Photo credit: Reuters

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

An Inconvenient Truth: The Rehmans

Dear Mr. President,
Rafiq Rehman and his two children, Nabila, 9, and Zubair, 13, told their story to Congress yesterday, how a CIA drone strike on October 24, 2012 in North Waziristan killed Rafiq’s 67-year-old mother, Momina Bibi—she was also the village midwife—out in her garden showing her grandchildren how to tell when okra is ready to pick. There were no militants in the area and Momina Bibi was clearly surrounded by small children. Nevertheless, two Hellfire missiles were launched directly at her, She was killed and Nabila, Zubair and several of their young cousins were wounded by shrapnel. The official story, however, said only militants were killed. For the past year they have sought answers: Why was their mother and grandmother killed? What did she do? Was it a mistake? But there are no explanations, no apologies, no offers to pay medical bills or repair the damage done, only silence from Washington and Islamabad. They came here to tell their story directly to Americans, to ask them to consider the way drones terrorize and disrupt lives, families, whole villages. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) invited the Rehmans to a briefing he organized. Four people showed up—Reps. Schnakowsky (D-IL), Holt (D-NJ), Conyers (D-MI), and Nolan (D-MN). Five people altogether! No invitation to The White House, either. I guess you figured you didn’t need another Malala Yousafzai moment, right?—her going off script to plead for an end to the drones. You don’t want another lecture about the harm they do, the disruption, the violence, the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters ripped apart so there’s nothing left to identify or bury. Inconvenient truths you don’t need and right now you’re up to your eyeballs in inconvenient truths about drones—the Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and UN reports all claiming the civilian casualty rate in drone strikes is near 30% and calling them war crimes. Drones are the weapon of cowards, killing others at long distance without accountability or risk. Those who carry out the orders to kill and those who promote and justify this type of murder—the enablers and technocratic assassins—are war criminals, enemies of humanity. You should have been at that briefing, Mr. President, you and all the other 530 members of Congress. It was one of the most important briefings on Capitol Hill this year. You and all the others should have listened closely to the Rehmans’ story and considered it. There is no statute of limitations for war crimes.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The NSA and Obamacare

Dear Mr. President,
I’m just free-associating here, but I think you’d been way ahead of the game if you’d put the NSA folks in charge of the Obamacare website. No question that General “Star Wars” Alexander would a’ got that sucker up and running on time, connected all those databases and got those cookies under control. And I bet that since the NSA already knows everything about everybody, they could ‘a just gone ahead and signed everybody up automatically, picked a plan that suited their family size and income, sent out notices saying, “Here’s your new plan. If you have questions, call 1-800… Instead, you give it to CMS, an understaffed and overwhelmed agency, to oversee, then hand out half a billion bucks to 55 contractors who apparently didn’t talk to one another or bother to test, and ka-boom! everything turns to shit and the Republicans have got something new to gloat over and say, “See, I told you the government can’t do anything right.” It might also have kept the folks at NSA too busy to be eavesdropping on Merkel, Rousseff, Hollande, the UN, the EU, the G20, Mexico, Petrobas…. Whoa! Petrobas? What’s up with that, Mr. President? Brazil’s national oil company is a terrorist organization? Or could it be that Chevron and Exxon wanted a little info on their competitors? Is spying on foreign businesses an NSA sideline? Why isn’t the mainstream media following up on that? Remember Deep Throat and Watergate? “Follow the money,” he kept saying. And there was another popular saying during that time: What did the President know and when did he know it? In the case of tapping Merkel’s cell phone, that’s a relevant question again. Seems pretty clear the way everybody’s hedging and dancing around it that you knew all along. But if you didn’t, an old CIA term applies: “plausible deniability.” People don’t really buy that though unless they’re hardcore believers. So you’ve got heads of state calling you, ambassadors called on the carpet—you’re taking fire from all sides. Time to cut and run, put distance between you and the NSA—that’s called “letting them twist in the wind” —so you promise reforms that are no more than eye wash and deliver platitudes that mean nothing while your chorus of parrots—Feinstein, Boehner, Reid, Pelosi—sing along in the background in two party harmony. And nothing changes. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the wars grind on, the planet grows warmer, more polluted and angry, and extinction begins to look like a real possibility.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Gen. Alexander Declares War on the First Amendment

