January 11, 2008

Hard-Wired For Fear 9/11, "War On Terror"

Fear trumps reason. It's hard-wired in the brain. Newsweek (via Bruce Schneier):

The brain structure that processes perceptions and thoughts and tags them with the warning "Be afraid, be very afraid!" is the amygdala. Located near the brain's center, this almond-shaped bundle of neurons evolved long before the neocortex, the seat of conscious awareness. There is good reason for the fear circuitry to be laid down first, explains neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux of New York University. Any proto-humans who lacked a well-honed fear response did not survive long enough to evolve higher-order thinking; unable to react quickly and intuitively to rustling bushes or advancing shadows, they instead became some carnivore's dinner. Specifically, fear evolved because it promotes survival by triggering an individual to respond instantly to a threat — that is, without cogitating on it until the tiger has pounced. [...]

The evolutionary primacy of the brain's fear circuitry makes it more powerful than the brain's reasoning faculties. The amygdala sprouts a profusion of connections to higher brain regions — neurons that carry one-way traffic from amygdala to neocortex. Few connections run from the cortex to the amygdala, however. That allows the amygdala to override the products of the logical, thoughtful cortex, but not vice versa. So although it is sometimes possible to think yourself out of fear ("I know that dark shape in the alley is just a trash can"), it takes great effort and persistence. Instead, fear tends to overrule reason, as the amygdala hobbles our logic and reasoning circuits. That makes fear "far, far more powerful than reason," says neurobiologist Michael Fanselow of the University of California, Los Angeles. "It evolved as a mechanism to protect us from life-threatening situations, and from an evolutionary standpoint there's nothing more important than that."

Fear is not only more powerful than reason, however. It is also (sometimes absurdly) easy to evoke for reasons that also lie deep in our evolutionary past. Reacting to a nonexistent threat, such as fleeing from what you thought was a venomous snake that turned out to be a harmless one, isn't as dangerous as failing to react to actual threats. The brain is therefore wired to flinch first and ask questions later. [...]

The results of targeting the amygdala in a way that overrides the thoughtful cortex can be ludicrous or tragic, but frequently irrational. In a classic experiment, scientists compared people's responses to offers of flight insurance that would cover "death by any cause" or "death by terrorism." The latter, of course, is but a small subset of the former. Yet the specificity of the word "terrorism," combined with the stark images the word evokes, triggers the amygdala's fear response in a way that "by any cause" does not. Result: people are willing to spend more for terrorism insurance than death-by-any-cause insurance. [...]

"Negative emotions such as fear, hatred and disgust tend to provoke behavior more than positive emotions such as hope and happiness do," says Harvard University psychology researcher Daniel Gilbert. Perhaps paradoxically, the power of fear to move voters can be most easily understood when it fails to — that is, when an issue lacks the ability to strike terror in citizens' hearts. Global warming is such an issue. Yes, Hurricane Katrina was a terrifying example of what a greenhouse world would be like, and Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" scared some people into changing their light bulbs to energy-miserly models. But barely 5 percent of voters rank global warming as the issue that most concerns them. There is little public clamor to spend the kind of money that would be needed to change our energy mix to one with a smaller carbon footprint, or to make any real personal sacrifices.

A big reason is that global warming, as an issue, lacks the characteristics that trigger fear, says Gilbert. The human brain has evolved to fear humans and human actions (such as airplane bombers), not accidents and impersonal forces (carbon dioxide, even when it is the product of human activities). If global warming were caused by the nefarious deeds of an evil empire — lofting military satellites that deliver carbon dioxide into the stratosphere, say, rather than the "innocent" actions of people heating their homes and driving their children to school — "the war on warming would be this nation's top priority," Gilbert wrote in the Los Angeles Times.

Besides needing that human component, events loom scariest when they pose a threat next week, not next decade or beyond. Climate change is already here, but the worst of it would arrive if the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets melt, which is decades away. "The brain is adapted to deal with the here and now," says Gilbert — the lethal-tusked mastodon right over there, not the herd of them that will migrate through your encampment next spring. It's little wonder, then, that warnings about the eventual insolvency of Medicare or Social Security fail to move voters, and that global warming "fails to trip the brain's alarm," he says. But the prospect of illegal immigrants' changing the face of neighborhoods today does.

The primitive nature of fear means that it can be triggered most powerfully not by wordy arguments but by images that make a beeline for the brain's emotion regions.

Images are the key. No images in history had such a high-voltage effect on the amygdala of the world as the World Trade Center images from 9/11. The planes hitting the towers; the towers collapsing. Those images made 9/11 the most successful psyops operation of all time, turning the country around on a dime, rechanneling it in a radically different direction. Whoever dreamed it up, it was genius. Evil genius, but genius.

And they've been whanging away on that fear circuitry ever since. Which is why this message (also via Bruce Schneier) is such an important one to convey to our elected officials, wherever we live:

I am not afraid of terrorism, and I want you to stop being afraid on my behalf. Please start scaling back the official government war on terror. Please replace it with a smaller, more focused anti-terrorist police effort in keeping with the rule of law. Please stop overreacting. I understand that it will not be possible to stop all terrorist acts. I accept that. I am not afraid.

Send it to your elected officials, or at least take it to heart. Refuse to be terrorized. Just because you have an amygdala doesn't mean you have to act like it.

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November 15, 2007

"Suicide Epidemic" Among US Vets 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq  War and Peace

A CBS news investigation has found that US veterans are committing suicide at an alarming rate, led by young veterans of the US "war on terror." Herald Sun:

The US military is experiencing a "suicide epidemic" with veterans killing themselves at the rate of 120 a week, according to an investigation by US television network CBS.

At least 6256 US veterans committed suicide in 2005 - an average of 17 a day - the network reported, with veterans overall more than twice as likely to take their own lives as the rest of the general population.

While the suicide rate among the general population was 8.9 per 100,000, the level among veterans was between 18.7 and 20.8 per 100,000.

That figure rose to 22.9 to 31.9 suicides per 100,000 among veterans aged 20 to 24 - almost four times the non-veteran average for the age group.

"Those numbers clearly show an epidemic of mental health problems," CBS quoted veterans' rights advocate Paul Sullivan as saying.

CBS quoted the father of a 23-year-old soldier who shot himself in 2005 as saying the military did not want the true scale of the problem to be known.

"Nobody wants to tally it up in the form of a government total," Mike Bowman said.

"They don't want the true numbers of casualties to really be known." [...]

"Not everyone comes home from the war wounded, but the bottom line is nobody comes home unchanged," Paul Rieckhoff, a former Marine and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America said on CBS.

It's not just the horror and stress of combat. It's hard getting most people to kill, so recruits have to be subjected to intense conditioning. The military's gotten very good at this. I read somewhere that during the Second World War, only 25% of US soldiers actually fired their weapons in battle; in Korea, it was up to 50%; in Vietnam, 95%. But people aren't machines. You change their programming, and it's hard to change it back. Too little thought is given to the large-scale consequences of taking a significant fraction of young people, conditioning them in this way, and then returning them to the general population with their whole lives lying before them. It's hard on the veterans, obviously, but it also warps the psychological climate and culture of American society as a whole, and not in a good way. Yet another uncounted cost of war.

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October 15, 2007

The Real Rudy: FDNY Radios 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

Watch this:

Be sure to catch Rudy's moment of testimony near the end. The guy never stops lying.

Now go sign the petition.

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October 04, 2007

Heart Of Darkness 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iran  Palestine/Middle East

You can't listen to Neocon éminence grise Norman Podhoretz, our bloodthirsty warmonger-in-chief, who says he "hopes and prays" that the US will bomb Iran, who never shuts up about his fantasy that the US is fighting for its very life in "World War IV" against "Islamofascism" — you can't listen to all his bluster and hyperbole and half-assed machismo and not conclude that the guy's wildly over-compensating for something. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the guy's nuts.

I just didn't realize how nuts. Via Glenn Greenwald, here's an excerpt from an essay of Podhoretz's from 1963, when he was already 33 years old and editor-in-chief of Commentary. It's one of the most appalling things I've ever read:

To me, at the age of twelve, it seemed very clear that Negores were better off than Jews — indeed, than all whites....[I]n my world it was the whites, the Italians and Jews, who feared the Negroes, not the other way around. The Negroes were tougher than we were, more ruthless, and on the whole were better athletes....I was still afraid of Negroes. And I still hated them with all my heart....

The orphanage across the street is torn down, a city housing project begins to rise in its place, and on the marvelous vacant lot next to the old orphanage they are building a playground....A week later, some us are swatting flies on the playground's inadequate little ball field. A gang of Negro kids, pretty much our own age, enter from the other side and order us out of the park. We refuse, proudly and indignantly, with superb masculine fervor. There is a fight, they win, and we retreat, half whimpering, half with bravado. My first nauseating experience of cowardice...

Gradually we abandon the place and use the streets instead. The streets are safer, though we do not admit this to ourselves. We are not, after all, sissies — the most dreaded epithet of an American boyhood...

That day in school the teacher had asked a surly Negro boy named Quentin a question he was unable to answer. As usual I had waved my arm eagerly...and, the right answer bursting from my lips, I was held up lovingly by the teacher as an example to the class. I had seen Quentin's face — a very dark, very cruel, very Oriental-looking face — harden, and there had been enough threat in his eyes to make me run all the way home for fear that he might catch me outside....

For me as a child the life lived on the other side of the playground and down the block on Ralph Avenue seemed the very embodiment of the values of the street — free, independent, reckless, brave, masculine, erotic....

The hatred I still feel for Negroes is the hardest of all the old feelings to face or admit, and it is the most hidden and the most overlarded by the conscious attitudes into which I have succeeded in willing myself. It no longer has, as for me it once did, any cause or justification (except, perhaps that I am constantly being denied my right to an honest expression of the things I earned the right as a child to feel). How, then, do I know that this hatred has never entirely disappeared? I know it from the insane rage that can stir in me at the thought of Negro anti-Semitism; I know it from the disgusting prurience that can stir in me at the sight of a mixed couple; and I know it from the violence that can stir in me whenever I encounter that special brand of paranoid touchiness to which many Negroes are prone....

There were plenty of bad boys among the whites — this was, after all, a neighborhood with a long tradition of crime as a career open to aspiring talents — but the Negroes were really bad, bad in a way that beckoned to one, and made one feel inadequate. [Emphasis in the original]

What a twisted, malevolent little shit. Bush gave this guy the Presidential Medal of Freedom and just recently sought his counsel on Iran. Rudy Giuliani made him his Senior Foreign Policy Advisor. How many Iranians and brown-skinned others will have to die because of the psychosexual disfigurement of Podhoretz and people like him?

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September 23, 2007

I'm So Proud 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq  Politics

Our president:

(Via Cryptogon)

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September 16, 2007

Cashing In On Shock 9/11, "War On Terror"  Black Ops  Disasters

I'm a big fan of Naomi Klein (see this, this, this, this, this, this, this), who's got a new book, Shock Doctine, coming out this week. Pre-ordered mine a month ago. While we wait, here's an intro made for her by filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, who made the wonderful Children of Men:

She's really onto something. Check it out.

And you know that once they figured out all the uses that shock could be put to, they started looking for ways to create the needed shocks — 9/11 being the mother of them all.

[Thanks, Miles]

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September 07, 2007

Liar 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

Watch Rudy lie through his teeth:

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August 24, 2007

America To The Rescue 9/11, "War On Terror"  Humor & Fun  Iran  Iraq

A little history lesson from Jon Stewart:

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July 31, 2007

"Defend America" 9/11, "War On Terror"

Your tax dollars at work.

Some of it's pretty hilarious, actually, in a blackly bitter sort of way, like some particularly dark and vicious issue of The Onion. For example, this. Cheerful, tin-eared, totalitarian. Gawd.

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July 30, 2007

All About The Data-Mining After All 9/11, "War On Terror"  Black Ops  Politics

As has been pointed out here at PastPeak a number of times, the whole FISA warrant/wiretapping story was really about a whole lot more than wiretapping: the collection and data-mining of massive databases tracking Americans' phone calls, emails, financial transactions, etc., etc. The NYT reported Saturday that it was this data-mining that was the real story behind the contention between Congress and the White House (and within the Justice Department iself) on the FISA warrants. Pretty much like we've said all along. NYT:

A 2004 dispute over the National Security Agency's secret surveillance program that led top Justice Department officials to threaten resignation involved computer searches through massive electronic databases, according to current and former officials briefed on the program.

It is not known precisely why searching the databases, or data mining, raised such a furious legal debate. But such databases contain records of the phone calls and e-mail messages of millions of Americans, and their examination by the government would raise privacy issues.

The NSA's data mining has previously been reported. But the disclosure that concerns about it figured in the March 2004 debate helps to clarify the clash this week between Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and senators who accused him of misleading Congress and called for a perjury investigation.

The confrontation in 2004 led to a showdown in the hospital room of then Attorney General John Ashcroft, where Mr. Gonzales, the White House counsel at the time, and Andrew H. Card Jr., then the White House chief of staff, tried to get the ailing Mr. Ashcroft to reauthorize the NSA program.

Mr. Gonzales insisted before the Senate this week that the 2004 dispute did not involve the Terrorist Surveillance Program "confirmed" by President Bush, who has acknowledged eavesdropping without warrants but has never acknowledged the data mining.

If the dispute chiefly involved data mining, rather than eavesdropping, Mr. Gonzales’ defenders may maintain that his narrowly crafted answers, while legalistic, were technically correct.

But members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who have been briefed on the program, called the testimony deceptive.

"I've had the opportunity to review the classified matters at issue here, and I believe that his testimony was misleading at best," said Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, joining three other Democrats in calling Thursday for a perjury investigation of Mr. Gonzales.

"This has gone on long enough," Mr. Feingold said. "It is time for a special counsel to investigate whether criminal charges should be brought."

The senators' comments, along with those of other members of Congress briefed on the program, suggested that they considered the eavesdropping and data mining so closely tied that they were part of a single program. Both activities, which ordinarily require warrants, were started without court approval as the Bush administration intensified counterterrorism efforts soon after the Sept. 11 attacks. [Emphasis added]

So Gonzales has been denying the dispute was about eavesdropping — because it really was about something that was much more serious. I guess it depends on what the meaning of "is" is.

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July 20, 2007

Lying Liars' Lies 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq  Politics

As they say, if you're not pissed off, you're not paying attention.

Well, this should help:

A nation of suckers, that's us.

[Thanks, Kevin]

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June 25, 2007

Rudy And Ground Zero 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

Rudy Giuliani, hero of 9/11. NY Daily News (via Xymphora):

In an upcoming interview with WNBC-TV, former head of the EPA Christie Whitman says former Mayor Rudy Giuliani blocked her efforts to force WTC workers to wear respirators. [...]

She also said city officials didn't want EPA workers wearing haz-mat suits because they "didn't want this image of a city falling apart."

In an interview scheduled to run the day before Whitman testifies in front of Congress on Monday, she told WNBC-TV she warned the city of the risks almost every day.

And she said she believes illnesses killing first responders can be blamed on the city's lack of action.

"I'm not a scientist ... but I do [believe that]," she told WNBC's Brian Thompson.

"I mean, we wouldn't have been saying that the workers should wear respirators if ... we didn't think there might be health consequences."

She said the city had the responsibility to make sure workers wore respirators. But many took them off, complaining of heat. She said workers without respirators were barred from cleanup efforts at the Pentagon.

"We were certainly frustrated at not being able to get people to wear respirators because we thought that was critically important to workers on The Pile," Whitman said.

"Every day, there would be telephone calls, telephone meetings and meetings in person ... with the city when we repeated the message of the necessity of wearing respirators."

But her concern at the time only involved breathing air on The Pile.

Only seven days after the 9/11 attacks, as fires still raged at the site, she said, "I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, D.C., that the air is safe to breathe."

Whitman also criticized Giuliani's handling of a suspected anthrax attack at NBC's Rockefeller Center headquarters weeks after 9/11.

"There was concern by the city that EPA workers not be seen in the haz-mat suits," she said. "They didn't want this image of a city falling apart. I said, 'Well, that's not acceptable.'" [Emphasis added]

Ground Zero workers paid the price. AP:

A study of more than 20,000 people by Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York concluded that, since the attacks, 70 percent of ground zero workers have suffered some sort of respiratory illness. A separate study released last month found that rescue workers and firefighters contracted sarcoidosis, a serious lung-scarring disease, at a rate more than five times as high as in the years before the attacks. [Emphasis added]

Yes, but respirators wouldn't have looked good on the teevee.

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May 06, 2007

Premise Four 9/11, "War On Terror"  Activism  Ethics  Rights, Law

Footage of the LAPD attack on the peaceful May Day immigration rights rally in LA. I recommend you watch it. The LAPD decided it was time for the people to leave and go home — "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" apparently having expired. They waded in with batons (i.e., clubs) and shotguns firing rubber bullets.

Bradblog (via Feral Scholar) has some amateur video, too, via the participatory panopticon. An LAPD helicopter flies over for a few minutes telling people to go home, then the black-uniformed lines of police march into the park and begin clubbing everyone within reach and firing rubber bullets at the almost universally peaceful crowd that included many families, women, children. You've probably read about it. But watch the videos.

It's food for thought on a number of levels.

For one thing, it's a stark reminder of the ongoing militarization of the nation's police forces. The police put on their black SWAT gear and inevitably their mindset is transformed. "To protect and to serve" becomes "to intimidate and to coerce." See also this — SWAT team deployments were once the last resort but are now happening more than 100 times a day, on average. Police forces everywhere want to play "war on terror."

For another thing, the usual rationale for the deployment of non-lethal weapons — that they will decrease the level of violence — clearly has it backwards. If the choice were between rubber bullets and real bullets, rubber bullets are better. Of course. But when it comes to domestic crowd control, that's almost never the choice. Instead, it's a choice between asking people to move along or opening fire with rubber bullets to force them to. Give a militarized police force non-lethal weapons and their use soon becomes the default. But "non-lethal" is light years away from appropriate, let alone harmless.

But the point I most want to make is this. In his masterful two-volume critique of civilization, Endgame, Derrick Jensen lists the twenty premises that inform his work. Here's the premise Jensen calls his favorite:

Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.

One group of Americans puts on black uniforms and attacks another group of Americans who have done nothing to provoke the attack. But because the first group is directing its violence down the hierarchy, the violence is, at worst, regarded as a bit excessive. But imagine if the people in the park had attacked the police with clubs and shotguns firing rubber bullets. The response would have been apocalyptic.

Premise Four is such a fact of life that we scarcely notice it. But once it's pointed out to you, things never look the same again.

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April 04, 2007

Secret Ethiopian Prisons: "Decentralized, Outsourced Guantánamo" 9/11, "War On Terror"

Mail & Guardian (via Jerome-a-Paris):

CIA and FBI agents hunting for al-Qaeda militants in the Horn of Africa have been interrogating terrorism suspects from 19 countries held at secret prisons in Ethiopia, which is notorious for torture and abuse, according to an investigation by the Associated Press.

Human rights groups, lawyers and several Western diplomats assert hundreds of prisoners, who include women and children, have been transferred secretly and illegally in recent months from Kenya and Somalia to Ethiopia, where they are kept without charge or access to lawyers and families.

The detainees include at least one United States citizen and some are from Canada, Sweden and France, according to a list compiled by a Kenyan Muslim rights group and flight manifests obtained by AP. [...]

[S]ome US allies have expressed consternation at the transfers to the prisons. One Western diplomat in Nairobi, who agreed to speak to AP only if not quoted to avoid angering US officials, said he sees the US as playing a guiding role in the operation.

John Sifton, a Human Rights Watch expert on counterterrorism, went further. He said in an email that the United States has acted as "ringleader" in what he labelled a "decentralised, outsourced Guantánamo." [Emphasis added]

As Bill Hicks used to ask, "How does it feel to find out we are the Evil Empire?"

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March 24, 2007

Gates: Close Gitmo — Cheney: No 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

When Robert Gates started as Secretary of Defense, he wanted to close the Guantanamo prison. Bush himself has said that he'd like to close Guantanamo. But Cheney says no. NYT:

In his first weeks as defense secretary, Robert M. Gates repeatedly argued that the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had become so tainted abroad that legal proceedings at Guantánamo would be viewed as illegitimate, according to senior administration officials. He told President Bush and others that it should be shut down as quickly as possible.

Mr. Gates's appeal was an effort to turn Mr. Bush's publicly stated desire to close Guantánamo into a specific plan for action, the officials said. In particular, Mr. Gates urged that trials of terrorism suspects be moved to the United States, both to make them more credible and because Guantánamo's continued existence hampered the broader war effort, administration officials said.

Mr. Gates's arguments were rejected after Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and some other government lawyers expressed strong objections to moving detainees to the United States, a stance that was backed by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, administration officials said. [Emphasis added]

In case you were wondering who's really in charge.

Proof that time travel will never be invented: no one came back from the future to strangle Dick Cheney at birth.

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March 12, 2007

Canadian Report: War In Afghanistan To Last For "Generations" 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan

Afghanistan was supposed to be the easy one. A done deal. So how's that working out? ConsortiumNews:

Canadian lawmakers have written an Afghanistan version of the Iraq Study Group report, reaching a conclusion that the conditions on that original battlefront in the "war on terror" are grave and deteriorating.

The 16-page Canadian Senate report, entitled "Taking a Hard Look at a Hard Mission," foresees a conflict that could drag on for generations and might well fail unless NATO significantly increases its commitment of money and troops.

"It is in our view doubtful that this mission can be accomplished given the limited resources that NATO is currently investing in Afghanistan," said the report by the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence. "The current NATO contingent doesn't have enough troops to go toe-to-toe with the Taliban."

Former Canadian Ambassador to Afghanistan Chris Alexander told the committee that it would take five generations to "make a difference in Afghanistan," while Land Forces Commander Andrew Leslie estimated that it would take at least two decades to complete the mission. [Emphasis added]

Mission Accomplished. Bring 'em on. Last throes.

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March 07, 2007

Seven Countries In Five Years 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iran  Iraq  Politics

I'm astonished that this hasn't been all over the news. On February 27, Amy Goodman interviewed General Wesley Clark. Clark said this:

About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me in. He said, "Sir, you've got to come in and talk to me a second." I said, "Well, you're too busy." He said, "No, no." He says, "We've made the decision we're going to war with Iraq." This was on or about the 20th of September. I said, "We're going to war with Iraq? Why?" He said, "I don't know." He said, "I guess they don't know what else to do." So I said, "Well, did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?" He said, "No, no." He says, "There's nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq." He said, "I guess it's like we don't know what to do about terrorists, but we've got a good military and we can take down governments." And he said, "I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail."

So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, "Are we still going to war with Iraq?" And he said, "Oh, it's worse than that." He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, "I just got this down from upstairs" — meaning the Secretary of Defense's office — "today." And he said, "This is a memo that describes how we're going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran." I said, "Is it classified?" He said, "Yes, sir." I said, "Well, don’t show it to me." And I saw him a year or so ago, and I said, "You remember that?" He said, "Sir, I didn't show you that memo! I didn't show it to you!" [Emphasis added]

It seems inconceivable that Clark is just making this up. So I guess it's official: we're in the hands of complete and utter lunatics. Seven countries — seven unprovoked, preemptive wars — in five years. They think they're Hitler, or Napoleon, or Alexander the Great — with nukes. In their minds, the Republic is over; it's Empire time.

People who think like this, what are the chances they're going to accept defeat in Iraq quietly? If you're not scared yet, you should be.

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February 07, 2007

Preemptive Strike? 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iran  Iraq

You know things are bad when former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski starts to sound like the sanest guy in the room. Here's an excerpt from Brzezinski's testimony last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a "defensive" U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

A mythical historical narrative to justify the case for such a protracted and potentially expanding war is already being articulated. Initially justified by false claims about WMD's in Iraq, the war is now being redefined as the "decisive ideological struggle" of our time, reminiscent of the earlier collisions with Nazism and Stalinism. In that context, Islamist extremism and al Qaeda are presented as the equivalents of the threat posed by Nazi Germany and then Soviet Russia, and 9/11 as the equivalent of the Pearl Harbor attack which precipitated America's involvement in World War II.

This simplistic and demagogic narrative overlooks the fact that Nazism was based on the military power of the industrially most advanced European state; and that Stalinism was able to mobilize not only the resources of the victorious and militarily powerful Soviet Union but also had worldwide appeal through its Marxist doctrine. In contrast, most Muslims are not embracing Islamic fundamentalism; al Qaeda is an isolated fundamentalist Islamist aberration; most Iraqis are engaged in strife because the American occupation of Iraq destroyed the Iraqi state; while Iran — though gaining in regional influence — is itself politically divided, economically and militarily weak. To argue that America is already at war in the region with a wider Islamic threat, of which Iran is the epicenter, is to promote a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Deplorably, the Administration's foreign policy in the Middle East region has lately relied almost entirely on such sloganeering. Vague and inflammatory talk about "a new strategic context" which is based on "clarity" and which prompts "the birth pangs of a new Middle East" is breeding intensifying anti-Americanism and is increasing the danger of a long-term collision between the United States and the Islamic world. [...]

One should note here also that practically no country in the world shares the Manichean delusions that the Administration so passionately articulates. The result is growing political isolation of, and pervasive popular antagonism toward the U.S. global posture. [Emphasis added]

The section highlighted in red above clearly suggests that the White House may seek to use a terrorist incident as a pretext to push the country into war with Iran. Possibly even that the White House may fabricate such an incident. An amazing suggestion for a national-security insider like Brzezinski to make in open testimony. Draw your own conclusions, but it seems to me that Brzezinski knew exactly what he was doing. It was a prepared statement, and Brzezinski's too careful and experienced an operator not to understand how his words would be taken. Note also the quotation marks around "defensive."

In the Q&A, Brzezinski had more to say along these lines. Barry Grey (via RI):

Following his opening remarks, in response to questions from the senators, Brzezinski reiterated his warning of a provocation.

He called the senators' attention to a March 27, 2006 report in the New York Times on "a private meeting between the president and Prime Minister Blair, two months before the war, based on a memorandum prepared by the British official present at this meeting." In the article, Brzezinski said, "the president is cited as saying he is concerned that there may not be weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, and that there must be some consideration given to finding a different basis for undertaking the action."

He continued: "I'll just read you what this memo allegedly says, according to the New York Times: 'The memo states that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation.'

"He described the several ways in which this could be done. I won't go into that... the ways were quite sensational, at least one of them.

"If one is of the view that one is dealing with an implacable enemy that has to be removed, that course of action may under certain circumstances be appealing. I'm afraid that if this situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, and if Iran is perceived as in some fashion involved or responsible, or a potential beneficiary, that temptation could arise." [Emphasis added]

The "sensational" provocation that Brzezinski alluded to was this (NYT):

"The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours," the memo says, attributing the idea to Mr. Bush. "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."

As I say, draw your own conclusions, but one has to ask why someone like Brzezinski would want to open this particular can of worms in public. It may have been a sort of preemptive strike: an attempt to create enough suspicion before the fact that the White House would be discouraged from trying to carry out the kinds of provocations Brzezinski warned about.

None of this received any coverage in the major US media.

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January 15, 2007

Iraq Fuels "Worldwide Surge In Islamic Radicalism" (Duh) 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq


Intel director John Negroponte gave Congress a sobering assessment last week of the continued threats from groups like Al Qaeda and Hizbullah. But even gloomier comments came from Henry Crumpton, the outgoing State Department terror coordinator. An ex-CIA operative, Crumpton told Newsweek that a worldwide surge in Islamic radicalism has worsened recently, increasing the number of potential terrorists and setting back U.S. efforts in the terror war. "Certainly, we haven't made any progress," said Crumpton. "In fact, we've lost ground." He cites Iraq as a factor; the war has fueled resentment against the United States. [Emphasis added]

As has been obvious from day one.

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December 21, 2006

French Soldiers Twice Had Bin Laden In Their Crosshairs 9/11, "War On Terror"

The White House, the Pentagon, the intelligence community, and their allies in "defense" industries all have a lot riding on the continued existence of enemies who can excite the public appetite for war. From a marketing perspective, the best kind of enemy is one personified by an individual person who is easy to hate — Saddam Hussein, Muammar Khaddafi, Manuel Noriega, Osama bin Laden. Brand names (and faces). And if you've established a successful brand, you want to protect it.

Get out your tin-foil hats. AFP:

French soldiers in Afghanistan had Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in their crosshairs — twice — but did not receive the order from their US commander to open fire, a French documentary reported.

The filmed report, by journalists Eric de Lavarene and Emmanuel Razavi, asserts that the French troops had bin Laden in their rifle scopes in 2003 and then again six months later in 2004.

Four French soldiers assigned to a 200-strong special forces unit in Afghanistan under US military control all confirmed — "at different times and in different places" — that they could have killed bin Laden but that the order to shoot was not forthcoming, the report claims. [Emphasis added]

When people talk about any kind of conspiracy theory, the argument you always hear is that if a conspiracy involves a large number of people surely someone would talk. But the truth is that people do talk, but no one believes them when they do. So this French report will be written off as bogus and forgotten.

And for all I know, it is bogus. Or not. See also this.

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December 17, 2006

AP: Hundreds Of Gitmo Prisoners Found Guiltless 9/11, "War On Terror"  Rights, Law

The Bush administration would have us believe that the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay are so dangerous, so vicious, that the extraordinary conditions of their treatment are both justifiable and necessary. AP, however, found that when prisoners from Gitmo were released into the custody of other nations, the great majority were determined to be guilty of nothing and freed. Excerpts:

The Pentagon called them "among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the Earth," sweeping them up after Sept. 11 and hauling them in chains to a U.S. military prison in southeastern Cuba.

Since then, hundreds of the men have been transferred from Guantanamo Bay to other countries, many of them for "continued detention."

And then set free.

Decisions by more than a dozen countries in the Middle East, Europe and South Asia to release the former detainees raise questions about whether they were really as dangerous as the United States claimed, or whether some of America's staunchest allies have set terrorists and militants free. [...]

[T]hrough interviews with justice and police officials, detainees and their families, and using reports from human rights groups and local media, The Associated Press was able to track 245 of those formerly held at Guantanamo. The investigation, which spanned 17 countries, found:

Once the detainees arrived in other countries, 205 of the 245 were either freed without being charged or were cleared of charges related to their detention at Guantanamo. Forty either stand charged with crimes or continue to be detained.

Only a tiny fraction of transferred detainees have been put on trial. The AP identified 14 trials, in which eight men were acquitted and six are awaiting verdicts. Two of the cases involving acquittals — one in Kuwait, one in Spain — initially resulted in convictions that were overturned on appeal.

The Afghan government has freed every one of the more than 83 Afghans sent home. Lawmaker Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, the head of Afghanistan's reconciliation commission, said many were innocent and wound up at Guantanamo because of tribal or personal rivalries.

At least 67 of 70 repatriated Pakistanis are free after spending a year in Adiala Jail. A senior Pakistani Interior Ministry official said investigators determined that most had been "sold" for bounties to U.S. forces by Afghan warlords who invented links between the men and al-Qaida. "We consider them innocent," said the official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

All 29 detainees who were repatriated to Britain, Spain, Germany, Russia, Australia, Turkey, Denmark, Bahrain and the Maldives were freed, some within hours after being sent home for "continued detention."

Some former detainees say they never intended to harm the United States and are bitter.

"I can't wash the three long years of pain, trouble and humiliation from my memory," said Badarzaman Badar, an Afghan who was freed in Pakistan. "It is like a cancer in my mind that makes me disturbed every time I think of those terrible days." [...]

When four Britons were sent home from Guantanamo in January 2005, Britain said it would detain and investigate them — then released them after only 18 hours. Five Britons repatriated earlier were also rapidly released with no charges.

Murat Kurnaz, a German-born Turkish citizen, was also quickly freed when he was flown to Germany in August, bound hand and foot, after more than four years at Guantanamo.

U.S. officials maintained he was a member of al-Qaida, based on what they said was secret evidence. But his New Jersey-based lawyer, Baher Azmy, said he was shown the classified evidence and was shocked to find how unpersuasive it was.

"It contains five or six statements exonerating him," Azmy said. [Emphasis added]

As a measure of how disgustingly corrupt US governance has become, consider how far-fetched it now seems to imagine the US government admitting culpability and making any sort of apology to the hundreds of innocent people it has held at Guantanamo without charge or trial, for years. Never happen.

The corrupting impact trickles down. The message: tag someone a "terrorist" and customary legal procedure can be tossed aside. Who's a terrorist? All sorts of protestors and activists, for one. But it doesn't stop there. The Oregon legislature, for example, has repeatedly considered legislation that would make it a crime of terrorism, punishable by life in prison, to "disrupt commerce." Tom Paine spins in his grave.

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November 29, 2006

Gingrich: "Reexamine Freedom Of Speech" 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

Newt Gingrich proves once again that he's a dangerous extremist:

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich yesterday said the country will be forced to reexamine freedom of speech to meet the threat of terrorism.

Gingrich, speaking at a Manchester awards banquet, said a "different set of rules" may be needed to reduce terrorists' ability to use the Internet and free speech to recruit and get out their message.

"We need to get ahead of the curve before we actually lose a city, which I think could happen in the next decade," said Gingrich, a Republican who helped engineer the GOP's takeover of Congress in 1994. [Emphasis added]

The well-worn recipe: make people afraid enough, and they'll give their freedom away, bit by bit. But once you give it away, you never get it back. Not without a fight.

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November 18, 2006

Gonzales: Spying Foes A Grave Threat To Liberty And Security 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

Alberto Gonzales says foes of the administration's warrantless electronic surveillance are a "grave threat" to the "liberty and security of the American people." AP:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales contended Saturday that some critics of the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program were defining freedom in a way that presents a "grave threat" to U.S. security.

Gonzales was the second administration official in two days to attack a federal judge's ruling last August that the program was unconstitutional. Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday called the decision "an indefensible act of judicial overreaching."

Gonzales, in remarks prepared for delivery at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, said that some see the program as on the verge of stifling freedom rather that protecting the country.

"But this view is shortsighted," he said. "Its definition of freedom — one utterly divorced from civic responsibility — is superficial and is itself a grave threat to the liberty and security of the American people."

Gonzales and Cheney's attacks on the court order came as the administration was urging the lame-duck Congress to approve legislation authorizing the warrantless surveillance. The bill's chances are in doubt, however, because of Democratic opposition in the Senate, where 60 votes are required to end debate and vote. [...]

In August, U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit struck down the warrantless surveillance program, saying it violated the rights to free speech and privacy and the constitutional separation of powers. She was the first judge to rule on the legality of the program, which is operated by the National Security Agency.

Bush and other administration officials sharply criticized the ruling, which the government appealed. They argued that the program is legal under the president's constitutional powers and saved lives by helping to disrupt terrorist plots.

Cheney, in an address Friday to the Federalist Society, said Taylor's order was troubling because it was "tying the hands of the president of the United States in the conduct of a war." He added: "And this is a matter entirely outside the competence of the judiciary."

In his prepared remarks, Gonzales dismissed as "myth" the charge that civil liberties were being sacrificed in the fight against terrorism. He defended the USA Patriot Act and the handling of detainees at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [Emphasis added]

Criticism of warrantless wiretapping a grave threat to liberty. Orwell lives.

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October 23, 2006

Perspective 9/11, "War On Terror"  Humor & Fun  Politics

Doonesbury (via Bruce Schneier) explains faulty risk assessment and the politics of fear:

First cartoon

A voice of reason.

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September 26, 2006

Islam And The Sword: Setting The Record Straight 9/11, "War On Terror"  Palestine/Middle East

Pope Benedict XVI recently caused a world-wide furor by asserting that Muslims are commanded by the Prophet Muhammad to spread Islam "by the sword". Israel's Uri Avnery, writer and peace activist, sets the record straight in an extremely important essay. Excerpts:

Between the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and the present Emperor, George Bush II, there exists a wonderful harmony. Last week's speech by the Pope, which aroused a world-wide storm, went well with Bush's crusade against "Islamofascism", in the context of the "Clash of Civilizations".

In his lecture at a German university, the 265th Pope described what he sees as a huge difference between Christianity and Islam: while Christianity is based on reason, Islam denies it. While Christians see the logic of God's actions, Muslims deny that there is any such logic in the actions of Allah. [...]

In order to prove the lack of reason in Islam, the Pope asserts that the prophet Muhammad ordered his followers to spread their religion by the sword. According to the Pope, that is unreasonable, because faith is born of the soul, not of the body. How can the sword influence the soul?

To support his case, the Pope quoted — of all people — a Byzantine Emperor, who belonged, of course, to the competing Eastern Church. At the end of the 14th century, the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus told of a debate he had — or so he said (its occurrence is in doubt) — with an unnamed Persian Muslim scholar. In the heat of the argument, the Emperor (according to himself) flung the following words at his adversary:

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". [...]

When Manuel II wrote his treatise, he was the head of a dying empire. He assumed power in 1391, when only a few provinces of the once illustrious empire remained. These, too, were already under Turkish threat.

At that point in time, the Ottoman Turks had reached the banks of the Danube...In 1453, only a few years after Manuel's death, his capital, Constantinople (the present Istanbul) fell to the Turks, putting an end to the Empire that had lasted for more than a thousand years.

During his reign, Manuel made the rounds of the capitals of Europe in an attempt to drum up support. He promised to reunite the church. There is no doubt that he wrote his religious treatise in order to incite the Christian countries against the Turks and convince them to start a new crusade. The aim was practical, theology was serving politics.

In this sense, the quote serves exactly the requirements of the present Emperor, George Bush II. He, too, wants to unite the Christian world against the mainly Muslim "Axis of Evil". Moreover, the Turks are again knocking on the doors of Europe, this time peacefully. It is well known that the Pope supports the forces that object to the entry of Turkey into the European Union.

Is there any truth in Manuel's argument?

The pope himself threw in a word of caution. As a serious and renowned theologian, he could not afford to falsify written texts. Therefore, he admitted that the Qur'an specifically forbade the spreading of the faith by force. He quoted the second Sura, verse 256 (strangely fallible, for a pope, he meant verse 257) which says: "There must be no coercion in matters of faith". [...]

Jesus said: "You will recognize them by their fruits." The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: How did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years, when they had the power to "spread the faith by the sword"?

Well, they just did not.

For many centuries, the Muslims ruled Greece. Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone even try to Islamize them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration. The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian.

True, the Albanians did convert to Islam, and so did the Bosniaks. But nobody argues that they did this under duress. They adopted Islam in order to become favorites of the government and enjoy the fruits.

In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants indiscriminately, in the name of the gentle Jesus. At that time, 400 years into the occupation of Palestine by the Muslims, Christians were still the majority in the country. Throughout this long period, no effort was made to impose Islam on them. Only after the expulsion of the Crusaders from the country, did the majority of the inhabitants start to adopt the Arabic language and the Muslim faith — and they were the forefathers of most of today's Palestinians.

There is no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been possible, had the Prophet decreed the "spreading of the faith by the sword"?

What happened afterwards is even more telling. When the Catholics re-conquered Spain from the Muslims, they instituted a reign of religious terror. The Jews and the Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: to become Christians, to be massacred or to leave. And where did the hundreds of thousand of Jews, who refused to abandon their faith, escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries. The Sephardi ("Spanish") Jews settled all over the Muslim world, from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east, from Bulgaria (then part of the Ottoman Empire) in the north to Sudan in the south. Nowhere were they persecuted. They knew nothing like the tortures of the Inquisition, the flames of the auto-da-fe, the pogroms, the terrible mass-expulsions that took place in almost all Christian countries, up to the Holocaust.

Why? Because Islam expressly prohibited any persecution of the "peoples of the book". In Islamic society, a special place was reserved for Jews and Christians. They did not enjoy completely equal rights, but almost. They had to pay a special poll-tax, but were exempted from military service — a trade-off that was quite welcome to many Jews. It has been said that Muslim rulers frowned upon any attempt to convert Jews to Islam even by gentle persuasion — because it entailed the loss of taxes.

Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times "by the sword" to get them to abandon their faith.

The story about "spreading the faith by the sword" is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims — the reconquista of Spain by the Christians, the Crusades and the repulsion of the Turks, who almost conquered Vienna. I suspect that the German Pope, too, honestly believes in these fables. That means that the leader of the Catholic world, who is a Christian theologian in his own right, did not make the effort to study the history of other religions.

Why did he utter these words in public? And why now?

There is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of "Islamofascism" and the "Global War on Terrorism" — when "terrorism" has become a synonym for Muslims. For Bush's handlers, this is a cynical attempt to justify the domination of the world's oil resources. Not for the first time in history, a religious robe is spread to cover the nakedness of economic interests; not for the first time, a robbers' expedition becomes a Crusade.

The speech of the Pope blends into this effort. Who can foretell the dire consequences? [Emphasis added]

As usual, Americans' appalling ignorance of history makes us easy marks for propaganda. You'd think we'd know better. We look at Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda, for example, and wonder how the German people could have allowed themselves to be taken in by the hideous and absurdly exaggerated stereotypes of Jews. How could they have been so gullible, so willing to act as accomplices, so utterly dumb? I guess now we know, first-hand.

[Thanks, Miles]

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September 20, 2006

Olbermann Demands An Apology 9/11, "War On Terror"  Media  Politics

[Thanks, Kevin]

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September 15, 2006

Decline And Fall 9/11, "War On Terror"

This is interesting, and this. The more things change...

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September 12, 2006

9/11 Commentary By Olbermann 9/11, "War On Terror"

A blistering commentary by Keith Olbermann on the fifth anniversary of 9/11:

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September 06, 2006

CIA Task Force On Iraq Ramped Up Months Before 9/11 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq  Politics

David Corn drops some bombshells in an article on what it was Valerie Plame Wilson really did at the CIA:

In the spring of 2002 Dick Cheney made one of his periodic trips to CIA headquarters. Officers and analysts were summoned to brief him on Iraq. Paramilitary specialists updated the Vice President on an extensive covert action program in motion that was designed to pave the way to a US invasion. Cheney questioned analysts about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. How could they be used against US troops? Which Iraqi units had chemical and biological weapons? He was not seeking information on whether Saddam posed a threat because he possessed such weapons. His queries, according to a CIA officer at the briefing, were pegged to the assumptions that Iraq had these weapons and would be invaded — as if a decision had been made.

