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AS TENSIONS RISE, STEVE BANNON AND ISIS GET CLOSER TO THEIR COMMON GOAL: CIVILIZATIONAL WAR February 16, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, ISIS/ISIL, Nazi / Fascist, Republicans, Right Wing, Trump, Uncategorized, War, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: when Sarah Palin was selected by McCain as as his vice presidential nominee, we shuddered that someone with an apocalyptic vision had come so close to real armed-to-the-teeth political power.  With the election of Trump and the ascension of Bannon and others, we have now reached that point in history where those in control of the US nuclear arsenal could very well see a nuclear conflagration in a positive light.  The Trump presidency is no joke, SNL notwithstanding.

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION has taken sweeping, drastic measures that it says are necessary to protect Americans from the threat of terrorism, including its executive order halting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. But the radical policies and beliefs of this administration could just as easily end up fueling the narratives of extremist groups fighting the United States. When Trump ran a campaign built on promises to destroy ISIS, how can one explain the fact that supporters of the group in Mosul were reportedly celebrating his Muslim ban?

The order was based on plainly dubious claims about national security, targeting for scrutiny some of the most heavily vetted visitors to the United States. But the tangible purpose it did serve, before being at least temporarily frozen by the courts, was to divide Americans from millions of people in the Muslim world by sending the latter a message of gratuitous insult and contempt — and emboldening the very extremist movements the order was ostensibly directed against.

That kind of polarization may be exactly what some members of the White House want. High-ranking members of the current administration — most notably its chief strategist, Steve Bannon — have publicly espoused apocalyptic theories of history that center on a forthcoming clash between Western countries and the Muslim world, a conflict that many of them seem to perceive as both inevitable and desirable.

There are striking parallels between Bannon’s worldview and the perspective of terrorist groups like the Islamic State, which see the world divided in similarly binary terms — hence their reported enthusiasm for the executive order that Bannon helped author.

A proponent of pseudoscientific theories of history like the “Fourth Turning,” Bannon has predicted the coming of another major U.S. war in the Middle East and a military conflict with what he calls an “expansionist China.” In interviews during the election campaign, Bannon openly described Trump as a “blunt instrument” for his ideological goals.

A 2014 speech that Bannon delivered to an audience at the Vatican provides a hint of what kind of program he might want to use Trump to achieve. In that address, delivered via teleconference, Bannon called for a revival of the tradition of the “church militant,” describing a vague yet apocalyptic threat he claims that Western countries face from both “Islamic jihadist fascism” and their own loss of religious faith.

We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict … to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.

Now consider how Bannon’s hysterical view of history was echoed that same year in a speech by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who issued a similarly vague, yet no less frenzied call to arms:

So let the world know that we are living today in a new era. Whoever was heedless must now be alert. Whoever was sleeping must now awaken. … You will face tribulation and fierce battle. … So prepare your arms, and supply yourselves with piety.

Nowhere are these types of ideas particularly popular. While the Islamic State is held up by anti-Muslim activists in the United States as the quintessential expression of Muslim beliefs, in reality the group is deeply loathed in Muslim-majority countries. In the United States, though Trump won the election, his voter base comprised a distinct minority of the electorate. Even among those who did vote for him, few appear to have done so in enthusiasm for the apocalyptic theories of history held by advisers like Bannon. Huge numbers of people have also taken to the streets in opposition to Trump’s executive orders, which has helped to counteract the administration’s anti-Muslim message to the world, showing that it does not represent the views of all Americans.

But it doesn’t take much for a highly motivated minority to spark a broader conflict.

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President Donald Trump pauses as he signs executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House, on Feb. 3, 2017, in Washington. aPhoto: Aude Guerrucci/Press Pool/Getty Images

ISIS attacks have been deliberately calibrated to shock and offend the sensibilities of Western publics, a strategy that the group openly refers to as “eliminating the grayzone” of coexistence between societies. Many 19th- and 20th-century revolutionary movements were also led by small, militant vanguards that used violence and provocation to help advance their political programs. In their time, these movements achieved real tactical successes. And even today, despite widespread public war-weariness in the United States, ISIS has accomplished its goal of dragging American troops back into armed conflicts in Iraq and Syria that show little sign of abating.

After a series of improbable successes, the radical right-wing vanguard of U.S. politics has now taken control of the government, along with the most powerful military on the planet. In its enthusiasm for civilizational war, it is just the enemy that a group like the Islamic State needs to help validate its desperate and fanatical narrative.

