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Report: Senate Report on CIA Will Sidestep Look at Bush ‘Torture Team’ October 19, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Human Rights, Torture, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: The United States government and military violate international law on a daily basis; the Bush/Cheney torture regime, which Obama has outsourced to Bagram and god knows where else, is one of its most blatant manifestations.  Obama’s “we need to look forward not backward” excuse for violating his oath to defend the constitution does credit to Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka.  The next time you are before a judge accused of a crime, please remind her that it is time to look forward and not backward.  Your charges are sure to be dropped.

 

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According to sources who spoke with McClatchy, five-year inquiry into agency’s torture regime ignores key role played by Bush administration officials who authorized the abuse

 rumsfeld_bush_cheneyFrom left: Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney. Thanks to an Obama adminstration that insisted on “looking forward, not backward” on torture, and a Senate investigation that has limited its scope to the mere “action or inactions” of the CIA, neither these men nor the others who helped authorize the torture program will likely ever face prosecution for what experts say were clear violations of domestic and international law. (Photo: Wikimedia/Public domain)

According to new reporting by McClatchy, the five-year investigation led by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee into the torture program conducted by the CIA in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 will largely ignore the role played by high-level Bush administration officials, including those on the White House legal team who penned memos that ultimately paved the way for the torture’s authorization.

Though President Obama has repeatedly been criticized for not conducting or allowing a full review of the torture that occured during his predecessor’s tenure, the Senate report—which has been completed, but not released—has repeatedly been cited by lawmakers and the White House as the definitive examination of those policies and practices. According to those with knowledge of the report who spoke with McClatchy, however, the review has quite definite limitations.

The report, one person who was not authorized to discuss it told McClatchy, “does not look at the Bush administration’s lawyers to see if they were trying to literally do an end run around justice and the law.” Instead, the focus is on the actions and inations of the CIA and whether or not they fully informed Congress about those activities. “It’s not about the president,” the person said. “It’s not about criminal liability.”

Responding to comment on the reporting, legal experts and critics of the Bush torture program expressed disappointment that high-level officials in the administration were not part of the review. In addition to the president himself, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, others considered part of what it sometimes referred to as the “Torture Team,” include: Alberto Gonzales, a former White House counsel and attorney general; David Addington, former vice-president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff; Douglas Feith, who was under-secretary of defence; William Haynes, formerly the Pentagon’s general counsel; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who wrote many of the specific legal memos authorizing specific forms of abuse.

“If it’s the case that the report doesn’t really delve into the White House role, then that’s a pretty serious indictment of the report,” Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University Law School, said to McClatchy. “Ideally it should come to some sort of conclusions on whether there were legal violations and if so, who was responsible.”

And Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, indicated that limiting the report to just the actions of the CIA doesn’t make much sense from a legal or investigative standpoint. “It doesn’t take much creativity to include senior Bush officials in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction. It’s not hard to link an investigation into the CIA’s torture to the senior officials who authorized it. That’s not a stretch at all.”

As Mclatchy‘s Jonathan S. Landay, Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor report:

The narrow parameters of the inquiry apparently were structured to secure the support of the committee’s minority Republicans. But the Republicans withdrew only months into the inquiry, and several experts said that the parameters were sufficiently flexible to have allowed an examination of the roles Bush, Cheney and other top administration officials played in a top-secret program that could only have been ordered by the president.

“It doesn’t take much creativity to include senior Bush officials in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “It’s not hard to link an investigation into the CIA’s torture to the senior officials who authorized it. That’s not a stretch at all.”

It’s not as if there wasn’t evidence that Bush and his top national security lieutenants were directly involved in the program’s creation and operation.

The Senate Armed Services Committee concluded in a 2008 report on detainee mistreatment by the Defense Department that Bush opened the way in February 2002 by denying al Qaida and Taliban detainees the protection of an international ban against torture.

White House officials also participated in discussions and reviewed specific CIA interrogation techniques in 2002 and 2003, the public version of the Senate Armed Services Committee report concluded.

Several unofficial accounts published as far back as 2008 offered greater detail.

Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld relentlessly pressured interrogators to subject detainees to harsh interrogation methods in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, McClatchy reported in April 2009. Such evidence, which was non-existent, would have substantiated one of Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003.

Other accounts described how Cheney, Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Secretary of State Colin Powell approved specific harsh interrogation techniques. George Tenet, then the CIA director, also reportedly updated them on the results.

“Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly,” Ashcroft said after one of dozens of meetings on the program, ABC News reported in April 2008 in a story about the White House’s direct oversight of interrogations.

News reports also chronicled the involvement of top White House and Justice Department officials in fashioning a legal rationale giving Bush the authority to override U.S. and international laws prohibiting torture. They also helped craft opinions that effectively legalized the CIA’s use of waterboarding, wall-slamming and sleep deprivation.

Though President Obama casually admitted earlier this, “We tortured some folks.” — what most critics and human rights experts have requested is an open and unbiased review of the full spectrum of the U.S. torture program under President Bush. And though increasingly unlikely, calls remain for those responsible for authorizing and conducting the abuse to be held accountable with indictments, trials, and if guilty, jail sentences. In addition, as a letter earlier this year signed by ten victims of the extrajudicial rendition under the Bush administration stated, the concept of full disclosure and accountability is key to restoring the credibility of the nation when it comes to human rights abuses:

Publishing the truth is not just important for the US’s standing in the world. It is a necessary part of correcting America’s own history. Today in America, the architects of the torture program declare on television they did the right thing. High-profile politicians tell assembled Americans that ‘waterboarding’ is a ‘baptism’ that American forces should still engage in.

