Tags: cia drones, civilian casualties, drone missiles, drone war, infographics, pakistan, roger hollander, wesley grubbs
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Pitch Interactive, a Berkeley-based data visualization unit, has created a graphic tracking every drone strike the United States has carried out in Pakistan since 2004. Wesley Grubbs, who created the visualization, joined HuffPost Live host Ahmed Shihab-Eldin Tuesday to explain the motivation behind the visualization.
“We want to shock people,” Grubbs said. “What we tried to do though with this was not just shock people with the number of casualties, but to shock people with the amount of information that we really don’t know.”
The visualization tracks the victims of the strikes using data from the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, specifically noting children and civilian collateral damage. Note the sharp uptick after President Obama takes office in 2009:
CLICK HERE BELOW TO SEE VISUALIZATION AND INTERVIEW:
John Brennan vs. a Sixteen-Year-Old Boy January 15, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War, War on Terror.
Tags: cia director, collateral damage, drone casualties, drone missile, drone strikes, hellfire missile, International law, john brennan, kill list, medea benjamin, obama kill list, pakistan, roger hollander, rule of law, tariq aziz, yemen
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In October 2011, 16-year-old Tariq Aziz attended a gathering in Islamabad where he was taught how to use a video camera so he could document the drones that were constantly circling over his Pakistani village, terrorizing and killing his family and neighbors. Two days later, when Aziz was driving with his 12-year-old cousin to a village near his home in Waziristan to pick up his aunt, his car was struck by a Hellfire missile. With the push of a button by a pilot at a US base thousands of miles away, both boys were instantly vaporized—only a few chunks of flesh remained.Tariq Aziz (circled) at the Grand Jirga in Islamabad just days before he was killed by a US drone hellfire missile.
Afterwards, the US government refused to acknowledge the boys’ deaths or explain why they were targeted. Why should they? This is a covert program where no one is held accountable for their actions.
The main architect of this drone policy that has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of innocents, including 176 children in Pakistan alone, is President Obama’s counterterrorism chief and his pick for the next director of the CIA: John Brennan.
On my recent trip to Pakistan, I met with people whose loved ones had been blown to bits by drone attacks, people who have been maimed for life, young victims with no hope for the future and aching for revenge. For all of them, there has been no apology, no compensation, not even an acknowledgement of their losses. Nothing.
That’s why when John Brennan spoke at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington DC last April and described our policies as ethical, wise and in compliance with international law, I felt compelled to stand up and speak out on behalf of Tariq Aziz and so many others. As they dragged me out of the room, my parting words were: “I love the rule of law and I love my country. You are making us less safe by killing so many innocent people. Shame on you, John Brennan.”
Rather than expressing remorse for any civilian deaths, John Brennan made the extraordinary statement in 2011 that during the preceding year, there hadn’t been a single collateral death “because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.” Brennan later adjusted his statement somewhat, saying, “Fortunately, for more than a year, due to our discretion and precision, the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq.” We later learned why Brennan’s count was so low: the administration had come up with a semantic solution of simply counting all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.
The UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has documented over 350 drones strikes in Pakistan that have killed 2,600-3,400 people since 2004. Drone strikes in Yemen have been on the rise, with at least 42 strikes carried out in 2012, including one just hours after President Obama’s reelection. The first strike in 2013 took place just four days into the new year.
A May 29, 2011 New York Times exposé showed John Brennan as President Obama’s top advisor in formulating a “kill list” for drone strikes. The people Brennan recommends for the hit list are given no chance to surrender, and certainly no chance to be tried in a court of law. The kind of intelligence Brennan uses to put people on drone hit lists is the same kind of intelligence that put people in Guantanamo. Remember how the American public was assured that the prisoners locked up in Guantanamo were the “worst of the worst,” only to find out that hundreds were innocent people who had been sold to the US military by bounty hunters?
In addition to kill lists, Brennan pushed for the CIA to have the authority to kill with even greater ease using “signature strikes,” also known as “crowd killing,” which are strikes based solely on suspicious behavior.
When President Obama announced his nomination of John Brennan, he talked about Brennan’s integrity and commitment to the values that define us as Americans. He said Brennan has worked to “embed our efforts in a strong legal framework” and that he “understands we are a nation of laws.”
A nation of laws? Really? Going around the world killing anyone we want, whenever we want, based on secret information? Just think of the precedent John Brennan is setting for a world of lawlessness and chaos, now that 76 countries have drones—mostly surveillance drones but many in the process of weaponizing them. Why shouldn’t China declare an ethnic Uighur activist living in New York City as an “enemy combatant” and send a missile into Manhattan, or Russia launch a drone attack against a Chechen living in London? Or why shouldn’t a relative of a drone victim retaliate against us here at home? It’s not so far-fetched. In 2011, 26-year-old Rezwan Ferdaus, a Massachusetts-based graduate with a degree in physics, was recently sentenced to 17 years in prison for plotting to attack the Pentagon and US Capitol with small drones filled with explosives.
In his search for a new CIA chief, Obama said he looked at who is going to do the best job in securing America. Yet the blowback from Brennan’s drone attacks is creating enemies far faster than we can kill them. Three out of four Pakistanis now see the US as their enemy—that’s about 133 million people, which certainly can’t be good for US security. When Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was asked the source of US enmity, she had a one word answer: drones.
In Yemen, escalating U.S. drones strikes are radicalizing the local population and stirring increasing sympathy for al-Qaeda-linked militants. Since the January 4, 2013 attack in Yemen, militants in the tribal areas have gained more recruits and supporters in their war against the Yemeni government and its key backer, the United States. According to Abduh Rahman Berman, executive director of a Yemeni National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, the drone war is failing. “If the Americans kill 10, al-Qaeda will recruit 100,” he said.
Around the world, the drone program constructed by John Brennan has become a provocative symbol of American hubris, showing contempt for national sovereignty and innocent lives.
If Obama thinks John Brennan is a good choice to head the CIA and secure America, he should contemplate the tragic deaths of victims like 16-year-old Tariq Aziz, and think again.
Medea Benjamin (email@example.com), cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace, is the author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. Her previous books include Don’t Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart., and (with Jodie Evans) Stop the Next War Now (Inner Ocean Action Guide).
Tags: arab spring, Blackwater, bradley manning, cablegate, civilian casualties, climate change, cluster munitions, daniel ellsberg, democracy, drone missiles, environment, hillary clinton, human rights, International law, Iraq war, julian assange, Media, Nisour Square Massacre, pakistan, press freedom, roger hollander, terrorism, thailand, torture, war on terror, wikileaks
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On the two-year anniversary of the start of Cablegate, the Wikileaks founder highlights some of the stories that have emerged. (Screenshot via firedoglake.com)
Thursday, November 29th, Bradley Manning testified for the first time since his arrest two and a half years ago in Baghdad. Today also marks the two-year anniversary of the first front pages around the world from Cablegate, an archive of 251,287 U.S. State Department diplomatic cables — messages sent between the State Department and its embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions around the world. In collaboration with a network of more than 100 press outlets we revealed the full spectrum of techniques used by the United States to exert itself around the world. The young intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was detained as an alleged source.
WikiLeaks came under attack, with American politicians and right-wing pundits calling for all of us to be designated as terrorists, some even calling for my assassination and the kidnapping of our staff. Speaking on Meet The Press, Vice President Joe Biden referred to me as a “high-tech terrorist,” while Senator Joe Lieberman demanded that we be prosecuted under the U.S. Espionage Act. The Department of Justice spokesperson Dean Boyd admitted as recently as July 2012 that the Department of Justice investigation into WikiLeaks is ongoing, and the Pentagon renewed its threats against us on September 28th, declaring our work an “ongoing crime.” As a result, I have been granted political asylum and now live in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, surrounded by armed police while the FBI portion of the “whole of government” investigation against us, according to court testimony, had reached 42,135 pages as of December last year.
Earlier this week, WikiLeaks released European Commission documents showing that Senator Lieberman and Congressman Peter T. King directly influenced decisions by PayPal, Visa and MasterCard to block donations to WikiLeaks, which has blocked 95 percent of our donors since December of 2010. Last week the European Parliament expressed its will that the Commission should prevent the arbitrary blockade of WikiLeaks.
Bradley Manning, who is alleged to be a source of the cables, started testifying on Thursday about his pre-trial treatment, which UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez said was “at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 16 of the Convention against Torture.” Captain William Hoctor, the government psychiatrist with 24 years of experience who evaluated Manning at Quantico base in Virginia, testified that brig commanders had ignored his recommendations for Manning’s detention, something he had not even experienced in his work at Guantánamo bay prison.
Bradley Manning has been detained without trial for 921 days. This is the longest pre-trial detention of a U.S. military soldier since at least the Vietnam War. U.S. military law says the maximum is 120 days.
The material that Bradley Manning is alleged to have leaked has highlighted astonishing examples of U.S. subversion of the democratic process around the world, systematic evasion of accountability for atrocities and killings, and many other abuses. Our archive of State Department cables have appeared in tens of thousands of articles, books and scholarly works, illustrating the nature of U.S. foreign policy and the instruments of U.S. national power. On the two-year anniversary of the start of Cablegate, I want to highlight some of the stories that have emerged.
A War of Terror
The United States’ War on Terror has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, inflamed sectarian violence, and made a mockery of international law. Victims and their families struggle to have their stories acknowledged, and the U.S.’ systematic avoidance of accountability for war crimes implicitly denies their right to be considered human beings. Moreover, as the U.S. increasingly relies on clandestine military operations conducted outside the scrutiny of government oversight, the execution of this expanding War on Terror becomes increasingly uncoupled from the democratic process. While President Obama had promised the American people in 2008 that he would end the Iraq War, U.S. troops were only withdrawn when information from a cable revived international scrutiny of abuse occurring in Iraq, resulting in a refusal to grant continued immunity to U.S. troops in 2012 or beyond.
In 2007 the U.S. embassy in Baghdad obtained a copy of the Iraqi government’s final investigation report on the massacre of 17 civilians on September 16th, 2007 in Nisour Square. The report concluded that the incident was an unprovoked attack on unarmed civilians, asked for $8 million in compensation for each death and $4 million for each injury, and demanded that the private security firm Blackwater be replaced within six months. Blackwater continued to operate in Iraq for two years afterwards, and the U.S. Embassy compensated victims with $10,000 for each death and $5,000 for each injury. Five years later, the offending Blackwater mercenaries have escaped from accountability to Iraq, and attempts to bring them to justice in the U.S. have resulted in a long chain of dismissed cases and one undisclosed settlement. WikiLeaks’ Iraq War Logs release of 391,832 U.S. Army field reports uncovered 14 additional cases where Blackwater opened fire on civilians, along with numerous other incidents of abuse. The Iraq War Logs also showed how the United States handed over prisoners to be tortured in gruesome detail — stories of electrocution, mutilation and of victims being attacked with drills.
The fact that, five years on, the victims of the have seen no meaningful accountability is an atrocity. But it is unfortunately no surprise that the U.S. claims immunity for its forces in other countries, then fails to administer justice at home.