An early example of the kind of harm that the Trump administration can do came in the form of the first special operations forces raid authorized by Trump after his inauguration. In that operation — reportedly promoted to him over dinner with his advisers — a total of 25 civilians were reportedly killed, including nine children under the age of 13. Among those killed was an 8-year-old U.S. citizen, Nawar al-Awlaki, the daughter of deceased al Qaeda proselytizer Anwar al-Awlaki. Images of Awlaki’s daughter and other victims of the raid were broadcast around the world, fueling widespread outrage.

Days later, the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda publicly denounced Trump for carrying out a “massacre” of civilians. The group promised vengeance, saying that global outrage over the deaths meant that “the flame of jihad has ignited and reached all over the world.”

While that may be an overstatement, it is not hard to see how a cycle of tit-for-tat violence, already tacitly established since the start of the war on terror, could accelerate dramatically under an administration that actively seeks to escalate conflict. Where President Obama sought to calm public fears in the aftermath of ISIS attacks, Trump and his administration will undoubtedly seek to inflame them for political gain. It’s only a matter of time before such an attack occurs, and Trump’s reaction could have consequences that quickly spiral out of control.

In his memoirs, published after his suicide in 1942, the exiled Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig described his feelings of despair upon realizing that a “tiny but loud-mouthed party of German Nationalists” had succeeded in seizing power and dragging humanity into a global conflict it had neither wanted or expected. “The personal cause to which I had lent the force of my convictions, the peaceful union of Europe, had been wrecked,” Zweig lamented. “What I feared more than my own death, war waged by everyone against everyone else, had been unleashed for the second time.”

Seven decades after Zweig penned these words, small, well-organized groups of right-wing radicals are once again ascendant across the world. The best hope to stop them may be the popular opposition movements that have begun to stir in the United States. But most importantly, it will take a rejection of the logic of revenge and collective blame on both sides to prevent the apocalyptic visions of extremists from becoming reality.

Obama Killed a 16-Year-Old American in Yemen. Trump Just Killed His 8-Year-Old Sister. January 31, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Constitution, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Trump, Uncategorized, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: As we confront the groundwork for massive atrocities being laid in these first days of the neo-Fascist Trump government, perhaps we need to be reminded that a substantial amount of the groundwork had already been put in place, much of it by the Obama administration.  That the political classes and the mainstream media have no problem with the president of the United States ordering bombings that kill dozens of civilians, including American citizens, it an abomination.  I had read in the New York Times that an American soldier died in these attacks.  That was it.  No mention of the atrocity described in this article.

In 2010, President Obama directed the CIA to assassinate an American citizen in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, despite the fact that he had never been charged with (let alone convicted of) any crime, and the agency successfully carried out that order a year later with a September 2011 drone strike. While that assassination created widespread debate — the once-again-beloved ACLU sued Obama to restrain him from the assassination on the ground of due process and then, when that suit was dismissed, sued Obama again after the killing was carried out — another drone killing carried out shortly thereafter was perhaps even more significant yet generated relatively little attention.

Two weeks after the killing of Awlaki, a separate CIA drone strike in Yemen killed his 16-year-old American-born son, Abdulrahman, along with the boy’s 17-year-old cousin and several other innocent Yemenis. The U.S. eventually claimed that the boy was not their target but merely “collateral damage.” Abdulrahman’s grief-stricken grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, urged the Washington Post “to visit a Facebook memorial page for Abdulrahman,” which explained: “Look at his pictures, his friends, and his hobbies. His Facebook page shows a typical kid.”

Few events pulled the mask off Obama officials like this one. It highlighted how the Obama administration was ravaging Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries: just weeks after he won the Nobel Prize, Obama used cluster bombs that killed 35 Yemeni women and children. Even Obama-supporting liberal comedians mocked the arguments of the Obama DOJ for why it had the right to execute Americans with no charges: “Due Process Just Means There’s A Process That You Do,” snarked Stephen Colbert. And a firestorm erupted when former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs offered a sociopathic justification for killing the Colorado-born teenager, apparently blaming him for his own killing by saying he should have “had a more responsible father.” 

The U.S. assault on Yemeni civilians not only continued but radically escalated over the next five years through the end of the Obama presidency, as the U.S. and the U.K. armed, supported, and provide crucial assistance to their close ally Saudi Arabia as it devastated Yemen through a criminally reckless bombing campaign. Yemen now faces mass starvationseemingly exacerbated, deliberately, by the U.S.-U.K.-supported air attacks. Because of the West’s direct responsibility for these atrocities, they have received vanishingly little attention in the responsible countries.