These statements only breed hatred and intolerance. This is a moment when America can move away from all that, but only if her people are not sheltered from the truth.

As McClatchy notes, a redacted version of the report’s summary—the only part of it expected to be released to the public—continues to be under review. Its release date remains unclear.

The Chilling Reason Our Government Wants to Erase These Americans from History July 28, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Racism, Religion, War on Terror.
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Most of those held in Communications Management Units, which imprison people linked to terrorist activity, are Muslims.

July 24, 2014, Molly Crabapple, http://www.alternet.org

Andy Stepanianis one of the kindest humans I have ever met.

An activist publicist, Andy draws attention to Americans imprisoned for their beliefs. He is straitlaced and gentle, and the only time he ever declined to buy me dinner was when I offended his veganism by eating chicken fingers. But Andy is also a felon. As one of the SHAC7, he spent three years locked in a cage for urging people to employ militant protest techniques against the animal-testing corporation Huntingdon Life Sciences. He spent his last six months in prison in a Communications Management Unit (CMU).

CMUs exist to cut off prisoners from the outside world. The prisoners’ every word is recorded. They are strip-searched before and after each visit from loved ones (in case they write messages on their body). Letters are severely restricted; phone calls are limited to two 15-minute calls a week. CMU prisoners may spend decades without hugging their wives or children.

Like Guantanamo Bay, the CMU is a child of the war on terror. In 2006 and 2008, respectively, the Bureau of Prisons, under the directorship of Harley Lappin, created two secret units: one in Terre Haute, IN, and the other in Marion, IL. The bureau’s stated purpose was “Limited Communication for Terrorist Inmates.” But as at Guantanamo, Muslims were the real targets. Muslims make up roughly 70 percent of the prisoners in CMUs but only 6 percent of the federal prison population. The CMUs are part of a philosophy that makes Muslim synonymous with terrorist, that views “terrorists” as both contagious and superhuman—so dangerous that they must be subject to ultimate control.

Andy was the rare white CMU prisoner. Guards told him he was there as a “balancer.” CMUs are another reflection of the double standard to which the United States holds Muslims. Acts of speech, travel or association that would be A-OK for a Christian are enough to get a Muslim branded a terrorist.

Shifa Sadequee, 2014.
Photo Credit: 
Molly Crabapple
Click to enlarge.

CMU prisoner Shifa Sadequee was kidnapped by U.S. forces in Bangladesh at the age of 19, allegedly tortured and rendered to the United States. He spent three years in solitary awaiting his trial for terrorism. His crimes? He played paintball and took video footage of U.S. monuments. The former activity was labeled “paramilitary training”; the latter, “casing videos” for an attack. The judge sentenced him to 17 years.

Pharmacist Tarek Mehanna should be called a dissident—but that’s not a label America allows Muslims. A scathing critic of U.S. foreign policy, Mehanna believed Muslims under attack in their own countries had the right to armed self-defense. He translated and subtitled some jihadi materials and briefly traveled to Yemen. Nothing he did would have been looked at askance if he were a Tea Party member speaking about fellow gun enthusiasts. But as a Muslim Mehanna was convicted of material support for terrorism. His sentence? Seventeen years.

At his sentencing, Mehanna delivered a chilling, eloquent statement about resisting oppression: “In your eyes, I’m a terrorist, I’m the only one standing here in an orange jumpsuit and it’s perfectly reasonable that I be standing here in an orange jumpsuit. But one day, America will change and people will recognize this day for what it is. They will look at how hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed and maimed by the U.S. military in foreign countries, yet somehow I’m the one going to prison for ‘conspiring to kill and maim’ in those countries…

“The government says that I was obsessed with violence, obsessed with ‘killing Americans.’ But, as a Muslim living in these times, I can think of a lie no more ironic.”

Tarek Mehanna, 2014.
Photo Credit: 
Molly Crabapple
Click to enlarge.

Mehanna is in a CMU for speech. Few American free speech defenders noticed.

While most Americans were rightly nauseated by the NSA programs revealed by Edward Snowden, they gave less thought to the brutal surveillance that Muslim communities have suffered since 9/11. Mosques, student associations and even restaurants were monitored throughout the country. Informants tried to rope the naive or the mentally ill into expressing support for jihad. If an agent was able to pressure an unstable young man into driving a car or buying some backpacks, he could arrest him for assisting terrorism. The agent would receive professional accolades for making the arrest; the young man, decades in jail. For the untold cash it poured into spying on Muslims, the FBI seldom discovered a plot that it did not concoct itself.

Shahawar Siraj, 2014.
Photo Credit: 
Molly Crabapple
Click to enlarge.

CMU prisoner Shahawar Matin Siraj had no explosives or concrete plan of attack, but that did not prevent a judge from sentencing him to 30 years for plotting to bomb New York’s Herald Square. The informant who befriended him, and then goaded him into the plan, was paid $100,000 by the NYPD.

Imprisonment is erasure. The state locks a person in a cage—without context, without community, without love. He becomes not human but a widget passing through a system of absolute control. The CMU enacts a double erasure: it represents the ultimate scission of the prisoner from his non-prison self. You are in a box. You are no one. You belong to us.

Andy is working on a documentary about CMUs. He asked me to draw pictures of some prisoners. Drawing is slow, deliberate. It is an antidote to forgetting men the state wants the world to forget.

One night I worked on a portrait of Ghassan Elashi. A former vice president of an internet company, Elashi was sentenced to 65 years in prison for running the Holy Land Foundation, which was the largest Muslim charity in the United States until the Bush administration shut it down in December 2001. Through charitable organizations in Gaza, Holy Land allegedly funneled money to Hamas, which the United States classifies as a terrorist organization.

