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The killing of Awlaki’s 16-year-old son October 21, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Human Rights, War on Terror.
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Thursday, Oct 20, 2011 5:21 AM 21:23:15 CDT

 

Extreme secrecy, as usual, shrouds this act, but it underscores how often the U.S. uses violence around the world

By Glenn Greenwald, www.salon.com
 

 (Credit: Reuters/AP)

 

(updated below)

Two weeks after the U.S. killed American citizen Anwar Awlaki with a drone strike in Yemen — far from any battlefield and with no due process — it did the same to his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, ending the teenager’s life on Friday along with his 17-year-old cousin and seven other people. News reports, based on government sources, originally claimed that Awlaki’s son was 21 years old and an Al Qaeda fighter (needless to say, as Terrorist often means: “anyone killed by the U.S.”), but a birth certificate published by The Washington Post proved that he was born only 16 years ago in Denver. As The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson wrote: “Looking at his birth certificate, one wonders what those assertions say either about the the quality of the government’s evidence — or the honesty of its claims — and about our own capacity for self-deception.” The boy’s grandfather said that he and his cousin were at a barbecue and preparing to eat when the U.S. attacked them by air and ended their lives. There are two points worth making about this:

(1) It is unknown whether the U.S. targeted the teenager or whether he was merely “collateral damage.” The reason that’s unknown is because the Obama administration refuses to tell us. Said the Post: “The officials would not discuss the attack in any detail, including who the target was.” So here we have yet again one of the most consequential acts a government can take — killing one of its own citizens, in this case a teenage boy — and the government refuses even to talk about what it did, why it did it, what its justification is, what evidence it possesses, or what principles it has embraced in general for such actions. Indeed, it refuses even to admit it did this, since it refuses even to admit that it has a drone program at all and that it is engaged in military action in Yemen. It’s just all shrouded in total secrecy.

Of course, the same thing happened with the killing of Awlaki himself. The Executive Branch decided it has the authority to target U.S. citizens for death without due process, but told nobody (until it was leaked) and refuses to identify the principles that guide these decisions. It then concluded in a secret legal memo that Awlaki specifically could be killed, but refuses to disclose what it ruled or in which principles this ruling was grounded. And although the Obama administration repeatedly accused Awlaki of having an “operational role” in Terrorist plots, it has — as Davidson put it — “so far kept the evidence for that to itself.”

This is all part and parcel of the Obama administration’s extreme — at times unprecedentedfixation on secrecy. Even with Senators in the President’s own party warning that the administration’s secret interpretation of its domestic surveillance powers under the Patriot Act is so warped and radical that it would shock the public if they knew, Obama officials simply refuse even to release its legal memos setting forth how it is interpreting those powers. As EFF’s Trevor Timm told The Daily Beast today: “The government classified a staggering 77 million documents last year, a 40 percent increase on the year before.” And as I wrote about many times, the Obama administration even tried — and failed — to force The New York Times‘ James Risen to reveal his source for his story about an inept, disastrous CIA effort to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear program, but as Politico‘s Josh Gerstein reports today, the Obama DOJ is now appealing the decision in Risen’s favor. Gerstein writes:

The executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Lucy Dalglish, said the appeal was troubling for First Amendment advocates, but not unexpected.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Dalglish said “The Obama administration has made it absolutely clear they detest leakers and they are going to be very aggressive against leakers.”

Since Obama took office, his administration has initiated five prosecutions of alleged leakers under the Espionage Act — a sum roughly equal to the total number of such prosecutions in all prior administrations combined. . . .

“It’s really looking like they want to put Risen in prison,” [the defendant's lawyer Edward] MacMahon said in a brief interview. . . . “For the journalists in the world, it’s quite a significant First Amendment appeal.”

You can offer the ability to citizens to choose from one of the two parties and elect their leaders as much as you want. But “democracy” is an illusion — a sham — if the most significant acts taken by those leaders are kept concealed from the citizenry. Dana Priest and William Arkin wrote a multi-part series, and followed it up with a book, describing “Top Secret America”: the sprawling, secret government/private-sector apparatus accountable to nobody. Leaks and whistleblowers are the only real avenue remaining for citizens to know what their government does, and it’s why the Obama administration is so obsessed with persecuting whistleblowers, crushing WikiLeaks, and now even trying to imprison one of the nation’s best investigative journalists.