Though Cheney was already looking toward war, the officers of the agency's Joint Task Force on Iraq — part of the Counterproliferation Division of the agency's clandestine Directorate of Operations — were frantically toiling away in the basement, mounting espionage operations to gather information on the WMD programs Iraq might have. The JTFI was trying to find evidence that would back up the White House's assertion that Iraq was a WMD danger. Its chief of operations was a career undercover officer named Valerie [Plame] Wilson. [...]

In July 2003 — four months after the invasion of Iraq — Wilson would be outed as a CIA "operative on weapons of mass destruction" in a column by conservative journalist Robert Novak, who would cite two "senior administration officials" as his sources. (...[O]ne was Richard Armitage, the number-two at the State Department; Karl Rove, Bush's chief strategist, was the other. I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, also talked to two reporters about her.) Novak revealed her CIA identity — using her maiden name, Valerie Plame — in the midst of the controversy ignited by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, her husband, who had written a New York Times op-ed accusing the Bush Administration of having "twisted" intelligence "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."

The Novak column triggered a scandal and a criminal investigation. At issue was whether Novak's sources had violated a little-known law that makes it a federal crime for a government official to disclose identifying information about a covert US officer (if that official knew the officer was undercover). A key question was, what did Valerie Wilson do at the CIA? Was she truly undercover? In a subsequent column, Novak reported that she was "an analyst, not in covert operations." White House press secretary Scott McClellan suggested that her employment at the CIA was no secret. Jonah Goldberg of National Review claimed, "Wilson's wife is a desk jockey and much of the Washington cocktail circuit knew that already."

Valerie Wilson was no analyst or paper-pusher. She was an operations officer working on a top priority of the Bush Administration. Armitage, Rove and Libby had revealed information about a CIA officer who had searched for proof of the President's case. In doing so, they harmed her career and put at risk operations she had worked on and foreign agents and sources she had handled. [...]

In the early 1990s, she became what's known as a nonofficial cover officer. NOCs are the most clandestine of the CIA's frontline officers. They do not pretend to work for the US government; they do not have the protection of diplomatic immunity. They might claim to be a businessperson. She told people she was with an energy firm. Her main mission remained the same: to gather agents for the CIA.

In 1997 she returned to CIA headquarters and joined the Counterproliferation Division. (About this time, she moved in with Joseph Wilson; they later married.) She was eventually given a choice: North Korea or Iraq. She selected the latter. Come the spring of 2001, she was in the CPD's modest Iraq branch. But that summer — before 9/11 — word came down from the brass: We're ramping up on Iraq. Her unit was expanded and renamed the Joint Task Force on Iraq. Within months of 9/11, the JTFI grew to fifty or so employees. Valerie Wilson was placed in charge of its operations group. [...]

"We knew nothing about what was going on in Iraq," a CIA official recalled. "We were way behind the eight ball. We had to look under every rock." Wilson, too, occasionally flew overseas to monitor operations. She also went to Jordan to work with Jordanian intelligence officials who had intercepted a shipment of aluminum tubes heading to Iraq that CIA analysts were claiming — wrongly — were for a nuclear weapons program. [...]

The JTFI found nothing. The few scientists it managed to reach insisted Saddam had no WMD programs. Task force officers sent reports detailing the denials into the CIA bureaucracy. The defectors were duds — fabricators and embellishers. (JTFI officials came to suspect that some had been sent their way by Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, an exile group that desired a US invasion of Iraq.) The results were frustrating for the officers. Were they not doing their job well enough — or did Saddam not have an arsenal of unconventional weapons? Valerie Wilson and other JTFI officers were almost too overwhelmed to consider the possibility that their small number of operations was, in a way, coming up with the correct answer: There was no intelligence to find on Saddam's WMDs because the weapons did not exist. Still, she and her colleagues kept looking. (She also assisted operations involving Iran and WMDs.) [...]

As a CIA employee still sworn to secrecy, she wasn't able to explain publicly that she had spent nearly two years searching for evidence to support the Administration's justification for war and had come up empty. [Emphasis added]

It's been pretty obvious that the Bush team had Iraq in their crosshairs from the very beginning, but this is the first published evidence I can recall that months before 9/11 the administration already had the CIA ramping up a major effort on Iraq. Then 9/11 came along and triggered the military phase of the plan. How very convenient, that.

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September 04, 2006

"War On Terror" Has Killed More Americans Than 9/11 9/11, "War On Terror"

As we approach the milestone of the 5-year anniversary of 9/11 — expect to be absolutely drowned in "patriotic" imagery of all sorts — the US has just passed a milestone of a different sort: the total number of US military personnel killed in Afghanistan and Iraq has now surpassed the total number of Americans killed on 9/11. CNN:

As the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attack on the United States approaches, another somber benchmark has just been passed.

The announcement Sunday of four more U.S. military deaths in Iraq raises the death toll to 2,974 for U.S. military service members in Iraq and in what the Bush administration calls the war on terror.

The 9/11 attack killed 2,973 people, including Americans and foreign nationals but excluding the terrorists. [...]

Of the 2,974 U.S. military service members killed, 329 died in Operation Enduring Freedom and 2,645 in Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the Pentagon. The total includes seven American civilian contractors working for the military in Iraq. [Emphasis added]

Thank you CNN for saying "what the Bush administration calls the war on terror", instead of just uncritically applying the White House's brand-name. It's taken five years, but still — thanks.

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August 30, 2006

Amplifying Terror 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

Security expert Bruce Schneier on how Western governments and media are doing terrorists' work by constantly exaggerating the threat of terrorism, amplifying our fear:

The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.

And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want. [...]

We're all a little jumpy after the recent arrest of 23 terror suspects in Great Britain. The men were reportedly plotting a liquid-explosive attack on airplanes, and both the press and politicians have been trumpeting the story ever since.

In truth, it's doubtful that their plan would have succeeded; chemists have been debunking the idea since it became public. Certainly the suspects were a long way off from trying: None had bought airline tickets, and some didn't even have passports.

Regardless of the threat, from the would-be bombers' perspective, the explosives and planes were merely tactics. Their goal was to cause terror, and in that they've succeeded. [...]

Our politicians help the terrorists every time they use fear as a campaign tactic. The press helps every time it writes scare stories about the plot and the threat. And if we're terrified, and we share that fear, we help. All of these actions intensify and repeat the terrorists' actions, and increase the effects of their terror. [...]

...Imagine for a moment that the British government arrested the 23 suspects without fanfare. Imagine that the TSA and its European counterparts didn't engage in pointless airline-security measures like banning liquids. And imagine that the press didn't write about it endlessly, and that the politicians didn't use the event to remind us all how scared we should be. If we'd reacted that way, then the terrorists would have truly failed.

It's time we calm down and fight terror with antiterror. [...]

[O]ur job is to remain steadfast in the face of terror, to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to not panic every time two Muslims stand together checking their watches. [Emphasis added]

Schneier is actually too kind. Governments trumpet terrorist threats not out of some accidental, misguided wrong-headedness. It's a whole lot more purposeful than that. They actively seek pretexts for instilling fear, and they drive that fear home with constant reminders in the form of useless airport security measures, armed soldiers in terminals, and so on. They do it because they believe it enhances their power. They do it because it lets them control the media news cycle.

They have as much of a vested interest in our being afraid as do the terrorists themselves. Terrorists and Western governments (especially those of Bush and Blair) exist in a kind of symbiotic relationship. If terrorists didn't exist, Western governments would invent them.

Meanwhile, regarding the British plot to blow up 10 planes, it now appears that the number 10 was made up out of thin air. NYT:

In fact, two and a half weeks since the inquiry became public, British investigators have still not determined whether there was a target date for the attacks or how many planes were to be involved. They say the estimate of 10 planes was speculative and exaggerated.

Nobody will remember that, though. They'll just remember all the scary images of machine gun-toting soldiers at airports, etc. So now when a guy accidentally drops his iPod into an airplance toilet, it sets off a full-scale terror alert. It's nuts.

Posted by Jonathan at 08:37 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

August 15, 2006

Terror Theatre 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

More on the alleged British plane bomb plot. Craig Murray, formerly UK's ambassador to Uzbekistan, doesn't buy it (via Xymphora):

I have been reading very carefully through all the Sunday newspapers to try and analyse the truth from all the scores of pages claiming to detail the so-called bomb plot. Unlike the great herd of so-called security experts doing the media analysis, I have the advantage of having had the very highest security clearances myself, having done a huge amount of professional intelligence analysis, and having been inside the spin machine.

So this, I believe, is the true story.

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth.

The gentleman being "interrogated" had fled the UK after being wanted for questioning over the murder of his uncle some years ago. That might be felt to cast some doubt on his reliability. It might also be felt that factors other than political ones might be at play within these relationships. Much is also being made of large transfers of money outside the formal economy. Not in fact too unusual in the British Muslim community, but if this activity is criminal, there are many possibilities that have nothing to do with terrorism.

We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why? I think the answer to that is plain. Both in desperate domestic political trouble, they longed for "Another 9/11". The intelligence from Pakistan, however dodgy, gave them a new 9/11 they could sell to the media. The media has bought, wholesale, all the rubbish they have been shovelled. [...]

We will now never know if any of those arrested would have gone on to make a bomb or buy a plane ticket. Most of them do not fit the "Loner" profile you would expect - a tiny percentage of suicide bombers have happy marriages and young children. As they were all under surveillance, and certainly would have been on airport watch lists, there could have been little danger in letting them proceed closer to maturity - that is certainly what we would have done with the IRA.

In all of this, the one thing of which I am certain is that the timing is deeply political. This is more propaganda than plot. [...]

Be sceptical. Be very, very sceptical. [Emphasis added]

Bush learned of the plot on Friday, August 4th, according to White House press secretary Tony Snow. Bush and Tony Blair had several conversations about the plot over that weekend. On Tuesday, anti-Iraq-war candidate Ned Lamont beat pro-war Joe Lieberman. On Wednesday, Dick Cheney held a "highly unusual" conference call with reporters in which he and Tony Snow "argued that Democrats wanted to raise what Snow called 'a white flag in the war on terror.'" They did this knowing that arrests were imminent in the UK. The arrests took place the following day. MSNBC reports that the US pressured the UK to make the arrests when it did. The Brits wanted to wait.

It's political theatre. Expect to see machine gun-toting soldiers in airports until election day.

Posted by Jonathan at 08:11 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Terror / Danger / Madman 9/11, "War On Terror"  Humor & Fun  Politics

Pardon my cynicism, but why are US airports full of machine-gun toting police and soldiers after the plot is uncovered?

Three months before an election.

Here's a Jon Stewart bit from February, 2004, a little reminder how the Bush/Cheney White House is all about pushing the fear button:

Terrorists hope to make us afraid. That's why it's called terror. Bush, Cheney, et al do the terrorists' work by constantly reminding us to be afraid.

Meanwhile, expect more pre-election Terror Alerts. They think we're suckers.

Update: YouTube pulled the video. It was good though. :-)

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July 22, 2006

Not A Domino 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq  Palestine/Middle East  Peak Oil

The following was written a year and a half ago, but it is, if anything, more timely today with the war widening. Jeff Wells:

The Mosul bombing likely has some Americans thinking, as they do only when the media reports a mass US casualty event, that Iraq could be Vietnam redux. I wish they'd stop that; this is no time for vainglorious optimism. Iraq is much worse.

It's not just about the clicking of the casualty counter, though it did take the better part of a decade for American casualties in Vietnam to reach the level of "sustainable losses" the US military is now taking in Iraq. [...]

We need to remember that Vietnam was a "domino." It was a piece in a geopolitical game, and not a very important one at that. Vietnam [lay] on the fringe of America's sphere of interest. And still it took 58,000 American and millions of Vietnamese lives before it was over. [...]

Iraq will never be over, because it's not a domino. Dominating the diminishing oil reserves of the Middle East is not a sideshow; it is the essence of US strategic interest. We're talking about the centerpiece of empire in the New American Century. So this war — and it will not be contained to Iraq — will not be over until the American Empire falls.

Iraq is not Vietnam, because the war won't end with a dash for the helicopter on the roof of the Baghdad embassy. It will end with a dash for Marine One on the grounds of the White House. [Emphasis added]

Dick Cheney, yesterday:

This conflict is a long way from over. It's going to be a battle that will last for a very long time. It is absolutely essential that we stay the course.

I didn't sign up for this. Did you?

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July 19, 2006

Reality Begs To Differ 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq

Regarding Condi's recent comment that "the notion that policies that finally confront extremism are actually causing extremism, I find grotesque", you might want to revisit these two posts.

She can have her opinion, but the facts refute her completely. Stubborn thing, reality.

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July 18, 2006

Terrorists 9/11, "War On Terror"  Palestine/Middle East

Larry Johnson, formerly of the CIA and the State Dept. Office of Counterterrorism, on Israel's attacking Lebanon:

[Hamas and Hezbollah] are not terrorists. They carry out terrorist attacks, but they are not terrorists. They are something far more dangerous. They are fully functioning political, social, religious, and military organizations that use terrorism tactics, but they are far more formidible than terrorist groups like Al Qaeda or the Basque Terrorist Organization. They do have the resources and the personnel to project force, sustain operations, and cannot be easily defeated. Unlike the Egyptian and Syrian armies in 1973, Hamas and Hezbollah will not easily fold and cannot be defeated in a seven day war. If that is the assumption among some Israeli military planners it is a crazy fantasy.

While most folks in the United States buy into the Hollywood storyline of poor little Israel fighting for it's survival against big, bad Muslims, the reality unfolding on our TV screens shows something else. Exodus, starring Paul Newman, is ancient history. Hamas and Hezbollah attacked military targets — kidnapping soldiers on military patrols may be an act of war and a provocation, but it is not terrorism. (And yes, Hezbollah and Hamas have carried out terrorist attacks in the past against Israeli civilians. I'm not ignoring those acts, I condemn them, but we need to understand what the dynamics are right now.) Israel is not attacking the individuals who hit their soldiers. Israel is engaged in mass punishment.

How did Israel respond? They bombed civilian targets and civilian infrastructure and have killed many civilians. Let's see if I have this right. The Arab "terrorists" attack military units, destroy at least one tank, and are therefore terrorists. Israel retaliates by launching aerial, naval, and artillery bombardments of civilian areas and they are engaging in self-defense. If we are unable to recognize the hypocrisy of this construct then we ourselves are so enveloped by propaganda and emotion that, like the Israelis, Hezbollah, and Hamas, we can't think rationally. We can only think in terms of tribalism and revenge. [Emphasis added]

Language matters. Not everyone who opposes the US or who opposes Israel is a terrorist. But the T-word is used indiscriminately in order to condition us to lump everyone so labeled into a single undifferentiated, faceless mass of dark, feral creatures with incomprehensible motives. Evil-Doers. Freedom-Haters. Terrorists. All such labels are the enemy of rational thought. These days rational thought is in dangerously short supply.

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July 15, 2006

Safeguarding Amish Country Popcorn 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

Your tax dollars at work. Indiana's IndyStar, via Digby:

About three miles from the nearest town, Brian Lehman's popcorn factory near Berne has somehow ended up on the federal government's list of potential terrorist targets.

"I don't have a clue why we're on the list. We're on a gravel road, not even blacktop. We're nowhere," said Lehman, owner of Amish Country Popcorn, which employs five people.

Nevertheless, Amish Country Popcorn is one of 8,591 places or events in Indiana that the Department of Homeland Security regards as serious potential terrorist targets, according to an inspector general's report that raised questions about the accuracy and relevance of what's known as the National Asset Database.

Indiana has about 30 percent more listed potential targets than New York (5,687) and nearly twice as many as California (3,212), putting Indiana atop the nation's list of potential terrorism targets.
What's more, the number of potential Indiana targets rose from 322 in 2004 to 8,303 in 2005.

Amish Country isn't the only odd-sounding site in the federal database.

Without divulging specifics, the list includes 77,069 U.S. sites where terrorists might strike — including a flea market, a petting zoo, ice cream parlors, several Wal-Marts and a tackle shop.

The government's database is used to determine how much states should get out of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal anti-terrorism grants. [...]

The findings drew the ire of some lawmakers, particularly in New York, which saw its portion of funds shrink this year.
"Now we know why the Homeland Security grant formula came out as wacky as it was," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told The New York Times. "This report is the smoking gun that thoroughly indicts the system." [...]

The list may have become inflated because states were left to interpret a request for potential targets however they wanted.

Pam Bright, a spokeswoman for the state's Homeland Security Department, said federal administrators asked Indiana to make a list of "critical infrastructure and resources," not a list of potential terrorist sites.

"There was not a clear definition of what they wanted, so Indiana took the safe side and submitted all of our important infrastructures," Bright said. "If that's not what they wanted, they should have sent it back and said that's not what they wanted. [Emphasis added]

Amish Country Popcorn. It makes us laugh, but it should also make us angry. It would be one thing if somebody at DHS carelessly published a bogus list. But this is much worse than that. This information made it all the way through the grant process for allocating over $700 million in Homeland Security funds to the states. Imagine the level of incompetence and inattention that requires.

I've said this before, but it really does matter whether people in government believe in government. The Bush regime is full of people who don't believe in the public good and don't believe government has a legitimate, useful role to play in safeguarding and supporting the public good. They have an ideological distrust of of government. It's small wonder, then, that they suck at governing. Boy, do they ever.

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June 23, 2006

Uniforms, And Shoes 9/11, "War On Terror"

This "home-grown terrorist" story is a laugh. What's not funny, though, is the way people have been acting like these guys are for real. Knight-Ridder:

Federal officials framed the case as one against "homegrown terrorists" who were infiltrated by an informant before they could take action, but said the seven could have posed a significant danger.

[Group leader Narseal] Batiste called them "soldiers" in an "Islamic army" that would wage a "full ground war" against the United States, according to the indictment. The suspects called the Liberty City warehouse in which they met "the embassy," officials said.

Batiste allegedly said he wanted to attend al Qaeda training, along with five of his "soldiers," during the second week of April.

He was known to his alleged followers as Brother Naz and Prince Manna, according to the indictment.

"Left unchecked, these homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al Qaeda...," Gonzales said, comparing them to terrorists in Madrid, London and Toronto. "What we had was a situation where individuals in America made plans to hurt Americans."

Woo woo. Scary stuff. But:

They were not able to obtain explosives and no weapons were found, according to authorities.

"It was more aspirational than operational," said Pistole, the FBI's deputy director.

The group, however, asked the supposed al Qaeda representative to provide machine guns, boots, uniforms and vehicles, the indictment said.

Uniforms? Oops. There's more:

Batiste gave the supposed al Qaeda representative a shopping list of materials he needed — boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios and vehicles.

Six days later, Batiste outlined his mission to wage war against the U.S. government from within using an army of his "soldiers" to help destroy the Sears Tower. He also gave the informant a list of shoe sizes for his soldiers.

On Dec. 29, the informant delivered the military boots to Batiste, who expanded his shopping list to include radios, binoculars, bulletproof vests, firearms, vehicles and $50,000 in cash. [Emphasis added]

Because when you're getting ready to destroy the Sears Tower, what could be more important than getting yourself some of them al Qaeda uniforms, and some shoes.

Posted by Jonathan at 11:54 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

June 22, 2006

Crackpots 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

Reading Ron Susskind's The One Percent Doctrine, I came across the following anecdote that pretty much sums up the crackpot flailing of the Bush White House in its "war on terror":

The result [of 9/11]: potent, wartime autority was granted to those guiding the ship of state...In the wide, diffuse "war on terror," so much of it occurring the shadows — with no transparency and perfunctory oversight — the administration could say anything it wanted to say. That was a blazing insight of this period [2002]. The administration could create whatever reality was convenient. [...]

What, for instance, did all of this mean upon the capture of [Abu] Zubaydah? A freeing of rhetoric for the "wartime" President to say what he felt desperately needed to be said.

Which Bush did, first, in a speech...on April 9, 2002. "The other day we hauled in a guy named Abu Zubaydah. He's one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States. He's not plotting and planning anymore. He's where he belongs," the President said to raucous cheers from a room full of Republican Party contributors. [...]

This message — and the characterizing of Zubaydah as the "chief of operations" for all of al Qaeda, a putative "number three" to bin Laden and Zawahiri — would be a drum the President, the Vice President,...Condoleezza Rice, and others would beat relentlessly that April and the months to follow.

Meanwhile, Dan Coleman and other knowledgeable members of the tribe of al Qaeda hunters at CIA were reading Zubaydah's top secret diary and shaking their heads.

"This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality," Coleman told a top official at FBI after a few days reviewing the Zubaydah haul. "That's why they let him fly all over the world doing meet and greet. That's why people used his name on all sorts of calls and e-mails. He was like a travel agent, the guy who booked your flights. You can see from what he writes how burdened he is with all these logistics — getting families of operatives, wives and kids, in and out of countries. He knew very little about real operations, or strategy. He was expendable, you know, the greeter...Joe Louis in the lobby of Caesar's Palace, shaking hands."

This opinion was echoed at the top of the CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President. While Bush was out in public claiming Zubaydah's grandiose malevolence, his private disappointment fell, as it often would, on [CIA Director] Tenet...

"I said he was important," Bush said to Tenet at one of their daily briefings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?"

"No sir, Mr. President."

Back in Langley, Tenet pressed subordinates over what could be done to get Zubaydah to talk. His injuries were serious, but...[the CIA] found [him] some of the finest medical professionals in America. CIA agents alighted at their medical offices and soon they were on flights to Pakistan.

"He received the finest medical attention on the planet," said one CIA official. "We got him in very good health, so we could start to torture him." [...]

"Around the room a lot of people [at CIA] just rolled their eyes when we heard comments from the White House. I mean, Bush and Cheney knew what we knew about Zubaydah. The guy had psychological issues. He was, in a way, expendable. It was like calling someone who runs a company's in-house travel department the COO," said one top CIA official. {...]

According to CIA sources, [Zubaydah] was water-boarded, a technique...creating the sensation of drowning. He was beaten, though not in a way to worsen his injuries. He was repeatedly threatened, and made certain of his impending death. His medication was withheld. He was bombarded with deafening, continuous noise and harsh lights. [...]

Under this duress, Zubaydah told them that shopping malls were targeted by al Qaeda. That information traveled the globe in an instant. Agents from the FBI, Secret Service, Customs, and various related agencies joined local police to surround malls. Zubaydah said banks &mdash yes, banks — were a priority. FBI agents led officers in a race to surround and secure banks. And also supermarkets — al Qaeda was planning to blow up crowded supermarkets, several at one time...And the water system — a target, too. Nuclear plants, naturally. And apartment buildings.

Thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each flavor of target. Of course, if you multiplied by ten, there still wouldn't be enough public servants in America to surround and secure the supermarkets. Or the banks. But they tried. [Emphasis added]

The stuff of some particularly vicious satire. They pick up a mentally ill nobody, pump him up in public statements as al Qaeda's number three, then, to save face for Bush, they act as if it were actually true. They give him medical treatment to get him well enough to torture, and under torture he starts spewing out every conceivable plot under the sun. Then, the final insanity: thousands of agents and law enforcement officers are sent scrambling to Zubaydah's imaginary targets, when they presumably could have been doing something useful.

These jokers have our collective futures in their hands. It's embarrassing.

Posted by Jonathan at 08:57 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

May 24, 2006

James Yee On Democracy Now 9/11, "War On Terror"

James Yee, West Point graduate, the former Muslim military chaplain at Guantanamo who was supposed to have been guilty of espionage and other crimes but was ultimately exonerated, gave a lengthy interview Monday to Amy Goodman at Democracy Now. It's worth reading at length, but here are a few excerpts:

I can go on with things that happened in Guantanamo, like the ages of some of the prisoners down there, as young as 12 to 14 years old. Prisoners as young as 12 to 14 years old were being held down in Guantanamo when I was there. I had access to them on a weekly basis, and I recall distinctly meeting with these youngsters and my conversations with the guards who oversaw the detention of these youngsters. I recall how sometimes — or once a guard said, "Chaplain, these youngsters, these preteens, sometimes they do get out of hand, and they're like any other preteens. They gang up on each other, they make fun of each other. And sometimes they do have to be disciplined." Well I said, "Well, what do you do?" He said, "Chaplain, we give them a time-out."

A time-out. Now what's a time-out? A time-out is something I use with my own 6-year-old daughter when she's naughty, or when she's had too much chocolate. I give her a time-out to have her calm down and go to her room and be silent. This is what was being used on these youngsters, who senior military officials said of them, “They're not individuals on a little league team. These are individuals on a major league team called 'terrorism.'” Now, I questioned the logic on whether or not a time-out would be effective on a hardcore terrorist. Would a time-out be effective on someone like Osama bin Laden? The reality is, these individuals, these youngsters, these 12-year-olds, were not hardcore terrorists. They were there for over a year, and they've been, I believe, subsequently released. [...]

I had received a stellar officer evaluation report, the best that I had ever received, dated two days before I would be arrested and then charged and accused of things like spying, espionage, aiding the enemy. And I want to talk to you about that. [...]

I was thrown in jail for which it ultimately would be for 76 days in isolation.

I was arrested in secret, held incommunicado. I never showed up at the airport in Seattle like I was supposed to have, where my wife and daughter were waiting. They didn't know what happened to me. My parents in New Jersey had no idea what had happened. I essentially disappeared from society, from the face of the earth. But my family would learn of what happened to me ten days later, when government leaks to the media were then reported, first by the Washington Times, that I was now arrested and charged with these heinous crimes of spying, espionage, aiding the enemy, and mutiny and sedition, which is like trying to overthrow the government. All of these capital crimes, and, yes, I was threatened with the death penalty days after my arrest by a military prosecutor. [...]

I was taken from Jacksonville, shackled like prisoners are shackled down in Guantanamo, at the wrist and at the waist and at the ankles in what we call in the military, a three-piece suit, not a three-piece suit like you buy at the mall, made by Armani, a three-piece suit of chains. This is how I was shackled and then thrown in the back of a truck next to an armed guard, two other armed guards in the front. And down on the way, on this trip to Charleston, the guard pulls out of this bag these goggles — they're blackened out, opaque — puts them on my eyes so now I can't see a thing. He takes out these heavy industrial type ear muffs, the likes that you might see a construction worker wearing when he's jack hammering in the middle of the street, puts them on my ears, and now I can't hear a thing. We call this tactic "sensory deprivation." Sensory deprivation, it's something that I recently read that the American Psychiatric Association has included in a draft of their definition of torture.

Sensory deprivation. I was subjected to sensory deprivation, but I knew about this tactic, because that's, of course, how I saw prisoners being treated and subjected to when they are in-processed into Guantanamo when they are flown in from Afghanistan under this very same tactic of sensory deprivation; its purpose, which is meant to instill fear and intimidation. You, yourselves, maybe have seen the pictures with the prisoners wearing the hoods on their head. Well, I feared also that a hood would be then thrown on my head, but fortunately for me, that practice of hooding had just been stopped months before my arrest. I also feared of being kicked and beaten violently, especially after hearing some of the prisoners when I spoke with them down in Guantanamo, how they were kicked and beaten during their transport down to Guantanamo. [...]

[Eventually] I was returned to full duty back at Fort Lewis, reinstated as a Muslim chaplain. My record was wiped clear, after which I, of course, tendered my resignation, received an honorable discharge in January of 2005, and upon separation, I would receive another, a second Army commendation medal for exceptional meritorious service.

I didn't receive an apology. Yes, I am an eternal optimist, and I hope one day that I will receive an official apology, and I believe that by speaking out, speaking the truth, and making people aware of what's going on in Guantanamo and letting others know what happened to me, as a U.S. citizen held in this so-called war on terrorism, that one day all of this will lead to a well-deserved apology. Thank you. [Emphasis added]

12- to 14-year-olds held for more than a year in that hellhole. Will we ever wake up from this nightmare?

[Thanks, Mark]

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March 29, 2006

Chomsky On Iraq And Oil 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq  Peak Oil

On Friday, the Washington Post hosted an online chat with Noam Chomsky. The first Q&A went right to the connection between Iraq and oil:

Q: Why do you think the US went to war against Iraq?

Noam Chomsky: Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, it is right in the midst of the major energy reserves in the world. Its been a primary goal of US policy since World War II (like Britain before it) to control what the State Department called "a stupendous source of strategic power" and one of the greatest material prizes in history. Establishing a client state in Iraq would significantly enhance that strategic power, a matter of great significance for the future. As Zbigniew Brzezinski observed, it would provide the US with "critical leverage" [over] its European and Asian rivals, a conception with roots in early post-war planning. These are substantial reasons for aggression — not unlike those of the British when they invaded and occupied Iraq over 80 years earlier, at the dawn of the oil age.

Reading this statement, one is struck by how rare such candor is in US public discourse. Pretty much everybody in the mainstream avoids stating the obvious: Iraq is about oil. Yes, other interests are served, but oil is the driver behind US foreign policy today and into the future. It's obvious, yet no one will say it.

Talk about the Emperor's New Clothes.

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March 28, 2006

The Long War 9/11, "War On Terror"  Energy  Iraq  Peak Oil

James Kunstler loves to go overboard, but in his latest missive, he's got a point: the Iraq debate is grounded in delusion. Kunstler:

This is how deluded the American public is now: Various polls are showing that the war in Iraq has reached new lows of unpopularity. The dumb bunnies in the news media are implying that when the numbers get low enough, we will pull our troops out and go home.

This is not going to happen. Our inordinate hubris has led us to believe that this conflict is optional.

Notice, too, that the war-weary public has done, and continues to do, nothing to change its habits of profligate oil use which have driven us to project our military into the Middle East. We have not even begun a discussion of what we might do. We just expect to keep running American society exactly the way it has been set up to run — as a nonstop demolition derby, with hamburgers and fries between laps around the freeway.

At the highest level of public discourse, the cluelessness is shocking. The New York Times Sunday Book Review ran a front-page piece yesterday on Francis Fukuyama's latest salvo, America at the Crossroads, which is largely about our Middle East war policy, without once using the word "oil." [...]

The plain truth is, if anything happens to upset the current management and allocation system of the the global oil markets, the industrial economies of the world will collapse, and America's will collapse hardest and worst because of the way we have arranged things for ourselves. The global oil markets currently revolve around Middle East oil production. If the region is overcome by instability, than it's simply GAME OVER. [...]

Our denial runs deep and hard. Even the educated minority (including the tech wonks) believe that we can run the freeways and the WalMarts on alternative fuels. They flatter themselves listening to the morning yammer about "renewables" on NPR as they make the daily commute from, say, the suburban asteroid belts of Northern Virginia into Washington, DC. They bethink themselves progressive, cutting edge, morally superior in their Priuses. [...]

What can we do? Oil man Jeffrey Brown of Dallas has made the interesting suggestion that we replace some or all of the national income tax with a substantial national gasoline tax. A congressional debate over that would be worth hearing. It would be a good start in concentrating our minds in the right direction: that is, toward the problems we have created for ourselves at home. There are many other things we could do also, from rebuilding our railroads to removing incentives for suburban development. They would all require major shifts in our behavior. We can either begin them voluntarily or wait for events to compel us to live differently. In the absence of that, our presence in Iraq is not optional. [Emphasis added]

Iraq is about oil. Obviously. And the oil problem isn't going away. We should understand, therefore, that the architects of the war — Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice — have absolutely no intention of withdrawing US forces. Not till the oil runs out.

They have lied about everything else, and they will lie about this, too, but actions speak louder than words. We just need to look at the bases US forces are building in Iraq. AP (link via Deep Blade):

Balad Air Base, Iraq - The concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that's now the home of up to 120 U.S. helicopters, a "heli-park" as good as any back in the States.

At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq’s western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads.

At a third hub down south, Tallil, they're planning a new mess hall, one that will seat 6,000 hungry airmen and soldiers for chow.

Are the Americans here to stay? Air Force mechanic Josh Remy is sure of it as he looks around Balad.

"I think we'll be here forever," the 19-year-old airman from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., told a visitor to his base. [...]

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and other U.S. officials disavow any desire for permanent bases. But long-term access, as at other U.S. bases abroad, is different from "permanent," and the official U.S. position is carefully worded. [...]

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asked about "permanent duty stations" by a Marine during an Iraq visit in December, allowed that it was "an interesting question." He said it would have to be raised by the incoming Baghdad government, if "they have an interest in our assisting them for some period over time."

In Washington, Iraq scholar Phebe Marr finds the language intriguing. "If they aren't planning for bases, they ought to say so," she said. "I would expect to hear 'No bases.'"

Right now what is heard is the pouring of concrete.

In 2005-06, Washington has authorized or proposed almost $1 billion for U.S. military construction in Iraq, as American forces consolidate at Balad, known as Anaconda, and a handful of other installations, big bases under the old regime. [...]

"The coalition forces are moving outside the cities while continuing to provide security support to the Iraqi security forces," [Major Lee] English said.

The move away from cities, perhaps eventually accompanied by U.S. force reductions, will lower the profile of U.S. troops, frequent targets of roadside bombs on city streets. [...]

Al-Asad will become even more isolated. The proposed 2006 supplemental budget for Iraq operations would provide $7.4 million to extend the no-man’s-land and build new security fencing around the base, which at 19 square miles is so large that many assigned there take the Yellow or Blue bus routes to get around the base, or buy bicycles at a PX jammed with customers.

The latest budget also allots $39 million for new airfield lighting, air traffic control systems and upgrades allowing al-Asad to plug into the Iraqi electricity grid — a typical sign of a long-term base. [...]

Here at Balad, the former Iraqi air force academy 40 miles north of Baghdad, the two 12,000-foot runways have become the logistics hub for all U.S. military operations in Iraq, and major upgrades began last year.

Army engineers say 31,000 truckloads of sand and gravel fed nine concrete-mixing plants on Balad, as contractors laid a $16 million ramp to park the Air Force's huge C-5 cargo planes; an $18 million ramp for workhorse C-130 transports; and the vast, $28 million main helicopter ramp, the length of 13 football fields, filled with attack, transport and reconnaissance helicopters. [...]

"[W]e're good for as long as we need to run it," [Lt. Col. Scott] Hoover said. Ten years? he was asked. "I'd say so." [...]

In the counterinsurgency fight, Balad's central location enables strike aircraft to reach targets in minutes. And in the broader context of reinforcing the U.S. presence in the oil-rich Mideast, Iraq bases are preferable to aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, said a longtime defense analyst.

"Carriers don't have the punch," said Gordon Adams of Washington's George Washington University. "There's a huge advantage to land-based infrastructure. At the level of strategy it makes total sense to have Iraq bases." [...]

"It's a stupid idea and clearly politically unacceptable," [Anthony] Zinni, a former Central Command chief, said in a Washington interview. "It would damage our image in the region, where people would decide that this" — seizing bases — "was our original intent." [...]

If long-term basing is, indeed, on the horizon, "the politics back here and the politics in the region say, 'Don't announce it,'" Adams said in Washington. That's what's done elsewhere, as with the quiet U.S. basing of spy planes and other aircraft in the United Arab Emirates. [...]

From the start, in 2003, the first Army engineers rolling into Balad took the long view, laying out a 10-year plan envisioning a move from tents to today's living quarters in air-conditioned trailers, to concrete-and-brick barracks by 2008. [Emphasis added]

In its latest Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon stopped talking about a war on terror. Instead, they're talking about "the long war". They're not kidding.

It's all one big Gordian Knot: Iraq, peak oil, global warming. We need to understand that and not forget it. If we don't deal with energy, we will be stuck with war and catastrophic climate change. It's all one problem.

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March 10, 2006

They're All Bozos On That Bus 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

It just keeps getting more grotesque. Somebody please make it stop. AP via the Guardian:

The agency entrusted with protecting the U.S. homeland is having difficulty safeguarding its own headquarters, say private security guards at the complex.

The guards have taken their concerns to Congress, describing inadequate training, failed security tests and slow or confused reactions to bomb and biological threats.

For instance, when an envelope with suspicious powder was opened last fall at Homeland Security Department headquarters, guards said they watched in amazement as superiors carried it by the office of Secretary Michael Chertoff, took it outside and then shook it outside Chertoff's window without evacuating people nearby.

The scare, caused by white powder that proved to be harmless, "stands as one glaring example" of the agency's security problems, said Derrick Daniels, one of the first guards to respond to the incident.

"I had never previously been given training...describing how to respond to a possible chemical attack," Daniels told The Associated Press. "I wouldn't feel safe nowhere on this compound as an officer."

Daniels was employed until last fall by Wackenhut Services Inc., the private security firm that guards Homeland's headquarters in a residential area of Washington. The company has been criticized previously for its work at nuclear facilities and transporting nuclear weapons. [Emphasis added]

Besides the obvious Catch-22 lunacy of this, there's a deeper subtext that's very, very serious. The current occupants of the White House think their responsibility ends when they decide which political crony to reward with a contract. They have no interest in governing, no interest in managing. Their interest is in plundering the treasury and accumulating power. They think government can't solve problems, so that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Many of them, in fact, would prefer to see government fail, for ideological reasons.

Wackenhut's an ally, so they get the contract. Nobody pays the slightest attention to whether Wackenhut's actually doing the job it was hired to do.

Only people who believe in government can govern well. People who believe that government can do good, that government can solve problems and make people's lives better, are people who will try their best to make government succeed, people who will pay attention and follow through. That's why the Clinton administration was infinitely more effective than the Bush administration has been. And Clinton was no progressive. He's basically what a Republican used to be — Eisenhower, say, or even Nixon. But at least he wanted government to perform well, and he hired a bunch of other people who felt the same way. That really does matter.

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March 02, 2006

Capturing Bin Laden 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan  Politics

In Afghanistan yesterday, Bush vowed that Osama bin Laden will be "captured and brought to justice." The FreewayBlogger replies:

Well put.

(See also this.)

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February 25, 2006

Pack Of Lies 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq

Jay Bookman, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via CommonDreams), reminds us how many of the Bush administration's lies about Iraq have since been exposed by people who were there at the time:

For example, take the claim that the administration decided to invade Iraq because "Sept. 11 changed everything."

Paul O'Neill, President Bush's first treasury secretary, long ago revealed that administration officials were intent on invading Iraq from the moment the president took office.

"It was all about finding a way to do it," O'Neill says of Cabinet meetings he attended before Sept. 11. "That was the tone of it. The president saying, 'Go find me a way to do this.'"

In his new book "State of War," James Risen confirms that account by reporting that in April 2002 — long before most Americans had even heard war was a possibility — CIA officers in Europe were summoned by agency leaders and told an invasion was coming.

"They said this was on Bush's agenda when he got elected, and that 9/11 only delayed it," one CIA officer recalled to Risen. "They implied that 9/11 was a distraction from Iraq."

Then there were those weapons of mass destruction. The administration now implies it was misled into war by bad U.S. intelligence, but that's not true. While the CIA was indeed wrong about Iraq possessing at least some WMD, those faulty reports played no role whatsoever in the administration's decision to invade. WMD was the administration's excuse for a war it had already decided upon for other reasons.

The head of the CIA's Middle East bureau from 2000 to 2005 makes that clear in a new article in Foreign Affairs magazine. Paul Pillar writes that under the Bush administration, "official intelligence analysis was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions." Instead, "intelligence was misused to justify decisions already made," citing Iraqi WMD as a prime example.

In his article, Pillar also confirms that Bush told a monumental whopper in claiming that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden had informally allied against us.

Pillar is not the first to expose that fact. The Sept. 11 commission concluded back in June 2004 that there had been no "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and bin Laden. But Pillar, who saw every scrap of intelligence about the Middle East, takes it further, saying the claim by Bush and others "did not reflect any judgment by intelligence officials that there was or was likely to be anything like the 'alliance' the administration said existed."

In other words, they made it up.

It is yet another example of how we were deceived into war by Bush, a man in whom Americans of both parties had put enormous amounts of faith in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

Of course, accusing Bush of deliberately lying to the country still sets off a contentious counterattack. Historians, though, will have no qualms whatsoever about reaching that same conclusion; the evidence is that overwhelming.

And then there was the incompetence. The claims that Iraq would pay for its own reconstruction, that we would be welcomed as liberators, that there were no serious ethnic splits in Iraq, that we had enough troops...the list is lengthy. How could the administration have been so wrong?

Well, there are none so blind as those who will not see.

If you're contemplating invading and occupying another country — and risking much of your own country's future on the outcome — your first step would be to request an assessment of the situation from your experts, right?

"As the national intelligence officer for the Middle East, I was in charge of coordinating all of the intelligence community's assessments regarding Iraq," Pillar writes. "The first request I received from any administration policy-maker for any such assessment was not until a year into the war." [Emphasis added]

When the US finally admits defeat and withdraws from Iraq, as it inevitably must, there will be a revisionist tendency, as we saw with Vietnam, to characterize it all as a well-intentioned but tragic "mistake." US motives were (as always) pure, but some people just refuse to be helped.

We need to do everything we can to resist that kind of interpretation. US foreign policy is like that of any great power: amoral, self-serving, and ruthless. As long as Americans live in a fantasy world where the US is always on the side of good, where US motives cannot be questioned, there will be more Vietnams, more Iraqs.

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February 24, 2006

The Myth Of Fingerprints 9/11, "War On Terror"  Rights, Law

Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair write in Counterpunch that fingerprint analysis is not the science people think it is (excerpt):

In 1995, [a] Chicago Tribune [investigation] discovered, "one of the only independent proficiency tests of fingerprint examiners in U.S. crime labs found that nearly a quarter reported false positives, meaning they declared prints identical even though they were not — the sort of mistakes that can lead to wrongful convictions or arrests." [...]

[P]art of the [FBI's fingerprint identification] mystique stems from the "one discrepancy rule" which has supposedly governed the FBI's fingerprint analysis. The rule says that identifications are subject to a standard of "100 per cent certainty" where a single difference in appearance is supposed to preclude identification. [...]

Now at last, in 2006, the FBI's current inspector general, Glenn Fine, has grudgingly administered what should properly be regarded as the deathblow to fingerprint evidence as used by the FBI and indeed by law enforcement generally.

The case reviewed by Inspector General Fine, at the request of U.S. Rep John Conyers and U.S. Senator Russell Feingold, concerns the false arrest by the FBI of Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer from Beaverton, Oregon.

On March 11, 2004, several bombs exploded in Madrid's subway system with 191 killed and 1,460 injured. Shortly thereafter the Spanish police discovered a blue plastic bag filled with detonators in a van parked near the Acala de Heres train station in Madrid, whence all of the trains involved in the bombing had originated on the fatal day.