In a hideous symbol of the bipartisan continuity of U.S. barbarism, Nasser al-Awlaki just lost another one of his young grandchildren to U.S. violence. On Sunday, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, using armed Reaper drones for cover, carried out a commando raid on what it said was a compound harboring officials of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. A statement issued by President Trump lamented the death of an American service member and several others who were wounded, but made no mention of any civilian deaths. U.S. military officials initially denied any civilian deaths, and (therefore) the CNN report on the raid said nothing about any civilians being killed.

But reports from Yemen quickly surfaced that 30 people were killed, including 10 women and children. Among the dead: the 8-year-old granddaughter of Nasser al-Awlaki, Nawar, who was also the daughter of Anwar Awlaki.

 

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As noted by my colleague Jeremy Scahill — who extensively interviewed the grandparents in Yemen for his book and film on Obama’s “Dirty Wars” —  the girl “was shot in the neck and killed,” bleeding to death over the course of two hours. “Why kill children?” the grandfather asked. “This is the new (U.S.) administration — it’s very sad, a big crime.”

The New York Times yesterday reported that military officials had been planning and debating the raid for months under the Obama administration, but Obama officials decided to leave the choice to Trump. The new president personally authorized the attack last week. They claim that the “main target” of the raid “was computer materials inside the house that could contain clues about future terrorist plots.” The paper cited a Yemeni official saying that “at least eight women and seven children, ages 3 to 13, had been killed in the raid,” and that the attack also “severely damaged a school, a health facility and a mosque.”

As my colleague Matthew Cole reported in great detail just weeks ago, Navy SEAL Team 6, for all its public glory, has a long history of “‘revenge ops,’ unjustified killings, mutilations, and other atrocities.” And Trump notoriously vowed during the campaign to target not only terrorists but also their families. All of that demands aggressive, independent inquiries into this operation.

Perhaps most tragic of all is that — just as was true in Iraq — al Qaeda had very little presence in Yemen before the Obama administration began bombing and droning it and killing civilians, thus driving people into the arms of the militant group. As the late, young Yemeni writer Ibrahim Mothana told Congress in 2013:

Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants. … Unfortunately, liberal voices in the United States are largely ignoring, if not condoning, civilian deaths and extrajudicial killings in Yemen.

During George W. Bush’s presidency, the rage would have been tremendous. But today there is little outcry, even though what is happening is in many ways an escalation of Mr. Bush’s policies. …

Defenders of human rights must speak out. America’s counterterrorism policy here is not only making Yemen less safe by strengthening support for AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] but it could also ultimately endanger the United States and the entire world.

This is why it is crucial that — as urgent and valid protests erupt against Trump’s abuses — we not permit recent history to be whitewashed, or long-standing U.S. savagery to be deceitfully depicted as new Trumpian aberrations, or the war on terror framework engendering these new assaults to be forgotten. Some current abuses are unique to Trump, but — as I detailed on Saturday — some are the decades-old byproduct of a mindset and system of war and executive powers that all need uprooting. Obscuring these facts, or allowing those responsible to posture as opponents of all this, is not just misleading but counterproductive: Much of this resides on an odious continuum and did not just appear out of nowhere.

Congress voted on border wall in 2006, Hillary, Schumer, Feinstein voted Yes https://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=109&session=2&vote=00262  Bernie voted no http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2006/roll446.xml 

 

It’s genuinely inspiring to see pervasive rage over the banning of visa holders and refugees from countries like Yemen. But it’s also infuriating that the U.S. continues to massacre Yemeni civilians, both directly and through its tyrannical Saudi partners. That does not become less infuriating — Yemeni civilians are not less dead — because these policies and the war theories in which they are rooted began before the inauguration of Donald Trump. It’s not just Trump but this mentality and framework that need vehement opposition.

Let My People Go May 11, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Torture, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: I wish I knew a way to enlarge this picture.  Its bright colors and brilliant sunshine suggest the mind of an artist filled with optimism and hope.  Would you believe that it was painted by a Guantánamo detainee who has been cleared for release after years of illegal imprisonment yet languors in this hellhole because mean spirited American Republicans have the power to continue his torturous confinement?