These events — and in particular one cable detailing the summary execution of 10 Iraqi civilians, including four women and five children — by U.S. soldiers and a subsequent airstrike to cover up the evidence, forced the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. The story of handcuffed execution and cover-up sparked outrage around the world in the midst of negotiations to extend U.S. troop presence into 2012 and, in response to international coverage, Iraq revived its investigation into the incident. Iraq ultimately refused to grant immunity to U.S. troops in 2012, forcing the U.S. to withdraw in December 2011.
This systemic violence and cover-up extends to the war in Afghanistan. When news emerged that a midnight bombing campaign on the Afghan village of Granai in 2009 had possibly resulted in the death of up to 100 civilians, U.S. officials publicly asserted that most of the dead had been Taliban fighters. A State Department cable written shortly after the event summarizes a meeting between the Red Cross’ Afghanistan chief Reto Stocker and U.S. Ambassador Carl Eikenberry in which they discussed findings from an investigation of the event. In the cable, Stocker is referred to as “one of the most credible sources for unbiased and objective information in Afghanistan.” The Red Cross report estimated that 89 of the dead and 13 injured were in fact civilians. Neither the U.S. government nor the Red Cross publicly revealed these figures.
WikiLeaks and the Arab Spring
The Tunisian cables describe the extreme corruption and lack of transparency of the Ben Ali regime. The Ben Ali extended family are described as the worst offenders, their lavish life accompanied by “a wide-range of corrupt schemes,” including “property expropriation and extortion of bribes.” We also learned that Ben Ali family assets included an airline, several hotels and a radio station. One cable describes state censorship of Tunisia’s only private broadcast satellite TV station, and a surprise tax judgment against the station of almost $1.5 million.
In its 2011 annual report, Amnesty International praised WikiLeaks and its media partners for catalyzing the revolution in Tunisia:
“While the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in Tunisia would not have happened without the long struggle of brave human rights defenders over the last two decades, support for activists from outside the country may have been strengthened as people scrutinized the WikiLeaks documents on Tunisia and understood the roots of the anger. In particular, some of the documents made clear that countries around the world were aware of both the political repression and the lack of economic opportunity, but for the most part were not taking action to urge change.”
When Tunisia’s president Moncef Marzouki spoke with me on The World Tomorrow, he thanked WikiLeaks for its work, saying, “I am very grateful for all that you have done for promoting human rights, truth, and I admire and support your efforts.”
Shortly following Tunisia’s revolution, protests erupted in Libya, and a new batch of cables revealed the strategic calculations behind U.S. support of the Gaddafi regime. In Egypt, cables revealed that Mubarak would rather die in office than step down and that his son would likely succeed him. Then, just as evidence emerged that Vice President Suleiman was tipped to replace Mubarak, cables were released detailing his former role as intelligence chief, as well as his close ties to Israel. Such elements became a crucial part of the ongoing Egyptian uprising.
A Global Death Squad Consulting Firm?
For years, WikiLeaks faced a chorus of accusations by U.S. officials and right-wing pundits of making the world a less-safe place, and of having potentially caused harm through publication of embarrassing secrets. In reality, the cables show that torture and killing are not isolated events, but the violent manifestations of an aggressive policy of coercion used by the United States in the pursuit of its strategic commercial and political goals around the world.
While U.S. law bans the training of military units with a history of human rights violations, in practice the law is easily and often circumvented. The Indonesian army’s elite special forces unit KOPASSUS has brutally repressed the West Papuans’ freedom movement (West Papua has been occupied by Indonesia since 1963), as has been extensively documented by Human Rights Watch. Despite this, U.S. diplomats in Jakarta judged in 2007 that the time had come to resume collaboration with KOPASSUS, for the sake of “commercial interest” and “the protection of U.S. officials.”
A diplomatic cable from November 2009 mentions as a side note that right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia were responsible for the death of 257,089 victims, a figure well above the estimations of local human rights activists. The U.S. has nonetheless offered generous support to the Colombian military; Amnesty International, which has called for a complete cut-off of U.S. military aid to Colombia, has estimated that total U.S. aid in 2006 amounted to $728 million, of which 80 percent was given to military and police assistance. As of 2012, U.S. military support to Colombia is ongoing.
Such examples illustrate the United States’ liberal interpretation of the laws banning the training of military units with a history of human rights violations. In another cable from August 2008, U.S. officials acknowledge that the Bangladeshi death squad, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), has been involved in obvious human rights violations, making support for the RAB difficult — U.S. officials hoped, however, to improve the RAB’s record and polish its public image. U.S. officials praised the RAB for having “succeeded in reducing crime and fighting terrorism, making it in many ways Bangladesh’s most respected police unit.” In a diplomatic cable from 2009, it was also revealed that the UK had been training the RAB for the previous 18 months “in areas such as investigative interviewing techniques and rules of engagement.”
Foreign Service Spies
In 2009, Hillary Clinton sent an intelligence gathering directive to 33 embassies and consulates around the world. The directive asked diplomats to gather intelligence on UN officials, including credit card numbers and online handles. A similar cable requested intelligence on officials from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundy, Rwanda and Uganda, and specifically mentioned the collection of DNA samples, iris scans and computer passwords.
Another state department cable revealed that a mole within the German government was spying for the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, frequently updating U.S. officials on negotiations between Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and Westerwelle’s FDP on the formation of a new coalition government in 2009. Helmut Metzner, formerly chief of staff to Germany’s foreign minister, admitted to being the mole mentioned in these cables when this story broke in the press, and was subsequently fired.
Lobbying for Unaccountability — Manipulation of Judicial Process in Other Countries
Abuse that occurs in war, as it did in Iraq, is often dismissed by its perpetrators as exceptional, and we are often assured that when abuse has occurred, the accountability mechanisms in place will bring justice. The diplomatic cables have given us numerous concrete examples of the coercion used by the U.S. to manipulate and undermine judicial processes in other countries, and they establish a clear policy for the evasion of accountability in any form.
During the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, two journalists — including the Spanish journalist José Couso — were killed and three others were wounded when a U.S. tank fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. An investigation into the event was subsequently launched in Spain, and an international arrest warrant was issued for three U.S. soldiers involved. Cables showed that the U.S. aggressively fought to have Spanish officials drop the case. Writing about the case in one cable, U.S. Ambassador Eduardo Aguirre emphasizes: “While we are careful to show our respect for the tragic death of Couso and for the independence of the Spanish judicial system, behind the scenes we have fought tooth and nail to make the charges disappear.” Shamefully, this quote was redacted in the original reporting on the subject from El Pais and Le Monde.
In another example from 2003, a German citizen of Lebanese origins, Kalid el-Masri, was kidnapped while on vacation in Macedonia, renditioned to Afghanistan by the CIA, and tortured for four months. When his captors finally decided he was innocent, he was flown to Albania and dumped on a country road without so much as an apology. In a cable from 2007, we learn that when a German prosecutor issued arrest warrants for agents involved in el-Masri’s kidnapping, the U.S. ambassador in Berlin warned German officials that there would be repercussions. No arrests have yet been made and el-Masri is still seeking justice.
The U.S.’ manipulation extended to the UK, where a cable shows that during a British public inquiry led by Sir John Chilcot into the UK role in the Iraq War, the Ministry of Defence had “put measures in place” to protect U.S. interests.
Global Powers Work to Break Environmental Solidarity, and to Exploit “Opportunities” of Climate Change
On environmental issues, cables show that the U.S. routinely makes symbolic gestures rather than initiating substantial practices to combat climate change, and works aggressively to tailor international agreements to its own commercial interests.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked embassies to gather intelligence on the preparations for the Copenhagen UN Convention on Climate Change Meeting in December 2009, asking for biographical details of representatives from China, France, Japan, Mexico, Russia and the European Union. Cables show that in Copenhagen the U.S. manipulated the accord talks by offering “gifts” to poorer countries to derail opposition to the accord proposed by first world powers. Another cable from the Secretary of State revealed that in 2010, a Maldives ambassador designate had stressed the importance of “tangible assistance” from larger economies to smaller ones. As a consequence of this meeting, the accord offered financial compensation to poor countries suffering from the effects of global warming.
In a visit to Canada in 2009 David Goldwyn, the State Department’s Coordinator for International Energy Affairs discussed public relations assistance to be offered to the oil sands industry. Goldwyn proposed consulting experts, scholars and think tanks to “increase visibility and accessibility of more positive news stories.” The cable was later used by environmentalists in their battle against the Keystone XL pipeline, which ships crude oil across the U.S.-Canada border. In early 2012, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, but recently publicly announced support for another proposal. It also turns out that Goldwyn eventually went on to work for Sutherland, a lobbying group in favor of Keystone XL.
The cables also reveal that the U.S. is carefully positioning itself to take advantage of new opportunities for harvesting hydrocarbons and minerals from the Arctic as climate change melts polar ice. U.S. diplomats were hoping to offer Greenland support for its independence from Denmark in exchange for access by American gas and oil companies to exploit the country’s resources. The U.S. has been closely watching Russia, America’s main competitor for Arctic resources, but American officials also showed concern over Canada’s potential territorial claim to the Arctic’s Northwest passage.
Secret Agreements — Circumvention of the Democratic Process
The State Department cables revealed that the United States and its allies systematically make secret arrangements with various governments, hiding details not only from the country’s public, but sometimes even from the country’s representatives, ministers and oversight bodies.
In 2009, Jeremy Scahill and Seymour Hersh broke a story in The Nation on secret U.S. special operations forces combat missions and drone strikes in Pakistan. When questioned about the story, Department of Defense spokesperson Geoff Morrell dismissed the claims as “conspiratorial theories.” Only one year later, cables released by WikiLeaks confirmed their story. In addition, cables quoted Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani telling U.S. officials: “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people — we’ll protest about it in the National Assembly and then ignore it.” Stories based on State Department cables also revealed agreements between the U.S. and Yemen in which the Yemeni government would claim responsibility for attacks launched by the U.S. on local militia groups. The release of State Department cables resulted in total transparency with respect to certain aspects of the War on Terror.
State Department cables also revealed that the U.S. worked with Australia to weaken the text of an international agreement banning the use of cluster munitions — bombs which spray thousands of smaller bomblets over a large area. Out of more than 13,000 casualties of cluster munitions registered by Handicap International, over 98 percent are civilian and one-third of those are children. Despite this, cables also revealed that the UK’s then-Foreign Minister David Miliband secretly approved the use of a legal loophole to allow the United States to store cluster munitions on UK territory, despite the fact that the UK is a signatory to a convention banning them. The United States is not a signatory to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and even attempted in 2011 to have the ban lifted by the UN.
In 2007, former Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley asked U.S. officials for predator drones to help shore up liberal support for a sustained Canadian presence in the war in Afghanistan. At the time, Manley was leading a government-appointed panel charged with investigating Canada’s interests in a future role in Afghanistan. In August 2012, the Ottawa Citizen reported that the Canadian government is seeking to spend up to $1 billion on a state-of-the-art armed drone fleet.
The cables also revealed that Canada’s conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper secretly promised NATO in January 2010 that Canada would remain in Afghanistan to conduct army training even after the end of its mission in 2011. The Canadian public was shocked when the government announced that it would be extending its mission in November of that year. Harper expressed concern to U.S. diplomats that an early departure of Canadian troops from Aghanistan would seem like a “withdrawal,” reflecting the low public support for Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.