Ghassan Elashi, 2014.
Photo Credit: 
Molly Crabapple
Click to enlarge.

Andy invited Elashi’s daughter, Noor, to my studio. She brought a photograph of her father. I was unable to draw him from life, as the USP Marion is not easy to visit. The three of us stayed up late into the night, me rendering Noor’s father’s eyes in careful watercolor, Andy filming us as she watched me draw.

Noor is a stylishly dressed young writer who sidelines as a baker of gluten-free cupcakes. But when she talks about her father, her voice grows cold with pain. She remembers how FBI agents threw him to the floor when they raided their home. She remembers prison guards screaming at her young brother, who has Down syndrome, when he tried to hug his dad (she and her brother were subsequently denied visits for months). She remembers how her father was barred from making phone calls for writing his name on a yoga mat.

She does not believe for a moment that her father deliberately funneled funds to Hamas.

Noor’s situation shows how CMUs rip apart not only prisoners’ lives but also the lives of their families and community. Noor is still fighting for her dad.

In “Counterpunch,” Noor wrote, “My father is my pillar, whose high spirits transcend all barbed-wire-topped fences, whose time in prison did not stifle his passion for human rights.”

Noor’s words point to one of the war on terror’s most insidious legacies. The war on terror flattened Muslims into bogeymen. They could no longer be troubled young men. Nor could they be political dissidents, heads of charities or defenders of human rights. Dissent was equated with terrorism.

In making a fetish of the word “freedom,” America revoked the freedom of so many within her borders. Civil liberties defenders must remember that Muslims are not a separate class of people. Attacks on Muslims’ rights are attacks on human rights.

US Forced to Release Memo on Extrajudicial Drone Killing of US Citizen June 23, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: As I have noted more than once on this Blog, the major crimes in history, including the death of Socrates, Jesus, and the Holocaust, were carried out and justified by the existing “legal’ system, that is under the color of law.   Again, history repeats itself, and David Barron of the OLC joins the disgraced criminal ranks of John Yoo, Bruce Bybee and the other torture memo conspirators.

What Excuse Remains for Obama’s Failure to Close GITMO? June 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Constitution, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: One is reminded of Richard Nixon’s famous “if the president does it, it’s not illegal.”

 

close_gitmo

Individuals and organizations like Witness Against Torture and the Center for Constitutional Rights have never wavered in their demand that Obama close the offshore prison in Guantanamo and put an end to the practice of indefinite detention. (Image: CCR)

The excuse-making on behalf of President Obama has always found its most extreme form when it came time to explain why he failed to fulfill his oft-stated 2008 election promise to close Guantanamo. As I’ve documented many times, even the promise itself was misleading, as it became quickly apparent that Obama — even in the absence of congressional obstruction — did not intend to “close GITMO” at all but rather to re-locate it, maintaining its defining injustice of indefinite detention.

But the events of the last three days have obliterated the last remaining excuse. In order to secure the release of American POW Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the Obama administration agreed to release from Guantanamo five detainees allegedly affiliated with the Taliban. But as even stalwart Obama defenders such as Jeffery Toobin admit, Obama “clearly broke the law” by releasing those detainees without providing Congress the 30-day notice required by the 2014 defense authorization statute (law professor Jonathan Turley similarly observed that Obama’s lawbreaking here was clear and virtually undebatable).

The only conceivable legal argument to justify this release is if the Obama White House argues that the law does not and cannot bind them. As documented by MSNBC’s Adam Serwer – who acknowledges that “when it comes to the legality of the decision [critics] have a point” – Obama has suggested in the past when issuing signing statements that he does not recognize the validity of congressional restrictions on his power to release Guantanamo detainees because these are decisions assigned by the Constitution solely to the commander-in-chief (sound familiar?). Obama’s last signing statement concluded with this cryptic vow: “In the event that the restrictions on the transfer of Guantanamo detainees in sections 1034 and 1035 operate in a manner that violates constitutional separation of powers principles, my Administration will implement them in a manner that avoids the constitutional conflict.”

Obama defenders seem to have two choices here: either the president broke the law in releasing these five detainees, or Congress cannot bind the commander-in-chief’s power to transfer detainees when he wants, thus leaving Obama free to make those decisions himself. Which is it?

Both Serwer and a new Washington Post article this morning note the gross and obvious hypocrisy of Obama and his Democratic loyalists now using Article-II-über-alles signing statements to ignore congressionally enacted laws relating to the War on Terror. Quoting an expert on signing statements, the Post – referencing Obama’s Bush-era condemnation of signing statements — sums up much of the last six years of political events in the US: “Senator Obama had a very different view than President Obama.”

But the eagerness of many Democrats to radically change everything they claimed to believe as of January 20, 2009 is far too familiar and well-documented at this point to be worth spending much time on. Far more significant are the implications for Obama’s infamously unfulfilled pledge to close Guantanamo.

The sole excuse now offered by Democratic loyalists for this failure has been that Congress prevented him from closing the camp. But here, the Obama White House appears to be arguing that Congress lacks the authority to constrain the President’s power to release detainees when he wants. What other excuse is there for his clear violation of a law that requires 30-day notice to Congress before any detainees are released?

But once you take the position that Obama can override — i.e., ignore — Congressional restrictions on his power to release Guantanamo detainees, then what possible excuse is left for his failure to close the camp? As Jason Leopold notes in an astute article at Al Jazeera, this week’s episode “has led one human rights organization to question why the Obama administration has not acted to transfer dozens of other detainees who have been cleared for release for many years.” He added:

Raha Wala, an attorney with Human Rights First, told Al Jazeera if the administration can make the argument that the five Taliban detainees are transferrable “without any significant problems under the congressionally imposed transfer restrictions” then certainly “the same argument can be made for the detainees who have already been cleared for release.”

