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The bin Laden dividend May 13, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Torture, War, War on Terror.
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Roger’s comment: the so-called bin Laden dividend will result in reducing military commitment in Afghanistan and return to the American people their civil liberties?  I will cover any and all bets that this will not occur and am giving 100-1 odds.  Any takers?  Anyone remember the Peace Dividend that was to accrue after the collapse of the Soviet Union?  Well, I am sure that the close to seven hundred billion dollar proposed defense (sic) budget will indeed result in considerable dividends for the massive war profiteering industry.  Is this country great, or what?

By Glenn Greenwald, www.salon.com, May 13, 2011
 
Numerous people have argued that one potential benefit from the death of Osama bin Laden is that it will enable the U.S. Government to diminish its war commitments in that part of the world and finally arrest the steady erosion of civil liberties perpetrated in the name of the War on Terror (as though any of that is the government’s goal).  By contrast, I’ve argued from the start that the bin Laden killing is likely to change nothing of any significance, except that — if anything — the resulting nationalistic pride, the vicarious sensations of power and strength, the substantial political benefits for the President, and the renewed faith in military force would be more likely to intensify rather than arrest these trends.  But that was definitely a minority opinion.
 

As but one example, this person (cheered on by Democratic Party commentators) — aside from falsely attributing to me numerous statements I never made, and thereafter refusing to post my response in the comment section — chided me for failing to realize that “Bin Laden’s death also makes things like closing the gulag at Guantanamo Bay seem likelier and more possible” and that it also “marks what could be the beginning of the end of many of the evils that Glenn Greenwald has consistently written about over the past decade, the opportunity to reassert the principles he determinedly wants to defend.” Andrew Sullivan argued that, in the wake of the bin Laden killing, “Obama will have the leverage to shift strategy drastically [in Afghanistan] in the coming year” and that the “average American” will conclude that “it is time to leave. With our heads high. And justice done.”  Numerous commenters and others have similarly insisted that bin Laden’s death will spawn reversals in America’s War on Terror policies over the last decade.

It’s still far too early to know with any certainty what the outcome will be.  There’s an inertia to our policies that is not going to vanish overnight.  Still, it’s worth considering the numerous events that have occurred since bin Laden’s killing, as I think it gives at least some sense of the direction in which we’ll head:

The New York Times, Tuesday:

The House Armed Services Committee is expected to take up a defense authorization bill on Wednesday that includes a new authorization for the government to use military force in the war on terrorism. . . . 

The provision states that Congress “affirms” that “the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces,” and that the president is authorized to use military force — including detention without trial — of members and substantial supporters of those forces.

That language, which would codify into federal law a definition of the enemy that the Obama administration has adopted in defending against lawsuits filed by Guantánamo Bay detainees, would supplant the existing military force authorization that Congress passed overwhelmingly on Sept. 14, 2001. It instead named the enemy as the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Critics of [the] provision have reacted with alarm to what they see as an effort to entrench in a federal statute unambiguous authority for the executive branch to wage war against terrorists who are deemed associates of Al Qaeda but who lack a clear tie to the Sept. 11 attacks.

In a joint letter to Congress, about two dozen groups — including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights — contended that the proposal amounted to an open-ended grant of authority to the executive branch, legitimizing an unending war from Yemen to Somalia and beyond. 

“This monumental legislation — with a large-scale and practically irrevocable delegation of war power from Congress to the president — could commit the United States to a worldwide war without clear enemies, without any geographical boundaries” and “without any boundary relating to time or specific objective to be achieved,” the letter warned.

 

Human Rights First, yesterday:

 

Associated Press, this morning:

 

Associated Press, last Tuesday:

 

The article noted:  “At least one civilian died when the missiles damaged the restaurant and a nearby home.”

Associated Press, this morning:

 

 The article noted:  “A neighbor, who goes by the name of Ayatullah, says the girl was 12 years old.”

New York Times, Tuesday

Inside the Pentagon, however, officials make the case that rather than using Bin Laden’s death as a justification for withdrawal, the United States should continue the current strategy in Afghanistan to secure additional gains and to further pressure the Taliban to come to the bargaining table for negotiations on political reconciliation.

 

The Los Angeles Times, Friday:

 

Reuters, Sunday:

 

We haven’t been doing all of these things — or any of them — because of Osama bin Laden.  We’ve been doing this because it generates massive benefits for the country’s most powerful political and economic factions, and that hasn’t changed.  Bin Laden was but one of the pretexts to justify it all.  And with him gone (but definitely not forgotten), multiple other pretexts will quickly be created to take his place.  Do the events since his killing leave any real doubt about that?  As but one example, Marc Ambinder — in a hagiographic love letter to the secretive, glorious Joint Special Operations Command that oversaw the bin Laden killing — reveals as though it’s the most natural thing in the world:  

JSOC has fought a silent but successful proxy war against Iran’s Revolutionary Guards — even, National Journal has learned, engaging directly with its soldiers in at least three countries. It has broken up nuclear-proliferation rings. JSOC has developed contingency plans to safeguard Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the event of a coup in that nation. Its intelligence unit helps Colombian commandos dismantle lucrative drug rings that finance Hezbollah operations around the world. It has provided intelligence that has helped to break up domestic terrorism rings. Operating in tandem with other special forces and regular military battalions, JSOC eviscerated al-Qaida’s network in Iraq. It is nothing less than a secret army within the U.S. military.

 

We’re fighting a secret, undeclared, undiscussed hot war against Iran in multiple nations (of limited scope, at least for now), as well as numerous other hidden conflicts, using “a secret army within the U.S. military.”  Does anyone believe any of this undemocratic, massive imperial machinery — and the liberty abridgments that inevitably accompany it — will be dismantled or even meaningfully reduced because Osama bin Laden is dead?

It is true that a few members of Congress are now advocating an Afghanistan withdrawal (though many were already war skeptics), and there is mixed polling on the war there (though the last thing that determines the end of an American war is public opinion). It would be superb — a serious cause for celebration — if the bin Laden killing, now that it’s a fait accompli, did produce these benefits, and it’s certainly worth exploiting that event to try to bring it about.  And we may in fact be tired of our imperial adventure in Afghanistan and ready to re-direct resources to other countries.  But America’s National Security State and its posture of Endless War was and remains motivated by far more than one man, or even Al Qaeda generally.  There’s no will on the part of the political class to reverse it — quite the opposite — and there won’t be until the citizenry demands it. 

UPDATE:  According to Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, the current military plans for “withdrawal” from Afghanistan calls for a whole 5,000 troops to be pulled out in July, followed by “as many as” another 5,000 be the end of the year (h/t David Mizner).  Those plans were prepared prior to bin Laden’s killing, so it remains to be seen whether it changes substantially.

For those interested, the above-referenced blogger at Slacktivist, Fred Clark, has posted a further response, including explaining that long comments are often eaten by his system, an explanation I’ll accept.

Cause and Effect in the ‘Terror War’ December 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, War.
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Published on Tuesday, December 29, 2009 by Salon.comby Glenn Greenwald

“In all their alleged allegedness, this Administration has an allergy to the concept of war, and thus to the tools of war, including strategy and war aims” — Supreme Tough Guy Warrior Mark Steyn, National Review, yesterday.