 

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On Thursday, CCR (Center for Constitutional Rights) Senior Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei will be heading down to Guantánamo to visit several of CCR’s clients, including Ghaleb Al Bihani and Mohammed Al Hamiri. For men like Ghaleb and Mohammed, who have been cleared for release and yet remain trapped in Guantánamo because of politics, these visits are a lifeline and a way to hold onto a tenuous and fragile hope that they will someday be free again. “I’m working hard to recover that sense of being a human being which was stripped away from me,” Ghaleb told us in a recent letter. He was cleared for release a year ago after a Period Review Board (PRB) hearing at which he, Pardiss, and his team made the case for his release. His hopes raised then, he is fighting hard to keep them alive now. “I will not allow these conditions and circumstances to become a stumbling block into my unknown destiny. He who has will and determination has also strength.” Ghaleb’s case is playing out against the backdrop of debate in Washington around the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). House Republicans are hellbent on including new restrictions on Guantánamo transfers in the NDAA, dedicated to the seemingly sole purpose of ruining President Obama’s legacy. This week the Senate will mark up its bill, with a vote expected later this month. Politicians play games for cheap political gain while men like Ghaleb wonder if they will leave GITMO alive.

Why Does the FBI Have to Manufacture its Own Plots if Terrorism and ISIS Are Such Grave Threats? February 28, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: some of us remember the days when it was joked that the American Communist Party would go broke if the undercover FBI agent members failed to pay their dues.  We also remember Herb Philbrick, the intrepid hero of the television series “I Led Three Lives,”  who in each episode as a double agent uncovered one Russian Commie plot after another to sabotage American industry or security.  The Imperial rulers need an enemy in order for it to pose as a victim and justify its aggressions.  This phenomenon goes back at least as far as the Roman Empire.  Today we have “terrorists” hiding under every bed.  You’d better check yours before you go to sleep tonight (although it may be as likely an FBI agent there as an actual fully fledged time bomb toting terrorist).

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New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, right, speaks during a news conference at police headquarters, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, in New York, regarding three men who were arrested on charges of plotting to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group and wage war against the U.S. Bratton is joined by assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office Diego Rodriguez, second from right, NYPD chief of counterterrorism James Waters, second from left, and Bill Sweeney special agent in charge of the counterterrorism division of the New York field office. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

 

By Glenn Greenwald

February 26, 2015, http://www.firstlook.org

The FBI and major media outlets yesterday trumpeted the agency’s latest counterterrorism triumph: the arrest of three Brooklyn men, ages 19 to 30, on charges of conspiring to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS (photo of joint FBI/NYPD press conference, above). As my colleague Murtaza Hussain ably documents, “it appears that none of the three men was in any condition to travel or support the Islamic State, without help from the FBI informant.” One of the frightening terrorist villains told the FBI informant that, beyond having no money, he had encountered a significant problem in following through on the FBI’s plot: his mom had taken away his passport. Noting the bizarre and unhinged ranting of one of the suspects, Hussain noted on Twitter that this case “sounds like another victory for the FBI over the mentally ill.”

In this regard, this latest arrest appears to be quite similar to the overwhelming majority of terrorism arrests the FBI has proudly touted over the last decade. As my colleague Andrew Fishman and I wrote last month — after the FBI manipulated a 20-year-old loner who lived with his parents into allegedly agreeing to join an FBI-created plot to attack the Capitol — these cases follow a very clear pattern:

The known facts from this latest case seem to fit well within a now-familiar FBI pattern whereby the agency does not disrupt planned domestic terror attacks but rather creates them, then publicly praises itself for stopping its own plots.

First, they target a Muslim: not due to any evidence of intent or capability to engage in terrorism, but rather for the “radical” political views he expresses. In most cases, the Muslim targeted by the FBI is a very young (late teens, early 20s), adrift, unemployed loner who has shown no signs of mastering basic life functions, let alone carrying out a serious terror attack, and has no known involvement with actual terrorist groups.

They then find another Muslim who is highly motivated to help disrupt a “terror plot”: either because they’re being paid substantial sums of money by the FBI or because (as appears to be the case here) they are charged with some unrelated crime and are desperate to please the FBI in exchange for leniency (or both). The FBI then gives the informant a detailed attack plan, and sometimes even the money and other instruments to carry it out, and the informant then shares all of that with the target. Typically, the informant also induces, lures, cajoles, and persuades the target to agree to carry out the FBI-designed plot. In some instances where the target refuses to go along, they have their informant offer huge cash inducements to the impoverished target.

Once they finally get the target to agree, the FBI swoops in at the last minute, arrests the target, issues a press release praising themselves for disrupting a dangerous attack (which it conceived of, funded, and recruited the operatives for), and the DOJ and federal judges send their target to prison for years or even decades (where they are kept in special GITMO-like units). Subservient U.S. courts uphold the charges by applying such a broad and permissive interpretation of “entrapment” that it could almost never be successfully invoked.

Once again, we should all pause for a moment to thank the brave men and women of the FBI for saving us from their own terror plots.