In 2008, the U.S. proposed an “informal agreement” to Swedish government officials for the exchange of information on terrorism watch-lists. U.S. officials explained that they feared scrutiny by the Swedish parliament would jeopardize “law enforcement and anti-terrorism cooperation.” Cables also revealed that in 2009, the U.S. resumed full intelligence-sharing with New Zealand after it had been restricted in retaliation for the country’s ban against nuclear-powered or armed vessels in its ports. Both governments agreed that the newly resumed cooperation should be kept hidden from the public.
The Realpolitik of Commercial Lobbying
State Department cables illustrate that U.S. officials and their commercial partners take a default position of having an intrinsic right to resources and market dominance around the world.
In a 2007 cable to the U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. Ambassador Craig Stapleton suggested taking a hard-line approach towards the European Union over its resistance to American genetically modified products and foods. France’s refusal to embrace GMOs and agricultural biotechnology, according to Ambassador Stapleton, would lead to a general European rejection of GMOs, and he suggested retaliation to help the French see things differently:
“Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits. The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory.”
The cables also showed that the U.S. revoked visas of then-Ecuadoran presidential candidate Xavier Neira and seven others due to their involvement in a legal case against the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer for unfair competition. The timing of the decision to revoke their visas coincided with the upcoming presidential elections and an impending court decision on the case. In its explanation of the revocation, officials cite “corruption” and the case against Pfizer.
The U.S.-based Shell Oil company has a long and sordid history in Nigeria, and its representatives spoke openly about activities in the country. In a 2009 meeting, Shell representatives told U.S. officials that they would be able to influence the Nigerian government’s 2009 Petroleum Industry Bill to suit their interests.
Cables from 2005 highlight U.S. determination to “improve the investment climate” for mining companies in Peru. Representatives from Canada, UK, Australia, Switzerland and South Africa met to strategize ways of circumventing anti-mining protests coming from a diverse group of NGOs, the Catholic Church and indigenous Peruvians. Once protests had turned violent, the U.S. used this as an excuse for monitoring NGO groups such as Oxfam and Friends of the Earth, and asked the Peruvian government to enhance security by taking control of roadways and transit areas.
In other cases, officials in the U.S. Embassy assisted in lobbying for or against particular pieces of legislation according to U.S. commercial interests. U.S. officials lobbied on behalf of Visa and MasterCard against a bill in Russia which would have created a national card payment system, taking away Visa and MasterCard’s market share.
Strategic Duplicity on Human Rights and Press Freedom
A cable summarizing a meeting with a director of Al Jazeera shows that U.S. officials expected a special report with graphic images of injured Iraqis to be changed and its images removed. In another cable, the director is asked to explain Al Jazeera’s lack of coverage of the Iran elections and protests as opposed to their “heavy” coverage of Gaza.
The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in the kingdom of Bahrain, and the U.S. has maintained a mutually beneficial relationship with the country’s leaders over the past years. In one cable, the U.S. ambassador to Bahrain praised the country and its king, pointing out that U.S. companies had won major contracts there. This same regime brutally cracked down on protesters during the Arab Spring, and Bahraini authorities shut down dissident websites and publications. While the U.S. State Department harshly condemned the crackdown on protests after Iran’s 2009 elections, it remained silent on the killings in Bahrain.
Thailand’s Monarchy Exposed
Thailand’s lèse majesté law prevents anyone in the country from speaking openly about the monarchy without risk of severe punishment. As such, any reports about political developments in the country are censored, and there is a huge gap in public knowledge about the country’s political environment. WikiLeaks’ release of State Department cables gives an unprecedented view of not only the monarchy’s deep impact on the politics of the country, but also the close relationship that Thailand had with the U.S. Journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall quit his job at Reuters to write his book Thailand’s Moment of Truth, using the Thai cables exposing obscured and taboo aspects of Thailand’s politics, history and international relations for the first time.
U.S. Aims to Reshape Global Views and Law on Intellectual Property and Copyright
U.S.-based lobbying groups work hand in hand with U.S. State Department officials around the world to aggressively lobby for legislation and trade agreements that favor American companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, or large film studios such as Disney, Paramount, Sony and Warner.
A 2006 cable from Japan describes the first draft proposals for a “gold standard” in intellectual property rights enforcement, called ACTA. This standard was meant to give intellectual property owners much stronger powers, even at the expense of citizen privacy and due process. ACTA was subsequently negotiated in secret, unknown to the general public, until WikiLeaks leaked the first draft in 2008. In the film industry, the lobbyist group for motion picture studios conspired with their Australian counterpart to establish a legal precedent for holding an Internet service provider accountable for copyright infringement in Australia. What is the effect of this push and pull? It is a global environment where legislation and legal precedents are set to benefit intellectual property owners who are rich, powerful and influential — even at the expense of public good.
Breaking the Monopoly on Influence
The examples I present above represent only a small fraction of what has been revealed by WikiLeaks material. Since 2010, Western governments have tried to portray WikiLeaks as a terrorist organization, enabling a disproportionate response from both political figures and private institutions. It is the case that WikiLeaks’ publications can and have changed the world, but that change has clearly been for the better. Two years on, no claim of individual harm has been presented, and the examples above clearly show precisely who has blood on their hands.
In large Western democracies, the political discourse has been so highly controlled for so long, that it is no longer shocking when Western experts fill in to speak for third world victims, or when an American president stands up at a podium to accept his Nobel Peace Prize, and makes the case for war. It is, in fact, no longer safe to presume that a media outlet such as The New York Times would perform the same act today as they did in 1971 when Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers.
In a panel discussion with Daniel Ellsberg and New York Times editor Jill Abramson discussing the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg voiced his dissent over the Times‘ acquiescence to the Bush administration’s request to delay James Risen’s story on warrantless NSA wiretapping until after the 2004 elections. Abramson equivocated:
“The thing is when the government says — you know — by publishing a story you’re harming the national security, you’re helping the terrorists. I mean, there are still people today who argue that the NSA program was the crown jewel, the most valuable anti-terrorism program that the Bush administration had going, and that it was terribly wrong of the Times to publish.”
On the same panel, Daniel Ellsberg said of the Pentagon Papers:
“The secrecy of these documents has so far condemned over 30,000 Americans to death and several million Vietnamese. And the continued secrecy of them will undoubtedly contribute to the death of tens of thousands more Americans, and so forth. I think that’s true. But that comes up in the WikiLeaks case, right now.”
Since the release of the diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks has continued its operations despite the financial blockade, publishing leaked documents from companies selling mass interception units to state spy agencies around the world; detainee profiles for almost all of the people detained at Guantánamo Bay prison; U.S. policy manuals for detention of military prisoners in the War on Terror; intelligence databases from the private intelligence firm Stratfor; and millions of documents from inside the Syrian government. The information we’ve disclosed frustrates the controlled political discourse that is trumpeted by establishment media and Western governments to shape public perception.
We will continue our fight against the financial blockade, and we will continue to publish. The Pentagon’s threats against us do the United States a disservice and will not be heeded.
Pakistan Anger Boils as US Drone Attacks Continue July 7, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War.
Tags: civilian casualties, drone, drone missile, hillary clinton, nato supply routes, Obama, pakistan, pakistan protest, predator, roger hollander
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Protests lash out at Obama, NATO following re-opening of supply routes and continued bombing campaign
Populer anger in Pakistan is growing and demonstrations against NATO spreading as the US-led drone campaign continues unabated. The death toll count grew to near 20 overnight following the latest missile attack on Friday.
Supporters of Awami Majlis-e-Amal Pakistan stand next to a burning image of U.S. President Barack Obama during an anti-American rally in Quetta July 6, 2012. About 120 demonstrators gathered on Friday to protest against the resumption of NATO supplies transiting into Afghanistan through Pakistan. A pair of trucks carrying NATO supplies crossed into Afghanistan on Thursday, Pakistani customs officials said, the first time in more than seven months that Pakistan has allowed Western nations to use its roads to supply troops in Afghanistan. (REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed)
Imran Khan, former cricketer and current head of the Tehrik-e-Insaf workers party in Pakistan, joined with many angry Pakistanis in condemning the latest attack by US forces. In Quetta on Friday, protesters burnt portraits of US President Barack Obama and hurled their shoes at effigies of American and NATO officials.
According to Pakistan newspaper The Nation, Khan demanded that details of the strike and the identities of the casualties should be investigated and released so that Pakistanis would know how many women, children and ordinary civilians had been killed. Condemning his own government, he questioned the reasoning of a country that would allow the indiscriminate killing of its citizens and claimed that the Pakistani leadership was equally responsible for those killed in US drone strikes.
The latest assault on comes just days after Pakistan agreed to reopen NATO supply routes to Afghanistan following a mea culpa from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a cross-border incident last year that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead. Pakistan had also called for a cessation of drone strikes on its soil, but neither Clinton nor the US State Department succumbed to those demands. “Demands from Pakistan’s national security commission for the ‘immediate cessation’ of the unmanned Predator strikes were simply ignored,” wrote Ben Doherty in the Sydney Morning Herald.
News of the reopened supply lines and the continued drone strikes has led to elevated protests across Pakistan. Protests were also organised in Islamabad, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Mardan, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan and Dir. A coalition of groups have promised string of demonstration, including a ‘long march’ that would stretch from Lahore to Islamabad in protest against the reopening of the supply lines and ongoing NATO policy.
Obama Confirms US Drone Program in Pakistan ‘US Drones Very Precise’ January 31, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, War.
Tags: cia drones, civilian casualties, drone missiles, georbe monbiot, john brennan, Obama, pakistan, predator, roger hollander, tariz aziz, war
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In frank admission, Obama argues he has authority to bomb sovereign nations and that ‘drones have not caused a great number of civilian casualties’
On Monday, as President Obama was answering questions during an interview conducted by several Americans through a Google+’s “hangout” group video chat feature, he acknowledged publicly the use of US drones and airstrikes inside Pakistan.
In answering, Obama argued that “first of all, drones have not caused a great number of civilian casualties.” A claim that belies evidence. The question came from a young man named, Evan, from Brooklyn, New York, who said: “Mr. President, since you took office you’ve ordered more drone attacks in your first year than your predecessor did in his entire term. These drone attacks cause a lot of civilian casualties. I’m curious to know how you feel they help the nation and whether you think they’re worth it.”
In answering, Obama first argued that “first of all, drones have not caused a great number of civilian casualties. For the most part they have been very precise, precision strikes against Al Qaeda and their affiliates. We have been very careful in how it’s been applied.” He goes on to say that the drone program is “kept on a very tight leash” and that it’s not “just a bunch of folks in a room some where making decisions.”
In a follow up question regarding the degree to which US drone incursions might be “perceived” as interference in other countries, Obama responded that even in “sovereign nations” its better to have pinpoint capabalities, suggesting airstrike accuracy lessens the infringment of sovereignty in those nations, and, in fact, are helpful to those countries because they could not otherwise apprehend (or annihilate) these targets.
Subsequently, Obama confirmed that “a lot of these strikes have been in the FATA [Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas].”
Pakistan Calls Drone Use, Missile Strikes ‘Unlawful’ and ‘Counterproductive’
The controversial drone programme run by the CIA has often been met with protests in Pakistan amid concerns of civilian casualties. The Pakistani government publicly protests the operations, but is believed to support them.
A spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry reiterated the government’s public protest in response to Obama’s comments.
“Notwithstanding tactical advantages of drone strikes, we are of the firm view that these are unlawful, counterproductive and hence unacceptable,” Abdul Basit said.
The New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington, says drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 1,715 and 2,680 people in the past eight years.
The New America Foundation report, Year of the Drone, which studied drone attacks and civilian casualties, strongly refutes Obama’s claim that drones “have not caused a great number of civilian casualties.” According to the report:
Our study shows that the 283 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, including 70 in 2011, from 2004 to the present have killed approximately between 1,717 and 2,680 individuals, of whom around 1,424 to 2,209 were described as militants in reliable press accounts. Thus, the true non-militant fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 17 percent. In 2010, it was more like five percent.*
We have also constructed a map, based on the same reliable press accounts and publicly available maps, of the estimated location of each drone strike. Click each pin in the online version to see the details of a reported strike. And while we are not professional cartographers, and Google Maps is at times incomplete or imperfect, this map gives our best approximations of the locations and details of each reported drone strike since 2004.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012 by The Guardian/UK
With Its Deadly Drones, the US is Fighting a Coward’s War
As technology allows machines to make their own decisions, warfare will become bloodier – and less accountable
The ancient Greeks, unlike the Jews or the Christians, invested their gods with human failings. Divine judgment, they believed, was neither flawless nor dispassionate; it was warped by lust, vengeance and self-interest. In the hands of Zeus, the thunderbolt was both an instrument of justice and a weapon of jealousy and revenge.
(Illustration by Daniel Pudles)
Those now dispensing judgment from on high are not gods, though they must feel like it. The people striking mortals down with drones are doubtless as capable as anyone else of self-deception, denial and cognitive illusions. More so, perhaps, as the eminent fictions of the Bush years and the growing delusions of the current president suggest.
Barack Obama began last week’s state of the union address by claiming that the troops who had fought the Iraq war had “made the United States safer and more respected around the world”. Like Bush, like the gods, he has begun to create the world he wants to inhabit.
These power-damaged people have been granted the chance to fulfill one of humankind’s abiding fantasies: to vaporize their enemies, as if with a curse or a prayer, effortlessly and from a safe distance. That these powers are already being abused is suggested by the mendacity of those who are deploying them. The CIA, which is running the undeclared and unacknowledged drone war in Pakistan, insists that there have been no recent civilian casualties. So does Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan. It is a blatant whitewash.
As a report last year by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism showed, of some 2,300 people killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan from 2004 until August 2011, between 392 and 781 appear to have been civilians; 175 were children. In the period about which the CIA and Brennan made their claims, at least 45 civilians have been killed. As soon as an agency claims “we never make mistakes”, you know that it has lost its moorings, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn suggested in his story of that title. Feeling no obligation to apologize or explain, count bodies or answer for its crimes, it becomes a danger to humanity.
It may be true, as the US air force says, that because a drone can circle and study a target for hours before it strikes, its missiles are less likely to kill civilians than those launched from a piloted plane. (The air force has yet to explain how it reconciles this with its boast that drones “greatly shorten decision time”.) But it must also be true that the easier and less risky a deployment is, the more likely it is to happen.
This danger is acknowledged in a remarkably candid assessment published by the UK’s Ministry of Defense, which also deploys drones, and has also used them to kill civilians. It maintains that the undeclared air war in Pakistan and Yemen “is totally a function of the existence of an unmanned capability – it is unlikely a similar scale of force would be used if this capability were not available”. Citing the German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, it warns that the brutality of war seldom escalates to its absolute form, partly because of the risk faced by one’s own forces. Without risk, there’s less restraint. With these unmanned craft, governments can fight a coward’s war, a god’s war, harming only the unnamed.
The danger is likely to escalate as drone warfare becomes more automated and the lines of accountability less clear. Last week the US navy unveiled a drone that can land on an aircraft carrier without even a remote pilot. The Los Angeles Times warned that “it could usher in an era when death and destruction can be dealt by machines operating semi-independently“. The British assessment suggests that within a few years drones assisted by artificial intelligence could make their own decisions about whom to kill and whom to spare. Sorry sir, computer says yes.
“Some would say one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist,” George HW Bush opined on when he was vice-president. “I reject this notion. The philosophical differences are stark and fundamental.” Perhaps they are, but no US administration has convincingly defined them or consistently recognized them. In Latin America, south-east Asia, Africa and the Middle East, successive presidents have thwarted freedom and assisted state terrorism. Drones grant governments new opportunities to snuff out opposition of any kind, terrorist or democrat. The US might already be making use of them.
In October last year, a 16-year-old called Tariq Aziz was traveling through North Waziristan in Pakistan with his 12-year-old cousin, Waheed Khan. Their car was hit by a missile from a US drone. As always, their deaths made them guilty: if we killed them, they must be terrorists. But they weren’t. Tariq was about to start work with the human rights group Reprieve, taking pictures of the aftermath of drone strikes. A mistake? Possibly. But it is also possible that he was murdered out of self-interest. If you have such powers, if you are not held to account by Congress, the media or the American people, why not use them?
The danger to democracy, and not just in Pakistan but one day perhaps everywhere, should be evident. Yet, as fatalistic as the ancient Greeks, we drift into this with scarcely a murmur of debate, leaving the gods to decide.© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited
George Monbiot is the author of the best selling books The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order and Captive State: the corporate takeover of Britain. He writes a weekly column for the Guardian newspaper. Visit his website at www.monbiot.comhttp://www.facebook.com/plugins/like.php?action=like&api_key=136747246350953&channel_url=https%3A%2F%2Fs-static.ak.fbcdn.net%2Fconnect%2Fxd_proxy.php%3Fversion%3D3%23cb%3Df2c06f236b5108e%26origin%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.commondreams.org%252Ff3173f5c77dacf8%26relation%3Dparent.parent%26transport%3Dpostmessage&colorscheme=light&extended_social_context=false&font=arial&href=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.commondreams.org%2Fview%2F2012%2F01%2F31-1&layout=button_count&locale=en_US&node_type=link&sdk=joey&show_faces=false&width=90
Huge Protest in Pakistan Against US Drone Attacks January 29, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War, War on Terror.
Tags: drone missiles, drones, imperialism, pakistan, pakistan government, predator missiles, roger hollander, u.s. military, Yousuf Raza Gilani
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‘Drones are counter-productive’
Over 100,000 Pakistanis rallied in Karachi Friday afternoon to protest US drone strikes on their country. The demonstrators also demanded that the Pakistani government continue the blockade on the NATO supply route to Afghanistan.
Over 100,000 Pakistanis rallied in Karachi Friday afternoon to protest US drone strikes on their country. The Times of India reports:
DAVOS — Pakistan’s prime minister said today that there was “a trust deficit” between Islamabad and Washington as he criticized the resumption of US drone strikes on his country’s tribal belt.
Speaking the day after over 100,000 people massed in Karachi to protest the strikes, Yousuf Raza Gilani said they only served to bolster militants.
“Drones are counter-productive. We have very ably isolated militants from the local tribes. When there are drone attacks that creates sympathy for them again,” Gilani told reporters at the Davos forum.
“It makes the job of the political leadership and the military very difficult. We have never allowed the drone attacks and we have always maintained that they are unacceptable, illegal and counterproductive.”
Relations between the United States and Pakistan have deteriorated sharply over the last year, with Islamabad furious about the surprise deadly raid on al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad last year. [...]
In public, Pakistani leaders always insist they are against drone strikes, which are deeply unpopular in the country, but US officials insist that they privately cooperate with the program.
Agence France-Presse reports:
“We are being forced to become extremists. When you and your religion are humiliated in Guantanamo Bay detention center and your children are being crushed under tanks, then what the victims will ultimately do? They’ll counter your extremism with extremism.”[...] “We are not the enemies of the people of the West and the United States, but we reject the Americans’ attitude by which they always demand of a servile obedience from us,” JUI leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman told the crowd in Pakistan’s financial capital.
The party was not against the talks between Pakistan and the US, “but it should be between two equal sides,” the leader of the country’s most influential religous party said, kicking off campaigning ahead of general elections scheduled next year.
Senior police official Ahsan Zulfiqar said more than 100,000 people attended the gathering in front of the mausoleum of the country’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Rehman said communism vanished after the fall of Soviet Union and a similar fate was beckoning the West, with the US staring at an “imminent defeat” in Afghanistan.
“Movements like Occupy Wall Street are just the beginning of the end of the imperialism of America and its Western allies,” he said.
“We are being forced to become extremists. When you and your religion are humiliated in Guantanamo Bay detention center and your children are being crushed under tanks, then what the victims will ultimately do? They’ll counter your extremism with extremism.”
The CIA’s Unaccountable Drone War Claims Another Casualty November 7, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Pakistan, War on Terror.
Tags: cia drones, drone missile, hellfire missile, pakistan, pakistan drones, pratap chatterjee, predator, reaper missile, roger hollander, stephen preston, Taliban, tariq aziz, waheed khan
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If Tariq Aziz, the 16-year-old soccer fan I met last week in Pakistan, was a dangerous Taliban terrorist, let the CIA prove it.
Last Friday, I met a boy, just before he was assassinated by the CIA. Tariq Aziz was 16, a quiet young man from North Waziristan, who, like most teenagers, enjoyed soccer. Seventy-two hours later, a Hellfire missile is believed to have killed him as he was traveling in a car to meet his aunt in Miran Shah, to take her home after her wedding. Killed with him was his 12-year-old cousin, Waheed Khan.
Over 2,300 people in Pakistan have been killed by such missiles carried by drone aircraft such as the Predator and the Reaper, and launched by remote control from Langley, Virginia. Tariq and Waheed brought the known total of children killed in this way to 175, according to statistics maintained by the organization I work for, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
The final order to kill is signed allegedly by Stephen Preston, the general counsel at the CIA headquarters. What evidence, I would like to know, does Mr Preston have against Tariq and Waheed? What right does he have to act as judge, jury and executioner of two teenage boys neither he nor his staff have ever met, let alone cross-examined, or given the opportunity to present witnesses?
It is not too late to call for a prosecution and trial of whoever pushed the button and the US government officials who gave the order: that is, Mr Preston and his boss, President Barack Obama.
There are many people whom I know who can appear as witnesses in this trial. We – a pair of reporters, together with several lawyers from Britain, Pakistan and the US – met the victim and dozens of other young men from North Waziristan for dinner at the Margalla hotel in Islamabad on Thursday 27 October. We talked about their local soccer teams, which they proudly related were named for Brazil, New Zealand and other nations, which they had heard about but never visited.
The next morning, I filmed young Tariq walking into a conference hall to greet his elders. I reviewed the tape after he was killed to see what was recorded of some of his last moments: he walks shyly and greets the Waziri elders in the traditional style by briefly touching their chests. With his friends, he walks to a set of chairs towards the back of the hall, and they argue briefly about where each of them will sit. Over the course of the morning, Tariq appears again in many photographs that dozens of those present took, always sitting quietly and listening intently.
