Photo credit: Reuters

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Christopher Drake, Nawab and The War With No Name

Dear Mr. President,
The War on Terror has disappeared from public view even though there are still 66,000 troops in Afghanistan and armed drones over Pakistan, Yemen, and who knows where else, waging America’s version of jihad on the Muslim world. Bush called it a Global War on Terror and told Americans to support the war effort by shopping. You’re more subtle; you don’t use Bush’s name for the killing and violence against those he—and you—declare our enemies. You don’t even admit it’s a war. You weasel-word it, call it targeted assassinations, call it a fight against terrorists, call it anything but war. So it’s become the War With No Name, the first war in our history without a name, an invisible war erased from America’s consciousness and conscience. And that suits you; it goes along with the secrecy and opacity of government under your reign, the lockdown of information and suppression of those who would dare reveal the truth, the hypocrisy and transgressions committed in our name. But the War With No Name was real for a 20-year-old boy from Louisiana named Christopher Drake; he was the 2,209th U.S. service member to die in Afghanistan. It was also a grim reality for a young man named Nawab who lived in Ibrahim Kheil village in the Nerkh district of Wardak Province. He was picked up by an American Special Forces A Team on January 30 and what was left of him—a few shattered bones, chunks of flesh, the lower half of his jaw and a few scraps of cloth—fit into a small box brought to Kabul for identification. (Today’s NYT, p. A4) His mother described the embroidery she had sewed on his shirt; it fit perfectly with a scrap of cloth, the only positive ID. Nawab was one of 17 men picked up by American Special Forces and their notorious Afghan partners, trained, equipped and under the command of the Special Forces (or maybe the CIA). The Special Forces will not admit they picked up Nawab or any of the other 17 villagers even though there were eyewitnesses. The American military has conducted 3 investigations and found nothing, it says, although they won’t release any of the findings Your War With No Name may not have much reality here in America, but it’s very real in Afghanistan and wherever we send drones and teams of assassins. Your war may not have a name but it has victims with names: Christopher Drake and Nawab and Qasim and Sadaullah and Abdulrahman… It’s a long list, part of the legacy of our Global War of Terror. And that’s your legacy, Mr. President.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sadaullah Wazir: A Victim of Hope and Change

Dear Mr. President,
I was disappointed by your speech today. Same old lies and empty promises: we’re winning the war against terrorists; drones are effective, precise weapons that reduce civilian casualties, a key to victory; the preference is always to capture, not kill. Really? How many terrorists have your boys captured lately? One? Two? Capture is messy. Incarceration, maybe some torture, maybe a trial, evidence… easier to incinerate them with a Hellfire missile. You ticked off reasons to close Guantanamo, said you were appointing someone to be responsible for transferring prisoners to other countries but never mentioned you closed that same office last year. A heckler decried force-feeding. You were tolerant, let her shout her objection but never addressed the issue. At another point the heckler shouted her objection to the murder of 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki; you paid lip service to her dissent but never addressed why the CIA assassinated him. You mentioned all the bad stuff his father, Anwar, did but offered no proof. You mentioned that Congress has been briefed on every strike. Really? The CIA won’t even tell Sen. Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee with oversight of the CIA, what countries they’re killing people in let alone anything about the strikes. You assured us that targeted assassinations and drone strikes are legal but there’s an issue of transparency here; the legal justifications are too secret to reveal so we’re in the dark. Most ominous, however, you said you just signed guidelines for the use of drones—when, where, how. Sounds good till you realize that just bureaucratizes drone warfare as official foreign policy. You emphasized that all wars must end. True. But not on your watch. In today’s NYT, an op-ed piece (“Obama’s Forgotten Victims”) by Mirza Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer suing the U.S. and Pakistan on behalf of some of those forgotten victims, talks about Fahim Quereshi and Sadaullah Wazir two of those victims suing for redress. He mentioned that Sadaullah, the 14-year old boy whose legs were blown off in a CIA drone strike that killed 4 members of his family (and no militants) died last year. Mr. Akbar called him (as well as Fahim and others), “a victim of hope and change.” Sadaullah never got justice, not even an acknowledgement, just a few years of pain and suffering. You said you will be forever haunted by the deaths of innocent civilians. I hope you feel haunted by Sadaullah’s death. I do.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Khadr Family and American Justice