Dear Mr. President,
Yesterday I watched a 30 minute interview with Gen. Keith Alexander, Commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, NSA Director, and Chief of Central Security Service. He was interviewed by Jessica Tozer for the “Armed With Science” blog on the DoD website. (http://science.dodlive.mil/2013/10/24/i-spy-no-lie/) The purpose of the interview, Tozer says is to get the facts and find out if the NSA “is really capable of the… power madness that they’re accused of wielding? Or are internet rumors and misinformation painting our best cyber security defenders as bad guys?” I have to admit, since it was a DoD website, I was pretty sure I knew what her conclusions would be and they weren’t going to be the same as mine. But I suffered through 20 minutes of Alexander’s blather about missions and national security and protecting the American people and all the other saccharine bullshit and spin he’s been putting on it since 2005. Of course, he never mentioned any of the illegal stuff: the tapping of Merkel’s and Hollande’s and Rousseff’s phones or the bugging and hacking of the EU, the UN, the G-20, the embassies around the world. But in the 21st minute of the interview, he said something that shocked me and convinced me even more that this is a very dangerous man. In discussing the Snowden leaks, he asserted that newspapers and the media dispensing this information “is wrong… and we have to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that. That’s more [for] the courts and the policy makers, but from my perspective, that’s wrong.” He’s already done away with the 4th Amendment—the right to privacy is history—and now he’s declaring war on the 1st Amendment as well. Put a different uniform on this guy and he could be Goebbels or Goering or any of history’s monsters. This is a man who fashioned his command center an exact replica of the Starship Enterprise control room. This is a man who has done more damage to America’s credibility and trust than anyone in history. This is a man who has lied to Congress, who has misled both legislators and the American public, has shown incredibly bad judgment, has made our country less safe, has squandered hundreds of billions of dollars needed for public services and the good of the nation, has defied and violated the Constitution, and will continue to do so. Sack him! Immediately! You want to restore trust in America? Bring Edward Snowden home and put him in charge of the NSA. Better yet, do away with it completely.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Get It All" Blowback

Dear Mr. President,
Last week it was Hollande calling to complain, yesterday Merkel, before that, Mexico’s Calderón, last month, Brazil’s Rousseff and before her, the EU, the UN… the list keeps growing, According to today’s Guardian, you can expect a lot more angry phone calls (“NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders after US official handed over contacts”). The article says you assured Merkel that you were not monitoring her calls now and wouldn’t in the future, the same assurances you gave Hollande, Rousseff and all the others. The surveillance program is being reviewed, you said, rebalanced. But the Guardian article shows that what the NSA calls “customers”—the State Department, Pentagon, etc.—were encouraged to hand over their rolodex files of high level foreign leaders’ phone numbers so they could be monitored. Many officials did without compunction, and soon as the NSA got new numbers they were “tasked,” a euphemism and obfuscation meaning those phones were tapped. In the document revealing all this (thank you, Mr. Snowden!), the NSA also admits that the numbers produced little reportable intelligence. But what it really shows is that 1) everybody is a suspected terrorist and, 2) the NSA surveillance programs are not about uncovering terrorist plots but about expanding the database and the universe of surveillance. The means to a goal has become the goal itself. To date the NSA has not shown a single instance of a plot foiled by their programs. They may have contributed information after the plot was discovered but they have never been more than a secondary source. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been siphoned from our own needs to build a surveillance boondoggle with zero value—no, with negative value, for it destroys trust and credibility among friends and allies around the world. And yet, you continue to defend and protect them as “an essential part of national security.” That’s bullshit and you know it, Mr. President. The NSA is a monster out of control, a danger to democracy, freedom and the security of everyone. I’m glad you’re getting angry phone calls. It seems the only way to stop this irresponsible and dangerous Nazi/Stasi surveillance state is through outside pressure since our own citizenry is too complacent, too comatose, too disengaged to rise up in protest. Quit denouncing and pursuing Edward Snowden. He is not the cause of the problem. The villains are Clapper, Alexander and all those who march to their mad fantasy of Get It All!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