The Spanish police were able to lift a number of latent prints off the bag. On March 17 they transmitted digital images of these fingerprints to the FBI's crime lab in Virginia. The lab ran the images through its prized IAFIS, otherwise known as the integrated, automated, fingerprint identification system, containing a database of some 20 million fingerprints.

The IAFIS computer spat out twenty "candidate prints", with the warning that these 20 candidates were "close non-match". Then the FBI examiners went to work with their magnifying glasses, assessing ridges and forks between the sample of 20 and the images from Spain. In a trice the doubts of the IAFIS computer were thrust aside, and senior fingerprint examiner Terry Green determined that he had found "a 100 per cent match" with one of the Spanish prints of the fourth-ranked print in the IAFIS batch of 20 close non-matches. Green said this fourth ranked print came from the left index finger of Brandon Mayfield. Mayfield's prints were in the FBI's master file, not because he had been arrested or charged with any crime, but because he was a former U.S. Army lieutenant.

Green submitted his conclusions to two other FBI examiners who duly confirmed his conclusions. But as the inspector general later noted, these examiners were not directed to inspect a set of prints without knowing that a match had already asserted by one of their colleagues. They were simple given the pair of supposedly matched prints and asked to confirm the finding. (These two examiners later refused to talk to the FBI's inspector general.)

The FBI lost no time in alerting the U.S. Prosecutor's office in Portland, which began surveillance of Mayfield with a request to the secret FISA court which issued a warrant for Mayfield's phone to be tapped on the grounds, laid out in the Patriot Act, that he was a terrorist, and therefore by definition a foreign agent.

Surreptitious tapping and surveillance of Mayfield began. On April 2, 2004, the FBI sent a letter to the Spanish police informing them that they had a big break in the case, with a positive identification of the print on the bag of detonators.

Ten days later the forensic science division of the Spanish national police sent the FBI its own analysis. It held that the purported match of Mayfield's print was "conclusively negative". (The inspector general refers to this as the "negativo Report".)

The next day, April 14, the U.S. Prosecutor in Portland became aware of the fact that the Spanish authorities were vigorously disputing the match with Mayfield's left forefinger. But by now the Prosecutor and his team were scenting blood. Through covert surveillance they had learned that Mayfield was married to an Egyptian woman, had recently converted to Islam, was a regular attendee at the Bailal mosque in Portland, and had as one of his clients in a child custody dispute an American Muslim called Jeffrey Battle. Battle, a black man, had just been convicted of trying to go to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban.

Armed, so they thought, with this arsenal of compromising detail, the U.S. Prosecutor and the FBI had no patience with the pettifogging negativism of the Spanish police. So confident were the Americans of the guilt of their prey that they never went back to take another look at the supposedly matching prints. Instead, on April 21, they flew a member of the FBI's latent print unit to Spain for on-the-spot refutation of the impertinent Madrid constabulary.

The Inspector General's report makes it clear that the FBI man returned from Spain with a false account of his reception, alleging that the Spanish fingerprint team had bowed to his superior analytic skills. The head of the Spanish team, Pedro Luis Melida-Weda, insists that his team remained entirely unconvinced. "At no time did we give our approval. We refused to validate the FBI's conclusions. We kept working on the identification." [...]

Mayfield had no idea that the FBI had been tapping his phones and secretly rummaging through his office. The first time he became aware that he was a citizen under suspicion was on the afternoon of May 6. On that day eight FBI agents showed up at his law office, seized him, cuffed his hands behind his back, ridiculed his protestations. As they approached the door, Mayfield implored them to take the handcuffs off, saying he didn't want his clients or staff to see him in this condition. The FBI agents said derisively, "Don't worry about it. The media is right behind us." [...]

Judge Jones finally compelled the U.S. Prosecutor to say what evidence he had against Mayfield. A fingerprint, said the U.S. Prosecutor, withholding from the court the fact that this fingerprint was highly controversial and had been explicitly disqualified by the Spanish police. [...]

Judge Jones allowed as how he had sent people to prison for life on the basis of a single fingerprint. Mayfield's attorneys asked to see a copy of the allegedly matched fingerprints and have them evaluated by their own expert witness. Knowing he was on thin ice the U.S. Prosecutor refused, claiming it was an issue of national security. Under pressure from Judge Jones, himself pressured by the assiduous federal defenders, the U.S. Prosecutor finally agreed he would give the prints to an independent evaluator selected by Judge Jones.

The prints were given to Kenneth R. Moses of San Francisco, an SFPD veteran who runs a company called Forensic Identification Services which, among other things, proclaims its skills in "computer enhancement of fingerprints". It was "quite difficult", Moses said, because of "blurring and some blotting out", but yes, the FBI had it right, and there was "100 per cent certainty" that one of the prints on the blue bag in Madrid derived from the left index finger of Brandon Mayfield.

Moses transmitted this confident opinion by phone to Judge Jones on the morning of May 19. Immediately following Moses' assertion, the U.S. attorney stepped forward to confide to Judge Jones dismaying news from Madrid from the Spanish police that very morning. The news "cast some doubt on the identification". This information, he added, "was classified or potentially classified".

The prosecutors then huddled with the judge in his chambers. After 20 minutes, Judge Jones stormed back out and announced that the prosecutors needed to tell the defense lawyers what they had just told him. The prosecutor duly informed the courtroom that the Spanish police had identified the fingerprint as belonging to the right middle finger of Ouhnane Daoud, an Algerian national living in Spain. Daoud was under arrest as a suspect in the bombing. Judge Jones ordered Mayfield to be freed. The U.S. prosecutor said he should be placed under electronic monitoring, a request which the judge turned down.

Four days later, on May 24, the warrant for his detention was dismissed. [...]

The FBI lab fought an increasingly desperate rearguard battle, eventually claiming that it had been the victim of an excessive reliance on technology. The inspector general points out that the only investigator in the FBI's lab to emerge with any credit is in fact the IAFIS computer that had stated clearly, "close, no match". [Emphasis added]

This story is interesting for several reasons. For one, it's got all the Kafkaesque elements we've unfortunately come to expect from cases associated with the Patriot Act. For another, it demonstrates how forensic "experts" allow non-forensic factors to prejudice their analytical conclusions. And, it shows conclusively that fingerprint evidence needs to be treated with a whole lot more skepticism in the future. It's not the scientific proof it's claimed to be.

What interests me most about the story, though, is that it's an example of a kind of story that has always fascinated me: a story where something that "everybody knows" is true is shown, in fact, to be false. "Everybody knows" fingerprints are unique. "Everybody knows" a person's fingerprints can be used to give 100 percent certain identification. "Everybody knows" fingerprints are, next to DNA, the best forensic evidence there is. But if nearly a quarter of US crime labs claim fingerprint "matches" that are in fact false positives, then everything "everybody knows" about fingerprints is bunk.

What else does "everybody know" that's just flat wrong?

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February 20, 2006

CIA And The Science Of Torture 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq

Alfred McCoy, history professor at UW here in Madison, made his reputation exposing CIA complicity in the international drug trade. Now he's written a new study of the CIA's history of perfecting and applying techniques of psychological coercion and torture.

What follows are excerpts from an interview McCoy gave to Amy Goodman at Democracy Now. It's very important material.

[I]f you look at the most famous of photographs from Abu Ghraib, of the Iraqi standing on the box, arms extended with a hood over his head and the fake electrical wires from his arms...In that photograph you can see the entire 50-year history of CIA torture. It's very simple. He's hooded for sensory disorientation, and his arms are extended for self-inflicted pain. And those are the two very simple fundamental CIA techniques, developed at enormous cost.

From 1950 to 1962, the CIA ran a massive research project, a veritable Manhattan Project of the mind, spending over $1 billion a year to crack the code of human consciousness, from both mass persuasion and the use of coercion in individual interrogation. And what they discovered — they tried LSD, they tried mescaline, they tried all kinds of drugs, they tried electroshock, truth serum, sodium pentathol. None of it worked. What worked was very simple behavioral findings, outsourced to our leading universities — Harvard, Princeton, Yale and McGill — and the first breakthrough came at McGill. [...]

Dr. Donald O. Hebb of McGill University, a brilliant psychologist, had a contract from the Canadian Defense Research Board, which was a partner with the CIA in this research, and he found that he could induce a state of psychosis in an individual within 48 hours. It didn't take electroshock, truth serum, beating or pain. All he did was had student volunteers sit in a cubicle with goggles, gloves and headphones, earmuffs, so that they were cut off from their senses, and within 48 hours, denied sensory stimulation, they would suffer, first hallucinations, then ultimately breakdown.

And if you look at many of those photographs, what do they show? They show people with bags over their head. If you look at the photographs of the Guantanamo detainees even today, they look exactly like those student volunteers in Dr. Hebb’s original cubicle.

Now, then the second major breakthrough that the CIA had came here in New York City at Cornell University Medical Center, where two eminent neurologists under contract from the CIA studied Soviet KGB torture techniques, and they found that the most effective KGB technique was self-inflicted pain. You simply make somebody stand for a day or two. And as they stand — okay, you're not beating them, they have no resentment — you tell them, "You're doing this to yourself. Cooperate with us, and you can sit down." And so, as they stand, what happens is the fluids flow down to the legs, the legs swell, lesions form, they erupt, they separate, hallucinations start, the kidneys shut down.

Now, if you look at the other aspect of those photos, you'll see...people are standing with their arms extended, that's self-inflicted pain. And the combination of those two techniques — sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain — is the basis of the CIA's technique. [...]

What they found time and time again is that electroshock didn't work, and sodium pentathol didn't work, LSD certainly didn't work. You scramble the brain. You got unreliable information. But what did work was the combination of these two rather boring, rather mundane behavioral techniques: sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain.

And in 1963, the CIA codified these results in the so-called KUBARK Counterintelligence Manual. If you just type the word KUBARK into Google, you will get the manual, an actual copy of it, on your computer screen, and you can read the techniques. But if you do, read the footnotes, because that's where the behavioral research is. Now, this produced a distinctively American form of torture, the first real revolution in the cruel science of pain in centuries, psychological torture, and it's the one that's with us today, and it's proved to be a very resilient, quite adaptable, and an enormously destructive paradigm.

Let's make one thing clear. Americans refer to this often times in common parlance as "torture lite." Psychological torture, people who are involved in treatment tell us it's far more destructive, does far more lasting damage to the human psyche than does physical torture. As Senator McCain said, himself, last year when he was debating his torture prohibition, faced with a choice between being beaten and psychologically tortured, I'd rather be beaten. Okay? It does far more lasting damage. It is far crueler than physical torture. This is something that we don't realize in this country.

Now, another thing we see is those photographs is the psychological techniques, but the initial research basically developed techniques for attacking universal human sensory receptors: sight, sound, heat, cold, sense of time. That's why all of the detainees describe being put in dark rooms, being subjected to strobe lights, loud music...That's sensory deprivation or sensory assault. Okay, that was sort of the phase one of the CIA research. But the paradigm has proved to be quite adaptable.

Now, one of the things that Donald Rumsfeld did, right at the start of the war of terror, in late 2002, he appointed General Geoffrey Miller to be chief at Guantanamo, alright, because the previous commanders at Guantanamo were too soft on the detainees, and General Miller turned Guantanamo into a de facto behavioral research laboratory, a kind of torture research laboratory. And under General Miller at Guantanamo, they perfected the CIA torture paradigm. They added two key techniques. They went beyond the universal sensory receptors of the original research. They added to it an attack on cultural sensitivity, particularly Arab male sensitivity to issues of gender and sexual identity.

And then they went further still. Under General Miller, they created these things called "Biscuit" teams, behavioral science consultation teams, and they actually had qualified military psychologists participating in the ongoing interrogation, and these psychologists would identify individual phobias, like fear of dark or attachment to mother, and by the time we're done, by 2003, under General Miller, Guantanamo had perfected the CIA paradigm, and it had a three-fold total assault on the human psyche: sensory receptors, self-inflicted pain, cultural sensitivity, and individual fears and phobia. [...]

In mid-2003, when the Iraqi resistance erupted, the United States found it had no intelligence assets; it had no way to contain the insurgency, and they — the U.S. military was in a state of panic. And at that moment, they began sweeping across Iraq, rounding up thousands of Iraqi suspects, putting many of them in Abu Ghraib prison. At that point, in late August 2003, General Miller was sent from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, and he brought his techniques with him. He brought a CD, and he brought a manual of his techniques. He gave them to the MP officers, the Military Intelligence officers and to General Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. Commander in Iraq.

In September of 2003, General Sanchez issued orders, detailed orders, for expanded interrogation techniques beyond those allowed in the U.S. Army Field Manual 3452, and if you look at those techniques, what he's ordering, in essence, is a combination of self-inflicted pain, stress positions and sensory disorientation, and if you look at the 1963 CIA KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual, you look at the 1983 CIA Interrogation Training Manual that they used in Honduras for training Honduran officers in torture and interrogation, and then twenty years later, you look at General Sanchez's 2003 orders, there's a striking continuity across this forty-year span, in both the general principles, this total assault on the existential platforms of human identity and existence, okay? And the specific techniques, the way of achieving that, through the attack on these sensory receptors. [...]

When [Rumsfeld] was asked to review the Guantanamo techniques in late 2003 or early 2004, he scribbled that marginal note and said, you know, "I stand at my desk eight hours a day." He has a designer standing desk. "How come we're limiting these techniques of the stress position to just four hours?" So, in other words, that was a clear signal from the Defense Secretary. Now, one of the problems beyond the details of these orders is torture is an extraordinarily dangerous thing. There's an absolute ban on torture for a very good reason. Torture taps into the deepest recesses, unexplored recesses of human consciousness, where creation and destruction coexist, where the infinite human capacity for kindness and infinite human capacity for cruelty coexist, and it has a powerful perverse appeal, and once it starts, both the perpetrators and the powerful who order them, let it spread, and it spreads out of control.

So, I think when the Bush administration gave those orders for, basically, techniques tantamount to torture at the start of the war on terror, I think it was probably their intention that these be limited to top al-Qaeda suspects, but within months, we were torturing hundreds of Afghanis at Bagram near Kabul, and a few months later in 2003, through these techniques, we were torturing literally thousands of Iraqis. And you can see in those photos, beyond the details of the techniques that we've described, you can see how that once it starts, it becomes this Dantesque hell, this kind of play palace of the darkest recesses of human consciousness. That's why it's necessary to maintain an absolute prohibition on torture. There is no such thing as a little bit of torture. The whole myth of scientific surgical torture, that torture advocates, academic advocates in this country came up with, that's impossible. That cannot operate. It will inevitably spread. [...]

I looked at those photos, I didn't see individual abuse [by "bad apples"] . What I saw was two textbook trademark CIA psychological interrogation techniques: self-inflicted pain and sensory disorientation.

[O]ne of the problems of talking about this topic in the United States, is that we regard all of this panoply of psychological techniques as "torture lite," as somehow not really torture...And we're the only country in the world that does that. The UN convention bars – defines torture as the infliction of severe psychological or physical pain. The UN convention which bans torture in 1984 gives equal weight to psychological and physical techniques. We alone as a society somehow exempt all of these psychological techniques. That dates back, of course, to the way we ratified the convention in the first place.

Back in the early 1990s, when the United States was emerging from the Cold War, and we began this process of, if you will, disarming ourselves and getting beyond all of these techniques, trying to sort of bring ourselves in line with rest of the international community, when we sent that — when President Clinton sent the UN Anti-Torture Convention to the US Congress for ratification in 1994, he included four detailed paragraphs of reservation that had, in fact, been drafted by the Reagan administration, and he adopted them without so much as changing a semicolon. And when you read those detailed paragraphs of reservation, what you realize is this, is that the United States Congress ratified the treaty, but basically we outlawed only physical torture. Those paragraphs of reservation are carefully written to avoid one word in the 26 printed pages of the UN convention. That word is "mental." Basically, we exempted psychological torture. [...]

[T]he White House had Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina amend McCain's amendment by inserting language into it, saying that for the purposes of this act, the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay is not on US territory...[T]hen in the last month, the Bush administration has gone to federal courts and said, "Drop all of your habeas corpus suits from Guantanamo." There are 160 of them. They've gone to the Supreme Court and said, "Drop your Guantanamo case." They have, in fact, used [the McCain] law to quash legal oversight of their actions. [Emphasis added]

Key points to take away: There is a continuous history of CIA research in and use of torture spanning four decades or more. The torture techniques being used at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere, techniques that Rush Limbaugh compared to innocuous fraternity hazing, are actually the most destructive techniques uncovered in CIA research. They were not invented by a few "bad apples." They are not "torture lite." And the McCain torture amendment isn't the end of the story. The Bush administration succeeded in building in loopholes that made the amendment, at best, a fig leaf, at worst, a means of ending legal oversight of operations at Guantanamo.

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February 15, 2006

325,000 9/11, "War On Terror"

The administration's database of names of international terrorism suspects and their allies includes 325,000 names and is growing rapidly. WaPo:

The National Counterterrorism Center maintains a central repository of 325,000 names of international terrorism suspects or people who allegedly aid them, a number that has more than quadrupled since the fall of 2003, according to counterterrorism officials.

The list kept by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) — created in 2004 to be the primary U.S. terrorism intelligence agency — contains a far greater number of international terrorism suspects and associated names in a single government database than has previously been disclosed. [Emphasis added]

As John Robb points out, this can mean a variety of things, none of them good. Either the list is bogus, including a lot of people who shouldn't be on it, in which case US counterterrorism efforts are unfocused, flailing, and clueless, or the list isn't bogus, in which case the pool of prospective adversaries has achieved critical mass and then some. Or maybe it's all of the above: they've got a garbage list that manages to mostly miss what is by now a very large pool of adversaries. That seems more in character with administration performance on everything else.

In any case, with numbers like these, how can anyone still believe that the NSA wiretapping program is a focused program involving only a relatively small number of people?

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February 05, 2006

Somebody Please Make It Stop 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

A high Justice Dept. official argues that Bush has the power to order assassinations on US soil. See firedoglake.

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January 14, 2006

The Nonexistent Walmart Cell Phone Plot 9/11, "War On Terror"

Michelle Malkin is such an idiot.

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January 08, 2006

IEA: UK Oil Production To Fall Short Of Demand 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq  Peak Oil

More on the worsening energy situation in the UK. As reported Friday, soaring natural gas prices have caused many British power stations and other gas users to switch to oil, and oil is now in short supply:

The Association of United Kingdom Oil Independents has told the government that its members had never experienced such protracted and widespread problems...Meanwhile, the Buncefield oil depot fire, the run on oil and other fuels due to cold weather, and a faster than expected rundown of North Sea supplies have caused chaos across the energy sector.

The underlying problem for the UK is that North Sea production has peaked and gone into steep decline (declining 10% in 2004 alone).

Now the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that starting next spring British production will no longer be able to satisfy British demand. The UK will become a net importer of oil for the first time since 1992, and as bad as their oil & gas situation is now, it's all downhill from here. The Scotsman (via Oil Drum):

The world's top energy watchdog has warned that the UK economy will become a net importer of oil this year for the first time in more than a decade — three years earlier than the government has predicted. [...]

The IEA sees UK oil demand for 2007 of more than 1.8m barrels per day, which it expects North Sea production will only be able to match for the first three months of the year.

Output is projected to fall to 1.65m barrels per day between March and June, and to 1.55m barrels per day between July and September, before rebounding slightly to 1.66m barrels per day in the last three months.

The government's more optimistic forecasts do not see the UK becoming a net importer until 2010.

Fyfe said: "In the last three years production has declined every year more than 200,000 barrels per day or more. We are looking at the slate of projects coming up and we are not factoring in any of the unexpected outages which have happened in the past few years."

The IEA's warnings raise the prospect that the government may turn out to be as badly wrong-footed by the decline of UK oil production as it was by the decline of UK gas — a failure which has put the UK on the edge of a gas crisis this winter.

A couple of things to note. First, crunch time came quicker than anyone expected — i.e., it doesn't pay to rely on rosy government projections. Second, if you were wondering why the UK — even though British public opinion overwhelmingly opposed the war — followed the US into the Middle East, the above provides a clue.

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January 07, 2006

Al Qaeda Stopped Using Phones Long Ago 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

9/11 changed everything. Al Qaeda terrorism demands warrantless eavesdropping. It's a dangerous new world, blah, blah, blah. Except for one little thing. Washington Times (via Digby):

U.S. law enforcement sources said that more than four years of surveillance by the National Security Agency has failed to capture any high-level al Qaeda operative in the United States. They said al Qaeda insurgents have long stopped using the phones and even computers to relay messages. Instead, they employ couriers.

"They have been way ahead of us in communications security," a law enforcement source said. "At most, we have caught some riff-raff. But the heavies remain free and we believe some of them are in the United States." [Emphasis added]

So, if it wasn't al Qaeda they were monitoring...

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Big Brother's Got Computers 9/11, "War On Terror"  Rights, Law

And cameras, too. WaPo:

Britain, already the world's leader in video surveillance of its people, will soon be able to automatically track the movements of millions of cars on most of its major roads.

Law enforcement agencies are drastically increasing the number of cameras that read license plates and are building a national database that designers say will make it possible to determine in seconds whether a car zooming by has insurance, was stolen or was seen near a crime scene.

"It will revolutionize policing," said John Dean, the national coordinator of the Automatic Number Plate Recognition system, or ANPR. "Our aim is to deny criminals the use of the roads." [...]

Dean said the idea is to make it difficult, if not impossible, to travel by road without being captured by the cameras. [Emphasis added]

The system will track all vehicular traffic in real time.

It was terrorism (IRA bombing, and now the London subway bombings) that caused the Brits to acquiesce in becoming the most surveilled society on earth. But just as more people are killed by pigs each year than by sharks, many times more people are killed in traffic accidents than by terrorist attacks. It makes a lot more sense to be scared of driving your car than it does to be scared of terrorism.

Terrorism does scare people, though, so they say, here are my rights, take them. If they think about it all, they imagine it's a tradeoff between a horrible terrorist attack on the one hand, and the benign use of surveillance technology by honest, well-meaning public servants on the other.

The only way to remain free, however, is to have institutions with a built-in expectation of abuse, systems that don't depend on the honesty, good will, and benign intentions of the people who run them. That's the whole point of the American system of checks and balances: people inevitably abuse power unless they are checked. People on the right who bleat that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear are fools. Giving governments the power to track everyone's movements (or to eavesdrop on their phone conversations) and expecting that power not to be abused is to ignore both history and human nature.

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January 05, 2006

"Signing Statements" — The Law Means What The President Says It Means 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

Courts often use "legislative intent" for guidance in interpreting laws: they look at statements legislators made during the discussion and debate accompanying a law's passage to flesh out what the legislators themselves intended the law to mean.

Twenty years ago, Bush's Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito suggested that presidents should similarly create a record of what they intend a law to mean when they sign it. WaPo:

As a young Justice Department lawyer, Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. tried to help tip the balance of power between Congress and the White House a little more in favor of the executive branch.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration, like other White Houses before and after, chafed at the reality that Congress's reach on the meaning of laws extends beyond the words of statutes passed on Capitol Hill. Judges may turn to the trail of statements lawmakers left behind in the Congressional Record when trying to glean the intent behind a law. The White House left no comparable record.

In a Feb. 5, 1986, draft memo, Alito, then deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, outlined a strategy for changing that. It laid out a case for having the president routinely issue statements about the meaning of statutes when he signs them into law.

Such "interpretive signing statements" would be a significant departure from run-of-the-mill bill signing pronouncements, which are "often little more than a press release," Alito wrote. The idea was to flag constitutional concerns and get courts to pay as much attention to the president's take on a law as to "legislative intent." [...]

The Reagan administration popularized the use of such statements and subsequent administrations continued the practice. (The courts have yet to give them much weight, though.)

President Bush has been especially fond of them, issuing at least 108 in his first term...Many of Bush's statements rejected provisions in bills that the White House regarded as interfering with its powers in national security, intelligence policy and law enforcement...

The Bush administration "has very effectively expanded the scope and character of the signing statement not only to address specific provisions of legislation that the White House wishes to nullify, but also in an effort to significantly reposition and strengthen the powers of the presidency relative to the Congress," [says historian Phillip J. Cooper]..."This tour d'force has been carried out in such a systematic and careful fashion that few in Congress, the media, or the scholarly community are aware that anything has happened at all." [Emphasis added]

Is this just a matter of academic interest? Hardly. Last week, Bush used Alito's technique to signal that he reserves the right to ignore the McCain bill outlawing torture of prisoners. Boston Globe:

When President Bush last week signed the bill outlawing the torture of detainees, he quietly reserved the right to bypass the law under his powers as commander in chief.

After approving the bill last Friday, Bush issued a "signing statement" — an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law — declaring that he will view the interrogation limits in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. This means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, the White House and legal specialists said.

"The executive branch shall construe [the law] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President...as Commander in Chief," Bush wrote, adding that this approach "will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President...of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks."

Some legal specialists said yesterday that the president's signing statement, which was posted on the White House website but had gone unnoticed over the New Year's weekend, raises serious questions about whether he intends to follow the law. [...]

David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive power issues, said that the signing statement means that Bush believes he can still authorize harsh interrogation tactics when he sees fit.

"The signing statement is saying 'I will only comply with this law when I want to, and if something arises in the war on terrorism where I think it's important to torture or engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading conduct, I have the authority to do so and nothing in this law is going to stop me,'" he said. "They don't want to come out and say it directly because it doesn't sound very nice, but it's unmistakable to anyone who has been following what's going on." [Emphasis added]

There's a real constitutional crisis underway here. It's time people in Congress and around the country step up and start calling it what it is.

The White House is engaged in a game of constitutional chicken. It pretends that Commander in Chief means not what the Framers clearly intended — Commander in Chief of the army and navy — but Commander in Chief of the nation. And, the White House claims, as a coequal branch of government, the Executive is not bound by the laws of Congress.

That's where this is headed. That's the claim. The president is trying to become a law unto himself: let Congress and the courts stop him if they can. And now one of the architects of this view of presidential power, Samuel Alito, is about to be elevated to the Supreme Court. If Congress doesn't act, and forcefully, it may be hard to stuff this particular genie back into the bottle ever again.

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January 02, 2006

Two Essential Points 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

Two essential points about the illegal NSA domestic eavesdropping that hadn't occurred to me before.

First point. If the Bush administration truly is interested in finding and bringing to justice terrorists within our borders, illegal wiretaps hurt that effort, since they produce information that is inadmissible in court. Think Progress:

Today, President Bush attempted to justify his secret domestic spying program:
The NSA program is one that listens to a few numbers, called from the outside of the United States and of known al Qaeda or affiliate people. In other words, the enemy is calling somebody and we want to know who they’re calling and why.

In fact, according to this explanation, the program was not only illegal but unnecessarily puts the American people at risk. [...]

Why? Because evidence obtained by Bush's warrantless domestic spying program is probably not admissible in court. Convictions obtained with evidence from this program may be overturned. Suspected terrorists are already pursuing appeals. [Emphasis added]

Second point. FISA was enacted specifically to prevent the NSA from turning its eavesdropping technology against Americans. This directly refutes White House claims that we're in a new world, one that FISA could not have anticipated. From security expert Bruce Schneier:

Decades before 9/11, and the subsequent Bush order that directed the NSA to eavesdrop on every phone call, e-mail message, and who-knows-what-else going into or out of the United States, U.S. citizens included, they did the same thing with telegrams. It was called Project Shamrock, and anyone who thinks this is new legal and technological terrain should read up on that program. [...]

A lot of people are trying to say that it's a different world today, and that eavesdropping on a massive scale is not covered under the FISA statute, because it just wasn't possible or anticipated back then. That's a lie. Project Shamrock began in the 1950s, and ran for about twenty years. It too had a massive program to eavesdrop on all international telegram communications, including communications to and from American citizens. It too was to counter a terrorist threat inside the United States. It too was secret, and illegal. It is exactly, by name, the sort of program that the FISA process was supposed to get under control.

Twenty years ago, Senator Frank Church warned of the dangers of letting the NSA get involved in domestic intelligence gathering. He said that the "potential to violate the privacy of Americans is unmatched by any other intelligence agency." If the resources of the NSA were ever used domestically, "no American would have any privacy left.... There would be no place to hide.... We must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is an abyss from which there is no return."

Bush's eavesdropping program was explicitly anticipated in 1978, and made illegal by FISA. There might not have been fax machines, or e-mail, or the Internet, but the NSA did the exact same thing with telegrams. [...]

This issue is not about terrorism. It's not about intelligence gathering. It's about the executive branch of the United States ignoring a law, passed by the legislative branch and signed by President Jimmy Carter: a law that directs the judicial branch to monitor eavesdropping on Americans in national security investigations.

It's not the spying, it's the illegality. [Emphasis added]

Interesting that you have to learn stuff like this from blogs.

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December 26, 2005

Unfair To Emperors 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

Steve Chapman in Sunday's Chicago Tribune:

President Bush is a bundle of paradoxes. He thinks the scope of the federal government should be limited but the powers of the president should not. He wants judges to interpret the Constitution as the framers did, but doesn't think he should be constrained by their intentions.

He attacked Al Gore for trusting government instead of the people, but he insists anyone who wants to defeat terrorism must put absolute faith in the man at the helm of government.

His conservative allies say Bush is acting to uphold the essential prerogatives of his office. Vice President Cheney says the administration's secret eavesdropping program is justified because "I believe in a strong, robust executive authority, and I think that the world we live in demands it."

But the theory boils down to a consistent and self-serving formula: What's good for George W. Bush is good for America, and anything that weakens his power weakens the nation. To call this an imperial presidency is unfair to emperors.

Even people who should be on Bush's side are getting queasy. David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, says in his efforts to enlarge executive authority, Bush "has gone too far." [...]

[Bush] claims he can ignore the law because Congress granted permission when it authorized him to use force against Al Qaeda. But we know that can't be true. Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales says the administration didn't ask for a revision of the law to give the president explicit power to order such wiretaps because Congress — a Republican Congress, mind you — wouldn't have agreed. So the administration decided: Who needs Congress?

What we have now is not a robust executive but a reckless one. At times like this, it's apparent that Cheney and Bush want more power not because they need it to protect the nation, but because they want more power. Another paradox: In their conduct of the war on terror, they expect our trust, but they can't be bothered to earn it. [Emphasis added]

Something to bear in mind: the stuff we know about is doubtless only the tip of a very large iceberg. Yes, what we know is bad, but the full story — not that we'll ever learn it — is inevitably much, much worse.

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December 24, 2005

Data Mining Confirmed 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

What I've been saying for several days now — that the reason the White House didn't get warrants from FISA was because they were doing automated monitoring of enormous numbers of calls — data mining, in other words — appears to have been confirmed. NYT:

The National Security Agency has traced and analyzed large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the United States as part of the eavesdropping program that President Bush approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity, according to current and former government officials.

The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries, they said.

As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance without warrants, the N.S.A. has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications, the officials said. [...]

Since the disclosure last week of the N.S.A.'s domestic surveillance program, President Bush and his senior aides have stressed that his executive order allowing eavesdropping without warrants was limited to the monitoring of international phone and e-mail communications involving people with known links to Al Qaeda.

What has not been publicly acknowledged is that N.S.A. technicians, besides actually eavesdropping on specific conversations, have combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might point to terrorism suspects. Some officials describe the program as a large data-mining operation. [...]

This so-called "pattern analysis" on calls within the United States would, in many circumstances, require a court warrant if the government wanted to trace who calls whom.

The use of similar data-mining operations by the Bush administration in other contexts has raised strong objections, most notably in connection with the Total Information Awareness system, developed by the Pentagon for tracking terror suspects, and the Department of Homeland Security's Capps program for screening airline passengers. Both programs were ultimately scrapped after public outcries over possible threats to privacy and civil liberties.

But the Bush administration regards the N.S.A.'s ability to trace and analyze large volumes of data as critical to its expanded mission to detect terrorist plots before they can be carried out, officials familiar with the program say. [...]

A former technology manager at a major telecommunications company said that since the Sept. 11 attacks, the leading companies in the industry have been storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal government to aid in tracking possible terrorists. [...]

Several officials said that after President Bush's order authorizing the N.S.A. program, senior government officials arranged with officials of some of the nation's largest telecommunications companies to gain access to switches that act as gateways at the borders between the United States' communications networks and international networks. The identities of the corporations involved could not be determined.

The switches are some of the main arteries for moving voice and some Internet traffic into and out of the United States, and, with the globalization of the telecommunications industry in recent years, many international-to-international calls are also routed through such American switches.

One outside expert on communications privacy who previously worked at the N.S.A. said that to exploit its technological capabilities, the American government had in the last few years been quietly encouraging the telecommunications industry to increase the amount of international traffic that is routed through American-based switches. [...]

[T]he N.S.A.'s backdoor access to major telecommunications switches on American soil with the cooperation of major corporations represents a significant expansion of the agency's operational capability, according to current and former government officials.

Phil Karn, a computer engineer and technology expert at a major West Coast telecommunications company, said access to such switches would be significant. "If the government is gaining access to the switches like this, what you're really talking about is the capability of an enormous vacuum operation to sweep up data," he said. [Emphasis added]

The NSA has long had the capability to monitor, scan, and analyze international electronic communications. They vacuum up everything and run it through their computers. That's why they exist. But they've always been constrained, in theory anyway, from turning that capability inward to monitor US communications. It now seems clear, though, that what the Bush White House has done is turn the NSA loose to monitor US communications as well.

Don't be surprised if we still haven't got anywhere close to the bottom of this. The NYT article follows the White House spin by making it sound like the administration drew the line at communications that had an international endpoint. Don't be surprised, though, if it turns out they were gobbling up everything, international and domestic.

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December 23, 2005

Tip Of The Iceberg 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

News of more warrantless surveillance at US News (via Atrios):

In search of a terrorist nuclear bomb, the federal government since 9/11 has run a far-reaching, top secret program to monitor radiation levels at over a hundred Muslim sites in the Washington, D.C., area, including mosques, homes, businesses, and warehouses, plus similar sites in at least five other cities, U.S. News has learned. In numerous cases, the monitoring required investigators to go on to the property under surveillance, although no search warrants or court orders were ever obtained, according to those with knowledge of the program. Some participants were threatened with loss of their jobs when they questioned the legality of the operation, according to these accounts. [Emhasis added]

There's lots more, here.

The stuff we're learning about is surely just the tip of a very large iceberg.

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Daschle: White House Sought War-Making Powers Within US 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

In the days immediately following 9/11, the White House wanted the Senate to grant President Bush open-ended war-making powers, included war-making powers within the United States. So writes Tom Daschle, Senate Majority Leader at the time, in Friday's Washington Post. The Senate refused. The White House claims now that the Senate implicitly gave the president the power to wiretap Americans without warrants; those claims are groundless. Daschle:

In the face of mounting questions about news stories saying that President Bush approved a program to wiretap American citizens without getting warrants, the White House argues that Congress granted it authority for such surveillance in the 2001 legislation authorizing the use of force against al Qaeda. On Tuesday, Vice President Cheney said the president "was granted authority by the Congress to use all means necessary to take on the terrorists, and that's what we've done."

As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel's office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.

On the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, the White House proposed that Congress authorize the use of military force to "deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States." Believing the scope of this language was too broad and ill defined, Congress chose instead, on Sept. 14, to authorize "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided" the attacks of Sept. 11. With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Just before the Senate acted on this compromise resolution, the White House sought one last change. Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words "in the United States and" after "appropriate force" in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas — where we all understood he wanted authority to act — but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused. [...]

The Bush administration now argues those powers were inherently contained in the resolution adopted by Congress — but at the time, the administration clearly felt they weren't or it wouldn't have tried to insert the additional language. [...]

If the stories in the media over the past week are accurate, the president has exercised authority that I do not believe is granted to him in the Constitution, and that I know is not granted to him in the law that I helped negotiate with his counsel and that Congress approved in the days after Sept. 11. [Emphasis added]

So the White House wanted the Senate to authorize "all necessary and appropriate force in the United States and against those nations, organizations or persons" responsible for 9/11. They're lunatics.

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December 22, 2005

CIFA 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

The Pentagon has a three-year-old counterterrorism agency, size and budget secret, whose activities include "surveillance of potentially threatening people or organizations inside the United States." It's called CIFA. Ever heard of it? Me either. WaPo:

The Pentagon's newest counterterrorism agency, charged with protecting military facilities and personnel wherever they are, is carrying out intelligence collection, analysis and operations within the United States and abroad, according to a Pentagon fact sheet on the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, provided to The Washington Post.

CIFA is a three-year-old agency whose size and budget remain secret. It has grown from an agency that coordinated policy and oversaw the counterintelligence activities of units within the military services and Pentagon agencies to an analytic and operational organization with nine directorates and ever-widening authority.

Its Directorate of Field Activities (DX) "assists in preserving the most critical defense assets, disrupting adversaries and helping control the intelligence domain," the fact sheet said. Those roles can range from running roving patrols around military bases and facilities to surveillance of potentially threatening people or organizations inside the United States. The DX also provides "on-site, real time . . . support in hostile areas worldwide to protect both U.S. and host nation personnel from a variety of threats," the fact sheet said.

This is just one illustration of the growth of Pentagon activities in the United States and abroad as part of the terrorism fight. Last week, news accounts revealed that President Bush authorized secret eavesdropping on Americans with suspected ties to terrorist groups. [...]

CIFA manages the Pentagon database that includes Talon reports, consisting of raw, unverified information picked up by the military services on suspicious activities that could involve terrorist threats. The Pentagon acknowledged last week that the Talon database contained reports on peaceful civilian protests and demonstrations that should have been purged long ago under Defense Department regulations. [...]

A former senior Pentagon intelligence official, familiar with CIFA, said yesterday, "They started with force protection from terrorists, but when you go down that road, you soon are into everything...where terrorists get their money, who they see, who they deal with."

He added, noting that there had been no congressional oversight of CIFA, that the Defense Department is "too big, too rich an organization and should not be left unfettered. They rush in where there is a vacuum."

A former senior counterterrorism official, also familiar with CIFA, said, "What you are seeing is the militarization of counterterrorism."

CIFA's authority is still growing. In a new move to centralize all counterterrorism intelligence collection inside the United States, the Defense Department this month gave CIFA authority to task domestic investigations and operations by the counterintelligence units of the military services. [Emphasis added]

Operating within the US. No Congressional oversight. Secret budget. This stuff's out of control. Way out of control. I thought Republicans were supposed to be the party of limited government. Guess not.

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Appeals Court Slams White House In Padilla Case 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

For more than three years, the Bush administration held Jose Padilla — an American citizen arrested on American soil but classified by the White House as an enemy combatant — in military custody, without charge and without trial. But when Padilla's lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department suddenly decided to indict Padilla on criminal charges and transfer him to an ordinary prison. The intention was obvious: to sidestep a Supreme Court confrontation. Wednesday, a clearly pissed-off appeals court told the administration they weren't having it. NYT:

A federal appeals court delivered a sharp rebuke to the Bush administration Wednesday, refusing to allow the transfer of Jose Padilla from military custody to civilian law enforcement authorities to face terrorism charges.

In denying the administration's request, the three-judge panel unanimously issued a strongly worded opinion that said the Justice Department's effort to transfer Mr. Padilla gave the appearance that the government was trying to manipulate the court system to prevent the Supreme Court from reviewing the case. The judges warned that the administration's behavior in the Padilla case could jeopardize its credibility before the courts in other terrorism cases.

What made the action by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., so startling, lawyers and others said, was that it came from a panel of judges who in September had provided the administration with a sweeping court victory, saying President Bush had the authority to detain Mr. Padilla, an American citizen, indefinitely without trial as an enemy combatant.

But the judges were clearly angered when the administration suddenly shifted course on Nov. 22, saying it no longer needed that authority because it now wanted to try Mr. Padilla in a civilian court. The move came just days before the government was to file legal papers in Mr. Padilla's appeal to the Supreme Court. The government said that as a result of the shift, the court no longer needed to take up the case. Many legal analysts speculated at the time that the administration's sudden change in approach was an effort to avoid Supreme Court review of the Fourth Circuit ruling.

In the opinion on Wednesday, written by Judge J. Michael Luttig, the court said the panel was denying permission to transfer Mr. Padilla as well as the government's suggestion that it vacate the September decision upholding Mr. Padilla's detention for more than three years in a military brig as an enemy combatant.

Judge Luttig, a strong conservative judicial voice who has been considered by Mr. Bush for the Supreme Court, said the panel would not agree to the government's requests because that would compound what was "at least an appearance that the government may be attempting to avoid consideration of our decision by the Supreme Court, and also because we believe that this case presents an issue of such especial national importance as to warrant final consideration by that court."

Judge Luttig wrote that the timing of the government's decision to switch Mr. Padilla from military custody to a civilian criminal trial, just as the Supreme Court was considering the issue of the president's authority to detain him as an enemy combatant, had "given rise to at least an appearance that the purpose of these actions may be to avoid consideration of our decision by the Supreme Court."

Prof. Carl W. Tobias of the University of Richmond Law School, who has written about the government's legal strategy in terrorist cases, said that the ruling on Wednesday was an extraordinary rebuff to the Bush administration by the judicial branch. [Emphasis added]

Not having a very good month, are they? Remember when they were riding so high, when everybody thought they were — and always would remain — untouchable? But the gods don't like hubris. Dumb hubris, least of all.

Their hubris told them this stunt with Padilla was a clever little gambit, but it was just dumb: transparent, clumsy, adolescent, and dumb. Like the appeals court wouldn't see through it.

They're unraveling.

Posted by Jonathan at 12:21 AM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

December 21, 2005

FISA Was Adequate For Case Bush Cited 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

The LA Times reports that the case Bush cited to justify his warrantless domestic spying program is actually one that could easily have been handled under FISA. Moreover, Congress and the 9/11 Commission repeatedly asked the Bush administration what changes, if any, were needed in the FISA law. The administration chose instead to ignore the law. LAT:

In confirming the existence of a top-secret domestic spying program, President Bush offered one case as proof that authorities desperately needed the eavesdropping ability in order to plug a hole in the counter-terrorism firewall that had allowed the Sept. 11 plot to go undetected.

In his radio address Saturday, Bush said two of the hijackers who helped fly a jet into the Pentagon — Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar — had communicated with suspected Al Qaeda members overseas while they were living in the U.S.

"But we didn't know they were here until it was too late," Bush said. "The authorization I gave the National Security Agency after Sept. 11 helped address that problem in a way that is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities."