“The White House has authorized an expansion of the C.I.A.’s drone program in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, officials said this week, to parallel the president’s decision, announced Tuesday, to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan” – New York Times, December 4, 2009.

“In the midst of two unfinished major wars, the United States has quietly opened a third, largely covert front against Al Qaeda in Yemen” — New York Times, yesterday.

_______

Actually, if you count our occupation of Iraq, our twice-escalated war in Afghanistan, our rapidly escalating bombing campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen, and various forms of covert war involvement in Somalia, one could reasonably say that we’re fighting five different wars in Muslim countries — or, to use the NYT‘s jargon, “five fronts” in the “Terror War” (Obama yesterday specifically mentioned Somalia and Yemen as places where, euphemistically, “we will continue to use every element of our national power”).  Add to those five fronts the “crippling” sanctions on Iran many Democratic Party luminaries are now advocating, combined with the chest-besting threats from our Middle East client state that the next wars they fight against Muslims will be even “harsher” than the prior ones, and it’s almost easier to count the Muslim countries we’re not attacking or threatning than to count the ones we are.  Yet this still isn’t enough for America’s right-wing super-warriors, who accuse the five-front-war-President of “an allergy to the concept of war.”  

In the wake of the latest failed terrorist attack on Northwest Airlines, one can smell the excitement in the air — that all-too-familiar, giddy, bipartisan climate that emerges in American media discourse whenever there’s a new country we get to learn about so that we can explain why we’re morally and strategically justified in bombing it some more.  “Yemen” is suddenly on every Serious Person’s lips.  We spent the last month centrally involved to some secret degree in waging air attacks on that country — including some that resulted in numerous civilian deaths — but everyone now knows that this isn’t enough and it’s time to Get Really Serious and Do More.  

For all the endless, exciting talk about the latest Terrorist attack, one issue is, as usual, conspicuously absent:  motive.  Why would a young Nigerian from a wealthy, well-connected family want to blow himself on one of our airplanes along with 300 innocent people, and why would Saudi and Yemeni extremists want to enable him to do so?  When it comes to Terrorism, discussions of motive have been declared more or less taboo from the start because of the dishonest equation of motive discussions with justification — as though understanding the reasons why X happens is to posit that X is legitimate and justifiable.  Causation simply is; it has nothing to do with issues of morality, blame, or justification.  Yet all that is generally permitted to be said in such situations is that Terrorists try to harm us because they’re Evil, and we (of course) are not, and that’s generally the end of the discussion.

Despite that taboo, evidence always ends up emerging on this question.  As numerous reports have indicated, the Al Qaeda group in the Arabian Peninsula has said that this attempted attack is in “retaliation” for the multiple, recent missile attacks on Yemen in which numerous innocent Muslim civilians were killed, as well as for the U.S.’s multi-faceted support for the not-exactly-democratic Yemeni government.  That is similar to reports that Nidal Hasan was motivated to attack Fort Hood because “he was upset at the killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.”  And one finds this quote from an anonymous Yemeni official tacked on to the end of this week’s NYT article announcing the “widening terror war” in Yemen — as though it’s just an afterthought:

“The problem is that the involvement of the United States creates sympathy for Al Qaeda. The cooperation is necessary — but there is no doubt that it has an effect for the common man. He sympathizes with Al Qaeda.”

As always, the most confounding aspect of the reaction to the latest attempted terrorist episode is the professed confusion and self-righteous innocence that is universally expressed.  Whether justified or not, we are constantly delivering death to the Muslim world.  We do not see it very much, but they certainly do.  Again, independent of justification, what do we think is going to happen if we continuously invade, occupy and bomb Muslim countries and arm and enable others to do so?  Isn’t it obvious that our five-front actions are going to cause at least some Muslims — subjected to constant images of American troops in their world and dead Muslim civilians at our hands, even if unintended — to want to return the violence?   Just look at the bloodthirsty sentiments unleashed among Americans even from a failed Terrorist attempt.  What sentiments do we think we’re unleashing from a decade-long (and counting and increasing) multi-front “war” in the Muslim war?

There very well may be some small number of individuals who are so blinded by religious extremism that they will be devoted to random violence against civilians no matter what we do, but we are constantly maximizing the pool of recruits and sympathy among the population on which they depend.  In other words, what we do constantly bolsters their efforts, and when we do, we always seem to move more in the direction of helping them even further.  Ultimately, we should ask ourselves:  if we drop more bombs on more Muslim countries, will there be fewer or more Muslims who want to blow up our airplanes and are willing to end their lives to do so?  That question really answers itself.

Copyright ©2009 Salon Media Group, Inc.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

Charlie Savage on Obama’s embrace of Bush/Cheney “terrorism policies” February 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
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Glenn Greenwald

www.salon.com, February 18, 2009

(updated below)

During the Bush presidency, there were few reporters, if there were any, who were better on issues of civil liberties and executive power abuses than Charlie Savage, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his work exposing the lawlessness of Bush’s signing statements while at The Boston Globe.  For that reason, it will be very difficult even for the hardest-core Obama supporters to dismiss away the following observations about Obama as nothing more than the angry harping of excessively impatient, unfairly harsh and/or alarmist Obama critics (also referred to by some Obama supporters — using the Fox News script — as “Far Leftist, Marxist, reactionary, radical demagogues“).  From Savage this morning in The New York Times:

Even as it pulls back from harsh interrogations and other sharply debated aspects of George W. Bush’s “war on terrorism,” the Obama administration is quietly signaling continued support for other major elements of its predecessor’s approach to fighting Al Qaeda.

In little-noticed confirmation testimony recently, Obama nominees endorsed continuing the C.I.A.’s program of transferring prisoners to other countries without legal rights, and indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without trials even if they were arrested far from a war zone.

The administration has also embraced the Bush legal team’s arguments that a lawsuit by former C.I.A. detainees should be shut down based on the “state secrets” doctrine. It has also left the door open to resuming military commission trials.

And earlier this month, after a British court cited pressure by the United States in declining to release information about the alleged torture of a detainee in American custody, the Obama administration issued a statement thanking the British government “for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information.”

These and other signs suggest that the administration’s changes may turn out to be less sweeping than many had hoped or feared — prompting growing worry among civil liberties groups and a sense of vindication among supporters of Bush-era policies.

Savage lists several other examples of controversial Bush/Cheney “War on Terror” policies which have been either fully embraced or preliminarily welcomed by the Obama administration, all of which have been previously discussed here (though one episode Savage didn’t mention which is one of the most disturbing yet is the Obama DOJ’s ongoing and increasingly aggressive efforts to keep Bush’s NSA warrantless spying program shielded from judicial review, by invoking Bush’s State Secrets argument). 

Concerning the pending dispute over Bush’s wildly broad assertions of executive privilege in order to prevent his aides (such as Karl Rove) from having to disclose information to Congress, Savage quotes Obama’s White House counsel Greg Craig as follows:

Addressing the executive-privilege dispute, Mr. Craig said: “The president is very sympathetic to those who want to find out what happened. But he is also mindful as president of the United States not to do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency. So for that reason, he is urging both sides of this to settle.”

That may be the most revealing quote of the article.  If — as virtually all Bush critics agree — the Bush presidency ushered in a massive and dangerous expansion of executive power, isn’t it necessary, by definition, to scale back some of those powers — i.e., to “undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency” — if those abuses are to be reversed?  The cynical view has long been that Obama will not, on his own, meaningfully uproot Bush’s executive power expansions because political officials do not get into office and then start voluntarily giving up their own power.  Craig’s statement constitutes a virtual affirmation of the cynic’s view of Obama’s intentions.