Tariq was attending a “Waziristan Grand Jirga” on behalf of drone strike victims in Pakistan, which was held at the Margalla hotel the following day. As is the Pashtun custom, the young men, each of whom had lost a friend or relative in a drone strike, did not speak. For four hours, the Waziri elders debated the drone war, and then they listened to a resolution condemning the attacks, read out by Mirza Shahzad Akbar, a lawyer from the Foundation for Fundamental Rights. The group voted for this unanimously.
Neil Williams, a volunteer from Reprieve, the British legal charity, sat down and chatted with Tariq after the jirga was over. Together, they traveled in a van to the Pakistani parliament for a protest rally against drone strikes led by Imran Khan, a former cricketer, and now the leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaaf political party.
The next day, the group returned home to Waziristan. On Monday, Tariq was killed, according to his uncle Noor Kalam.
The question I would pose to the jury is this: would a terrorist suspect come to a public meeting and converse openly with foreign lawyers and reporters, and allow himself to be photographed and interviewed? More importantly, since he was so easily available, why could Tariq not have been detained in Islamabad, when we spent 48 hours together? Neither Tariz Aziz nor the lawyers attending this meeting had a highly trained private security detail that could have put up resistance.
Attending that jirga, however, were Clive Stafford Smith and Tara Murray, two US lawyers who trained at Columbia and Harvard. They tell me, unequivocally, that US law is based on the fact that every person is innocent until proven guilty. Why was Tariq, even if a terrorist suspect, not offered an opportunity to defend himself?
Let me offer important alternative argument – the US government has a record of making terrible mistakes in this covert war. On 2 September 2010, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan claimed to have killed Muhammad Amin, the alleged Taliban deputy governor of Takhar province in Afghanistan, in a drone strike. There was only one problem: Michael Semple, a Taliban expert at Harvard University, subsequently interviewed Muhammad Amin and confirmed that he was alive and well and living in Pakistan in March 2011.
The man who was killed was Zabet Amanullah, who was out campaigning in parliamentary elections – along with nine of his fellow election workers. This was confirmed by exhaustive research conducted by Kate Clark, a former BBC correspondent in Kabul who now works for the Afghanistan Analysts Network, who had met with Zabet Amanullah in 2008. The error could have been avoided, Clark points out in her report, if US military intelligence officers had just been “watching election coverage on television”, instead of living in its “parallel world” remote from “normal, everyday world of Afghan politics”.
If Barack Obama’s CIA believed in justice and judicial process, they could have attended the Islamabad jirga last Friday and met with Tariq. It was, after all, an open meeting. They could have arrested and charged Tariq with the help of the Pakistani police. If a prosecution is ever mounted over the death of Tariq, those of us who met him on several occasions last week would be happy to testify to the character of the young man that we had met. But if the CIA has evidence to the contrary, it should present it to the world.
Unless the CIA can prove that Tariq Aziz posed an imminent threat (as the White House’s legal advice stipulates a targeted killing must in order for an attack to be carried out), or that he was a key planner in a war against the US or Pakistan, the killing of this 16 year old was murder, and any jury should convict the CIA accordingly.
Pratap Chatterjee is the author of two books about the war on terror: Halliburton’s Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War and Iraq, Inc. (Seven Stories Press, 2004). He is the former executive director of CorpWatch and a shareholder of both Halliburton and KBR.
Tags: abbottabad, abbottabad raid, al-Qaeda, bin laden raid, cia, corporate media, counterterrorism, getting bin laden, investigative journalism, john brennan, journaism, jsoc, khalid bin laden, leon panetta, Lt. General Robert E. “Rooster” Schmidle Jr, Media, navy seals, nicholas schmidle, Osama bin laden, pakistan, roger hollander, russ baker, the new yorker, us navy seals
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Roger’s note: This is straight out of Alice in Wonderland. Given the total capitulation of the mainstream media to the corporate, partisan political and industrial-military intersts, the kind of journalism found in whowhatwhy,com and a handful of other Internet sites are the Zamizdat of today.
Published on Wednesday, August 17, 2011 by WhoWhatWhy.com
The establishment media just keep getting worse. They’re further and further from good, tough investigative journalism, and more prone to be pawns in complicated games that affect the public interest in untold ways. A significant recent example is The New Yorker’s vaunted August 8 exclusive on the vanquishing of Osama bin Laden.
The piece, trumpeted as the most detailed account to date of the May 1 raid in Abbottabad Pakistan, was an instant hit. “Got the chills half dozen times reading @NewYorker killing bin Laden tick tock…exquisite journalism,” tweeted the digital director of the PBS show Frontline. The author, freelancer Nicholas Schmidle, was quickly featured on the Charlie Rose show, an influential determiner of “chattering class” opinion. Other news outlets rushed to praise the story as “exhaustive,” “utterly compelling,” and on and on.
To be sure, it is the kind of granular, heroic story that the public loves, that generates follow-up bestsellers and movie options. The takedown even has a Hollywood-esque code name: “Operation Neptune’s Spear”
Here’s the introduction to the mission commander, full of minute details that help give it a ring of authenticity and the most intimate reportorial access:
James, a broad-chested man in his late thirties, does not have the lithe swimmer’s frame that one might expect of a SEAL—he is built more like a discus thrower. That night, he wore a shirt and trousers in Desert Digital Camouflage, and carried a silenced Sig Sauer P226 pistol, along with extra ammunition; a CamelBak, for hydration; and gel shots, for endurance. He held a short-barrel, silenced M4 rifle. (Others SEALs had chosen the Heckler & Koch MP7.) A “blowout kit,” for treating field trauma, was tucked into the small of James’s back. Stuffed into one of his pockets was a laminated gridded map of the compound. In another pocket was a booklet with photographs and physical descriptions of the people suspected of being inside. He wore a noise-cancelling headset, which blocked out nearly everything besides his heartbeat.
On and on went the “tick-tock.” Yet as Paul Farhi, a Washington Post reporter, noted, that narrative was misleading in the extreme, because the New Yorker reporter never actually spoke to James—nor to a single one of James’s fellow SEALs (who have never been identified or photographed–even from behind–to protect their identity.) Instead, every word of Schmidle’s narrative was provided to him by people who were not present at the raid. Complains Farhi:
…a casual reader of the article wouldn’t know that; neither the article nor an editor’s note describes the sourcing for parts of the story. Schmidle, in fact, piles up so many details about some of the men, such as their thoughts at various times, that the article leaves a strong impression that he spoke with them directly.
That didn’t trouble New Yorker editor David Remnick, according to Farhi:
Remnick says he’s satisfied with the accuracy of the account. “The sources spoke to our fact-checkers,” he said. “I know who they are.”
But we don’t.
On a story of this gravity, should we automatically join in with the huzzahs because it has the imprimatur of America’s most respected magazine? Or would we be wise to approach it with caution?
Most of us are not the trusting naïfs we once were. And with good reason.
The list of consequential events packaged for us by media and Hollywood in unsatisfactory ways continues to grow. It starts, certainly, with the official version of the JFK assassination, widely discredited yet still carried forward by most major media organizations. (For more on that, see this.) More and more people realize that the heroic Woodward & Bernstein story of Nixon’s demise is deeply problematical. (I’ve written extensively on both of these in my book Family of Secrets.)
And untold millions don’t think we’ve heard the real (or at least complete) story of the phenomenal, complex success of those 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001. Skeptics now include former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, who recently speculated that the hijackers may have been able to enter the US and move freely precisely because American intelligence hoped to recruit them as double agents—and that an ongoing cover-up is designed to hide this. And then, of course, there are the Pentagon’s account of the heroic rescue of Jessica Lynch in Iraq, which turned out to be a hoax, and the Pentagon’s fabricated account of the heroic battle death of former NFL player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, who turned out to be a victim of friendly fire. These are just a few from scores of examples of deceit perpetrated upon the American people. Hardly the kind of track record to inspire confidence in official explanations with the imprimatur of the military and the CIA.
Whatever one thinks of these other matters, we’re certainly now at a point where we ought to be prudent in embracing authorized accounts of the latest seismic event: the dramatic end to one of America’s most reviled and storied nemeses.
The bin Laden raid presents us with every reason to be cautious. The government’s initial claims about what transpired at that house in Abbottabad have changed, then changed again, with no proper explanation of the discrepancies. Even making allowances for human error in such shifting accounts, almost every aspect of what we were told requires a willing suspension of disbelief—from the manner of Osama’s death and burial to the purported pornography found at the site. (For more on these issues, see previous articles we wrote on the subject, here, here and here.)
Clarke’s theory will seem less outrageous later, as we explore Saudi intelligence’s crucial, and bizarre, role at the end of bin Laden’s life—working directly with the man who now holds Clarke’s job.
Add to all of this the discovery that the reporter providing this newest account wasn’t even allowed to talk to any raid participants—and the magazine’s lack of candor on this point—and you’ve got an almost unassailable case for treating the New Yorker story with extreme caution.
We might begin by asking the question: Who provided The New Yorker with its exclusive, and what was their agenda in doing so? To try and sort out Schmidle’s sources, I read through the piece carefully several times.
One person who spoke to the reporter, and who is identified by name is John O. Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser. Brennan is quoted directly, briefly, near the top, describing to Schmidle pre-raid debate over whether such an operation would be a success or failure:
John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, told me that the President’s advisers began an “interrogation of the data, to see if, by that interrogation, you’re going to disprove the theory that bin Laden was there.”
The mere fact of Schmidle’s reliance on Brennan at all should send up a flare for the cautious reader. After all, that’s the very same Brennan who was the principal source of incorrect details in the hours and days after the raid. These included the claim that the SEALs encountered substantial armed resistance, not least from bin Laden himself; that it took them an astounding 40 minutes to get to bin Laden, and that the White House got to hear the soldiers’ conversations in real time.
Here’s a Washington Post account from Brennan published on May 3, less than 48 hours after the raid:
Half an hour had passed on the ground, but the American commandos raiding Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani hideaway had yet to find their long-sought target.
…The commandos swept methodically through the compound’s main building, clearing one room and then another as they made their way to the upper floors where they expected to find bin Laden. As they did so, Obama administration officials in the White House Situation Room listened to the SEAL team’s conversations over secure lines.
“The minutes passed like days,” said John O. Brennan, the administration’s chief counterterrorism adviser. “It was probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time, I think, in the lives of the people who were assembled.”
Finally, shortly before 2 a.m. in Pakistan, the commandos burst into an upstairs room.Inside, an armed bin Laden took cover behind a woman, Brennan said. With a burst of gunfire, one of the longest and costliest manhunts in modern history was over.
.. The commandos moved inside, and finally reached bin Laden’s upstairs living quarters after nearly 40 minutes on the ground.
Almost all that turns out to be hogwash—according to the new account produced by The New Yorker three months later. An account that, again, it seems, comes courtesy of Brennan. The minutes did not pass like days. Bin Laden was not armed, and did not take cover behind a woman. And the commandoes most certainly were not on the ground for 40 minutes. Some of them were up the stairs to the higher floors almost in a flash, and it didn’t take long for them to run into and kill bin Laden.
For another take, consider this account from NBC News’ Pentagon correspondent—also reported the week after the raid— two days after Brennan told the Washington Post a completely different story. This one appears to be based on a briefing from military officials who would have been likely to have good knowledge of the operational details:
According to the officials’ account, as the first SEAL team moved into the compound, they took small-arms fire from the guest house in the compound. The SEALs returned fire, killing bin Laden’s courier and the courier’s wife, who died in the crossfire. It was the only time the SEALs were shot at.