Obama defenders seem to have two choices here: either the president broke the law in releasing these five detainees, or Congress cannot bind the commander-in-chief’s power to transfer detainees when he wants, thus leaving Obama free to make those decisions himself. Which is it?

U.S. Aid Wrapped In A Body Bag: Suing the Drone Makers May 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: What will it take to end this barbarism???

by Abby Zimet, Common Dreams

images

Mohammed Al-Qawli, an educational consultant in Yemen, remains haunted by the day in January 2013 he spent hours trying to collect the body parts of his brother Ali, a schoolteacher, and his cousin Salim, a student, both “accidentally” killed in a U.S. drone strike. Now Al-Qawli and human rights group Reprieve are mounting a legal challenge against the U.K government for failing to investigate violations of international law by communications giant British Telecom, which is allegedly facilitating U.S. strikes that have killed perhaps 1,000 Yemenis.

In April, Al-Qawli also launched the National Organization for Drone Victims in memory of his brother to allow “the voices of victims” to be heard and to work to end an ongoing U.S. targeted killing program that has had a “devastating” effect on communities throughout Yemen. While “Ali al-Qawli the schoolteacher has left us,” he notes, “his tremendous legacy of love, passion and hope remains…I hope that the American people (will) stand against the violent actions of their Nobel Peace Prize–winning president and join us in demanding that the U.S. government stop its blind killing of hundreds of innocent people.”

“I’d heard that the United States of America was sending support to Yemen, but for a long time I did not know what that meant. Now I can see it firsthand. I have received U.S. gifts and U.S. aid, wrapped in a body bag. These explosive fragments kill Yemenis, destroy their spirits, burn their bodies and only further empower the militants. The U.S. and Yemeni governments killed a young man who strongly opposed terrorism and tried to bring change through education – the very same things they purport to want themselves. I want to know why.”

  • I just don’t understand why more people don’t see this drone policy as horrifically wrong, with such heartbreaking results:

    “I’d heard that the United States of America was sending support to Yemen, but for a long time I did not know what that meant. Now I can see it firsthand. I have received U.S. gifts and U.S. aid, wrapped in a body bag. These explosive fragments kill Yemenis, destroy their spirits, burn their bodies and only further empower the militants. The U.S. and Yemeni governments killed a young man who strongly opposed terrorism and tried to bring change through education – the very same things they purport to want themselves. I want to know why.”

  • With every drone strike our government implements abroad, we lose a little more of our freedom at home.

     
    • “With every drone strike our government implements abroad, we lose a little more of our freedom at home.” I’m not going to argue with whether your statement is true or not. I am just going to point out that the reason for not killing other people is not to benefit ourselves but because we actually care about those harmed and what our government is doing to them. In other words, it’s not all about us.

      • With every drone strike, the next one becomes all the easier thus lessening any freedom we would have to influence/restrain TPTB from taking more innocent lives, about whom I wholly agree we care.

  • Imagine collecting the scattered body parts of your brother who was blown to pieces by some stranger in an office in rural Nevada. Imagine the sadness and rage you would feel. This is horrible.

  • what is the difference between a Nazi v2 rocket and a drone? seems to be the same thing just a different time

    • My mother told me when V2’s crossed Holland on their way to England people feared for their lives even though occupied Holland was never the target. Drones do more than kill, they are meant to terrorize entire populations.

    • The Nazi V1 is a more apt comparison to a modern day drone than the V2. The V1 was a fixed wing unmanned aircraft which carried a 1,800 pound warhead. The V2 was a rocket, more similar to current day ICBM (except without the range).

    • The psycho clown pushing the button this time doesn’t have a funny mustache.

  • Obama is addicted to murdering anyone who opposes Obama’s terrorism-engendering war-mongering.

  • Most Americans support our drone warfare, or at least the polls say we do. We can attribute that to the quality of our press, or the quality of the education system, or the combination of distractions and hardships which force people to overlook the ethical questions in favor of economic survival. (Personally, when I bring this issue up, people either agree that it’s very wrong, or don’t know about it. When I describe the US’s drone policy to the uninformed, they’re almost always against it.)

    People support the troops, because we have friends and loved ones who, for whatever reason, make the military into their career – if not one of the huge companies building the bombs, guns, drones, etc. It’s probably because they are made to feel they have no choice but to support the whole system. We are made to feel helpless in the face of obvious oppression.

    It’s not even necessarily a problem with capitalism, because capitalism in it’s very nature has a clear line between public and private expenditure. To the extent that our military has become the jobs program, with massive federal funding and public relations boosts from the media – the boundary between government and business has been nearly erased. In theory, even “mixed-market” economies correct markets which have an imbalance between supply and demand. Our system of military welfare can only be compared to historical empires that slaughtered their way into, well… history. It can’t go on forever, whichever way it goes.

    Where was I going with this? An H.L. Mencken quote, I think, but I forget which one

  • President Obama, Generals and traitorous spies use drone and war created enemies to terrorize US citizens and justify military police occupation of the US itself.

  • USA Lord of Death

  • Since only a psychopathic can murder children, perhaps its time to deliver some justice to the psycho’s and their murder toys.