U.S. Foreign Policy: The Angels of Death

Dear Mr. President,
Last week $1.6 billion in aid was released to Pakistan. Yesterday the NYT reported that Pakistan is China’s biggest customer for their growing arms trade, spending $612 billion in 2012. (China’s Arms Industry Makes Global Inroads, p. A1) Excuse me? We give them $1.6 billion and half goes to China for weapons? My tax dollars subsidize Chinese arms merchants? I protest! I don’t want my tax dollars spent on any weapons—U.S. or Chinese. It was timed for tomorrow’s visit by Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Shari, a critic of drone strikes although that too may be political. Last week a UN report stated that at least 400 civilians were killed in drone attacks in Pakistan since 2008 and today 2 more reports were released, one by Amnesty International focusing on Pakistan, the other on Yemen by Human Rights Watch. Both document the toll on civilians, the disruption on regions where drones patrol and kill, and the myth of “surgical,” “precise” and “contained.” The Yemen report documents 6 attacks that killed 82 people, at least 57 of them unarmed civilians; 2 attacks killed innocent people indiscriminately. The report on Pakistan names several victims who were unarmed and “posed no threat to life.” One, Mamana Bibi, was 68. She was outside picking okra when she was targeted and killed. Her 8-year-old granddaughter, wounded in the attack, reported seeing 2 missiles in the initial strike. Minutes later when Bibi’s 18-year-old grandson ran from the house to help his grandmother, more missiles were launched—what the CIA calls double-tapping, what the UN calls a war crime. Today’s NYT (Civilian Deaths Cited in Report on Drone Strikes, p. A1) examines the effects of drone strikes on one town in Pakistan, Miram Shah. “The drones are like the angels of death,” said Nazeer Gul, a shopkeeper…“Only they know when and where they will strike.” The town has endured at least 13 drone attacks since 2008—10 of them in its densely populated center—and 25 more in surrounding areas. “It has become a fearful and paranoid town…buzzing drones hover day and night, scanning the alleys and markets with roving high-resolution cameras.” Sleeping pills, anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressant sales are high, women affected the most. What does it take for you to see the injustice and inhumanity of your targeted assassinations and covert wars? Or are you beyond that? Beyond conscience, morality and the ability to distinguish good from evil. Some Nobel Peace prize winner you are.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Barack Obama: The Smartest Guy in the Room?

Dear Mr. President,
Your week’s not starting out so hot what with the online computer system snafus plaguing Obamacare. By some estimates, up to 5 million lines of code might have to be rewritten. (NYT, Oct. 21, “Specialists See Weeks of Work On Health Site” p.A1). Fifty-five different contractors worked on the system—55!. That alone guaranteed failure, but the myth of outsourcing trumps history, experience and common sense. The article goes on to say that the lead contractor, CGI Group, is a Canadian company (buy American!) and that the system went live before it was completely tested. In the computer biz, that’s called “going guts” and the saying is, “those who go guts become road kill.” What the Republican nut cases failed to do—undermine and roll, back Obamacare—is being done by incompetence and technical bungling. Among this week’s woes, your French poodle Hollande, called today to complain about the latest revelations in Le Monde of NSA spying on French citizens, businesses and government officials. (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/21/us-french-surveillance-legitimate-questions/print) The usual response from The White House: “we’re reviewing… weighing the balance between security and privacy…” What we heard in June, July, August… with each new revelation. What does it take to get you to see NSA is out of control and dangerous? And then there’s Afghanistan, your Vietnam. Monsif Khan, a U.S.-trained Afghan Special Forces commander, loaded a Humvee with guns, ammo and high-tech gear and defected to the Taliban. (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2013/10/afghan-army-commander-defects-rival-side-20131021103222455867.html) None of the news from Afghanistan is good. Even the NYT editors call it a lost cause. Today’s editorial, “An Exit Strategy From Afghanistan,” points out that over the past 12 years, Karzai has done little to benefit anyone other than himself and his cronies, that the government is dysfunctional and corrupt, that the Taliban will likely take control of most of the country as soon as we leave and that without our $4-6 billion a year to fund the Afghan Army and police, they will cease to exist. You were supposed to be the smartest guy in the room—you said that yourself in the early days—but your brilliance escapes me. Cunning yes, slick, duplicitous, but I see only one bad decision after another, betrayal after betrayal. You have learned nothing. I could go on but as my mother used to say, there’s no sense in beating a dead horse.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Snowden Speaks, Obama Should Listen