The second SEAL team entered the first floor of the main residence and could see a man standing in the dark with one hand behind his back. Fearing he was hiding a weapon, the SEALs shot and killed the lone man, who turned out to be unarmed.
As the U.S. commandos moved through the house, they found several stashes of weapons and barricades, as if the residents were prepared for a violent and lengthy standoff — which never materialized.
The SEALs then made their way up a staircase, where they ran into one of bin Laden’s sons. The Americans immediately shot and killed the 19-year-old son, who was also unarmed, according to the officials.
Hearing the shots, bin Laden peered over the railing from the floor above. The SEALs fired but missed bin Laden, who ducked back into his bedroom. As the SEALs stormed up the stairs, two young girls ran from the room.
One SEAL scooped them up and carried them out of harm’s way. The other two commandos stormed into bin Laden’s bedroom. One of bin Laden’s wives rushed toward the Navy SEAL, who shot her in the leg.
Then, without hesitation, the same commando turned his gun on bin Laden, standing in what appeared to be pajamas, and fired two quick shots, one to the chest and one to the head. Although there were weapons in that bedroom, bin Laden was also unarmed when he was shot.
Instead of a chaotic firefight, the U.S. officials said, the American commando assault was a precision operation, with SEALs moving carefully through the compound, room to room, floor to floor.
In fact, most of the operation was spent in what the military calls “exploiting the site,” gathering up the computers, hard drives, cellphones and files that could provide valuable intelligence on al-Qaida operatives and potential operations worldwide.
The U.S. officials describing the operation said the SEALs carefully gathered up 22 women and children to ensure they were not harmed. Some of the women were put in “flexi-cuffs” the plastic straps used to bind someone’s hands at the wrists, and left them for Pakistani security forces to discover.
Given that Brennan’s initial version of the raid was strikingly erroneous, his later account to The New Yorker is suspect as well. So who else besides Brennan might have been Schmidle’s sources? At one point in his piece, he cites an unnamed counterterrorism official:
A senior counterterrorism official who visited the JSOC redoubt described it as an enclave of unusual secrecy and discretion. “Everything they were working on was closely held,” the official said.
Later, that same unnamed counterterrorism official is again cited, this time seeming to continue Brennan’s narrative of the meeting before the raid, in which participants disagreed on the likely success of such a mission:
That day in Washington, Panetta convened more than a dozen senior C.I.A. officials and analysts for a final preparatory meeting. Panetta asked the participants, one by one, to declare how confident they were that bin Laden was inside the Abbottabad compound. The counterterrorism official told me that the percentages “ranged from forty per cent to ninety or ninety-five per cent,” and added, “This was a circumstantial case.”
From the story’s construction, one could reasonably conclude that the unnamed counterterrorism official is indeed still just Brennan. If not, who could it be? How many different white House counterterrorism officials would have debriefed the SEALs, if indeed that is even their role? How many would have been privy to that planning meeting? And how many different officials would have gotten authorization to sum up the events of that important day for this New Yorker writer? Also, it’s an old journalistic trick to quote the same source, on and off the record— thereby giving the source extra cover when discussing particularly delicate matters.
So, we don’t know whether the article was based on anything more than Brennan, under marching orders to clean up the conflicting accounts he originally put out.
It’s curious that the source chooses to emphasize the fundamental disagreement over whether the raid was a good idea. Presumably, there was a purpose in emphasizing this, but the New Yorker’s “tick-tock”, which is very light on analysis or context, doesn’t tell us what it was. It may have been intended to show Obama as brave, inclined toward big risks (thereby running counter to his reputation)—we can only guess.
This internal discord will get the attention of anyone who remembers all the assertions from intelligence officials over the years that bin Laden was almost certainly already dead—either of natural causes or killed at some previous time.
Here’s a bit more from The New Yorker on officials’ doubts going into the raid:
Several analysts from the National Counterterrorism Center were invited to critique the C.I.A.’s analysis; their confidence in the intelligence ranged between forty and sixty per cent. The center’s director, Michael Leiter, said that it would be preferable to wait for stronger confirmation of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.
Those doubts are particularly interesting for several reasons: the CIA has had a long history of disputes between its covert action wing, which tends to advocate activity, and its analysis section, historically prone to caution. The action wing also has a history of publicizing its being right—when it could purport to be right—and covering up its failures. So when an insider chooses to make public these disagreements, we should be willing to consider motives.
This dispute can also be seen as an intriguing prologue to the rush to dump Bin Laden’s body and not provide proof to the public that it was indeed bin Laden. What if it wasn’t bin Laden that they killed? Would the government announce that after such a high-stakes operation? (“While we thought he’d be there, we accidentally killed someone else instead”? Seems unlikely.)
Now, let us go to the next antechamber of this warren of shadowy entities and unstated agendas.
Who exactly wanted bin Laden shot rather than taken alive and interrogated—and why? There’s been much discussion about the purported reasons for terminating him on sight, but the fact remains that he would have been a source of tremendous intelligence of real value to the safety of Americans and others.
Yet, early in the piece, Schmidle writes:
If all went according to plan, the SEALs would drop from the helicopters into the compound, overpower bin Laden’s guards, shoot and kill him at close range, and then take the corpse back to Afghanistan.
That was the plan? Whose plan? We’ve never been explicitly told by the White House that such a decision had been made. In fact, we’d previously been informed that the president was glad to have the master plotter taken alive if he was unarmed and did not resist. So, that’s a huge and problematical discrepancy that is only heightened by Schmidle’s misleadingly matter-of-fact treatment of the matter.
GET ME RIYADH
If the justification for killing Osama presented in The New Yorker warrants concern, the account of how—and why—they disposed of his body ought to send alarm bells clanging.
At the time of the raid, the decision to hastily dump Osama’s body in the ocean rather than make it available for authoritative forensic examination was a highly controversial one—that only led to more speculation that the White House was hiding something. The justifications, including not wanting to bury him on land for fear of creating a shrine, were almost laughable.
So what do we learn about this from The New Yorker? It’s truly bizarre: the SEALS themselves made the decision. That’s strange enough. But then we learn that Brennan took it upon himself to verify that was the right decision. How did he do this? Not by speaking with the president or top military, diplomatic or legal brass. No, he called some foreigners—get ready–the Saudis, who told him that dumping at sea sounded like a good plan.
Here’s Schmidle’s account:
All along, the SEALs had planned to dump bin Laden’s corpse into the sea—a blunt way of ending the bin Laden myth. They had successfully pulled off a similar scheme before. During a DEVGRU helicopter raid inside Somalia in September, 2009, SEALs had killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, one of East Africa’s top Al Qaeda leaders; Nabhan’s corpse was then flown to a ship in the Indian Ocean, given proper Muslim rites, and thrown overboard. Before taking that step for bin Laden, however, John Brennan made a call. Brennan, who had been a C.I.A. station chief in Riyadh, phoned a former counterpart in Saudi intelligence. Brennan told the man what had occurred in Abbottabad and informed him of the plan to deposit bin Laden’s remains at sea. As Brennan knew, bin Laden’s relatives were still a prominent family in the Kingdom, and Osama had once been a Saudi citizen. Did the Saudi government have any interest in taking the body? “Your plan sounds like a good one,” the Saudi replied.
Let’s consider this. The most wanted man in the world; substantive professional doubts about whether the man in the Abbottabad house is him; tremendous public doubts about whether it could even be him; the most important operation of the Obama presidency; yet the decision about what to do with the body is left to low-level operatives. Keep in mind SEALs are trained to follow orders given by others. They’re expected to apply what they know to unexpected scenarios that come up, but the key strategic decisions— arrived at in advance—are not theirs to make.
Even more strange that Brennan would discuss this with a foreign power. And not just any foreign power, but the regime that is inextricably linked with the domestically-influential family of bin Laden—and home to many of the hijackers who worked for him.
Is it just me, or does this sound preposterous? Obama’s Homeland Security and Counterterrorism adviser is just winging it with key aspects of one of America’s most important, complex and risky operations? And the Saudi government is the one deciding to discard the remains of a man from one of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful families, before the public could receive proper proof of the identity of the body? A regime with a great deal at stake and perhaps plenty to hide.
Also please consider this important caveat: As we noted in a previous article, the claim that the body had already been positively identified via DNA has been disputed by a DNA expert who said that insufficient time had elapsed before the sea burial to complete such tests.
The line about Brennan himself having been a former CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia is just sort of dropped in there. No recognition of what it means that a person of that background was put into that position after 9/11, no recognition that a person of that background and those fraught personal connections is controlling this narrative. He’s not just a “counterterrorism expert”—he is a longtime member of an agency whose mandate includes the frequent use of disinformation. And one who has his own historic direct links to the Saudi regime, a key and problematical player in the larger chess game playing out.
It’s relevant to note that Brennan is not only a career CIA officer (they say no one ever really leaves the Agency, no matter their new title) but one with a lot of baggage. He was deputy director of the CIA at the time of the 9/11 attacks. He was an adviser to Obama’s presidential campaign, after which Obama initially planned to name him CIA director. That appointment was pulled, in part due to criticism from human rights advocates over statements he had made in support of sending terrorism suspects to countries where they might be tortured.
Of course, there could have been other sources besides Brennan. In addition to the unnamed “counterterrorism official” previously cited, the New Yorker mentions a “special operations officer,” as in:
…according to a special-operations officer who is deeply familiar with the bin Laden raid.
Subsequent quotes from him indicate that this had to be a supervisory special ops officer. His comments are surprising:
“This wasn’t a hard op,” the special-operations officer told me. “It would be like hitting a target in McLean”—the upscale Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C.President Barack Obama listening to John Brennans report.
Whoops! Here’s a Special Ops guy saying the Special Ops raid was actually no big deal! Shouldn’t that, if a valid assessment, get more attention? Especially given the endless praise and frequent statements of how difficult the operation was. I mean, the toughness and diciness of the Abbottabad mission is the prime reason we want to read the New Yorker’s account in the first place!
To further underline the point, consider that this fellow is not alone in his assessment:
In the months after the raid, the media have frequently suggested that the Abbottabad operation was as challenging as Operation Eagle Claw and the “Black Hawk Down” incident, but the senior Defense Department official told me that “this was not one of three missions.”…. He likened the routine of evening raids to “mowing the lawn.”
Why would a person overseeing an operation like this deflate the bubble of adoration? It doesn’t seem helpful to the interests of Special Operations – and it doesn’t seem credible, either. So there’s presumably a reason that this person is—again speaking to The New Yorker after this important exclusive has been carefully considered and strategized. We just don’t know what it is, and the magazine doesn’t even bother to wonder.
Most of the other sources seem to play bit roles. One is “a senior adviser to the President” whose only comment is that Obama decided not to trust the Pakistanis with advance notice of the raid—which we already knew. Another— named—source is Ben Rhodes, a deputy national-security adviser, who does not evince any intimate knowledge of the raid itself.
The New Yorker also includes a few other officials who brief Schmidle on general background, like a “senior defense department official” explaining the overall relationship between Special Operations and CIA personnel, and a named former CIA counsel explaining that the Abottabad raid amounted to “a complete incorporation of JSOC [Joint Special Operations Command] into a C.I.A. operation.”
