the escalation speech at West Point, and the recent speech by Eric Holder — crossed that Rubicon line for me…

Mr. Obama, the Christian president with the Muslim-sounding name, would heed the admonitions of neither religion’s prophets about making war and do what no empire or leader, including Alexander the Great, could do: he would, he assured us “get the job done in Afghanistan.” And so we have our democratic president receiving the Nobel Peace Prize as he sends 30,000 more troops to a ten-year-old conflict in a country that’s been war-torn for 5,000 years.

Why? We’ll never fully know. Instead, we got a speech that was stone bullshit and an insult to the very idea of peace.

We can’t have it both ways. Hope means endless war? Obama has metaphorically pushed all in with the usual international and institutional killers; and in the case of war and peace, literally.

To sum it up: more war. So thousands die or are maimed; generations of families and veterans are damaged beyond imagination; sons and daughters come home in rubber bags. But he and his satellites get their four more years.

The AfPak War is more H. G. Wells than Orwell, with people blindly letting each other get fed to the barons of Wall Street and the Pentagon, themselves playing the part of the Pashtuns. The paradox is simple: he got elected on his anti-war stance during a perfect storm of the economic meltdown and McCain saying the worst thing at the worst time as we stared into the abyss. Obama beat Clinton on “I’m against the war and she is for it.” It was simple then, when he needed it to be.

Under Obama do we continue to call the thousands of mercenaries in Afghanistan “general contractors” now that Bush is gone? No, we don’t talk about them… not a story anymore.

Do we prosecute felonies like torture or spying on Americans? No, time to “move on”…

Now chaos is the norm and though the chaos is complicated, the answer is still simple. We can’t afford this morally, financially, or physically. Or in a language the financial community can digest: the wars are ideologically and spiritually bankrupt. No need to get a score from the CBO.

Drones bomb Pakistani villages across the border at an unprecedented rate. Is it legal? Does anyone care? “It begs the question,” as Daniel Berrigan asks us, “is this one a “good war” or a “dumb war”? But the question betrays the bias: it is all the same. It’s all madness.”

One is forced to asked the question: Is the President just another Ivy League Asshole shredding civil liberties and due process and sending people to die in some shithole for purely political reasons?

There will be a historical record. “Change we can believe in” is not using the other guys’ mob to clean up your own tracks while continuing to feed at the trough. Human nature is human nature, and when people find out they’re being hustled, they will seek revenge, sooner or later, and it will be ugly and savage.

In a country with desperation growing everywhere, everyday — despite the “Oh, things are getting better” press releases — how could one think otherwise?

Just think about the economic crisis we are in as a country. It could never happen, they said. The American middle class was rock solid. The American dream, home ownership, education, the opportunity to get a good job if you applied yourself… and on and on. Yeah, what happened to that? It’s gone.

The next question must be: “What happened to our civil liberties, to our due process, which are the foundation of any notion of real democracy?” The chickens haven’t come home to roost for the majority but the foundation has been set and the Constitution gutted.

Brian McFadden’s cartoon says it all.

Here’s the transcript of the telephone interview I conducted with Turley.

JONATHAN TURLEY: Hi John.

CUSACK: Hello. Okay, hey I was just thinking about all this stuff and thought maybe we’d see what we can do to bring civil liberties and these issues back into the debate for the next couple of months …

TURLEY: I think that’s great.

CUSACK: So, I don’t know how you can believe in the Constitution and violate it that much.

TURLEY: Yeah.

CUSACK: I would just love to know your take as an expert on these things. And then maybe we can speak to whatever you think his motivations would be, and not speak to them in the way that we want to armchair-quarterback like the pundits do about “the game inside the game,” but only do it because it would speak to the arguments that are being used by the left to excuse it. For example, maybe their argument that there are things you can’t know, and it’s a dangerous world out there, or why do you think a constitutional law professor would throw out due process?

TURLEY: Well, there’s a misconception about Barack Obama as a former constitutional law professor. First of all, there are plenty of professors who are “legal relativists.” They tend to view legal principles as relative to whatever they’re trying to achieve. I would certainly put President Obama in the relativist category. Ironically, he shares that distinction with George W. Bush. They both tended to view the law as a means to a particular end — as opposed to the end itself. That’s the fundamental distinction among law professors. Law professors like Obama tend to view the law as one means to an end, and others, like myself, tend to view it as the end itself.

Truth be known President Obama has never been particularly driven by principle. Right after his election, I wrote a column in a few days warning people that even though I voted for Obama, he was not what people were describing him to be. I saw him in the Senate. I saw him in Chicago.

CUSACK: Yeah, so did I.

TURLEY: He was never motivated that much by principle. What he’s motivated by are programs. And to that extent, I like his programs more than Bush’s programs, but Bush and Obama are very much alike when it comes to principles. They simply do not fight for the abstract principles and view them as something quite relative to what they’re trying to accomplish. Thus privacy yields to immunity for telecommunications companies and due process yields to tribunals for terrorism suspects.

CUSACK: Churchill said, “The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist.” That wasn’t Eugene Debs speaking — that was Winston Churchill.

And if he takes an oath before God to uphold the Constitution, and yet he decides it’s not politically expedient for him to deal with due process or spying on citizens and has his Attorney General justify murdering US citizens — and then adds a signing statement saying, “Well, I’m not going to do anything with this stuff because I’m a good guy.”– one would think we would have to define this as a much graver threat than good or bad policy choices- correct?

TURLEY: Well, first of all, there’s a great desire of many people to relieve themselves of the obligation to vote on principle. It’s a classic rationalization that liberals have been known to use recently, but not just liberals. The Republican and Democratic parties have accomplished an amazing feat with the red state/blue state paradigm. They’ve convinced everyone that regardless of how bad they are, the other guy is worse. So even with 11 percent of the public supporting Congress most incumbents will be returned to Congress. They have so structured and defined the question that people no longer look at the actual principles and instead vote on this false dichotomy.

Now, belief in human rights law and civil liberties leads one to the uncomfortable conclusion that President Obama has violated his oath to uphold the Constitution. But that’s not the primary question for voters. It is less about him than it is them. They have an obligation to cast their vote in a principled fashion. It is, in my opinion, no excuse to vote for someone who has violated core constitutional rights and civil liberties simply because you believe the other side is no better. You cannot pretend that your vote does not constitute at least a tacit approval of the policies of the candidate.

This is nothing new, of course for civil libertarians who have always been left behind at the altar in elections. We’ve always been the bridesmaid, never the bride. We’re used to politicians lying to us. And President Obama lied to us. There’s no way around that. He promised various things and promptly abandoned those principles.

So the argument that Romney is no better or worse does not excuse the obligation of a voter. With President Obama they have a president who went to the CIA soon after he was elected and promised CIA employees that they would not be investigated or prosecuted for torture, even though he admitted that waterboarding was torture.

CUSACK: I remember when we were working with Arianna at The Huffington Post and we thought, well, has anyone asked whether waterboarding is torture? Has anyone asked Eric Holder that? And so Arianna had Sam Seder ask him that at a press conference, and then he had to admit that it was. And then the next question, of course, was, well, if it is a crime, are you going to prosecute the law? But, of course, it wasn’t politically expedient to do so, right? That’s inherent in their non-answer and inaction?

TURLEY: That’s right.

CUSACK: Have you ever heard a more specious argument than “It’s time for us all to move on?” When did the Attorney General or the President have the option to enforce the law?

TURLEY: Well, that’s the key question that nobody wants to ask. We have a treaty, actually a number of treaties, that obligate us to investigate and prosecute torture. We pushed through those treaties because we wanted to make clear that no matter what the expediency of the moment, no matter whether it was convenient or inconvenient, all nations had to agree to investigate and prosecute torture and other war crimes.

And the whole reason for putting this in the treaties was to do precisely the opposite of what the Obama administration has done. That is, in these treaties they say that it is not a defense that prosecution would be inconvenient or unpopular. But that’s exactly what President Obama said when he announced, “I won’t allow the prosecution of torture because I want us to look to the future and not the past.” That is simply a rhetorical flourish to hide the obvious point: “I don’t want the inconvenience and the unpopularity that would come with enforcing this treaty.”

CUSACK: Right. So, in that sense, the Bush administration had set the precedent that the state can do anything it likes in the name of terror, and not only has Obama let that cement harden, but he’s actually expanded the power of the executive branch to do whatever it wants, or he’s lowered the bar — he’s lowered the law — to meet his convenience. He’s lowered the law to meet his personal political convenience rather than leaving it as something that, as Mario Cuomo said, the law is supposed to be better than us.

TURLEY: That’s exactly right. In fact, President Obama has not only maintained the position of George W. Bush in the area of national securities and in civil liberties, he’s actually expanded on those positions. He is actually worse than George Bush in some areas.

CUSACK: Can you speak to which ones?

TURLEY: Well, a good example of it is that President Bush ordered the killing of an American citizen when he approved a drone strike on a car in Yemen that he knew contained an American citizen as a passenger. Many of us at the time said, “You just effectively ordered the death of an American citizen in order to kill someone else, and where exactly do you have that authority?” But they made an argument that because the citizen wasn’t the primary target, he was just collateral damage. And there are many that believe that that is a plausible argument.

CUSACK: By the way, we’re forgetting to kill even a foreign citizen is against the law. I hate to be so quaint…

TURLEY: Well, President Obama outdid President Bush. He ordered the killing of two US citizens as the primary targets and has then gone forward and put out a policy that allows him to kill any American citizen when he unilaterally determines them to be a terrorist threat. Where President Bush had a citizen killed as collateral damage, President Obama has actually a formal policy allowing him to kill any US citizen.

CUSACK: But yet the speech that Eric Holder gave was greeted generally, by those others than civil libertarians and a few people on the left with some intellectual honesty, with polite applause and a stunning silence and then more cocktail parties and state dinners and dignitaries, back the Republican Hypocrisy Hour on the evening feed — and he basically gave a speech saying that the executive can assassinate US citizens.

TURLEY: That was the truly other-worldly moment of the speech. He went to, Northwestern Law School (my alma mater), and stood there and articulated the most authoritarian policy that a government can have: the right to unilaterally kill its citizens without any court order or review. The response from the audience was applause. Citizens applauding an Attorney General who just described how the President was claiming the right to kill any of them on his sole inherent authority.

CUSACK: Does that order have to come directly from Obama, or can his underlings carry that out on his behalf as part of a generalized understanding? Or does he have to personally say, “You can get that guy and that guy?”

TURLEY: Well, he has delegated the authority to the so-called death panel, which is, of course, hilarious, since the Republicans keep talking about a nonexistent death panel in national healthcare. We actually do have a death panel, and it’s killing people who are healthy.

CUSACK: I think you just gave me the idea for my next film. And the tone will be, of course, Kafkaesque.

TURLEY: It really is.

CUSACK: You’re at the bottom of the barrel when the Attorney General is saying that not only can you hold people in prison for no charge without due process, but we can kill the citizens that “we” deem terrorists. But “we” won’t do it cause we’re the good guys remember?

TURLEY: Well, the way that this works is you have this unseen panel. Of course, their proceedings are completely secret. The people who are put on the hit list are not informed, obviously.

CUSACK: That’s just not polite, is it?

TURLEY: No, it’s not. The first time you’re informed that you’re on this list is when your car explodes, and that doesn’t allow much time for due process. But the thing about the Obama administration is that it is far more premeditated and sophisticated in claiming authoritarian powers. Bush tended to shoot from the hip — he tended to do these things largely on the edges. In contrast, Obama has openly embraced these powers and created formal measures, an actual process for killing US citizens. He has used the terminology of the law to seek to legitimate an extrajudicial killing.

CUSACK: Yeah, bringing the law down to meet his political realism, his constitutional realism, which is that the Constitution is just a means to an end politically for him, so if it’s inconvenient for him to deal with due process or if it’s inconvenient for him to deal with torture, well, then why should he do that? He’s a busy man. The Constitution is just another document to be used in a political fashion, right?

TURLEY: Indeed. I heard from people in the administration after I wrote a column a couple weeks ago about the assassination policy. And they basically said, “Look, you’re not giving us our due. Holder said in the speech that we are following a constitutional analysis. And we have standards that we apply.” It is an incredibly seductive argument, but there is an incredible intellectual disconnect. Whatever they are doing, it can’t be called a constitutional process.

Obama has asserted the right to kill any citizen that he believes is a terrorist. He is not bound by this panel that only exists as an extension of his claimed inherent absolute authority. He can ignore them. He can circumvent them. In the end, with or without a panel, a president is unilaterally killing a US citizen. This is exactly what the framers of the Constitution told us not to do.

CUSACK: The framers didn’t say, “In special cases, do what you like. When there are things the public cannot know for their own good, when it’s extra-specially a dangerous world… do whatever you want.” The framers of the Constitution always knew there would be extraordinary circumstances, and they were accounted for in the Constitution. The Constitution does not allow for the executive to redefine the Constitution when it will be politically easier for him to get things done.