Dear Mr. President,
In the hysteria following 9/11, the U.S. turned the Khadr family of Canada into the poster child for Al Qaeda. Ahmed, the father, knew bin Laden, Zawahiri, al Libi and other Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, so he was put on The List. Guilt by association. U.S. intelligence claimed his charity was really laundering money for terrorists in spite of physical evidence to the contrary—hospitals, clinics, schools, orphanages and food programs funded by his charity. Ahmed appears to be what he said he was, a humanitarian who devoted his life to charity work. Those who knew him say he was not a fighter, he was a humanitarian. No matter. U.S. intelligence was convinced otherwise and he remained on The List. Accused of organizing, arming and training militants, on October 2, 2003, in South Waziristan, he was killed when a Pakistani Cobra gunship and security forces (or possibly a joint Pakistani/U.S. raid) attacked a house where he was staying with his 14-year-old son, Abdulkareem and 7 other men. In that raid, Abdulkareem was found hiding in a ditch and shot in the spine, paralyzing him from the waist down. When he and his mother returned to Canada on April 9, 2004, he got off the plane in his wheelchair, smiled and flashed the peace sign to reporters. So much for being an Al Qaeda militant. The youngest Khadr son, Omar, I wrote about yesterday. His fight against U.S. injustice is still ongoing. The eldest, Abdullah, was allegedly an arms dealer for Al Qaeda; he was called “one of the world's most dangerous men” by the State Department. He was arrested on October 15, 2004, in Pakistan, put in a secret prison and interrogated by “U.S. agents.” (The U.S. paid a secret [“national security”] $500,000 bounty for Abdullah.) Canada finally negotiated his release from Pakistan and on December 2, 2005, Abdullah returned to Toronto; 15 days later he was arrested again, this time for extradition to the U.S. Abdullah claimed the confession his extradition was based on was gained by torture. He spent the next 4½ year in prison until the extradition request was denied on August 4, 2010. He’s free now but I bet he’s still on The List and being watched. It’s pretty clear the Khadr family got railroaded by U.S. intelligence and their lives made miserable ever since. I’m also sure you would have handled the Khadrs much differently. You’d have put them on your Kill List and used drones and Hellfire to get rid of them. Mission accomplished. Justice served, Obama-style.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Omar Khadr and Justice American-Style

Dear Mr. President,
On February 5 I mentioned a 15-year-old Canadian, Omar Khadr, held at Guantanamo for 10 years and convicted as a war criminal. Recently I discovered he’s still in prison (in Canada), eligible for parole in July and appealing his plea-bargain and war crimes convictions. His confession was the result of torture—first at Bagram and then at Guantanamo. At Bagram, his interrogator was Joshua Claus, one of those responsible for the deaths of 2 detainees at Bagram; later he was at Abu Ghraib during the worst abuses there. In 2005 Claus was found guilty of maltreatment and assault against a detainee who died. Omar, a 15-year-old boy with fresh bullet and shrapnel wounds, blinded in one eye, was denied pain medication, cuffed to his bed in painful positions, hung by his arms from door frames, picked up and dropped to the floor repeatedly, hooded, choked, beaten, threatened with dogs and rape, kept in stress positions until he urinated and then dragged through a mixture of his urine and pine oil and thrown into a cell for days. He was put in frigid cells without blankets, spent weeks in solitary confinement, not segregated from adult prisoners or treated as a child soldier. He was given no opportunity for schooling or counseling, a violation of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. As I read witness reports, WikiLeaks and court documents, his signed affidavit, news articles, etc., I realized the charges against him—“CONSPIRACY; MURDER BY AN UNPRIVILEGED BELLIGERENT; ATTEMPTED MURDER BY AN UNPRIVILEGED BELLIGERENT; AIDING THE ENEMY”are circumstantial at best and would never hold up in a real court of law. He’s accused of attending a terrorist training camp, planting IEDs and throwing a grenade that killed an American medic. He may be guilty as charged but there’s no evidence; it’s all speculation, conflicting witness reports and confessions under torture. It’s doubtful Omar threw the grenade that killed the medic; more likely an American did. Omar was severely wounded from air strikes by Apache helicopters and F-18s. He was on his knees in the back corner of a room facing away from the action when a U.S. soldier saw him and shot him twice in the back—one of our American heroes. A Captain was about to order one of his men to kill Omar—another American hero—when he was overruled. Nobody really knows who did what but never mind, they killed and captured militants. Mission accomplished. Justice served. Well, justice American-style, anyway.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Kafka's Hell