Dear Mr. President,
“The secret continuance of these [NSA surveillance] programs represents a far greater danger than their disclosures.” Edward Snowden quoted in today’s NYT (“Snowden Says He Took No Secret Files to Russia” p. A1). And right there’s the nub of the whole scandal. He’s got it right and all your intelligence nabobs who express “grave concern” got it all wrong. Democracy cannot exist in an all-encompassing surveillance state with secret laws and secret courts, for that leads to corruption, abuse and tyranny. You’ve done a full court press to grab Snowden and put him away where he cannot be heard, but this 30-year old “hacker” as you called him, managed to elude all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. Edward Snowden is not only smart but he has more ethics, more morality and more American values than all those king’s horses and all those king’s men combined. He said in the interview with James Risen (the journalist who broke the initial story on warrantless wiretapping and who your boy Holder is threatening to throw in jail if he doesn’t reveal his sources) that he carried none of the secret files with him from Hong Kong and that the NSA knew it: “NSA has not offered a single example of damage from the leaks.” He also points out another obvious fact—that whistleblowers can’t possibly work through the internal system because “You have to report wrongdoing to those most responsible for it.” Well, duh! He explains how he was told to drop it when he reported a security gap in the CIA’s personnel system and then punished for persisting and how he witnessed others being punished for “rocking the boat” as well. “If the highest officials in government can break the law without fearing punishment or even any repercussions at all,” he said, “secret powers become tremendously dangerous.” Why is truth and transparency so dangerous? Because the perceived power and fiefdom of petty and not-so-petty bureaucrats in our ever expanding intelligence community is lost. But is that worth the loss of freedom and democracy? Not to me and not to many of us outside the bubble, it isn’t. Are you so wedded to the business-as-usual warmongers that you cannot see (or care about) the obvious? Can you not see the traitors in our midst? Not Edward Snowden but the Clappers and Alexanders and Feinsteins and Rogers who willfully lie or look away and ignore the real danger. Bring Snowden home and award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. There is no one more deserving.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Malala Yousafzai and Abu Anas al-Liby Go Off-Script

Dear Mr. President,
Maybe the capture of Abu Anas al-Liby wasn’t such a great coup after all. And maybe your audience with Malala Yousafzai wasn’t such a hot idea, either. Your intelligence people claimed al-Liby was a wealth of information on Al Qaeda past and present but in a NYC courtroom yesterday, his court-appointed lawyer said al-Liby “was mentioned only briefly in a 150 page indictment relating to conduct in 1993 and 1994… [and] there were no allegations in the charges that he had any connection to Al Qaeda after 1994.… Prosecutors declined to comment.” (today’s NYT, “A Terrorist Suspect Caught in Libya Pleads Not Guilty” p. A22) It’s so much easier to stick “suspected” insurgents in Guantanamo where they have no voice or access to justice; better yet, drone them and make them disappear. And speaking of drones, that great photo op with Malala on Friday turned out to be a 16-year-old schoolgirl giving you, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, an earful about your drone program. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/10/11/malala-yousafzai-meets-with-the-obamas-in-the-oval-office/) “I thanked President Obama for the United States' work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees,” Yousafzai said in a statement published by the Associated Press. “I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.” Whoops! That wasn’t in the script. Not only does she defy the Taliban, she criticizes your signature piece of foreign policy! It made me think of other courageous heroes; not the action heroes like Capt. Will Swenson (I’m glad you mentioned the kiss in yesterday’s ceremony), but people like Ellsberg, Snowden, Assange, Manning and all the whistleblowers who would dare reveal the truth, who would dare challenge the authority they know will hound them, persecute them, throw them in prison, destroy their lives; the people who risk everything for democracy and justice, for us. In a way, so were the Guantanamo prisoners who went on a hunger strike in a desperate effort to inform the world of injustice being done them. Maybe al-Liby too, is in that lot; he stopped eating and drinking on board the USS San Antonio. It was only then that he was taken to a medical facility on land where he fell under court jurisdiction. Once again, not in the script.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What It Takes To Start A War