TURLEY: No. And it’s preposterous to argue that.

CUSACK: When does it become — criminal?

TURLEY: Well, the framers knew what it was like to have sovereigns kill citizens without due process. They did it all the time back in the 18th century. They wrote a constitution specifically to bar unilateral authority.

James Madison is often quoted for his observation that if all men were angels, no government would be necessary. And what he was saying is that you have to create a system of law that has checks and balances so that even imperfect human beings are restrained from doing much harm. Madison and other framers did not want to rely on the promises of good motivations or good intents from the government. They created a system where no branch had enough authority to govern alone — a system of shared and balanced powers.

So what Obama’s doing is to rewrite the most fundamental principle of the US Constitution. The whole point of the Holder speech was that we’re really good guys who take this seriously, and you can trust us. That’s exactly the argument the framers rejected, the “trust me” principle of government. You’ll notice when Romney was asked about this, he said, “I would’ve signed the same law, because I trust Obama to do the right thing.” They’re both using the very argument that the framers warned citizens never to accept from their government.

CUSACK: So basically, it comes down to, again, just political expediency and aesthetics. So as long as we have friendly aesthetics and likable people, we can do whatever we want. Who cares what the policy is or the implications for the future.

TURLEY: The greatest problem is what it has done to us and what our relative silence signifies. Liberals and civil libertarians have lost their own credibility, their own moral standing, with the support of President Obama. For many civil libertarians it is impossible to vote for someone who has blocked the prosecution of war crimes. That’s where you cross the Rubicon for most civil libertarians. That was a turning point for many who simply cannot to vote for someone who is accused of that type of violation.

Under international law, shielding people from war-crime prosecutions is itself a form of war crime. They’re both violations of international law. Notably, when the Spanish moved to investigate our torture program, we now know that the Obama administration threatened the Spanish courts and the Spanish government that they better not enforce the treaty against the US This was a real threat to the Administration because these treaties allow other nations to step forward when another nation refuses to uphold the treaty. If a government does not investigate and prosecute its own accused war criminals, then other countries have the right to do so. That rule was, again, of our own creation. With other leading national we have long asserted the right to prosecute people in other countries who are shielded or protected by their own countries.

CUSACK: Didn’t Spain pull somebody out of Chile under that?

TURLEY: Yeah, Pinochet.

CUSACK: Yeah, also our guy…

TURLEY: The great irony of all this is that we’re the architect of that international process. We’re the one that always pushed for the position that no government could block war crimes prosecution.

But that’s not all. The Obama administration has also outdone the Bush administration in other areas. For example, one of the most important international principles to come out of World War II was the rejection of the “just following orders” defense. We were the country that led the world in saying that defendants brought before Nuremberg could not base their defense on the fact that they were just following orders. After Nuremberg, there were decades of development of this principle. It’s a very important point, because that defense, if it is allowed, would shield most people accused of torture and war crime. So when the Obama administration –

CUSACK: That also parallels into the idea that the National Defense Authorization Act is using its powers not only to put a chilling effect on whistleblowers, but to also make it illegal for whistleblowers to bring the truth out. Am I right on that, or is that an overstatement?

TURLEY: Well, the biggest problem is that when the administration was fishing around for some way to justify not doing the right thing and not prosecuting torture, they finally released a document that said that CIA personnel and even some DOJ lawyers were “just following orders,” but particularly CIA personnel.

The reason Obama promised them that none of them would be prosecuted is he said that they were just following the orders of higher authority in the government. That position gutted Nuremberg. Many lawyers around the world are upset because the US under the Obama administration has torn the heart out of Nuremberg. Just think of the implications: other countries that are accused of torture can shield their people and say, “Yeah, this guy was a torturer. This guy ordered a war crime. But they were all just following orders. And the guy that gave them the order, he’s dead.” It is the classic defense of war criminals. Now it is a viable defense again because of the Obama administration.

CUSACK: Yeah.

TURLEY: Certainly part of the problem is how the news media –

CUSACK: Oscar Wilde said most journalists would fall under the category of those who couldn’t tell the difference between a bicycle accident and the end of civilization. But why is it that all the journalists that you see mostly on MSNBC or most of the progressives, or so-called progressives, who believe that under Bush and Cheney and Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez these were great and grave constitutional crises, the wars were an ongoing moral fiasco — but now, since we have a friendly face in the White House, someone with kind of pleasing aesthetics and some new policies we like, now all of a sudden these aren’t crimes, there’s no crisis. Because he’s our guy? Go, team, go?

TURLEY: Some in the media have certainly fallen into this cult of personality.

CUSACK: What would you say to those people? I always thought the duty of a citizen, and even more so as a journalist, had greatly to do with the idea that intellectual honesty was much more important than political loyalty. How would you compare Alberto Gonzalez to Eric Holder?

TURLEY: Oh, Eric Holder is smarter than Gonzalez, but I see no other difference in terms of how they’ve conducted themselves. Both of these men are highly political. Holder was accused of being improperly political during his time in the Clinton administration. When he was up for Attorney General, he had to promise the Senate that he would not repeat some of the mistakes he made in the Clinton administration over things like the pardon scandal, where he was accused of being more politically than legally motivated.

In this town, Holder is viewed as much more of a political than a legal figure, and the same thing with Gonzalez. Bush and Obama both selected Attorney Generals who would do what they wanted them to do, who would enable them by saying that no principles stood in the way of what they wanted to do. More importantly, that there were no principles requiring them to do something they didn’t want to do, like investigate torture.

CUSACK: So would you say this assassination issue, or the speech and the clause in the NDAA and this signing statement that was attached, was equivalent to John Yoo’s torture document?

TURLEY: Oh, I think it’s amazing. It is astonishing the dishonesty that preceded and followed its passage. Before passage, the administration told the public that the president was upset about the lack of an exception for citizens and that he was ready to veto the bill if there was a lack of such an exception. Then, in an unguarded moment, Senator Levin was speaking to another Democratic senator who was objecting to the fact that citizens could be assassinated under this provision, and Levin said, “I don’t know if my colleague is aware that the exception language was removed at the request of the White House.” Many of us just fell out of our chairs. It was a relatively rare moment on the Senate floor, unguarded and unscripted.

CUSACK: And finally simple.

TURLEY: Yes. So we were basically lied to. I think that the administration was really caught unprepared by that rare moment of honesty, and that led ultimately to his pledge not to use the power to assassinate against citizens. But that pledge is meaningless. Having a president say, “I won’t use a power given to me” is the most dangerous of assurances, because a promise is not worth anything.

CUSACK: Yeah, I would say it’s the coldest comfort there is.

TURLEY: Yes. This brings us back to the media and the failure to strip away the rhetoric around these policies. It was certainly easier in the Bush administration, because you had more clown-like figures like Alberto Gonzalez. The problem is that the media has tended to get thinner and thinner in terms of analysis. The best example is that about the use of the term “coerced or enhanced interrogation.” I often stop reporters when they use these terms in questions. I say, “I’m not too sure what you mean, because waterboarding is not enhanced interrogation.” That was a myth put out by the Bush administration. Virtually no one in the field used that term, because courts in the United States and around the world consistently said that waterboarding’s torture. Holder admitted that waterboarding’s torture. Obama admitted that waterboarding is torture. Even members of the Bush administration ultimately admitted that waterboarding’s torture. The Bush Administration pushed this term to get reporters to drop the word torture and it worked. They are still using the term.

Look at the articles and the coverage. They uniformly say “enhanced interrogation.” Why? Because it’s easier. They want to avoid the controversy. Because if they say “torture,” it makes the story much more difficult. If you say, “Today the Senate was looking into a program to torture detainees,” there’s a requirement that you get a little more into the fact that we’re not supposed to be torturing people.

CUSACK: So, from a civil liberties perspective, ravens are circling the White House, even though there’s a friendly man in it.

TURLEY: Yeah.

CUSACK: I hate to speak too much to motivation, but why do you think MSNBC and other so-called centrist or left outlets won’t bring up any of these things? These issues were broadcast and reported on nightly when John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez and Bush were in office.

TURLEY: Well, there is no question that some at MSNBC have backed away from these issues, although occasionally you’ll see people talk about –

CUSACK: I think that’s being kind, don’t you? More like “abandoned.”

TURLEY: Yeah. The civil liberties perspective is rarely given more than a passing reference while national security concerns are explored in depth. Fox is viewed as protective of Bush while MSNBC is viewed as protective of Obama. But both presidents are guilty of the same violations. There are relatively few journalists willing to pursue these questions aggressively and objectively, particularly on television. And so the result is that the public is hearing a script written by the government that downplays these principles. They don’t hear the word “torture.”

They hear “enhanced interrogation.” They don’t hear much about the treaties. They don’t hear about the international condemnation of the United States. Most Americans are unaware of how far we have moved away from Nuremberg and core principles of international law.

CUSACK: So the surreal Holder speech — how could it be that no one would be reporting on that? How could it be that has gone by with not a bang but a whimper?

TURLEY: Well, you know, part of it, John, I think, is that this administration is very clever. First of all, they clearly made the decision right after the election to tack heavily to the right on national security issues. We know that by the people they put on the National Security Council. They went and got very hardcore folks — people who are quite unpopular with civil libertarians. Not surprisingly we almost immediately started to hear things like the pledge not to prosecute CIA officials and other Bush policies being continued.

Many reporters buy into these escape clauses that the administration gives them, this is where I think the administration is quite clever. From a legal perspective, the Holder speech should have been exposed as perfect nonsense. If you’re a constitutional scholar, what he was talking about is facially ridiculous, because he was saying that we do have a constitutional process–it’s just self-imposed, and we’re the only ones who can review it. They created a process of their own and then pledged to remain faithful to it.

While that should be a transparent and absurd position, it gave an out for journalists to say, “Well, you know, the administration’s promising that there is a process, it’s just not the court process.” That’s what is so clever, and why the Obama administration has been far more successful than the Bush administration in rolling back core rights. The Bush administration would basically say, “We just vaporized a citizen in a car with a terrorist, and we’re not sorry for it.”

CUSACK: Well, yeah, the Bush administration basically said, “We may have committed a crime, but we’re the government, so what the fuck are you going to do about it?” Right? —and the Obama administration is saying, “We’re going to set this all in cement, expand the power of the executive, and pass the buck to the next guy.” Is that it?

TURLEY: It’s the same type of argument when people used to say when they caught a criminal and hung him from a tree after a perfunctory five-minute trial. In those days, there was an attempt to pretend that they are really not a lynch mob, they were following a legal process of their making and their satisfaction. It’s just… it’s expedited. Well, in some ways, the administration is arguing the same thing. They’re saying, “Yes, we do believe that we can kill any US citizen, but we’re going to talk amongst ourselves about this, and we’re not going to do it until we’re satisfied that this guy is guilty.”

CUSACK: Me and the nameless death panel.

TURLEY: Again, the death panel is ludicrous. The power that they’ve defined derives from the president’s role as Commander in Chief. So this panel –

CUSACK: They’re falling back on executive privilege, the same as Nixon and Bush.

TURLEY: Right, it’s an extension of the president. He could just ignore it. It’s not like they have any power that exceeds his own.

CUSACK: So the death panel serves at the pleasure of the king, is what you’re saying.

TURLEY: Yes, and it gives him cover so that they can claim that they’re doing something legal when they’re doing something extra-legal.

CUSACK: Well, illegal, right?

TURLEY: Right. Outside the law.

CUSACK: So when does it get to a point where if you abdicate duty, it is in and of itself a crime? Obama is essentially creating a constitutional crisis not by committing crimes but by abdicating his oath that he swore before God — is that not a crime?

TURLEY: Well, he is violating international law over things like his promise to protect CIA officials from any prosecution for torture. That’s a direct violation, which makes our country as a whole doubly guilty for alleged war crimes. I know many of the people in the administration. Some of us were quite close. And they’re very smart people. I think that they also realize how far outside the lines they are. That’s the reason they are trying to draft up these policies to give the appearance of the law. It’s like a Potemkin village constructed as a façade for people to pass through –

CUSACK: They want to have a legal patina.

TURLEY: Right, and so they create this Potemkin village using names. You certainly can put the name “due process” on a drone missile, but it’s not delivering due process.

CUSACK: Yeah. And what about — well, we haven’t even gotten into the expansion of the privatization movement of the military “contractors” under George Bush or the escalation of drone strikes. I mean, who are they killing? Is it legal? Does anyone care — have we just given up as a country, saying that the Congress can declare war?

TURLEY: We appear to be in a sort of a free-fall. We have what used to be called an “imperial presidency.”

CUSACK: Obama is far more of an imperial president than Bush in many ways, wouldn’t you say?