Dear Mr. President,
The military now admits that 103 prisoners at Guantanamo are officially on a hunger strike; 30 are being force-fed. It’s 103 days since the hunger strike began—103 prisoners, 103 days. Last week Holder said your ban on releasing 56 Yemeni prisoners was “under review.” You’ve done squat to close Guantanamo for 4½ years so you’ll probably “review” the Yemeni situation until you skate out in 2015. Guantanamo is yours now. Bush started it but the hunger strikers made it yours. The more I read about how these men came to be in Guantanamo, the uglier it gets. Many were turned in for the $5,000 bounty, a lot of money for an impoverished Pakistani or Afghan villager; enough to support them and their families the rest of their lives. Guilt or innocence? It turns out not to matter; guilt by association, by unsubstantiated accusation, by confession under torture is enough. And once you’re in the grip or on the list of the U.S. military/intelligence/CIA community, your goose is cooked; you’ll never get out of Kafka’s hell. Those prisoners have lost all hope; they want to die rather than suffer the endless injustice of Guantanamo. Force-feeding is just another in a long history of torture and abuse at Guantanamo: rubber-coated bullets, beatings, threats of rape, isolation, freezing cold, the humiliation and brutality is endless. The crazies in Congress don’t care about justice—“they deserve whatever they get.” Well, maybe they do and maybe they don’t. Nobody knows for sure since there’s no charges, no evidence and no trials. That’s where you come in. You, the big-shot Constitutional law professor, the Nobel Peace Prize winner. You know that 500 terrorists have been tried in civilian courts and 89% convicted, but apparently you couldn’t care less. Justice? The Constitution? Human rights? Eh! Just don’t let those suckers die on my watch. So you send 40 more nurses and doctors to force-feed the strikers. That’s as humanitarian as your butchery in Libya and your “justice” in assassinating bin Laden and dumping his body at sea. The UN calls force-feeding torture. The AMA calls it unethical and inhuman. I call it part of your legacy. A legacy of shame and sellout, a betrayal of everything you promised, especially a return to the rule of law. What have you given us instead? According to William Binney—an ex-NSA official—a nation “that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.” He was holding his thumb and forefinger close together. Your legacy, Mr. President.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Starving for Justice

