Photo credit: Reuters

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Budget Maldistribution

Dear Mr. President,
I know your letter readers in the basement won’t forward this on in time for the debate, but if I could submit one question to you and Mitt for Wednesday night, it would be this: If you’re running a large corporation and there’s a department that isn’t doing its job, wouldn’t you fire the incompetent employees? Maybe even do away with the department? The answer’s pretty obvious to me and in my working life I saw it happen more than once. But here we’ve got a whole bunch of government departments, all lumped under the moniker “defense” that gets 57% of the U.S. budget and has fucked up every war and intervention they’ve been in since 1945 and yet you and the congressional chicken-hawk millionaires keep throwing buckets of money at them and pinning medals on their chests. I mean, the U.S military’s list of fiascos is too long for a letter so why the heck are we giving these incompetent buffoons, liars and braggarts more money to go out and blow stuff up, kill people and put us number one on the list of terrorist nations? They haven’t done any better in Afghanistan than they did in Iraq (or Vietnam or Grenada or Korea or…but I said I wouldn’t list them all) so why are we still killing people in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Honduras, the Philippines, Sudan, and who knows where else? I’d like to know what purpose this serves, Mr. President, besides making some arms merchants rich. And don’t get me started on the CIA, that hapless bunch of thugs and mindless assassins who can turn a pile of gold into a pile of shit quicker than you can say Shazam! Or the Homeland Security bozos: how many bombs have they found in probably 200 million pairs of shoes? They can confiscate almost-empty tubes of toothpaste but have they ever foiled one plot or prevented a single hijacking? I really object to 57 cents of every one of my tax dollars going to war merchants and killers and only 3 cents to Energy and the Environment, a nickel to health and another nickel to Veteran’s Benefits (veterans who can’t get benefits and by the way, the suicide rate of active duty service men and women now exceeds that of combat deaths – 38 in July alone), and 6 cents to Education. You get my drift, Mr. President? Gut the military, the CIA and all those spy agencies, stop the drone wars, declare peace and start paying attention to real problems like global warming, joblessness and the maldistribution of wealth. Tax the rich, restore America. Earn that Nobel Peace Prize.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Why Do They Hate Us?

Dear Mr. President,
“Why do they hate us?” GW famously asked in 2001. His answer, “they hate our freedoms” was propagandist jingoism that was as vacuous as his exhortation to “go out and shop” after 9/11. With the recent anti-U.S. demonstrations throughout the Muslim world, Why Do They Hate Us? is once again being asked. The anti-Muslim film, Innocence of Muslims is blamed for the latest riots and Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the hapless filmmaker, takes the fall while you remain silent, letting America wallow in ignorance, hatred and fear. The film is only a match in the tinderbox of history. Our Middle East policy since the 1940s has been driven by our insatiable demand for oil and it has been a disaster. Why do they hate us? 70 years of U.S. support for corrupt dictators who suppress and brutalize their own people but guarantee the free flow of oil to the West. Why do they hate us? Our one-sided support for Israel, turning our backs on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, their ancient lands seized, their children brutalized and killed, a modern day holocaust by those who suffered a holocaust, blatant injustice and yet we stand by silent and do nothing. They hate us not because they hate our freedoms but because we stand in the way of theirs. Because of our hypocrisy, preaching peace, practicing war, preaching justice, practicing injustice, preaching democracy, fostering tyranny. They hate us because their democracy might not bow to our corporate interests and therefore must be replaced with a client state which will do our bidding. It began in the 1940s when we agreed to arm and support the House of Saud as long as they continued the free flow of oil to the West. It continued through the overthrow of a democratically elected president in Iran and the installation of our puppet, the Shah. Libya was invaded and Qaddafi killed under the guise of a humanitarian mission so we could install a compliant government which would turn over the oil fields to Western interests. Why do they hate us? Support for dictators during the Arab Spring that continues to this day in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia Yemen, Jordan, et al. Why do they hate us? The invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, targeted assassinations, drone strikes and Hellfire missiles. And you remain silent still. You change nothing and we learn nothing. We remain mired in ignorance and fear and we repeat the sins of the fathers because of it. When will you speak truth, Mr. President? Your silence endangers us all.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Faulty Intelligence