    Tim

The Special Ops Surge: America’s Secret War in 134 Countries January 17, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Imperialism, War, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: Jeremy Scahill’s documentary, “Dirty Wars,” was has just been nominated for an academy award, outlines the length and bredth of the American secret war around the globe.  For more information go to http://www.dirtywars.org.
Published on Thursday, January 16, 2014 by TomDispatch.com

by Nick Turse

 

They operate in the green glow of night vision in Southwest Asia and stalk through the jungles of South America.  They snatch men from their homes in the Maghreb and shoot it out with heavily armed militants in the Horn of Africa.  They feel the salty spray while skimming over the tops of waves from the turquoise Caribbean to the deep blue Pacific.  They conduct missions in the oppressive heat of Middle Eastern deserts and the deep freeze of Scandinavia.  All over the planet, the Obama administration is waging a secret war whose full extent has never been fully revealed — until now.

(Reuters)

Since September 11, 2001, U.S. Special Operations forces have grown in every conceivable way, from their numbers to their budget.  Most telling, however, has been the exponential rise in special ops deployments globally.  This presence — now, in nearly 70% of the world’s nations — provides new evidence of the size and scope of a secret war being waged from Latin America to the backlands of Afghanistan, from training missions with African allies to information operations launched in cyberspace.

In the waning days of the Bush presidency, Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed in about 60 countries around the world.  By 2010, that number had swelled to 75, according to Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post.  In 2011, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told TomDispatch that the total would reach 120.  Today, that figure has risen higher still.

In 2013, elite U.S. forces were deployed in 134 countries around the globe, according to Major Matthew Robert Bockholt of SOCOM Public Affairs.  This 123% increase during the Obama years demonstrates how, in addition to conventional wars and a CIA drone campaign, public diplomacy and extensive electronic spying, the U.S. has engaged in still another significant and growing form of overseas power projection.  Conducted largely in the shadows by America’s most elite troops, the vast majority of these missions take place far from prying eyes, media scrutiny, or any type of outside oversight, increasing the chances of unforeseen blowback and catastrophic consequences.

Growth Industry

Formally established in 1987, Special Operations Command has grown steadily in the post-9/11 era.   SOCOM is reportedly on track to reach 72,000 personnel in 2014, up from 33,000 in 2001.  Funding for the command has also jumped exponentially as its baseline budget, $2.3 billion in 2001, hit $6.9 billion in 2013 ($10.4 billion, if you add in supplemental funding).  Personnel deployments abroad have skyrocketed, too, from 4,900 “man-years” in 2001 to 11,500 in 2013.

A recent investigation by TomDispatch, using open source government documents and news releases as well as press reports, found evidence that U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in or involved with the militaries of 106 nations around the world in 2012-2013.  For more than a month during the preparation of that article, however, SOCOM failed to provide accurate statistics on the total number of countries to which special operators — Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALs and Delta Force commandos, specialized helicopter crews, boat teams, and civil affairs personnel — were deployed.   “We don’t just keep it on hand,” SOCOM’s Bockholt explained in a telephone interview once the article had been filed.  “We have to go searching through stuff.  It takes a long time to do that.”  Hours later, just prior to publication, he provided an answer to a question I first asked in November of last year.  “SOF [Special Operations forces] were deployed to 134 countries” during fiscal year 2013, Bockholt explained in an email.

Globalized Special Ops

Last year, Special Operations Command chief Admiral William McRaven explained his vision for special ops globalization.  In a statement to the House Armed Services Committee, he said:

“USSOCOM is enhancing its global network of SOF to support our interagency and international partners in order to gain expanded situational awareness of emerging threats and opportunities. The network enables small, persistent presence in critical locations, and facilitates engagement where necessary or appropriate…”

While that “presence” may be small, the reach and influence of those Special Operations forces are another matter.  The 12% jump in national deployments — from 120 to 134 — during McRaven’s tenure reflects his desire to put boots on the ground just about everywhere on Earth.  SOCOM will not name the nations involved, citing host nation sensitivities and the safety of American personnel, but the deployments we do know about shed at least some light on the full range of missions being carried out by America’s secret military.

Last April and May, for instance, Special Ops personnel took part in training exercises in Djibouti, Malawi, and the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean.  In June, U.S. Navy SEALs joined Iraqi, Jordanian, Lebanese, and other allied Mideast forces for irregular warfare simulations in Aqaba, Jordan.  The next month, Green Berets traveled to Trinidad and Tobago to carry out small unit tactical exercises with local forces.  In August, Green Berets conducted explosives training with Honduran sailors.  In September, according to media reports, U.S. Special Operations forces joined elite troops from the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and Cambodia — as well as their counterparts from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, China, India, and Russia for a US-Indonesian joint-funded coun­terterrorism exercise held at a training center in Sentul, West Java.

In October, elite U.S. troops carried out commando raids in Libya and Somalia, kidnapping a terror suspect in the former nation while SEALs killed at least one militant in the latter before beingdriven off under fire.  In November, Special Ops troops conducted humanitarian operations in the Philippines to aid survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. The next month, members of the 352nd Special Operations Group conducted a training exercise involving approximately 130 airmen and six aircraft at an airbase in England and Navy SEALs were wounded while undertaking an evacuation mission in South Sudan.  Green Berets then rang in the new year with a January 1st combat mission alongside elite Afghan troops in Bahlozi village in Kandahar province.

Deployments in 134 countries, however, turn out not to be expansive enough for SOCOM. In November 2013, the command announced that it was seeking to identify industry partners who could, under SOCOM’s Trans Regional Web Initiative, potentially “develop new websites tailored to foreign audiences.”  These would join an existing global network of 10 propaganda websites, run by various combatant commands and made to look like legitimate news outlets, including CentralAsiaOnline.com, Sabahi which targets the Horn of Africa; an effort aimed at the Middle East known as Al-Shorfa.com; and another targeting Latin America called Infosurhoy.com.