Dear Mr. President,
How is it that last October you bypassed Congress and ordered the Justice Department to cut a $165 million check to the State of Illinois to buy their unused Thomson Correctional Facility but you can’t bypass Congress to close Guantanamo and either try those prisoners in a legitimate court, release them or transfer them to Thomson? Illinois spent $140 million to build this 1,600 cell Supermax prison with a 15-foot high, 7,000 volt electric fence surrounded by an additional 12-foot high exterior fence topped with razor wire but never used it. Republicans blocked your initial proposal to purchase it to prevent you from transferring the Guantanamo prisoners there but you bought it anyway. Just before the election. A nice $25 million profit for cash-strapped Illinois, a few more votes for Obama. And there it sits, still empty. Then there’s the prison in Yemen ready for the return of 56 Yemenis cleared for release from Guantanamo. That prison too, I read, sits empty. I couldn’t find how much that one cost but I did read that you gave $70 million to Yemen last year for “counterterrorism” so it was probably included in that. We’re spending an awful lot to keep people indefinitely detained who may or may not be actual terrorists. The Pentagon wants $200 million to refurbish Guantanamo. That’s $1.2 million per prisoner! Meanwhile, we’re cutting $2.4 billion from child health programs, cutting the school lunch program, cutting Food Stamps, cutting education, cutting our own throats. This is insanity, Mr. President. We’re seriously off track here, investing in the wrong things, doing the wrong things, and you’re going along with the program. Not just going along, but promoting it. $1 billion for that new NSA data center in Utah scheduled to open soon so the snoops can surveille all our telecommunications, credit card transactions, phone calls, bank records, etc. without a warrant—say goodbye to the 4th amendment. And that act you put on over the latest unwarranted snooping of the AP phone logs—calling on Shumer to pass new shield laws to protect the press. What a joke. What you didn’t mention is that you want to keep the National Security exemption in any new law, the same loophole the administration used to snoop on the AP. National Security is the excuse for every abuse of government power. National Security is your own private Shield Law to allow your totalitarian rule of terror. Meanwhile, those prisoners in Guantanamo are starving for justice.

Friday, May 17, 2013

War Without End

Dear Mr. President,
Congress may as well go ahead and approve the Pentagon’s request for $200 million to upgrade Guantanamo. Looks like we’ll need it for a long time to come, maybe even till Kingdom Come, as my mother used to say. In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday, assistant secretary of defense for special operations, Michael Sheehan, said that the War on Terror was likely to continue at least 10 to 20 years (today’s NYT, p. A6). Al Qaeda, it turns out, hasn’t really been snuffed out, our $100+ billion a year intelligence bureaucracy is finding new Al Qaedas popping up everywhere. Nobody on the committee had a problem with that or with Sheehan’s estimate of 10 to 20 more years of war; they were only there to determine if the old 2001 “authorization to use military force” needed to be updated since none of these new Al Qaedas are actually connected to the 9/11 attacks. The Pentagon wants no changes to the statute—“it suits us very well,” Mr. Sheehan said. Islamist militants like the Nusra Front in Syria, one group of Syrian rebel fighters, for example, is a “Qaeda affiliate.” “So we can expect drone strikes into Syria if we find Al Qaeda there?” McCain asked Robert Taylor, the Pentagon’s general counsel, also at the hearing. Mr. Taylor declined to speculate. McCain came close to stripping the mask off the War on Terror, calling it “a war on Muslim extremists and Al Qaeda and others.” It turns out there doesn’t need to be a real connection to the old Al Qaeda, just an ideological one (and the ideology seems to be Islam itself). There was no discussion about why we’re doing this or the morality of it; the only objection came from Sen. Angus King (I-ME) who pointed out that the original 2001 statute said nothing about “associated forces” of Al Qaeda. The administration’s theory, he said, had “essentially rewritten the Constitution… because it was up to the Congress to declare war.” All I got to say is, that’s not the only thing in the Constitution your administration has rewritten, Mr. President. How about indefinite detention? The right of habeas corpus? The 1st and 4th amendments? What about the Geneva Conventions and all the international laws and treaties we’ve broken under your regime? Just because you call yourself a Democrat doesn’t mean you’re one. And just because you’re a Nobel Peace Prize winner doesn’t mean you’re a man of peace, either. Power corrupts and your corruption is shown in many ways but especially in the ways of war.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Body Cavity Search the President!