* * * * *

Having said all of this, and while believing that Savage’s article is of great value in sounding the right alarm bells, I think that he paints a slightly more pessimistic picture on the civil liberties front than is warranted by the evidence thus far (though only slightly).  Additionally, it is all but certain that media stars and right-wing Bush followers will dishonestly exploit Savage’s article to make claims about “vindication of Bush policies” that go far beyond the cautious statements Savage makes.

As Savage notes, there was a flurry of Executive Orders issued by Obama in the first week which are indisputably positive and constitute genuine reversals of some key Bush policies  — banning CIA black sites, guaranteeing International Red Cross access to all detainees (i.e., no more secret detentions), freezing all military commissions, increasing some Executive Branch restrictions on presidential secrecy powers, substantially limiting the interrogation techniques which (at least for now) the CIA is authorized to employ.  All of those orders were, by design, preliminary, incomplete and reversible — and their value is therefore limited — but they were clearly important steps in the right direction.

Additionally, the fact that there are some Obama appointees with some inexcusably horrible, Bush/Cheney-replicating views — such as Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s endorsement of the “war” paradigm to justify indefinite, lawless detention of “enemy combatants” and Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal’s partnership with Bush official Jack Goldsmith to advocate for Orwellian “national security courts” — doesn’t mean that those will become Obama’s policies.  After all, Obama’s own Vice President and Secretary of State last year co-sponsored legislation to ban the use of the State Secrets privilege as a preemptive tool to immunize Presidents from judicial scrutiny of alleged criminality, but that sure didn’t stop the Obama DOJ from embracing exactly that dangerous secrecy weapon in a federal appeals court last week.  Policies become policies when the President adopts them, not when some of his appointees advocate them.

There are also some mildly encouraging signs that Congress will impose checks on Obama’s power when he fails to follow through on his promises to do so.  As Savage notes, numerous members almost immediately re-introduced the State Secrets legislation as a rebuke to Obama after his DOJ advocated that power for itself.  Perhaps more notably — and more surprisingly — Rep. Jane Harman, a Blue Dog who was one of the worst enablers of Bush abuses of the last eight years, wrote an excellent Op-Ed in her local newspaper last week that went way further than Obama has gone in demanding a restoration of basic civil liberties.  She demands that all Guantanamo prisoners be released, sent home, or tried in our existing federal courts; that the Military Commissions Act be repealed in its entirety; and that all new laws in these areas be debated and drafted entirely out in the open, with full public hearings first. 

If someone like Jane Harman is emphatically advocating those measures, then there may be hope that even if, as appears to be the case, Obama is intent on preserving some Bush/Cheney abuses, it will be Congress — which has the ultimate duty here — that stops him.  If, for instance, Obama wants to create some new, due-process-abridging detention scheme on U.S. soil (“national security courts”), he will need Congressional approval, and if someone like Jane Harman is already signaling her opposition, it’s difficult (though hardly impossible) to imagine how he would obtain that.  The fact that Congress has spent the last eight years being complicit, meek, compliant and impotent is no reason to assume they will continue to be.  Congress has a history of being much more assertive with Democratic Presidents, and that could — and should — be an important check on Obama.

* * * * *

Nonetheless, there is no question that Obama has already taken some truly alarming steps, including — in addition to those listed above — invocation of highly dubious secrecy claims to resist FOIA requests and keep Bush/Cheney documents concealed. Moreover, after initially (and very tentatively) defending the limited rendition policy which Leon Panetta said they would continue, I’ve become convinced — for reasons Darren Hutchinson has argued and Savage today pointed out — that there’s more potential mischief in that policy than I immediately recognized.

There’s just no denying that there are substantial and disturbing steps which have been taken.  And critically, the primary excuse offered by Obama supporters for all of these actions — he just needs more time; it’s only been three weeks — is a complete straw man.

These are not complaints that Obama has failed to act quickly enough to reverse Bush/Cheney policies.  Indeed, there are many areas where Obama has explicitly said he needs time before deciding what he wants to do — closing Guantanamo, proceeding with detainee trials; deciding if he wants to claim Bush’s power to indefinitely detain “enemy combatants” on U.S. soil;  responding to some FOIA requests, etc.  Very few civil libertarians — and certainly not me — have objected to his needing more time before he finalizes his exact policies.  That’s perfectly reasonable.   Some of these issues are truly complex, involve many moving parts, and require that many factions which he needs (e.g., inside the CIA) be placated.  Taking some time is reasonable.  The complaint is not that Obama has failed to move quickly enough to repudiate Bush/Cheney abuses.  Virtually nobody is arguing that.

Rather, the criticisms are grounded in the opposite premise:  these cases which have provoked objections are all cases where Obama has already taken affirmative actions to preserve and defend Bush/Cheney policies.  In the State Secrets case, for example, the Obama DOJ explicitly rejected the ACLU’s offer for more time, declaring they do not need or want more time, that they have had ample time to review the issues and have decided that they believe in the Bush/Cheney theory of what the State Secrets privilege allows.  Here’s what Greg Craig told Savage about why the Obama DOJ embraced Bush’s State Secrets theory:

Mr. Craig said Mr. Holder and others reviewed the case and “came to the conclusion that it was justified and necessary for national security” to maintain their predecessor’s stance.

Can that be any clearer?  Not even the Obama DOJ is claiming they needed more time.  They’re saying they had all the time they needed, so Obama supporters should really stop trying to defend them by offering up excuses that the Obama administration itself rejects.

* * * * *

The bottom line is this:  most of the key civil liberties and Constitutional questions that linger from the dark Bush/Cheney era remain unresolved thus far.  Obama has not yet embraced or rejected most of them.  And that is by design.  There was that first week of Executive Orders that made some nice symbolic gestures and, in some cases, took some tangible steps.  In other cases, the Obama administration has already evinced some of the truly disturbing tendencies of its predecessors.  But overall, the truly controversial and weightiest questions have been pushed off to the future (e.g., he ordered Guantanamo closed but has not yet said whether he wants to retain the power to imprison accused Terrorists without a real trial).  In sum: who and what Barack Obama is when it comes to the restoration of our core civil liberties and Constitutional protections remains to be seen.  Those fights are still ones that will be waged.

There are people who believe that Barack Obama is kind, just and good, and thus are going to have a hard time believing that he’s embracing some of the most abusive Bush/Cheney policies even when he does it right in front of their faces.  Others aren’t ever going to object to what Obama does in this area, because they believe (as Bush supporters believed about Bush) that there’s nothing really wrong if Obama wields these same powers since Obama is a kind-hearted ruler and therefore can be trusted not to abuse these powers.  As DCLaw pointed out yesterday, people with that swooning mentality can’t be reached because they don’t really believe in the basic premise on which the country was founded, as enunciated by James Madison in Federalist 51:

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.  

We don’t place faith in the Goodness and kindness of specific leaders — even Barack Obama — to secretly exercise powers for our own Good.  We rely instead on transparency and on constant compulsory limits on those powers as imposed by the Constitution, by other branches, and by law.  That’s what it means to be a nation of laws and not men.  When Obama embraces the same abusive and excessive powers that Bush embraced, it isn’t better because it’s Obama rather than Bush wielding that power.  It’s the same.  And that’s true even if one “trusts” Obama more than Bush. 