Dear Mr. President,
By custom there is no statute of limitations on war crimes or crimes against humanity. This was codified in the Rome Statute (2002) and the Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity (1968). We never ratified the former or signed the latter, but we’ve used them to accuse others. Yesterday’s NYT (“To Ousted Boss, Arms Watchdog Was Seen as an Obstacle in Iraq” p. A4) reveals behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the Bush administration in 2002 to oust José Bustani, then head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the agency just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. One day in early 2002 John Bolton, then an undersecretary of state, told Bustani he had 24 hours to resign or “face the consequences.” Washington wanted Bustani out because his inspectors—and everyone else—knew that Iraq had no WMDs; that they had been destroyed after the Gulf War. But WMDs was the justification for invading Iraq and if the public learned there were none, the invasion of Iraq would be revealed for what it was, a naked act of aggression for control of Middle East oil fields. Bustani refused to resign so Washington accused him of incompetence and tried—but failed—to get a vote of no confidence from the agency’s executive committee. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had praised Bustani in 2001, told him, “I have people in the administration who don’t want Bustani to stay, and my role is to inform you of this.” The article specifically mentions Bolton and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld “wanting the head of Bustani.” In the end, they got rid of him by pressuring Japan, Great Britain and other countries to threaten to cut off funding for the agency if Bustani stayed. The cabal accounted for half the agency’s budget and it would have collapsed if that happened, so Bustani left, the myth of Iraq’s WMDs continued, and the invasion of Iraq resulted in an estimated 650,000 Iraqi deaths. The country was left in ruins and is still wracked by violence, worse off than under Saddam Hussein. The actions of Bolton, Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney and others who consciously lied to the American people and the world, who promoted a senseless and unjust war that still rages a decade later is a war crime and a crime against humanity, Mr. President. And by your refusal to “look backward,” to hold anyone accountable for the atrocities and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, you are complicit.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Capt. Will Swenson, The Kiss & The Medal of Honor

Dear Mr. President,
Tomorrow you’ll bestow the Medal of Honor on former Army Captain William Swenson, a long overdue recognition of this soldier’s bravery under fire to rescue his wounded and dead comrades in a battle in the village of Ganjgal on September 8, 2009. Had it been up to the Army brass, Swenson would never get his medal for he dared criticize his superiors after the battle for failing to provide air support during an ambush that killed 5 Americans, 10 Afghans and left 17 wounded. Swenson was on his 2nd tour in Afghanistan—he served one tour in Iraq—and he was career. But in today’s army you don’t criticize superiors no matter how incompetent and he was forced out; “early retirement” he calls it. He, along with Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer, were recommended for the Medal of Honor that day. Meyer received his on September 15, 2011, but no mention of Swenson. It took a McClatchy News reporter who witnessed the battle and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) to force the Army to find Swenson’s “lost” nomination packet. But the Battle of Ganjgal and the heroism of Captain Swenson isn’t the real story. Neither is the Army’s attempt to punish Swenson by forcing him out and “losing” his nomination for 4 years. The real story is the simple act of compassion and humanity Swenson showed his wounded buddy, Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook after helping carry him to the Medevac helicopter and loading him aboard. The official Army video shows Swenson and Westbrook leaning in toward one another, exchanging a few words and then, before turning to go, Swenson leaned over and kissed his wounded comrade on the forehead, tapped him with one finger in farewell, turned and re-entered the battle. Right there in that simple act is why soldiers fight. Not for country or some abstract ideology, but for their comrades-in-arms. Most soldiers eventually recognize that the war they’ve been sent to fight is not for the reasons they’ve been told but rather, an act of inconceivable brutality fostered, promoted and maintained by politicians for reasons of power, greed, stupidity, insanity. Sgt. Westbrook died 29 days later and his blood is on your hands, Mr. President. So are the other casualties of the Battle of Ganjgal. And so are the tens of thousands of Afghan civilians who have died in a needles war based on lies, ignorance and a thirst for revenge. I hope you mention The Kiss in the award ceremony tomorrow, Mr. President. It is the only decent act that came from that senseless slaughter.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Abu Anas Caper: Blowback in Libya