That’s only slipped into the article, but it is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the piece, along with a brief mention of the way in which former Iraq/Afghan commander General David Petraeus has gone to CIA while CIA director Panetta has been made Defense Secretary. (For more on these important but confusing games of high-level musical chairs, which were not deeply scrutinized in the conventional media, see our WhoWhatWhy pieces here and here.)
This may sound too technical for your taste, but the takeaway point is that fundamental realignments are afoot in that vast, massively-funded, powerful and secretive part of the US government that is treated by the corporate press almost as if it does not exist. The tales of internal intrigue that we do not hear would begin to provide us with the real narratives that are not ours to have.
In the New Yorker piece, we do learn lots of things we did not know before—for example, that Special Ops considered tunneling in or coming in by foot rather than helicopter. We learn that CIA director Robert Gates wanted to drop massive bombs on the house. General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared that view—Cartwright is one of the few who is directly identified as a source for Schmidle. That’s important stuff, and worth more than brief mention. And, once again, we need more effort to try and understand why we are being told these things.
“WE REALLY DIDN’T KNOW…WHAT WAS GOING ON”
About two-thirds of the article is a sort of scene-setter, a prologue to on-the-ground story we’ve all been waiting for. But when the big moment arrives, The New Yorker’s Schmidle instead punts:
Meanwhile, James, the squadron commander, had breached one wall, crossed a section of the yard covered with trellises, breached a second wall, and joined up with the SEALs from helo one, who were entering the ground floor of the house. What happened next is not precisely clear. “I can tell you that there was a time period of almost twenty to twenty-five minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on,” Panetta said later, on “PBS NewsHour.”
Until this moment, the operation had been monitored by dozens of defense, intelligence, and Administration officials watching the drone’s video feed. The SEALs were not wearing helmet cams, contrary to a widely cited report by CBS. None of them had any previous knowledge of the house’s floor plan, and they were further jostled by the awareness that they were possibly minutes away from ending the costliest manhunt in American history; as a result, some of their recollections—on which this account is based—may be imprecise and, thus, subject to dispute.
Schmidle claims that the SEALs’ “recollections—on which this account is based”—are subject to dispute. But as I’ve noted, the article is NOT based on their recollections, but on what some source claims to Schmidle were their recollections. Why the summary may be imprecise and thus subject to dispute after it has been filtered by a person controlling the scenario, must be asked. Perhaps this is why The New Yorker is not permitted to speak directly to the SEALs—because of what they could tell the magazine.
Now, killing the men who lived in the compound: First, the SEALs shot and killed the courier, who they say was armed, and his wife, who they say was not, when they emerged from the guesthouse. Then they killed the courier’s brother inside the main house, who they say was armed. Then they moved up the stairs:
…three SEALs marched up the stairs. Midway up, they saw bin Laden’s twenty-three-year-old son, Khalid, craning his neck around the corner. He then appeared at the top of the staircase with an AK-47. Khalid, who wore a white T-shirt with an overstretched neckline and had short hair and a clipped beard, fired down at the Americans. (The counterterrorism official claims that Khalid was unarmed, though still a threat worth taking seriously. “You have an adult male, late at night, in the dark, coming down the stairs at you in an Al Qaeda house—your assumption is that you’re encountering a hostile.”) At least two of the SEALs shot back and killed Khalid.
Ok, that’s pretty strange. First, Schmidle asserts that Khalid bin Laden was armed and fired with an AK-47. Then he quotes the “counterterrorism official” saying that Khalid was unarmed. Why does The New Yorker first run the “Khalid was armed” claim as a fact, and then include Brennan’s disclaimer? What’s really going on here, even from the New Yorker’s editorial standpoint?
Here’s another such instance: a dispute over where Osama was when they first saw him:
Three SEALs shuttled past Khalid’s body and blew open another metal cage, which obstructed the staircase leading to the third floor. Bounding up the unlit stairs, they scanned the railed landing. On the top stair, the lead SEAL swivelled right; with his night-vision goggles, he discerned that a tall, rangy man with a fist-length beard was peeking out from behind a bedroom door, ten feet away. The SEAL instantly sensed that it was Crankshaft [codename for Osama]. (The counterterrorism official asserts that the SEAL first saw bin Laden on the landing, and fired but missed.)
What’s the purpose of all this? How good is intelligence work when they can’t reconstruct whether the singular focus of the operation was first spotted peeking out from a doorway, or standing on the landing above them?
And then one of the most interesting passages, about the kill:
A second SEAL stepped into the room and trained the infrared laser of his M4 on bin Laden’s chest. The Al Qaeda chief, who was wearing a tan shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his head, froze; he was unarmed. “There was never any question of detaining or capturing him—it wasn’t a split-second decision. No one wanted detainees,” the special-operations officer told me. (The Administration maintains that had bin Laden immediately surrendered he could have been taken alive.)
Uh-oh. So who is this Special Operations officer? He is directly disputing the administration’s claim on what surely matters greatly—what were President Obama’s intentions here? And did they always plan to just ignore them? That The New Yorker just drops this in with no further analysis or context is, simply put, shocking.
It seems almost as if Panetta, Obama, and the people in the story who most closely approximate actual representatives of the public in a functioning democracy, were basically cut off from observing what went down that day—or from influencing what transpired.
Consider this statement from Panetta, not included in the New Yorker piece:
“Once those teams went into the compound I can tell you that there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on. And there were some very tense moments as we were waiting for information.
“We had some observation of the approach there, but we did not have direct flow of information as to the actual conduct of the operation itself as they were going through the compound.”
Panetta’s “lost 25 minutes” needs to be seen in the context of a man with civilian roots, notwithstanding two mid-60s years as a Lt. in military intel: Former Congressman, Clinton White House budget chief and Chief of Staff, credentials with civil rights and environment movements—a fellow with real distance from the true spook/military mojo.
Taken together, here’s what we have: President Obama did not know exactly what was going on. He did not decide that bin Laden should be shot. And he did not decide to dump his body in the ocean. The CIA and its Special Ops allies made all the decisions.
Then Brennan, the CIA’s man, put out the version that CIA wanted. (Keep in mind that, as noted earlier, CIA was really running the operation—with Special Ops under its direction).
What we’re looking at, folks, is the reality of democracy in America: A permanent entrenched covert establishment that marches to its own drummer or to drummers unknown. It’s exactly the kind of thing that never gets reported. Too scary. Too real. Better to dismiss this line of inquiry as too “conspiracy theory.”
If that sounds like hyperbole, let me add this rather significant consideration. It is the background of Nicholas Schmidle, the freelancer who wrote the New Yorker piece. It may give us insight into how he landed this extraordinary exclusive on this extraordinarily sensitive matter—information again, significantly, not shared by The New Yorker with its readers:
Schmidle’s father is Marine Lt. General Robert E. “Rooster” Schmidle Jr. General Schmidle served as Commanding Officer of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (Experimental)—that’s essentially Special Operations akin to Navy SEALs. In recent years, he was “assistant deputy commandant for Programs and Resources (Programs)”—where, among other things, he oversaw “irregular warfare.” (See various, including contract specs here on “Special Operations,” and picture caption here) In 2010, he moved into another piece of this, when Obama appointed him deputy commander, U.S. Cyber Command. Cumulatively, this makes the author’s father a very important man in precisely the sort of circles who care how the raid is publicly portrayed—and who would be quite intimate with some of the folks hunkering down with Obama in the Situation Room on the big day.
You can see a photo of Gen. Schmidle on a 2010 panel about “Warring Futures.” Event co-sponsors include Slate magazine and the New America Foundation, both of which, according to Nicholas Schmidle’s website, have also provided Schmidle’s son with an ongoing perch (with Slate giving him a platform for numerous articles from war zones and the foundation employing him as a Fellow.) These parallel relationships grow more disturbing with contemplation.
So let’s get back to the question, Who is driving this Ship of State?
First, consider this passage:
Obama returned to the White House at two o’clock, after playing nine holes of golf at Andrews Air Force Base. The Black Hawks departed from Jalalabad thirty minutes later. Just before four o’clock, Panetta announced to the group in the Situation Room that the helicopters were approaching Abbottabad.
To be really useful reporting here, rather than just meaningless “color”, we’d need some context. Was the golf game’s purpose to blow off steam at an especially tense time? Did Obama not think it important enough for him to be constantly present in the hours leading up to the raid? Is this typical of his schedule when huge things are happening? We desperately need a more realistic sense of what presidents do, how much they’re really in charge, or, instead, figureheads for unnamed individuals who make most of the critical decisions.
Here’s something just as strange: we are told the President took a commanding role in determining key operational tactics, but then didn’t seem interested in important details, after the fact.
Forty-five minutes after the Black Hawks departed, four MH-47 Chinooks launched from the same runway in Jalalabad. Two of them flew to the border, staying on the Afghan side; the other two proceeded into Pakistan. Deploying four Chinooks was a last-minute decision made after President Barack Obama said he wanted to feel assured that the Americans could “fight their way out of Pakistan.”
Now, consider the following climactic New Yorker account of Obama meeting with the squadron commander after it’s all over, with bin Laden dead and the troops home and safe. Schmidle decides to call the commander “James…the names of all the covert operators mentioned in this story have been changed.” The anecdote will feature a canine, one who, in true furry dog story fashion, had already been introduced early in the New Yorker piece, as “Cairo” (it’s not clear whether the dog’s name, too, was changed):
As James talked about the raid, he mentioned Cairo’s role. “There was a dog?” Obama interrupted. James nodded and said that Cairo was in an adjoining room, muzzled, at the request of the Secret Service.
“I want to meet that dog,” Obama said.
“If you want to meet the dog, Mr. President, I advise you to bring treats,” James joked. Obama went over to pet Cairo, but the dog’s muzzle was left on.
Here’s the ending:
Before the President returned to Washington, he posed for photographs with each team member and spoke with many of them, but he left one thing unsaid. He never asked who fired the kill shot, and the SEALs never volunteered to tell him.
Why did the president not want to ask for specifics on the most important parts of the operation—but seemed so interested in a dog that participated? While it is certainly plausible that this happened, we should be wary of one of the oldest p.r. tricks around—get people cooing over an animal, while the real action is elsewhere.
Certainly, Obama’s reaction differs dramatically from that of other previous presidents who always demanded detailed briefings and would have stayed on top of it all throughout—including fellow Democrats JFK, Carter and Clinton. At minimum, it shows a degree of caution or ceremony based upon a desire not to know too much—or an understanding that he may not ask. Does anyone doubt that Bill Clinton would have been on watch 24/7 during this operation, parsing legal, political and operational details throughout, and would have demanded to know who felled America’s most wanted?Nicholas Schmidle
Summing up about the reliability of this account, which is now likely to become required reading for every student in America, long into the future:
- It is based on reporting by a man who fails to disclose that he never spoke to the people who conducted the raid, or that his father has a long background himself running such operations (this even suggests the possibility that Nicholas Schmidle’s own father could have been one of those “unnamed sources.”)
- It seems to have depended heavily on trusting second-hand accounts by people with a poor track record for accurate summations, and an incentive to spin.
- The alleged decisions on killing bin Laden and disposing of his body lack credibility.