A genuine reversal of the last eight years — meaning something more than just sand-papering the roughest edges — will come not from having a kinder-hearted and more magnanimous leader, but only from a restoration of the legal and Constitutional framework that makes a President’s magnanimity irrelevant, since his powers are exercised transparently and with real checks and limits.  It remains very much an open question whether that will happen.  There are some preliminary signs that it could, and some much more concrete signs that it won’t — at least not without a very concerted fight.

 

UPDATE:  Greg Sargent had the same reaction I had to Greg Craig’s disturbing vow that Obama will do nothing to “undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency.”  Self-evidently, it’s very hard to see how Bush/Cheney executive power abuses will be reversed if maximizing presidential power is their guiding principle.

In CQ yesterday, Tim Starks raised several issues similar to the ones Savage raised today, documenting that “on some of the most controversial intelligence issues of the Bush years, President Obama is either following in the footsteps of the former president or positioning himself to be able to do so later, if he chooses.”   Like Savage did, Stark provides a balanced account, taking note of the positive steps Obama has taken.  Still, all of these articles and episodes make conclusively clear that there is very real cause for concern about the direction in which they have been moving.

Obama’s War on Terror May Resemble Bush’s in Some Areas February 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Published: February 17, 2009
New York Times (online)

WASHINGTON — Even as it pulls back from harsh interrogations and other sharply debated aspects of George W. Bush’s “war on terrorism,” the Obama administration is quietly signaling continued support for other major elements of its predecessor’s approach to fighting Al Qaeda.

In little-noticed confirmation testimony recently, Obama nominees endorsed continuing the C.I.A.’s program of transferring prisoners to other countries without legal rights, and indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without trials even if they were arrested far from a war zone.

The administration has also embraced the Bush legal team’s arguments that a lawsuit by former C.I.A. detainees should be shut down based on the “state secrets” doctrine. It has also left the door open to resuming military commission trials.

And earlier this month, after a British court cited pressure by the United States in declining to release information about the alleged torture of a detainee in American custody, the Obama administration issued a statement thanking the British government “for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information.”

These and other signs suggest that the administration’s changes may turn out to be less sweeping than many had hoped or feared — prompting growing worry among civil liberties groups and a sense of vindication among supporters of Bush-era policies.

In an interview, the White House counsel, Gregory B. Craig, asserted that the administration was not embracing Mr. Bush’s approach to the world. But Mr. Craig also said President Obama intended to avoid any “shoot from the hip” and “bumper sticker slogans” approaches to deciding what to do with the counterterrorism policies he inherited.

“We are charting a new way forward, taking into account both the security of the American people and the need to obey the rule of law,” Mr. Craig said. “That is a message we would give to the civil liberties people as well as to the Bush people.”

Within days of his inauguration, Mr. Obama thrilled civil liberties groups when he issued executive orders promising less secrecy, restricting C.I.A. interrogators to Army Field Manual techniques, shuttering the agency’s secret prisons, ordering the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, closed within a year and halting military commission trials.

But in more recent weeks, things have become murkier.

During her confirmation hearing last week, Elena Kagan, the nominee for solicitor general, said that someone suspected of helping finance Al Qaeda should be subject to battlefield law — indefinite detention without a trial — even if he were captured in a place like the Philippines rather than in a physical battle zone.

Ms. Kagan’s support for an elastic interpretation of the “battlefield” amplified remarks that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. made at his own confirmation hearing. And it dovetailed with a core Bush position. Civil liberties groups argue that people captured away from combat zones should go to prison only after trials.

Moreover, the nominee for C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, opened a loophole in Mr. Obama’s interrogation restrictions. At his hearing, Mr. Panetta said that if the approved techniques were “not sufficient” to get a detainee to divulge details he was suspected of knowing about an imminent attack, he would ask for “additional authority.”

To be sure, Mr. Panetta emphasized that the president could not bypass antitorture statutes, as Bush lawyers claimed. And he said that waterboarding — a technique that induces the sensation of drowning, and that the Bush administration said was lawful — is torture.

But Mr. Panetta also said the C.I.A. might continue its “extraordinary rendition” program, under which agents seize terrorism suspects and take them to other countries without extradition proceedings, in a more sweeping form than anticipated.

Before the Bush administration, the program primarily involved taking indicted suspects to their native countries for legal proceedings. While some detainees in the 1990s were allegedly abused after transfer, under Mr. Bush the program expanded and included transfers to third countries — some of which allegedly used torture — for interrogation, not trials.

Mr. Panetta said the agency is likely to continue to transfer detainees to third countries and would rely on diplomatic assurances of good treatment — the same safeguard the Bush administration used, and that critics say is ineffective.

Mr. Craig noted that while Mr. Obama decided “not to change the status quo immediately,” he created a task force to study “rendition policy and what makes sense consistent with our obligation to protect the country.”

He urged patience as the administration reviewed the programs it inherited from Mr. Bush. That process began after the election, Mr. Craig said, when military and C.I.A. leaders flew to Chicago for a lengthy briefing of Mr. Obama and his national security advisers. Mr. Obama then sent his advisers to C.I.A. headquarters to “find out the best case for continuing the practices that had been employed during the Bush administration.”

Civil liberties groups praise Mr. Obama’s early executive orders on national security, but say other signs are discouraging.

For example, Mr. Obama’s Justice Department last week told an appeals court that the Bush administration was right to invoke “state secrets” to shut down a lawsuit by former C.I.A. detainees who say a Boeing subsidiary helped fly them to places where they were tortured.

Margaret Satterthwaite, a faculty director at the human rights center at the New York University law school, said, “It was literally just Bush redux — exactly the same legal arguments that we saw the Bush administration present to the court.”

Mr. Craig said Mr. Holder and others reviewed the case and “came to the conclusion that it was justified and necessary for national security” to maintain their predecessor’s stance. Mr. Holder has also begun a review of every open Bush-era case involving state secrets, Mr. Craig said, so people should not read too much into one case.

“Every president in my lifetime has invoked the state-secrets privilege,” Mr. Craig said. “The notion that invoking it in that case somehow means we are signing onto the Bush approach to the world is just an erroneous assumption.”

Still, the decision caught the attention of a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Two days after the appeals court hearing, they filed legislation to bar using the state-secrets doctrine to shut down an entire case — as opposed to withholding particular evidence.

The administration has also put off taking a stand in several cases that present opportunities to embrace or renounce Bush-era policies, including the imprisonment without trial of an “enemy combatant” on domestic soil, Freedom of Information Act lawsuits seeking legal opinions about interrogation and surveillance, and an executive-privilege dispute over Congressional subpoenas of former White House aides to Mr. Bush over the firing of United States attorneys.

Addressing the executive-privilege dispute, Mr. Craig said: “The president is very sympathetic to those who want to find out what happened. But he is also mindful as president of the United States not to do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency. So for that reason, he is urging both sides of this to settle.”

The administration’s recent policy moves have attracted praise from outspoken defenders of the Bush administration. Last Friday, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page argued that “it seems that the Bush administration’s antiterror architecture is gaining new legitimacy” as Mr. Obama’s team embraces aspects of Mr. Bush’s counterterrorism approach.