Dear Mr. President,
Was the kidnapping and rendition of Abu Anas al-Liby worth it? Today’s NYT reports that the backlash from the raid “could bring down the government of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.” (“U.S. Officials Say Libya Approved Commando Raids” p. A1) Win the battle, lose the war. As for Libya’s “approval” of the raid, the article reveals that the approval came after months of lobbying by American officials and that it was “tacit.” My dictionary defines tacit as: “understood without being openly expressed; implied.” Not exactly official or legal or whole-hearted. Maybe that’s why they weren’t informed ahead of time or why they didn’t participate in the operation—contrary to official statements yesterday. And the tacit approval occurred weeks, maybe months ago. So here’s Libya which we saved from humanitarian disaster by bombing, droning and strafing Qaddafi’s forces, making sure he was toppled—as in dead—and 18 months later the country is in chaos, militias—militant s, insurgents, jihadists, Al Qaeda affiliates and franchises—control much of the country and now their weak government is about to fall because your action heroes snatched one of their citizens off the street in front of his home. And, it turns out, he wasn’t the real prize in the two Saturday raids, anyway; Abu Anas has been inactive for years and any information he has is dated. The real prize was the one Navy SEAL Team 6 failed to capture in Somalia, Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir. (NYT, “Imperfect Intelligence Said to Hinder U.S. Raid on Militant in Somali” p. A10). Abdikadir is active, he plots and carries out raids and his information is current. Abdikadir is also a member of Shabab, a group your overconfident intelligence officials say is supposed to be on the run. “The Somali militant group had lost ground and manpower.” Well, apparently not. Imperfect Intelligence indeed. French Special Forces, the article goes on, also tried to raid a Shabab stronghold earlier this year to rescue a hostage and lost two men and the hostage. We never learn. Not from experience, not from history, not from the example of others. Especially not that violence begets violence. And we’re still at it. The page 1 article reports that “An American surveillance drone has flown virtually every day over Benghazi gathering information” on 6 other Libyans you want to snatch. One, Ahmed Abu Khattala, is accused of the U.S. embassy raid in Benghazi. War without end. Good for business if you’re in the business of war.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Abu Anas al-Liby Meets Obamalaw

Dear Mr. President,
Reading an article in today’s NYT (“How the U.S. Is Interrogating A Qaeda Suspect” p. A9) is like falling down the rabbit hole. When is invading another country not a crime of aggression? When Obama says it isn’t. When is a prisoner of war not a prisoner of war? When Obama says he isn’t. And when do the Geneva Conventions apply? When Obama says they do. So here’s Abu Anas al-Liby, indicted on criminal charges in NYC, an alleged high value Al Qaeda target, a citizen of Libya living in Libya, kidnapped by U.S. commandos off the street in Tripoli and spirited away to the waiting U.S.S. San Antonio in the Mediterranean where he’ll be interrogated without a lawyer present and without being informed of his rights. All this, the raid, the kidnapping, the rendition, the incarceration at sea, violates the Geneva Conventions, violates the sovereignty of another country, violates U.S. law and violates basic human rights. Your Nobel Peace Prize does not put you above the law, Mr. President. How is your refusal to abide by the Geneva Conventions any different than Assad’s? Or any other tyrant? You threatened to bomb Syria for Assad’s violation of the Geneva Conventions when his troops used chemical weapons on August 21. All that self-righteous talk about enforcing international law and the Geneva Conventions and yet you violate them every day with your targeted assassinations and drone strikes and 164 Guantanamo prisoners still held without charges. And now the case of al-Liby shines more light on your arrogant disregard of law. In your twisted logic, no laws protect al-Liby. He’s a member of Al Qaeda and therefore an “enemy combatant,” a category invented by Bush neocons to indefinitely incarcerate and brutalize prisoners. Holding prisoners of war at sea is explicitly forbidden by the Geneva Conventions; but you say al-Liby isn’t being held, he’s on a troop transport “in transit.” (Never mind it took more than 2 months to transit Warsame while he was being interrogated.) And while in transit a special team of agents is interrogating him with no witnesses or legal representation and when they finish with him, what the FBI calls a “clean team” of fresh agents will go through the interrogation process again, this time offering legal representation and informing him of his rights so they can use it in a court of law if they decide to prosecute. Or maybe they’ll take him straight to Guantanamo. Welcome to the world of Obamalaw. Welcome to the rabbit hole.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Abu Anas al-Libi and Obama's Law of War