TURLEY: Oh, President Obama has created an imperial presidency that would have made Richard Nixon blush. It is unbelievable.

CUSACK: And to say these things, most of the liberal community or the progressive community would say, “Turley and Cusack have lost their minds. What do they want? They want Mitt Romney to come in?”

TURLEY: The question is, “What has all of your relativistic voting and support done for you?” That is, certainly there are many people who believe –

CUSACK: Well, some of the people will say the bread-and-butter issues, “I got healthcare coverage, I got expanded healthcare coverage.”

TURLEY: See, that’s what I find really interesting. When I talk to people who support the administration, they usually agree with me that torture is a war crime and that the administration has blocked the investigation of alleged war crimes.

Then I ask them, “Then, morally, are you comfortable with saying, ‘I know the administration is concealing war crimes, but they’re really good on healthcare?'” That is what it comes down to.

The question for people to struggle with is how we ever hope to regain our moral standing and our high ground unless citizens are prepared to say, “Enough.” And this is really the election where that might actually carry some weight — if people said, “Enough. We’re not going to blindly support the president and be played anymore according to this blue state/red state paradigm. We’re going to reconstruct instead of replicate. It might not even be a reinvented Democratic Party in the end that is a viable option. Civil libertarians are going to stand apart so that people like Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama and others know that there are certain Rubicon issues that you cannot cross, and one of them happens to be civil liberty.

CUSACK: Yeah, because most people reading this will sort of say, “Okay, this is all fine and good, but I’ve got to get to work and I’ve got stuff to do and I don’t know what these fucking guys are talking about. I don’t really care.”

So let’s paint a scenario. My nephew, Miles, decides that he wants to grow dreadlocks, and he also decides he’s falling in love with the religion of Islam. And he changes his name. Instead of his name being Miles, he changes his name to a Muslim-sounding name.

He goes to Washington, and he goes to the wrong organization or meeting, let’s say, and he goes to an Occupy Washington protest. He’s out there next to someone with a speaker, and a car bomb explodes. He didn’t set it off, and he didn’t do anything. The government can throw him in prison and never try him, right?

TURLEY: Well, first of all, that’s a very good question.

CUSACK: How do we illustrate the danger to normal people of these massive overreaches and radical changes to the Constitution that started under bush and have expanded under Obama?

TURLEY: I mean, first of all, I know Miles, and –

CUSACK: Yes.

TURLEY: –and he is a little dangerous.

CUSACK: Yes.

TURLEY: I played basketball with him and you and I would describe him as a clear and present danger.

CUSACK: I mean, and I know Eric Holder and Obama won’t throw him in prison because they’re nice guys, but let’s say that they’re out of office.

TURLEY: Right, and the problem is that there is no guarantee. It has become almost Fellini-esque. Holder made the announcement a couple of years ago that they would try some defendants in a federal court while reserving military tribunals for others. The speech started out on the high ground, saying, “We have to believe in our federal courts and our Constitution. We’ve tried terrorists before, and therefore we’re transferring these individuals to federal court.”

Then he said, “But we’re going to transfer these other individuals to Guantanamo Bay.” What was missing was any type of principle. You have Obama doing the same thing that George Bush did — sitting there like Caesar and saying, “You get a real trial and you get a fake trial.” He sent Zacarias Moussaoui to a federal court and then he threw Jose Padilla, who happened to be a US citizen, into the Navy brig and held him without trial.

Yet, Obama and Holder publicly assert that they’re somehow making a civil liberties point, and say, “We’re very proud of the fact that we have the courage to hold these people for a real trial, except for those people. Those people are going to get a tribunal.” And what happened after that was remarkable. If you read the press accounts, the press actually credits the administration with doing the right thing. Most of them pushed into the last paragraph the fact that all they did was split the people on the table, and half got a real trial and half got a fake trial.

CUSACK: In the same way, the demonization, whether rightful demonization, of Osama Bin Laden was so intense that people were thrilled that he was assassinated instead of brought to trial and tried. And I thought, if the Nuremberg principles were right, the idea would be that you’d want to take this guy and put him on trial in front of the entire world, and, actually, if you were going to put him to death, you’d put him to death by lethal injection.

TURLEY: You’ll recall reports came out that the Seals were told to kill Osama, and then reports came out to say that Osama might not have been armed when the Seals came in. The strong indication was that this was a hit.

CUSACK: Yeah.

TURLEY: The accounts suggest that this was an assassination from the beginning to the end, and that was largely brushed over in the media. There was never really any discussion of whether it was appropriate or even a good idea not to capture this guy and to bring him to justice.

The other thing that was not discussed in most newspapers and programs was the fact that we violated international law. Pakistan insisted that they never approved our going into Pakistan. Think about it — if the government of Mexico sent in Mexican special forces into San Diego and captured a Mexican national, or maybe even an American citizen, and then killed him, could you imagine what the outcry would be?

CUSACK: Or somebody from a Middle Eastern country who had their kids blown up by Mr. Cheney’s and Bush’s wars came in and decided they were going to take out Cheney–not take him back to try him, but actually just come in and assassinate him.

TURLEY: Yet we didn’t even have that debate. And I think that goes to your point, John, about where’s the media?

CUSACK: But, see, that’s a very tough principle to take, because everybody feels so rightfully loathsome about Bin Laden, right? But principles are not meant to be convenient, right? The Constitution is not meant to be convenient. If they can catch Adolf Eichmann and put him on trial, why not bin Laden? The principles are what separate us from the beasts.

I think the best answer I ever heard about this stuff, besides sitting around a kitchen table with you and your father and my father, was I heard somebody, they asked Mario Cuomo, “You don’t support the death penalty…? Would you for someone who raped your wife?” And Cuomo blinked, and he looked at him, and he said, “What would I do? Well, I’d take a baseball bat and I’d bash his skull in… But I don’t matter. The law is better than me. The law is supposed to be better than me. That’s the whole point.”

TURLEY: Right. It is one thing if the president argued that there was no opportunity to capture bin Laden because he was in a moving car, for example. And then some people could say, “Well, they took him out because there was no way they could use anything but a missile.” What’s missing in the debate is that it was quickly brushed over whether we had the ability to capture bin Laden.

CUSACK: Well, it gets to [the late] Raiders owner Al Davis’ justice, which is basically, “Just win, baby.” And that’s where we are. The Constitution was framed by Al Davis. I never knew that.

And the sad part for me is that all the conversations and these interpretations and these conveniences, if they had followed the Constitution, and if they had been strict in terms of their interpretations, it wouldn’t matter one bit in effectively handling the war on terror or protecting Americans, because there wasn’t anything extra accomplished materially in taking these extra leaps, other than to make it easier for them to play cowboy and not cede national security to the Republicans politically. Bin Laden was basically ineffective. And our overseas intel people were already all over these guys.

It doesn’t really matter. The only thing that’s been hurt here has been us and the Constitution and any moral high ground we used to have. Because Obama and Holder are good guys, it’s okay. But what happens when the not-so-good guys come in, does MSNBC really want to cede and grandfather these powers to Gingrich or Romney or Ryan or Santorum or whomever — and then we’re sitting around looking at each other, like how did this happen? — the same way we look around now and say, “How the hell did the middle of America lose the American dream? How is all of this stuff happening at the same time?” And it gets back to lack of principle.

TURLEY: I think that’s right. Remember the articles during the torture debate? I kept on getting calls from reporters saying, “Well, you know, the administration has come out with an interesting statement. They said that it appears that they might’ve gotten something positive from torturing these people.” Yet you’ve had other officials say that they got garbage, which is what you often get from torture…

CUSACK: So the argument being that if we can get good information, we should torture?

TURLEY: Exactly. Yeah, that’s what I ask them. I say, “So, first of all, let’s remember, torture is a war crime. So what you’re saying is — ”

CUSACK: Well, war crimes… war crimes are effective.

TURLEY: The thing that amazes me is that you have smart people like reporters who buy so readily into this. I truly believe that they’re earnest when they say this.

Of course you ask them “Well, does that mean that the Nuremberg principles don’t apply as long as you can show some productive use?” We have treaty provisions that expressly rule out justifying torture on the basis that it was used to gain useful information.

CUSACK: Look, I mean, enforced slave labor has some productive use. You get great productivity, you get great output from that shit. You’re not measuring the principle against the potential outcome; that’s a bad business model. “Just win, baby” — we’re supposed to be above that.

TURLEY: But, you know, I’ll give you an example. I had one of the leading investigative journalists email me after one of my columns blasting the administration on the assassin list, and this is someone I deeply respect. He’s one of the true great investigative reporters. He objected to the fact that my column said that under the Obama policy he could kill US citizens not just abroad, but could kill them in the United States. And he said, “You know, I agree with everything in your column except that.” He said, “You know, they’ve never said that they could kill someone in the United States. I think that you are exaggerating.”

Yet, if you look at how they define the power, it is based on the mere perceived practicality and necessity of legal process by the president. They say the President has unilateral power to assassinate a citizen that he believes is a terrorist. Now, is the limiting principle? They argue that they do this “constitutional analysis,” and they only kill a citizen when it’s not practical to arrest the person.

CUSACK: Is that with the death panel?

TURLEY: Well, yeah, he’s talking about the death panel. Yet, he can ignore the death panel. But, more importantly, what does practicality mean? It all comes down to an unchecked presidential power.

CUSACK: By the way, the death panel — that room can’t be a fun room to go into, just make the decision on your own. You know, it’s probably a gloomy place, the death panel room, so the argument from the reporter was, “Look, they can… if they kill people in England or Paris that’s okay, but they — “

TURLEY: I also don’t understand, why would it make sense that you could kill a US citizen on the streets of London but you might not be able to kill them on the streets of Las Vegas? The question is where the limiting principle comes from or is that just simply one more of these self-imposed rules? And that’s what they really are saying: we have these self-imposed rules that we’re only going to do this when we think we have to.

CUSACK: So, if somebody can use the contra-Nuremberg argument — that principle’s now been flipped, that they were only following orders — does that mean that the person that issued the order through Obama, or the President himself, is responsible and can be brought up on a war crime charge?

TURLEY: Well, under international law, Obama is subject to international law in terms of ordering any defined war crime.

CUSACK: Would he have to give his Nobel Peace Prize back?

TURLEY: I don’t think that thing’s going back. I’ve got to tell you… and given the amount of authority he’s claimed, I don’t know if anyone would have the guts to ask for it back.

CUSACK: And the argument people are going to use is,”Look, Obama and Holder are good guys. They’re not going to use this power.” But the point is, what about after them? What about the apparatchiks? You’ve unleashed the beast. And precedent is everything constitutionally, isn’t it?

TURLEY: I think that’s right. Basically what they’re arguing is, “We’re angels,” and that’s exactly what Madison warned against. As we discussed, he said if all men were angels you wouldn’t need government. And what the administration is saying is, “We’re angels, so trust us.”

I think that what is really telling is the disconnect between what people say about our country and what our country has become. What we’ve lost under Bush and Obama is clarity. In the “war on terror” what we’ve lost is what we need the most in fighting terrorism: clarity. We need the clarity of being better than the people that we are fighting against. Instead, we’ve given propagandists in Al Qaeda or the Taliban an endless supply of material — allowing them to denounce us as hypocrites.

Soon after 9/11 we started government officials talk about how the US Constitution is making us weaker, how we can’t function by giving people due process. And it was perfectly ridiculous.

CUSACK: Feels more grotesque than ridiculous.

TURLEY: Yeah, all the reports that came out after 9/11 showed that 9/11 could’ve been avoided. For years people argued that we should have locked reinforced cockpit doors. For years people talked about the gaps in security at airports. We had the intelligence services that had the intelligence that they needed to move against this ring, and they didn’t share the information. So we have this long list of failures by US agencies, and the result was that we increased their budget and gave them more unchecked authority.

In the end, we have to be as good as we claim. We can’t just talk a good game. If you look at this country in terms of what we’ve done, we have violated the Nuremberg principles, we have violated international treaties, we have refused to accept–

CUSACK: And you’re not just talking about in the Bush administration. You’re talking about –

TURLEY: The Obama administration.

CUSACK: You’re talking about right now.

TURLEY: We have refused to accept the jurisdictional authority of sovereign countries. We now routinely kill in other countries. It is American exceptionalism – the rules apply to other countries.

CUSACK: Well, these drone attacks in Pakistan, are they legal? Does anyone care? Who are we killing? Do they deserve due process?

TURLEY: When we cross the border, Americans disregard the fact that Pakistan is a sovereign nation, let alone an ally, and they insist that they have not agreed to these operations. They have accused us of repeatedly killing people in their country by violating their sovereign airspace. And we just disregard it. Again, its American exceptionalism, that we –

CUSACK: Get out of our way or we’ll pulverize you.

TURLEY: The rules apply to everyone else. So the treaties against torture and war crimes, sovereign integrity –

CUSACK: And this also speaks to the question that nobody even bothers to ask: what exactly are we doing in Afghanistan now? Why are we there?