But some current and former high-ranking U.S. counter-terrorism officials say that the still-classified details of the case undermine the president's rationale for the recently disclosed domestic spying program.

Indeed, a 2002 inquiry into the case by the House and Senate intelligence committees blamed interagency communication breakdowns — not shortcomings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or any other intelligence-gathering guidelines. [...]

The current and former counter-terrorism officials, who requested anonymity, said there were repeated phone communications between a safe house in Yemen and the San Diego apartment rented by Alhazmi and Almihdhar. The Yemen site already had been linked directly to the Al Qaeda bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 and to the 2000 bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole in Yemen, several current and former U.S. counter-terrorism officials familiar with the case said.

Those links made the safe house one of the "hottest" targets being monitored by the NSA before the Sept. 11 attacks, and had been so for several years, the officials said.

Authorities also had traced the phone number at the safe house to Almihdhar's father-in-law, and believed then that two of his other sons-in-law already had killed themselves in suicide terrorist attacks. Such information, the officials said, should have set off alarm bells at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

Under authority granted in federal law, the NSA already was listening in on that number in Yemen and could have tracked calls made into the U.S. by getting a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Then the NSA could have — and should have — alerted the FBI, which then could have used the information to locate the future hijackers in San Diego and monitored their phone calls, e-mail and other activities, the current and former officials said.

Instead, the NSA didn't disclose the existence of the calls until after Sept. 11, according to these officials and U.S. documents produced in two independent inquiries.

"The NSA was well aware of how hot the number was...and how it was a logistical hub for Al Qaeda, and it was also calling the number in America half a dozen times after the Cole and before Sept 11," said one senior U.S. counter-terrorism official familiar with the case. [...]

This week, [former NSA chief] Hayden said that the program to eavesdrop without obtaining FISA warrants was necessary to respond to fast-moving terrorist threats, and that getting a FISA warrant was inefficient and slow.

But NSA and Bush administration officials were urged repeatedly by members of the joint inquiry and by the Sept. 11 commission to recommend FISA reforms that they felt were needed, said Eleanor Hill, staff director of the joint inquiry and former inspector general for the Pentagon.

She also said congressional committees held hearings on whether FISA needed an overhaul to better track international terrorism communications.

"The question was always asked of these witnesses: 'What do you need?'...There was plenty of time to raise this issue," Hill said Tuesday. "You don't just take it upon yourself to circumvent FISA. That attitude ignores the absolutely critical need for oversight." [...]

"It's total hubris. It's arrogance by the people doing this," said a second senior U.S. counter-terrorism official. "This is a 24-hour thing, and you can get these kinds of warrants immediately. I think they are just being lazy." [Emphasis added]

This is all beside the point if what they were really doing wasn't targeted wiretaps but broad-based, automatic call-scanning — basically taking the outward-facing machinery of the NSA and turning it inward, toward US citizens. It does, however, demonstrate that the publicly-presented rationales are completely bogus.

Posted by Jonathan at 01:48 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

FISA Judge Quits 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

One of the FISA judges has quit in protest of Bush's illegal program of warrantless surveillance. WaPo (via Atrios):

A federal judge has resigned from the court that oversees government surveillance in intelligence cases in protest of President Bush's secret authorization of a domestic spying program, according to two sources.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson, one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, sent a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. late Monday notifying him of his resignation without providing an explanation.

Two associates familiar with his decision said yesterday that Robertson privately expressed deep concern that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by the president in 2001 was legally questionable and may have tainted the FISA court's work. [Emphasis added]

Momentum's building.

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December 20, 2005

Conservatives Use The I-Word 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

Conservative scholars Bruce Fein and Norm Ornstein yesterday on the Diane Rehm show, courtesy of ThinkProgress:

QUESTION: Is spying on the American people as impeachable an offense as lying about having sex with an intern?

BRUCE FEIN, constitutional scholar and former deputy attorney general in the Reagan Administration: I think the answer requires at least in part considering what the occupant of the presidency says in the aftermath of wrongdoing or rectification. On its face, if President Bush is totally unapologetic and says I continue to maintain that as a war-time President I can do anything I want — I don’t need to consult any other branches — that is an impeachable offense. It's more dangerous than Clinton's lying under oath because it jeopardizes our democratic dispensation and civil liberties for the ages. It would set a precedent that...would lie around like a loaded gun, able to be used indefinitely for any future occupant.

NORM ORNSTEIN, American Enterprise Institute scholar: I think if we’re going to be intellectually honest here, this really is the kind of thing that Alexander Hamilton was referring to when impeachment was discussed. [Emphasis added]

And from Knight-Ridder (via ThinkProgress):

[Bush’s] explanation fueled more anger over the domestic spying, and some legal experts asserted that Bush broke the law on a scale that could warrant his impeachment.

"The president's dead wrong. It's not a close question. Federal law is clear," said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University and a specialist in surveillance law. "When the president admits that he violated federal law, that raises serious constitutional questions of high crimes and misdemeanors." [Emphasis added]

Now we get to see who's a real conservative, and who's just in it for the tax cuts.

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Big Brother's Got Computers 9/11, "War On Terror"  Rights, Law

A follow-up on a post yesterday, for emphasis.

The reason the White House didn't just go get FISA warrants for their wiretaps is almost certainly because they weren't doing wiretaps in the usual sense of the word. They were doing automated, broad-based scanning of enormous numbers of calls. For all we know, they were scanning every phone call in the country. Think Echelon and Total Information Awareness. Think data mining.

Think Big Brother.

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Straight Up Liar 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

Bush, April 20, 2004 (via Atrios):

Secondly, there are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires — a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution. [Emphasis added]

Ok, he's not lying about sex, but still...

Update: Video here.

Posted by Jonathan at 11:02 AM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Bush Personally Tried To Derail NYT Story 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

Jonathan Alter writes for Newsweek that Bush called the NYT's publisher and executive editor into the Oval Office two weeks ago to try to persuade them not to run their story on Bush's authorizing illegal wiretaps. And Alter uses the I-word. Excerpts:

President Bush came out swinging on Snoopgate — he made it seem as if those who didn't agree with him wanted to leave us vulnerable to Al Qaeda — but it will not work. We're seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.

No wonder Bush was so desperate that The New York Times not publish its story on the National Security Agency eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant, in what lawyers outside the administration say is a clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president's desperation.

The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference. His comparison to the damaging pre-9/11 revelation of Osama bin Laden's use of a satellite phone, which caused bin Laden to change tactics, is fallacious; any Americans with ties to Muslim extremists — in fact, all American Muslims, period — have long since suspected that the U.S. government might be listening in to their conversations. Bush claimed that "the fact that we are discussing this program is helping the enemy." But there is simply no evidence, or even reasonable presumption, that this is so. And rather than the leaking being a "shameful act," it was the work of a patriot inside the government who was trying to stop a presidential power grab.

No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story — which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year — because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had "legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force." But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing "all necessary force" in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism. [...]

This will all play out eventually in congressional committees and in the United States Supreme Court. If the Democrats regain control of Congress, there may even be articles of impeachment introduced. Similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974. [Emphasis added]

Quite an article for a mainstream news outlet. It could be they're dusting off the hot seat for Bush.

Like Nixon, Bush has forgotten that there are centers of elite power in this country who are quite capable of protecting their interests when a president gets out of control. He thinks he's all-powerful, a law unto himself, and that nobody can touch him, but he may be about to get an education.

Posted by Jonathan at 12:43 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

December 19, 2005

Rockefeller Wrote Cheney In July, 2003 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

Jay Rockefeller, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence committee, was so concerned about the NSA program that he wrote Dick Cheney a handwritten letter about it back in July, 2003. It's clear that he was very, very disturbed by what he had learned in a briefing. Go read what Rockefeller says now, and read his letter here (PDF). [Via Digby]

An excerpt from the letter:

As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter's TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the Administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveiliance. [...]

I am retaining a copy of this letter in a sealed envelope in the secure spaces of the Senate Intelligence Committee to ensure that I have a record of this communication. [Emphasis added]

His invoking of Poindexter's TIA suggests that my surmise in the previous post is probably correct: what they put in place was a very broad-based call-scanning operation, one that could not have been managed under FISA. Rockefeller's taking the step of saving a copy of the letter "in a sealed envelope in the secure spaces" of the committee is downright chilling. The guy sounds scared.

Posted by Jonathan at 07:10 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Is This Why They Couldn't Use FISA? 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

From Bush's press conference this morning:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Getting back to the domestic spying issue for a moment. According to FISA's own records, it's received nearly 19,000 requests for wiretaps or search warrants since 1979, rejected just five of them. It also operates in secret, so security shouldn't be a concern, and it can be applied retroactively. Given such a powerful tool of law enforcement is at your disposal, sir, why did you see fit to sidetrack that process?

THE PRESIDENT: We used the process to monitor. But also, this is a different — a different era, a different war, Stretch. So what we're — people are changing phone numbers and phone calls, and they're moving quick. And we've got to be able to detect and prevent. I keep saying that, but this is a — it requires quick action. [Emphasis added]

It's hard to read that without imagining Jon Stewart doing Bush. But, that aside, the following needs to be stressed one more time: all this stuff about FISA not being quick enough doesn't add up. Under FISA, you can wiretap now and get a warrant three days later. Your odds of getting turned down for the warrant are less than one in three thousand. But that doesn't matter anyway if the monitoring in question is over before the 72 hours expires.

So why didn't they use FISA? One possibility is that they were monitoring people they shouldn't have been and they didn't want anyone to know, not even a special national security judge operating in secret.

Another possibility, though, one that strikes me as more plausible, is that they were monitoring so many people, so many calls, that they didn't want the numbers to show up in FISA statistics. I.e., what they've done is put in place a broad-based, illegal, automatic call-scanning mechanism. FISA stats would have made that clear, so they couldn't go there.

In the context of a broad-based call-scanning operation, their complaint about FISA being "outdated" starts to make sense. FISA protects civil liberties by requiring that monitoring be targeted and specific. Under FISA, the NSA can't legally go fishing by scanning bazillions of calls. With good reason.

These are the same people, remember, who thought the Geneva Conventions' provisions against torture were "quaint". To them, FISA would seem equally so. They'd be unlikely to let it stand between them and a program to use NSA technology to broadly scan international calls, perhaps domestic calls as well.

Pure speculation, but plausible.

Posted by Jonathan at 06:46 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

What Checks? What Balances? 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law


[Bush is] trying to make the case that the congress somehow "approved" this action as a check to executive power.

This is not true. Notifying members of congress in a classified briefing they cannot disclose publicly is not a check. Intelligence committee members cannot give authorization to the president to break the law in the first place. And to say that "telling" them what they are going to do and then classifying the information so they cannot reveal it amounts to a check on executive power is to invoke dictatorial powers.

As an exasperated Carl Levin just pointed out, the check on executive power in these circumstances is written into the law. It's called the FISA court. And they have not yet given any reasonable explanation as to why they could not have applied for a review within the 72 hour period they are alotted after initiating the intercepts. They keep saying that they have to move fast and cannot wait and other gibberish about "long term monitoring" none of which adequately explains why they had to break the law.

The only thing we can assume from the information we have is that they didn't want anyone, not even a rubber stamp secret court, to know who they were monitoring. Now why would that be? [Emphasis added]

Maybe they didn't want anyone to know who they were monitoring (Howard Dean? Cindy Sheehan? Russ Feingold?). Or maybe they just wanted to assert their doctrine that 9/11 gives them carte blanche. Either way, we're at a fork in the road. Does the President have to obey the law or not?

Posted by Jonathan at 04:14 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Gonzales Q&A 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

Some good questions today at the press conference by Atty. Gen. Gonzales and former NSA chief Hayden. Excerpts from the White House transcript:

Q General, what's really compromised by the public knowledge of this program? Don't you assume that the other side thinks we're listening to them? I mean, come on.

GENERAL HAYDEN: The fact that this program has been successful is proof to me that what you claim to be an assumption is certainly not universal. The more we discuss it, the more we put it in the face of those who would do us harm, the more they will respond to this and protect their communications and make it more difficult for us to defend the nation. [...]

Q I wanted to ask you a question. Do you think the government has the right to break the law?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Absolutely not. I don't believe anyone is above the law.

Q You have stretched this resolution for war into giving you carte blanche to do anything you want to do.

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well, one might make that same argument in connection with detention of American citizens, which is far more intrusive than listening into a conversation. There may be some members of Congress who might say, we never —

Q That's your interpretation. That isn't Congress' interpretation.

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well, I'm just giving you the analysis —

Q You're never supposed to spy on Americans.

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: I'm just giving the analysis used by Justice O'Connor — and she said clearly and unmistakenly the Congress authorized the President of the United States to detain an American citizen, even though the authorization to use force never mentions the word "detention" — [...]

Q If FISA didn't work, why didn't you seek a new statute that allowed something like this legally?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: That question was asked earlier. We've had discussions with members of Congress, certain members of Congress, about whether or not we could get an amendment to FISA, and we were advised that that was not likely to be — that was not something we could likely get, certainly not without jeopardizing the existence of the program, and therefore, killing the program. And that — and so a decision was made that because we felt that the authorities were there, that we should continue moving forward with this program.

Q And who determined that these targets were al Qaeda? Did you wiretap them?

GENERAL HAYDEN: The judgment is made by the operational work force at the National Security Agency using the information available to them at the time, and the standard that they apply — and it's a two-person standard that must be signed off by a shift supervisor, and carefully recorded as to what created the operational imperative to cover any target, but particularly with regard to those inside the United States.

Q So a shift supervisor is now making decisions that a FISA judge would normally make? I just want to make sure I understand. Is that what you're saying? [...]

Q General, when you discussed the emergency powers, you said, agility is critical here. And in the case of the emergency powers, as I understand it, you can go in, do whatever you need to do, and within 72 hours just report it after the fact. And as you say, these may not even last very long at all. What would be the difficulty in setting up a paperwork system in which the logs that you say you have the shift supervisors record are simply sent to a judge after the fact? If the judge says that this is not legitimate, by that time probably your intercept is over, wouldn't that be correct?

GENERAL HAYDEN: What you're talking about now are efficiencies. What you're asking me is, can we do this program as efficiently using the one avenue provided to us by the FISA Act, as opposed to the avenue provided to us by subsequent legislation and the President's authorization.

Our operational judgment, given the threat to the nation that the difference in the operational efficiencies between those two sets of authorities are such that we can provide greater protection for the nation operating under this authorization.

Q But while you're getting an additional efficiency, you're also operating outside of an existing law. If the law would allow you to stay within the law and be slightly less efficient, would that be —

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALEZ: I guess I disagree with that characterization. I think that this electronic surveillance is within the law, has been authorized. I mean, that is our position. We're only required to achieve a court order through FISA if we don't have authorization otherwise by the Congress, and we think that that has occurred in this particular case. [Emphasis added]

Their position is ridiculous, but they don't care. They're saying: here's our argument, and we don't care if you think it's ridiculous, because there's nothing you can do to make us stop.

Posted by Jonathan at 04:02 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Briefing Congress 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

Senator Harry Reid (via Atrios):

The President asserted in his December 17th radio address that "leaders in Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this authorization and the activities conducted under it." This statement gives the American public a very misleading impression that the President fully consulted with Congress.

First, it is quite likely that 96 Senators of 100 Senators, including 13 of 15 on the Senate Intelligence Committee first learned about this program in the New York Times, not from any Administration briefing.

I personally received a single very short briefing on this program earlier this year prior to its public disclosure. That briefing occurred more than three years after the President said this program began.

The Administration briefers did not seek my advice or consent about the program, and based on what I have heard publicly since, key details about the program apparently were not provided to me.

Under current Administration briefing guidelines, members of Congress are informed after decisions are made, have virtually no ability to either approve or reject a program, and are prohibited from discussing these types of programs with nearly all of their fellow members and all of their staff. [Emphasis added]

They don't even try to tell the truth any more.

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Making Their Own Laws 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

Making up their own laws as they go along. WaPo:

In a wide-ranging news conference this morning, Bush said his authority to have the National Security Agency eavesdrop without judicial involvement derived from his inherent constitutional powers as commander in chief as well as from the authorization for the use of military force approved by Congress in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "Congress gave me authority," he said. [...]

Bush's comments followed a morning of television appearances and a briefing by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, seeking to rebut criticism from Democratic as well as some Republican members of Congress, who have questioned the source of the president's power to engage in eavesdropping without the involvement of a judge, as required by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA.)

Gonzales said that while FISA prohibits eavesdropping without court approval, it makes an exception where Congress "otherwise authorizes." That authorization, he said, was implicit in the authorization for the use of military force.

Responding to Gonzales this morning was Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) "Nobody, nobody, thought when we passed a resolution to invade Afghanistan and to fight the war on terror, including myself who voted for it, thought that this was an authorization to allow a wiretapping against the law of the United States," Feingold said on NBC's "Today" show.

Bush and Gonzales both argued that they resorted to the new eavesdropping program because wiretaps under FISA were too slow because of the judicial participation.

"This is a different era, a different war," the president said. "People are changing phone numbers. We've got to move quick." [...]

"We also believe the authorization to use force that was passed by the Congress . . . constituted additional authorization for the president to engage in this kind of signals intelligence," he said.

FISA says that, "A person is guilty of an offense if he intentionally . . . engages in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute." Congress did indeed authorize the newly disclosed eavesdropping by statute, said Gonzales, when it passed the 2001 resolution called "Authorization for the Use of Military Force."

The resolution does not mention eavesdropping or detention, which the administration has also said is supported by the authorization. It says, "The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons." [...]

At the briefing this morning, Gonzales was accompanied by the former head of the agency doing the eavesdropping, the National Security Agency, Michael V. Hayden, who now serves as deputy to Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.

"The whole key here is agility," Hayden said, explaining why the government avoided the court approval required by FISA. The program requires a "quicker trigger and softer trigger" than the FISA-approved eavesdropping, he said. [Emphasis added]

The "FISA is too slow" excuse is complete and utter bullshit. Josh Marshall:

FISA specifically empowers the Attorney General or his designee to start wiretapping on an emergency basis even without a warrant so long as a retroactive application is made for one "as soon as practicable, but not more than 72 hours after the Attorney General authorizes such surveillance."

The whole point of the FISA apparatus is to provide the kind of "quick trigger" they say they need. If they're not happy with the law as it stands, they don't get to just break the law. It's not up to them to decide what's legal. It's up to Congress.

The bottom line: this all shows why we badly need restrictions on the Patriot Act. This administration has demonstrated once and for all that "trust us, we won't abuse our powers" arguments are some kind of sick joke. And how do so-called "conservatives" justify lining up the way they do behind the breathtaking expansion of Federal power under these thugs? I thought their whole pitch was that government power needs to be limited. It's all too grotesque.

Posted by Jonathan at 01:57 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

December 18, 2005

The Heart Of The Matter 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

Regarding Bush's authorization of NSA wiretaps without warrants, Digby gets to the heart of the matter:

Look, the problem here, again, is not one of just spying on Americans, as repulsively totalitarian as that is. It's that the administration adopted John Yoo's theory of presidential infallibility. But, of course, it wasn't really John Yoo's theory at all; it was Dick Cheney's muse, Richard Nixon who said, "when the President does it, that means it's not illegal."

This was not some off the cuff statement. It was based upon a serious constitutional theory — that the congress or the judiciary (and by inference the laws they promulgate and interpret) have no authority over an equal branch of government. The president, in the pursuit of his duties as president, is not subject to the laws. Citizens can offer their judgment of his performance every four years at the ballot box.

After the election, George W. Bush said this:

The Post: ...Why hasn't anyone been held accountable, either through firings or demotions, for what some people see as mistakes or misjudgments?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 election.

He, like Nixon, believes that the president has only one "accountability moment" while he is president. His re-election. Beyond that, he has been given a blank check. And that includes breaking the law since if the president does it, it's not illegal, the president being the executive branch which is not subject to any other branch of govenrment.

John Yoo, the former deputy attorney general who wrote many of the opinion undergirding these findings (on torture as well as spying) explains that the congress has no right to abridge the president's warmaking powers. Its only constitutional remedy to a war with which they disagree is to deny funding; they can leave the troops on the field with no food or bullets.

I suspect that there are many more of these instances out there in which the administration has simply ignored the law. They believe that the constitution explicitly authorizes them to do so. [Emphasis added]

Let that sink in. Their doctrine is that the Executive, being a branch of government equal to the Congress, is not subject to the laws of Congress. I.e., Congress' laws are for the rest of the us, but the President is a law unto him/herself. It's hard to imagine a more radical reinterpretation of presidential powers. It's tantamount to a coup d'état. Russ Feingold was not indulging in hyperbole when he told CNN yesterday:

We have a president, not a king, and that's the way he's talking. What he's doing, I believe, is illegal. And it's really quite a shocking moment in the history of our country.

Feingold's written statement included the following:

The President's shocking admission that he authorized the National Security Agency to spy on American citizens, without going to a court and in violation of the Constitution and laws passed by Congress, further demonstrates the urgent need for these protections. The President believes that he has the power to override the laws that Congress has passed. This is not how our democratic system of government works. The President does not get to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow. He is a president, not a king.

On behalf of all Americans who believe in our constitutional system of government, I call on this Administration to stop this program immediately and to fully cooperate with congressional inquiries and investigations. We have had enough of an Administration that puts itself above the law and the Constitution. [Emphasis added]

This is serious. As Feingold said, this really is "quite a shocking moment in the history of our country." The White House has declared itself to be above the law and dares anyone to try and stop them.

The Republican-controlled Congress refuses to act. In an absolutely world-class understatement, Rep. Thomas Davis (R-VA), chair of the House Government Reform Committee said last week, "Republican Congresses tend to overinvestigate Democratic administrations and underinvestigate their own." How lopsided is it? WaPo:

Democrats on the committee said the panel issued 1,052 subpoenas to probe alleged misconduct by the Clinton administration and the Democratic Party between 1997 and 2002, at a cost of more than $35 million. By contrast, the committee under Davis has issued three subpoenas to the Bush administration, two to the Energy Department over nuclear waste disposal at Yucca Mountain, and one last week to the Defense Department over Katrina documents. [Emphasis added]

Nauseating. And more than a little terrifying. You think it can't get any worse, and then it does.

If these people aren't stopped, democracy is over at the national level. You think I'm exaggerating, but just wait.

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December 16, 2005

Cafferty 9/11, "War On Terror"  Media  Politics

This is good.

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Score One For Feingold 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold's efforts bore fruit today as the Senate snubbed the White House and the Senate Republican leadership by refusing to override a filibuster against reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act. AP:

The Senate on Friday refused to reauthorize major portions of the USA Patriot Act after critics complained they infringed too much on Americans' privacy and liberty, dealing a huge defeat to the Bush administration and Republican leaders.

In a crucial vote early Friday, the bill's Senate supporters were not able to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster by Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and their allies. The final vote was 52-47.

President Bush, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Republicans congressional leaders had lobbied fiercely to make most of the expiring Patriot Act provisions permanent. [Emphasis added]

Way to go, Russ.

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US Torture Didn't Start With Bush 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  War and Peace

In their zeal to point out just how bad the Bush administration is, many of its critics talk as if the pre-Bush US was a paragon of virtue. So, for example, Bush's war in Iraq has killed tens of thousands, possibly more than 100,000, Iraqis. A horrifying number, to be sure, worthy of condemnation and outrage. But let's not forget that many times that number of Iraqis died because of the Clinton administration's economic sanctions against Iraq during the 90s. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people the US and its agents killed in Central America under Reagan and Bush I, or the 3-4 million people the US incinerated in Southeast Asia under Johnson and Nixon.

Perhaps nowhere is this historical amnesia more evident than in the current discussion of the Bush administration's use of torture. As Naomi Klein reminds us, the US has been making systematic use of torture for decades. Excerpts:

[T]he US military ran the notorious School of the Americas from 1946 to 1984, a sinister educational institution that, if it had a motto, might have been "We do torture."...[It is there that] the roots of the current torture scandals can be found. According to declassified training manuals, SOA students — military and police officers from across the hemisphere — were instructed in many of the same "coercive interrogation" techniques that have since migrated to Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib: early morning capture to maximize shock, immediate hooding and blindfolding, forced nudity, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, sleep and food "manipulation," humiliation, extreme temperatures, isolation, stress positions — and worse. In 1996 President Clinton's Intelligence Oversight Board admitted that US-produced training materials condoned "execution of guerrillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion and false imprisonment." [...]

[T]he embrace of torture by US officials long predates the Bush Administration and has in fact been integral to US foreign policy since the Vietnam War.

It's a history that has been exhaustively documented in an avalanche of books, declassified documents, CIA training manuals, court records and truth commissions. In his upcoming book A Question of Torture, Alfred McCoy [author of The Politics of Heroin] synthesizes this unwieldy cache of evidence, producing an indispensable and riveting account of how monstrous CIA-funded experiments on psychiatric patients and prisoners in the 1950s turned into a template for what he calls "no-touch torture," based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain. McCoy traces how these methods were field-tested by CIA agents in Vietnam as part of the Phoenix program and then imported to Latin America and Asia under the guise of police training programs.

It's not only apologists for torture who ignore this history when they blame abuses on "a few bad apples" — so too do many of torture's most prominent opponents. Apparently forgetting everything they once knew about US cold war misadventures, a startling number have begun to subscribe to an antihistorical narrative in which the idea of torturing prisoners first occurred to US officials on September 11, 2001, at which point the interrogation methods used in Guantánamo apparently emerged, fully formed, from the sadistic recesses of Dick Cheney's and Donald Rumsfeld's brains. Up until that moment, we are told, America fought its enemies while keeping its humanity intact.

The principal propagator of this narrative...is Senator John McCain....McCain says that when he was a prisoner of war in Hanoi, he held fast to the knowledge "that we were different from our enemies...that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or approving such mistreatment of them." It is a stunning historical distortion. By the time McCain was taken captive, the CIA had already launched the Phoenix program and, as McCoy writes, "its agents were operating forty interrogation centers in South Vietnam that killed more than twenty thousand suspects and tortured thousands more." [...]

Does it somehow lessen the horrors of today to admit that this is not the first time the US government has used torture to wipe out its political opponents — that it has operated secret prisons before, that it has actively supported regimes that tried to erase the left by dropping students out of airplanes? That, at home, photographs of lynchings were traded and sold as trophies and warnings? Many seem to think so. On November 8 Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott made the astonishing claim to the House of Representatives that "America has never had a question about its moral integrity, until now." Molly Ivins, expressing her shock that the United States is running a prison gulag, wrote that "it's just this one administration...and even at that, it seems to be mostly Vice President Dick Cheney." [...]

Other cultures deal with a legacy of torture by declaring "Never again!" Why do so many Americans insist on dealing with the current torture crisis by crying "Never Before"? I suspect it has to do with a sincere desire to convey the seriousness of this Administration's crimes. And the Bush Administration's open embrace of torture is indeed unprecedented — but let's be clear about what is unprecedented about it: not the torture but the openness. Past administrations tactfully kept their "black ops" secret; the crimes were sanctioned but they were practiced in the shadows, officially denied and condemned. The Bush Administration has broken this deal: Post-9/11, it demanded the right to torture without shame, legitimized by new definitions and new laws.

Despite all the talk of outsourced torture, the Bush Administration's real innovation has been its in-sourcing, with prisoners being abused by US citizens in US-run prisons and transported to third countries in US planes. It is this departure from clandestine etiquette, more than the actual crimes, that has so much of the military and intelligence community up in arms: By daring to torture unapologetically and out in the open, Bush has robbed everyone of plausible deniability.

For those nervously wondering if it is time to start using alarmist words like totalitarianism, this shift is of huge significance. When torture is covertly practiced but officially and legally repudiated, there is still the hope that if atrocities are exposed, justice could prevail. When torture is pseudo-legal and when those responsible merely deny that it is torture, what dies is what Hannah Arendt called "the juridical person in man"; soon enough, victims no longer bother to search for justice, so sure are they of the futility (and danger) of that quest. This impunity is a mass version of what happens inside the torture chamber, when prisoners are told they can scream all they want because no one can hear them and no one is going to save them.

In Latin America the revelations of US torture in Iraq have not been met with shock and disbelief but with powerful déjà vu and reawakened fears...Dianna Ortiz, an American nun who was brutally tortured in a Guatemalan jail, said, "I could not even stand to look at those photographs...so many of the things in the photographs had also been done to me. I was tortured with a frightening dog and also rats. And they were always filming."

Ortiz has testified that the men who raped her and burned her with cigarettes more than 100 times deferred to a man who spoke Spanish with an American accent whom they called "Boss." It is one of many stories told by prisoners in Latin America of mysterious English-speaking men walking in and out of their torture cells, proposing questions, offering tips. Several of these cases are documented in Jennifer Harbury's powerful new book, Truth, Torture, and the American Way. [...]

The terrible irony of the anti-historicism of the current torture debate is that in the name of eradicating future abuses, these past crimes are being erased from the record. Every time Americans repeat the fairy tale about their pre-Cheney innocence, these already hazy memories fade even further. The hard evidence still exists, of course, carefully archived in the tens of thousands of declassified documents available from the National Security Archive. But inside US collective memory, the disappeared are being disappeared all over again. [...]

Already there are signs that the Administration will deal with the current torture uproar by returning to the cold war model of plausible deniability. The McCain amendment protects every "individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government"; it says nothing about torture training or buying information from the exploding industry of for-profit interrogators. And in Iraq the dirty work is already being handed over to Iraqi death squads, trained by US commanders like Jim Steele, who prepared for the job by setting up similarly lawless units in El Salvador. [...]

Lawmakers will respond to pressure by eliminating one small piece of the torture apparatus — closing a prison, shutting down a program, even demanding the resignation of a really bad apple like Rumsfeld. But, McCoy says, "they will preserve the prerogative to torture." [Emphasis added]

As Klein points out, there is something truly ominous about a society's openly embracing torture while blandly proclaiming that whatever it does is, by definition, not torture. This is the stuff of Orwell and Pravda. But let's not kid ourselves. The US, like all exceptionally powerful nations throughout history, has routinely engaged in any number of bloody crimes.

We have the opportunity now, with torture out in the open and staring us in the face, to work to end it once and for all. We must resist all moves merely to push it back into the shadows so we can once again pretend our hands are clean.

And the mention of an "exploding industry of for-profit interrogators" is particularly horrifying. Please let's not let it come to that.

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December 08, 2005

Airline Passenger Never Mentioned A Bomb 9/11, "War On Terror"

Torture, imprisonment without charges or trial, the conflation of terrorism with dissent and disorder, endless government fear-mongering — it's small wonder if domestic law enforcement becomes increasingly militarized and brutal. Read this report from Time on yesterday's shooting of the air passenger in Miami:

At least one passenger aboard American Airlines Flight 924 maintains the federal air marshals were a little too quick on the draw when they shot and killed Rigoberto Alpizar as he frantically attempted to run off the airplane shortly before take-off.

"I don't think they needed to use deadly force with the guy," says John McAlhany, a 44-year-old construction worker from Sebastian, Fla. "He was getting off the plane." McAlhany also maintains that Alpizar never mentioned having a bomb.

"I never heard the word 'bomb' on the plane," McAlhany told TIME in a telephone interview. "I never heard the word bomb until the FBI asked me did you hear the word bomb. That is ridiculous." Even the authorities didn't come out and say bomb, McAlhany says. "They asked, 'Did you hear anything about the b-word?'" he says. "That's what they called it."

When the incident began McAlhany was in seat 24C, in the middle of the plane. "[Alpizar] was in the back," McAlhany says, "a few seats from the back bathroom. He sat down." Then, McAlhany says, "I heard an argument with his wife. He was saying 'I have to get off the plane.' She said, 'Calm down.'"

Alpizar took off running down the aisle, with his wife close behind him. "She was running behind him saying, 'He's sick. He's sick. He's ill. He's got a disorder," McAlhany recalls. "I don't know if she said bipolar disorder [as one witness has alleged]. She was trying to explain to the marshals that he was ill. He just wanted to get off the plane." [...]

By the time Alpizar made it to the front of the airplane, the crew had ordered the rest of the passengers to get down between the seats. "I didn't see him get shot," he says. "They kept telling me to get down. I heard about five shots." [...]

"I was on the phone with my brother. Somebody came down the aisle and put a shotgun to the back of my head and said put your hands on the seat in front of you. I got my cell phone karate chopped out of my hand. Then I realized it was an official."

In the ensuing events, many of the passengers began crying in fear, he recalls. "They were pointing the guns directly at us instead of pointing them to the ground," he says "One little girl was crying. There was a lady crying all the way to the hotel."

McAlhany said he saw Alpizar before the flight and is absolutely stunned by what unfolded on the airplane. He says he saw Alpizar eating a sandwich in the boarding area before getting on the plane. He looked normal at that time, McAlhany says. He thinks the whole thing was a mistake: "I don't believe he should be dead right now." [Emphasis added]

Fear is making us crazy. Literally.

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December 07, 2005

Real Security Post-9/11 9/11, "War On Terror"

[I prepared the following prior to today's fatal shooting of a passenger by an Air Marshal in Miami. I thought about holding it back, but in some ways it's more relevant now than ever. Please just be aware that its writing preceded today's events, and nothing I say should be taken as commenting directly on the shooting. — Jonathan]

The release of the 9/11 "report card" has brought post-9/11 security measures back into public awareness, however briefly. In this context, it's worth listening to what a real security expert has to say.

Bruce Schneier, founder of Counterpane Internet Security and author of Secrets and Lies and Beyond Fear is somebody who's thought a lot about security. In this interview, Schneier talks about security post-9/11. If you're a fan of logic and practical common sense, I think you'll find it refreshing.

In a nutshell, Schneier thinks almost all of our post-9/11 homeland security measures are an enormous waste of money and doomed to fail. Defending targets is a losing battle: if you harden the airlines, terrorists will just attack something else. Better to spend the money on finding terrorists before they strike (which has the effect of defending all targets simultaneously) and on emergency response post-attack.

Excerpts from the interview (most of the 9/11 material starts about 9 minutes in):

We're living in a silly security season in our country. I mean, we're seeing so much nonsense after September 11th. [...]

[They're] trying to secure the targets. There are just too many targets. If you sit down and count up all the places where a hundred or more people gather in close proximity – restaurants, movie theaters, sporting events, schools, trains, buses, crowded intersections – you rapidly realize that there are an enormous number of them in this country, and you can't possibly secure them. If you remember – the most amazing thing to me about the airline security measures in the months after 9/11 were the enormous lines. So here we are trying to make the airlines safe, yet we bunch people in these huge crowds before security, making them...targets. [...]

Another thing we have to remember, which is very hard to remember in our fear-laden society, is that terrorism hardly ever happens...We're spending a lot of money on something that hardly ever happens. [...]

More people are killed by pigs every year than by sharks, which shows you how good we are at evaluating risk...People tend to worry about the wrong things. We worry about what's in the news. I tell my friends that if it's in the newspaper, don't worry about it, because it means it hardly ever happens. Right? It's news. News hardly ever happens, that's why it's news. When something stops being in the newspaper, then worry about it. [...]

People make bad security tradeoffs when they're scared...The reason we're spending money on terrorism that killed nobody in the past [four] years, and we're not spending money on automobile crashes that have killed 40,000 people in the past dozen or so years each, is because of an emotional reason, we're emotionally scared, this emotionally worries us more. [...]

When the U.S. Government says that security against terrorism is worth curtailing individual civil liberties, it's because the cost of that decision is not borne by those making it....As a general rule, the people who make security decisions make security decisions that are rational to them. Security is a trade-off, and they're going to make a personal tradeoff. When you see a lot of these intrusive government systems, it's because the people making these decisions aren't the ones being intruded upon, they're the ones doing the intruding. So their tradeoff is sort of inherently different than yours or mine might be. [...]

Did you ever wonder why tweezers were confiscated at security checkpoints, but matches and cigarette lighters – actual combustible materials – were not? If the tweezers lobby had more power, I'm sure they would have been allowed on board as well....The government wanted to ban laptops, but the airlines said no, you can't do that, our business travelers will leave us. [Emphasis added]

The interview was recorded in April, 2004. How little has changed.

Here's an excerpt from an article of Schneier's on airline security just last week in Wired News:

Consider CAPPS and its replacement, Secure Flight. These are programs to check travelers against the 30,000 to 40,000 names on the government's No-Fly list, and another 30,000 to 40,000 on its Selectee list.

They're bizarre lists: people — names and aliases — who are too dangerous to be allowed to fly under any circumstance, yet so innocent that they cannot be arrested, even under the draconian provisions of the Patriot Act. The Selectee list contains an equal number of travelers who must be searched extensively before they're allowed to fly. Who are these people, anyway? [...]

Exactly two things have made airline travel safer since 9/11: reinforcement of cockpit doors, and passengers who now know that they may have to fight back. Everything else...is security theater. We would all be a lot safer if, instead, we implemented enhanced baggage security — both ensuring that a passenger's bags don't fly unless he does, and explosives screening for all baggage — as well as background checks and increased screening for airport employees.

Then we could take all the money we save and apply it to intelligence, investigation and emergency response. These are security measures that pay dividends regardless of what the terrorists are planning next, whether it's the movie plot threat of the moment, or something entirely different. [Emphasis added]

As Frank Herbert wrote, "fear is the mind-killer". How nice it would be to have as leaders grownups who thought about what actually works, not just what will instill fear and pander to the fearful.

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Shame 9/11, "War On Terror"  Media  Rights, Law

Eric Boehlert on the acquittal yesterday of Florida professor Sami Al-Arian on terrorism charges:

Courtroom defeats for prosecutors don't come much more embarrassing than the one suffered Tuesday in the Florida terror trial of Sami Al-Arian, who was acquitted on key charges of abetting terrorists. Along with three other defendants, Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor, was charged with helping to lead a Palestinian terrorist group from his home near Tampa.

Feds, who'd been eying A-Arian for nearly a decade, finally got their chance to indict him following 9/11 when the Patriot Act allowed all sorts of evidence to be suddenly permissible in court. Al-Arian's case never had anything to do with bin Laden or Saddam, but Bush's Justice Dept., which indicted Al-Arian just one month before the invasion of Iraq, made sure to leave the impression that the crucial terror case would keep America safe.

Anyway, the case turned out to be colossal flop, with the feds presenting a confusing mish-mash of jumbled transcripts and a mountain of circumstantial evidence that, according to press accounts, bored the jury to tears. The prosecution took nearly five months to present its case, which included testimony from nearly 80 witnesses. Finally given a chance to respond, here's what Al-Arian's attorney told the judge:

"On behalf of Dr. Al-Arian, the defense rests."

Al-Arian didn't call a single witness on his behalf. That might have been because prosecutors, who had tapped Al-Arian's phone for years and collected 20,000 hours of conversations, failed to present a single phone call in which violent terrorist acts were plotted. As has become something of a post-9/11 custom, the terror indictments were a lot more convincing than the actual terror trial. (See the Lackawanna Six.) And has also become customary, the network news teams looked the other way.

When then-Attorney General John Ashcroft personally announced the Al-Arian indictment on Feb. 20, 2003, in a press conference carried live on CNN (Ashcroft tagged Al-Arian the North American leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad), the story garnered a wave of excited media attention. ABC's "World News Tonight" led that night's newscast with the Al Arian arrest. Both NBC and CBS also gave the story prominent play that evening. But last night, in the wake of Al-Arian's acquittal, it was a different story. Neither ABC, CBS nor NBC led with the terror case on their evening newscasts. None of them slotted it second or third either. In fact, according to TVEyes, the 24-hour monitor system, none of [the] networks reported the acquittal at all. Raise your hand if you think the nets would have covered the trial's conclusion if the jury had returned with a guilty verdict in what the government had hyped as a centerpiece to its War on Terror. [Emphasis added]

Sickening and infuriating. Shame on the networks. Shame.

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December 02, 2005

Nutjob-In-Chief 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

According to Seymour Hersh, Bush believes he's God's instrument in the "war on terror":

Bush's closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush's first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President's religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that "God put me here" to deal with the war on terror. The President's belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that "he's the man," the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reelection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose. [...]

"The President is more determined than ever to stay the course," the former defense official said. "He doesn't feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage 'People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.'" He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. "They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway," the former defense official said. Bush's public appearances, for example, are generally scheduled in front of friendly audiences, most often at military bases. Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an increasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. "Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House," the former official said, "but Bush has no idea." [Emphasis added]

Like everything else in George Bush's mental world, his religion is the cartoon religion of an especially simpleminded child. How smugly arrogant (and dim) do you have to be to believe that of all the people in the world you were hand-picked — not in some metaphorical sense, but literally — by the omnipotent and omniscient Creator of the Entire Universe? How dull-witted do you have to be to imagine that God meddles directly in human affairs, but the best He/She can come up with is to steer some election results? Is this how grownups think? And where do we get off pointing fingers at the religious fanaticism of Osama, et al, when our very own Osama believes he's killing on the instructions of Allah God the Invisible Avenger in the Sky?

In some societies, leaders are elders selected for their maturity and wisdom. Imagine.

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November 22, 2005

Bush/Cheney Knew 10 Days After 9/11: No Iraq Ties 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq

Within ten days of 9/11, Bush and Cheney both knew that US intelligence had no evidence linking Iraq with either 9/11 or al Qaeda. National Journal (via BuzzFlash):

Ten days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda, according to government records and current and former officials with firsthand knowledge of the matter. [...]

Bush was told during the briefing...that the few credible reports of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda involved attempts by Saddam Hussein to monitor the terrorist group. Saddam viewed Al Qaeda as well as other theocratic radical Islamist organizations as a potential threat to his secular regime. At one point, analysts believed, Saddam considered infiltrating the ranks of Al Qaeda with Iraqi nationals or even Iraqi intelligence operatives to learn more about its inner workings, according to records and sources. [...]

The highly classified CIA assessment was distributed to President Bush, Vice President Cheney, the president's national security adviser and deputy national security adviser, the secretaries and undersecretaries of State and Defense, and various other senior Bush administration policy makers, according to government records.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the White House for the CIA assessment, the PDB of September 21, 2001, and dozens of other PDBs as part of the committee's ongoing investigation into whether the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information in the run-up to war with Iraq. The Bush administration has refused to turn over these documents.

Indeed, the existence of the September 21 PDB was not disclosed to the Intelligence Committee until the summer of 2004, according to congressional sources. Both Republicans and Democrats requested then that it be turned over. The administration has refused to provide it, even on a classified basis, and won't say anything more about it other than to acknowledge that it exists. [Emphasis added]

It's all been nothing but lies from the very beginning. But then we already knew that.