Dear Mr. President,
In the end it comes down to this: Faulty Intelligence. Of the 779 prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002—“the worst of the worst,”—603 have been released without charges, implicit admission they never should have been there in the first place. 86% of “the worst of the worst” were named “terrorists” by informants who received a bounty of $5,000, enough to support a family, a village, a tribe for the rest of their lives. The story in Pakistan, is the same as Iraq, as Afghanistan: Faulty Intelligence. In April 2011 a Predator drone strike killed two American soldiers in Afghanistan. Faulty intelligence; they were mistaken for Taliban fighters. In September 2010 Special Forces bombed the convoy of Zet Amanullah, a candidate for parliament, killing him and 9 fellow election workers. Faulty intelligence; they were mistaken for Taliban. Reading the Stanford/NYU report, Living Under Drones, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that in case after case, faulty intelligence resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians—men, women, children. Living Under Drones puts a human face on your targeted assassination program. It is the other end of Kill Lists, Predator drones and Hellfire missiles and it is ugly. It is a picture of innocent villagers living in constant terror of drones and instant annihilation. Poor farmers, small shopkeepers, fruit peddlers, drivers, teachers, schoolchildren, none of them militants. Most had never heard of America before the drones came. Over and over, the refrain, “Why do they do this to us? We have nothing. What do they want from us?” Their customs, their culture, their daily lives shredded in the wake of Predator drones, America’s ambassadors of death, the only direct contact they will ever have with America or Americans. Education for whole communities ended, aspirations and lives destroyed, economic devastation the fate of victims. And over and over and over again, faulty intelligence. The High Value Target was not in the car, in the house, in the compound, in the village. Innocent civilians killed. The militants were not militants after all. Faulty intelligence, innocent civilians killed. In 1789 Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to James Madison in which he said, “assassination, poison, [and perjury] were all legitimate purposes in the dark ages…but exploded and held in just horror in the 18th century.” Under Bush/Obama, we have descended back into the dark ages. 83% of Americans approve of your drone wars.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Drone War Apocalypse

Dear Mr. President,
“There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents.” Your words at the UN on Tuesday. I thought of those words as I read the interviews with survivors, eyewitnesses and the family members of victims of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan (Living Under Drones). On January 23, 2009, 3 days after you took office, drones struck a house in Zeraki, North Waziristan and another house in Wana, South Waziristan. It was an attack against “suspected terrorist hideouts” that killed “at least 10 insurgents including five foreign nationals and possibly a high value target.” But within days that was shown not to be true. In Zeraki, between 7 and 15 people were killed, of which at least 7 and as many as 11 were civilians, including 3 children. Relatives and neighbors had gathered for tea and conversation at the home of an elder when the missile struck, a direct hit on the room in which the men were gathered. Faheem Quereshi, a 14-year-old boy was the sole survivor of the blast; he lost his left eye and suffered a fractured skull, shrapnel wounds and burns over the left side of his body. He was hospitalized for 23 days, lost hearing in one ear and has limited mobility. A top student before the strike, he is now unable to study or concentrate. His extended family has been economically devastated by the loss of primary wage earners. This was the first of 292 strikes you authorized in Pakistan; the story is repeated over and over in sickening detail, the death and maiming—physically, mentally, emotionally and economically—of innocent civilians resulting from drone attacks. On March 17, 2011 in Datta Kel, at least 3 Hellfire missiles slammed into a group of village elders and government officials gathered in a jirga to settle a dispute over a chromite mine. 42 people were killed, 12 injured. Four Taliban members were present to help resolve the issue. To this day, U.S. officials insist all were insurgents despite conclusive evidence to the contrary. As Goebbels said, if you tell a lie long enough, people will believe it. However, the war crimes that your CIA assassins commit, cannot be lied away. War crimes you authorize. Here’s more from your UN speech, “Long after these killers are brought to justice, Chris Stevens’s legacy will live on in the lives touched.” Substitute Barack Obama for Chris Stevens and think about your legacy, Mr. President. You will not be remembered as a Nobel Peace Prize winner bur rather as one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Living Under Drones

Dear Mr. President,
You probably won’t read the report, “Living Under Drones” and there’s nothing new or startling in it, nothing I haven’t written about in previous letters, but now it’s official from two respected research groups at Stanford and NYU: death by drone has claimed some 3,000 people in Pakistan alone, perhaps 800 civilians and at least 176 children; less than 2% of those killed were “high value targets”; villagers tell of the anxiety and terror they feel as drones circle overhead 24 hours a day, never knowing when a missile will strike, helpless to defend themselves; secondary strikes on first responders and funerals make people fearful to help the injured or attend funerals. The report also counters assurances that drone strikes are surgically precise, they are not. Latency (the time for signals to travel from drone to satellite to an operator in the U.S. and back again assures that what is fired on is what the drone spotted 3, 4 or 5 seconds ago, not what is there now, and the blast radius from a Hellfire missile is 15-20 meters, 40-60 feet in every direction—anyone within that wide circle of destruction will die. The low civilian casualty count is because all males killed in a strike are classified as militants and many victims are unidentifiable, better yet for the claim of “militant.” Your drone wars have not made us safer but rather, caused widespread hatred of America (75% of Pakistanis view the U.S. as the enemy), and made drones a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant groups. You may consider drone wars smart wars—war on the cheap without American casualties and bad publicity—but there are hidden costs: the destruction of the national soul, the national identity, conscience and compassion for our fellow man that lessens us all. And there is also something inherently evil and deeply immoral about a “pilot” going to his work station in the U.S. killing people in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia or Pakistan, taking a lunch break, killing more helpless victims 8,0000 miles away in the afternoon, then going home to dinner and helping the kids with homework. The War on Terror is an illusion, Mr. President, but the consequences are real. The dealers in death and destruction are “just following orders,” the same unacceptable excuse of the Nazis of the last century. Predator drones, predator nation. Hellfire missiles and Reaper drones: what ye sow, that shall ye also reap. Everything has a price and we will eventually pay.