Dear Mr. President,
The latest humiliation and mistreatment of Guantanamo hunger strikers is a body cavity search before and after any type of contact with their lawyers. Not only is Guantanamo itself a crime against humanity and a national shame, but it’s getting worse. You signed an order to shut it down 4½ years ago and it’s still open. You could end the nightmare but you won’t and because of your indifference, 166 prisoners languish in the American hell of indefinite detention—no charges, no trials and no hope. Most of the men have been cleared for release by two administrations but nothing happens. Last month you acted as if you cared about this injustice but nothing’s changed. All you care about is that they don’t die on your watch so you permit forced feeding, yet another form of torture and humiliation. You, the big-shot Nobel Peace Prize winner. You should be subjected to a body cavity search yourself, Mr. President. Before and after each press conference. Before and after each meeting with your cabinet. Before and after each meeting with heads of state. Before any future military action—war, police action, humanitarian mission, whatever you call it—in Syria, Iran, North Korea… let’s see what you’re hiding. Those secret justifications for assassinating American citizens without a trial—where are they? The secret deals you cut with Republicans, corporate moguls and tyrants around the world—let’s see what’s going on behind closed doors. Let’s make sure you’re not hiding something we need to know. Actually, everyone in your administration should have a body cavity search before and after every meeting and every congressional hearing. Attorney General Holder needs a body cavity search immediately—the warrantless search of AP phone calls. The truth about the April 4/5 air strikes in Afghanistan that killed 9 women and 11 children? A body cavity search of Gen. Joseph Dunford! What countries are CIA drones and operatives killing people in? A body cavity search of John Brennan! Reid, Boehner, Pelosi, Cantor, the entire Congress… call in the Marine guard from Guantanamo and body cavity search the lot of ‘em! Let’s go to the dark side as Cheney says, and get to the bottom of things, dislodge those dirty secrets, the backdoor deals, the graft, the corruption, Let’s see what all you folks inside the beltway are hiding from We the People. Transparency, that’s what freedom and democracy demands. Let’s shine some light in those dark recesses of the body politic!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Gen. Dunford's Whopper of the Day

Dear Mr. President,
It must be a job requirement for diplomats, politicians and generals to lie with a straight face. In today’s NYT (Commander Denies U.S. To Blame in Afghan Deaths, p. A4), Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., “categorically denied any American or NATO responsibility for the deaths [on April 5 and 6] of at least 17 women and children after nearly seven hours of intensive airstrikes near their compound in eastern Afghanistan.…” In spite of local eyewitness accounts and an investigation by the Afghan government, Dunford still insists that the Taliban did it, that all the women and children were alive when the Afghan Special Forces 0-4 Unit and their CIA advisers escaped under cover of a massive bombardment by 4 jets, 2 helicopters, 2 drones and “‘one really big airplane’ that locals described as ‘never running out of fuel or bombs.’” I wrote about this incident in my April 19 letter. The women, children and a mentally ill man were herded into one room of a suspected insurgent commander’s house during the protracted firefight and subsequent bombardment. But Gen. Dunford claims that the Taliban killed their own family members? Their own women and children? That the bombardment had nothing to do with the collapse of the building? This stretches the Goebbels/Hitler dictum about repeating a lie often enough that it becomes the truth. Dunford further claims that this incident has been investigated “ad nauseam” and “No S.O.F., no U.S., no coalition forces were involved in the deaths.” What he doesn’t say is that the military’s investigation remains secret. The only thing new in the article is that the bombs were different than normal bombs: no craters, no crumpled walls or uprooted trees, no casualties ripped open, dismembered or bleeding. There was little physical evidence of the bombing. Eerie. What the Afghan authorities believe is that the bombs were acoustic—like “flash-bang grenades”—to keep the Taliban fighters at bay while the 0-4 unit and CIA guys were evacuated. Two things strike me about this. First, that we—and the Afghan security forces—are not winning the war against the Taliban. And second, even flash-bang bombs kill. Doctors quoted by the NYT said shock waves from the blasts could have caused serious internal injuries that led to the deaths of the 9 women and 11 children. Why are we doing this, Mr. President? This is a zombie war. It’s over but we still have 66,000 troops there and the killing continues. It’s way past time to pack up and leave.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Feinstein and Dr. Strangelove Ride the Drone