- The DNA evidence that the SEALs actually got their man is questionable.
- Though certain members of Congress say they have seen photos of the body (or, to be precise, a body), the rest of us have not seen anything.
- Promised photos of the ceremonial dumping of the body at sea have not materialized.
- The eyewitnesses from the house—including the surviving wives—have disappeared without comment.
We weren’t allowed to hear from the raid participants. And on August 6, seventeen Navy SEALs died when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. We’re told that fifteen of them came, amazingly, from the same SEAL Team 6 that carried out the Abbottabad raid—but that none of the dead were present for the raid. We do get to hear the stories of those men, and their names.
Of course, if any of those men had been in the Abbottabad raid—or knew anything about it of broad public interest, we’d be none the wiser—because, the only “reliable sources” still available (and featured by the New Yorker) are military and intelligence professionals, coming out of a long tradition of cover-ups and fabrications.
Meanwhile, we have this president, this one who according to the magazine article didn’t ask about the core issues—why this man was killed, who killed him, under whose orders, what would be done with the body.
Well, he may not want answers. But we ought to want them. Otherwise, it’s all just a game.
Study: CIA drones strikes have killed 168 children August 12, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War.
Tags: cia drones, civilian casualties, collateral damage, drone missiles, justin elliott, pakistan, predator, roger hollander, war
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Roger’s note: I have been re-thinking the Vietnam War lately. Some 60,000 US soldiers lost their lives, and millions of Vietnamese. That is not to mention the destruction rained on that country by the US military and the ruined lives of countless thousands of returning American GIs. Apart from the militaristic quasi-fascist right, common wisdom says that the war was a failure. The naive analysts refer to it as if it were a mistaken policy (and not as the crime that it was). I am thinking that from the perspective of US geo-political objectives, the war was not a failure. It showed the world how much death and destruction the United States government was prepared to wreak on a peoples who oppose the American Empire. Today President Obama is making a big fuss over the deaths of the government’s trained professional assassins know as the Navy Seals. The Lyndon Johnsons, the Robert McNamaras, the George Bushs, the Dick Cheneys, the Donald Rumsfelds, the Barack Obamas, the Bill and Hillary Clintons … they kill and destroy with impunity. They are the front men (Mrs. Clinton included) for the military-industrial complex, about which ex-president Eisenhower warned in his farewell address. I have no doubt that they believed or believe in their cause and consider their actions justifiable. That, however, does not change the fact that they commit crimes against humanity
Based on international and Pakistani news reports and research on the ground, the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has issued a new study on civilians killed by American drones, concluding that at least 385 civilians have been killed in the past seven years, including at least 168 children.
Here’s a taste of the report, which can be read in full here (warning: graphic images):
Pakistani father Din Mohammad had the misfortune to live next door to militants in Danda Darpakhel, North Waziristan. His neighbours were reportedly part of the Haqqani Network, a group fighting US forces in nearby Afghanistan.
On September 8 2010, the CIA’s Reaper drones paid a visit. Hellfire missiles tore into the compound killing six alleged militants.
One of the Hellfires missed its target, and Din Mohammad’s house was hit. He survived. But his son, his two daughters and his nephew all died. His eldest boy had been a student at a Waziristan military cadet college. The other three children were all below school age.
An Obama administration official told ABC that these numbers are “way off the mark” — but, tellingly, did so on the condition of anonymity, meaning he or she will be protected from any accountability.
Meanwhile, the New York Times’ Scott Shane has an important article reviewing the same issue and in particular Obama counterterrorism adviser John Brennan’s claim in June that for the previous year CIA drone strikes hadn’t caused “a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.” Shane finds that basically every outside observer — including those of all ideological stripes — finds this claim to be preposterous:
Others who question the C.I.A. claim include strong supporters of the drone program like Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal, who closely tracks the strikes.
“The Taliban don’t go to a military base to build bombs or do training,” Mr. Roggio said. “There are families and neighbors around. I believe the people conducting the strikes work hard to reduce civilian casualties. They could be 20 percent. They could be 5 percent. But I think the C.I.A.’s claim of zero civilian casualties in a year is absurd.”
Brennan issued a new statement to the Times suggesting that the CIA has merely “not found credible evidence of collateral deaths” from the drone strikes:
“Fortunately, for more than a year, due to our discretion and precision, the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq, and we will continue to do our best to keep it that way,” Mr. Brennan said.
Given that the drones are operated remotely, it’s far from clear how the CIA even knows who is being killed in many of these strikes.
America’s Disappeared July 18, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Latin America, Torture.
Tags: Alberto Gonzales, Argentina, barry mccaffrey, bush adminsitration, cheney, chris hedges, cia prisons, Condoleezza Rice, david addington, detainees, dirty war, disappeared, drone missiles, george tenet, habeas corpus, human rights, Human Rights Watch, jay bybee, John Ashcroft, john rizzo, john yoo, pakistan, predator missiles, rendition, roger hollander, rumsfeld, torture, william j. haynes
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Dr. Silvia Quintela was “disappeared” by the death squads in Argentina in 1977 when she was four months pregnant with her first child. She reportedly was kept alive at a military base until she gave birth to her son and then, like other victims of the military junta, most probably was drugged, stripped naked, chained to other unconscious victims and piled onto a cargo plane that was part of the “death flights” that disposed of the estimated 20,000 disappeared. The military planes with their inert human cargo would fly over the Atlantic at night and the chained bodies would be pushed out the door into the ocean. Quintela, who had worked as a doctor in the city’s slums, was 28 when she was murdered.(Illustration by Mr. Fish)
A military doctor, Maj. Norberto Atilio Bianco, who was extradited Friday from Paraguay to Argentina for baby trafficking, is alleged to have seized Quintela’s infant son along with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other babies. The children were handed to military families for adoption. Bianco, who was the head of the clandestine maternity unit that functioned during the Dirty War in the military hospital of Campo de Mayo, was reported by eyewitnesses to have personally carried the babies out of the military hospital. He also kept one of the infants. Argentina on Thursday convicted retired Gen. Hector Gamen and former Col. Hugo Pascarelli of committing crimes against humanity at the “El Vesubio” prison, where 2,500 people were tortured in 1976-1978. They were sentenced to life in prison. Since revoking an amnesty law in 2005 designed to protect the military, Argentina has prosecuted 807 for crimes against humanity, although only 212 people have been sentenced. It has been, for those of us who lived in Argentina during the military dictatorship, a painfully slow march toward justice.
Most of the disappeared in Argentina were not armed radicals but labor leaders, community organizers, leftist intellectuals, student activists and those who happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Few had any connection with armed campaigns of resistance. Indeed, by the time of the 1976 Argentine coup, the armed guerrilla groups, such as the Montoneros, had largely been wiped out. These radical groups, like al-Qaida in its campaign against the United States, never posed an existential threat to the regime, but the national drive against terror in both Argentina and the United States became an excuse to subvert the legal system, instill fear and passivity in the populace, and form a vast underground prison system populated with torturers and interrogators, as well as government officials and lawyers who operated beyond the rule of law. Torture, prolonged detention without trial, sexual humiliation, rape, disappearance, extortion, looting, random murder and abuse have become, as in Argentina during the Dirty War, part of our own subterranean world of detention sites and torture centers.
We Americans have rewritten our laws, as the Argentines did, to make criminal behavior legal. John Rizzo, the former acting general counsel for the CIA, approved drone attacks that have killed hundreds of people, many of them civilians in Pakistan, although we are not at war with Pakistan. Rizzo has admitted that he signed off on so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. He told Newsweek that the CIA operated “a hit list.” He asked in the interview: “How many law professors have signed off on a death warrant?” Rizzo, in moral terms, is no different from the deported Argentine doctor Bianco, and this is why lawyers in Britain and Pakistan are calling for his extradition to Pakistan to face charges of murder. Let us hope they succeed.
We know of at least 100 detainees who died during interrogations at our “black sites,” many of them succumbing to the blows and mistreatment of our interrogators. There are probably many, many more whose fate has never been made public. Tens of thousands of Muslim men have passed through our clandestine detention centers without due process. “We tortured people unmercifully,” admitted retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey. “We probably murdered dozens of them …, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.”
Tens of thousands of Americans are being held in super-maximum-security prisons where they are deprived of contact and psychologically destroyed. Undocumented workers are rounded up and vanish from their families for weeks or months. Militarized police units break down the doors of some 40,000 Americans a year and haul them away in the dead of night as if they were enemy combatants. Habeas corpus no longer exists. American citizens can “legally” be assassinated. Illegal abductions, known euphemistically as “extraordinary rendition,” are a staple of the war on terror. Secret evidence makes it impossible for the accused and their lawyers to see the charges against them. All this was experienced by the Argentines. Domestic violence, whether in the form of social unrest, riots or another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil, would, I fear, see the brutal tools of empire cemented into place in the homeland. At that point we would embark on our own version of the Dirty War.
Marguerite Feitlowitz writes in “The Lexicon of Terror” of the experiences of one Argentine prisoner, a physicist named Mario Villani. The collapse of the moral universe of the torturers is displayed when, between torture sessions, the guards take Villani and a few pregnant women prisoners to an amusement park. They make them ride the kiddie train and then take them to a cafe for a beer. A guard, whose nom de guerre is Blood, brings his 6- or 7-year-old daughter into the detention facility to meet Villani and other prisoners. A few years later, Villani runs into one of his principal torturers, a sadist known in the camps as Julian the Turk. Julian recommends that Villani go see another of his former prisoners to ask for a job. The way torture became routine, part of daily work, numbed the torturers to their own crimes. They saw it as a job. Years later they expected their victims to view it with the same twisted logic.
Human Rights Watch, in a new report, “Getting Away With Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees,” declared there is “overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration.” President Barack Obama, the report went on, is obliged “to order a criminal investigation into allegations of detainee abuse authorized by former President George W. Bush and other senior officials.”
But Obama has no intention of restoring the rule of law. He not only refuses to prosecute flagrant war crimes, but has immunized those who orchestrated, led and carried out the torture. At the same time he has dramatically increased war crimes, including drone strikes in Pakistan. He continues to preside over hundreds of the offshore penal colonies, where abuse and torture remain common. He is complicit with the killers and the torturers.
The only way the rule of law will be restored, if it is restored, is piece by piece, extradition by extradition, trial by trial. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice and John Ashcroft will, if we return to the rule of law, face trial. The lawyers who made legal what under international and domestic law is illegal, including not only Rizzo but Alberto Gonzales, Jay Bybee, David Addington, William J. Haynes and John Yoo, will, if we are to dig our way out of this morass, be disbarred and prosecuted. Our senior military leaders, including Gen. David Petraeus, who oversaw death squads in Iraq and widespread torture in clandestine prisons, will be lined up in a courtroom, as were the generals in Argentina, and made to answer for these crimes. This is the only route back. If it happens it will happen because a few courageous souls such as the attorney and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner, are trying to make it happen. It will take time—a lot of time; the crimes committed by Bianco and the two former officers sent to prison this month are nearly four decades old. If it does not happen, then we will continue to descend into a terrifying, dystopian police state where our guards will, on a whim, haul us out of our cells to an amusement park and make us ride, numb and bewildered, on the kiddie train, before the next round of torture.
Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.