One can, if one really wishes, debate whether the FBI should be engaging in such behavior. For reasons I and many others have repeatedly argued, these cases are unjust in the extreme: a form of pre-emptory prosecution where vulnerable individuals are targeted and manipulated not for any criminal acts they have committed but rather for the bad political views they have expressed. They end up sending young people to prison for decades for “crimes” which even their sentencing judges acknowledge they never would have seriously considered, let alone committed, in the absence of FBI trickery. It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking this is a justifiable tactic, but I’m certain there are people who believe that. Let’s leave that question to the side for the moment in favor of a different issue.

We’re constantly bombarded with dire warnings about the grave threat of home-grown terrorists, “lone wolf” extremists and ISIS. So intensified are these official warnings that The New York Times earlier this month cited anonymous U.S. intelligence officials to warn of the growing ISIS threat and announce “the prospect of a new global war on terror.”

But how serious of a threat can all of this be, at least domestically, if the FBI continually has to resort to manufacturing its own plots by trolling the Internet in search of young drifters and/or the mentally ill whom they target, recruit and then manipulate into joining? Does that not, by itself, demonstrate how over-hyped and insubstantial this “threat” actually is? Shouldn’t there be actual plots, ones that are created and fueled without the help of the FBI, that the agency should devote its massive resources to stopping?

This FBI tactic would be akin to having the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) constantly warn of the severe threat posed by drug addiction while it simultaneously uses pushers on its payroll to deliberately get people hooked on drugs so that they can arrest the addicts they’ve created and thus justify their own warnings and budgets (and that kind of threat-creation, just by the way, is not all that far off from what the other federal law enforcement agencies, like the FBI, are actually doing). As we noted the last time we wrote about this, the Justice Department is aggressively pressuring U.S. allies to employ these same entrapment tactics in order to create their own terrorists, who can then be paraded around as proof of the grave threat.

Threats that are real, and substantial, do not need to be manufactured and concocted. Indeed, as the blogger Digby, citing Juan Cole, recently showed, run-of-the-mill “lone wolf” gun violence is so much of a greater threat to Americans than “domestic terror” by every statistical metric that it’s almost impossible to overstate the disparity:

In that regard, it is not difficult to understand why “domestic terror” and “homegrown extremism” are things the FBI is desperately determined to create. But this FBI terror-plot concoction should, by itself, suffice to demonstrate how wildly exaggerated this threat actually is.

Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

UPDATE: The ACLU of Massachusetts’s Kade Crockford notes this extraordinarily revealing quote from former FBI assistant director Thomas Fuentes, as he defends one of the worst FBI terror “sting” operations of all (the Cromitie prosecution we describe at length here):

If you’re submitting budget proposals for a law enforcement agency, for an intelligence agency, you’re not going to submit the proposal that “We won the war on terror and everything’s great,” cuz the first thing that’s gonna happen is your budget’s gonna be cut in half. You know, it’s my opposite of Jesse Jackson’s ‘Keep Hope Alive’—it’s ‘Keep Fear Alive.’ Keep it alive.

That is the FBI’s terrorism strategy — keep fear alive — and it drives everything they do.

To Be or Not To Be … Charlie January 15, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Europe, France, ISIS/ISIL, Media, Racism, Religion, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: when I heard the news of the bombing in Paris my first reaction was to want every journal in the world the print the offending cartoons, show the terrorists that their unspeakable murderous action was counterproductive, that it provoked the publication by the millions of the the very images they seek to restrain (and to a large degree this has happened, albeit not universal).  But that reaction, of course, implies a rationality on the part of the perpetrators.  It was purely emotional.   None the less, I was “Je suis Charlie” all the way.

Then I noticed something.  Marching in Paris under the banner of “Je suis Charlie” and press freedom are some of the world’s most notorious war criminals, led by none the less than Benjamin Netanyahu, a man with enough blood on his hands to supply the Red Cross for years to come.  And next I read a few articles under the theme of “hey, wait, I may not exactly be Charlie,” that is, Charlie of “Charlie Hebdo,” an often (so I read) racist, sexist, homophobic, misanthropic publication.  Does freedom of speech, I thought to myself, trump bigotry?

I haven’t reached a conclusion yet, but it has become clear to me that it is definitely not a simple question of the values of Western Civilization versus Muslim extremism.  Today it is reported that a former Republican congressman wants the next ISIS beheading to be of those media outlets that didn’t print the current Charlie cover.  A strange freedom of speech and “Je suis Charlie” bedfellow to go along with Netanyahu, Merkel, Hollande, and the rest of the Western world’s murderous leadership.

Something else has just popped into my mind, the famous Barry Goldwater quote from the 1964 election: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”  So, I guess we in the West can boast that we got to extremism well before the Muslims.