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November 18, 2005

Vice President For Torture 9/11, "War On Terror"


Former CIA director Stansfield Turner has labeled Dick Cheney a "vice president for torture."

In an interview with Britain's ITV news Thursday, Turner said the U.S. vice president was damaging America's reputation by overseeing torture policies of possible terrorist suspects, the UK's Press Association reported.

"I'm embarrassed the United States has a vice president for torture," Turner said, according to ITV's Web site. "He condones torture, what else is he?"

Turner said he did not believe U.S. President George W. Bush's statements that the United States does not use torture.

Turner ran the Central Intelligence Agency from 1977 to 1981 under former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

"We have crossed the line into dangerous territory," PA quoted Turner as saying. "I think it is just reprehensible."

Referring to Cheney, Turner said: "I just don't understand how a man in that position can take such a stance." [Emphasis added]

I don't either.

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November 10, 2005

Torture Is For Losers 9/11, "War On Terror"

Laura Rozen, via Billmon:

I was in a torture chamber once, in the basement of a police station in Kosovo days after it was abandoned by Serb forces defeated by Nato. It was hideous as you would imagine. The British soldiers who were with me were equally shocked. A lot of the instruments and interrogation drugs I saw there also suggest they were not designed to cause organ failure or death in their victims, just pain and terror, as Mr. Cheney and his office mates suggest is what they are going for in terms of legal wiggle room. And like Mr. Cheney and his office mates, Mr. Milosevic and his Serb troops didn't seem to overly concern themselves with the Geneva conventions, until it was a bit late. Having laid my eyes on what such a scene looks like, I just associate such activities with the forces of not only the pathological and depraved, but those who are headed for defeat. If you've seen it, you realize in a way that's hard to explain, it's the tactics of the losers. If Cheney and his office mates haven't had the experience, perhaps they should. And I really don't think it's inconceivable that the remote possibility of the Hague may lie in some of their futures. Things change fast when they do, as history shows, and they could find their current willing protectors eventually chucked from office, and a whole new climate at home and abroad. [Emphasis added]

Torturers are history's losers.

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November 06, 2005

Big Brother Really Is Watching 9/11, "War On Terror"  Rights, Law

A long article in today's Washington Post outlines the FBI's "exponentially growing practice of domestic surveillance under the USA Patriot Act" by virtue of so-called "national security letters". Excerpt:

"National security letters," created in the 1970s for espionage and terrorism investigations, originated as narrow exceptions in consumer privacy law, enabling the FBI to review in secret the customer records of suspected foreign agents. The Patriot Act, and Bush administration guidelines for its use, transformed those letters by permitting clandestine scrutiny of U.S. residents and visitors who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies.

The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters — one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people — are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.

Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot.

The burgeoning use of national security letters coincides with an unannounced decision to deposit all the information they yield into government data banks — and to share those private records widely, in the federal government and beyond. In late 2003, the Bush administration reversed a long-standing policy requiring agents to destroy their files on innocent American citizens, companies and residents when investigations closed. Late last month, President Bush signed Executive Order 13388, expanding access to those files for "state, local and tribal" governments and for "appropriate private sector entities," which are not defined.

National security letters offer a case study of the impact of the Patriot Act outside the spotlight of political debate. Drafted in haste after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the law's 132 pages wrought scores of changes in the landscape of intelligence and law enforcement. Many received far more attention than the amendments to a seemingly pedestrian power to review "transactional records." But few if any other provisions touch as many ordinary Americans without their knowledge. [...]

A national security letter cannot be used to authorize eavesdropping or to read the contents of e-mail. But it does permit investigators to trace revealing paths through the private affairs of a modern digital citizen. The records it yields describe where a person makes and spends money, with whom he lives and lived before, how much he gambles, what he buys online, what he pawns and borrows, where he travels, how he invests, what he searches for and reads on the Web, and who telephones or e-mails him at home and at work. [...]

"The beef with the NSLs is that they don't have even a pretense of judicial or impartial scrutiny," said former representative Robert L. Barr Jr. (Ga.), who finds himself allied with the American Civil Liberties Union after a career as prosecutor, CIA analyst and conservative GOP stalwart. "There's no checks and balances whatever on them. It is simply some bureaucrat's decision that they want information, and they can basically just go and get it." [Emphasis added]

These people call themselves conservatives and talk endlessly about the evils of big government, all the while expanding government's powers in ways that can only be called radical, not conservative at all. There is a reason the Founders based our system of governance on checks and balances. When governments are given unlimited powers, powers exercised in secret with no external oversight, it is absolutely inevitable, as night follows day, that those powers will be grievously abused. We're like lambs meekly leading ourselves to slaughter.

And they call it the "Patriot" Act. Orwell lives.

[Thanks, Maurice]

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November 05, 2005

Darkness At Noon 9/11, "War On Terror"

Imagine a country that secretly arrests people on unspecified charges and imprisons them indefinitely, without a trial of any kind, in prisons whose very existence is completely hidden from the outside world. Imagine the interminable nightmare of being a prisoner in such a prison, subjected to coercive interrogation and torture, possibly for the rest of your life.

What kind of country does that? Our kind, apparently. WaPo:

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions.

The existence and locations of the facilities — referred to as "black sites" in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents — are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country.

The CIA and the White House, citing national security concerns and the value of the program, have dissuaded Congress from demanding that the agency answer questions in open testimony about the conditions under which captives are held. Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long.

While the Defense Department has produced volumes of public reports and testimony about its detention practices and rules after the abuse scandals at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA has not even acknowledged the existence of its black sites. To do so, say officials familiar with the program, could open the U.S. government to legal challenges, particularly in foreign courts, and increase the risk of political condemnation at home and abroad.

But the revelations of widespread prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq by the U.S. military — which operates under published rules and transparent oversight of Congress — have increased concern among lawmakers, foreign governments and human rights groups about the opaque CIA system. Those concerns escalated last month, when Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Porter J. Goss asked Congress to exempt CIA employees from legislation already endorsed by 90 senators that would bar cruel and degrading treatment of any prisoner in U.S. custody. [...]

The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior U.S. officials. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation. [...]

Since then, the arrangement has been increasingly debated within the CIA, where considerable concern lingers about the legality, morality and practicality of holding even unrepentant terrorists in such isolation and secrecy, perhaps for the duration of their lives. [...]

It is illegal for the government to hold prisoners in such isolation in secret prisons in the United States, which is why the CIA placed them overseas, according to several former and current intelligence officials and other U.S. government officials. Legal experts and intelligence officials said that the CIA's internment practices also would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries, where detainees have rights to have a lawyer or to mount a defense against allegations of wrongdoing.

Host countries have signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as has the United States. Yet CIA interrogators in the overseas sites are permitted to use the CIA's approved "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," some of which are prohibited by the U.N. convention and by U.S. military law. They include tactics such as "waterboarding," in which a prisoner is made to believe he or she is drowning. [...]

The top 30 al Qaeda prisoners exist in complete isolation from the outside world. Kept in dark, sometimes underground cells, they have no recognized legal rights, and no one outside the CIA is allowed to talk with or even see them, or to otherwise verify their well-being, said current and former and U.S. and foreign government and intelligence officials.

Most of the facilities were built and are maintained with congressionally appropriated funds, but the White House has refused to allow the CIA to brief anyone except the House and Senate intelligence committees' chairmen and vice chairmen on the program's generalities. [...]

"The issue of detaining and interrogating people was never, ever discussed [prior to 9/11]," said a former senior intelligence officer who worked in the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, or CTC, during that period. "It was against the culture and they believed information was best gleaned by other means." [...]

Six days after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush signed a sweeping finding that gave the CIA broad authorization to disrupt terrorist activity, including permission to kill, capture and detain members of al Qaeda anywhere in the world. [...]

[S]ometime in 2004 the CIA decided it had to give up its small site at Guantanamo Bay. The CIA had planned to convert that into a state-of-the-art facility, operated independently of the military. The CIA pulled out when U.S. courts began to exercise greater control over the military detainees, and agency officials feared judges would soon extend the same type of supervision over their detainees. [...]

[A]s the volume of leads pouring into the CTC from abroad increased, and the capacity of its paramilitary group to seize suspects grew, the CIA began apprehending more people whose intelligence value and links to terrorism were less certain, according to four current and former officials.

The original standard for consigning suspects to the invisible universe was lowered or ignored, they said. "They've got many, many more who don't reach any threshold," one intelligence official said.

These "black sites" make Abu Ghraib seem like kid stuff. What are the chances that "black site" prisoners are ever going to be released and given the opportunity to tell the world what they've been through?

As Bill Hicks used to say, "How does it feel to find out we are the Evil Empire?"

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October 16, 2005

War Of Choice 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq

Today on Meet the Press, Condoleezza Rice confirmed what we've known all along: the attack on Iraq was a war of choice — not the war of last resort the administration claimed it to be — and it's just the beginning of a massive project of reshaping the Middle East. As if the Middle East is ours to reshape. Excerpt:

[T]he fact of the matter is that when we were attacked on September 11, we had a choice to make. We could decide that the proximate cause was al-Qaeda and the people who flew those planes into buildings and, therefore, we would go after al-Qaeda and perhaps after the Taliban and then our work would be done and we would try to defend ourselves.

Or we could take a bolder approach, which was to say that we had to go after the root causes of the kind of terrorism that was produced there, and that meant a different kind of Middle East. And there is no one who could have imagined a different kind of Middle East with Saddam Hussein still in power. [My emphasis]

Which raises all sorts of questions that Tim Russert, naturally, failed to ask. For one, an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation, not for purposes of self-defense but simply because the attacker has decided they'd like to changes things and remove a head of state, is a gross violation of international law. For another, in our democracy the president is not an emperor or king, entitled to undertake a war for whatever unspoken reasons he/she chooses. What Rice admitted to is a complete disdain for constitutional limits on executive power. We've gone so far down the road of an imperial presidency that the implications of Rice's statements probably won't even register with most Americans.

Update: Video at Crooks and Liars.

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October 08, 2005

Friendly Fire 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan  Iraq  Politics

Football star Pat Tillman quit the NFL to enlist in the elite Army Rangers after 9/11, served in the Iraq invasion, and was ultimately killed fighting in Afghanistan. The Army said he died a hero's death, awarding him a Silver Star, Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion. In fact, he was killed by friendly fire — and the Army knew it at the time — and yet the medal citations included "a detailed account of the alleged battle (which the Army knew had never taken place)."

Tillman's death came when the Bush administration needed a hero: the Abu Ghraib torture scandal was about to break. Tillman's funeral was nationally televised, and the Pentagon PR machine built him up as the ultimate American hero, a man who walked away from the pinnacle of professional sports to fight and heroically die in the War on Terror. Ann Coulter, mimicking Nazi rhetoric as only she can do, gushed that Tillman was "an American original — virtuous, pure and masculine like only an American male can be."

A recent San Francisco Chronicle story, however, reveals that in life Tillman was a much more complicated man:

Interviews...show a side of Pat Tillman not widely known — a fiercely independent thinker who enlisted, fought and died in service to his country yet was critical of President Bush and opposed the war in Iraq, where he served a tour of duty. He was an avid reader whose interests ranged from history books on World War II and Winston Churchill to works of leftist Noam Chomsky, a favorite author. [...]

...Tillman’s unique character...was more complex than the public image of a gung-ho patriotic warrior. He started keeping a journal at 16 and continued the practice on the battlefield, writing in it regularly. (His journal was lost immediately after his death.) Mary Tillman [Pat's mother] said a friend of Pat's even arranged a private meeting with Chomsky, the antiwar author, to take place after his return from Afghanistan — a meeting prevented by his death. She said that although he supported the Afghan war, believing it justified by the Sept. 11 attacks, "Pat was very critical of the whole Iraq war."

[Spc. Russell] Baer, who served with Tillman for more than a year in Iraq and Afghanistan, told one anecdote that took place during the March 2003 invasion as the Rangers moved up through southern Iraq.

"I can see it like a movie screen," Baer said. "We were outside of (a city in southern Iraq) watching as bombs were dropping on the town. We were at an old air base, me, [Pat's brother] Kevin and Pat, we weren't in the fight right then. We were talking. And Pat said, 'You know, this war is so f**king illegal.' And we all said, 'Yeah.' That's who he was. He totally was against Bush."

Another soldier in the platoon, who asked not to be identified, said Pat urged him to vote for Bush's Democratic opponent in the 2004 election, Sen. John Kerry. [My emphasis]

At least three investigations have purportedly looked at Tillman's death, but the results are full of contradictions, omissions, and constantly changing testimony. See the SFC article for details. One excerpt:

One soldier dismissed by the Rangers for his actions in the incident submitted a statement in the third investigation that suggests the probe was incomplete: "The investigation does not truly set to rest the events of the evening of 22 April 2004. There is critical information not included or misinterpreted in it that could shed some light on who is really at fault for this," he wrote.

Noam Chomsky confirms that he was to meet with Tillman upon Tillman's return. Imagine the PR disaster for the White House and the Pentagon if their hero had returned and publicly stood with Chomsky in outspoken criticism of Bush and Bush's war in Iraq.

All we know for sure is that Tillman was killed by "friendly fire", but as The Chronicle notes:

...[T]he medical examiner's report said Tillman was killed by three bullets closely spaced in his forehead...

Whatever the true facts of his death may have been beyond that, this much is clear: Tillman wasn't the White House's hero or the Pentagon's hero. As Dave Zirin writes in The Nation, Pat Tillman was, if anything, our hero. The real Pat Tillman, however, was erased, transformed into a cartoon image that is the complete opposite of the real man.

The very definition of Orwellian.

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August 31, 2005

"War On Terror" Costs Top World War I 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan  Iraq

Despite the relatively small number of soldiers involved, the Iraq-Afghanistan war has already cost the US more, in constant dollars, than World War I.

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August 26, 2005

Defending Fascism 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

Following Digby, I'd like to quote an article of Spencer Ackerman's in TNR. Ackerman examines the Bush administration's stubborn defense of its enormously counterproductive policies regarding detention at Guantanamo. This is extremely important stuff:

The Bush administration has adopted this radical approach because it is defending the idea that the Constitution empowers the president to conduct war exclusively on his terms. A series of memos written by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 effectively maintained that any law restricting the president's commander-in-chief authority is presumptively unconstitutional. (When GOP Senator Lindsey Graham recently quoted to Pentagon lawyer Daniel Dell'Orto the inconvenient section of Article I, Section 8, granting Congress the authority to "make rules concerning captures on land and water," he farcically replied, "I'd have to take a look at that particular constitutional provision.") Last month, when some GOP senators tried to bar "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" of detainees in an amendment to the 2006 defense bill, the White House sent them a letter threatening to veto any attempt to "restrict the President's authority to protect Americans effectively from terrorist attack and bring terrorists to justice," and Vice President Dick Cheney warned senators against usurping executive power. For good measure, the White House instructed the Senate leadership to pull the entire half-trillion-dollar bill from the floor, lest the offending language within it pass.

It would not be difficult to solve the indefinite-detention problem: Pass a law allowing for a circumscribed period in which officials interrogate the detainee and accumulate evidence before bringing charges against him. This is how it works in countries like Great Britain and Israel, both mature democracies that have fought terrorist threats militarily and legally for decades. But the administration has strongly resisted any move to introduce legal protections to Guantánamo Bay. When the Supreme Court ruled last year that Guantánamo inmates could bring habeas corpus challenges to their detentions in federal court — settling the question of whether detainees had recourse to the U.S. legal system — the Justice Department adopted the bewildering position that, once detainees file their claims, they possess no further procedural or substantive legal rights at all, an absurdity to which the administration is sticking.

That's not all. Before a Senate panel last month, Dell'Orto argued that Congress shouldn't create a statutory definition of the term "enemy combatant," since the administration needs "flexibility in the terminology in order to ... address the changing circumstances of the type of conflicts in which we are engaged and will be engaged." The very next week, before an appellate court panel, Solicitor General Paul Clement, arguing for the continued detention without charge of American citizen and suspected Al Qaeda terrorist José Padilla, explained what the administration has in mind for its "flexible" definition. Federal appellate Judge J. Michael Luttig, a Bush appointee, noted that, since Padilla was arrested not on an Afghan battlefield but at a Chicago airport, the administration's discretion to detain an American citizen ought to be fettered, "unless you're prepared to boldly say the United States is a battlefield in the war on terror." Clement immediately replied, "I can say that, and I can say it boldly." In essence, the administration is claiming authority to detain anyone, captured anywhere, based not on any criteria enacted by law but rather at the discretion of policy, and to hold that individual indefinitely.

That position — that the war on terrorism requires executive latitude at odds with hundreds of years of law — has animated every single step of the administration's approach to the war. It's why Bush has kept NATO allies at arm's length while simultaneously trumpeting their absolute necessity to the defeat of Al Qaeda. It's why he didn't just oppose the creation of an independent 9/11 Commission to investigate the history of counterterrorism policy, he also argued it would be an unacceptable burden on his prosecution of the war. And it's why he's blasted any move by the courts to exercise oversight of the war as a dangerous judicial overreach: When a district court judge last year challenged the constitutionality of the administration's military commissions for the trial of enemy combatants, the Justice Department "vigorously disagree[d]," as a spokesman put it, and contested the ruling until the commissions were reinstated on appeal last month. For the administration, its expansion of executive power is synonymous with victory in the war — regardless of the real-world costs to the war effort. [My emphasis]

What they are defending is their vision of a future in which the US remains in a constant state of war and where the White House can detain anyone it wants, for however long it wants, for whatever reason. That's the future they want. If that's not fascism, I don't know what is.

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August 17, 2005

Leaked Reports Contradict Official Story On Menezes Killing 9/11, "War On Terror"

According to leaked reports made by police and civilian witnesses regarding the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by British police or paramilitary officers, Menezes had already been restrained before he was executed at point-blank range. From Canada's CTV:

The young Brazilian man mistaken for a suicide bomber and shot dead by British police on a London subway station had already been overpowered by a surveillance officer and was shot at point-blank range, according to leaked documents.

Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old electrician, was shot eight times on board a train at Stockwell station in south London on July 22, the morning after failed bomb attacks on the city's transit system.

But the evidence police and witnesses gave to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which was leaked to ITV News, reveals that a member of the surveillance team grabbed de Menezes before he was shot.

"I heard shouting which included the word 'police' and turned to face the male in the denim jacket," the document reads.

"He immediately stood up and advanced towards me and the CO19 (firearms squad) officers ... I grabbed the male in the denim jacket by wrapping both my arms around his torso, pinning his arms to his side. I then pushed him back on to the seat where he had been previously sitting ... I then heard a gun shot very close to my left ear and was dragged away on to the floor of the carriage."

A man sitting opposite de Menezes is quoted as saying: "Within a few seconds I saw a man coming into the double doors to my left.

"He was pointing a small black handgun towards a person sitting opposite me. He pointed the gun at the right hand side of the man's head. The gun was within 12 inches (30 centimetres) of the man's head when the first shot was fired."

The leaked report prompted a campaign group supporting de Menezes' family to say the killing resembled a "judicial execution" and called for the police's "shoot-to-kill" policy to be suspended. [...]

Initially, reports said de Menezes was dressed inappropriately for the summer weather and triggered the suspicion of armed officers when he fled.

Menezes had emerged from a house that police had under surveillance, believing it was linked to the bombings.

But CCTV footage and eyewitness accounts in the leaked documents say he was not wearing a large winter padded jacket, rather that he was wearing a denim jacket.

Lawyer Harriet Wistrich, acting for the Brazilian's family, said police had no reason to believe Menezes was a bomber.

"He was not carrying a rucksack. He simply had a denim jacket," Wistrich told British Broadcasting Corp. TV.

"Was it necessary to shoot him dead as opposed to trying to confront him at an earlier stage? There was no indication he was about to blow himself up at all."

The documents also state that de Menezes walked calmly through the station, even stopping to collect a free newspaper.

According to accounts and police statements, de Menezes then boarded a train and was restrained by a surveillance officer before he was shot. [My emphasis]

To quote I. F. Stone: "All governments are run by liars, and nothing they say should be believed."

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August 13, 2005

C-SPAN To Air McKinney Hearing 9/11, "War On Terror"

There's a lot about the official account of the events of 9/11 that doesn't add up. The inexplicable collapse of WTC building 7, for example, which isn't even mentioned by the 9/11 Commission. Or the fact that the plane that hit the Pentagon did so more than a half hour after the second WTC tower had been hit, nearly an hour after the FAA knew multiple planes had been hijacked, with the whole world watching events unfold live on television — and yet the skies over Washington DC remained undefended.

On July 22, Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney held a day-long hearing to examine flaws and omissions in the 9/11 Commission's Final Report. A number of people testified, including leading victims' family members, former government and intelligence workers, academics, and authors.

The event was videotaped by C-SPAN, who will air it in two parts on C-SPAN2. First part: 8:00 pm to 11:30 pm on Wednesday, August 31. Second part: 8:00 pm to 1:00 am on Friday, September 2. [Via FTW]

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August 09, 2005

German Intelligence: Terrorism "Radiating Outward" From Iraq 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq

The head of the German equivalent of the CIA says he fears that terrorism is "radiating outwards" from Iraq. Reuters:

German intelligence fears terrorism is "radiating" from Iraq around the Middle East and expects further attacks across the region, its spy chief said on Monday.

"We fear developments in Iraq are radiating outwards," foreign intelligence chief August Hanning said in brief comments to Reuters.

He said it was possible that an intensification of insurgent attacks on Iraqi security forces and the U.S.-led coalition was encouraging like-minded militants to step up attacks in the wider region as well.

Hanning cited bombings that killed 64 people last month in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, and security alerts in recent days forcing cruise liners carrying Israeli tourists to divert from Turkey to Cyprus. [My emphasis]

The war that supposedly was intended to make us safer has instead put us in far greater danger, and at this point there is no telling where it will all end. British intelligence has concluded that Britain likely faces a sustained insurgency. How long before that happens here?

One of the truly horrific things about all this is that US military actions provoke further attacks against the West, which, in turn, stampede people into supporting intensification of US military actions — which provoke further attacks against the West. It's hard to imagine how this can end without its spinning out of control. As the German intelligence estimate shows, the idea that the US can somehow militarily "drain the swamp" of terrorists/insurgents is a suicidal delusion.

It's a big unconquerable world out there, containing billions of potential adversaries. Hubris inevitably leads to disaster. Inevitably.

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August 08, 2005

CIA Commander: US Let Bin Laden "Slip Away" 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan  Iraq

This Past Peak post from over a year ago presented evidence that the US intentionally allowed Osama bin Laden to escape capture in Afghanistan.

Newsweek's August 15 issue contains new evidence. It reports that the CIA field commander at Tora Bora says that Bin Laden was within the US's grasp there and was allowed to "slip away", in Newsweek's words. Excerpt:

[I]n a forthcoming book, the CIA field commander for the agency's Jawbreaker team at Tora Bora, Gary Berntsen, says he and other U.S. commanders [knew] that bin Laden was among the hundreds of fleeing Qaeda and Taliban members. Berntsen says he had definitive intelligence that bin Laden was holed up at Tora Bora — intelligence operatives had tracked him — and could have been caught. "He was there," Berntsen tells NEWSWEEK. Asked to comment on Berntsen's remarks, National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones passed on 2004 statements from former CENTCOM commander Gen. Tommy Franks. "We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001," Franks wrote in an Oct. 19 New York Times op-ed. "Bin Laden was never within our grasp." Berntsen says Franks is "a great American. But he was not on the ground out there. I was."

In his book—titled Jawbreakerthe decorated career CIA officer criticizes Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Department for not providing enough support to the CIA and the Pentagon's own Special Forces teams in the final hours of Tora Bora, says Berntsen's lawyer, Roy Krieger. (Berntsen would not divulge the book's specifics, saying he's awaiting CIA clearance.) That backs up other recent accounts, including that of military author Sean Naylor, who calls Tora Bora a "strategic disaster" because the Pentagon refused to deploy a cordon of conventional forces to cut off escaping Qaeda and Taliban members. Maj. Todd Vician, a Defense Department spokesman, says the problem at Tora Bora "was not necessarily just the number of troops." [My emphasis]

Why would the White House and Pentagon want to allow bin Laden to escape? If bin Laden had been captured in December, 2001, the administration never could have sold the Iraq war to Congress and the American public. As we know from a number of sources, the administration was determined to invade Iraq even before 9/11. But as an American official said back in November, 2001, "casting our objectives too narrowly" risked "a premature collapse of the international effort if by some lucky chance Mr. bin Laden was captured." It's all been a treasonous charade.

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August 07, 2005

British Intelligence: UK Facing An Insurgency 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq

The Independent reports that British intelligence believes Britain may be facing a "full-blown Islamist insurgency." Excerpt:

Intelligence chiefs are warning Tony Blair that Britain faces a full-blown Islamist insurgency, sustained by thousands of young Muslim men with military training now resident in this country.

The grim possibility that the two London attacks were not simply a sporadic terror campaign is being discussed at the highest levels in Whitehall. Fears of a third strike remain high this weekend, based on concrete evidence supplied by an intercepted text message and the interrogation of a terror suspect being held outside Britain, say US reports.

As police and the security services work to prevent another cell murdering civilians, attention is focusing on the pool of migrants to this country from the Horn of Africa and central Asia. MI5 is working to an estimate that more than 10,000 young men from these regions have had at least basic training in light weapons and military explosives.

A well-connected source said there were more than 100,000 people in Britain from "completely militarised" regions, including Somalia and its neighbours in the Horn of Africa, and Afghanistan and territories bordering the country. "Every one of them knows how to use an AK-47," said the source. "About 10 per cent can strip and reassemble such a weapon blindfolded, and probably a similar proportion have some knowledge of how to use military explosives. That adds up to tens of thousands of men."

Even though the vast majority had come to Britain to escape the lawlessness of their homelands, the source added, there remained an alarmingly large pool of trained men who could be lured into violent action here.

This threat had been largely neglected while attention focused on British-born militants who had been through training camps run by al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan.

"There has been a debate on whether we are facing an insurgency or terrorism," said the source, "and the verdict is on the side of an insurgency." [My emphasis]

What a nightmare. History is not going to look kindly on Mr. George W. Bush. He has started something that may yet spin completely out of control.

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July 28, 2005

No Bulky Jacket Says Menezes' Cousin 9/11, "War On Terror"

The story of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian man shot dead by British police, is murky, at best. The police say he was followed from the time he left his flat, through a 20-minute bus ride to a crowded subway station and onto a crowded train, and only then was he shot, apparently after he had already been pinned to the ground by two officers. These actions don't make a lot of sense if police believed he carried a bomb. Why let him travel by bus? Why let him enter a crowded subway station? If he had been immobilized, why kill him?

Now, a cousin of Menezes has come forward to dispute police claims that Menezes wore a bulky jacket and vaulted a subway turnstile. Guardian:

Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian shot dead in the head, was not wearing a heavy jacket that might have concealed a bomb, and did not jump the ticket barrier when challenged by armed plainclothes police, his cousin said yesterday.

Speaking at a press conference after a meeting with the Metropolitan police, Vivien Figueiredo, 22, said that the first reports of how her 27-year-old cousin had come to be killed in mistake for a suicide bomber on Friday at Stockwell tube station were wrong.

"He used a travel card [and thus wouldn't have needed to jump the ticket barrier]," she said. "He had no bulky jacket, he was wearing a jeans jacket. But even if he was wearing a bulky jacket that wouldn't be an excuse to kill him." [...]

"My cousin was an honest and hard working person," said Ms Figueiredo who shared a flat with him in Tulse Hill, south London. "Although we are living in circumstances similar to a war, we should not be exterminating people unjustly."

Another cousin, Patricia da Silva Armani, 21, said he was in Britain legally to work and study, giving him no reason to fear the police. "An innocent man has been killed as though he was a terrorist," she said. "An incredibly grave error was committed by the British police."

Mr de Menezes was shot seven times in the head and once in the shoulder at 10am last Friday after being followed from Tulse Hill. Scotland Yard initially claimed he wore a bulky jacket and jumped the barrier when police identified themselves and ordered him to stop. The same day the Met commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, said the shooting was "directly linked" to the unprecedented anti-terror operation on London's streets.

The following day Sir Ian apologised when detectives established that the Brazilian electrician, on his way to a job in north-west London, was not connected to attempts to blow up three underground trains and a bus in the capital. [My emphasis]

Many questions would be easily answered if British authorities would simply release the closed-circuit video of the incident, as Menezes' family has demanded:

Speaking from a hotel in Kingston, where Jean Charles's relatives are staying, his cousin Alex Pereira, said: "We want to see the CCTV. That may show it clearly.

"They have to show it, not just to me, but to show everyone else what they did." [...]

"They have to answer why they let a guy they suspected of terrorism take a bus, and why they waited for a busy place, a crowded place, before they shot him. They shouldn't hide anything.

"They have to show everyone, not only me but everyone, what they did."

He denied speculation that Mr Menezes had fled from police because his visa had expired.

"He showed me about three months ago the visa and the Home Office letter. He had a five year visa. I think he still had five years more to go.

"Why would they think he ran because of that if he had five years on his visa."

Mr Pereira also called into question the police refusal to reconsider the shoot-to-kill policy.

He said: "The police came on TV and said they would apologise to the family, but at the same time they say they will kill people. Imagine saying I apologise but I'm going to keep on doing the same.

"Five shots. There was no explanation. Imagine if they had killed an Englishman." [My emphasis]

It's impossible to know what actually happened without release of CCTV video. It's hard to imagine what possible (legitimate) justification there can be for withholding it.

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July 24, 2005

Can They Really Be This Incompetent? 9/11, "War On Terror"

Seattle Times (via Atrios):

The Justice Department blocked efforts by its prosecutors in Seattle in 2002 to bring criminal charges against Haroon Aswat, according to federal law-enforcement officials who were involved in the case.

British authorities suspect Aswat of taking part in the July 7 London bombings, which killed 56 and prompted an intense worldwide manhunt for him.

But long before he surfaced as a suspect there, federal prosecutors in Seattle wanted to seek a grand-jury indictment for his involvement in a failed attempt to set up a terrorist-training camp in Bly, Ore., in late 1999. In early 2000, Aswat lived for a couple of months in central Seattle at the Dar-us-Salaam mosque.

A federal indictment of Aswat in 2002 would have resulted in an arrest warrant and his possible detention in Britain for extradition to the United States.

"It was really frustrating," said a former Justice Department official involved in the case. "Guys like that, you just want to sweep them up off the street." [...]

At the time, however, federal prosecutors chose not to indict Aswat for reasons that are not clear. Asked why Aswat wasn't indicted, a federal official in Seattle replied, "That's a great question." [My emphasis]

The 9/11 hijackers, Osama bin Laden himself, now this. Everywhere you turn, the administration always seems to find a way to let people slip through their fingers, people who later turn up attacking us in ways that further the neocon agenda. Call me paranoid, but how many times does the administration get to use the incompetence defense before we ask if there isn't more to it?

Posted by Jonathan at 07:23 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

"We Are Quite Comfortable That The Policy Is Right" 9/11, "War On Terror"

The man executed by British police on suspicion of being a suicide bomber has been identified as Brazilian national Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, an electrician who had been living legally in England for about four years.

Immediately following the killing, London police commissioner Ian Blair said, "this shooting is directly linked to the ongoing and expanding anti-terrorist operation." Police now say Menezes was "not connected" with terrorism. Reuters:

British police on Sunday defended a policy of shooting to kill suspected suicide bombers after shooting dead a Brazilian electrician by mistake in the hunt for London's bombers.

Brazil has demanded an explanation from Britain after police searching for four men suspected of trying to bomb London's transport system last Thursday shot Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, at an Underground train station in south London.

"I think we are quite comfortable that the policy is right, but of course these are fantastically difficult times," Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair told Sky Television.

Asked if the instructions were to shoot to kill if police believed a suspect was a suicide bomber, he said: "Correct. They have to be that."

"It's still happening out there, there are still officers having to make those calls as we speak. ... Somebody else could be shot," Blair added.

Menezes was shot in the head five times point blank by one plain clothes officer while two others held him down.


The man, identified by police as 27-year-old Brazilian citizen Jean Charles de Menezes, was shot in the head five times in front of dozens of passengers on a train at the Stockwell subway station on Friday.


"I saw a chap run on to the train," Whitby said. "He was running so fast he half sort of tripped. He was being pursued by three guys. One had a black handgun in his hand."

"As he sort of went down, two of them sort of dropped on to him to hold him down, and the other one fired. I heard five shots."


According to a witness quoted in London's Daily Mail, the man "looked absolutely petrified" as he ran onto the train. The witness told the newspaper that the suspect, just a few yards away from him, fell to the ground and officers were on him immediately.

"The policeman nearest to me had the black automatic pistol in his left hand. He held it down to the guy and unloaded five shots into him."

Menezes' family questions the police account of the incident. CNN:

A cousin of Menezes said his family was angry over the death, challenging police statements that he failed to obey orders and jumped a ticket barrier.

Menezes, an electrician who had lived in Britain about four years, had a multiple-day pass and had no reason to jump the barrier, he said.

"To say 'sorry' is not enough," said Alex Alves Pereira.


"They had to kill someone to show the whole population they are working and make the country safe," Alex Pereira, Menezes' cousin, told the British Broadcasting Corp.

It was no accident that Menezes was shot repeatedly in the head. It's policy. CBC:

The admission of error further fueled controversy over the shooting, which was the first public application of a policy to stop suicide bombers devised after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

It gives police the authority to shoot suspected suicide bombers first and ask questions later.

Police authorities said officers have to aim for the heads of suspected bombers because they could have explosives strapped to their bodies.

It's crazy. Three weeks ago, British police were seldom even armed. Now three weeks later they have a policy of summarily assassinating anyone they have a feeling might be a suicide bomber, a policy they have already exercised. It's astonishing to see how readily an ostensibily free and democratic society will surrender its liberty in a climate of fear, a fact that states are all too willing to exploit. British citizens had better resist, or they will find themselves living in a police state.

Posted by Jonathan at 06:14 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

July 23, 2005

Fear And Racism 9/11, "War On Terror"

This is what fear and racism can do. An Asian-looking man wears a heavier-than-normal coat. He runs away when three men in plainclothes, one wielding a gun, chase him. For that, he is pushed to the ground and murdered in cold blood. BBC:

A passenger has told how he saw armed police officers shoot a man dead on a Tube train at Stockwell.

Mark Whitby said: "I was sitting on the train... I heard a load of noise, people saying, 'Get out, get down'.

"I saw an Asian guy. He ran on to the train, he was hotly pursued by three plain clothes officers, one of them was wielding a black handgun.

"He half tripped... they pushed him to the floor and basically unloaded five shots into him," he told BBC News 24.

"As [the suspect] got onto the train I looked at his face, he looked sort of left and right, but he basically looked like a cornered rabbit, a cornered fox.

"He looked absolutely petrified and then he sort of tripped, but they were hotly pursuing him, [they] couldn't have been any more than two or three feet behind him at this time and he half tripped and was half pushed to the floor and the policeman nearest to me had the black automatic pistol in his left hand.

"He held it down to the guy and unloaded five shots into him.

"He [the suspect] had a baseball cap on and quite a sort of thickish coat — it was a coat you'd wear in winter, sort of like a padded jacket.

"He might have had something concealed under there, I don't know. But it looked sort of out of place with the sort of weather we've been having, the sort of hot humid weather.

"He was largely built, he was quite a chubby sort of guy.

"I didn't see any guns or anything like that — I didn't see him carrying anything. I didn't even see a bag to be quite honest.

"I got into the ticket hall. I was approached by a policeman and London Underground staff asking me if I needed counselling.

"I was just basically saying I've just seen a man shot dead. I've seen a man shot dead. I was distraught, totally distraught. It was no less than five yards away from where I was sitting. I actually saw it with my own eyes."

He ran because he was afraid. With good reason, obviously.

Is this what it's come to? You fit some cop's stereotype of a suicide bomber and for that you can be executed in cold blood?

Posted by Jonathan at 07:31 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

With A Whimper 9/11, "War On Terror"  Rights, Law

These are crazy times, when our elected "representatives" in Congress just can't wait to vote away our civil liberties. On Thursday, the House passed a bill that makes permanent all but two of the Patriot Act's infringements on the Bill of Rights. The remaining two provisions were also kept in force, with the "sunset" time for Congressional reconsideration extended to ten years — so they may as well be permanent. NYT:

The House voted Thursday to extend permanently virtually all the major antiterrorism provisions of the USA Patriot Act after beating back efforts by Democrats and some Republicans to impose new restrictions on the government's power to eavesdrop, conduct secret searches and demand library records.

The legislation, approved 257 to 171, would make permanent 14 of the 16 provisions in the law that were set to expire at the end of this year. The remaining two provisions — giving the government the power to demand business and library records and to conduct roving wiretaps — would have to be reconsidered by Congress in 10 years.

The House version of the legislation essentially leaves intact many of the central powers of the antiterrorism act that critics had sought to scale back, setting the stage for what could be difficult negotiations with the Senate, which is considering several very different bills to extend the government’s counterterrorism powers under the act.

One version, approved unanimously Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would impose greater restrictions on the government’s powers.

But a competing bill passed last month by the intelligence committee would broaden the government's powers by allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation to demand records in terrorism investigations without a judge's order and to have sole discretion in monitoring the mail of some terrorism suspects. That proposal has the strong backing of the Bush administration. [...]

[Critics charged] that Republican leaders on the House Rules Committee had stifled debate by refusing to allow the full House to consider amendments that would have prevented the government from demanding library and bookstore records and would have forced a reconsideration of some surveillance provisions in 4 years instead of 10.

The provision preventing the government from reviewing library records passed the full House by a wide margin last month as an amendment to an appropriations bill, but the rules committee did not allow it to be considered Thursday. Representative Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who wrote the provision, said the committee's refusal to bring the issue to a vote was "an outrageous abuse of power."

Even some Republicans were alarmed by the exclusion of many amendments.

Representative C. L. Otter of Idaho said the action amounted to a "gag rule" that prevented a full debate on needed restrictions in the law. "I'm embarrassed to be on this side of the aisle," Mr. Otter said. [My emphasis]

The House Republican leadership prevents votes on amendments that would have placed even minimal limits on the government's powers.

In the Senate, the intelligence committee wants to go even further, letting the executive branch demand private records at their sole discretion, without having to get a judge's approval.

These people are either fools or knaves. Anyone with even the slightest acquaintance with history and human nature knows that nobody — nobody — can be trusted with this much power. Least of all the current administration, which has already shown itself to be as unprincipled as they are incompetent.

This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.

Posted by Jonathan at 07:06 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

July 21, 2005

Giving The President Carte Blanche 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Rights, Law

On July 15, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit unanimously ruled that the president has the power to declare anyone an "enemy combatant", beyond the reach of the Geneva Conventions, to be tried before a military tribunal without the usual protections afforded by US and international custom and law. AP:

A Guantanamo detainee who once was Osama bin Laden's driver can be tried by military tribunal, a federal appeals court ruled Friday, apparently clearing the way for the Pentagon to resume trials suspended when a lower court ruled the procedures unlawful.

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled unanimously against Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni.

More broadly it said that the 1949 Geneva Convention governing prisoners of war does not apply to al-Qaida and its members. That supports a key assertion of the Bush administration, which has faced international criticism for holding hundreds of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay without full POW protections.

"I think pretty much the entire opinion would be welcomed by the administration. I think there's nothing in there that is adverse to the administration's positions," Carl Tobias, a professor of law at the University of Richmond, said in a telephone interview. "It's a very pro-administration decision." [...]

Hamdan, who was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001, denies conspiring to engage in acts of terrorism and denies he was a member of al-Qaida. His lawyers say that by working as bin Laden's driver he simply wanted to earn enough money to return to Yemen, buy his own vehicle and support his family as a driver.

Two lawyers representing Hamdan, Georgetown University law professor Neal Katyal and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles D. Swift, said the appeals court ruling "is contrary to 200 years of constitutional law."

"Today's ruling places absolute trust in the president, unchecked by the Constitution, statutes of Congress and long-standing treaties ratified by the Senate of the United States," the two defense lawyers said in a statement.

Katyal said in an interview that the detainee's legal team plans a further appeal. [My emphasis]

As Deep Blade Journal points out, the question whether the Geneva Conventions apply is no small matter. Deep Blade points to:

...an excellent article by former US Representative Elizabeth Holtzman appearing in The Nation for July 18, 2005. Holtzman cites the 1996 War Crimes Act, a Clinton-era domestic statute:
This relatively obscure statute makes it a federal crime to violate certain provisions of the Geneva Conventions. The Act punishes any US national, military or civilian, who commits a "grave breach" of the Geneva Conventions. A grave breach, as defined by the Geneva Conventions, includes the deliberate "killing, torture or inhuman treatment" of detainees. Violations of the War Crimes Act that result in death carry the death penalty.

In a memo to President Bush, dated January 25, 2002, Gonzales urged that the United States opt out of the Geneva Conventions for the Afghanistan war — despite Secretary of State Colin Powell's objections. One of the two reasons he gave the President was that opting out "substantially reduces the likelihood of prosecution under the War Crimes Act". [My emphasis]

It seems likely that numerous high officials, up to and including the President, could be liable under this statute if their outlandish re-definition of the word "humane" and opt-out of international law does not stick. Unfortunately, the power relationships within the US government suggest that the Republican investigative apparatus will never allow such a formulation of charges to occur.

Deep Blade wrote the above the day after the appeals court decision. Just three days later, one of the judges responsible for that decision, John G. Roberts, was rewarded with nomination to the US Supreme Court, where he will be in a position once more to rule on Hamdan's appeal.

The President of the United States is not supposed to be a dictator who can declare anyone, US citizens included, to be an "enemy combatant" who can be imprisoned indefinitely, tortured, held essentially incommunicado. The legal claims that provide the supposed justification for the arrogation of such powers are as dangerous as they are dubious. And yet they are, via decisions like that of July 15, rapidly taking on the status of settled law.

The Supreme Court is the last remaining government institution that can stem the tide. With appointments like that of John Roberts (and eventually, perhaps, Alberto Gonzalez), Bush aims to remove the one remaining check on his power.