TURLEY: Oh, yeah, that’s the real tragedy.

CUSACK: It has the highest recorded suicide rate among veterans in history and no one even bothers to state a pretense of a definable mission or goal. It appears we’re there because it’s not convenient for him to really get out before the election. So in that sense he’s another guy who’s letting people die in some shithole for purely political reasons. I mean, it is what it is.

TURLEY: I’m afraid, it is a political calculation. What I find amazing is that we’re supporting an unbelievably corrupt government in the Karzai administration.

Karzai himself, just two days ago, called Americans “demons.” He previously said that he wished he had gone with the Taliban rather than the Americans. And, more importantly, his government recently announced that women are worth less than men, and he has started to implement these religious edicts that are subjugating women. So he has American women who are protecting his life while he’s on television telling people that women are worth less than men, and we’re funding –

CUSACK: What are they, about three-fifths?

TURLEY: Yeah, he wasn’t very specific on that point. So we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars. More importantly, we’re losing all these lives because it was simply politically inconvenient to be able to pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq.

CUSACK: Yeah. And, I mean, we haven’t even touched on the whole privatization of the military and what that means. What does it mean for the state to be funding at-cost-plus private mercenary armies and private mercenary security forces like Blackwater, or now their names are Xe, or whatever they’ve been rebranded as?

TURLEY: Well, the United States has barred various international rules because they would allow for the prosecution of war crimes by both military and private forces. The US barred those new rules because we didn’t want the ability of other countries to prosecute our people for war crimes. One of the things I teach in my constitutional class is that there is a need for what’s called a bright-line rule. That is, the value for bright-line rules is that they structure relations between the branches, between the government and citizens. Bright-line rules protect freedom and liberty. Those people that try to eliminate bright-line rules quickly find themselves on a slippery slope. The Obama administration, with the Bush administration, began by denying rights to people at Guantanamo Bay.

And then they started to deny rights of foreigners who they accused of being terrorists. And eventually, just recently, they started denying rights to citizens and saying that they could kill citizens without any court order or review. It is the fulfillment of what is the nightmare of civil liberties. They crossed that bright line. Now they’re bringing these same abuses to US citizens and changing how we relate to our government. In the end, we have this huge apparatus of the legal system, this huge court system, and all of it has become discretionary because the president can go ahead and kill US citizens if he feels that it’s simply inconvenient or impractical to bring them to justice.

CUSACK: Or if the great O, decides that he wants to be lenient and just throw them in jail for the rest of their life without trial, he can do that, right?

TURLEY: Well, you’ve got Guantanamo Bay if you’re accused of being an enemy combatant. There is the concept in law that the lesser is included in the greater.

So if the president can kill me when I’m in London, then the lesser of that greater is that he could also hold me, presumably, without having any court involvement. It’d be a little bizarre that he could kill me but if he held me he’d have to turn me over to the court system.

CUSACK: Yeah. We’re getting into kind of Kafka territory. You know, with Bush I always felt like you were at one of those rides in an amusement park where the floor kept dropping and you kept kind of falling. But I think what Obama’s done is we’ve really hit the bottom as far as civil liberties go.

TURLEY: Yet people have greeted this erosion of civil liberties with this collective yawn.

CUSACK: Yeah, yeah. And so then it gets down to the question, “Well, are you going to vote for Obama?” And I say, “Well, I don’t really know. I couldn’t really vote for Hillary Clinton because of her Iraq War vote.” Because I felt like that was a line, a Rubicon line –

TURLEY: Right.

CUSACK: — a Rubicon line that I couldn’t cross, right? I don’t know how to bring myself to vote for a constitutional law professor, or even a constitutional realist, who throws away due process and claims the authority that the executive branch can assassinate American citizens. I just don’t know if I can bring myself to do it.

If you want to make a protest vote against Romney, go ahead, but I would think we’d be better putting our energies into local and state politics — occupy Wall Street and organizations and movements outside the system, not national politics, not personalities. Not stadium rock politics. Not brands. That’s the only thing I can think of. What would you say?

TURLEY: Well, the question, I think, that people have got to ask themselves when they get into that booth is not what Obama has become, but what have we become? That is, what’s left of our values if we vote for a person that we believe has shielded war crimes or violated due process or implemented authoritarian powers. It’s not enough to say, “Yeah, he did all those things, but I really like what he did with the National Park System.”

CUSACK: Yeah, or that he did a good job with the auto bailout.

TURLEY: Right. I think that people have to accept that they own this decision, that they can walk away. I realize that this is a tough decision for people but maybe, if enough people walked away, we could finally galvanize people into action to make serious changes. We have to recognize that our political system is fundamentally broken, it’s unresponsive. Only 11 percent of the public supports Congress, and yet nothing is changing — and so the question becomes, how do you jumpstart that system? How do you create an alternative? What we have learned from past elections is that you don’t create an alternative by yielding to this false dichotomy that only reinforces their monopoly on power.

CUSACK: I think that even Howard Zinn/Chomsky progressives, would admit that there will be a difference in domestic policy between Obama and a Romney presidency.

But DUE PROCESS….I think about how we own it. We own it. Everybody’s sort of let it slip. There’s no immediacy in the day-to-day on and it’s just one of those things that unless they… when they start pulling kids off the street, like they did in Argentina a few years ago and other places, all of a sudden, it’s like, “How the hell did that happen?” I say, “Look, you’re not helping Obama by enabling him. If you want to help him, hold his feet to the fire.”

TURLEY: Exactly.

CUSACK: The problem is, as I see it, is that regardless of goodwill and intent and people being tired of the status quo and everything else, the information outlets and the powers that be reconstruct or construct the government narrative only as an election game of ‘us versus them,’ Obama versus Romney, and if you do anything that will compromise that equation, you are picking one side versus the other. Because don’t you realize that’s going to hurt Obama? Don’t you know that’s going to help Obama? Don’t you know… and they’re not thinking through their own sort of self-interest or the community’s interest in just changing the way that this whole thing works to the benefit of the majority. We used to have some lines we wouldn’t cross–some people who said this is not what this country does …we don’t do this shit, you had to do the right thing. So it’s going to be a tough process getting our rights back, but you know Frankie’s Law? Whoever stops fighting first – loses.

TURLEY: Right.

Also see Jason Leopold’s December 2011 report: Obama’s “Twisted Version of American Exceptionalism” Laid Bare

SOPA & PIPA Shelved But Is ACTA Unstoppable? Little Known International Censorship Treaty Crafted In Secret Without Public Debate

In Uncategorized on January 24, 2012 at 11:13 am

Oldspeak:ACTA IS A THREAT TO FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND OPEN ACCESS TO KNOWLEDGE.  It contains global IP provisions as restrictive or worse than anything contained in SOPA and PIPA. It goes much further than the internet, cracking down on generic drugs and making food patents even more radical than they are by enforcing a global standard on seed patents that threatens local farmers and food independence across the developed world. The treaty has been secretly negotiated behind the scenes, with unelected bureaucrats working closely with entertainment industry lobbyists to craft the provisions in the treaty. We’ve already signed on to the treaty. All it needs now is Senate ratification.” –E.D. Cain “…after the successes of the Internet in enabling revolutions to start and proceed, there is a raw political desire to curb the power of the web. This isn’t based on money, but on fear.” –Sue Gee The technotronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.” Zbigniew Brzezinski, U.S. Secretary Of State (1977-1981) The scientific elite are relentlessly working to assert more and more control over access and dissemination of information. A free and open internet must be closed and restricted to achieve those ends. The people will need to stay informed and vigilant against these dire threats to our freedoms.

By E.D. Cain @ Forbes Magazine:

When sites like Wikipedia and Reddit banded together for a major blackout January 18th, the impact was felt all the way to Washington D.C. The blackout had lawmakers running from the controversial anti-piracy legislation, SOPA and PIPA, which critics said threatened freedom of speech online.

Unfortunately for free-speech advocates, censorship is still a serious threat.

Few people have heard of ACTA, or the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, but the provisions in the agreement are just as pernicious as anything we saw in SOPA. Worse, the agreement spans virtually all of the countries in the developed world, including all of the EU, the United States, Switzerland and Japan.

Many of these countries have already signed or ratified it, and the cogs are still turning. The treaty has been secretly negotiated behind the scenes, with unelected bureaucrats working closely with entertainment industry lobbyists to craft the provisions in the treaty. The Bush administration started the process, but the Obama administration has aggressively pursued it.

Indeed, we’ve already signed on to the treaty. All it needs now is Senate ratification. The time to stop the treaty is now, and we may need a second global internet blackout to call attention to it.

Here’s a quick video primer:

ACTA bypasses the sovereign laws of participating nations, forcing ISP’s across the globe to adopt these draconian measures.

Worse, it goes much further than the internet, cracking down on generic drugs and making food patents even more radical than they are by enforcing a global standard on seed patents that threatens local farmers and food independence across the developed world.

Despite ACTA’s secrecy, criticism of the agreement has been widespread. Countries like India and Brazil have been vocal opponents of the agreement, claiming that it will do a great deal of harm to emerging economies.

I’ll have more on the agreement as it emerges. But to briefly sum up, ACTA contains global IP provisions as restrictive or worse than anything contained in SOPA and PIPA.

  • ACTA spans virtually all of the developed world, threatening the freedom of the internet as well as access to medication and food. The threat is every bit as real for those countries not involved in the process as the signatories themselves.
  • ACTA has already been signed by many countries including the US, but requires ratification in the EU parliament and the US Senate.
  • The entire monstrosity has been negotiated behind closed doors and kept secret from the public. Technocrats, beholden to the deep pockets of the entertainment lobby, have masked the agreement behind the misnomer of “anti-counterfeiting” when in fact it goes much, much further.

If you thought SOPA would break the internet, ACTA is much worse. And it could become law across the global economy without so much as a murmur of opposition.

Worse still, it’s not alone. Even more restrictive provisions exist in another trade agreement currently being hammered out by various nations.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, there are “other plurilateral agreements, such as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), which contains a chapter on IP enforcement that would have state signatories adopt even more restrictive copyright measures than ACTA. Similarly, negotiations over TPP are also held in secret and with little oversight by the public or civil society. These initiatives, negotiated without participation from civil society or the public, are an affront to a democratic world order. EFF will remain vigilant against these international initiatives that threaten to choke off creativity, innovation, and free speech, and will stand with EDRi, FFII, La Quadrature du Net and our other EU fellow traveller organizations in their campaign to defeat ACTA in the European Parliament in January.”

The global economy needs to be seen as separate from those nations which comprise the global community of states. Civil society and a free global economy are not the same thing as the bogeyman so often referred to simply as “globalism.”

The free flow of goods and information is as much threatened by the global state apparatus as it is assisted by it, and industries with a vested interested in maintaining the status quo through draconian protectionist measures are now threatening the last frontier of the truly free economy.

By threatening the internet and free speech, the entertainment industry threatens its own existence. But with only short-term profits in mind, this will not deter them.

Yes, our lawmakers fled from SOPA and PIPA when push came to shove, but they have ACTA to fall back on. Notably, few of them are speaking out against this even more dangerous treaty. Not surprisingly one of the lone voices of dissent is Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) who has spoken out against the treaty.

“It may be possible for the U.S. to implement ACTA or any other trade agreement, once validly entered, without legislation if the agreement requires no change in U.S. law,” he wrote. “But regardless of whether the agreement requires changes in U.S. law … the executive branch lacks constitutional authority to enter a binding international agreement covering issues delegated by the Constitution to Congress’ authority, absent congressional approval.”

Even absent US participation, however, we should all be worried about the implications of this and other trade agreements on the global economy, the ripple effects of which would reach all of us regardless of geographical location.

Remember, when one of these bills or trade agreements falls, another rises up to take its place. ACTA has been in the works for several years. SOPA almost passed into law unopposed. The threat to civil society isn’t going away.

If you care about freedom of speech, or if you have participated in SOPA protests, please help spread the word about ACTA. You can sign a petition to stop it here.

By Sue Gee @ I-Programmer

Last Wednesday’s blackout by Wikipedia, Reddit and other sites raised awareness of PIPA and SOPA but there’s another threat to the open Internet, ACTA and has already been signed in US and elsewhere.

There has been jubilation about the fact that both the PIPA and SOPA bills that were being debated by the US Congress have stopped being an immediate menace.

Yes the action taken by Wikipedia had the desired effect, as did the signatures of the citizens who petitioned President Obama. However, in reality we should view the outcome as a temporary setback for the supporters of this legislation.

They will no doubt try again and we just have to hope that the next proposed legislation is less draconian.

The lasting achievement of the Internet Strike was that it alerted ordinary Internet users to the idea that there are freedoms we currently take for granted that could be blocked with widespread adverse affects.