Dear Mr. President,
Today’s NYT (“U.S. Said to Hold Qaeda Suspect on Navy Ship” p.A1) reports that Abu Anas al-Liby wast taken to the U.S.S. San Antonio in the Mediterranean where he will be questioned “without a lawyer present [which] follows a pattern used successfully by the Obama administration with other terrorist suspects.” The article goes on to recount the case of Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame who was held on a U.S. Navy ship in the Gulf of Aden for two months after his capture in 2011 “without being advised of his rights or provided a lawyer… ‘Warsame is the model for this guy’ one American security official said.” A Defense Department statement said Abu Anas was “lawfully detained under the law of war” while the Guardian reports that Kerry said al-Liby was a “legal and appropriate target… I hope the perception is in the world that… [the U.S.] is going to do anything in its power that is legal and appropriate… to enforce the law and to protect our security.” [italics mine] (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/07/obama-al-liby-capture-legal-system) To claim that a raid by U.S. commandos on a country we are not at war with is legal is astounding, Mr. President. Incursions like this have been decried by the U.S. for decades when others do it to our allies. Furthermore, kidnapping a citizen of a foreign country off a street in that country—indicted by a U.S. court or not—rendering him to a U.S. Navy ship and questioning him indefinitely without legal counsel or informing him of his rights, ignores international and domestic law. The law of war? Is this a new law you just made up? The Obama Law of War? To go along with the Obama Doctrine on Foreign Policy? Secret findings, secret courts, secret laws, a secret security state. You have merged Orwell and Kafka to create a New World Order that is nothing like the America I grew up in. When we elected you in 2008, no one expected utopia but no one expected this, either. I now fear my own government far more than Al Qaeda or Al-Shabab. I fear my Congress for the damage they do here at home by funding your wars and defunding our own citizens. I fear the NSA which, by stealth and secrecy, are dismantling, one by one, our privacy protections. I fear our militarized police who kill unarmed mothers driving the streets and are called heroes. And I fear you, Mr. President, far more than Abu Anas al-Liby or Ayman al-Zawahiri, for you are more of a threat to democracy and justice, to peace and freedom than they are.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Obama Doctrine

Dear Mr. President,
According to today’s NYT (“U.S. Raids in Libya and Somalia Strike Terror Targets” p.A1), 3 vehicles carrying FBI and CIA agents surrounded Abu Anas al-Liby in Tripoli yesterday as he was parking his car and captured him “peacefully.” “A senior American official said the Libyan government had been apprised of the operation and provided assistance.” Al-Liby is “no longer in Libya” he said. But the Guardian reported later that the Libyan government is demanding an explanation for the “kidnapping” of a Libyan citizen by U.S. forces (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/06/libya-kidnapping-citizen-us-forces-raid-somalia). That report also stated that two cars and a bus with blacked-out windows carrying Delta Force commandos pulled up at the family home in a quiet suburb of Tripoli, surrounded al-Liby’s car, smashed the windows, grabbed his gun, dragged him out of the car and sped off with him. Not exactly peaceful but a lot less brutal than the murder of Miriam Carey last Thursday by the Capitol Police. The Guardian also reports that “Pentagon spokesman George Little said al-Liby is “currently lawfully detained by the US military in a secure location outside of Libya.” I realize al-Liby is an alleged leader of Al Qaeda wanted by the FBI, but I remember you condemned rendition and declared it would end. How is this different than the CIA’s kidnapping of an Egyptian-born cleric off the streets of Milan in 2003 and rendering him to a prison in another country? Is rendition under Obama different than rendition under Bush? The NYT article also stated that “Libya has collapsed into the control of a patchwork of militias since the ouster of the Qaddafi government in 2011.” So much for your “humanitarian mission” to Libya to prevent the loss of life. And for your promise of “no boots on the ground” in Libya. There they were Saturday, a busload of them. As for the other raid by Special Forces yesterday, that one didn’t work out so hot. Your Seal Team Six assassins don’t get a Mission Accomplished banner or high-fives from the Prez on the Somalia raid. Swam ashore in predawn darkness like in the movies and advanced on a villa housing their quarry but ran into “unexpected resistance.” A firefight ensued and they withdrew back into the sea from whence they came without a capture or a kill. Our foreign policy seems to be we do whatever we want whenever we want wherever we want. Unless the country is strong enough to resist. That’s the Obama Doctrine.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Miriam Carey: Collateral Damage in the War on Terror