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the sequence of “disappointing” recent events had heightened concerns that Mr. Obama might end up carrying forward “some of the most problematic policies of the Bush presidency.”

Mr. Obama has clashed with civil libertarians before. Last July, he voted to authorize eavesdropping on some phone calls and e-mail messages without a warrant. While the A.C.L.U. says the program is still unconstitutional, the legislation reduced legal concerns about one of the most controversial aspects of Mr. Bush’s antiterror strategy.

“We have been some of the most articulate and vociferous critics of the way the Bush administration handled things,” Mr. Craig said. “There has been a dramatic change of direction.”

Why Are We Still at War? February 3, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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by Norman Solomon, www.commondreams.org, February 3, 2009

The United States began its war in Afghanistan 88 months ago. “The war on terror” has no sunset clause. As a perpetual emotion machine, it offers to avenge what can never heal and to fix grief that is irreparable.

For the crimes against humanity committed on Sept. 11, 2001, countless others are to follow, with huge conceits about technological “sophistication” and moral superiority. But if we scrape away the concrete of media truisms, we may reach substrata where some poets have dug.

W.H. Auden: “Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return.

Stanley Kunitz: “In a murderous time / the heart breaks and breaks / and lives by breaking.”

And from 1965, when another faraway war got its jolt of righteous escalation from Washington’s certainty, Richard Farina wrote: “And death will be our darling and fear will be our name.” Then as now came the lessons that taught with unfathomable violence once and for all that unauthorized violence must be crushed by superior violence.

The U.S. war effort in Afghanistan owes itself to the enduring “war on terrorism,” chasing a holy grail of victory that can never be.

Early into the second year of the Afghanistan war, in November 2002, a retired U.S. Army general, William Odom, appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” program and told viewers: “Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It’s a tactic. It’s about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we’re going to win that war. We’re not going to win the war on terrorism.”

But the “war on terrorism” rubric — increasingly shortened to the even vaguer “war on terror” — kept holding enormous promise for a warfare state of mind. Early on, the writer Joan Didion saw the blotting of the horizon and said so: “We had seen, most importantly, the insistent use of Sept. 11 to justify the reconception of America’s correct role in the world as one of initiating and waging virtually perpetual war.”

There, in one sentence, an essayist and novelist had captured the essence of a historical moment that vast numbers of journalists had refused to recognize — or, at least, had refused to publicly acknowledge. Didion put to shame the array of self-important and widely lauded journalists at the likes of the New York Times, the Washington Post, PBS and National Public Radio.

The new U.S. “war on terror” was rhetorically bent on dismissing the concept of peacetime as a fatuous mirage.

Now, in early 2009, we’re entering what could be called Endless War 2.0, while the new president’s escalation of warfare in Afghanistan makes the rounds of the media trade shows, preening the newest applications of technological might and domestic political acquiescence.

And now, although repression of open debate has greatly dissipated since the first months after 9/11, the narrow range of political discourse on Afghanistan is essential to the Obama administration’s reported plan to double U.S. troop deployments in that country within a year.

“This war, if it proliferates over the next decade, could prove worse in one respect than any conflict we have yet experienced,” Norman Mailer wrote in his book “Why Are We at War?” six years ago. “It is that we will never know just what we are fighting for. It is not enough to say we are against terrorism. Of course we are. In America, who is not? But terrorism compared to more conventional kinds of war is formless, and it is hard to feel righteous when in combat with a void…”

Anticipating futility and destruction that would be enormous and endless, Mailer told an interviewer in late 2002: “This war is so unbalanced in so many ways, so much power on one side, so much true hatred on the other, so much technology for us, so much potential terrorism on the other, that the damages cannot be estimated. It is bad to enter a war that offers no clear avenue to conclusion. … There will always be someone left to act as a terrorist.”

And there will always be plenty of rationales for continuing to send out the patrols and launch the missiles and drop the bombs in Afghanistan, just as there have been in Iraq, just has there were in Vietnam and Laos. Those countries, with very different histories, had the misfortune to share a singular enemy, the most powerful military force on the planet.

It may be profoundly true that we are not red states and blue states, that we are the United States of America — but what that really means is still very much up for grabs. Even the greatest rhetoric is just that. And while the clock ticks, the deployment orders are going through channels.

For anyone who believes that the war in Afghanistan makes sense, I recommend the Jan. 30 discussion on “Bill Moyers Journal” with historian Marilyn Young and former Pentagon official Pierre Sprey. A chilling antidote to illusions that fuel the war can be found in the transcript.

Now, on Capitol Hill and at the White House, convenience masquerades as realism about “the war on terror.” Too big to fail. A beast too awesome and immortal not to feed.

And death will be our darling. And fear will be our name.

Norman Solomon is a journalist, historian, and progressive activist. His book “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” has been adapted into a documentary film of the same name. His most recent book is “Made Love, Got War.” He is a national co-chair of the Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign.

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND PASS THE AMMUNITION December 13, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About George Bush, About War, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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cest-la-guerre-lawrence-ferlinghetti-oil-24-in-x-4-in-1988

(“C’est La Guerre,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1988)

 

War on Drugs, War on Terrorism, Pre-emptive War,

Targeted Assassination, the Bush Doctrine:

PERMANENT WAR.

 

Soon-to-be-President Obama:

 

 

“Well, maybe not such a quick withdrawal from Iraq

 

after all.”

 

“Send more to kill and die in Afghanistan.”

 

 

 

PEACE ON EARTH GOOD WILL

TOWARDS PEOPLE

 

Senate Report Finds Rumsfeld Directly Responsible for US Torture of Prisoners December 12, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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www.democracynow.org

December 12, 2008

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, “Mack the Knife.” I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Berlin, from East Berlin, that is. In fact, right around the corner is the theater where this is performed, the Bertolt Brecht Theatre.

We’re joined right now by a longtime German attorney to talk about a bipartisan Senate report that was released on Thursday that accused former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials of being directly responsible for the abuse and torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and other US prisons.

The report stated, “The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”

The report was released by Democratic Senator Carl Levin and Republican John McCain of the Senate Armed Forces Committee. It was based on a nearly two year Senate investigation. The report was issued as speculation is running high in Washington over whether President Bush will issue blanket pardons of officials involved in some of the administration’s more controversial counterterrorism programs.

I’m joined here in Berlin by human rights attorney Wolfgang Kaleck. He is the General Secretary of the European Center of Constitutional and Human Rights. He has twice filed war crimes suits against Donald Rumsfeld in Germany.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Wolfgang.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Hi, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Let’s start off by talking about the significance of this US Senate report. It’s interesting that it’s not only the Democrat Carl Levin but the former Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Well, the report is fine, as many other reports which have been released during the last four years, but, one has to say, it only confirms the information which was already on the table. We had a lot of revelations by colleagues of yours, by Jane Mayer, by other investigative journalists. We had the book of Philippe Sands. And it’s the last report in a row. So what we are interested in is the consequences of all this. You know, where does it lead to? When does the new administration take the necessary measure to deal with these crimes? And they were crimes.