But while many more people now know about SOPA and PIPA, how many have heard of ACTA – which by having the status of an international trade agreement rather than one country’s law has been introduced without the level of debate accorded to proposed legislation?

According to La Quadrature du Net, a French advocacy group that promotes the rights and freedoms of citizens on the Internet:

ACTA is one more offensive against the sharing of culture on the Internet. ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) is an agreement secretly negotiated by a small “club” of like-minded countries (39 countries, including the 27 of the European Union, the United States, Japan, etc). Negotiated instead of being democratically debated, ACTA bypasses parliaments and international organizations to dictate a repressive logic dictated by the entertainment industries.

La Quadrature says ACTA aims at imposing new criminal sanctions and online censorship in the name of copyright.

The US, Canada and many other countries have already signed the ACTA agreement and it was recently adopted by the European Union but it has yet to be debated by the European Parliament and so there is still a short window for protest against ACTA to prevent it being enacted.

Watch the video below to discover why we need to say No to ACTA and refer to La Quadrature’s Wiki to discover how to take action against it.

At this time the Internet is under more threat from sources that are alien to it, or worse fear it, than at any other. However, we are not good at spotting legislative controls that could harm what we do. Partly because it is a different technology and we don’t know the jargon, but mainly because stealth works in the favor of any party trying to pass restrictive legislature.

In the past most of the attempts to control the Internet have come from commercial interests, and piracy was its main target. Now, after the successes of the Internet in enabling revolutions to start and proceed, there is a raw political desire to curb the power of the web. This isn’t based on money, but on fear.

The big problem is that, even when we do notice, the ethos of the web works against us. The web should be open, information should be free and, even when Wikipediawent dark to protest against a bill that would clearly damage the Internet, manyWikipedians thought it was a bad thing for the most noble enterprise, an encyclopedia, to get embroiled in politics.

We desperately need a less idealistic view of the web, one that can defend its freedoms while minimizing the evil within.

 

For more information please visit:

EFF’s International Issue Page on ACTA: https://www.eff.org/issues/acta

European Digital Rights’ (EDRi) coverage here: www.edri.org/stopacta

La Quadrature du Net’s coverage here: http://www.laquadrature.net/en/acta

Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure’s (FFII) blog on ACTA http://acta.ffii.org/

Twitter hash tags: #ACTA

Twitter accounts:

@StopActaNow

@ffii

@EDRi_org

@laquadrature

Obama’s Secret Wars: How Shady U.S. ‘Counter-Terrorism’ Policies Are More Dangerous Than Actual Terrorism

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Oldspeak: “Ask yourself how you’d feel if you were just walking along minding your own business, and without warning, a Hellfire guided missile just dropped out of the sky and blew people up. I would venture to say you’d feel terrified and terrorized. That’s basically how innocents civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Libya feel. Quasi-discriminately bombing the shit out of civilians isn’t ‘Counter-Terrorism’. It’s just terrorism. State-sanctioned, but yeah, terrorism. And contrary to the reassuring speeches from Obama and his military commanders quoting cooked statistics, this tactic is not making us safer. It is exposing us to exponentially greater danger. Neither is paying the natives to torture and indefinitely detain ‘suspected terrorists’. Neither are the U.S. Air Forces’ plans to QUADRUPLE it’s drone air force on some ol ‘Empire Strikes Back’ shit. But these tactics are being held up as “”more efficient counterterrorism.”  Efficient for whom? Defense contractors? Bankers? War Profiteers? Definitely not for the countless dead and maimed. The reality is these policies have been losing the hearts and minds, turned whole populations against the U.S., while creating more and more extremists dedicated to killing U.S. citizens. ‘At present, however, U.S. “counterterror policy” is clearly on a collision course with reality. It can only be hoped that when U.S. leaders are finally forced to acknowledge the moral and strategic bankruptcy of their counterterrorism policy that the damage they have done will not be irreversible’. –Fred Branfman

By Fred Branfman @ Alter Net:

Obama should be held accountable for vastly expanding the military establishment’s worldwide license to kill.

Although President’s Obama’s partial Afghan troop withdrawal announcement has received more attention, his June 29 “National Strategy for Counterterrorism” is of far greater long-term significance. This remarkable document states that the U.S. government intends to “disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents,” in the following “areas of focus”: “The Homeland, South Asia, Arabian Peninsula, East Africa,Europe, Iraq, Maghreb and Sahel, Southeast Asia (and) Central Asia.”

This assassination strategy is already operational in six Muslim countries with a combined population of 280 million: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Libya, which has become a laboratory experiment for urban drone assassinations. The London Sunday Times reported a year ago that “President Obama has secretly sanctioned a huge increase in the number of US special forces … with American troops now operating in 75 countries.” There are presently 60,000 Special Operations forces worldwide, with 7,000 U.S. assassins unleashed upon Afghanistan and 3,000 in Iraq. Lt.-Col. John Nagle (ret.), an enthusiastic assassination supporter, has correctly called these operations “an almost industrial-scale counterterrorism killing machine.”

Obama vs. Petraeus in 2012

President Obama, a former constitutional law lecturer, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and rhetorical advocate of the Rule of Law cannot possibly reconcile his previously stated beliefs with his presently creation of an “industrial-size killing machine” that sees U.S. leaders unilaterally hunt, kidnap and murder any person anywhere on earth — including “the Homeland” — whenever they feel like it, without outside oversight or their victims enjoying any legal or human rights whatsoever. Whatever his personal beliefs at this point, the president likely hopes that this “counterrorism strategy” will help protect him from inevitable Republican attempts to blame him during the 2012 presidential campaign for the likely losses the U.S. will sustain in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the next 16 months. And normally principled liberal supporters like the Center for American Progress, which called the strategy “more efficent counterterrorism,” may well have made the same calculation.

But this “counterterrorism” program not only formalizes extrajudicial state killing formerly associated in the public mind only with the Gestapo and KGB. It also drastically weakens, not strengthens, U.S. national security. The U.S. is bedeviled today precisely because previous presidents created long-term disasters by making disastrous short-term political decisions — steadily escalating in Indochina to avoid defeat before the next election, creating al-Qaeda and allowing Pakistani dictator Zia ul-Haq to acquire nuclear weapons in the name of fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, arming the Shah of Iran and then arming Saddam Hussein against Iran after the Shah fell.

It is true that America badly needs an alternative to occupying foreign lands. But a worldwide assassination program that motivates countless potential suicide bombers, weakens friendly governments, strengthens U.S. foes and increases the danger of nuclear materials falling into the hands of anti-Americanterrorists, is hardly more “cost-effective counterterrorism.” On the contrary. It exponentially increases America’s enemies while doing them comparatively little damage.

David Petraeus claimed success for his “counterinsurgency surge” in Iraq on the grounds that it reduced violence there. He has thus failed in Afghanistan by his own criteria, since his “counterterror surge” has seen violence increase by 51 percent over a year ago according to the U.N., and in Pakistan where militant activity has increased by more than 400 percent since he expanded U.S. war-making there after becoming Centcom commander.

Despite this, newly appointed CIA Chief Petraeus has now been tasked with expanding his failed counterterror policies worldwide. He will seek to integrate military and CIA assassination capabilities; vastly increase and make more deadly a drone airforce, both that of the CIA and a U.S. Airforce which alone plans to quadruple its drone force and now “trains more pilots to operate drones than to fly bombers or fighter jets”; and he will increase the numbers and geographic scope of 60,000 Special Operations assassins and their backup support.

Besides the state of the economy, the 2012 presidential election may well hinge on whom the public blames more for the losses likely to occur in the next 18 months in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Republicans are already blaming Obama, using Petraeus’s manifest disloyalty to his Commander-in-Chief when he criticized Obama’s partial Afghan troop withdrawal. It may well be that Obama’s reelection will depend on the public learning the truth: that U.S. losses in the “AfPak theater” are due to Petraeus’ reckless and irresponsible expansion of U.S. war-making into Pakistan after becoming Centcom Commander in the fall of 2009, and his failed shift from “counterinsurgency” to “counterterrorism” after taking over in Afghanistan in September 2010.

The truth is that Obama has been listening to his “Commanders in the field” for 30 months now, as the Republicans have demanded, and they have failed him. If Obama does lose the 2012 election because of the military’s failures, he will have only himself to blame. Previous U.S. presidents, from Abraham Lincoln to Harry Truman, gained political strength by risking cashiering incompetent military officers. By promoting Petraeus, Obama has placed himself in a no-win situation, inextricably binding himself — and his nation — to the general’s countless reckless misjudgements, strategic failures and such manipulations of the media as his recent false claim to have reduced violence 5 percent in Afghanistan.

Two months after David Petraeus’ fateful decision to unleash “counter-terror” in southern Afghanistan, the international press (it was ignored in the U.S.) reported that the floor of Kandahar’s only hospital was “on some days, filled with blood”, and civilian casualties so exceeded its capacity that sick patients had to be transported to Pakistan for medical help. Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, close ally Britain’s Special Representative to Afghanistan, stated that David Petraeus should be “ashamed of himself,” explaining that “he has increased the violence (and) trebled the number of special forces raids.”

“For Every Dead Pashtun Warrior, There Will Be 10 Pledged to Revenge.”

Obama counterterrorism advisor John Brennan sought to package Obama’s strategy as consisting of only surgical strikes on known al-Qaeda leaders, making the delusional and fanatic claim that in the last year “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.” In fact, Reuters reported 13 months ago that “the CIA received approval to target … a wider range of targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas … in many, if not most cases, the CIA had little information about the foot soldiers killed in the strikes.” The evidence clearly indicates that the U.S. has since conducted hundreds of strikes in Pakistan without knowing how many civilians were among the 1900 people it has murdered — only 56 of whom were named as “al Qaeda and Taliban Leaders” by the strongly pro-drone Long War Journal.

If manned helicopter strikes in the middle of Baghdad, with pilots hovering over and discussing their targets, can murder a Reuters journalist for carrying a camera and a doctor trying to rescue him — as revealed in the Wikileaks “Collateral Murder” video — one can only imagine the drone-caused civilian carnage in remote areas of both Pakistan and Afghanistan that are inaccessible to the outside world.

The mentality behind counterrorism has been described by former head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center in 2005-6, Robert Grenier as “kill them before they kill you” — a primitive law of the jungle mentality more appropriate to organized crime than a superpower which confronts a 1.8 billion strong Muslim world in which, for each of “them” the U.S. kills it creates exponentially more of “them” committed to killing “us.”

This strategy is thus not only immoral and illegal, but poses a clear and present danger to U.S. national security. In return for killing a handful of “al-Qaeda leaders” it dramatically increases the ranks of potential anti-U.S. suicide bombers, weakens friendly governments, strengthens U.S. foes, and increases the risk of nuclear materials falling into unfriendly hands. Its basic premise — that there is a fixed quantity of “al-Qaeda leaders, adherents and affiliates” whose death reduces the threat to the U.S. — is simply wrong. As Cowper-Coles has explained, “for every dead Pashtun warrior, there will be 10 pledged to revenge.” Former CIA counterrorism operative Michael Scheuer has stated that “Petraeus’s ‘decapitation’ approach was also unlikely to work. ‘The Red Army tried that for 10 years, and they were far more ruthless and cruel about it than us, and it didn’t work so well for them.'”

Does it really make sense to kill a handful of top leaders, who can be easily replaced by often more competent deputies, at the cost of motivating entire populations to support killing Americans?

The latest example is Yemen where, the Washington Post has reported,”attacks on electricity plants and oil pipelines have left Yemen’s economy on the edge of collapse, with the most damaging strike carried out in retaliation for a U.S. counterterrorism raid.” After the U.S. assassinated a tribal chief’s innocent son, he retaliated by cutting Yemen’s main oil pipeline. By aiding Yemen’s economic collapse, U.S. counterterrorism is increasing support for terrorism.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Pakistani militants focused almost entirely on their immediate surroundings. But now, as a result of U.S. war-making in Pakistan, former CIA counterterrorism chief Grenier has explained that “it’s not just a matter of numbers of militants who are operating in that area, it also effects the motivations of those militants … They now see themselves as part of a global Jihad. They are not just focused on helping oppressed Muslims in Kashmir or trying to fight the NATO and the Americans in Afghanistan, they see themselves as part of a global struggle, and therefore are a much broader threat than they were previously. So in a sense, yes, we have helped to bring about the situation that we most fear.”

It was one thing for U.S. leaders in years past to murder and enslave defenseless Native Americans and Africans, impose vicious dictatorships throughout poverty-stricken Latin America, and kill 3 million Indochinese who posed no threat whatsoever to Americans. But it is quite another for the U.S. today to slowly and inexorably turn vast portions of the 1.8 billion strong and oil-rich Muslim world against it – especially nuclear-armed Pakistan which has already conclusively demonstrated how “counter-terrorism” harms U.S. interests far more than helps it.