Dear Senator Feinstein,
I received two letters from your office yesterday, both in response to my opposition of the use of armed drones. The first letter is a word-for-word duplicate of your letter of April 25 and my response is still the same: “The only statement… I agree with is this: ‘Unfortunately, your view and my view differ on this subject.’” Your second letter adds AG Holder’s weasel-worded response to Sen. Cruz’s question during a Senate Judiciary committee hearing on March 6 “whether it’s constitutional to kill an innocent U.S. citizen on U.S. soil.” “Not appropriate,” Holder replied. Well, duh! The following day he responded to Sen. Rand Paul’s rhetorical question, “Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?” “No,” he said. Well, duh! again. I am reminded of Kissinger’s statement in 1975 when he was Secretary of State, however: “The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.” Nothing has changed. Was the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, constitutional? Or the assassination of his 16-year-old son? Why should I believe Holder, Obama, you or any government official will uphold the Constitution when examples abound that this is not true? Guantanamo, Kill Lists, Targeted Assassinations, indefinite detentions, pervasive surveillance and a disregard for law, both foreign and domestic, is now accepted policy. Whistle blowers are jailed while torturers go free. Bradley Manning’s constitutional rights are violated in the most blatant manner and you sit silent. Drones violate the sovereignty of other nations and you say nothing. Drone strikes kill hundreds of civilians and you parrot Brennan’s ridiculous claim that civilian casualties are “in the single digits.” Your Intelligence Committee has failed its duty “to ensure counterterrorism operations are legal, effective, and consistent with our national values.” The CIA is a syndicate of assassins that refuses to tell your committee even what countries they are killing people in and you accept it. The DOJ refuses to make public the secret justifications for killing U.S. citizens without a trial and you accept it. War crimes are committed and you are complicit. The president violates the Constitution and you accept that. Your committee is a rubber stamp for wars of aggression and crimes against humanity. You have failed the American people and democracy. Shame on you. Shame on America.
cc: Representative Nancy Pelosi
      Senator Barbara Boxer
      President Barack Obama

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Throwing Rocks at Karzai

Dear Mr. President,
Yesterday the NYT (p. A7) reported that General Joseph Dunford “offered a far more positive take on the prospects for [Afghanistan] than many longtime Western officials here, and a less critical one than many of his predecessors had offered.” He’s spouting the new party line, dismissing the “rampant corruption and widespread abuses that plague the country” as their problem. He said yes to the question, Will Afghan security forces be able to assume the lead when we leave? Well, duh! Of course they will. They have no choice. And will they be able to provide security to Afghans? Again he said yes, but others see a different answer and anecdotal reports confirm that without American firepower, air strikes, helicopters, medical aid and logistical support, the Afghans’ goose is cooked; they are incapable of holding off the Taliban. No talk from Dunford about Afghanistan never again serving as a base from which Al Qaeda can launch attacks against the U.S. No talk about democracy or stability; the goal in Afghanistan is now like the goal in Vietnam and Iraq: get the hell out with as much dignity and as few casualties as possible. Another defeat, another shattered dream of Pax Americana. Then, in today’s NYT there’s a story on page A6 about a GI throwing rocks at a 9 by 15 foot portrait of Hamid Karzai hung from a wall in the town square of Asadabad, a provincial capital in Kunar Province. The soldier, the article states, was on his way to train Afghan police when the rock-throwing incident occurred. Not the first time he had done this but this time he was reported to the local governor who called the base commander and demanded the soldier come to his office and explain why he had done this. Too dangerous, the commander said, and pulled the soldier from his unit and sent him to an unnamed location while the military “investigates.” Since he’s a trainer, I assume he was Special Forces, which I neither respect nor approve of, but in this instance, I believe this man has retained at least a shred of conscience and common sense and understands the hypocrisy of politicians who continue your zombie war in Afghanistan. He recognizes the immorality of supporting a brazenly corrupt president—Karzai—and his gang of crony criminals who have ripped off the American taxpayer for the past 11 years. Mr. President, I nominate this anonymous soldier as commander of all military forces in Afghanistan. He’s the only one left who’s got his head screwed on straight.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Terrorists Have Already Won