Here are some views on the issue.

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Monsters of Our Own Creation

by JOHN WIGHT

The huge march and rally in Paris that took place in the wake of the horrific events that took place in the French capital was a festival of nauseating hypocrisy.

Watching the leaders of governments which, between them, have been responsible for carnage and mayhem on a grand scale – the likes of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for example – leading a march against terrorism and extremism qualified not so much as the theatre of the absurd but as the theatre of the grotesque; impostors at an event that millions of people allowed themselves to hope would mark a step-change in a world scarred by war, barbarism, and injustice.

Sadly, they will be disappointed, as the circular relationship that exists between Western extremism and Islamic extremism will not be broken anytime soon. Indeed, if at all, it will be strengthened after the massacre in Paris, as the congenital condition of Western exceptionalism reasserts itself.

When Frantz Fanon wrote, “Violence is man re-creating himself,” he could have been describing the Kouachi brothers striding up and down the street outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo, assault weapons in hand, prior to and after murdering the French-Algerian police officer lying on the pavement with the ease of men for whom all restraint had been abandoned.

The irony of men acting in the name of Islam callously taking the life of a fellow Muslim should not have come as a surprise, however. The vast majority of victims of Islamic extremism, after all, are Muslims, just as they comprise the vast majority of victims of Western extremism. The point is that at this point the Kouachis at that point appeared euphoric, filled with a sense of their own power and strength, having broken through the final barrier that exists between the agony of powerlessness and liberation from it. They had been transformed by the ‘deed’.

“What is good?” Nietzsche asks, before answering, “All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man.”

Behind them the brothers had left a scene of carnage. For us it was an act of sheer evil, for them justice and power. Within them had taken root a more powerful idea than the one they had been inculcated with growing up with in the heart of Europe. It willed them to seek meaning not in life but in death – that of others and their own.

When confronted by such total rejection of the moral foundations upon which our cultural, social, and human consciousness rests, we dismiss it automatically and unthinkingly, ascribing it to evil, madness, and insanity. Our coping mechanism dare not deviate for a second in this regard. But what if such deeds are acts of rebellion against the evil, madness, and insanity of the status quo, matching evil with evil, madness with madness, and insanity with insanity? What if that?

It is far too simplistic, if understandable, to dismiss such individuals as evil. It allows us to negate their humanity and anything we may recognise in ourselves. They aren’t human beings, such people, they are monsters, beyond the pale and therefore beyond any serious consideration. Ritual condemnation and calumniation is all that society accepts when it comes to those who perpetrate such horrific acts.

Yes, the act of mass murder carried by the Kouachis and Amedy Coulibaly in Paris was monstrous. But was it any more monstrous than the carnage that has been unleashed over many years by men who claim to act in our name? Wasn’t the brutality and barbarism we witnessed on our TV screens, crashing into our collective consciousness, merely a microcosm of the brutality and barbarism that goes by the name Western civilisation? For just as the Enlightenment provided the basis for modern liberal democracy, producing huge advances in science, medicine, and philosophy, it also provided justification for centuries of slavery, colonialism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and super exploitation.

Je suis Charlie (‘I am Charlie’) describes the delimitation of our solidarity with all victims of extremism and barbarism. It allows us to avoid confronting the ugly truth of our culpability in the fate of those victims. When Aime Cesaire warned that “a civilization which justifies colonization—and therefore force—is already a sick civilization, a civilization which is morally diseased, which irresistibly, progressing from one consequence to another, one denial to another, calls for its Hitler, I mean its punishment,” he was talking to us.

The Kouachis and Coulibaly were not products of radical Islam. They, like it, were the products of Western civilization. They were and are monsters of our own creation.

John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1

 

The Spectacular Media Failure on Charlie Hebdo

by SHAMUS COOKE

A core tenet of journalism is answering the question “why.” It’s the media’s duty to explain “why” an event happened so that readers will actually understand what they’re reading.  Leave out the “why” and then assumptions and stereotypes fill in the blank, always readily supplied by politicians whose ridiculous answers are left unquestioned by the corporate media.

Because the real “why” was unexplained in the Charlie Hebdo massacre, an obviously false culprit was created, leading to a moronic national discussion in the U.S. media about whether Islam was “inherently” violent.

For the media to even pose this question either betrays a blinding ignorance about the Middle East and Islam, or a conscious willingness to manipulate public sentiment by only interviewing so-called experts who believe such nonsense.

Media outlets should know that until the 1980’s Islamic fundamentalism was virtually inaudible in the Middle East — outside of the U.S.-supported dictatorship of Saudi Arabia, whose ruling monarchy survives thanks to U.S. support. The official religion of Saudi Arabia is a uniquely fundamentalist version of Islam, which along with the royal family are the two anchors of Saudi government power.