U.S. Policy Increasing The Nuclear Danger in Pakistan
In the wake of Osama Bin-Laden’s murder, Congress, the media and pundits have finally begun to awaken to the fact that, as John Kerry recently stated, “in many ways, the Afghanistan war is a sideshow to the main event, if you will, that is next door.” But officials and pundits blame the problems in Pakistan entirely on a “Pakistani military (which views) the United States as a hostile force trying to perpetuate a state of `controlled chaos’ in Pakistan and determined to `denuclearize’ the regime,” as Fareed Zakaria recently wrote. None have had the intellectual courage to admit that, given the paranoia and incompetence of Pakistan’s leaders, U.S. “counterterrorism” policy has made the situation infinitely worse.

The current attempt to blackmail “main event” Pakistan into supporting U.S. military efforts in “sideshow” Afghanistan by withholding $800 million in military aid is only the latest example of the incoherence of present U.S. policy, and strengthens the case – as discussed below – for shifting to a focus on economic and social aid.

Pakistan has in many ways been a laboratory for counterterrorism, and U.S. experience there proves conclusively that any successes it has enjoyed are far outweighed by its failures. President Obama stated in his Afghan withdrawal speech that “together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al-Qaida’s leadership.”

But, as I have been warning for two years now, the failures of U.S. counterterrorism strategy in Pakistan are so great that it is madness to extend this failed policy to the entire Muslim world. U.S. counter-terror policy in Pakistan has contributed to:

— A vast increase in overall militant strength: While U.S. officials claim drone strikes are hurting Pakistani militants in tribal areas, in fact the Federation of American Scientists reports that “in less than a decade Pakistan has witnessed terror incidents increase almost fifty-fold.” Though the CIA quintupled drone strikes in Pakistan to an annual average of 79 in 2009-10 from16 in 2004-8, it has not reduced violence. On the contrary, incidents of reported terrorism in Pakistan havequadrupled from an annual 2004-8 average of 470 to a 2009-10 annual average of 1723, with the number and seriousness of attacks skyrocketing even higher in 2011. Numerous reports indicate that drone strikes have driven jihadi forces further east into Karachi and then the Punjabi heartland where they are increasingly cooperating together and pose a growing danger to the Pakistani state. It has also increased the risk of suicide-bombers among the more than one million Pakistanis in the U.K., many with British passports able to travel freely to the U.S., whom David Cameron reported in Wikileaks cables were “radicalized” by the U.S. invasion of Iraq and have been presumably even more upset by growing U.S. murder of Pakistanis since.

— A growing nuclear threat: U.S. counterterror drone strikes have contributed to 59 percent of the Pakistani people — over 110 million people — regarding the U.S. as their “enemy.” While U.S. leaders continue to cavalierly disregard Pakistani public opinion, former U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson reported in the Wikileaks cables that because of the public’s hatred of the U.S., the Pakistani government has refused to cooperate with the U.S. on safeguarding its nuclear materials. U.S. ignoring Pakistani public opinion has thus helped create the single greatest threat to U.S. national security today. “Despite its political instability, Pakistan … has the world’s fastest-growing nuclear stockpile,” the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists recently reported. And it is considered one of the most insecure by nuclear experts. Former Senator Sam Nunn, who heads the Nuclear Threat Initiative, has said that “we are in a race between cooperation and catastrophe” in Pakistan.

U.S. policy has so angered the Pakistani military that the possibility of a pro-jihadi military coup is openly discussed in the N.Y. Times and in a new book by Bruce Riedel, who coordinated Obama’s fall 2009 Afghan policy review and worked at the CIA when the Ronald Reagan armed Osama Bin Laden and supported Muslim extremist General Zia ul-Haq during the 1980s, the key U.S. foreign policy mistake leading to 9/11. Riedel’s book describes in chilling detail precisely the “all-too-inevitable”disaster that current U.S. counterterrorism strategy could lead to. He writes that the “simplest way a jihadist Pakistan would emerge would be another military coup led by a general who shares the the worldview of Zia ul-Haq. A new Islamic Emirate of Pakistan … would take control of the nuclear arsenal.” Aligned with al Qaeda and armed with nuclear weapons, such a state would be a nightmare.

And, as he notes, there is precious little the U.S. could do in the event of such a coup: “U.S options to change the regime by means of a coup or assisting dissidents … would be limited. The United States is so unpopular in Pakistan today that its endorsement of a politician is a kiss of death.” And if the U.S. tried to invade,he writes, “the Pakistanis would of course use their nuclear weapons to defend themselves … an invasion would be a mission from hell. There are no good choices.” He also explores the possibility of another Mumbai-like attack on India from Pakistan, concluding that “sooner or later a Pakistan-based terror attack on India is going to lead to Armageddon.”

Nothing illustrates the incoherence of U.S.-Pakistan policy more, however, than Riedel’s next chapter. America’s most oft-quoted expert on Pakistan and participant in U.S. policy-making actually proposes expanding the very policies — drone strikes, pressure on border areas and attacks within Pakistan that have made a military coup an “all-too-possible nightmare scenario.” His most striking proposal is that “Washington could specifically target ISI officers (by) taking action against their individual and corporate financial holdings.” It is difficult to imagine any single action more likely to provoke the very coup that Riedel properly warns against. King’s College professor Anatol Lieven has correctly written that “any US action that endangered the stability of the Pakistani government would be insane. Nukes could fall into the hands of terrorists, along with huge quantities of conventional arms.” Yet Riedel proposes, and the U.S. government is today conducting, precisely such “insane” policies, making the prospect of an anti-U.S. military coup ever more likely!

“Counterterrorism” Harms U.S. National Security More Than “Terrorism

Although most Americans opposed postwar “communism,” by the late 1950s they had concluded that the “anti-communist” overreaction — including Joe McCarthy, loyalty oaths, blacklists, the House Unamerican Activities Committee and FBI spying on Americans — posed a far more immediate threat to American democracy. Similarly today, while no one can doubt that “terrorism” poses a threat, it is already clear that today’s U.S. “counterterrorism” crusade poses a far greater danger both to U.S. national security and American values by exponentially increasing those committed to murdering Americans.

The best way for the U.S. to fight terror in Pakistan is to end its drone strikes and violations of Pakistani sovereignty, and focus on effective economic and humanitarian aid. Perhaps then public hatred of the U.S. will be sufficiently reduced so as to allow for collaborative police work that targets terrorists effectively, and safeguards nuclear weapons.

A second priority for U.S. policy is to promote the Pakistani military’s stated desire,according to former U.S. Ambassador Patterson, for “deterrence, dialogue and development” toward its enemies. The Pakistanis, unlike the U.S., will have to live with their adversaries for the rest of time. They should be supported in their efforts to reach accommodations with them.

A third priority would be to realize that effective economic aid, e.g. bringing a reliable supply of electricity to the tens of millions of Pakistanis who lack it, will advance U.S. interests — including cooperation on nuclear materials — far more than drone strikes. The Pakistan Tribune has reported that Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani believes that “America should also help Pakistan in addressing its problems, particularly the prevailing issue of loadshedding. He said the government was working on a war footing to resolve the issue of loadshedding … The prime minister also said he had discussed with the US leadership the growing resentment against the local people due to rapid drone attacks on Pakistani territory.”

And a fourth priority, of course, would be to accelerate the U.S. withdrawal from “sideshow” Afghanistan.

At present, however, U.S. “counterterror policy” is clearly on a collision course with reality. It can only be hoped that when U.S. leaders are finally forced to acknowledge the moral and strategic bankruptcy of their counterterrorism policy that the damage they have done will not be irreversible.

Fred Branfman exposed the U.S. Secret Air War against Laos, wrote Jobs From the Sun, California’s SolarCal strategy, and developed high-tech and “investment economics” as a Cabinet-level official for Gov. Jerry Brown, head of Sen. Gary Hart’s think tank, and directing Rebuild America whose advisors included Larry Summers, Paul Krugman and Robert Noyce.

 

State Department Travel Warning: If You Try To Sail To Gaza, Israel May Kill You

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Oldspeak:”What a sad irony it is that an Administration that WOULD NOT HAVE EVEN BEEN POSSIBLE without citizen protest, sacrifice, struggle, and eventual elimination of state-sanctioned discrimination and apartheid right here in the USA is discouraging Americans’ practice of  citizen protest, sacrifice, struggle, with the goal eventual elimination of state-sanctioned discrimination and apartheid in Israel? Where would African-Americans be in this country today if our elders accepted their governments centuries old refusals to recognize their human and civil rights? 3/4ths human? Second class citizens? Freedom and dignity are birthrights, not conditions to be negotiated in some “peace treaty”. Those brave souls should have named their ship “The Audacity of Nope.” Free Gaza.

By Ali Gharib @ Think Progress:

The State Department today released an updated travel warning for Israel and the Occupied Territories. The update signified that it was issued “to warn against participation in any attempt to reach Gaza by sea.” The warning is likely in light of the so-called “Freedom Flotilla” of humanitarian activists setting out any day now to break the blockade of Gaza enforced by the Israeli military.

Last year, a similar attempt to break the blockade ended in the deaths of nine people, including an American.

The State Department warning said:

The security environment within Gaza, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the Government of Israel. […] On May 31, 2010, nine people were killed, including one U.S. citizen, in such an attempt.

The U.S. citizen killed was Furkan Doğan, a 19 year old permanent resident of Turkey who witnesses said was shot five times by Israeli commandos that made an early morning raid against the ship he was aboard. (Eight others, all Turkish nationals, were also killed.) The U.S. did not undertake or ask for any special investigations and seemed to accept the validity of Israel’s own investigations, which cleared the Jewish State’s armed forces of any wrong doing.

Both the blockade of Gaza and the raid on ships in international waters have had their legality questioned. Yesterday, the Israeli military attacked two Palestinian fishing boats off the Gaza coast, but within the limits Israel set for them.

State Department spokesperson Mark Toner recently said U.S. citizens who partook in the flotilla to break the Gaza blockade were putting themselves at risk:

We have made clear through the past year that groups and individuals who seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that entail a risk to their safety.

During his recent visit to Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked that “America has no better friend than Israel.” As Matthew Yglesias pointed out, the statement is “absurd.” This seems borne out by a travel warning that tells citizens not to try to get to Gaza by sea so that they don’t risk getting shot by their country’s “best friend.”

Seymour Hersh: Despite Intelligence Estimates Rejecting Iran As Nuclear Threat, U.S. Could Be Headed for Iraq Redux

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Oldspeak: ‘”War is a drug” –Chris Hedges. Same shit, different President. 😐 Consistent with “Grand Area Doctrine“,  60 years after the CIA orchestrated coup d’état against democratically elected Iranian Prime Minster Mohammed Mosaddegh, Mr. Hersh finds that your tax dollars are being used to violate the sovereign borders of Iran by illegally sending Special Forces commandos into Iran to look for a reason (this time nuclear weapons development) use as pretext for invasion (i.e. W.M.Ds in Iraq, “Protection of innocents” in Libya) and to seize control of the 5th largest oil reserves in the world. They’ve not found that reason yet and very likely won’t because it doesn’t exist. But don’t be surprised if another reason is manufactured to facilitate Iran’s conquest, which will not be achieved without great cost to both countries. Iran is NOT Iraq, and if this invasion comes to pass, it will not be pretty for the U.S. Next stop, War #5.

Related Video:  The Plan — According to U.S. General Wesley Clark (Ret.)

Related StorySeymour Hersh on the Arab Spring, “Disaster” U.S. Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Looming Crisis in Iraq

By Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now

Guest:

Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist at The New Yorker magazine. His latest piece is Iran and the Bomb: How Real is the Nuclear Threat?

JUAN GONZALEZ: The Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh is back in the news this week with another explosive article that is ruffling some feathers at the White House. During the Bush administration years, Hersh was widely criticized by White House officials for his exposés on the torture at Abu Ghraib, secret U.S. operations overseas, and U.S. policy in Iran. Now it is the Obama White House upset with an article from Hersh.

Earlier this week, The New Yorker magazine published his latest investigation titled “Iran and the Bomb: How Real is the Threat?” Hersh writes, quote, “There is a large body of evidence, however, including some of America’s most highly classified intelligence assessments, suggesting that the United States could be in danger of repeating a mistake similar to the one made with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq eight years ago—allowing anxieties about the policies of a tyrannical regime to distort our estimations of the state’s military capacities and intentions.”

AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh reveals that despite using Iranian informants and cutting-edge surveillance technology, U.S. officials have been unable to find decisive evidence that Iran has been moving enriched uranium to an underground weapon-making center.
Hersh quotes Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying he has not seen, quote, “a shred of evidence” that Iran was—has been weaponizing, in terms of “building nuclear-weapons facilities and using enriched materials.”