Dear Mr. President,
Michael Ventura’s latest Letters at 3AM column: “An Arbitrary Nation: Part 2” ( asks this thought-provoking question: “If the Constitution is no longer the law of the land, what is?” In a series of columns, he shows how the Constitution has been gutted, violated and ignored. In Part 1 he demonstrates how the 1st Amendment has been eviscerated; in Part 2, the 4th Amendment. As I read his columns, it occurred to me that this is collateral damage from the War on Terror. Secrecy in the name of national security trumps everything. The Patriot Act, FISA, the ballooning web of security agencies (along with their ballooning budgets), the NDAA of 2012 and 2013, the secret justifications for targeted assassinations, for killing American citizens without legal recourse, the silencing of whistle-blowers, the suppression of information, all this secrecy makes an informed citizenry impossible, and transparency is the life blood of a democracy. The laws of the land are no longer public but locked away in the basement safe of the Justice Department; they are no longer consistently enforced but applied arbitrarily at the whim of authority—you and your administration. Victims of government injustice can no longer find redress in the courts because the government deems evidence and testimony too secret to be revealed. Citizens are no longer guaranteed a speedy trial or even a jury of their peers. Whistleblowers are jailed while torturers, assassins and violators of human rights are neither held accountable nor investigated. War crimes are ignored—but only if they’re committed by Americans—and covert wars and political assassination is now acceptable foreign policy. Our communications and electronic trails are captured (without a warrant) and sifted for evidence of terrorism and we are subject to indefinite detention by order of the president. We live in a police state that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago (e.g., a thousand heavily armored and armed men searching for a 19-year old boy in locked-down Boston or the deliberate incineration of Chris Dorner in a cabin near Big Bear a few months ago). All this indicates that the terrorists have already won. But the terrorists we should fear most are not in Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Syria, Libya or Mali; the terrorists most dangerous to America are those right here in Washington, D.C., our own government.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Obama, Eisenhower and CIA Assassins

Dear Mr. President,
An article in this week’s New Yorker by Steve Coll, called “Remote Control: Our Drone Delusion,” lays out the background and history of targeted assassinations by the CIA. Eisenhower saw political assassinations as a precise and efficient way to defeat Communism, more humane than military intervention. Coll points out that Eisenhower is the model for your own targeted assassinations. But the use of assassinations was long ago shown to be not only morally repugnant but counterproductive to America’s interests and national security. “Great nations achieve lasting influence and security,” Coll writes, “not by bloody gambits but through economic growth, scientific innovation, military deterrence, and power of ideas.” The history of CIA assassinations is long and sordid: Iran, Guatemala, Chile and South Vietnam are just a few. In the 1970s when Congress uncovered the extent of the CIA’s assassination program, Gerald Ford issued an executive order stopping it and every president since then strengthened the sanctions against assassinations. Until 9/11. On September 17, George W. Bush signed a still- secret directive authorizing the CIA to kill members of Al Qaeda anywhere in the world. You’ve extended Bush’s order in unimaginable ways. You built the CIA into a killing machine and expanded Special Forces into an army of 60,000 trained assassins. The CIA now has their own air force of armed drones controlled by operators in Langley, Virginia to kill suspected terrorists (and often innocent civilians) in countries far from any battlefield. Teams of Special Forces break down doors in the dead of night and carry off or kill more suspected terrorists (and often civilians). Every Tuesday you choose the names of those who will die this week. You have even ordered the assassination of U.S. citizens without a trial—judge, jury, executioner. We cannot kill our way to security; drones and violence create more enemies than we can possibly kill. You have learned nothing. You ignore laws, treaties, the Constitution and basic human rights, everything you were trained in and taught. Why is Eisenhower your role model when assassinations work no better now than they did then? Eisenhower was a military man trained to kill. He saw nothing morally wrong with killing. You were not trained in war, you were trained in law, to use it to bring justice. You have made a mockery of the law. You were awarded a Nobel Peace Prize and made a mockery of it. Who are you, anyway?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Shaker Aamer, Guantanamo and Obama 's Duplicity