Before the 1980’s, the dominant ideology in the Middle East was pan-Arab socialism, a secular ideology that viewed Islamic fundamentalism as socially and economically regressive. Islamic fundamentalists engaged in terrorist attacks against the “pan-Arab socialist” governments of Egypt, Syria, Libya, Iraq and other governments that aligned themselves with this ideology at various times.

Islamic fundamentalism was virtually extinguished from 1950-1980, with Saudi Arabia and later Qatar being the last bastion and protective base of fundamentalists who were exiled from the secular countries. This dynamic was accentuated during the cold war, where the U.S. aligned itself with Islamic fundamentalism — Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states — while the Soviet Union became allies with the secular nations that identified as “socialist.”

When the 1978 Saur revolution in Afghanistan resulted in yet another socialist-inspired government, the United States responded by working with Saudi Arabia to give tons of weapons, training, and cash to the jihadists of the then-fledgling fundamentalist movement, helping to transform it into a regional social force that soon became the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The U.S.-backed Afghan jihad was the birth of the modern Islamic fundamentalist movement. The jihad attracted and helped organize fundamentalists across the region, as U.S. allies in the Gulf state dictatorships used the state religion to promote it.  Fighters who traveled to fight in Afghanistan returned to their home countries with weapon training and hero status that inspired others to join the movement.

The U.S. later aided the fundamentalists by invading Afghanistan and Iraq, destroying Libya and waging a ruthless proxy war in Syria.  Fundamentalists used these invasions and the consequent destruction of these once-proud nations to show that the West was at war with Islam.

Islamic fundamentalism grew steadily during this period, until it took another giant leap forward, starting with the U.S.-backed proxy war against the Syrian government, essentially the Afghan jihad on steroids.

Once again the U.S. government aligned itself with Islamic fundamentalists, who have been the principal groups fighting the Syrian government since 2012. To gain thousands of needed foreign fighters, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states promoted jihad with their state-sponsored media, religious figures, and oil-rich donors.

While the Syria jihad movement was blossoming in Syria, the U.S. media and politicians were silent, even as groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS were growing exponentially with their huge sums of Gulf state supplied weapons and cash. They were virtually ignored by the Obama administration until the ISIS invasion of Iraq reached the U.S.-sponsored Kurdish region in 2014.

In short, the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria have destroyed four civilizations within Muslim-majority nations. Once proud people have been crushed by war — either killed, injured, made refugees, or smothered by mass unemployment and scarcity. These are the ideal conditions for the Saudi-style Islamic fundamentalism to flourish, where promises of dignity and power resonate with those robbed of both.

Another U.S. media failure over Charlie Hebdo is how “satire” is discussed, where Hebdo’s actions were triumphed as the highest principle of the freedom of the media and speech.

It’s important to know what political satire is, and what it isn’t. Although the definition isn’t strict, political satire is commonly understood to be directed towards governments or powerful individuals. It is a very powerful form of political critique and analysis and deserves the strictest protection under freedom of speech.

However, when this same comedic power is directed against oppressed minorities, as Muslims are in France, the term satire ceases to apply, as it becomes a tool of oppression, discrimination, and racism.

The discrimination that French Muslims face has increased dramatically over the years, as Muslims have been subject to discrimination in politics and the media, most notoriously the 2010 ban on “face covering” in France, directed at the veil used by Muslim women.

This discrimination has increased as the French working class is put under the strain of austerity. Since the global 2008 recession this dynamic has accelerated, and consequently politicians are increasingly relying on scapegoating Muslims, Africans, or anyone who might be perceived as an immigrant.

It’s in this context that the cartoons aimed at offending Muslims by ridiculing their prophet Muhammad — a uniquely and especially offensive act under Islam — is especially insulting, and should be viewed as an incitement of racist hatred in France, where Arabs and North Africans are especially targeted in the right-wing attacks on immigrants.

It’s a sign of how far France has politically fallen that people are claiming solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, which has produced some of the most racist and inflammatory cartoons directed at Muslims, Arabs, and people of North Africans, which contributes to the culture of hatred that resulted in physical attacks against Muslims after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. This is the exact same political dynamic that led to Hitler’s racist scapegoating of the Jews.

Racism in France may have surpassed racism in the United States, since it’s unimaginable that, if the Ku Klux Klan were attacked in the United States for anti-Mexican hate speech, that the U.S. public would announce “I am the KKK.”