SOCOM’s push into cyberspace is mirrored by a concerted effort of the command to embed itself ever more deeply inside the Beltway.  “I have folks in every agency here in Washington, D.C. — from the CIA, to the FBI, to the National Security Agency, to the National Geospatial Agency, to the Defense Intelligence Agency,” SOCOM chief Admiral McRaven said during a panel discussion at Washington’s Wilson Center last year.  Speaking at the Ronald Reagan Library in November, he put the number of departments and agencies where SOCOM is now entrenched at 38.

134 Chances for Blowback

Although elected in 2008 by many who saw him as an antiwar candidate, President Obama has proved to be a decidedly hawkish commander-in-chief whose policies have already produced notable instances of what in CIA trade-speak has long been called blowback.  While the Obama administration oversaw a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (negotiated by his predecessor), as well as adrawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan (after a major military surge in that country), the president has presided over a ramping up of the U.S. military presence in Africa, a reinvigoration of efforts inLatin America, and tough talk about a rebalancing or “pivot to Asia” (even if it has amounted to little as of yet).

The White House has also overseen an exponential expansion of America’s drone war.  While President Bush launched 51 such strikes, President Obama has presided over 330, according to research by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.  Last year, alone, the U.S. also engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan, LibyaPakistanSomalia, and Yemen.  Recent revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden have demonstrated the tremendous breadth and global reach of U.S. electronic surveillance during the Obama years.  And deep in the shadows, Special Operations forces are now annually deployed to more than double the number of nations as at the end of Bush’s tenure.

In recent years, however, the unintended consequences of U.S. military operations have helped to sow outrage and discontent, setting whole regions aflame.  More than 10 years after America’s “mission accomplished” moment, seven years after its much vaunted surge, the Iraq that America helped make is in flames.  A country with no al-Qaeda presence before the U.S. invasion and a government opposed to America’s enemies in Tehran now has a central government aligned with Iran and two cities flying al-Qaeda flags.

A more recent U.S. military intervention to aid the ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi helped send neighboring Mali, a U.S.-supported bulwark against regional terrorism, into a downward spiral, saw a coup there carried out by a U.S.-trained officer, ultimately led to a bloody terror attack on an Algerian gas plant, and helped to unleash nothing short of a terror diaspora in the region.

And today South Sudan — a nation the U.S. shepherded into being, has supported economicallyand militarily (despite its reliance on child soldiers), and has used as a hush-hush base for Special Operations forces — is being torn apart by violence and sliding toward civil war.

The Obama presidency has seen the U.S. military’s elite tactical forces increasingly used in an attempt to achieve strategic goals.  But with Special Operations missions kept under tight wraps, Americans have little understanding of where their troops are deployed, what exactly they are doing, or what the consequences might be down the road.  As retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, has noted, the utilization of Special Operations forces during the Obama years has decreased military accountability, strengthened the “imperial presidency,” and set the stage for a war without end.  “In short,” he wrote at TomDispatch, “handing war to the special operators severs an already too tenuous link between war and politics; it becomes war for its own sake.”

Secret ops by secret forces have a nasty tendency to produce unintended, unforeseen, and completely disastrous consequences.  New Yorkers will remember well the end result ofclandestine U.S. support for Islamic militants against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980s: 9/11.  Strangely enough, those at the other primary attack site that day, the Pentagon, seem not to have learned the obvious lessons from this lethal blowback.  Even today in Afghanistan and Pakistan, more than 12 years after the U.S. invaded the former and almost 10 years after it began conducting covert attacks in the latter, the U.S. is still dealing with that Cold War-era fallout: with, for instance, CIA drones conducting missile strikes against an organization (the Haqqani network) that, in the 1980s, the Agency supplied with missiles.

Without a clear picture of where the military’s covert forces are operating and what they are doing, Americans may not even recognize the consequences of and blowback from our expanding secret wars as they wash over the world.  But if history is any guide, they will be felt — from Southwest Asia to the Mahgreb, the Middle East to Central Africa, and, perhaps eventually, in the United States as well.

In his blueprint for the future, SOCOM 2020, Admiral McRaven has touted the globalization of U.S. special ops as a means to “project power, promote stability, and prevent conflict.”  Last year, SOCOM may have done just the opposite in 134 places.

© 2014 Nick Turse
Nick Turse

Nick Turse is the associate editor ofTomDispatch.com. His latest book is Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. He is the author/editor of several other books, including The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Spies, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyber Warfare,Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 (with Tom Engelhardt), The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives and The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan. Turse is currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute. His website is Nick Turse.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, orFacebook.

Biggest Threat to World Peace: The United States January 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Peace, War, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: Wouldn’t it be interesting and enlightening if a similar poll had been taken in the 1930s so that we could compare the U.S. numbers here with those of Nazi Germany then?  If this article interests you, you may want to go to the original and read the comments at the end, most of which are informative and right on (http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/12/31-6).

 

 

International polls shows that world, including significant portion of Americans, deem US as greatest obstacle to peace

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

U.S. soldiers stop traffic on the road to the governor’s compound in Kandahar, scene of a deadly battle on April 28, 2012 (Photo: AFP / Getty Images)

Over 12 years into the so-called “Global War on Terror,” the United States appears to be striking terror into the hearts of the rest of the world.

In their annual End of Year survey, Win/Gallup International found that the United States is considered the number one “greatest threat to peace in the world today” by people across the globe.