The Obama White House, meanwhile, has repeatedly cited Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to the world. President Obama raised the issue last month during his speech before AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So let me be absolutely clear: we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Its illicit nuclear program is just one challenge that Iran poses. As I said on Thursday, the Iranian government has shown its hypocrisy by claiming to support the rights of protesters while treating its own people with brutality.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining us now in Washington is Seymour Hersh, investigative reporter at The New Yorker and author of many books, including Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib, currently working on a book looking at the Dick Cheney vice presidency.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Seymour Hersh. Lay out what you have found.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, very simply, it’s—you know, you could argue it’s 2003 all over again. Remember WMD, mushroom clouds. There’s just no serious evidence inside that Iran is actually doing anything to make a nuclear weapon. You know, making a weapon is a big deal. You have to have fabrication facilities. You have to convert a very toxic gas into a metal and then mold it into a core. It’s big stuff, and there’s no sign of any of it.

We’ve been looking—Cheney was convinced, Dick Cheney, the former vice president, there was a secret facility à la what we probably saw in the movieBananas. Remember Woody Allen’s movie, the little robots running underground? He was convinced there was an underground facility somewhere. And we had special forces units in there since ’04, really, perhaps as late as—early as ’05, maybe, looking. We’ve been paying off people—the Kurds, the Azeris, the opposition groups. We’ve been giving a lot of money to various defectors. We’ve been looking with satellites for telltale signs, air holes, air vents, somewhere in the desert or somewhere in an arid area. And we’ve found nothing, not for lack of trying. We looked very hard. And there’s just no evidence on the inside.

And it’s not only here, it’s known in Europe. It’s a much easier situation, at least for a journalist, to go to Europe, because the European intelligence officials are much more open about it. “Yes, we are very skeptical,” they will say, “but we’ve found nothing.” So, the fact is, we have a—the evidence is pretty strong—I mean, very strong—that we have a sanctions program that’s designed to prevent the Iranians from building weapons systems they’re not building.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Sy Hersh, your article details some extraordinary efforts by the United States. You talk about the special forces operations actually replacing street signs in Tehran with radiation detectors and replacing bricks in buildings. Could you talk about some of that? I mean, because that’s enormous risk that they’re taking actually going into the country and doing that.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Oh, it’s amazingly complicated. And I will tell you, obviously, I hate to write about operational stuff, but let me just say that whatever we were doing, we have a new generation now that’s more sophisticated. But in those early days—early days being ’05, 2005, 2006—there was a tremendous concern that various buildings, laboratories and academic buildings in the city of Tehran were being used as secret facilities to enrich uranium to a high degree. Right now the Iranians are absolutely within the law. It turns out they’re signatories to the NPT, Non-Proliferation Treaty. And there’s no evidence whatsoever that—the IAEA, the group that Mr. ElBaradei headed, International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors nuclear developments, they consistently report that there’s no evidence of any diversion of any of the enriched materials they now have.

We’re enriching—the Iranians are enriching to about 3.7 or so percent to run civilian power plants. There’s one small pilot project for medical research that gets up to 20 percent. But everything that’s being enriched is under camera, under watch, by the IAEA. There’s just no sign of any diversion. There’s just no evidence. This doesn’t mean we can go to intent. It doesn’t mean that there’s a lot of concern in the United States and appropriate concern about the Iranian intent. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t watch what they do. But it does mean that we’re sort of beating a dead horse here.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your sources, Sy Hersh.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Thanks a lot, Amy. Look, there’s been two very secret studies done, called National Intelligence Estimates, NIEs, and these are the most sort of sacrosanct internal studies done by the community. Almost all the time they’re private. There are studies going on, NIEs going on all the time—the situation now in Ecuador, for example, other issues. Venezuela is always looked at. The situation in the war, war-peace stuff, is constantly being looked at by groups of people in the intelligence community. And these documents are promulgated without anybody knowing it.

For some reason, in 2007 there was an NIE put out about the Iranian nuclear weapons program, and the White House wanted a summary made. And I think at that point 16 intelligence agencies were involved in the final conclusions. And internally, the guys running it, to their credit, voted 16 to nothing to say what they said, which is that, in a summary put out about the NIE—as I say, unprecedented summary—saying there’s no evidence they had done any weaponization since 2003.

And there’s a new study that was just done. It was published in February of this year. And it—we knew about it, but nobody has actually—you’re getting me in a tricky area, but I can just say, people that have worked on the study and have read the study will attest—have attested that it doesn’t take us any further. There’s no further evidence of any weaponization.

And what’s even more important that I write is that this, the latest study, was actually supposed to be promulgated—is the word they use in the community—last fall, and it was delayed because the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon intelligence agency, had an assessment that was—knocked everybody’s socks off. Their assessment was, the only reason Iran even looked at weaponization—and we’re not talking about building anything, we’re talking about doing studies, paper studies—was because they were frightened of Iraq. They had had an eight-year war, as many in your audience will remember, between 1980 and 1988, with Iraq, a terrible, brutal war. And when they—their worry was, in the early—in the 2001, 2002 period, that if Iraq went nuclear, they might need some deterrent. So what they even looked at, the papers they did, was aimed not at us or the Israelis, but aimed at the Iraqis. That didn’t get into the final judgment, but it affected the debate in a pretty positive way.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Sy Hersh, one of the things you say in your article is that these latest intelligence assessments—that a lot of the career intelligence people in the government now have pushed back a lot more against political pressure, after the debacle with Iraq and the pressure on the intelligence community to skew intelligence assessments about weapons of mass destruction, that now the career people are a lot more willing to buck any political pressure.

SEYMOUR HERSH: You know, it really depends on who’s running the agency. The Defense Department, the DIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, has a career general named Burgess who’s been in a lot of tough places. You know, he was in the Joint Special Operations Command. And he really has, all I can say is—again, I’m getting into—the people who work for him will tell you that they’re no longer afraid to go up against the established judgment. And so, what we really have been happening, in an amazing way—and I have to say this about the American government because I’m always very critical—but we do have an enormous number of people in the government and the intelligence community who don’t take—who take an oath of office to the Constitution, and not to the general who’s in charge of them or to the president. And we’re seeing more and more of that kind of attitude coming out inside. I can’t tell you why, but there’s more people really—there’s a lot more concern about where we are in the world right now. And the last decade has been a pretty horrible one for the United States, and I think the future is very, very sort of frightening, too, in terms of what’s been going on in the Middle East, etc. So there’s more integrity in the process. It doesn’t mean the White House likes it.

AMY GOODMAN: Sy, I wanted to ask you about the new International Atomic Energy Agency report that came out Tuesday, just after your article was published. This is what the New York Times reported, quote: “The world’s global nuclear inspection agency, frustrated by Iran’s refusal to answer questions, revealed for the first time [on] Tuesday that it possesses evidence that Tehran has conducted work on a highly sophisticated nuclear triggering technology that experts said could be used for only one purpose: setting off a nuclear weapon.”

“The nine-page report raised questions about whether Iran has sought to investigate seven different kinds of technology ranging from atomic triggers and detonators to uranium fuel,” the New York Times reporting on the IAEA report. Your response, Seymour Hersh?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, the word “evidence” was not in what the IAEA said. What the IAEA said is something it’s been saying repeatedly, even under ElBaradei. And I must say, the new director general, Mr. Amano, is, I think, more willing to please us than ElBaradei was, just in terms of speculating more. There was nothing new in that report. They’ve been saying repeatedly that they have concerns about certain information they have. They don’t describe it as evidence.

The new trigger is a very complicated device that was used by us maybe 30 years ago to trigger a hydrogen—a fusion weapon, and it went nowhere. And it’s a, as I say, extremely complicated device that there’s no evidence that anybody in their right mind would want to use that kind of a trigger. It would involve creating a different kind of reactor. The technical problems with that kind of a complicated device are enormous. And anyway, are you really going to be—are you going to make a trigger before you know what kind of gun you have?

I mean, it’s just—the word “evidence” was nowhere in the report. It’s been going on a long time. And what’s been going on is the IAEA has put out—this is even under ElBaradei. For about six, seven, eight years now, they’ve put out report after report that say one thing, that’s the most important thing: no evidence of any diversion of enriched materials, no evidence that they’re squirreling away enriched uranium to make a secret bomb. They have a lot of uranium enriched, the 3.7 percent, yes, but there’s no evidence they’re doing anything more than storing it up to run a civilian nuclear reactor. They have two in the process now. They’re having a lot of technical troubles. But eventually they’re going to need that fuel. It takes an enormous amount of fuel to drive a reactor. And so, it’s the same thing that’s been going on. You can look at the questions raised and lead your story with that, or you can look at the fact they say consistently that there’s been no diversion. There are outstanding questions. The Iranians don’t like being asked a lot of questions about third-party information. They keep on coming back to the IAEA and saying, “Give us some reason to answer a question. We’re not going to answer questions about third-party gossip,” that most of which they believe comes from fabrications.

And there’s been some evidence that some of the material—particularly there’s a famous laptop incident, where there was material given to us, the providence of which wasn’t known, that we made a big fuss about, allegedly a laptop belonging to an Iranian scientist, nuclear scientist. There were very crude drawings in it. They weren’t at all near the level of anything serious. And that, for years, back about four or five years ago, fueled all sorts of debate.

There’s just—the word “evidence”—I’ll just say again, the word “evidence” was not in what the IAEA said. Yes, there are outstanding questions. They’ve been—the same questions have been asked and answered for years. This particular trigger device was written about in a London newspaper two or three years ago, a major story. It’s not new. There’s nothing known about it that hasn’t been said before. This is what happens. You know, alas, you know, one thing about a free press is you don’t have to like everything you read.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Sy, I wanted to ask you—you mentioned earlier the uprisings in the Arab world, and I wanted to ask you about the impact of those uprisings both on the theocracy in Iran and also on Israel’s attempts to constantly encircle Iran or portray it as the source of danger to the rest of the world and to the region.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, just to get away from Iran for a second, what you’re having now is you’re having a—you had it in Tunisia, and you had Egypt, spontaneous people’s revolts, if you will. Your former colleague was in Tahrir Square doing great stuff on it, and still in Cairo, I understand.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, yes.

SEYMOUR HERSH: And so, you had something amazing—yes, you had something amazing going on. And what you have now—and that of course spread. That spread throughout the Gulf regions. And what you have now is a very, very—it’s sort of unremarked upon by the press here in America—you have a counterrevolution going on, fueled largely by the Saudis and their panic. You see the implication of that in Bahrain, where the unbelievable things are happening to the Shiites, the minority Shiites there. They may be a majority in terms of population, but certainly a minority in terms of power. And you have that regime brutalizing its people in a way that’s beyond, I would argue, anything going on elsewhere, including in Syria. As bad as it is in Syria, it’s much worse in Bahrain. And the United States, of course, for a lot of reasons, is ignoring that.

You have the Gulf states in a state of sort of controlled panic now. They’re all sort of locally owned oil combines, owned by various one-time Bedouin—you know, Bedouin desert livers, now suddenly owners of huge complexes of oil billionaires, all of them, and they want to stay in power in the Gulf—Oman, even Qatar. You can see a lot of problems with Al Jazeera’s coverage, particularly of Bahrain. Al Jazeera, for example, is always calling me, didn’t call me for this story because everybody wants to point fingers at Iran. The United States has essentially equated Iran’s upset and encouragement of some of the—encouragement of the stuff going on with Bahrain as—for the United States, this is as much of a sin as the Al Khalifa family beating the hell out of everybody and doing worse than that—particularly doctors and nurses—in Bahrain. So there’s a huge—

AMY GOODMAN: And it’s the home of the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet, Sy.

SEYMOUR HERSH:—counterrevolution going on.

Yes, absolutely, it is the home. And, of course, the Fifth Fleet often, wisely, will move a lot of their vehicles offshore when trouble gets going. Yes, it’s the home of our—Bahrain is an important base. It’s an important facility. But we could go other places, too, I’m sure. It’s just we have a lot of things there.

So you have the American response to—you have this GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Community or Committee. It’s probably the only defense organization in the world that’s designed for all the countries getting together to ward against internal dissent, not external threat, but internal threats. And so, we have this amazing institution. Morocco just joined the GCC. So, this is going on before our eyes, and we’re not paying enough attention to it.

And what we do is we focus on Iran as the bad guy: Iran is responsible, they’re shifting gear to the Syrians to help the Syrian Mukhabarat control its society, as if the Baathist Party in Syria needs outside help in doing that. They’re pretty good at it. We’ve made Iran into a bogeyman. And my own guess is, the reason we’re so intent on the sanctions and keeping them going, when there’s no evidence of any weaponization, there’s no real threat at all—even the Israelis—I was in Israel last in June—rather, in April, two months ago now. And I can’t—they have crazy, strange rules, ground rules, on what you can report. But I can tell you right now, the Israelis understand, the more sophisticated ones and serious people in the intelligence community there, they understand that that Iran doesn’t have a bomb now. If it decides to get one and they get a bomb, they’re not going to throw it against Tel Aviv, because they know that’s annihilation. They understand that, despite the fact they say different things and they raise the threat. So we’re making the Iranians sort of the people responsible for what’s going on, in terms of the revolutions, and we’re really on the wrong side of history on that, the United States.