Dear Mr. President,
In your press conference Tuesday, you said: “All of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this? Why are we doing this?” (NYT, May 1, 2013, p A1). This was in response to a question on the Guantanamo hunger strike by more than 130 prisoners—a desperate protest against the injustice of their imprisonment and inhumane treatment. You asked a good question—Why are we doing this?—one we should ask about Afghanistan, about drones, about targeted assassinations and kill lists, about secret government memos justifying the murder of U.S. citizens without a trial, about a global military empire, about a national security state that destroys democracy and freedom, about a whole range of injustices. The gist of your remarks on Guantanamo, however, was that you were going to try again to press Congress to allow prisoner transfers so you could close the prison. But the fate of at least 86 of those prisoners is in your hands, not Congress’s—they were long ago cleared for transfer and need only certification by the State Department that they can safely be released to another country; for 3 years that has not happened. Last year you closed the office charged with transferring prisoners. You have refused to release 56 Yemenis for fear they’ll join the local al Qaeda. And so, the responsibility for all this is yours, not Congress’s. Take the case of Shaker Aamer, a Saudi-born British citizen in Guantanamo for 11 years, acknowledged to be of no threat, cleared for release years ago, his return requested by British authorities many times. The injustice done to this man becomes clear in Victoria Brittain’s book, Shadow Lives. He was in Afghanistan doing charity work—building girls’ schools and digging wells—when leaflets offering bounties on ‘foreigners’ turned over to the Americans were dropped on Afghanistan and Pakistan—one of Cheney’s bright ideas. Aamer was sold for the bounty by a group who turned this into a money-making enterprise; he was tortured in Bagram prison, then sent to Guantanamo where he is still, one of the prisoners being force-fed—another form of torture. Imprisoned and tortured by the previous lawless administration, he remains imprisoned and tortured by the current lawless administration. Shaker Aamer is your responsibility, Mr. President, and the right thing to do is not to send more doctors and nurses to Guantanamo to force-feed prisoners but to release them and close the prison. That’s what a Nobel Peace Prize winner would do.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Karzai's Personal ATM: the CIA

Dear Mr. President,
In the exhibit “Eye Level In Iraq” that I wrote about yesterday, there’s an Artist’s Statement by one of the photographers, Kael Alford: “Today Iraq is widely regarded as one of the most corrupt and dangerous places in the world.” I looked up Iraq’s ranking on Transparency International’s web site—they’re ranked 169 on the list of 176 countries. Afghanistan is tied with Somalia and North Korea for the most corrupt country in the world. (The U.S. is ranked 19th.) The CIA helped both Iraq and Afghanistan obtain those dismal rankings—those bags, backpacks and suitcases of Ben Franklins delivered direct to Karzai’s office for the past 11 years and planeloads of shrink-wrapped hundreds flown to Baghdad after the U.S. invasion in 2003. Influence-peddling bribes and payoffs to government officials and warlords, corruption on a grand scale, the use of American taxpayer dollars to fund criminal enterprises. Sick, disgusting, outrageous but business as usual for the CIA, just one more criminal activity in a long history of state-sanctioned criminal activities—from the overthrow of governments to covert wars and assassinations, from financing drug deals and drug dealers to secret prisons and torture. These are your people, Mr. President, this is your agency. You gave them carte blanche to kill and corrupt with impunity, no oversight, no accountability, no limits. You even named your own personal Rasputin, death-by-drone Brennan, to head the agency, a lifelong CIA operative, a true believer, architect of kill lists, targeted assassinations and drone wars, defender of torture and phony body counts (“everyone killed is an enemy combatant”). CIA policy trumps official policy but does corruption promote democracy, justice or freedom? Do suitcases of cash to warlords and government officials guarantee justice or do they guarantee continued injustice by corrupt regimes that suppress and deny basic rights to their citizens? Karzai’s your guy too, and he’s appreciative of the “small amounts” delivered to his office every month, a brazen acknowledgment of his—and our—corruption. The warlords are happy, Afghan lawmakers are happy… The only ones unhappy are the 99% of Afghans who live under the corruption and the 99% of Americans who pay for it in the form of austerity budgets, high unemployment and cutbacks in social services and standard of living. Say, could you send one of your CIA people to my place with a bag of Ben Franklins? I could put it to good use.