For many people, this type of secrecy is not bothersome because — when their party controls the White House — they trust their leader to be honest and act properly; that’s what Bush followers who viewed Bush as a good, earnest Christian constantly said in response to objections over radical secrecy, and it’s what many Obama followers say now (if Obama says someone is a Terrorist, I don’t need to see evidence: I’m sure he is – if Obama says Iran is behind a Terrorist plot, I don’t need to see evidence: I’m sure they are). But that obviously isn’t a healthy mindset when forming expectations of political leaders. More so, you can’t have a functioning democracy if the government refuses even to discuss its most radical and significant acts. The Obama administration is just off waging a secret war in Yemen, killing its own citizens from the sky, and refusing to account to anyone for what it’s doing. If you accept that level of secrecy, what don’t you accept?

(2) Every now and then it’s worth pausing to reflect on how often we talk about the killing of people by the U.S. Literally, the U.S. government is just continuously killing people in multiple countries around the world. Who else does that? Nobody — certainly nowhere near on this scale. The U.S. President expressly claims the power to target anyone he wants, anywhere in the world, for death, including his own citizens; he does it in total secrecy and with no oversight; and this power is not just asserted but routinely exercised. The U.S., over and over, eradicates people’s lives by the dozens from the sky, with bombs, with checkpoint shootings, with night raids — in far more places and far more frequently than any other nation or group on the planet. Those are just facts.

What’s most striking about this is how little effort is needed to induce America’s political and media elites to acquiesce to it. The government need do nothing more than utter empty nationalistic phrases such as “we’re at war” and “Terrorist!” and this unparalleled, endless state violence all becomes instantly justified. Yesterday, Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen wrote about the Awlaki killings: “Many Yemenis can understand (if disagree) killing the father, few can understand killing the son,” and pointed to this Facebook entry from a young Yemeni as illustration of what he meant; read the text:

I have no doubt that many Americans, probably most, would consider this comparison to be outrageous hyperbole, even offensive and slanderous. I have just as little doubt that many Americans, probably most, would be saying things quite similar to this if it were another country, engaging in far more violence than all others, routinely zapping innocent teeangers, children, women and men out out of existence on American soil using sky robots and cluster bombs (just look at America’s ongoing reaction to a single, one-day attack on its soil a full decade ago). But the U.S. does this so often, and has for so long, that most of the citizenry has either concocted or ingested mental and intellectual strategies for pretending this doesn’t happen or justifying it when they can’t. So we just killed an American teenager and his teenage cousin by drone-bombing them to death? They merely join a very long list of similar recent victims — a list that, paradoxically, makes less of an impact the longer it becomes.

UPDATE: Those who believe evidence and transparency in such matters are unnecessary because the government under Obama — unlike under Bush — would never issue false claims about such things and can be trusted without accountability should review this and this.

After 40 Years, the Complete Pentagon Papers June 8, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, History, War.
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by: Michael Cooper and Sam Roberts, The New York Times News Service, Wednesday, June 8, 2011

It may be a first in the annals of government secrecy: Declassifying documents to mark the anniversary of their leak to the press. But that is what will happen Monday, when the federal government plans to finally release the secret government study of the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers 40 years after it was first published by The New York Times.

At first blush, it sounds like the release of one of the worst-kept secrets in history — finally unlocking the barn door four decades after the horses bolted. The study, after all, has already been published by The Times and other newspapers, resulting in a landmark First Amendment decision by the Supreme Court. It has been released in book form more than once. But it turns out that those texts have been incomplete: When all 7,000 pages are released Monday, officials say, the study can finally be read in its original form.

That it took until the era of WikiLeaks for the government to declassify the Pentagon Papers struck some participants as, to say the least, curious.

“It’s absurd,” said Daniel Ellsberg, the former RAND Corporation analyst who worked on the report and later provided it to The Times. He said Tuesday that the report should not have been secret even in 1971, when newspapers first published it, adding: “The reasons are very clearly domestic political reasons, not national security at all. The reasons for the prolonged secrecy are to conceal the fact that so much of the policy making doesn’t bear public examination. It’s embarrassing, or even incriminating.”

When Mr. Ellsberg first leaked the study, he had to take it volume by volume out of a safe in his office and ferry it to a small advertising company owned by the girlfriend of a colleague who had Xerox machine. Page by page, they copied it in all-night sessions. Now the National Archives and Records Administration will scan it and — behold — it will be online quickly.