Dear Mr. President,
Miriam Carey was the 34-year-old dental hygienist from Connecticut who thought you were stalking her. She was certainly acting irrational, driving from Stamford, Conn. to D.C., ramming her car into a barrier at the White House, running down a guard in the process, then driving 80 mph down Pennsylvania Ave to ram another barrier at the Capitol. But she was also clearly unarmed, had her one-year old daughter in the back seat, and at the end of the car chase was surrounded by at least 5 Capitol Police officers with guns drawn and no way to escape. All the news reports are about her ramming the barriers, the high-speed car chase, her post-partum depression, her psychiatric treatments and her refusal to stop when ordered to do so by the police. But none of the reports ask why those 5 officers shot her to death while she was apparently still seated in her car. (An initial report suggested she may have gotten out of the car although pictures on the internet show her still in the car.) And not only did they shoot her dead in front of her child, but according to today’s NYT (“Car Chase, White House to Capitol, Has Fatal End” p. A20), “they had trouble identifying her because of the extent of her injuries.”  Her injuries were gunshot wounds by those 5 cops, not the result of a car crash—in the photos her car is intact and shows no sign of damage. What in the world is happening to our country, Mr. President? We seem to have descended into some nightmare state of national hysteria where everyone is a terrorist, guilty until proven innocent, where deadly force is accepted as the norm in our towns and cities, and where citizens wrongfully killed by law enforcement officers are collateral damage just as they are in any war zone. We have lost all semblance of reason, all sense of compassion and all standards of justice. We are a nation under siege, victims of our fear and prejudices and the insanity of 12 years of unjust wars. We have traded our freedoms and our democracy for the illusion of security and it is clear we have neither. Our every move is monitored, we are subject to arrest and incarceration for speaking out in dissent, for whistleblowing, for almost anything the “authorities” don’t like. And sometimes, if we act irrational and don’t obey the orders of “law enforcement” we are subject to extrajudicial execution on the spot like Miriam Carey, a young woman who needed help but got butchered instead, more collateral damage in the War on Terror.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Shutting Down the Government But Not War

Dear Mr. President,
The government shut down today while the crazies in Congress take an ideological stand: Repeal Obamacare! what the pundits call your “signature” achievement. But Obamacare is a watered down version of what should have been. Obamacare is really a gift to the insurance industry with a side benefit for some of the 30 million uninsured Americans. Real healthcare reform would be single-payer healthcare for all, like other industrialized nations but you took that off the table even before negotiations began. I think your signature achievement is not Obamacare but your bureaucratizing and normalizing war. A real signature achievement would have been to end war and normalize peace, understand the causes of 9/11 and remedy them, and conduct a national reconciliation of the lawless Bush years, but you ruled that out soon as you got elected and continued and expanded the phantom War on Terror. When I survey your accomplishments over the past 4 years, 9 months, I see devastation, misery and loss of hope. Your drone wars terrorize villagers in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere, people who have no idea who we are and are no threat; your ongoing militarization of America’s “law enforcement” and the massive surveillance state are harbingers of tyranny and repression; and the erosion of freedoms, the secret laws and secret courts and secret activities of our government are not the acts of a democracy but signs of the totalitarian fascist state to come. And while we spend trillions on wars and tens of billions propping up dictators and repressive, corrupt regimes like the Egyptian military coupmasters, the Saudi princes and Hamid Karzai (is the CIA still delivering bags of Ben Franklins to his office every month?), Detroit, Stockton, San Bernadino and Harrison County, Georgia go broke, pensioners no longer have an income, homeowners lose their homes to robber baron Banksters, and social programs are decimated. All in the name of National Security, the latest false god of the political class. The years of your reign are an unmitigated disaster, Mr. President, worse than your predecessor’s. You are indeed the more effective evil. You found power in making war and you used it. Maybe shutting down government is a good thing, I thought, maybe it will curtail war. But I read this morning that you signed an executive order to continue paying the military regardless. So everything stops except the killing. The Republicans are protesting the wrong thing.