Posted by Jonathan at 07:26 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

July 16, 2005

A Reality-Based Look At Suicide Terrorism 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq  War and Peace

University of Chicago professor Robert Pape has assembled a database of every suicide bombing attack in the world over the past 25 years. Based on this data, he has discovered that most of what we think we know about suicide bombing is wrong. Suicide bombing is not the product of Muslim fundamentalism. It is invariably a response to occupation by an outside force. If we want suicide bombers to stop targeting us, we will withdraw our troops from Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Here are excerpts from an interview Pape gave to The American Conservative (link via Xymphora):

Robert Pape: Over the past two years, I have collected the first complete database of every suicide-terrorist attack around the world from 1980 to early 2004. This research is conducted not only in English but also in native-language sources — Arabic, Hebrew, Russian, and Tamil, and others — so that we can gather information not only from newspapers but also from products from the terrorist community. The terrorists are often quite proud of what they do in their local communities, and they produce albums and all kinds of other information that can be very helpful to understand suicide-terrorist attacks.

This wealth of information creates a new picture about what is motivating suicide terrorism. Islamic fundamentalism is not as closely associated with suicide terrorism as many people think. The world leader in suicide terrorism is a group that you may not be familiar with: the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

This is a Marxist group, a completely secular group that draws from the Hindu families of the Tamil regions of the country. They invented the famous suicide vest for their suicide assassination of Rajiv Ghandi in May 1991. The Palestinians got the idea of the suicide vest from the Tamil Tigers.

TAC: So if Islamic fundamentalism is not necessarily a key variable behind these groups, what is?

RP: The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir to the West Bank, every major suicide-terrorist campaign — over 95 percent of all the incidents — has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw.

TAC: That would seem to run contrary to a view that one heard during the American election campaign, put forth by people who favor Bush's policy. That is, we need to fight the terrorists over there, so we don't have to fight them here.

RP: Since suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism, the use of heavy military force to transform Muslim societies over there, if you would, is only likely to increase the number of suicide terrorists coming at us.

Since 1990, the United States has stationed tens of thousands of ground troops on the Arabian Peninsula, and that is the main mobilization appeal of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. People who make the argument that it is a good thing to have them attacking us over there are missing that suicide terrorism is not a supply-limited phenomenon where there are just a few hundred around the world willing to do it because they are religious fanatics. It is a demand-driven phenomenon. That is, it is driven by the presence of foreign forces on the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. The operation in Iraq has stimulated suicide terrorism and has given suicide terrorism a new lease on life. [...]

TAC: If you were to break down causal factors, how much weight would you put on a cultural rejection of the West and how much weight on the presence of American troops on Muslim territory?

RP: The evidence shows that the presence of American troops is clearly the pivotal factor driving suicide terrorism.

If Islamic fundamentalism were the pivotal factor, then we should see some of the largest Islamic fundamentalist countries in the world, like Iran, which has 70 million people — three times the population of Iraq and three times the population of Saudi Arabia — with some of the most active groups in suicide terrorism against the United States. However, there has never been an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from Iran, and we have no evidence that there are any suicide terrorists in Iraq from Iran.

Sudan is a country of 21 million people. Its government is extremely Islamic fundamentalist. The ideology of Sudan was so congenial to Osama bin Laden that he spent three years in Sudan in the 1990s. Yet there has never been an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from Sudan.

I have the first complete set of data on every al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from 1995 to early 2004, and they are not from some of the largest Islamic fundamentalist countries in the world. Two thirds are from the countries where the United States has stationed heavy combat troops since 1990.

Another point in this regard is Iraq itself. Before our invasion, Iraq never had a suicide-terrorist attack in its history. Never. Since our invasion, suicide terrorism has been escalating rapidly with 20 attacks in 2003, 48 in 2004, and over 50 in just the first five months of 2005. Every year that the United States has stationed 150,000 combat troops in Iraq, suicide terrorism has doubled.

TAC: So your assessment is that there are more suicide terrorists or potential suicide terrorists today than there were in March 2003?

RP: I have collected demographic data from around the world on the 462 suicide terrorists since 1980 who completed the mission, actually killed themselves. This information tells us that most are walk-in volunteers. Very few are criminals. Few are actually longtime members of a terrorist group. For most suicide terrorists, their first experience with violence is their very own suicide-terrorist attack.

There is no evidence there were any suicide-terrorist organizations lying in wait in Iraq before our invasion. What is happening is that the suicide terrorists have been produced by the invasion.

TAC: Do we know who is committing suicide terrorism in Iraq? Are they primarily Iraqis or walk-ins from other countries in the region?

RP: Our best information at the moment is that the Iraqi suicide terrorists are coming from two groups — Iraqi Sunnis and Saudis — the two populations most vulnerable to transformation by the presence of large American combat troops on the Arabian Peninsula. This is perfectly consistent with the strategic logic of suicide terrorism. [...]

RP: I not only study the patterns of where suicide terrorism has occurred but also where it hasn't occurred. Not every foreign occupation has produced suicide terrorism. Why do some and not others? Here is where religion matters, but not quite in the way most people think. In virtually every instance where an occupation has produced a suicide-terrorist campaign, there has been a religious difference between the occupier and the occupied community. That is true not only in places such as Lebanon and in Iraq today but also in Sri Lanka, where it is the Sinhala Buddhists who are having a dispute with the Hindu Tamils.

When there is a religious difference between the occupier and the occupied, that enables terrorist leaders to demonize the occupier in especially vicious ways. Now, that still requires the occupier to be there. Absent the presence of foreign troops, Osama bin Laden could make his arguments but there wouldn't be much reality behind them. The reason that it is so difficult for us to dispute those arguments is because we really do have tens of thousands of combat soldiers sitting on the Arabian Peninsula.

TAC: Has the next generation of anti-American suicide terrorists already been created? Is it too late to wind this down, even assuming your analysis is correct and we could de-occupy Iraq?

RP: Many people worry that once a large number of suicide terrorists have acted that it is impossible to wind it down. The history of the last 20 years, however, shows the opposite. Once the occupying forces withdraw from the homeland territory of the terrorists, they often stop — and often on a dime.

In Lebanon, for instance, there were 41 suicide-terrorist attacks from 1982 to 1986, and after the U.S. withdrew its forces, France withdrew its forces, and then Israel withdrew to just that six-mile buffer zone of Lebanon, they virtually ceased. They didn't completely stop, but there was no campaign of suicide terrorism. Once Israel withdrew from the vast bulk of Lebanese territory, the suicide terrorists did not follow Israel to Tel Aviv.

This is also the pattern of the second Intifada with the Palestinians. As Israel is at least promising to withdraw from Palestinian-controlled territory (in addition to some other factors), there has been a decline of that ferocious suicide-terrorist campaign. This is just more evidence that withdrawal of military forces really does diminish the ability of the terrorist leaders to recruit more suicide terrorists.

That doesn't mean that the existing suicide terrorists will not want to keep going. I am not saying that Osama bin Laden would turn over a new leaf and suddenly vote for George Bush. There will be a tiny number of people who are still committed to the cause, but the real issue is not whether Osama bin Laden exists. It is whether anybody listens to him. That is what needs to come to an end for Americans to be safe from suicide terrorism. [...]

TAC: What do you think the chances are of a weapon of mass destruction being used in an American city?

RP: I think it depends not exclusively, but heavily, on how long our combat forces remain in the Persian Gulf. The central motive for anti-American terrorism, suicide terrorism, and catastrophic terrorism is response to foreign occupation, the presence of our troops. The longer our forces stay on the ground in the Arabian Peninsula, the greater the risk of the next 9/11, whether that is a suicide attack, a nuclear attack, or a biological attack.

If you are a rational person who believes in basing decisions on actual data, take careful note. Bush's "we fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here" is, the data shows, the exact opposite of a rational policy. It is precisely because we fight them over there that we will have to fight them here. And the whole "flypaper" strategy is nonsense. There isn't a finite pool of "terrorists" that, if we can just drain it, the attacks will end and we'll be safe. Pape's data shows that so long as US troops remain as occupiers, there will be an endless supply of suicide bombers, a supply created by the occupation. Finally, note Pape's assertion that when the occupation ends, the attacks cease.

Of course, the real reasons for the US presence in Iraq have nothing much to do with combating terrorism. They have a lot more to do with establishing strategic control of the world's major remaining oil resources in the face of the imminent peak in world oil production, in my opinion. But most Americans who still support the US occupation of Iraq probably believe the "we fight them there so we don't have to fight them here" argument. They still buy the flypaper rationale. Bush may buy it, too, for all we know.

Pape's data shows, however, that this is just another phony justification, like the WMD that never existed. Anyone who uses that justification is a liar (whose real agenda is something else altogether), a fool, or both.

Posted by Jonathan at 05:53 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

July 10, 2005

From Bad To Much, Much Worse 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq

The "global war on terror" isn't going so well.

The Sunday Times today quotes US friend Iyad Allawi, the former interim prime minister of Iraq, as saying Iraq is descending into civil war and the Americans don't know what they're doing:

Iraq's former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi has warned that his country is facing civil war and has predicted dire consequences for Europe and America as well as the Middle East if the crisis is not resolved.

"The problem is that the Americans have no vision and no clear policy on how to go about in Iraq," said Allawi, a long-time ally of Washington.

In an interview with The Sunday Times last week as he visited Amman, the Jordanian capital, he said: "The policy should be of building national unity in Iraq. Without this we will most certainly slip into a civil war. We are practically in stage one of a civil war as we speak."

Allawi, a secular Shi’ite, said that Iraq had collapsed as a state and needed to be rebuilt. The only way forward, he said, was through "national unity, the building of institutions, the economy and a firm but peaceful foreign relation policy". Unless these criteria were satisfied, "the country will deteriorate".

Allawi's concern comes amid signs of growing violence between Shi'ites, who make up 60% of Iraq's estimated 26m people, and the Sunni minority who dominated the upper reaches of the civilian bureaucracy and officer corps under Saddam Hussein.

The Shi'ites, who endured decades of oppression, are threatening to purge members of Saddam's former Ba'ath party from the army and the intelligence services, a move that would provoke fierce retaliation from the Sunnis. [...]

Tension has increased in the past two weeks following the return of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Zarqawi left the country in May to seek medical treatment for a chest wound suffered in an American airstrike, but has now recovered sufficiently to resume his activities. [...]

Zarqawi has now released an audiotape in which he announces the formation of a new militant unit, the Omar Corps. Its avowed aim is to "eradicate" the Badr brigade, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the country's largest Shi'ite political party, which has targeted Sunnis.

Allawi, who became head of the interim government council created after the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, said it was imperative that the security services and military be rebuilt. He has been a staunch critic of the policy followed by Paul Bremer, the American former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, of removing former Ba'athists from positions of power and disbanding Saddam's army without putting anything else in place.

Allawi said that he had discussed the urgency of rebuilding Iraq's military with President George W Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, last year. "Bush earmarked $5.7 billion...but I did not receive the money," Allawi said.

His experience as prime minister had taught him that "force alone will not solve the problems in Iraq". It needed to be combined with dialogue and money to ensure stability. [...]

"If we don't build a state we will lose," Allawi warned. "Not just as Iraq, but the region as a whole and Europe should say goodbye to stability and so should the United States. Iraq will become a breeding ground for terrorists." [My emphasis]

Meanwhile, AP reports that international terrorism experts see the situation rapidly worsening, largely because of the US attack on Iraq:

New York and Washington. Bali, Riyadh, Istanbul, Madrid. And now London.

When will it end? Where will it all lead?

The experts aren't encouraged. One prominent terrorism researcher sees the prospect of "endless" war. Adds the man who tracked Osama bin Laden for the CIA, "I don't think it’s even started yet."

An Associated Press survey of longtime students of international terrorism finds them ever more convinced, in the aftermath of London's bloody Thursday, that the world has entered a long siege in a new kind of war. They believe that al-Qaida is mutating into a global insurgency, a possible prototype for other 21st-century movements, technologically astute, almost leaderless. And the way out is far from clear.

In fact, says Michael Scheuer, the ex-CIA analyst, rather than move toward solutions, the United States took a big step backward by invading Iraq.

Now, he said, "we're at the point where jihad is self-sustaining," where Islamic "holy warriors" in Iraq fight America with or without allegiance to al-Qaida's bin Laden.

The cold statistics of a RAND Corp. database show the impact of the explosion of violence in Iraq: The 5,362 deaths from terrorism worldwide between March 2004 and March 2005 were almost double the total for the same 12-month period before the 2003 U.S. invasion. [My emphasis]

And then we have this from President Bush. Reuters:

President Bush praised the resilience of Londoners on Saturday after the deadly bombings there and pledged to "stay on the offense" in the war on terrorism as he urged Americans to remain on alert. [...]

"We need to finally bring Osama bin Laden to account for his crimes," [Bush] said. "And we need to get much more serious about protecting America from attack — about securing our roads and rails, our borders and bridges, our seaports and airports, our nuclear and chemical plants."

Democrats have long pushed for spending more money on security for domestic transit other than airlines, but Republicans have resisted. [Thank you, Reuters.]

After returning from the summit on Friday, Bush visited the British Embassy in Washington and signed a book of condolence and laid a wreath in front of the ambassador's residence.

Bush said the London attacks were a reminder of the "evil" of the Sept. 11 attacks and underscored that the United States and its allies were fighting a "global war on terror."

"We will stay on the offense, fighting the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them at home," Bush said. [My emphasis]

How do you suppose Londoners feel about that last sentence?

Posted by Jonathan at 05:03 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

July 07, 2005

Data, Not Stereotypes 9/11, "War On Terror"

Karl Rove recently proclaimed that:

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.

That distinction probably fits a lot of people's stereotypes, and on a day like today, with the London attacks filling the media, many people are probably thinking that we need right-wingers to protect us. After all, everybody "knows" they're tough on national security.

But do right-wingers really do a better job of protecting us? Let's put aside stereotypes for a moment and look at some actual data.

BTC News, via Daily Kos, alerts us to "a new source of terrorism-related data on the web, the Terrorism Knowledge Base, which is run by the Oklahoma City-based non-profit National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (which, in turn, is funded by the Department of Homeland Security)."

If you go to the Terrorism Knowledge Base site, you'll find an "Analytical Tools" section that lets you graph various terrorism-related data.

Here's a graph of international terrorism incidents 1994-2004:

Pretty striking, wouldn't you say? Under Clinton, incidents of international terrorism went down year after year, bottoming out in the year 2000. Under Bush, it's a whole different story. Note also that attacks against US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, the so-called "central front in the War on Terror", are excluded, or the last couple of bars in the graph would be several feet tall.

Some people aren't interested in data; they prefer their prejudices. But if you're a member of the reality-based community, remember the graph above in the coming days as the right-wing tries to parlay the London attacks into a new surge of testosterone-fueled nationalism. They're just pouring gasoline on the fire.

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July 06, 2005

Afghanistan Violence Increasing 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan

Despite a more than doubling of the number of US troops in Afghanistan, the security situation there is deteriorating. More US troops were killed there in the first six months of this year than were killed in all of last year. Boston Globe:

This year has been the deadliest for US troops in Afghanistan since war began in late 2001, as more American soldiers have died than in each of the previous three years, according to military figures.

The statistics signal that well-armed Taliban and Al Qaeda militants holed up in caves, tribal villages, and craggy peaks along the border with Pakistan will remain a threat to the new Afghan government for years and require US troops, now numbering 18,000, to remain indefinitely, according to regional specialists.

In the first half of this year, at least 54 Americans lost their lives, compared with 52 in all of last year, according to official statistics reviewed by the Globe. [...]

Many of the recent US deaths have been caused by more deadly improvised explosive devices, the roadside bombs that also have been the weapon of choice for insurgents targeting American troops in Iraq, according to US commanders. Six Americans were killed by such bombs last month alone. [...]

"The upsurge is disturbing," said James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the government-funded Rand Corp. and President Bush's former special envoy to Afghanistan. "It is surprising. People thought the trends were more favorable. It suggests that the US is not going to be able to phase out any time soon or significantly reduce its troop presence."

Indeed, with national elections planned for September, senior Pentagon officials say they are considering a temporary increase in US forces to respond to recent attacks on the new Afghan government and a series of brazen assaults on US military forces. [...]

Also, in a three-day assault that ended Friday, 25 people were killed when Taliban fighters attacked two police stations and a nearby village in southeastern Afghanistan, the spiritual heartland of the former ruling Taliban regime, including nine tribal elders, the provincial governor in Uruzgan province told the Associated Press.

In the first year of the US occupation, the United States maintained a military presence of only about 8,000 troops; it now has 18,000 troops and has expanded the number of patrols and community reconstruction teams to more remote areas where the Taliban is believed to operate. [...]

Still, military officers, aid workers, and Afghan officials agree that "the fact is that there is more violence," said Robert M. Perito, a senior fellow at the US Institute of Peace, who returned from Afghanistan last week.

"The overriding story I heard is that the security is worse this spring than it was a year ago," Perito said. "There are more attacks and they are better organized, more lethal, and widespread."

The use of more deadly methods of attack have US commanders worried. "There is one that we see a little bit troubling," Lieutenant General James T. Conway, commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Unit, told reporters in Washington on Thursday. "And that is the increased presence of IEDs. I think if you charted it over time, you would see more attacks tied into IEDs than perhaps we had over the last six to 10 months." [...]

This year is already the deadliest for US troops. Before 52 troops died last year, 47 soldiers were killed in 2003 and 43 in 2002. From October to December 2001, 12 US military personnel were killed. [My emphasis]

The article doesn't say so, but one suspects that the increased effectiveness of IEDs in Afghanistan results from the adoption of tactics and methods perfected in the "laboratory" of Iraq. Further proof that the Iraq war is making us less safe, not more.

How many Americans know that the number of US fatalities in Afghanistan has increased every year since the US invasion in 2001?

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Gallup: Only 1 In 3 Say US Winning "War On Terror" 9/11, "War On Terror"

Editor & Publisher:

The latest Gallup poll, released today, finds that not only is there increasing public frustration with the war in Iraq, but the public "is not too confident that the United States and its allies are winning the war against terrorism," Gallup reports.

About a third of Americans think the United States is winning the war on terror, while 20% say the terrorists are winning; 41% say neither side is winning. This is the second consecutive survey in which 20% of respondents say the terrorists are winning.

The number saying the U.S. is winning, 36%, is the lowest mark in more than two years.

Not surprisingly, Democrats are less likely to say the U.S. winning, while young people (age 18-29) are most likely, with nearly half of them believing it. [My emphasis]

It's odd that young people 18-29 are the least likely to know what's going on. If the administration ever starts talking about a draft, young people will start paying attention in a hurry.

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June 24, 2005

"Everything They Could Possibly Want" 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

The US has for the first time admitted to the UN that it has tortured prisoners, including at Guantanamo Bay, Aghanistan, and Iraq. (Story). Of course, they "described the incidents as 'isolated acts' carried out by low-ranking members of the military who were being punished." That's what's known as supporting the troops.

Meanwhile, Dick "Last Throes" Cheney, America's answer to Baghdad Bob, says the Gitmo prisoners have it made, living in "the tropics" where "they've got everything they could possibly want." NYT:

Vice President Dick Cheney said on Thursday that prisoners at the detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had everything they could possibly want and were well fed and well treated as they lived in the "tropics."

Mr. Cheney dismissed calls to close the facility, which holds terrorism suspects. "They got a brand new facility down at Guantánamo," Mr. Cheney said in an interview with CNN. "We spent a lot of money to build it. They're very well treated down there."

"They're living in the tropics," he added. "They're well fed. They've got everything they could possibly want. There isn't any other nation in the world that would treat people who were determined to kill Americans the way we're treating these people."

Mr. Cheney categorized the prisoners as "terrorists," "bomb makers" and "facilitators of terror" who would "go back to trying to kill Americans" if freed.

It's hard not to get the feeling these guys are really starting to come unglued.

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May 25, 2005

FBI: Gitmo Inmates Reported Abuse Of Koran 9/11, "War On Terror"

Newly released FBI documents add to the long list of sources alleging mistreatment of the Koran by guards at Guantanamo Bay. WaPo:

Nearly a dozen detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba told FBI interrogators that guards had mistreated copies of the Koran, including one who said in 2002 that guards "flushed a Koran in the toilet," according to new FBI documents released today.

The summaries of FBI interviews, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of an ongoing lawsuit, also include allegations that the Koran was kicked, thrown to the floor and withheld as punishment and that guards mocked Muslim prisoners during prayers. [...]

[T]he records, many of which were heavily edited by the government, further underscore the widespread nature of allegations related to the Koran and Islam among detainees at Guantanamo. Red Cross investigators in 2002 and 2003 documented what they considered reliable allegations of Koran mistreatment at the facility, and some detainees have made similar allegations through their attorneys. [My emphasis]

Two things have been very weird about this whole furor. Newsweek's abject cowardice in caving in, and the idea that anybody would think, even for an instant, given everything else US interrogators and guards have done to prisoners, including killing them, that they'd have even the slightest hesitation to disrespect a book. It just shows how divorced from reality our self-image has become.

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Amnesty International Slams US 9/11, "War On Terror"

In its 2005 annual report, released today, Amnesty International blames the US for a worsening of the human rights picture worldwide. The US leads by example in its "war on terror", and many other nations are following. Reuters

Four years after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, human rights are in retreat worldwide and the United States bears most responsibility, rights watchdog Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe the picture is bleak. Governments are increasingly rolling back the rule of law, taking their cue from the U.S.-led war on terror, it said.

"The USA as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power sets the tone for governmental behavior worldwide," Secretary General Irene Khan said in the foreword to Amnesty International's 2005 annual report.

"When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity," she said.

London-based Amnesty cited the pictures last year of abuse of detainees at Iraq's U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison, which it said were never adequately investigated, and the detention without trial of "enemy combatants" at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

"The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law," Khan said.

She also noted Washington's attempts to circumvent its own ban on the use of torture.

"The U.S. government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Convention and to 're-define' torture," she said, citing the secret detention of suspects and the practice of handing some over to countries where torture was not outlawed. [My emphasis]

Guess they didn't get the press release about the new "Culture of Life".

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May 11, 2005

Not So Fast... 9/11, "War On Terror"

Last week, Bush, Rice, and others hyped the capture in Pakistan of one Abu Faraj al-Libbi as a major victory in the "war on terror." Predictably, it turns out to have been no such thing. London's Sunday Times:

The capture of a supposed Al-Qaeda kingpin by Pakistani agents last week was hailed by President George W Bush as "a critical victory in the war on terror". According to European intelligence experts, however, Abu Faraj al-Libbi was not the terrorists' third in command, as claimed, but a middle-ranker derided by one source as "among the flotsam and jetsam" of the organisation.

Al-Libbi's arrest in Pakistan, announced last Wednesday, was described in the United States as "a major breakthrough" in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.

Bush called him a "top general" and "a major facilitator and chief planner for the Al-Qaeda network". Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, said he was "a very important figure". Yet the backslapping in Washington and Islamabad has astonished European terrorism experts, who point out that the Libyan was neither on the FBI's most wanted list, nor on that of the State Department "rewards for justice" programme. [My emphasis]

I leave it to you to decide if this was a little publicity stunt calculated to help Tony Blair get re-elected or merely another example of this administration's extraordinary incompetence.

Meanwhile, US media seem not to have picked up the Sunday Times story. Of course.

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May 03, 2005

Griffin Speech To Be Rebroadcast On C-SPAN 9/11, "War On Terror"

Ethicist, theologian, and 9/11 investigator David Ray Griffin, author of The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 and The 911 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions spoke before a standing room only crowd of about 450 people here in Madison on April 18. In a lecture entitled, "9/11 and the American Empire — How Should Religious People Respond?", Griffin laid out a small part of the evidence he has amassed that implicates elements of the US government as having, at best, foreknowledge of — or, at worst, an active role in — the 9/11 attacks. The lecture was covered by C-SPAN, the first time such questions have been covered in any mainstream national medium.

C-SPAN will re-broadcast the lecture this Saturday May 7th at 2:30 PM Eastern on C-SPAN2. C-SPAN's program note is here.

Alternatively, you can download video (50 MB) or audio (32 MB) here or audio here. Here is some coverage of the original lecture from Madison's Capital Times.

Kevin Barrett, who organized Griffin's Madison appearance, asks Wisconsin residents to phone Senator Russ Feingold this week at 202-224-5323 to urge him to tune in for the speech.

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April 22, 2005

One More Month To Go? 9/11, "War On Terror"

An interesting bit of perspective from Utopian Turtletop [via Digby]

1,347: Number of days from the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, to VJ Day (Victory in Japan) on August 15, 1945.

1,317: Number of days from the airplane-bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, to today.

So in another month we should pretty much have this thing all wrapped up.

Or not.

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April 16, 2005

David Ray Griffin In Madison Monday 9/11, "War On Terror"

Ethicist, theologian, and 9/11 investigator David Ray Griffin, author of The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 and The 911 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions, will be speaking here in Madison Monday night (April 18) at 7:30 in 272 Bascom Hall on the UW campus. His appearance will be covered by C-SPAN.

Griffin's talk is entitled "9/11 and the American Empire: How Should Religious People Respond?" An advance blurb says the talk "will focus on the ethical and spiritual dimension of facing the overwhelming evidence that the Bush Administration was complicit in the attacks of September 11th, 2001." A provocative topic, to say the least.

If you're familiar with Griffin's books or have heard him interviewed, you know he is a thoughtful and careful researcher and a man of integrity and conscience. It's encouraging that C-SPAN will cover the event. Let's see if they actually put it on air.

Update: C-SPAN will be taping the talk for later broadcast on C-SPAN2's BookTV. Every Thursday, http://www.booktv.org posts the schedule for the coming weekend. There is typically a two-week delay between taping and broadcast.

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March 12, 2005

"The Legal Landscape Has Changed" 9/11, "War On Terror"  Rights, Law

The Pentagon has decided that recent court decisions and public opinion have turned against their Gitmo detention center, so they want to transfer large numbers of prisoners beyond the reach of US law, to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. NYT:

The Pentagon is seeking to enlist help from the State Department and other agencies in a plan to cut by more than half the population at its detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in part by transferring hundreds of suspected terrorists to prisons in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen, according to senior administration officials.

The transfers would be similar to the renditions, or transfers of captives to other countries, carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency... [...]

The White House first embraced using Guantánamo as a holding place for terrorism suspects taken in Afghanistan, in part because the base was seen as beyond the jurisdiction of United States law. But recent court rulings have held that prisoners there may challenge their detentions in federal court. [...]

[A senior Defense Department] official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that future transfers into Guantánamo remained a "possibility," but made clear that the court decisions and the burdens of detaining prisoners at the American facility had made it seem less attractive to administration policymakers than before.

"It's fair to say that the calculus now is different than it was before, because the legal landscape has changed and those are factors that might be considered," a senior Defense Department official said.

So the good news is that legal activism can still prompt the government to act. The bad news is that their response is just to shift the problem somewhere legal activism can't reach.

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December 16, 2004

Support Cynthia McKinney 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

Cynthia McKinney is returning to Capitol Hill.

McKinney served five terms from Georgia's 4th District before being unseated in 2002 when she was targeted by Republicans — and abandoned by many Democrats — for asking too many embarrassing questions about 9/11, about Pentagon contracts with the Carlyle Group and Halliburton, about the "Bush Doctrine" of preemptive war, and about Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

What sealed her fate were some remarks she made in March 2002 during an interview with Pacifica Radio. According to the Washington Post, McKinney said:

We know there were numerous warnings of the events to come on September 11th. ... What did this administration know and when did it know it, about the events of September 11th? Who else knew, and why did they not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered?

People juxtaposed that statement with this one:

What is undeniable is that corporations close to the administration have directly benefited from the increased defense spending arising from the aftermath of September 11th.

And soon it became "common knowledge" that McKinney had said, as the New York Times reported, "President Bush might have known about the September 11 attacks but did nothing so his supporters could make money in a war."

Actually, says Greg Palast, McKinney was taken out of context and her meaning distorted. Indeed, she stated, on the floor of the House:

George Bush had no prior knowledge of the plan to attack the World Trade Center on September 11.

But, the feeding frenzy was on. Zell Miller called her "loony" (and he knows loony!). White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said she "must be running for the hall of fame of the Grassy Knoll Society." And so on.

Suddenly, McKinney's seat was in play. Conservative Denise Majette ran against her, and in the Democratic primary Majette benefitted from an organized effort by Republicans to get their voters to cross over and vote in the Democratic primary. Some 43,000 Republicans did so, and McKinney lost by nearly 20,000 votes.

In 2004, though, despite being significantly outspent by her opponents, McKinney won back her seat.

As Mark Bonham writes in Counterpunch, it is customary, when a Representative loses her seat for a single term and then wins it back, for her seniority and committe assignments to be restored. In McKinney's case, this would return her to the International Relations and Armed Services Committees, with important roles. There appears to be some question, however, whether seniority will, in fact, be restored in McKinney's case.

Please join me in emailing House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, at sf.nancy@mail.house.gov, to urge her to restore Cynthia McKinney's seniority and committee assignments.

McKinney makes strong statements and asks tough questions, but we desperately need someone with her guts to ask the questions that need asking.

Let me leave you with these words from McKinney's concession speech in 2002:

There is still work to be done. Somewhere tonight, a man is making himself a bed of newspapers and cardboard on the sidewalks of the city. Somewhere tonight, a child is too hungry to do his homework. Somewhere tonight, an elderly couple must make the unfair choice between food and medicine. Somewhere tonight, a woman lives in fear of domestic violence.

And somewhere tonight, men in powerful positions are taking the first steps toward sending our country into war. Somewhere tonight, powerful interests are working to silence those that are a threat to their power. Every day in Congress I kept those images in mind. Images of real people with real problems. And real abuses of real power. Today, even in defeat, I have been lifted. Lifted upon the shoulders of the people of Georgia. [My emphasis]

Welcome back, Cynthia.

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December 13, 2004

Why The Kerik Nomination Scares Me 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

You've probably been reading about Bernard Kerik's walk-in closet full of skeletons, and his withdrawing his nomination for Secretary of Homeland Security supposedly because of nanny problems — which seems to have become the default excuse in cases like this.

Something bothers me, though: Kerik is such a complete and obvious goon that you have to ask yourself, why would the White House pick him in the first place? As White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan seemed to acknowledge today, the White House knew all about Kerik's record (nanny aside) and nominated him anyhow.

One view is that the White House is incompetent and has an ethics blindspot the size of Texas. And maybe that's all it is. A paranoid alternative, though, is that there's something coming that calls for putting a blindly loyal, thoroughly unprincipled thug in a key position in the apparatus of domestic counter-terrorism. A scary thought. If you suspect there's more to 9/11 than is commonly acknowledged (bearing in mind that Kerik was himself a key figure in the aftermath of 9/11 who, incidentally, got rich in the process), it's downright terrifying. Suppose you wanted to mobilize the populace for more war (and a military draft), and you wanted to further curtail civil liberties (and democracy in general), wouldn't another terror attack be just the ticket? Then again, this is probably just me being paranoid, trying to make sense out of something that ultimately makes no sense. Or not.

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October 30, 2004

No Cause For Concern 9/11, "War On Terror"

March 13, 2002:

Q: Mr. President, in your speeches now you rarely talk or mention Osama bin Laden. Why is that? ...

Bush: So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you. ...

Q: But don't you believe that the threat that bin Laden posed won't truly be eliminated until he is found either dead or alive?

Bush: Well, as I say, we haven't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don't know where he is. I — I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him.

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Why Is Bin Laden Still At Large? 9/11, "War On Terror"

This might be a good time to review the considerable evidence that the US intentionally let bin Laden slip out of its grasp in Afghanistan. As one American official put it at the time, "casting our objectives too narrowly" risked "a premature collapse of the international effort if by some lucky chance Mr. bin Laden was captured." I.e., the administration needed bin Laden alive so they would have a justification for war. Read more about this in an earlier post, here.

Similarly, the White House let Abu Musab al-Zarqawi go when they had the chance to kill him. Fred Kaplan, in Slate, in March:

Bush had three opportunities, long before the war, to destroy a terrorist camp in northern Iraq run by Abu Musab Zarqawi, the al-Qaida associate who recently cut off the head of Nicholas Berg. But the White House decided not to carry out the attack because, as [an NBC News] story puts it:
[T]he administration feared [that] destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.

The implications of this are more shocking, in their way, than the news from Abu Ghraib. Bush promoted the invasion of Iraq as a vital battle in the war on terrorism, a continuation of our response to 9/11. Here was a chance to wipe out a high-ranking terrorist. And Bush didn't take advantage of it because doing so might also wipe out a rationale for invasion.

As Kaplan tells it, on three different occasions the Pentagon drew up plans to attack Zarqawi's base (which was located in a remote area so "collateral damage" wasn't an issue), but all three times the White House scrubbed the mission.

According to a WSJ story this week, Zarqawi was known to have been in the camp at the time. Moreover:

Intelligence indicated the camp was training recruits and making poisons for attacks against the West.

By the time the camp was hit, after the Iraq invasion was underway, Zarqawi had fled. Since then, he and his followers have been responsible for many hundreds of killings in Iraq.

In Orwell's 1984, popular fear and hatred were mobilized by the loathsome image of the arch-traitor Emmanuel Goldstein. In 2004, we have the images of Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The purpose is the same. To use fear as the basis of rule, one needs enemies — live enemies, not dead ones.

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October 29, 2004

OBL: I'm Still Here — The DNC Reacts 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

Now that Osama bin Laden's reminded everyone he's alive and well, the DNC's got a devastating short ad to drive home the point: Bush said "Dead or Alive," then lost interest. Has Bush succeeded at anything?

See the TV spot here [via The Talent Show]. Now to get it on the air.

No matter how BC04 and associated media whores try to spin the bin Laden tape, it's manifest proof of Bush's failure to achieve even the most basic objective in the "war on terror": capturing or killing the putative arch-villain behind it all.

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October 22, 2004

100 Damning Facts 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan  Iraq  Politics  Rights, Law

As a kind of follow-up to the previous post (below), here's a list of 100 damning facts about the Bush administration, as compiled by The Nation.

This is what's been happening down here in the real world.

[Thanks, Mom]

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October 20, 2004

WTC-7 — Part 7 9/11, "War On Terror"

[Continuing from Part 6]

The Rubble Pile, 3

Five days after 9/11, NASA did thermal imaging from an airplane flying over the WTC site. Thermal imaging measures temperature; hot spots show up as red, orange, or yellow.

The spots labelled "A" and "B" are in the rubble of WTC-7. "A" is the hotter of the two, at approximately 730 degrees Celsius (1300 degrees Fahrenheit). This is a measurement of the heat at the surface after five days of cooling. It seems reasonable, therefore, to expect that even higher temperatures existed deeper in the rubble immediately after 9/11.

In fact, American Free Press quoted Mark Loizeaux, president of Controlled Demolition, Inc. (CDI) of Phoenix, Md., who cleaned up the bombed Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and had a role as well in the WTC cleanup, as saying that molten steel was found in the rubble at WTC-7. Temperatures of 2500 degrees Fahrenheit (1370 degrees Celsius) or more are needed to melt steel. This is a problem, since building fires do not get anywhere near that hot.

Besides molten steel, the rubble reportedly contained some partially evaporated steel. The New York Times quoted Dr. Jonathan Barnett, professor of fire protection engineering at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, as saying that fire in WTC-7:

would not explain steel members in the debris pile that appear to have been partly evaporated in extraordinarily high temperatures.

Building fires do not melt steel structural elements for two reasons. First, the fires are not hot enough. It's hard to get a fire hot enough to melt steel. That's why you can cook food in steel pots over a steel gas stove, why an internal combustion engine can be made of steel, why you can use an iron grating in your fireplace. To get fires hot enough to melt steel, it is necessary to pump preheated air into the fire under pressure, as in a blast furnace.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, steel is a great conductor of heat. When you heat part of a steel structure (and remember the fires in WTC-7 were, by all accounts, small and isolated) the heat is conducted away from the point where the fire is applied, cooling it. As Jim Hoffman explains:

The steel in these buildings is very well connected to thousands of tons of steel and if you pour heat on to one portion of it, it will simply conduct the heat away. So it's very hard to get columns in such a building heated up anywhere near the temperatures of the actual fires. A company, Corus Construction, conducted extensive fire tests in steel-framed car parks, which were uninsulated, in multiple countries, and measured the temperatures on the steel frames throughout these structures for the duration of these fires, which went on for hours, and the highest temperature they recorded in any of these tests was a mere 360 degrees Celsius. Now, at 360 degrees Celsius structural steel only loses about one percent of its strength.

No jets flew into WTC-7, and it was not doused with jet fuel. It did contain tanks of diesel fuel for backup generators, etc., but diesel fuel does not burn hot enough to melt steel. (Which is why a diesel engine can be made of steel.) If WTC-7 collapsed through normal means, in the absence of explosives, how does one explain the evidence of extremely high temperatures, especially given that the fires were small? Explosives, however, can easily produce such temperatures. Thermite, for example, can reach temperatures of 3000 degrees Celsius.

In Part 8, we'll take one more look at the way the building fell — in particular, the speed at which it fell — and then we'll see what the owner of the building had to say about its collapse.

[To be continued]

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October 18, 2004

WTC-7 — Part 6 9/11, "War On Terror"

[Continuing from Part 5]

The Rubble Pile, 2

If you look closely at the "after" photo of the rubble pile in Part 5, or the one below, you will notice that the interior of the building must have started to fall first, pulling the exterior facade in towards the center, because the exterior facade has landed neatly on top of the pile. This is characteristic of controlled demolitions. It is how they keep pieces of the building from falling outward and damaging surrounding structures.

Indeed, this effect can be seen in the videos of the building's collapse: i.e., the collapse begins in the interior. The rooftop utility "penthouse" (containing machinery for the elevators, etc.) starts to disappear first, and then the building develops a "kink" or "fault" as the interior gives way.

Here's a photo taken shortly before the collapse. Note the penthouse on the roof:

Now go back and watch these two videos and concentrate on the penthouse in the first moments of the collapse. You will see that it just "melts" into the building before the rest of the building begins to fall.

Here's the "kink" that develops as the collapse gets going:

The rooftop penthouse has already disappeared by this point, as can be seen in the videos.

Note the small plumes of smoke spurting out of the facade on the upper floors. In the photo, the plumes are spread vertically because the building has fallen downward as the smoke jetted out. These kinds of small plumes are characteristic of controlled demolitions, jetting out as charges are set off on the various floors. See, for example, these videos of other controlled demolitions.

In Part 7, we'll discuss the rubble pile one last time.

[To be continued]

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October 17, 2004

WTC-7 — Part 5 9/11, "War On Terror"

[Continuing from Part 4]

The Rubble Pile, 1

One of the most striking refutations of a spontaneous collapse explanation for WTC-7 is provided by the following "before" and "after" photographs.

Before — WTC-7 is the tall building in the center of the photo:

After — 47-story WTC-7 has turned into a two-or-three-story pile of rubble. It has fallen so perfectly vertically that the surrounding buildings are almost completely untouched.

Here's another "before" view:

WTC-7 is the tall building at the center. This building, which sits on an entire city block, somehow managed to turn itself into a two-or-three-story pile of rubble without significantly damaging the buildings that surround it so tightly.

In Part 6, we'll examine some features of the rubble pile itself, to see what it tells us about the way the building collapsed.

[To be continued]

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October 16, 2004

WTC-7 — Part 4 9/11, "War On Terror"

[Continuing from Part 3]

No Steel-Frame High-Rise Has Ever Collapsed Due To Fire

There is no agreed-upon official explanation of WTC-7's collapse. It is usually suggested that fires in the building somehow weakened the building causing structural failure, but no one really believes that. Fires simply do not cause steel-frame buildings to collapse. That's one of the reasons why so many fire-fighters were killed in the twin towers on 9/11. No one had any reason to fear a total collapse.

Moreover, if fire were the culprit at WTC-7, how does one explain the perfectly vertical collapse of the building? The load-bearing members of the structure would all have had to fail simultaneously. How does one explain the fact that the resulting rubble pile was only two or three stories tall with all of the building's steel neatly segmented? The small building fires were quite localized, as we saw in Part 3. Most of the building's steel was not exposed to fire and heat at all, yet the upper stories disintegrated as thoroughly as did the lower stories where the fires were observed.

I am not a structural engineer, though, so let's see what experts had to say about the implausibility of fire as an explanation.

In November, 2001, the New York Times reported:

Engineers and other experts... were for weeks still stunned by what had happened to 7 World Trade Center....

[E]xperts said no building like it, a modern, steel-reinforced high-rise, had ever collapsed because of an uncontrolled fire....

"Even though Building 7 didn't get much attention in the media immediately, within the structural engineering community, it's considered to be much more important to understand," said William F. Baker, a partner in charge of structural engineering at the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. "They say, `We know what happened at 1 and 2, but why did 7 come down?'" ...

Sprayed on the steel [structure], almost like imitation snow in holiday decorations, was a layer of fireproofing material... [E]xperts said buildings the size of 7 World Trade Center that are treated with such coatings have never collapsed in a fire of any duration.

In December, 2001, structural engineer Ronald Hamburger told an audience at Stanford's engineering school:

WTC-7 was a 47-story building and became a two-story pile of rubble, making it the first major structure in the United States to collapse because of fire.

In October, 2002, John O'Connell wrote in Fire Engineering magazine:

The WTC incident was unique in that this was the first time ever that a steel-frame high-rise building had collapsed — anywhere in the world.

The only official study, one undertaken by the American Society of Civil Engineers and FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, concluded that:

The specifics of the fires in WTC 7 and how they caused the building to collapse remain unknown at this time. Although the total diesel fuel on the premises contained massive potential energy, the best hypothesis has only a low probability of occurrence.

In other words, "We don't know what else to blame it on other than fire, but we don't really believe fire could have done it."

One might suppose that the reason fire-induced steel-building collapses have been unknown is that such buildings experience major fires only very rarely.

However, as Norman Glover wrote in Fire Engineering magazine:

Whereas few buildings will face a bombing attack, almost all large buildings will be the location for a major fire in their useful life. No major high-rise building has ever collapsed from fire. The WTC [itself] was the location for such a fire in 1975; however, the building survived with minor damage and was repaired and returned to service.

Some high-rise fires have been spectacular and of long duration.

In 1988, the 62-story First Interstate Bank building (left photo) in downtown LA burned out of control for several hours:

This was one of the most destructive high-rise fires in recent United States history. The fire presented the greatest potential for the "Towering Inferno" scenario of any U.S. fire experience. [...]