Leslie H. Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, who was the director of the task force that wrote the report, said he was surprised it had remained officially classified all these years, after so much of it had been made public. “It should have been declassified a long, long time ago,” he said.

But the secrecy has persisted. Timothy Naftali, the director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, said that when he recently put together an exhibit on Watergate, he wanted to display just the blue cover of the Pentagon Papers report. “I was told that the cover was classified,” he said, adding that he was astounded.

There is intrigue even in the release itself. Archivists touched off a new round of feverish speculation when they originally announced that 11 never-before-published words of the 7,000-page report would remain redacted all these years later, only to reverse themselves and announce Tuesday that the 11 words would be published after all.

So what were the mysterious 11 words?

Archivists originally joked that they would hold a Mad Libs contest, to see who could guess them. But even though the 11 words will be published after all, they have not said what they were — sparking a bit of a guessing game. Thomas S. Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, said he guessed the words had something to do with intelligence capabilities, or references to people who are still alive who had been sources, or North Vietnamese diplomats.

“The criticism of their redacting the 11 words in the first place is that it’s self-defeating,” Mr. Blanton said. “You’re just flagging them for everyone to identify what they are.”

The bigger question is what new material will be made public for the first time. Several archivists who have seen the complete report declined invitations to repeat history and leak the full version of the Pentagon Papers to The Times. But there are some indications of what will be in it.

Until now, the complete text of the report — officially known as the Report of the O.S.D. Vietnam Task Force — has been as elusive to researchers as a clean copy of Hamlet has been to generations of Shakespeare scholars. The version Mr. Ellsberg provided to the press was incomplete. A book published by Beacon Press, based on a copy from Senator Mike Gravel, Democrat of Alaska, had missing sections. And a version published by the government was heavily redacted.

When Mr. Ellsberg originally leaked the Pentagon Papers, he did so because he wanted to stop the Vietnam War — so he left out sections about peace negotiations with North Vietnam. “I omitted them because I thought that Nixon would use the release as an excuse for breaking off negotiations with North Vietnam,” he said in an interview. “I frankly didn’t want to give him that excuse.”

Those sections about the negotiations had been declassified for years. But they will now appear in the context in which they were first written, along with several volumes that have not been published, including a section on the United States training the Vietnamese national army, a statistical survey of the war from 1965 to 1967 and some supporting documents.

Mr. Gelb said he thought the depth of the reports had been exaggerated over time, and noted that his team was extremely limited in what it was able to draw on to produce them.

“They are almost catch-as-catch-can studies based on available documents,” he said. “This thing was not meant to be in any sense a definitive history, or even a definitive bureaucratic history. It was just a history put together by very smart guys on the run.”

But Mr. Ellsberg said there were still plenty of lessons to be drawn.

“The rerelease of the Pentagon Papers is very timely, if anyone were to read it,” he said.

He said they demonstrate the wisdom of giving war-making powers to Congress — a power that he lamented has been increasingly usurped by the executive branch.

“It seems to me that what the Pentagon Papers really demonstrated 40 years ago was the price of that practice,” he said. “Which is that letting a small group of men in secret in the executive branch make these decisions — initiate them secretly, carry them out secretly and manipulate Congress, and lie to Congress and the public as to why they’re doing it and what they’re doing — is a recipe for, a guarantee of Vietnams and Iraqs and Libyas, and in general foolish, reckless, dangerous policies.”

Mr. Ellsberg said he wished more people would come forward to release information that could stop these wars, praising Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, the military intelligence analyst who is jailed on charges that he leaked a trove of government files to WikiLeaks.

“If he did what he’s accused of, then he’s my hero, because I’ve been waiting for somebody to do that for 40 years,” Mr. Ellsberg said. “And no one has.”

© 2011 The New York Times Company
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Julian Assange Awarded Australian Peace Prize May 11, 2011

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Published on Wednesday, May 11, 2011 by Reuters

WikiLeaks founder receives the Sydney Peace Foundation’s gold medal for ‘championing people’s right to know’

 

Wikileaks’ Australian founder Julian Assange, who enraged Washington by publishing thousands of secret US diplomatic cables, has been given a peace award for “exceptional courage in pursuit of human rights”.

Julian Assange was presented with the Sydney Peace Foundation’s gold medal at the Frontline Club in London. (Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters) Assange was awarded the Sydney Peace Foundation’s gold medal on Tuesday at the Frontline Club in London, only the fourth such award to be handed out in its 14-year history. The not-for-profit organisation is associated with the University of Sydney and supported by the City of Sydney.