AMY GOODMAN: Do we see any move in that direction with the Barack Obama—just what is being put out now, his selections for his cabinet? Of course, he’s not in power yet.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, we follow a vivid discussion right now in the US. Some people demand at least—and this is the minimum—some kind of truth commission with subpoena powers. But this is the absolute minimum. Yeah, and others, like Michael Ratner from the Center for Constitutional Rights, demand strongly prosecution in the US. And we from Europe follow this process very carefully, because if nothing happens in the US or if Bush files preemptive pardon, we know it’s our turn again here in Europe.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about these lawsuits that you have filed against Donald Rumsfeld and also what most surprised you in the, I mean, US Senate report. You’ve been researching this for a long time, but it’s different when a body like the Senate says things like you have been saying.

WOLFGANG KALECK: No, actually, I’m very happy with the report. It’s another confirmation. And also, you know, it’s not only about dealing with these persons who are—some of them already left the administration. I’m not really interested in these persons, as such. I’m interested in a change of the attitude of the US military’s and the US Secret Service’s, and, of course, I’m interested in a restoration of the rule of law, and that requires investigation and prosecution. And we are very reluctant to have any firm opinion yet on that, because we have to wait for the 20th of January. But we will very carefully follow the first steps of the Obama administration.

AMY GOODMAN: And what most—what you think is most significant in the Senate report?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Well, there are strong conclusions, you know, like saying what we always were saying, that the US military and the CIA were using the methods of the old enemies in the Cold War, like waterboarding, which was used by North Korea, by North Vietnam and by China and the Soviet Union. So, this was already on the table. This is like ridiculous. But it’s good that it’s now being said by a congressional report, of course.

AMY GOODMAN: Your lawsuits that you’ve brought against Donald Rumsfeld—

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —together with the Center for Constitutional Rights—

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —explain what they are and where they’ve gone and why you, as a German attorney, are involved with this at all.

WOLFGANG KALECK: The Center approached us in Germany four years ago, when there was nearly total impunity in the US and no attempts at all to be seen that any other than the “rotten apples,” the twelve persons from the night shift in Abu Ghraib, should be sued for what happened in Abu Ghraib. And so, in 2004, we filed the first lawsuit here in Germany. Actually, it was linked with what you have been discussing right now, because many of the mother units of the acting persons in Abu Ghraib were stationed in Germany, so there was even a territorial connection. Four of the twelve persons—other than Rumsfeld, four of the twelve persons were stationed in Germany. So Germany—in our opinion, Germany had the obligation to pursue this. And against Rumsfeld, our complaint was based on the universal jurisdiction laws in Germany. So that was 2004.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain universal jurisdiction.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Universal jurisdiction is when there is, yeah, no territorial link or no person, no citizen from the country, neither as an actor nor as a victim, as someone involved in the crime. So when there is no connection at all to the country, many countries in the world now have so-called universal jurisdiction laws, which allow them to investigate and prosecute if the state where the crime occurred and if the International Criminal Court won’t take the case. So—but this is only one side of the game.

The other side is what we always said. Yeah, we tried to blame Rumsfeld for—and others, of course, especially the lawyers—for what they’ve done in conducting the torture program, but we don’t have to forget that—and this is not about universal jurisdiction. This is about territorial jurisdiction and about personal jurisdiction. We have many, many European countries right now with pending lawsuits because of their involvement in the US torture program. So we have ongoing trials in Italy, in Spain. We have—even now in Bosnia, in Poland, we have brave prosecutors who are investigating against their own officials. We have parliamentary inquiries. We have criminal investigations in Denmark, in Holland, in many other countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain a few of these?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Because I think there’s very little sense in the United States of what goes on outside of the United States.

WOLFGANG KALECK: You know that the CIA rendition program was called by one investigator of the Council of Europe a “spider’s web.” So, this is to demonstrate the power of the CIA, like covering the whole world with their stations and using air bases all over the world to kidnap people, to torture them and to bring them anywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: By rendition. You’re referring to extraordinary rendition.

WOLFGANG KALECK: By rendition, yeah. I’m referring to the CIA extraordinary rendition program. So, on one hand, this really seems like a very powerful demonstration. On the other hand, they leave traces. Everywhere they act, there is jurisdiction on their actions. So they acted in Italy, for example. They kidnapped a Muslim cleric, Abu Omar, and brought him to Egypt, where he was really brutally tortured. And a brave prosecutor in Italy investigated the case and now is standing on trial against not only CIA agents, but also against the heads of the Italian secret service who helped the CIA.

AMY GOODMAN: But the CIA agents, of course, are not there. They’re being tried in absentia.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what does it mean? It means they can never return to Italy?

WOLFGANG KALECK: They can never return. There are arrest warrants, like there are arrest warrants in Germany against twelve CIA agents. So—

AMY GOODMAN: What happened here in Germany?

WOLFGANG KALECK: In Germany, it’s all because of the case of Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen who was kidnapped in Macedonia and then brought to Afghanistan and then returned to Germany. You know what? But what this means is, four years ago, everybody said suing—a lawsuit against US CIA agents, against US militarists, never brings you anywhere. And four years later, we find ourself in a situation where we have to say, this is, of course, not enough, but this is more than nothing. A lot has been happening. So, many, many lawyers, many prosecutors, many judges in several European countries took action, and I think there is more to come up. And it depends very much—there is much hope on the Obama administration, but it will depend very much if there is really something going on in the US. If not, I guess there will be more and more lawsuits here in Europe.

AMY GOODMAN: Wolfgang Kaleck, your first lawsuit against Rumsfeld in 2004, that was thrown out by the German government.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, that was a nice one, because we filed the lawsuit in late 2004, and they were somehow revising our complaint, because it was a very strong, long complaint. And Rumsfeld announced at a certain point that he wouldn’t come to Germany because of that pending lawsuit. And he wanted to come to the Munich Security Conference on 11th of February in 2005, and so the German prosecutor filed the dismissal on the 10th of February, 2005, one day before, so that Rumsfeld could attend the Munich Security Conference, which he did. So, that was—

AMY GOODMAN: Was the US bringing a lot of pressure to throw this out?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, it seems so. It seems so, because there were also upcoming visits of Condoleezza Rice and re-elected President George Bush by that time.

This attitude of the Germans, which was obviously politically motivated, gave us a fair chance to file a new lawsuit in 2006, where actually not only the Center for Constitutional Rights and we, the Germans, filed the case, but fifty organizations all over the world backed the case. And so, yeah, you know that the case gained a lot of public attention and also initiated a discussion that international justice has to be more than special justice for fallen dictators from Southern countries or special tribunals for Africa. If international justice wants to be taken serious in the future, it has to go after the powerful perpetrators also of the West and the North.