The poll of 67,806 respondents from 65 countries found that the U.S. won this dubious distinction by a landslide, as revealed in the chart below.

The BBC explains that the U.S. was deemed a threat by geopolitical allies as well as foes, including a significant portion of U.S. society.

Predictable in some areas (the Middle East and North Africa) but less so in others. Eastern Europe’s 32% figure may be heavily influenced by Russia and Ukraine, but across most of Western Europe there are also lots of figures in the high teens.

In the Americas themselves, decades of US meddling have left an awkward legacy. Its neighbours, Mexico (37%) and Canada (17%), clearly have issues. Even 13% of Americans see their own country as a danger.

 

Stratcom Slide 15

democracy

Is Omar Khadr a pawn in a cynical political game by the Harper Government? November 19, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: I have written and posted before about Omar Khadr, and it is important that he should not be forgotten.  I refer you again to the documentary: “You Don’t Like the Truth: Four Days Inside Guantanamo,” which depicts the torturous interrogation this child was put through by Canadian spooks, and the torture he suffered at the hands of the Americans at the same time as he was wounded to the near point of death.  This photo shows the condition he was in when the CIA interrogated him.

omar_battlefield

 

| November 19, 2013, http://www.rabble.ca 

 

edney

 

Is the continued imprisonment of Omar Khadr actually a question of principle for the Harper Government, or has it become such an embarrassment that our Conservative leaders in Ottawa have concluded he must be kept under wraps as long as possible for reasons of political expediency?

The hatred and hysteria with which the supporters of this government attack the former child soldier, who is now 27 and resides in a federal penitentiary here in Edmonton after pleading guilty to a variety of war crimes charges before a “military commission” run by the U.S. armed forces, suggests the latter.

Either way, though, the explanation hardly shows our federal government in a good light. And perhaps not the rest of us Canadians either, given the sorry tale of what happened to our fellow citizen when he was still a child, abandoned  by his father in a war zone, pressed into service as a child soldier and put on trial after being grievously injured in a battle with American forces.

The question Canadians who believe in common decency and the rule of law need to ask themselves now, though, is what can we do about it?

Various legal challenges are in the works, as regular readers of the news columns surely know. Khadr’s Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, has launched an appeal of an Alberta court decision that denied his request to be transferred from the maximum-security Edmonton Institution to a provincial jail.

Khadr’s American attorney, Samuel Morison of the United States Department of Defense, has challenged his conviction for war crimes by a military commission inside the extra-territorial U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in occupied Cuban territory.

But the wheels of justice grind slowly, when they grind at all. And the Canadian government, which never lifted a finger to help this young man and which resisted his return to Canada until the embarrassed Americans put him on a plane and sent him home, has now adopted a strategy of doing anything it can to prevent his release.

“The government is going to run the clock out on Omar Khadr,” said Edney, who spoke a week ago today at a packed forum on the case at Edmonton’s King’s University College, a private university founded by the Christian Reformed Church that has taken up Khadr’s case with increasing vigour.

The Harper government, Edney explained, has the legal power to do the right thing, “but it can’t, because it’s put its reputation at stake” by supporting the prosecution of a 15-year-old boy in a judicial proceeding, that while not quite a kangaroo court, hardly lives up to the standards of Canadian justice.

Even that explanation may be a generous one, it is said here, because the passions aroused by Canada’s enthusiastic participation in the war in Afghanistan obviously made Khadr’s fate an effective wedge issue for the relentlessly cynical Harper Tories. Is it beyond the pale they would care more about their own electoral fate than justice for a young man caught in the meat-grinder of a war he didn’t choose?

Surely it is not that hard to imagine that the Harper Government risking even a constitutional crisis to prevent Khadr’s release before the next election if actually ordered to do so by a court.

Adherents of the Harper government’s line are bound to angrily assert that Khadr pleaded guilty to the charges. Indeed, Steven Blaney, the minister of Public Safety, said just that, telling the CBC: “Omar Khadr pleaded guilty to very serious crimes… The government of Canada will vigorously defend against any attempted court action to lessen his punishment for these crimes.”

But as Morison pointed out to the crowd at King’s last week, “If he had been tried by the standards that prevailed here in Canada, he would never have been convicted.”

What’s more, the American lawyer explained, given the Kafkaesque inversion of justice in the Guantanamo commissions, “the only way to win at Gitmo is to lose … the only way to get off the island was to plead guilty.” For a prisoner to insist he is innocent is to sentence himself to life in prison: “That drains the trial process of any real meaning.”

Indeed, last Friday, Canadian lawyers representing Khadr filed civil arguments claiming the Canadian government conspired with U.S. authorities to abuse the prisoner to ensure he pleaded guilty.

Morison, perhaps with the hyperbole of a good trial lawyer, insists the principal crime to which Khadr pleaded guilty — killing a U.S. soldier with a hand grenade — could never have happened the way prosecutors claimed. Indeed, he said, not only did Khadr not perpetrate a war crime, “he was himself the victim of a war crime!” You can click here to see a video of Morison’s illuminating remarks.

This case was the first time in modern history, Morison added, that a 15-year-old was prosecuted for war crimes.

But what can Canadians do now?

“There’s no great big fix in the world,” Edney told the approximately 300 people who attended the forum at King’s. “There’s steps, little steps.”

“You can’t speak in the Supreme Court, but you can speak to your friends,” he explained. “You can go to your local politician…” But nothing will happen, he advised, “without you, without you getting angry, without you saying you will work night and day … only then will you get a result.”

And you must have faith in the rule of law, Edney counselled, as has King’s – “the rule of law is applying here today.”