In spite of the total burnout of four and a half floors, there was no damage to the main structural members and only minor damage to one secondary beam and a small number of floor pans. Although there was concern for structural integrity during the incident, post fire analysis indicates that there was no danger of major or minor structural collapse.

In 1991, the 38-story One Meridian Plaza building (right photo) in Philadelphia experienced a fire that was "extraordinary in [its] ferocity and intensity" and lasted more than 18 hours:

[The] One Meridian Plaza fire [was] one of the most significant high-rise fires in United States’ history. The fire claimed the lives of three Philadelphia firefighters and gutted eight floors of a 38-story fire-resistive building. [...]

After the fire, there was evident significant structural damage to horizontal steel members and floor sections on most of the fire damaged floors. Beams and girders sagged and twisted — some as much as three feet — under severe fire exposures, and fissures developed in the reinforced concrete floor assemblies in many places. Despite this extraordinary exposure, the columns continued to support their loads without obvious damage.

These and many other steel-building fires were of far greater intensity than the fires observed at WTC-7, but those other buildings didn't so much as bend, let alone collapse symmetricaly and perfectly vertically.

The fire explanation is further refuted by an examination of the rubble pile that resulted from WTC-7's collapse. That's the topic we will turn to next, in Part 5.

[To be continued]

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October 15, 2004

WTC-7 — Part 3 9/11, "War On Terror"

[Continuing from Part 2]

WTC-7 Sustained Only Minimal Damage When the Towers Collapsed

One possible explanation for the collapse of WTC-7 is that one or both of the twin towers collapsed onto WTC-7, causing massive damage.

Photos taken after the towers collapsed, however, show that WTC-7 sustained little visible damage when the towers fell. In fact, hardly any of WTC-7's windows were even broken. Several small fires did break out during the day, but whether they were started by debris from the towers is unclear.


Below is a view from the WTC plaza. WTC-7 is the pale grey skyscraper in the background. (In the foreground are the heavily damaged WTC-4 on the left and WTC-5 on the right.) No structural damage or fires are apparent in WTC-7 from this angle. If the North Tower's collapse had heavily damaged WTC-7, as is sometimes suggested, we would expect to see damage in this view, which shows the side of WTC-7 that faced the towers.

All three of the above photos were taken on the afternoon of 9/11, hours after the towers had collapsed.

Or, go back to this video from Part 2. Look carefully at the building before it begins to fall. There are no visible fires, no apparent structural damage, and few, if any, broken windows.

So the towers did not land on WTC-7 in any significant way. But, as the top photos show, several small fires of unknown origin did break out in WTC-7 during the day. The fires burned until the building collapsed, but they were confined to parts of just a few floors and do not appear to have spread. All photos of WTC-7 show just a few fires in just a few windows, primarily on just the 7th and 12th floors.

Fire fighters didn't enter the building to fight the fires. It's not clear why. Perhaps NYFD decided, understandably, that they had already taken enough casualties that day. The building’s sprinkler system should have been able to control the fire, but it either failed to function for some unknown reason or the burning material was impervious to water.

Could the fires have gradually weakened the structural integrity of the building eventually causing it to fail? That's the topic we'll turn to in Part 4.

[To be continued.]

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October 14, 2004

WTC-7 — Part 2 9/11, "War On Terror"

[Continuing from Part 1]

Videos Of WTC-7’s Collapse

Videos exist of WTC-7’s collapse, though they were shown just a few times on 9/11 and only rarely since. We’ve all seen the collapse of the twin towers scores, if not hundreds, of times. Not WTC-7. Its collapse disappeared from the airwaves almost immediately.

A few videos of WTC-7’s collapse are still available on the Internet, however. I've collected several of them below. As you watch them, I think you'll agree that the most striking thing about WTC-7's collapse is the way it collapsed: perfectly vertically, landing in its own footprint.

The videos:

CBS video

"It's gone, man"

NBC video

In the CBS video, Dan Rather's spontaneous reaction is that it looks like "when a building [is] deliberately destroyed by well-placed dynamite to knock it down."

And, of course, he's right. That's exactly what it looks like — a controlled demolition, and one that was skillfully done, not some unprecedented kind of random structural failure.

But isn't it possible that WTC-7 sustained major damage when the towers collapsed? Couldn't that be the explanation for its own collapse? That's the topic we will consider in Part 3.

[To be continued.]

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October 13, 2004

WTC-7 — Part 1 9/11, "War On Terror"

Three World Trade Center Buildings Collapsed On 9/11

None us will ever forget the video images of the collapse of the two World Trade Center towers on 9/11.

Few people now remember, however, that a third World Trade Center building, Building 7 (WTC-7), also collapsed that day. WTC-7 was not struck by an airplane, and the towers did not fall on it. It was, in fact, located on the next block, more than 350 feet from the North Tower and farther still from the South Tower, separated from the two towers by Buildings 5 and 6 and Vesey Street. In the map below, WTC-7 is the brown building on the right.

The North Tower, the second of the two towers to collapse, collapsed at 10:29 in the morning. WTC-7 didn’t collapse until 5:20 in the afternoon, almost seven hours later.

Nobody has ever explained why WTC-7 collapsed. There is no official explanation. Various theories have been put forward to explain why the twin towers collapsed, but WTC-7 is an entirely different matter. Steel-frame high-rises (at least, ones that haven't had a jetliner crash into them) do not just collapse, even if they experience a major fire of long duration, which WTC-7 did not. Except for WTC-7, it has never happened, anywhere in the world, ever.

Even more improbable than the fact of WTC-7's collapse was the way it collapsed, as we shall see.

Given these facts, it's more than a little strange that the responsible government agencies, professional societies of architects and engineers, insurance companies — and tenants of other steel-frame high-rises, for that matter — haven't made it a matter of the most urgent priority to determine what went wrong. If one steel-frame high-rise can suddenly collapse, can't others? Indeed, if a 47-story steel-frame building just suddenly collapsed in any other location, on any other day, it would be front-page news all over the world. Investigations would be urgently demanded. Lawsuits would be filed. Insurance companies would scramble to assess the risks to other similar buildings. If video existed of the collapse, we’d see it over, and over, and over again.

WTC-7, in contrast, is all but forgotten.

[First installment of a series to examine the collapse of WTC-7, one of the many questionable aspects of the events of 9/11. We'll examine the WTC-7 story step by step over the coming days. If this story is news to you, I think you'll find it compelling.] [Part 2]

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September 29, 2004

It's All About The Fear 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

A University of Arizona psychologist has found a dramatic correlation between people's fear and their support for Bush:

As part of a study of times of trouble, UA psychological researcher Mark Landau found that, when reminded about Sept. 11 and mortality, people wanted Bush as their leader and not John Kerry.

Further, the more someone thought about Sept. 11 or their own mortality, the more prone they were to support President Bush. "The strength (of the responses) was ridiculous," said Landau, who plans to vote for John Kerry. "These effects were found regardless of a person's political orientation."

It's discouraging to think that modern human beings are as prone to conditioning as any lab rat, but there it is. We've been deeply imprinted: 9/11, terror, 9/11, terror, I love Big Brother.

[Via Billmon]

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September 23, 2004

Three Years, Three Lessons 9/11, "War On Terror"

Jeffrey Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and special advisor to Kofi Annan, writes of three lessons he draws from the three years since 9/11.

Lesson #1. The US is a deeply divided country. Half of the country is appalled by Bush's aggression in Iraq, half supports it. Much of the latter half is motivated by Christian fundamentalism. Sachs:

Bush has not exactly hijacked American politics with his radicalism. Instead, he is representing a major strand of public opinion, though by no means a majority. For people like me, who completely oppose the President’s policies, the strong support that these policies receive in much of the country is probably the most troubling lesson since 9/11. [...]

The core constituency of the Bush Administration is fundamentalist Christian, and the war is interpreted in the cultural and religious terms of these fundamentalists. This is the most frightening lesson about the U.S. in the past three years.

What do the American fundamentalists believe? From all accounts, a large percentage believe that events in the Middle East represent a struggle between good and evil in which Christian believers will triumph over non-Christians. Tens of millions believe in the so-called Rapture, in which the world will end in the great war at Armaggedon, as in biblical prophecy. From these religious perspectives, small matters of evidence about WMDs simply don’t matter. They believe that Bush is fighting the Christian cause. [So does Bush. See this.]

It is frightening that the Christian fundamentalists shape a considerable amount of U.S. public policy, and not only on the war but on other issues as well. In general, the fundamentalists are hostile to the biological and environmental sciences. An astounding 45 percent of Americans profess to believe in the literal biblical account of creation, with the world created just a few thousand years ago. Only 12 percent believe in Darwinian evolution, and the rest believe in some kind of evolution with divine guidance. When asked to choose between "creationism" and "evolution," 57 percent of the American public chose creationism. The Bush supporters tend to oppose stem cell research and policies to fight climate change, on the basis of faith rather than science. [...]

[E]vidence simply doesn’t matter for half of the country, which supports policies on the basis of faith rather than reason.

Lesson #2: The "neoconservative" project of applying US military power to achieve global hegemony has been shown to be an utter failure. Sachs:

The Bush Administration should be understood as a coalition between the Christian fundamentalists and the neoconservative foreign policy advisors. The neocons believe, essentially, in translating the US's vast military power into political hegemony on a global scale. Since the U.S. is unchallengeable militarily, they reason, and can conquer countries at will, this power should be harnessed to political goals, such as remaking the Middle East in the US's interests, or stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons through pre-emptive wars. The Iraq War, from their point of view, was a demonstration project of American power.

The whole approach of the neoconservatives is a fantasy. They don't understand the limits of military power in achieving political ends. [...]

A conventional army on the ground cannot suppress local uprisings or guerrilla warfare without tremendous bloodshed and years of agony. For decades, the British could not suppress the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland. The vast military might of Israel cannot suppress the Palestinian uprising. The Russians could not suppress the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s or the Chechens in the 1990s. [...]

As our unilateralist actions make enemies where none existed before, we will find ourselves facing an intifada that extends far beyond Palestine and Al Qaeda. There are literally tens of thousands of soft U.S. targets to attack...

The world does not need to fear a successful U.S. empire. It can't be made. The U.S. represents a mere 5 percent of the world’s population, and around 20 percent of the world's economy… In the important words of writer Jonathan Schell, we now live in "the unconquerable world," in which the demands for self determination can outlast even the most powerful army.

Lesson #3: There are non-military approaches that could, if used, succeed in reducing global instabilities. Sachs:

Global instabilities have several causes that need to be addressed at the core, and that cannot be solved solely by military approaches. The biggest problems include the large number of impoverished "failed states," unable to provide prosperity or security for their citizens, and often the bases of operation for terrorists. ...[S]tate failures are usually rooted in the problems of poverty. Nevertheless the United States’ approach to these problems has been overwhelmingly military. A more balanced approach is required, where the United States does much more to tackle the roots of instability by significantly scaling up its foreign aid programs around the world. [...]

[The US] gives just $15 billion per year in official development assistance, compared with $450 billion per year in military spending. This reckless imbalance between peaceful and military approaches to global instability is the main reason for failure of American foreign policy.

The year 2005 could be a pivotal year in getting to a more productive path for world peace. In particular, the United Kingdom and France have promised to make increased official development assistance the centerpiece of the G-8 Summit in Scotland in July 2005. If Europe speaks with a united voice, following through on the long-standing pledge to commit 0.7 percent of GNP in official development assistance, and calls upon the United States do the same, it might still be possible to rescue the U.S. from its disastrous militarized approach to global politics.

Sachs' second lesson says that the US will be forced to acknowledge the limits of American military power sooner or later — hopefully sooner. With luck, then, we'll come to see the wisdom of Sachs' third lesson. That is, we'll realize how much more cost-effective, productive, and — ironically — Christian a peaceful policy of generosity towards the world's neediest nations would be than the current policy that wastes trillions on arms and simply doesn't work. Of course, the many people, corporations, and institutions that profit from war will have other ideas.

It truly is a grotesque historical irony that one of the great barriers to a constructive, peaceful approach to tackling world poverty, instability, and terrorism is the Christian fundamentalist extremism identified in Sachs' first lesson. I.e., the people most opposed to applying Christ's teachings in the real world turn out to be fundamentalist "Christians" who have distorted Christ's meaning and message beyond all recognition. Our own home-grown jihadist extremists. The Bush people and the right-wing media echo chamber are their mullahs and ayatollahs, fueling and validating their extremism.

Fundamentalists (Christian, Muslim, what-have-you) are right about this much: there is a battle shaping up between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, between the forces of peace and the forces of war, between the forces of knowledge and understanding and the forces of ignorance and dogma, between the forces that seek a mature, humane, forward-looking, and cooperative approach to solving world problems and the forces that look backward and seek to impose their will and remake the world in their image through force of arms. The fundamentalists are on the wrong side of that contest.

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September 22, 2004

Somebody Tell Cheney 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq

The Village Voice points out a map that's been posted on the US State Dept. site since November 10, 2001. The map lists 45 countries where al Qaeda had operated as of that date.

Guess what country is not listed?


[Via Cursor]

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Oh-fer 9/11, "War On Terror"

Pop quiz: Of the more than 5,000 "suspected terrorists" arrested and imprisoned by John Ashcroft since 9/11, how many have been convicted on a terrorism charge?

Zero. Zip. Not one.

David Cole, in The Nation:

On Sept. 2 a federal judge in Detroit threw out the only jury conviction the Justice Department has obtained on a terrorism charge since 9/11. In October 2001, shortly after the men were initially arrested, Attorney General John Ashcroft heralded the case in a national press conference as evidence of the success of his anti-terror campaign. The indictment alleged that the defendants were associated with al Qaeda and planning terrorist attacks. But Ashcroft held no news conference in September when the case was dismissed, nor did he offer any apologies to the defendants who had spent nearly three years in jail.

Until that reversal, the Detroit case had marked the only terrorist conviction obtained from the Justice Department's detention of more than 5,000 foreign nationals in anti-terrorism sweeps since 9/11. So Ashcroft's record is 0 for 5,000. When the attorney general was locking these men up in the immediate wake of the attacks, he held almost daily press conferences to announce how many "suspected terrorists" had been detained. No press conference has been forthcoming to announce that exactly none of them have turned out to be actual terrorists. [My emphasis]

Could this administration be any more incompetent and corrupt?

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September 21, 2004

Something Of A Contemplative Nature 9/11, "War On Terror"

Midwest Airlines cancelled a flight ready to take off from Milwaukee Sunday when a "passenger found Arabic-style handwriting in the company's in-flight magazine and alerted the crew." The passengers had to spend the night in hotels and take another flight in the morning.

What did the writing turn out to be? AP:

The writing was in Farsi, the language used in Iran, said airline spokeswoman Carol Skornicka. She said she didn't know exactly what the writing said but [it] was similar to a prayer, "something of a contemplative nature."

Run for your lives!

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September 11, 2004

Jihadist Extremism 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Religion  War and Peace

From The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty (a book sympathetic to the Bush family) comes this profoundly shocking quote about George W's view of the "War on Terror":

"George see this as a religious war," one family member told us. "He doesn't have a p.c. view of this war. His view of this is that they are trying to kill the Christians. And we the Christians will strike back with more force and more ferocity than they will ever know." [My emphasis]

Could anything possibly be less Christ-like? How have we let this dangerous, ignorant, savage little man hijack our country? Are we, finally, just superstitious primates with guns?

I didn't sign up for this.

Gandhi: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." A-men.

Update: [Sep 11, 1:04 PM] Shortly after I posted the above, I happened to open Arundhati Roy's War Talk to the following passage:

The more the two sides try and call attention to their religious differences by slaughtering each other, the less there is to distinguish them from one another. They worship at the same altar. They're both apostles of the same murderous god, whoever he is.

She's writing about Hindus and Muslims in India, but she might as well be writing about Christians and Muslims in the "War on Terror." Each side thinks it's merely retaliating for the others' transgressions. Each side thinks God's on its side. Superstitious primates with guns.

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September 05, 2004

Bob Graham Blasts Bush, CIA, FBI 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan  Iraq  Politics

The Miami Herald reports on a soon-to-be-released book by Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) [via Atrios]. Graham, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee from June 2001 through the run-up to war in Iraq, and who's therefore in a position to know a few things, has extremely harsh words for Bush, the administration, the FBI, and the CIA.

For one thing, Graham says the Bush administration covered up direct ties between the 9/11 hijackers and agents of the Saudi Arabian government [my emphasis thoughout]:

Two of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers had a support network in the United States that included agents of the Saudi government, and the Bush administration and FBI blocked a congressional investigation into that relationship, Sen. Bob Graham wrote in a book to be released Tuesday.

The discovery of the financial backing of the two hijackers "would draw a direct line between the terrorists and the government of Saudi Arabia, and trigger an attempted cover-up by the Bush administration," the Florida Democrat wrote.

[Graham] makes clear that some details of that financial support from Saudi Arabia were in the 27 pages of the congressional inquiry's final report that were blocked from release by the administration, despite the pleas of leaders of both parties on the House and Senate intelligence committees. [...]

[Graham] oversaw the Sept. 11 investigation on Capitol Hill with Rep. Porter Goss, nominated last month to be the next CIA director. According to Graham, the FBI and the White House blocked efforts to investigate the extent of official Saudi connections to two hijackers.

Graham wrote that the staff of the congressional inquiry concluded that two Saudis in the San Diego area, ... who gave significant financial support to two hijackers, were working for the Saudi government. [...]

When the staff tried to conduct interviews in that investigation, and with an FBI informant ... who also helped the eventual hijackers, they were blocked by the FBI and the administration, Graham wrote. [It's one thing to block certain information from coming out in the committee's public report. It's another to prevent the committee from conducting interviews in the first place. Evidently there are things the administration does not want even the Senate Intelligence Committee to know.]

The administration and CIA also insisted that the details about the Saudi support network that benefited two hijackers be left out of the final congressional report, Graham complained.

Bush had concluded that "a nation-state that had aided the terrorists should not be held publicly to account,"' Graham wrote. "It was as if the president's loyalty lay more with Saudi Arabia than with America's safety."

Graham also says that the problem with pre-war intelligence on Iraqi WMD wasn't that the intelligence was wrong. The problem was that the story the administration and CIA were telling in public was a series of lies that contradicted their own classified internal assessments. I.e., they knowingly lied the country into war:

On Iraq, Graham said the administration and CIA consistently overplayed its estimates of Saddam Hussein's threat in its public statements and declassified reports, while its secret reports contained warnings that the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was not conclusive.

In October 2002, Tenet told Graham that "there were 550 sites where weapons of mass destruction were either produced or stored" in Iraq.

"It was, in short, a vivid and terrifying case for war. The problem was it did not accurately represent the classified estimate we had received just days earlier," Graham wrote. "It was two different messages, directed at two different audiences. I was outraged."

Graham says that the Bush administration pulled the plug on the Afghanistan war just four months after invading so they could shift resources to prepare for a war in Iraq. This was, of course, long before Congress had approved of such action:

Graham also revealed that Gen. Tommy Franks told him on Feb. 19, 2002, just four months after the invasion of Afghanistan, that many important resources — including the Predator drone aircraft crucial to the search for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda leaders — were being shifted to prepare for a war against Iraq.

Graham recalled this conversation at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa with Franks, then head of Central Command, who was "looking troubled":

"Senator, we are not engaged in a war in Afghanistan."

"Excuse me?" I asked.

"Military and intelligence personnel are being redeployed to prepare for an action in Iraq," he continued.

On George Bush:

He reserves his harshest criticism for Bush.

Graham found the president had "an unforgivable level of intellectual — and even common sense — indifference" toward analyzing the comparative threats posed by Iraq and al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

When the weapons were not found, one year after the invasion of Iraq, Bush attended a black-tie dinner in Washington, Graham recalled. Bush gave a humorous speech with slides, showing him looking under White House furniture and joking, "Nope, no WMDs there."

Graham wrote: "It was one of the most offensive things I have witnessed. Having recently attended the funeral of an American soldier killed in Iraq, who left behind a young wife and two preschool-age children, I found nothing funny about a deceitful justification for war."

Article II, Section 4: The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Sounds like a bunch of high Crimes and Misdemeanors to me.

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August 30, 2004

An Astounding Poll Regarding 9/11 9/11, "War On Terror"

A poll conducted last week in New York produced some startling findings.

Question: "Some have argued that some leaders in the US government knew in advance that attacks were planned on or around September 11, 2001, and that they consciously failed to take action. Do you agree or disagree with this argument?" [My emphasis]

Half (49.3%) of NYC residents, and 41% of NY residents state-wide, said they agreed.

The poll, commissioned by 911truth.org, broke down the state-wide numbers by age, race, gender, political party, etc.:

The poll is the first of its kind conducted in America that surveys attitudes regarding US government complicity in the 9/11 tragedy. Despite the acute legal and political implications of this accusation, nearly 30% of registered Republicans and over 38% of those who described themselves as "very conservative" supported the claim.

The charge found very high support among adults under 30 (62.8%), African-Americans (62.5%), Hispanics (60.1%), Asians (59.4%), and "Born Again" Evangelical Christians (47.9%).

Less than two in five (36%) believe that the 9/11 Commission had "answered all the important questions about what actually happened on September 11th," and two in three (66%) New Yorkers (and 56.2% overall) called for another full investigation of the "still unanswered questions" by Congress or Elliot Spitzer, New York's Attorney General. Self-identified "very liberal" New Yorkers supported a new inquiry by a margin of three to one, but so did half (53%) of "very conservative" citizens across the state. The call for a deeper probe was especially strong from Hispanics (75.6%), African-Americans (75.3%) citizens with income from $15-25K (74.3%), women (62%) and Evangelicals (59.9%).

Poll results like these have been seen in Canada and Western Europe, but I don't think anyone expected those kinds of numbers here in the US. From the 911truth.org article again:

W. David Kubiak, executive director of 911truth.org, the group that commissioned the poll, expressed genuine surprise that New Yorkers' belief in the administration's complicity is as high or higher than that seen overseas. "We're familiar with high levels of 9/11 skepticism abroad where there has been open debate of the evidence for US government complicity. On May 26th the Toronto Star reported a national poll showing that 63% of Canadians are also convinced US leaders had 'prior knowledge' of the attacks yet declined to act. There was no US coverage of this startling poll or the facts supporting the Canadians' conclusions, and there has been virtually no debate on the victim families' scores of still unanswered questions. I think these numbers show that most New Yorkers are now fed up with the silence, and that politicians trying to exploit 9/11 do so at their peril. The 9/11 case is not closed and New York's questions are not going away." [My emphasis]

There really are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding 9/11 and a lot of good reasons to doubt the official story. It's a topic I've hesitated to write about here, however, (except for this), partly because it's something of a bottomless pit, and partly for fear of being written off as a conspiracy theorist (as opposed to the coincidence theorists who've given us the offical account). Now, though, it sounds like it's time.

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August 26, 2004

Gitmo Justice 9/11, "War On Terror"

ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero reports from the Guantanamo military tribunals:

[T]here is a great desire to show how the commissions and the tribunals are fair and just, and how they mirror the American system of justice. But yet, when you compare the rules for both the commissions and the tribunals, you find serious departures from either military justice proceedings or regular criminal proceedings. For instance, under the Combatant Status Review tribunals, which are "administrative" we were told, each detainee is assigned a personal representative who is not a legal representative and whose conversations with the detainee are not confidential in any way. In fact, this personal representative is able to provide both exculpatory and inculpatory evidence that he gleans in his "personal representation" of the detainee. [My emphasis]

I know that's what I'd want: a lawyer who isn't actually a lawyer and who's free to give evidence against me based on anything I tell him or her.

[Thanks Mark]

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August 10, 2004

Porter Goss — A Fox To Guard The Hen-House 9/11, "War On Terror"

Today President Bush nominated Rep. Porter Goss, R-FL, to head the CIA. Goss chairs the House Intelligence Committee, and was an officer in the CIA's Clandestine Service for 10 years before entering Congress.

Not everyone's happy with the choice.

Stansfield Turner, CIA Director under Jimmy Carter, says:

This is the worst nomination in the history of the job. To put somebody who is so highly partisan in this job will further diminish public confidence in our intelligence.

Ray McGovern, who was a CIA analyst for 27 years, calls Goss Dick Cheney's cat's paw and says:

[H]is appointment as director would be the ultimate in politicization. He has long shown himself to be under the spell of Vice President Dick Cheney, and would likely report primarily to him and to White House political adviser Karl Rove rather than to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Goss' relationship to 9/11 is, at best, strange. In late August, 2001, Goss and Senator Bob Graham, D-FL, chair of the Senate Intelligence committee, traveled to Pakistan to meet with President Musharraf. According to the Center for Cooperative Research:

They reportedly discuss various security issues, including the possible extradition of bin Laden. They also meet with Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. Zaeef apparently tells them that the Taliban want to solve the issue of bin Laden through negotiations with the US. Pakistan says it wants to stay out of the bin Laden issue.

Two weeks later, on the morning of 9/11, at the moment the planes flew into the WTC, Goss and Graham were back in Washington having a breakfast meeting with Lt. General Mahmood Ahmed, head of the Pakistan intelligence service, the ISI. The ISI had been the CIA's instrument in funding and training the mujahadin in Afghanistan, which gave rise to al Qaeda. A month after 9/11, Ahmed was forced to resign when it became known that he had ordered the transfer of $100,000 to Mohammed Atta, reputedly the head 9/11 hijacker, some time in advance of 9/11.

Let that sink in. At the moment of the 9/11 attack, the heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, Goss and Graham, were meeting in Washington with Pakistan's head spook, who, it turns out, was helping to fund the 9/11 hijackers.

Graham said of the meeting, "We were talking about terrorism, specifically terrorism generated from Afghanistan." According to the New York Times, they were discussing Osama bin Laden.

Which Goss denies. He told the Washington Post that the issue was Kashmir and nuclear proliferation. But then he bade goodbye to the Post's interviewer with these words:

You can spend two hours in here saying, "I've talked to Porter Goss," and still not have a clue what my plans and intentions are.

As chairs of the Intelligence Committees, Goss and Graham co-chaired the Joint Congressional Investigation into 9/11 which famously concluded that there was "no smoking gun" that showed that the administration had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks or could have prevented them.

And just to complete this cozy picture, Senator Graham had been informed in advance of 9/11 that participants in a South Florida sting operation targeting arms dealers supplying weapons to terrorists had tape-recorded one R. G. Abbas, a Pakistani working for the Taliban, who said on three occasions that the WTC would soon be attacked.

Oh, and when asked last week if the White House's leaking of the identity of covert operative Valerie Plame warranted an investigation by Congress, Goss said, "Somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, I'll have an investigation."

Posted by Jonathan at 08:30 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Khan Job III 9/11, "War On Terror"

A continuation of earlier posts regarding the Bush administration's leaking of the name of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, thereby blowing his cover.

It now appears that the administration did, in fact, give reporters Khan's name, not just the fact that they had an al Qaeda source who was cooperating.

The Toronto Star, for example, reports:

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice acknowledged Sunday that Khan's name had been disclosed to reporters in Washington "on background," meaning that it could be published, but the information could not be attributed by name to the official who had revealed it.

As I argued earlier, the administration is culpable in any case, but this just removes all doubt.

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August 08, 2004

If Only the Grownups Were In Charge 9/11, "War On Terror"

A friend sent me this New York Times Op-Art graphic, "Safety Second". (If you're using Internet Explorer, hover your cursor in the lower right corner of the image and click the "Expand to regular size" icon to make the image large enough to read.)

It takes a figure of $144.4 billion for the direct costs of the Iraq war to date — actual costs are no doubt higher, given, for example, the participation of intelligence agencies with secret budgets, not to mention the astronomical indirect costs — and shows a breakdown of how the money could have been spent instead to pursue an honest policy of protecting the homeland.

What might have been.

The Iraq War is the Bush administration's baby, but the state of American politics today is such that it's hard to imagine any administration and Congress being sufficiently mature, practical, focused, and just plain rational to have implemented the listed initiatives. Oh, how I wish the grownups were in charge.

[Thanks, Maury]

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Chatter's Bad, So No Chatter's... Bad 9/11, "War On Terror"

CNN yesterday had this to say:

A drop in so-called "chatter" among suspected terrorists is troubling some counterterrorism officials, who noticed a reduction in intercepted communications before the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, government sources said.

Diminished communication prompted the concern because the counterterror experts don't know why suspected terrorists would be talking less. But they noted that similar reductions have happened several other times during the past few years. [My emphasis]

For years they've been telling us to be afraid because there are high levels of chatter. Now we need to be afraid because there aren't high levels of chatter. That's because there weren't high levels of chatter right before the 9/11 attacks. Even though every time since then when there weren't high levels of chatter nothing happened.


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August 07, 2004

Khan Job II 9/11, "War On Terror"

A reader of an earlier post asks:

Can you clarify something for me? I know the NYT published this guy's name, which was subsequently confirmed by the administration. I'm confused as to whether the source was burned by the original NYT article, making the confirmation an 'after the fact' item or if the confirmation itself is what burned the source.

If the NYT's article was the cause of the source being compromised, it may not be the administration's fault. But then, would the NYT check with a government source to get a comment/confirmation and wouldn't the government make a "don't print" request?

It does appear that the NYT got Khan’s name independently. According to a Reuters story carried by the NYT:

Last Sunday, US officials told reporters that someone held secretly by Pakistan was the source of the bulk of the information justifying the alert. The NYT obtained Khan’s name independently, and US officials confirmed it when it appeared in the paper the next morning.

However, it was the administration that told the world of Khan’s existence in the first place. They effectively blew his cover by telling reporters that their information came from "someone held secretly by Pakistan", which prompted the NYT to go find out who it was and publish the name. If you have a mole in al Qaeda, you don’t make an announcement to that effect.

You also have to wonder how the NYT was able to obtain Khan's name independently. It seems unlikely that Pakistani ISI would just give this information out to a NYT reporter on their own. And it's hard to understand why the administration would just confirm the name to other news outlets without a fight. They announce Khan's existence and 24 hours later they're confirming his name. It all seems like an unbelievable screw-up — or a deliberate effort to quickly blow Khan's cover while preserving some measure of deniability.

Reuters again:

Security experts contacted by Reuters said they were shocked by the revelations that the source whose information led to the alert was identified within days, and that U.S. officials had confirmed his name.

"The whole thing smacks of either incompetence or worse," said Tim Ripley, a security expert who writes for Jane's Defense publications. "You have to ask: what are they doing compromising a deep mole within al Qaeda, when it's so difficult to get these guys in there in the first place?

"It goes against all the rules of counter-espionage, counter-terrorism, running agents and so forth. It's not exactly cloak and dagger undercover work if it's on the front pages every time there's a development, is it?"

A source such as Khan — cooperating with the authorities while staying in active contact with trusting al Qaeda agents — would be among the most prized assets imaginable, he said.

"Running agents within a terrorist organization is the Holy Grail of intelligence agencies. And to have it blown is a major setback which negates months and years of work, which may be difficult to recover." [My emphasis]

I have no idea what the administration's motives are. It may be purely political. No doubt there's some panic at the White House these days as things spin out of their control and November approaches. This all happened so fast and so easily, however, that it's hard not to suspect something else is going on. What that could be is anyone's guess.

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Khan Job 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

During its flurry of terror-warning announcements early this week, the Bush administration revealed that it had based the warnings on information obtained from one Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, recently arrested in Pakistan.

According to the New York Times, Khan was "a 25-year-old computer engineer, arrested July 13, who had used and helped to operate a secret al Qaeda communications system where information was transferred via coded messages."

After his July arrest, Khan had agreed to work as a double-agent against al Qaeda on behalf of Pakistan and the US. By announcing his name, the Bush administration blew his cover.

Reuters reports:

US officials providing justification for anti-terrorism alerts revealed details about a Pakistani secret agent, and confirmed his name while he was working under cover in a sting operation, Pakistani sources said on Friday.

A Pakistani intelligence source told Reuters Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, who was arrested in Lahore secretly last month, had been actively cooperating with intelligence agents to help catch al Qaeda operatives when his name appeared in US newspapers.

"After his capture [in July] he admitted being an al Qaeda member and agreed to send e-mails to his contacts," a Pakistani intelligence source told Reuters. "He sent encoded e-mails and received encoded replies. He's a great hacker and even the US agents said he was a computer whiz."

"He was cooperating with interrogators on Sunday and Monday and sent e-mails on both days," the source said.

The New York Times published a story on Monday saying US officials had disclosed that a man arrested secretly in Pakistan was the source of the bulk of information leading to the security alerts.

The newspaper named him as Khan, although it did not say how it had learned his name. US officials subsequently confirmed the name to other news organizations on Monday morning. None of the reports mentioned that Khan was working under cover at the time, helping to catch al Qaeda suspects. [My emphasis]

You may recall that soon after the terror warning British police conducted a series of raids to round up al Qaeda suspects in England, based again on Khan's information. What hasn't been widely reported, however, is that the British were forced to carry out these raids prematurely and in haste, because the Americans had outed Khan.

Reuters again:

...British police said they had been forced to carry out their swoop more hastily than planned — a day after Khan's name appeared in the New York Times as the source of information behind the US alerts. [My emphasis]

On Monday evening, after Khan's name appeared, Pakistani officials moved him to a secret location.

The next day British police mounted the sweep that caught the 12 suspects. Such raids are normally carried out late at night or in the early morning, when suspects might be at home and less likely to resist.

But showing clear signs of haste, British police pounced in daylight. Some suspects were taken in shops; others were caught in a high-speed car chase.

According to Juan Cole, the British have already had to release one of the suspects for lack of evidence, a result of their having to make the arrests prematurely.

There are so many ways to read this, none of them favorable to the Bush administration. Maybe they're just incredibly clumsy and stupid. Or maybe they don't care if they burn an undercover asset who's helping them to catch al Qaeda operatives, just so long as they get some political mileage out of it, no matter how temporary or insignificant. Or maybe they have their own reasons for wanting to sabotage activities that strike too close to the heart of al Qaeda.

In any case, it doesn't look good. How many times have we heard how hard it is to get human intelligence access to al Qaeda? Then when we get someone, it only takes a few days before the White House blows his cover to the New York Times. Somebody should burn for this.

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August 06, 2004

Department of Homeland Photo Ops 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

Tom Ridge recently brushed off questions about Homeland Security's habit of raising the terror threat level at politically opportune moments by saying, "We don't do politics at Homeland Security."

But Pandagon reminds us of this quote from Time magazine in March:

Administration sources tell TIME that employees at the Department of Homeland Security have been asked to keep their eyes open for opportunities to pose the President in settings that might highlight the Administration's efforts to make the nation safer. The goal, they are being told, is to provide Bush with one homeland-security photo-op a month. [My emphasis]

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August 05, 2004

Home of the Brave 9/11, "War On Terror"

AP reports that when seven Iraqis — who were taking part in a State Department sponsored US tour intended to educate them in the workings of American democracy — showed up at the city hall in Memphis, Tennessee, the city council chairman refused them entrance.

The Iraqis were scheduled to meet with a city council member, but Joe Brown, the council chair, said he feared the group was dangerous.

"We don't know exactly what's going on. Who knows about the delegation, and has the FBI been informed?" Brown said. "We must secure and protect all the employees in that building."

Elisabeth Silverman, the group's host and head of the Memphis Council for International Visitors, said Brown told her he would "evacuate the building and bring in the bomb squads" if the group entered. [My emphasis]

"They are in charge of setting up processes in their country. They have to educate themselves about how it works in this country," Silverman said.

I guess they learned.

Update: AP reports that the following evening, two members of the Iraqi delegation were "robbed at gunpoint on a Memphis street". Yikes.

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August 04, 2004

Shame On Us 9/11, "War On Terror"

From the Associated Press comes this report:

Three Britons freed from Guantanamo Bay claim they suffered systematic brutality during their detention at the U.S. military base.

A report released by their lawyers Wednesday claims that the men were held in open cages in the sweltering Cuban heat, with scorpions and snakes roaming the cells, and that they were forced through brutal treatment to make false confessions.

"That's what you're getting in Guantanamo, false confession after false confession," said Michael Ratner, head of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Asif Iqbal, Ruhal Ahmed and Shafiq Rasul, friends from Tipton in central England, were released without charge from Guantanamo in March after being held for more than two years. [My emphasis] [...]

According to the report, the men were told that prisoners had been stripped naked and forced to watch videotapes of other prisoners ordered to sodomize each other.

The men said the guards would throw the prisoners' Qurans into the toilet and forcibly shave the prisoners to try to force people to abandon their Muslim faith.

Abusive treatment by prison guards included shackling, extreme temperatures, beatings and the use of dogs, the report said.

Under pressure, Iqbal confessed to being the man interrogators pointed to on a videotape with Osama Bin Laden. This was later disproved by British intelligence; in truth, Iqbal was in England at the time the videotape was made.

Guilty of nothing, but held for two years under these conditions. What is happening to us?

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August 02, 2004

Who Elected the 9/11 Commission? 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

The 9/11 Commission has made "urgent" recommendations for sweeping changes in the US intelligence agencies, including creating a new National Intelligence Director (NID) based in the White House but subject to Senate confirmation and congressional oversight. The NID would oversee and manage the various intelligence agencies. His or her position as a member of the White House staff would grant the President extraordinary powers with respect to the secret intelligence capabilities of the US government (USG).

John Kerry has called for immediate adoption of the Commission's recommendations. The Bush Administration is working on legislation that would create the NID role, but with one essential difference: the NID would not be based in the White House. The Administration's motive for that change appears to be that it does not want to establish a precedent for congressional oversight of any White House staff position. Congress has jumped on the bandwagon as well: various congressional hearings are planned for the coming weeks, and legislation will be acted on prior to the November elections.

Besides the creation of the NID role, there are a number of other Commission recommendations that have received less publicity. Several of these recommendations may impact the freedoms of US citizens: e.g., adoption of biometric passports (i.e., incorporating some form of biological "fingerprint" in passport databases and entry/exit screening procedures); use of secure identification cards within the US; and increased information sharing with foreign governments and among USG agencies.

Several of the proposed changes reallocate responsibilities among USG agencies: e.g., establishment of a National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC); transfer of responsibility for paramilitary operations, including covert ops, from the CIA to the DOD; and creation of a "specialized and integrated national security workforce... at the FBI".

Taking covert ops away from the CIA seems like a seismic shift, but I haven't seen any discussion of it. It will be interesting to see if the CIA takes it lying down. Creation of a "national security workforce" at the FBI is also an important change, creating, in effect, a domestic CIA.

In this election year, no one wants to be seen as dragging his or her feet with respect to terrorism, so Bush, Kerry, and the Congress are all rushing to implement the Commission's recommendations as if they were handed down to Moses. But the Commission is just an assortment of unelected people with no special monopoly on wisdom. Politicians of both parties are embracing the Commission's recommendations because it's a politically safe way to do something.

This kind of haste seems more than a little foolhardy, however. The Department of Homeland Security was created in the same kind of political stampede, and it's now spending $30 billion a year with no evident benefit. The new recommendations are substantially more ambitious and no doubt will affect the allocation and expenditure of even more vast amounts of money. No business would dream of jumping headlong into an undertaking on this scale without careful consideration and planning. Hard problems are solved by hard work, not by a slapdash stroke of the pen. And freedoms, once surrendered, are seldom regained.

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July 30, 2004

A Failure of Imagination 9/11, "War On Terror"

People have short memories. Otherwise, they'd know that every big, blue-ribbon bipartisan investigation designed to lay to rest some governmental scandal or failure is an exercise in damage control, public relations, and coverup. Without exception. These investigations reveal enough to create the appearance of an exhaustive inquiry — what Nixon called a "limited hangout" — but they steer clear of areas that nobody in government wants to expose.

This was true of the Warren Commission (which Nixon called "the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated"), of Watergate (e.g., its connection to what Nixon called "the whole Bay of Pigs thing"), of Iran-Contra (e.g., CIA drug trafficking and Iran-Contra's relation to looting of S&Ls), and it's true of the 9/11 Commission. These are political exercises, designed to serve political purposes, and subject to political compromises and horse-trading.

The surest sign that the 9/11 Commission Report adheres to this pattern is the fact that it's been praised so glowingly for its "bipartisanship" by politicians of all stripes. That, and the fact that nobody's concerned that there's stuff in the report that may reveal intelligence secrets and sources (where are the redactions?), are proof that the report's been watered down until it's safe for public consumption and palatable to all, including the people who should have been the targets of an authentic, hard-nosed inquiry.

The report says the most important failure was "one of imagination." It says, "We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat." I.e., people didn't fail us, imaginations did. A convenient, "bipartisan" way of not assigning blame.

This sounds an awful lot like Condoleezza Rice's testimony:

I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.

Which is a flat-out lie. In the decade leading up to 9/11 there were several instances where people actually did hijack planes to use them as missiles, the best-known being a 1994 attempt by Algierian militants to crash an airliner into the Eiffel Tower. That same year, an American suicide pilot crashed a small (not hijacked) plane into the White House. The Pentagon, the CIA, NORAD, and others repeatedly explored the planes-as-missiles possibility in plans, scenarios, simulations, and drills, and it was showing up in Tom Clancy novels and in TV shows.

In 1995, Philippine police captured a plan (Project Bojinka) by Ramzi Yussef (convicted mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center) that included the simultaneous crashing of hijacked airliners into such targets as the World Trade Center, the Sears Tower, and CIA headquarters. This plan was turned over to the US and was used as evidence in Yussef's trial in 1997.

In October of 2000, the Pentagon ran a "detailed" emergency drill based on a scenario of a hijacked plane crashing into the Pentagon. In July of 2001, less than two months before 9/11, when the leaders of the G-8 nations met in Genoa, there was so much concern about the possibility of a plane being used as a missile to attack the summit that local air-space was closed, the site was ringed by anti-aircraft missile batteries, and President Bush was removed to a nearby aircraft carrier at night.

On the very morning of 9/11 itself, the National Reconaissance Office (the US spy satellite agency) and the CIA were holding an exercise based on the scenario of a civilian jetliner crashing into NRO headquarters.