AMY GOODMAN: Wolfgang Kaleck, we’re sitting here in a studio in Berlin, East Berlin, to be exact. For those who are listening on radio, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. You’ll see the backdrop of this broadcast, significant buildings and monuments in Berlin. Can you talk about your concern—against the backdrop of this history, give us a quick one-minute tour of Berlin and its significant places. Even in the break, we were playing Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, “Mack the Knife.” The significance of Bertolt Brecht here, a theater right around the corner.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah. You know, we’re facing the Victory Column, where Barack Obama gave his speech in July. And this was actually a demonstration of war, because Germany was leading many wars in the past.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re showing that backdrop right now.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: This was where—the significance of that place, where Barack Obama spoke?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, yeah. Berlin is full of monuments of war. And the Brandenburg Gate was the place, just where we’re sitting here—that was the first demonstration of Adolf Hitler when he was elected as a chancellor. So we have dealt a lot with impunity. And actually, you know, the Nazi—the whole chapter of the Nazi crimes was never, never really challenged by German justice. So, maybe we the Germans are not the best persons to tell others how to tackle impunity, but some of us learned a lot during the last years.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the wall coming down that divides where we are in East Berlin from West Berlin, that many people don’t even refer to east and west anymore, thinking of it as one united city now, the government back here at the Reichstag?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Now, that’s—the interesting thing for us with the fall of the wall is that it showed that history is open, and sometimes things may happen that you haven’t expected in years before. And that’s, you know, what we are also experiencing with our work against impunity in Southern America, because we deal with cases against Chilean and Argentinean military officers, where, thirty years after the crimes during the dictatorships in the ’70s, these people now find themselves on trial. And so, this is our hope, that the continuous work of human rights organizations, of lawyers and organizations all over the world will at some point result in investigation and prosecution against US torturers.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us today. Wolfgang Kaleck is the General Secretary of the European Center of Constitutional and Human Rights, as we wrap up our trip through Sweden and Germany. We’ll be back in New York on Monday, and we’ll be dealing with the issue of extraordinary rendition there, as well.

Still Preparing to Attack Iran: The Neoconservatives in the Obama Era December 3, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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by: Robert Dreyfuss, TomDispatch.com

photo
Douglas Feith. (Illustration: Paul Giambarba)

   

 

 What, exactly, does Barack Obama’s mild-mannered choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services, former Senator Tom Daschle, have to do with neocons who want to bomb Iran?

    A familiar coalition of hawks, hardliners, and neoconservatives expects Barack Obama’s proposed talks with Iran to fail – and they’re already proposing an escalating set of measures instead. Some are meant to occur alongside any future talks. These include steps to enhance coordination with Israel, tougher sanctions against Iran, and a region-wide military buildup of U.S. strike forces, including the prepositioning of military supplies within striking distance of that country.

    Once the future negotiations break down, as they are convinced will happen, they propose that Washington quickly escalate to war-like measures, including a U.S. Navy-enforced embargo on Iranian fuel imports and a blockade of that country’s oil exports. Finally, of course, comes the strategic military attack against the Islamic Republic of Iran that so many of them have wanted for so long.

    It’s tempting to dismiss the hawks now as twice-removed from power: first, figures like John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith were purged from top posts in the Bush administration after 2004; then the election of Barack Obama and the announcement Monday of his centrist, realist-minded team of establishment foreign policy gurus seemed to nail the doors to power shut for the neocons, who have bitterly criticized the president-elect’s plans to talk with Iran, withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, and abandon the reckless Global War on Terrorism rhetoric of the Bush era.

    “Kinetic Action” Against Iran

    When it comes to Iran, however, it’s far too early to dismiss the hawks. To be sure, they are now plying their trade from outside the corridors of power, but they have more friends inside the Obama camp than most people realize. Several top advisers to Obama – including Tony Lake, UN Ambassador-designate Susan Rice, Tom Daschle, and Dennis Ross, along with leading Democratic hawks like Richard Holbrooke, close to Vice-President-elect Joe Biden or Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton – have made common cause with war-minded think-tank hawks at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and other hardline institutes.

    Last spring, Tony Lake and Susan Rice, for example, took part in a WINEP “2008 Presidential Task Force” study which resulted in a report entitled, “Strengthening the Partnership: How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge.” The Institute, part of the Washington-based Israel lobby, was founded in coordination with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and has been vigorously supporting a confrontation with Iran. The task force report, issued in June, was overseen by four WINEP heavyweights: Robert Satloff, WINEP’s executive director, Patrick Clawson, its chief Iran analyst, David Makovsky, a senior fellow, and Dennis Ross, an adviser to Obama who is also a WINEP fellow.

    Endorsed by both Lake and Rice, the report opted for an alarmist view of Iran’s nuclear program and proposed that the next president set up a formal U.S.-Israeli mechanism for coordinating policy toward Iran (including any future need for “preventive military action”). It drew attention to Israeli fears that “the United States may be reconciling itself to the idea of ‘living with an Iranian nuclear bomb,’” and it raised the spurious fear that Iran plans to arm terrorist groups with nuclear weapons.

    There is, of course, nothing wrong with consultations between the United States and Israel. But the WINEP report is clearly predisposed to the idea that the United States ought to give undue weight to Israel’s inflated concerns about Iran. And it ignores or dismisses a number of facts: that Iran has no nuclear weapon, that Iran has not enriched uranium to weapons grade, that Iran may not have the know-how to actually construct a weapon even if, sometime in the future, it does manage to acquire bomb-grade material, and that Iran has no known mechanism for delivering such a weapon.

    WINEP is correct that the United States must communicate closely with Israel about Iran. Practically speaking, however, a U.S.-Israeli dialogue over Iran’s “nuclear challenge” will have to focus on matters entirely different from those in WINEP’s agenda. First, the United States must make it crystal clear to Israel that under no circumstances will it tolerate or support a unilateral Israeli attack against Iran. Second, Washington must make it clear that if Israel were indeed to carry out such an attack, the United States would condemn it, refuse to widen the war by coming to Israel’s aid, and suspend all military aid to the Jewish state. And third, Israel must get the message that, even given the extreme and unlikely possibility that the United States deems it necessary to go to war with Iran, there would be no role for Israel.

    Just as in the wars against Iraq in 1990-1991 and 2003-2008, the United States hardly needs Israeli aid, which would be both superfluous and inflammatory. Dennis Ross and others at WINEP, however, would strongly disagree that Israel is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

    Ross, who served as Middle East envoy for George H.W. Bush and then Bill Clinton, was also a key participant in a September 2008 task force chaired by two former senators, Daniel Coats (R.-Ind.) and Chuck Robb (D.-Va.), and led by Michael Makovsky, brother of WINEP’s David Makovsky, who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the heyday of the Pentagon neocons from 2002-2006. Robb, incidentally, had already served as the neocons’ channel into the 2006 Iraq Study Group, chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Representative Lee Hamilton. According to Bob Woodward’s latest book, The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008, it was Robb who insisted that the Baker-Hamilton task force include an option for a “surge” in Iraq.

    The report of the Coats-Robb task force – “Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development” – went far beyond the WINEP task force report that Lake and Rice signed off on. It concluded that any negotiations with Iran were unlikely to succeed and should, in any case, be short-lived. As the report put the matter, “It must be clear that any U.S.-Iranian talks will not be open-ended, but will be limited to a pre-determined time period so that Tehran does not try to ‘run out the clock.’”

    Anticipating the failure of the talks, the task force (including Ross) urged “prepositioning military assets,” coupled with a “show of force” in the region. This would be followed almost immediately by a blockade of Iranian gasoline imports and oil exports, meant to paralyze Iran’s economy, followed by what they call, vaguely, “kinetic action.”

    That “kinetic action” – a U.S. assault on Iran – should, in fact, be massive, suggested the Coats-Robb report. Besides hitting dozens of sites alleged to be part of Iran’s nuclear research program, the attacks would target Iranian air defense and missile sites, communications systems, Revolutionary Guard facilities, key parts of Iran’s military-industrial complex, munitions storage facilities, airfields, aircraft facilities, and all of Iran’s naval facilities. Eventually, they say, the United States would also have to attack Iran’s ground forces, electric power plants and electrical grids, bridges, and “manufacturing plants, including steel, autos, buses, etc.”