Assange, who is fighting extradition from Britain to Sweden over alleged sex crimes, was praised for “challenging centuries-old practices of government secrecy and by championing people’s right to know”.

“We think the struggle for peace with justice inevitably involves conflict, inevitably involves controversy,” the foundation’s director, Professor Stuart Rees, said.

“We think that you and WikiLeaks have brought about what we think is a watershed in journalism and in freedom of information and potentially in politics.”

Rees criticised the Australian government, saying it must stop shoring up Washington’s efforts to “behave like a totalitarian state”, and said the foundation was “appalled by the violent behaviour by major politicians in the United States“.

WikiLeaks caused a media and diplomatic uproar late last year when it began to publish its cache of more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables, revealing secrets such as that Saudi leaders had urged US military action against Iran. Some US politicians said WikiLeaks should be defined as an international terrorist organisation.

Assange himself claimed publication of the cables helped shape uprisings in north Africa and the Middle East and said WikiLeaks was on the side of justice.

© 2011 Reuters

The Cheney-Like Secrecy of the Obama White House August 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Democracy, Dick Cheney, Health.
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Published on Saturday, August 8, 2009 by The Nation by John Nichols
Those of us who proposed the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney for violating his oath of office and engaging in a Nixon-on-steroids spree of high crimes and misdemeanors began to recognize the abusive nature of the previous administration when Cheney refused to release details of the industry insiders with whom he met to craft energy policies.The refusal of the Bush-Cheney administration to permit public review of White House visitor logs detailing who was meeting with the vice president’s energy task force during the very first weeks of their tenure was a deliberate decision made to cloak dirty dealing by officials who were determined to serve corporate rather than public interests.

It also provided an early indicator that darker and dirtier deeds would eventually be done by Cheney and his compatriots. And they were.

So what should we make of the news that the Obama administration is now refusing to release White House visitor logs that detail meetings between members of the new administration and health-care industry insiders?

As Sharon Theimer, of The Associated Press, notes:

(The) administration’s multibillion-dollar deals with hospitals and pharmaceutical companies have been made in private, and the results were announced after the fact. Both industries promised Obama cost savings in return for an expanded base of insured patients; beyond that, the public is in the dark about details.In some ways, it resembles what his party criticized President George W. Bush for doing with oil and gas companies as Vice President Dick Cheney wrote a national energy plan in the early days of the Bush administration.

As the Bush White House did, the Obama White House is refusing to release visitor logs that would let people see everyone going in and out during the thick of discussions over major national policies.

There is a lot of talk about the fact that Obama has broken a campaign promise.

That’s serious.

But far more serious is the perpetuation of practices of official secrecy that characterized the Bush-Cheney den of iniquity.

When administrations begin to enjoy the benefits of operating in the dark, they become disinclined to end the practice. They also begin to buy into the fantasy that keeping details from Congress and the people is the only way to get things done, as did Obama White House spokesman Reid Cherlin when he tried to explain away a lack of transparency by saying: “Here’s what’s happening: Groups that have steadfastly opposed reform in the past are coming to the table and making concessions — because they know we can’t wait another year to pass health insurance reform.”

Actually, bad players are embracing bad compromises because they have made bad deals with the White House.

And, make no mistake, more bad things will happen.

Only whack jobs who believe that Barack Obama was birthed in Jakarta could imagine that this administration might ever be as corrupt as its predecessor. Bush and Cheney achieved Warren Harding levels of official crookedness.

However, bad-but-not-quite-Cheney-bad is an unacceptable standard.

Official secrecy, especially when it involves meetings by White House aides and representatives of corporate interests that face government regulation, is corrosive. It warps the official agenda and undermines the system of checks and balances — making the legislative branch a weak second to a unitary executive.

Barack Obama promised when he sought the presidency to usher in a new era of openness and transparency. “We’ll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies,” candidate Obama declared at a Pennsylvania campaign stop two months before the 2008 election.

Now, he is doing the opposite.

Worse yet, he is perpetuating the foul practices of the most corrupt administration in American history.

Copyright © 2009 The Nation

John Nichols is Washington correspondent for The Nation and associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. A co-founder of the media reform organization Free Press, Nichols is is co-author with Robert W. McChesney of Tragedy & Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy – from The New Press. Nichols’ latest book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism.

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