And on that same morning, according to Michael Ruppert, the Joint Chiefs and NORAD were conducting their own joint exercise, which apparently involved one or more actual aircraft posing as hijacked airliners. (If true, this obviously would have created enormous confusion on 9/11. In the 9/11 Commission Report, p. 20, when Boston FAA controllers inform NORAD that Flight 11 has been hijacked, the first thing NORAD says is, "Is this real-world or exercise?" The 9/11 Commission reports this — without context or comment — but fails to investigate or discuss the various exercises then occurring and what role they may have played in creating confusion in America's air defenses. The Commission certainly knew that many people, including 9/11 families, thought the exercises were an important issue and were frustrated by the Commission's refusal to investigate them. Indeed, it reached the point finally where spectators were ejected from public hearings of the Commission for standing up and shouting "What about the exercises?")

There are a number of other examples, but you get the point. Condi Rice is a liar. Lots of people, including many in the government, were anticipating exactly what she says no one could have predicted.

The Commission's "failure of imagination" point is perhaps broader than the mere failure to imagine the 9/11 planes-as-missiles scenario. Maybe so, but I think the real failure of imagination lies with the Commission members themselves. They seem to have failed to imagine — publicly, anyway — that some people in the administration have been lying through their teeth and that the Commission itself has left many of the most important questions about 9/11 unasked, let alone unanswered.

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July 26, 2004

Kafkaesque 9/11, "War On Terror"

Rumsfeld once called Guantanamo Bay "the least worst place" to store evil-doers, after which the Navy embraced Rumsfeld's quote as a slogan, proudly displaying it across the banner of their Guantanamo Bay website. When a new commanding officer took over near the end of last year, he ordered the slogan removed.

From The Register (via Xymphora):

"The removal was ordered because the commanding officer did not feel it accurately reflected his vision of the base," said Navy spokesman Lieutenant Mike Kafka.

(Yes, you're reading that correctly. A man named Kafka has been deployed to field questions about a prison where the criminals are only vaguely charged with crimes, can't speak to lawyers and likely will never get out.)

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July 21, 2004

The Case of Cynthia McKinney 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

Former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney easily won the Democratic primary in Georgia yesterday, bringing her a step closer to regaining the seat she lost two years ago.

McKinney served her district from 1992, when she was the first African-American woman elected to Congress from Georgia, until 2002, when her defeat was engineered by an organized effort that got Republicans to cross over and vote for her opponent by the tens of thousands in the Democratic primary. Georgia permits cross-over voting in primary elections. However, the Supreme Court ruled (in 2000) that an open primary system in California was illegal and unconstitutional, since it permitted "nonparty members to hijack the party." McKinney's opponent was also helped by a huge influx of out-of-state contributions from various business and pro-Israel groups.

McKinney's case is interesting because, prior to her defeat, she was slammed in the media for supposedly saying that George Bush knew about 9/11 in advance and allowed it to happen.

But, as Greg Palast reports, she never said it. Here's Palast:

According to those quoted on National Public Radio, McKinney’s "a loose cannon" (media expert) who "the people of Atlanta are embarrassed and disgusted" (politician) by, and she is also "loony" and "dangerous" (senator from her own party).

Yow! And why is McKinney dangerous/loony/disgusting? According to NPR, "McKinney implied that the [Bush] Administration knew in advance about September 11 and deliberately held back the information."

The New York Times' Lynette Clemetson revealed her comments went even further over the edge: "Ms. McKinney suggest[ed] that President Bush might have known about the September 11 attacks but did nothing so his supporters could make money in a war."

That’s loony, all right. As an editor of the highly respected Atlanta Journal Constitution told NPR, McKinney’s "practically accused the President of murder!"

Problem is, McKinney never said it.

That’s right. The "quote" from McKinney is a complete fabrication.

Greg Palast called Lynette Clemetson of the New York Times to see where she got her information. Here's the transcript of his phone call to her:

Palast: Hi, Lynette. My name is Greg Palast, and I wanted to follow up on a story of yours. It says, let’s see, after the opening — it’s about Cynthia McKinney — it’s dated Washington byline August 21. "McKinney’s [opponent] capitalized on the furor caused by Miss McKinney’s suggestion this year that President Bush might have known about the September 11 attacks but did nothing so his supporters could make money in a war." Now, I have been trying my darndest to find this phrase ... I can’t...

Clemetson: Did you search the Atlanta Journal Constitution?

Palast: Yes, but I haven’t been able to find that statement.

Clemetson: I’ve heard that statement — it was all over the place.

Palast: I know it was all over the place, except no one can find it and that’s why I’m concerned. Now did you see the statement in the Atlanta Journal Constitution?

Clemetson: Yeah....

[Note from Palast: No such direct quote from McKinney can be found in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.]

Palast: And did you confirm this with McKinney?

Clemetson: Well, I worked with her office. The statement is from the floor of the House [of Representatives].... Right?

Palast: So did you check the statement from the floor of the House?

Clemetson: I mean I wouldn’t have done the story.... Have you looked at House transcripts?

Palast: Yes. Did you check that?

Clemetson: Of course.

Palast: You did check it?

[Note from Palast: No such McKinney statement can be found in the transcripts or other records of the House of Representatives.]

Clemetson: I think you have to go back to the House transcripts.... I mean it was all over the place at the time.

Yes, it was all over the place. But, Palast says, it was not "in the Congressional Record, nor in any recorded talk, nor on her website, nor in any of her radio talks. Here’s the Congresswoman’s statement from the record:

George Bush had no prior knowledge of the plan to attack the World Trade Center on September 11."


This is an increasingly common occurrence. A reporter sees something that's all over the place and reports it as true without confirming it. No matter that the statement in question was planted with some right-wing commentator or website and then picked up in the right-wing echo chamber. If it's all over the place it must be true, right?

What were Cynthia McKinney's actual crimes? She was a tireless champion of human rights (including the rights of Palestinians), of civil rights (including US citizens' rights threatened in the aftermath of 9/11), and of peace and justice. Moreover, according to her own website:

Cynthia voted against near-record Bush Administration Pentagon budgets and challenged the Pentagon to explain how it "lost" over $2.3 trillion in un-trackable transactions. She decried the Pentagon's sweetheart deals with Halliburton, the funding of an unworkable weapon system built by the Carlyle Group, and the administration of the Pentagon's anthrax and smallpox vaccine program by a well-connected corporate friend. [...]

[When she] became one of the first Members of Congress to demand a thorough investigation into the events of September 11, 2001 and responsibly asked the question, "What did the Administration know and when did it know it about the events of September 11th?" she was vilified and targeted by Georgia and national Republicans.

McKinney is expected to win in November. According to Wayne Madsen, Congresspeople who regain their seat after a single term are customarily given back their seniority. It will be interesting to see if that happens with McKinney.

Posted by Jonathan at 08:01 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

July 15, 2004

Seymour Hersh's ACLU Keynote Speech Transcribed 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq  Politics

On July 8, Seymour Hersh addressed the ACLU's 2004 Membership Conference. The program can be streamed here, with Hersh's remarks beginning at the 1:07:40 mark.

I've transcribed Hersh's remarks below. It's a long talk, but I've added some headings and emphasized some things in bold, so you can scan through it if you don't wish to read the whole thing.

Introduction [1:07:40]

… The truth is, it's so ironic… the best information we may get about this election may come from a combination of The Control Room, Fahrenheit 9/11, John Sayles, the nightly news from Jon Stewart if some of you watch that. At the height of the prisoner abuse stories, [Jon Stewart] had one of his mock news broadcasters say very seriously to the camera, on the Stewart show, he said, "The important thing is not that we commit torture and abuses, it's that we're a country that doesn't condone torture and abuses" [laughter] — that's a wonderful line.

And so, you start talking about failures of communication, I don't know where we're going to go with this, I can't make you feel happy about where we are. We've got a very important election coming up, probably the most important since, what, 1860. I think it is, and there's nothing I can say to you about any of that. …

So here we are. The bottom line is, by the way, I'm in a tough position because I'm not done reporting on all of this. … It's a tough position because there is more to the story. …

Standards for Government Ethics [1:10:25]

I guess the way to describe how you look at things is, I don’t know about you, but I have a wife and children, and one of the things that makes life livable is trusting in my partner, never lying to my children and never wanting my children — with the exception of teenage girls [laughter] — to lie to me about anything. …

But basically you know what I’m talking about, the core of how we exist. The way we live — not us, there’s nothing special about us, everybody in the world — we all live, the most important thing in our life is our family structure and the integrity with which we live, and the honesty with which we conduct our life, and the trust with which we have people [sic].

And if you think about it, you begin to understand the bad bargain we have [now]. It’s, it's, it's a condition, a requirement, one that we so desperately live with our own families with that we don’t even begin to levy on the President of the United States and the National Security Advisor. It’s not even a requirement [for them]. We don’t even have any expectation that they’re going to have the same trust and integrity in conducting their affairs as we do in our own personal life.

It’s a bad bargain for us in the commonweal. We don’t even begin — we understand what they are. You heard talking about Henry Kissinger, who, for all of his genius, lied like most of us breathe. And when you’re in a situation like that — is that partisan or non-partisan, I don't know [referring to the ACLU's need to remain non-partisan].

But it’s really a bad bargain. And we live with it pretty happily, we go along, ok another President, another National Security Advisor, Condi Rice in this case — and we know we don’t get the story, and what do they have the right to do? They have the right to send our children, men and women now, in the name of democracy to go kill people and be killed and torture and perhaps be tortured in return, which is always going to be the end result of torture. And so, I think there’s nothing wrong with holding these people to the highest possible standards. It doesn’t happen enough. But that’s what we have to do.

Scope of the Crimes of Torture [1:12:50]

We don’t know — I’ll tell you right now, the reason I’m saying all that — is what happened at Abu Ghraib, I can just tell you this, and I have to do the reporting on this and you have to wait for me to do it — but it’s not about an academic debate in long essays between the Justice Department and the White House, legal essays about where the Geneva Convention ends and the Presidential prerogative begins.

What we had was a series of massive crimes, criminal activity by the President and the Vice President, by this administration anyway, I can say that, I can’t say who did it.

The only way to look at this is as war crimes. What happened are war crimes. I’m not saying it’s there yet. It’s not there yet. But that’s where it has to go. We have to stop looking at it as some sort of academic debate about Geneva Conventions and really begin to look at it in terms of: Who did what? Who died? Why did he die? Are there people missing? Are we doing what the Brazilians and Argentineans did back two or three decades ago and actually into this decade? Are we disappearing people? Are there people being tortured knowingly in advance that the torture was going to put their lives in peril and is nothing being done to relieve their suffering to the point that they die?

Is there mens rea? Is there guilty knowledge? Is it a crime? And we’re going to get there, because I think that’s where it’s sort of ineluctably going, you can just see on and on and on, and we’re not there yet. I’m not telling you I can take it there, I’m just telling you that that’s the way you have to look at it.

Repercussions in the Arab World [1:14:25]

I’ll tell you what an Israeli told me. And the Israelis as you know — a very tough, hard-nosed Israeli told me at one point, about all this — he said, you know, we hate the Arabs. This is a guy who spent his career in the intelligence service and, you know, his hands are bloody. He said, we hate the Arabs, and the Arabs hate us, and before 1948, we’ve been killing Arabs, and they’ve been killing us. But I have to tell you something, he said. We know somewhere down the line, we’re going to have to live with these people, much as we can’t stand them, they’re going to have to be our neighbors. And if we had done in our prisons to the Arabs what you have done to the Arabs in your prisons, we couldn’t live that way.

And so the bottom line is we have started something that we don’t know [what] the end, the bottom line, is of this treatment, as more details come out.

And I can tell you it was much worse, and the government knows it's much worse, than they’ve even told you. There are worse photos, worse videotapes, worse events. To The New Yorker’s credit we decided, not for censorship, but just how much can you, how much can you levy on Arab manhood, in public?

But Arabs, I will tell you, it’s not just the radicals — and we all know how this policy, this administration’s policies, in Afghanistan, too, and also of course in Iraq, has really done exactly the contrary of what they said they were going to do. They haven't ended the war of terrorism — they’ve expanded it — that’s nothing obvious [sic], that’s totally clear.

But Arabs now, moderate Arabs, Arabs that normally would be doing the kind of — as you know, the overwhelming, the vastly overwhelming percentage of moderate Arabs deplored what happened to this country on 9/11, as much as anybody here — but those Arabs we’ve lost. They see us as a sexually perverse society. The sexual stuff we did to them is seen as just perversion. And I think we’re going to have consequences for a long time to come. There’s an awful lot of respect in the Arab world for Americans, I travel there all the time, and American Jews even, it’s not, nobody’s going to — I wouldn’t walk around Baghdad — but most of the world is very safe. We have a lot of problems.

The Neocon Cult [1:16:47]

So, rather than deal with the obvious stuff about Bush and this election and what it means, I think the real question we have to answer, and this is the question I'm inchoate about, I don't have an answer …

The question we have to say to ourselves is, ok, so here’s what happens, a bunch of guys, 8 or 9 neoconservatives, cultists — not Charles Manson cultists, but cultists — get in and it's not, with all due respect to Michael Moore, and you’ll read it, his movie’s fine, but it’s not about oil, it’s not even about protecting Israel, it’s about a Utopia they have, it’s about an idea they have. Not only about — democracy can be spread — in a sense, I would say Paul Wolfowitz is the greatest Trotskyite of our time, he believes in permanent revolution, and in the Middle East to begin, needless to say.

And so you have a bunch of people who've been for 10, 12 years have been fantasizing since the 1991 Gulf War on the way to resolve problems. And of course Israel will be a beneficiary and etc. etc., but the world in their eyes — this was Utopia. And so they got together, this small group of cultists, and how did they do it? They did do it. They’ve taken the government over. And what’s amazing to me, and what really is troubling, is how fragile our democracy is. Look what happened to us.

[In the press, there is] self-censorship, which is the beacon word for me, you know I always think it comes more, you know there is a corporate mentality out there, but there’s also a tremendous amount of self-censorship among the press. It’s like a disease.

But also — they not only — they took away the edge from the press, they also muzzled the bureaucracy, they muzzled the military, they muzzled the Congress, and it’s an amazing feat. We’re supposed to be a democratic society, and all of those areas of our democracy bowed and scraped to this group of neocons who advocated a policy.

General Shinseki [1:19:05]

You know, we all know the story of how mad they got at General Shinseki, who I think is going to run for the Senate in Hawaii and should, for Inouye’s seat, he’s a great general. The important thing about Shinseki for me, and this is just heuristic, I don’t know this, the important thing about Shinseki is this. He testifies before the Gulf War we’re going to need a couple hundred thousand troops and everybody, Wolfowitz and the others — I count Wolfowitz, I lead with him, because he’s sort of the, he’s the genius in the background, he’s the man, very articulate, very persuasive — and so Shinseki testifies we need a couple hundred thousand and everybody’s mad at him, it's about two weeks before the war, and it made sense, everybody said, they were mad because he's talking about numbers these guys say you won’t need. They're going to go invade Iraq and you know the story, they were going to be greeted with flowers and all that stuff, we all know that story.

But it wasn’t that. Their complaint with Shinseki was really much more interesting. It was: didn’t he get it? Didn’t he know what we’ve been talking about, in the tank with the JCS and the generals — didn’t he get it? We could do it with five thousand troops, we have to make these bargains with these crazy Clinton-ized generals — I’m talking like Rummy, like Rumsfeld would talk — literally, unfortunately — these soft generals, these Clinton-ized generals — didn’t Shinseki get it? Didn’t he understand what we’re doing here? We did it in Afghanistan, we’re going to do it in Iraq. Some Special Forces, some bombing, we’re going to take it over. It’s going to be like this. He didn’t get it, that was the problem, that’s why they had to read him out. He wasn’t on the team.

And so you have a government that basically has been operating since 9/11 very successfully on the principle that if you’re with us you’re a genius, if you’re against us you’re not just somebody [in the] loyal opposition, you’re a traitor. They can’t deal with you. I’m exaggerating very slightly.

Pentagon in Disarray [1:21:00]

So what does that mean? That means no dissent. Somebody I know recently was working with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on a budget issue. The budget’s in incredible chaos, the Defense Department budget. Don’t hold me to this, because, you know The New Yorker has this great fact-checking system, this is just something I’ve heard, but among the problems they have, they can’t find something like one billion dollars in cash that was known to be in Iraq, they just can’t find it. And you know we’re talking with the b-word there, you known one billion.

And so they’ve got huge problems that they’re spending and the Joint Chiefs, this was in big league meetings, and then this gentleman has to go and brief his findings. He’s an outside expert, he’s done an investigation, he has to brief Rumsfeld, and one of the senior generals who happens to be a very good guy — not General Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who’s know to many generals as “hear no evil, see no evil”, you know we have that incredible sort of problem — I wish, this is a digression, I wish they had more guts, the two, three, and four stars. I shouldn’t say that because I’m obviously a beneficiary, you know, indirectly, I’m the beneficiary for their thoughts in some cases, but it is sort of sad that none of them have come forward and really blasted away, because I can tell you right now, the disaffection inside the Pentagon is really extremely acute, there’s never been anything like it, and they feel that this government doesn’t care about — you know a good officer, and I could tell you right now, don’t make the mistake of thinking that they’re not good people, they are, and in the intelligence service too, they’re people like everybody else. They want to do their job right, they want to do it with as much honor as they can. And this is something that I feel — I know these guys, and they do care. But they also, the good ones, also they’re in loco parentis. One of the things they take very seriously, particularly, you known I'm a Marine, you know what I’m talking about, you give your children to them, they take of you. They can’t do that now in Iraq. They really don’t think we care, and they don' think, they certainly don’t think people in the White House care. …

Rumsfeld Refuses to Listen [1:23:10]

So one of the good generals, one of the good guys goes in for a meeting with Rumsfeld, and the person I’m talking about is describing the condition that he’s discovered of the budget planning. We’re talking about lots of billions of dollars, this war is going to probably end up being the trillion dollar war that nobody — you can’t even begin to estimate the cost.

When you see the Moore movie, and in [The] Control Room, when you see those movies, the photographs that are the most gripping are the photographs of Baghdad before the war. And look, I know he's a bad guy, etc., etc., etc., Saddam, but still, and the rebuilding —

Anyway, the point is that my friend, this person told Rumsfeld how bad things are, and Rumsfeld of course said, oh my God, that’s absolutely wrong, he said, there’s nothing like that, there’s no problem with the budget and he turned to this ranking general and said, isn’t that right? And this general, in front of this outsider, said yes sir, you’re right. And that’s what happens, that’s what you have now, and to me, there’s nothing more scary. That the Secretary of Defense is simply incapable of hearing what he doesn’t want to hear. And he’s not the ideologue that Wolfowitz is. You couple that with an ideologue, and I don’t know what we can do. I don’t know what any of us can do to stop it.

Transfer of Iraqi “Sovereignty” [1:24:50]

I think what’s going to happen is the President’s — my guess is, first of all, again, the idea that three networks — or at least two of them — I think all three sent their anchormen through Baghdad on the 30th for this transfer of sovereignty and I just wonder, I mean, how out of touch are they? What sovereignty? What sovereignty do we have to give? There’s no phones, there’s no electricity [laughter] — no, this is a sad fact. There is no sovereignty, there’s no army. It’s a Potemkin village maybe, yes, so they’re going to go inside the CPA where the grass is green and the air-conditioning works and they’re going to have a change of command with the press monitoring it and they had all three anchors there. I thought to myself, wow, it’s really scary. We’re getting into — we’re making the pictures and we’re believing them now, more than ever. So it doesn’t have much reality.

So the President’s, I would guess the President’s policy is — he’s got no, he doesn’t have a policy behind the new government, the Allawi government, which is basically a bunch of outsiders taking control, and everybody’s got their hands in certain — there’s no way this government’s going to be acceptable to anybody except a very small minority of people. It’s not going to work, it’s not going to stop the insurgency.

What’s Next in Iraq [1:26:10]

I think you’re going to see a lot of efforts to try to paint the insurgency in the next month as increasingly being outsiders. I’ve seen already the first “showdown” between al Qaeda and the United States. “Al Qaeda’s taken over the insurgency” — I don’t think that’s true at all. And I can tell you right now — this I'm telling you I know — a year ago, a year and a half ago, there was total panic inside, because the opposition, the insurgency, was operating in 1, 2, and 3 man cells and we knew nothing about them. I can tell you right now, they're operating in 10 and 15 man cells right now and we still know nothing about them. The interrogations haven’t worked, no matter how much pressure they put on people. We have no tactical information of any use whatsoever.

And if you go to Europe and talk to some of the intelligence people there and some of the people in the Middle East who are our friends — we have many friends, who are very sad about what’s happened to America, are praying for the next election — they will tell you even the stuff you’re hearing about Zarqawi — Zarqawi, excuse me, Zarqawi is mister everybody, he’s never liked bin Laden, and it’s not clear that the person that we claim responsible for all those acts is he. Some of the people who know the Arab world very well and very carefully and listen to his statements. He’s a Jordanian, and many of the comments that have been alleged to have been in his name are not made by him. In other words, the suggestion is that he’s a composite figure. He’s very convenient.

I don’t want to suggest to you that we’ve ever been propagandized by our government [laughter], but it’s very convenient. It’s very convenient to keep on telling the press that Zarqawi’s — my favorite one is that nice kid that was beheaded, remember. The guy that beheaded him had a hood over him. He was described very confidently by the American establishment government as Zarqawi. Well, if they can see through hoods. Anyway —

So, I think the policy’s going to be, we’ve got this guy Allawi and this government, let’s stand him up and see if he can past the election, and let’s just escalate, and bomb, and bomb, and bomb. And the only answer for these guys is going to be more pressure, more military force. We accept as commonplace, every day now, we’re emulating Israel in [their] missile attacks, and it’s a daily occurrence. We keep on bombing places in Fallujah, claiming we’ve gotten rid of Zarqawi, who keeps on not showing up anyway, whoever he is.

We don’t have much intelligence, and we’re escalating a war. Bombing, missile attacks, much more violence, it’s come, crept up on us, you know little cat paw, and we’re there. We’re there in a full-scale, increasingly intense military activity, more bombing, more air force planes, more ordnance, more shelling, what we call force protection — that is, you’re not going to send troops somewhere where you can just fire a lot of missiles [instead], which means of course more collateral damage, more civilians, which means of course more opposition, more insurgency.

Torture: Worse Revelations to Come [1:29:08]

What they did at Abu Ghraib and other places was, the people they would get, they would torture. And sometimes, for an Arab man, being photographed without clothes on — in the Koran, you’re not allowed, this front [motioning to his body] cannot be exposed — and to be exposed that way and to be forced to simulate sexual activity with other males and have women give the thumbs-up sign is the ultimate degradation. It’s literally — any classic definition of — it’s torture. Torture isn’t always physical. It’s a torturous process.

And the purpose of it, of course, is to generate information. So what do you get? You get people that know nothing. The ICRC, the international Red Cross, estimated in the prison population at Abu Ghraib at the time of the worst abuses, they estimated that upwards of 90% had no bearing at all on anthing anti-American, or any activity that had anything to do with the insurgency. This wonderful general, Antonio Taguba, the report that I got, this guy Taguba's report estimated that 60% had nothing to do [with it].

So you take these people, you expose them to the ridicule and physical torture that you can, and they end up telling you. Yes, they'll give you the names of people in their neighborhood that are al Qaeda, or terrorists, insurgency, and they give you names. And of course they're just names, they're just doing it, and then you arrest those people, and bring them in, and you start the process. And the circle gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger.

And I would — debating about it [long pause]. Some of the worst things that happened that you don’t know about. OK? Videos. There are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at [Abu Ghraib], which is about 30 miles from Baghdad — 30 kilometers, maybe, just 20 miles, I'm not sure whether it's — anyway. The women were passing messages out saying please come and kill me because of what’s happened. And basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children, in cases that have been [video] recorded, the boys were sodomized, with the cameras rolling, and the worst above all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking. That your government has, and they’re in total terror it’s going to come out. It’s impossible to say to yourself, how did we get there, who are we, who are these people that sent us there.

When I did My Lai, I was very troubled, like anybody in his right mind would be about what happened, and I ended up in something I wrote saying, in the end, I said, the people that did the killing were as much victims as the people they killed, because of the scars they had.

I can tell you some of the personal stories of some of the people who were in these units who witnessed this. I can also tell you written complaints were made to the highest officers. And so we’re dealing with an enormous, massive amount of criminal wrong-doing that was covered up at the highest command out there and higher. And we have to get to it, and we will. And we will, I mean, you know, there’s enough out there, they can't — [applause]

So — so, it’s going to be an interesting election year, it is. It’s going to be Bush vs. Bush, I think, largely, in my view, not that the Democrats, or Ralph Nader, won’t have something to do with it, but it’s really going to be, it’s Bush running against Bush.

The Justice Department [1:33:05]

And, I don’t know where we’re going to come out. And, I guess, I guess the only thing I can say is that above and beyond that, all of you know because all of you care about the Constitutional rights and what’s going on in the government, the issues that many in [the ACLU] are deeply involved in, one of the other great shocking examples of self-censorship, or just sheer cowardness, or what you will, is just the inability of the press corps to deal with the Justice Department and what’s happened there.

It’s one of the great failings — I can tell you the degradation of that place has been so total, and there are people, again, there are many people in those places that really care about human rights. I was getting emails on September the 12th, 2001, from people the inside the FBI saying we are in real trouble with this guy Ashcroft. So there are people there that care, they fight, as hard as they can. It’s not as if — when you have the kind of leadership we have, I don’t know where we go. I just wish I could tell you — I am telling you — go back, do what you can, … you’re going to say to yourself, as many people have said to me, I’d better do more. But also be terribly aware, that we are so disconnected with this leadership that it’s not necessarily clear that what you do is going to impact on them.

Because these are people that are really out there. We have really been — you know, as I say, it’s not the Manson clan — but we really have been taken over, and we have to do something to stop it, and let’s hope we can do it electorally.

Posted by Jonathan at 07:17 PM | Comments (41) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

July 14, 2004

Governments Lie 9/11, "War On Terror"

One of the greatest and most fearless independent journalists in American history, the late I. F. Stone, said:

All governments are run by liars. Nothing they say should be believed.

And when asked for his advice for aspiring journalists, Stone boiled it down to just two words: "Governments lie."

His point was not that every utterance of every government official is a lie, but that one should never forget that all governments lie, constantly. When they say something, don't just take their word for it. Verify it for yourself.

I thought of Stone's admonition yesterday when I saw the news about the supposed surrender in Saudi Arabia of one Khaled al-Harbi. I don’t have TV these days, but I made a point of watching the online CNN video of the story.

Major cognitive dissonance. The CNN anchor trumpeted it as a significant victory in the war on terror, but the video showed somebody who looked like he might have been an airline employee helping an old man into a wheelchair and wheeling him off. No security, no handcuffs, no excitement of any kind.

As evidence of al-Harbi's importance, the anchor noted that al-Harbi was the visiting Saudi whom we saw with bin Laden in the "smoking gun" video released in mid-December, 2001, the video in which bin Laden expressed knowledge of and satisfaction with — if not responsibility for — the 9/11 attacks.

There may be reason, however, to believe the "smoking gun" video is a fake. What would that make al-Harbi?

Here are some stills from that "smoking gun" video:


Here are a couple of photos of bin Laden. The first is from the FBI's bin Laden "Wanted" poster.


Now some images comparing bin Laden from a different video (on the right) with the "bin Laden" in the "smoking gun" video (on the left).


And a montage of images, in which the last one is from the "smoking gun" video.

[Images from WhatReallyHappened.com, UK Indymedia, Robert-Fisk.com]

Trying to draw conclusions from low quality images of this kind may be a fool's errand, but to my naive eye the images certainly appear to be of two different men. Compare the shape and length of the nose for example. Look at the length of the nose in proportion to the distance from eye to mouth.

There are other reasons to question the video’s authenticity — e.g., "bin Laden" wears a ring on his right hand, bin Laden does not; "bin Laden" appears to write notes with his right hand, bin Laden is left-handed [FBI]; "bin Laden" looks a bit porky, bin Laden is a very skinny 6'4"-6'6" and 160 lbs [FBI].

There's the quality of the video and audio itself. The video is surprisingly hard to find on the web, but the BBC has it here. Take a look. The audio of "bin Laden" is often inaudible at critical points, and the face of "bin Laden" is generally quite difficult to make out. Obviously not proof of a fake, but certainly convenient if the video is a fake. Other bin Laden videos are of much higher quality.

And then there's the fact that the video seems "too good to be true". US forces just happened to find, left behind in a vacant house, the "smoking gun" that could be used in the media world-wide.

Except for this video, bin Laden has never taken responsibility for 9/11, so its authenticity is a significant issue. Let me be clear: I have no idea if bin Laden was involved in 9/11. I am not trying to say that he wasn't involved. He may well have been. I just question whether this video is proof.

For what it's worth, shortly after 9/11, the Pakistani newspaper Ummat (Karachi) published (9/28/2001) an interview with bin Laden, in which he said:

I have already said that I am not involved in the 11 September attacks in the United States. As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. I had no knowledge of these attacks, nor do I consider the killing of innocent women, children and other humans as an appreciable act. Islam strictly forbids causing harm to innocent women, children and other people. Such a practice is forbidden even in the course of a battle.

Which also proves nothing, but it's worth noting that this interview seems to have received no significant coverage in the US mainstream media — at least nothing that comes up in Google — then or since.

Posted by Jonathan at 05:25 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

July 09, 2004

Treason 9/11, "War On Terror"

This has been commented on elsewhere but deserves emphasis.

The New Republic cites a number of sources that say the Bush administration is putting intense pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture "high-value targets" (HVTs) like Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman Al Zawahiri, and the Taliban's Mullah Omar "before Americans go to the polls in November."

This paragraph is especially outrageous:

[A]n official who works under ISI's director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, informed The New Republic that the Pakistanis "have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must." What's more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington." Says [NSC spokesman Sean] McCormack: "I'm aware of no such comment." [A non-denial denial.] But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July" — the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston. [My emphasis]

Foreign policy by Karl Rove.

What the Administration is pressuring Pakistan's General Musharraf to undertake — extensive military operations in the "lawless tribal areas" of Pakistan — may backfire dangerously. The tribal areas are

regions that enjoy considerable autonomy from Islamabad and where, until Musharraf sided with the United States in the war on terrorism, Pakistani soldiers had never set foot in the nation's 50-year history. [My emphasis]

As the The New Republic points out:

A Pakistani offensive in that region, aided by American high-tech weaponry and perhaps Special Forces, could unite tribal chieftains against the central government and precipitate a border war without actually capturing any of the HVTs.... Pushing Musharraf to go after Al Qaeda in the tribal areas may be a good idea despite the risks [of civil war]. But, if that is the case, it was a good idea in 2002 and 2003. [My emphasis]

Deliberately allowing the enemy to remain at large and timing military operations to further one's personal political advantage. I believe the word for that is treason.

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July 03, 2004

Bedtime for Bozo 9/11, "War On Terror"  Film

A blog I like a lot, The Talent Show, recently had a post called Fahrenheit's Missing Question. Here's how it starts:

When I met Michael Moore last January, we spent most of the time talking about the Democratic primaries and how disastrous the Bush presidency has been, but one of the subjects that naturally came up was Bush's actions on September 11th. Now there's been a lot written about the "seven minutes" sequence in Fahrenheit 9/11 for good reason (it's pretty damning to watch the leader of the free world sit still while his nation is under attack), but that wasn't the question that seemed to tug at Mike the most. When we spoke, his big question was about the reports that on the evening of 9/11, Bush went to bed at his normal time, around 11PM. [My emphasis]

"How could he have just gone to bed after all that? Everyone I know was glued to their TVs and unable to sleep." he said.

Our Commander in Chief, at the center of what must have been an absolute tornado of frantic activity and near-panic, can think of nothing better to do than to climb into his jammies and go to bed.

Man, I wish Michael Moore had put that in the movie.

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June 28, 2004

Bush in the Classroom on 9/11 9/11, "War On Terror"  Film

Bush supporters complain bitterly about Fahrenheit 9/11, but the film could have been far more inflammatory than it was.

Consider, for example, the sequence in which Bush is shown sitting with a 2nd grade class for a number of minutes after the second plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.

If you watch the original video of that occasion (available in several versions on the web, for example here), you will see Bush enter the classroom at a time when authorities already knew that at least two planes had been highjacked, and one of them had already crashed into the World Trade Center, long known to be #1 on the terrorist target wish-list. Bush jokes with the 2nd graders and poses for photos with their teacher. Just another photo op morning. After a minute or two, the smiling President takes his seat, and the reading demonstration begins.

Now suppose Michael Moore had done the whole sequence in split screen. We see Bush on one half, joking and posing, and on the other we see the burning WTC. Maybe we see people beginning to jump from the top floors. A few minutes go by, then we see the second plane slam into the WTC, and Andrew Card comes and whispers in Bush's ear to tell him "America is under attack." Soon the kids begin to read My Pet Goat, and Bush picks up a copy to follow along. Meanwhile, on the other half of the screen, both towers are now in flames, smoke pouring out, people jumping. Minutes pass.

Suppose further that Moore had let the video continue all the way to the end, where Bush again jokes with the 2nd graders as if he's got nowhere else to go that morning, and again poses for photos before finally leaving to go do his job as Commander in Chief. Still in split screen.

Moore was smart not to go that far, and I'm glad he didn't. But just imagine if he had.

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June 26, 2004

Opening Night 9/11, "War On Terror"  Film

I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 tonight. It's an extraordinary film. It's currently showing in just one theater here in Madison, WI, but all shows are already sold out through tomorrow, including the midnight shows they've added to try to meet the demand.

The trailer for the film had a rabble-rousing, fist-pumping electricity, with a rock 'n' roll soundtrack; the film itself isn't like that at all. The tone is a lot more measured than we’ve seen from Michael Moore in previous films, with considerably less of his trademark goofiness and hyperbole. There are laughs to be sure, but the overall effect is that this time, he’s serious, and it’s a whole lot more likely to make you cry than cheer.

The picture that emerges of George Bush is just devastating. For me, what did it wasn’t so much the various factual charges that Moore levels against Bush, though if I hadn’t already been familiar with that material I’m sure I would have been shocked and appalled.

Instead, it was just seeing so many clips of George Bush back-to-back. It leaves one with a deep and very troubling sense of how profoundly shallow, mean-spirited, inauthentic, and juvenile he is, how third-rate, how stunted. He seems hollow. One looks in vain for genuine warmth, for depth or self-awareness, for basic humanity, and he is so shockingly and obviously unequal to being President. He’s faking it – and there's no hiding that fact. He's a nasty, self-important little man, and it's just creepy to watch.

None of this is news, but the impact here is visceral and quite unforgettable.

November can’t come soon enough.

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June 25, 2004

ABC, Disney, Prince Al-Walid, and Michael Moore 9/11, "War On Terror"

As I'm sure you're aware, Disney tried to prevent Miramax from distributing Michael Moore's new film Fahrenheit 9/11.

In an interview today on Al Franken’s Air America Radio show, Moore talked about an aspect of that story that seems to have gone completely unreported in connection with Disney's attempt to suppress his film. He pointed out that in 1994 Saudi Prince Al-Walid bin Talal bailed Eurodisney out of financial difficulties by buying a 23% stake in the company for $360 million. Moore's film, of course, is critical of the Saudi royal family and their connections with the Bush family.

He said also that last week ABC's This Week show taped an interview with him in which he pointed out the Saudi-Disney connection, and when the interview aired that segment had been deleted. Disney, of course, owns ABC.

Eurodisney has been plagued with losses from the beginning. The BBC reported, "Within months of its opening in 1992, Disneyland Paris seemed close to failure" but "Things [were] stabilised to some extent: its finances were rejigged in 1994" (with the Al-Walid bailout).

Something Moore didn't talk about may actually be more pertinent than Al-Walid's 1994 bailout. Earlier this month, according to the BBC, Eurodisney was bailed out again. The BBC says, "Eurodisney, the French outpost of the global theme-park empire, has struck a deal with its creditors that staves off the immediate threat of insolvency." The terms of the new deal were not revealed, but earlier this year the Los Angeles Times reported that Disney was once again seeking help from Prince Al-Walid.

Whether or not Al-Walid was a part of this most recent bailout, it is evident that Disney, and hence ABC, has lots of reasons (hundreds of millions of them) not to want to piss off the Saudi royal family.

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June 19, 2004

Freedom, Fried 9/11, "War On Terror"

Check out this post at Whoviating.

Clouds gather.

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The Anti-Hunt for Osama bin Laden 9/11, "War On Terror"

From The New Pearl Harbor, by David Ray Griffin, comes a startling discussion of the supposed hunt for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda during the war in Afganistan. Griffin draws on the work of Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, author of The War on Freedom, and Paul Thompson, author of the Complete 911 Timeline.

This is a lengthy excerpt, but worth it:

Ahmed and Thompson provide considerable evidence that although the war in Afghanistan was supposedly to root out al-Qaeda and bin Laden -- taking him, in President Bush's language, "dead or alive" -- the actual objective must have been something else, since there were several instances in which the government and its military commanders seemed at pains to allow bin Laden and al-Qaeda to escape.

For example, according to many residents of Kabul, a convoy of al-Qaeda forces, thought to include its top leaders, made a remarkable escape [from Kabul] during one night in early November of 2001. A local businessman said:

We don't understand how they weren't all killed the night before because they came in a convoy of at least 1,000 cars and trucks. It was a very dark night, but it must have been easy for the American pilots to see the headlights. The main road was jammed from eight in the evening until three in the morning.
Thompson comments, "With all of the satellite imagery and intense focus on the Kabul area at the time, how could such a force have escaped unobserved by the US?"1 [One might also ask why the al-Qaeda fighters were so confident they could move openly, en masse, without fear of attack from the air.]

Also early in November, US intelligence agencies, having watched al-Qaeda fighters and leaders move into the area of Jalalabad, reported that bin Laden himself had arrived. According to Knight-Ridder newspapers, this is what happened next:

American intelligence analysts concluded that bin Laden and his retreating fighters were preparing to flee across the border. But the US Central Command, which was running the war, made no move to block their escape. "It was obvious from at least early November that this area was to be the base for an exodus into Pakistan," said one intelligence official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. "All of this was known, and frankly we were amazed that nothing was done to prepare for it."2

Shortly thereafter, on November 14, the Northern Alliance captured Jalalabad. That night, a convoy of "several hundred cars" holding 1,000 or more al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, evidently including bin Laden, escaped from Jalalabad and reached the fortress of Tora Bora. US forces bombed the nearby Jalalabad airport, but apparently not the convoy.3

On November 16, approximately 600 al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, including many senior leaders, reportedly escaped from Afghanistan, by taking a long trek to escape the bombing in the Tora Bora region. Although there are two main routes from the Tora Bora region to Pakistan, US planes bombed only one of these routes, so that the 600 men were able to escape unharmed by using the other one. Hundreds more reportedly continued to use this escape route over the next weeks, generally not bothered by US bombing or Pakistani border guards.4 One Afghan intelligence officer reportedly said that he was astounded that the Americans did not station troops to block the most obvious exit routes. The Telegraph later said: "In retrospect, and with the benefit of dozens of accounts from the participants, the battle for Tora Bora looks more like a grand charade." Eyewitnesses expressed shock, it said, that US forces pinned in Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, thought to contain many high leaders, on three sides only, leaving the route to Pakistan open. An intelligence chief in Afghanistan's new government was quoted as saying, "The border with Pakistan was the key, but no one paid any attention to it."5

A Special Forces soldier stationed in Fayetteville, North Carolina, later stated that on November 28, [2001] US forces had bin Laden pinned in a Tora Bora cave but failed to act. While Special Forces soldiers were waiting for orders, he said, they watched two helicopters fly into the area where bin Laden was believed to be, load up passengers, and fly toward Pakistan. This statement, made on condition of anonymity, is given more credibility, Thompson points out, by the fact that Newsweek separately reported that many Tora Bora locals claimed that "mysterious black helipcopters, swept in, flying low over the mountains at night, and scooped up al-Qaeda's top leaders."6 "Perhaps just coincidentally," Thompson adds, the same day that this story was reported there was also a story reporting that five soldiers at Fayetteville - at least three of whom were Special Forces soldiers who had recently returned from Afghanistan - and their wives had died since June in apparent murder-suicides.7

In late December of 2001, the new Afghan interior minister, Younis Qanooni, claimed that the ISI [the Pakistani intelligence service closely allied with the CIA] had helped bin Laden escape from Afghanistan.8 For critics of the official account, this claim is significant given the fact that the Bush administration has considered Pakistan a partner in its post-9/11 efforts.

In March of 2002, this apparent lack of interest in killing or capturing bin Laden was put into words by the president himself, who said of bin Laden: "He's a person who's now been marginalized... I just don't spend that much time on him... I truly am not that concerned about him." The suspicion that the war was never about bin Laden, which Bush's statement could by taken to imply, was explicitly stated, Thompson points out, a month later by General Richard Myers, who said that "the goal has never been to get bin Laden."9 [My emphasis] Another American official was quoted as making an even more revealing statement, saying that "casting our objectives too narrowly" risked "a premature collapse of the international effort if by some lucky chance Mr. bin Laden was captured."10 [My emphasis] A way of making sense of this was provided by George Monbiot, who wrote a week after 9/11:

If Osama bin Laden did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. For the past four years, his name has been invoked whenever a US president has sought to increase the defence budget or wriggle out of arms control treaties. He has been used to justify even President Bush's missile defence programme.... Now he has become the personification of evil required to launch a crusade for good: the face behind the faceless terror.... [H]is usefulness to western governments lies in his power to terrify. When billions of pounds of military spending are at stake, rogue states and terrorist warlords become assets precisely because they are liabilities."11
Monbiot's statement, in conjunction with the American official's concern about a "premature collapse of the international effort," provides a possible explanation as to why the "hunt for bin Laden" was unsuccessful.
1 London Times, July 22, 2002.
2 Knight-Ridder, October 20, 2002.
3 Sydney Morning Herald, November 14, 2001, Christian Science Monitor, March 4, 2002, Knight-Ridder, November 20, 2002.
4 Newsweek, August 11, 2002.
5 Christian Science Monitor, March 4, 2002, Telegraph, February 23, 2002.
6 Fayetteville Observeritor, August 2, 2002, Newsweek, August 11, 2002.
7 Independent, August 2, 2002.
8 BBC, December 30, 2001.
9 White House, March 13, 2002, DOD, April 6, 2002.
10 Daily Mirror, November 16, 2001.
11 George Monbiot, "The Need for Dissent," Guardian, September 18, 2001.

I don't know which is more despicable, the fact that the Bush administration has engineered this elaborate charade, or the fact that the mainstream media are content to play along.

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