King’s, he said, “this little Christian university,” has “advocated far more strongly than any other university in Canada, for a Muslim boy.”

So what are the rest of us going to do?

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

 

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

Congressional No-Show at ‘Heart-Breaking’ Drone Survivor Hearing October 30, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Pakistan, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: I posted on this subject yesterday, but I am repeating it here to underscore the blatant and callous disregard for human life (that is not white American) demonstrated by U.S. congressmen.  Five of 435 showed up to listen to how the drone missiles they casually lob into civilian neighborhoods took the life of a mother/grandmother and injured two children.  That represents 1.4% of the members of the House.  And this family is just the tip of the drone’s murderous iceberg.

 

 

In “historic” briefing, Rehman family gives heartbreaking account of drone killing of 65-year-old grandmother… to five lawmakers

 

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

The Rehman family waits to testify at the Congressional Briefing on drone strikes Tuesday, October 29. (Photo: @akneerudh/ Twitter)

Despite being heralded as the first time in history that U.S. lawmakers would hear directly from the survivors of a U.S. drone strike, only five elected officials chose to attend the congressional briefing that took place Tuesday.

Nabila Rehman, 9, holds up a picture she drew depicting the US drone strike on her Pakistan village which killed her grandmother. (Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters)

Pakistani schoolteacher Rafiq ur Rehman and his two children—9 year-old daughter Nabila and 13 year-old son Zubair—came to Washington, DC to give their account of a U.S. drone attack that killed Rafiq’s mother, Momina Bibi, and injured the two children in the remote tribal region of North Waziristan last October.

According to journalist Anjali Kamat, who was present and tweeting live during the hearing, the only lawmakers to attend the briefing organized by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), were Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.).

Before the handful of reporters and scant lawmakers, however, Rafiq and his children gave dramatic testimony which reportedly caused the translator to break down into tears.

In her testimony, Nabila shared that she was picking okra with her grandmother when the U.S. missile struck and both children described how they used to play outside but are now too afraid.

“I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. Drones don’t fly when sky is grey.” –Zubair Rehman, 13-year-old drone victim

“I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. Drones don’t fly when sky is grey,” said Zubair, whose leg was injured by shrapnel during the strike.

“My grandmother was nobody’s enemy,” he added.

“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,” Rafiq wrote in an open letter to President Barack Obama last week. “The media reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Several reported the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All reported that five militants were killed. Only one person was killed – a 65-year-old grandmother of nine.”

“But the United States and its citizens probably do not know this,” Rafiq continued. “No one ever asked us who was killed or injured that day. Not the United States or my own government. Nobody has come to investigate nor has anyone been held accountable.”

He concluded, “Quite simply, nobody seems to care.”

You can watch a recording of the briefing below and here:

The purpose of the briefing, Grayson told the Guardian, is “simply to get people to start to think through the implications of killing hundreds of people ordered by the president, or worse, unelected and unidentifiable bureaucrats within the Department of Defense without any declaration of war.”

The family was joined by their legal representative Jennifer Gibson of the UK human rights organization Reprieve. Their Islamabad-based lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, was also supposed to be present but was denied a visa by the US authorities—”a recurring problem,” according to Reprieve, “since he began representing civilian victims of drone strikes in 2011.”

“The onus is now on President Obama and his Administration to bring this war out of the shadows and to give answers,” said Gibson.

Also present was U.S. filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who first met Rafiq when he traveled to Pakistan to interview the drone strike victims for his documentary Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars.  Before the briefing, Greenwald told the Guardian that he hoped the briefing “will begin the process of demanding investigation. Innocent people are being killed.”

The following clip from Unmanned was shown at Tuesday’s hearing:

_____________________

“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day” October 29, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, Pakistan, War, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: “This family went to remarkable lengths to share their story… the turnout at today’s briefing is shameful.”  The brief turnout is not the only thing that is shameful about the use of drone missiles and the U.S. various military interventions around the globe.

 

 

Drone victim family travel from Pakistan Capitol Hill to testify and only a handful of lawmakers show up

 

Rafiq ur Rehman (Credit: Screenshot/NBC.com)

School teacher Rafiq ur Rehman traveled with his family from Pakistan’s beleaguered Waziristan region to tell Capitol Hill about a day in October 2012 when his 67-year-old mother way blown to pieces by U.S. drone fire. In the same strike, three of Rehman’s children, aged from five to 13, were injured.

Rehman, his 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter gave testimony on Capitol Hill Tuesday. The family, who were invited to Congress by Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fl., told their heart-wrenching story in front of a typically small briefing turnout; Grayson was joined by Reps. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Rush Holt, John Conyers, and Rick Nolan. Grayson assured the family and the media present that this constitutes a good turnout. As my friend and journalist Ryan Devereaux, present at the briefing, noted via Twitter, “This family went to remarkable lengths to share their story… the turnout at today’s briefing is shameful.”

Rehman’s case was among the civilian tragedies noted in a recent report published by Amnesty International, which posited that a number of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan constituted war crimes.

“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,” Rehman testified. He continued:

Some media outlets reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Others reported that the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that three, four, five militants were killed. But only one person was killed that day–Mammana Bibi, a grandmother and midwife who was preparing to celebrate the Islamic holiday of Eid… Not a militant, but my mother.

… My mother is not the first innocent victim of US drones he continued. Numerous families living in my community and the surrounding area have also lost loved ones, including women and children, in these strikes over the years. Dozens of people in my own tribe that I know are merely ordinary tribesman have been killed. They have suffered just like I have. I wish they had such an opportunity as well to come tell you their story. Until they can, I speak on their behalf as well. Drones are not the answer.

Natasha Lennard Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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