It’s really the Saudis we should be looking at quite a bit. And when you get to that question, you then say, here are the Saudis, who obviously—we know from reports and from everything I’ve been told—are very angry at us. They feel that our support for Mubarak undercut them. You know, they like to keep rigid control over a population that includes, certainly in Saudi Arabia, many Shiites who work the oil fields. And so, you have the Saudis in full panic, refusing—in anger at us, refusing to increase the oil output, so the price of oil stays—gasoline is $4 or more a gallon. And then, here we have a president whose reelection is going to depend not on killing Osama bin Laden—hooray, he did it—but more on what the price of gasoline is going to be next year. And we have the Saudis stiffing us.

And here you have Iran, which is the second-largest producer of natural gas in the world, also has a lot of oil—its fields are diminishing, but it’s got a lot of stuff. The sanctions aren’t working. The Iranians are selling stuff to India, to China, Pakistan. They’re doing a lot of business. You think—I mean, dumb and dumber. You think maybe we would start doing what a lot of people in the article I published—Tom Pickering, the former secretary—under secretary of state, a longtime ambassador, very serious guy, is among those who’s been doing—involved in secret contacts with the Iranians and has been telling us for years, he and his group, “Get off this nuclear business. There’s a lot of other issues you could deal with the Iranians. They want to be respected. You could really get some progress,” and maybe even getting to the point where we can—we don’t have to—we’re not interested in changing the regime there. That’s impossible. We do know that. Unlike Bush and Cheney, Obama doesn’t want to. Maybe we can get to the point where you can start getting some of the energy that they have to produce. Instead, we’re trying to keep them from the market. It just doesn’t make sense. And sanctions, you know, go ask Castro how well they work. We’ve been sanctioning Cuba, what, since 1960, ’61, ’62, and, you know—and as far as I know, Cuba is still there, and so is Castro.

AMY GOODMAN: Sy Hersh, very quickly, we haven’t spoken to you in a while, and—

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, I’m sorry, my earphone popped out. Hold on a second.

AMY GOODMAN: OK, we’re talking to—

SEYMOUR HERSH: Say again.

AMY GOODMAN:—the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour Hersh. Sy, we haven’t talked to you in a while. Your assessment of President Obama’s war in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

SEYMOUR HERSH: A disaster. Stupid. I do think that the White House really wanted the bin Laden raid, about which I’ve been doing a lot of work. There’s always—things are always more interesting than they seem. I’m not suggesting he wasn’t killed or anything like that, but just more interesting. And I think the getting of bin Laden will give Obama the freedom to make a serious cut in this war in Afghanistan that everybody on the inside—everybody on the inside, believe me—I don’t know about Petraeus, General Petraeus, who for some reason is going to the CIA, just as for some reason Panetta, who doesn’t really know much about the Pentagon is going to the Pentagon. I don’t quite understand what they’re doing.

But this is a war that has nothing to do with American national security. And the obvious way out is to actually find a way to start talking to Mullah Omar. Instead, we keep on isolating him. And we’re driving Pakistan crazy with this war. We’re increasing the jihadism there. We’re increasing the terrorism there. We’re sticking it to the Paks in very direct ways. It’s a totally counterproductive system. We have our guys going out doing night raids. We always call them NATO, and the press goes along with calling them NATO. But our Joint Special Operations Command is still going out. I don’t fault the guys doing it. Let me make it clear, they’re very, very competent guys. They’re under orders, and they do what they do. They just do it very well. But there’s no way you’re going to make strikes at night and not kill an awful lot of noncombatants—”collateral damage,” they call it. And it’s just—we’re hated. We’re outsiders. We don’t have to be doing the bombs to be hated by the Pashtun. That’s been the society all along. The Pakistanis are in terrible fear of what’s going to happen in Afghanistan. They always see Afghanistan as bulwark against India. They’re afraid of our relationship with India.

And I’ll tell you the biggest problem he has, as awful as those things are, as counterproductive, and as much as he’s following, oh, yes, Bush and Cheney in those policies—and I think the President—I’ll be writing about this—I think he was really sandbagged by the Pentagon after he got into office, when he was new and innocent. And I still think—I think right now—I would almost use the word “cult” to describe what’s going on in the White House. Everything is political. He’s isolated. Very good people say they’ve never seen a president this isolated, in terms of being unable to get to him with different opinions, etc. So here’s really captive of a few people there. I know this may sound strange, but I know what I’m talking about. You can’t get to the guy—and even, for example, Pickering, as competent as he is. And Pickering has done some wonderful stuff for the United States intelligence community undercover, and so he’s known as a trusted guy. Those guys who have been involved in talking to Iran off the record, Track II policy talks, for years can’t get to the President. He may not even know they’re looking for him. I just don’t know.

And so, here we have this very bright guy continuing insane policies that are counterproductive, do nothing for the United States, and meanwhile the real crisis is going to be about Iraq, because, whatever you’re hearing, Iraq is going bad. Sunnis are killing Shia. It’s sectarian war. And the big question is going to be whether we pull out or not. And there’s going to be a lot of pressure to keep them—we’ve got 40,000 or 50,000 Americans there—to keep them there. I don’t know how it’s going to play out, but I’ll tell you right now, there are Sunni Baathist groups in Damascus, in various places, in the United Kingdom—Leeds is one place—ready, as soon as we get out, to declare an alternative government, a provisional government, and announce that they’re going to retake Iran from the Shiites and from—Iraq from the Shiites, who they believe are totally tied in to the Iranians, which probably isn’t true, but that’s always been the fiction we have, or the fear we have: Iran controls Iraq. There’s a mutuality of interests, but Maliki is a very tough customer. You know, Maliki worked for 21 years in Syria as a cop for the Mukhabarat, for the secret police. He was working as a sergeant there for 21 years in Syria, before he went back as an exile after we kicked out Saddam. He is nobody’s patsy. But there’s going to be a holy hell there. It’s going to be probably the biggest problem the President has next year, along with gas, along with the crazy Republicans that are running against him. He’s going to—and along with Afghan and along with Iran, it’s going to be Iraq. We’re going to be back looking at Iraq, as that country goes berserk.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Sy Hersh, I want to—

SEYMOUR HERSH: That’s very cheerful. I’m really Mr. Happy News, huh?

JUAN GONZALEZ: I want to get back to the Arab Spring for a moment and ask you, do you think that in Egypt—for example, the uprisings that led to the overthrow of Mubarak and now to the trial, apparently, the trial of Mubarak, it is understandable why the Egyptian people would want to put this ruthless leader on trial. But do you think that the trying of Mubarak has had repercussions throughout the rest of the region, with all these other dictators who say, “Well, I better fight to the end, because if not, I will end up like Mubarak, will be immediately put on trial by my people”?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, you know, I can’t say that about the trial, because I haven’t actually talked to anybody about whether the trial makes a difference. But before that, I would say what you’re saying is absolutely right. The moment the United States—the waffling that the President did—if you remember, he was with the kids, he was against the kids, and we had the Secretary of State saying the same thing, with, against. There’s no question that the fear—there’s an enormous fear in the Arab world, in the Gulf, in the Gulf region. And right now they’re very angry at us. They’re terrified of Iran. And they’re very worried about internal security.

They’re worried about—what’s going on in Bahrain is, I’m telling you, it’s a sensationally underreported story. The brutality there is beyond—it’s shocking. And again, the Saudis are directly involved, sort of with our OK. Again, if you don’t think Saudi Arabia has enormous control over Saleh in Yemen, you’re not paying attention. He’s got enormous control over him. The Saudis—if the Saudis wanted to, they could play a very positive role there. They’re not. He’s their guy. And so, you have this counterrevolution fed by the Saudi billions. And the Saudis went recently in the—Prince Bandar, my favorite dark prince, was recently in Pakistan, and the Pakistanis are supplying some thuggery, some arms, some muscle, in Bahrain. And I think the Pakistanis are also helping out in internal security inside Saudi Arabia itself. And so, everybody is muscling up now to beat up the kids who want to do something.

And meanwhile, if you look at it, the single biggest blow against al-Qaeda, I would argue—bin Laden, of course, was great, wonderful, I’m glad he’s gone and all that stuff—but the other big blow was the Arab Spring, because once you lose the sense of humiliation among the Arab population and the sense of fear—you’re seeing that in Syria right now, although that’s also complicated, because the Saudis are deeply involved in trying to get rid of—or certainly make it more difficult for Bandar—for Bashar Assad to exist. That’s a more complicated position. But once the fear is gone, al-Qaeda is gone.

So, the one thing we had going for ourselves, in terms of getting rid of these terrorists who prey on the frustrations of the Arab young, wow, instead, we’re going the wrong way. And it’s a horrible mistake. It’s happening right in front of us. It’s not being seen, but it’s right there to be seen. And it’s just this country, this president—traditionally, we’ve been unable to pull the trigger on the Saudis. Even now, when confronted with heinous activity, we still can’t pull the trigger on the Saudis, because of the need for oil. And again, this is a country, Saudi Arabia, that is not lifting—not agreeing to lift two or three more billion barrels a day. They’re at eight-and-a-half billion. We’d love them to go to 11, 10-and-a-half and 11. That would take pressure off the price. And it’s politically useful for the President not to—for the President to have it happen. It’s not going to happen.

So, Arab Spring is being undercut enormously. There’s still some hope in Egypt, because the kids are so strong, the movement there is so strong. But I can tell you, Suleiman, the leader of the intelligence service, is still there. I think an awful lot—I would look at Libya as part coming out of Arab Spring. An awful lot of it comes out of Libyan intervention. There’s been a longstanding American CIA role and opposition to Gaddafi. And one of the things Gaddafi drove everybody crazy with, just to show you how silly the world is, every oil deal he wanted 20 percent on the top of. And so, there was a lot of corporate anger at him, too. He was getting 20 percent kickback. Even Saddam, in the heyday, only wanted 10 percent. It all comes down sometimes to money. And I don’t know what’s going to happen there.

AMY GOODMAN: Sy, we have 30 seconds.

SEYMOUR HERSH: I just don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t quite—

AMY GOODMAN: We have 30 seconds.

SEYMOUR HERSH: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: But I want to ask you a last question. You made headlines a few years ago when you said President Bush operated an executive assassination ring. Has that policy continued under President Obama?

SEYMOUR HERSH: What I said was that in the early days under Cheney, in the first days after—you know, ’03, ’04, ’05, yes, there was a direct connection between the vice president’s office and individuals getting hit. That got institutionalized later in a more sophisticated way. There’s no question that—look, there’s an enormous military apparatus out there that isn’t seen. That’s what I’m writing about. We’re not seeing it. We don’t know it exists. Cheney built up a world that still exists. And it’s a very ugly, frightening world that has not much to do with what the Constitution calls for.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. Thank you very much, Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist. His piece appears in The New Yorker magazine, and we will link to it. It’s called “Iran and the Bomb.”

Bin Laden Death Now Part Of Obama’s Re-elect Message

In Uncategorized on May 11, 2011 at 11:11 am

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a DNC event at Austin City Limits Moody Theater in Austin, Texas, May 10

Oldspeak: “While targeted assassination translates into campaign contributions to Obama’s billion dollar re-election war chest “We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.” –Noam Chomsky. We have to ask ourselves… was it all worth it? Is normalizing assassination of alleged criminals and flouting the rule of law and due process really the way we wanna go? How does this make us any different from our enemies?

By Peter Nicolas @ The Los Angeles Times:

Osama bin Laden, mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, is now an applause line in a presidential campaign speech.

Bin Laden’s name came up a couple of times in Obama’s address Tuesday evening at a fund-raising event in Austin, Texas.

Early in Obama’s appearance, someone shouted out, “Thank you for getting Bin Laden!’’

Obama said that was a “case in point’’ – a reason for voters to let him “finish what we started.’’

Later, Obama ticked off what he described as his administration’s accomplishments: lifting the ban on gays in the military; bringing troops home from Iraq.

And then: “And because of the extraordinary bravery of the men and women who wear this nation’s uniform and the outstanding work of our intelligence agencies,’’ Obama said, “Osama bin Laden will never again threaten the United States.’’

The crowd roared.

While the president has basked in the success of the operation, Bin Laden’s sons released a statement Tuesday criticizing the administration, saying the U.S. broke international law in killing an unarmed man.

In Washington, Vice President Biden, coming off another round of deficit talks, was asked by reporters whether Bin Laden’s killing at the hands of the U.S. military was illegal.

“Are you kidding?” Biden replied.