    This is, of course, a hair-raising scenario. Such an attack on a country that had committed no act of war against the United States or any of its allies would cause countless casualties, virtually destroy Iran’s economy and infrastructure, and wreak havoc throughout the region. That such a high-level group of luminaries should even propose steps like these – and mean it – can only be described as lunacy. That an important adviser to President-elect Obama would sign on to such a report should be shocking, though it has received next to no attention.

    Palling Around With the Neocons

    At a November 6 forum at WINEP, Patrick Clawson, the erudite, neoconservative strategist who serves as the organization’s deputy director for research, laid out the institute’s view of how to talk to Iran in the Obama era. Doing so, he said, is critically important, but only to show the rest of the world that the United States has taken the last step for peace – before, of course, attacking. Then, and only then, will the United States have the legitimacy it needs to launch military action against Iran.

    “What we’ve got to do is to show the world that we’re making a big deal of engaging the Iranians,” he said, tossing a bone to the new administration. “I’d throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into it.” He advocates this approach only because he believes it won’t work. “The principal target with these offers [to Iran] is not Iran,” he adds. “The principal target of these offers is American public opinion and world public opinion.”

    The Coats-Robb report, Meeting the Challenge,” was written by one of the hardest of Washington’s neoconservative hardliners, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute. Rubin, who spent most of the years since 9/11 either working for AEI or, before and during the war in Iraq, for the Wolfowitz-Feith team at the Pentagon, recently penned a report for the Institute entitled: “Can A Nuclear Iran Be Deterred or Contained?” Not surprisingly, he believes the answer to be a resounding “no,” although he does suggest that any effort to contain a nuclear Iran would certainly require permanent U.S. bases spread widely in the region, including in Iraq:

“If U.S. forces are to contain the Islamic Republic, they will require basing not only in GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries, but also in Afghanistan, Iraq, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Without a sizeable regional presence, the Pentagon will not be able to maintain the predeployed resources and equipment necessary to contain Iran, and Washington will signal its lack of commitment to every ally in the region. Because containment is as much psychological as physical, basing will be its backbone.”

    The Coats-Robb report was issued by a little-known group called the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). That organization, too, turns out to be interwoven with WINEP, not least because its foreign policy director is Michael Makovsky. Perhaps the most troubling participant in the Bipartisan Policy Center is Barack Obama’s éminence grise and one of his most important advisers during the campaign, Tom Daschle, who is slated to be his secretary of health and human services. So far, Daschle has not repudiated BPC’s provocative report.

    Ross, along with Richard Holbrooke, recently made appearances amid another collection of superhawks who came together to found a new organization, United Against Nuclear Iran. UANI is led by Mark Wallace, the husband of Nicole Wallace, a key member of Senator John McCain’s campaign team. Among UANI’s leadership team are Ross and Holbrooke, along with such hardliners as Jim Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Fouad Ajami, the Arab-American scholar who is a principal theorist on Middle East policy for the neoconservative movement.

    UANI is primarily a propaganda outfit. Its mission, it says, is to “inform the public about the nature of the Iranian regime, including its desire and intent to possess nuclear weapons, as well as Iran’s role as a state sponsor of global terrorism, and a major violator of human rights at home and abroad” and to “heighten awareness nationally and internationally about the danger that a nuclear-armed Iran poses to the region and the world.”

    Barack Obama has, of course, repeatedly declared his intention to embark on a different path by opening talks with Iran. He’s insisted that diplomacy, not military action, will be at the core of his approach to Tehran. During the election campaign, however, he also stated no less repeatedly that he will not take the threat of military action “off the table.”

    Organizations like WINEP, AIPAC, AEI, BPC, and UANI see it as their mission to push the United States toward a showdown with Iran. Don’t sell them short. Those who believe that such a confrontation would be inconceivable under President Obama ought to ask Tony Lake, Susan Rice, Dennis Ross, Tom Daschle, and Richard Holbrooke whether they agree – and, if so, why they’re still palling around with neoconservative hardliners.

    ——–

    Robert Dreyfuss, an independent journalist in Alexandria, Virginia, is a contributing editor at The Nation magazine, whose website hosts his The Dreyfuss Report, and has written frequently for Rolling Stone, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, and the Washington Monthly. He is the author of “Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam.”

Deepak Chopra on Mumbai: Too Controversial for CNN? November 28, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Political Commentary.
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Michelle Haimoff, Huffington Post, www.huffingtonpost.com

November 27, 2008

A CNN journalist interviewed Deepak Chopra last night about his take on the Mumbai attacks and how to prevent similar attacks in the future, but it looked like producers cut Chopra off when he started to get too controversial.

Chopra: What we have seen in Mumbai has been brewing for a long time, and the war on terrorism and the attack on Iraq compounded the situation. What we call “collateral damage” and going after the wrong people actually turns moderates into extremists, and that inflammation then gets organized and appears as this disaster in Bombay. Now the worst thing that could happen is there’s a backlash on the Muslims from the fundamental Hindus in India, which then will perpetuate the problem. Inflammation will create more inflammation.

CNN: Let me jump in on that because you’re presuming something very important, which is that it’s Muslims who have carried out these attacks and, in some cases, with Washington in their sights.

Chopra: Ultimately the message is always toward Washington because it’s also the perception that Washington, in their way, directly or indirectly funds both sides of the war on terror. They fund our side, then our petrol dollars going to Saudi Arabia through Pakistan and ultimately these terrorist groups, which are very organized. You know Jonathan, it takes a lot of money to do this. It takes a lot of organization to do this. Where’s the money coming from, you know? The money is coming from the vested interests. I’m not talking about conspiracy theories, but what happens is, our policies, our foreign policies, actually perpetuate this problem. Because, you know, 25% of the world’s population is Muslim and they’re the fastest growing segment of the population of the world. The more we alienate the Muslim population, the more the moderates are likely to become extremists.

CNN: I hope you’re – you’ve – (CNN edits out the rest and inserts him concluding the interview saying “Indian physician and philosopher Deepak Chopra.”)

I don’t know why CNN wrapped the Chopra interview so hastily, but perhaps it was because the network had a Chevrolet ad to run. Chevrolet. Which is a manufacturer of automobiles. Which are propelled by gasoline. Which comes from oil rich countries like Saudi Arabia. Which fund Islamic fundamentalists. Which do things like attack hotels in India.

As Thomas L. Friedman has been saying for years, “the price of oil and the pace of freedom are inversely correlated.” When oil prices are high, anti-democratic regimes become richer and more powerful, terrorists get funding and the world is unsafe. When oil prices are low, the “petroauthoritarian regimes [have] to open themselves to foreign investment and educate and empower their people more in order to earn income.” When there is no demand for oil at all, there is simply no money with which to fund terrorists.

I hope that CNN producers didn’t edit the end of the Chopra interview in deference to their car company advertisers. Chopra touched on similar topics with Larry King earlier in the day, so perhaps cutting the interview off was just a formatting decision. I’m going to pretend that it’s that. Because if I thought that a news network in a democratic country was censoring the connection between oil dependence and terrorism for fear of upsetting advertisers I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.

Here’s the video:

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