Hebdo is of course not a far-right publication. But the consistent attacks on Muslims and Africans show how far Charlie had been incorporated into the French political establishment, which now relies increasingly on scapegoating minorities to remain in power, in order to prevent the big corporations and wealthy from being blamed by the depreciating state of the French working class. Better to blame unions and minorities for the sorry state of the corporate-dominated French economy.

The only way to combat political scapegoating is to focus on the social forces responsible for the economic crisis and have them pay for the solutions that they are demanding the working class to pay through austerity measures and lower wages.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

 

 

Take Action: Share Fahd’s Story December 11, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Torture, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: On the very day of his inauguration in 2009, Obama promised to shut down the Guantánamo Gulag.  Since then he has murdered thousands with his drone missiles, including United States citizens, bombed several Muslim countries, including Libya, Iraq and Pakistan, escalated the invasion in Afghanistan, returned to warfare in Iraq, allowed windfall payouts to corrupt financial institutions, kept his head in the sand about torture in Bagram and torturous forced feeding in Guantánamo, passed a health reform plan that is a windfall to private HMOs and other insurance companies, gone after whistle blowers with a vengeance, developed the doctrine of indefinite detention, deported more undocumented immigrants than all the presidents before him combined, etc. etc. etc.  But over a hundred remain in the rotting confines of  Guantánamo. He claims he lacks the power to close it.

This is known as “hope you can believe in.”

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After months of planning, filming, and production, we are excited to launch our short documentary “Waiting for Fahd: One Family’s Hope for Life Beyond Guantánamo,” which tells the story of CCR client Fahd Ghazy. Last night, we debuted the film at an event in New York City and people were moved to tears. Now we turn to you: please help us SHARE FAHD’s STORY.

Fahd has been illegally detained at Guantánamo since he was 17. He is now 30 years old. Through moving interviews with his family in Yemen, the film paints a vivid portrait of the life that awaits a man who, despite being twice cleared for release, continues to needlessly languish at Guantánamo because of his nationality. A heartbreaking tale of a dream deferred, “Waiting for Fahd” is also a story about the durability of hope.

Over Thanksgiving, I met with Fahd in Guantánamo. He was moved to know that so many of you will now know more about his plight. On his behalf, I ask you to help us tell Fahd’s remarkable story! Please share the film through e-mail, Facebook and Twitter (hashtag #FreeFahd). Stand in solidarity with Fahd by taking a photograph of yourself holding a #FreeFahd sign and uploading it to our Tumblr page.

Raising public awareness around Fahd’s story and the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo is critical to moving decision-makers in the Obama Administration to release Fahd and the scores of other men now approaching their thirteenth year without charge or trial at Guantánamo, including CCR clients Ghaleb Al-Bihani, Tariq Ba Odah, and Mohammed Al-Hamiri.

I asked Fahd what he would say to someone who had seen his film. “Now that you have heard my story and seen my dreams, you cannot turn away… Be a voice for the voiceless – for another human being who is suffering,” he answered.

Be that voice. SHARE FAHD’s STORY. Help us share this film and send a clear message to those who have power over his fate that now is the time to free him so that he can be reunited with his family. Together we can work towards ending indefinite detention at Guantánamo once and for all.

Thank you for your support,

Omar Farah

© Center for Constitutional Rights

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Where Islamic State was born November 16, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, ISIS/ISIL, War, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: this article demonstrates the upsidedown Alice in Wonderland world we live in.  It asks the question: “It’s a scenario that’s long confounded law enforcement: How do you crack down on extremism without creating more of it?”  Dear Law Enforcement, here is the answer: stop invading Muslim countries and bombing their civilian populations.  Then, in referring to those the Americans have put in prison, it notes with straight faced incredulity: “Many were guilty of attacking American soldiers.”  Again, Dear Law Enforcement, when invading foreign countries, would it not be logical and expected for the citizens to attack the invading American soldiers?”

Pogo

During the Iraq War, the U.S. locked up thousands of radicals in Camp Bucca. That gave the future leaders of Islamic State the opportunity to meet — and plan

At the height of the Iraq War, Camp Bucca had 24,000 inmates. Many of Islamic State's leaders were incarcerated and likely met at the sprawling detention centre, located near the Kuwait-Iraq border. Photo taken May 19, 2008.

DAVID FURST / AFP/GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO

At the height of the Iraq War, Camp Bucca had 24,000 inmates. Many of Islamic State’s leaders were incarcerated and likely met at the sprawling detention centre, located near the Kuwait-Iraq border. Photo taken May 19, 2008.

WASHINGTON—In March 2009, in a windswept sliver of Iraq, a sense of uncertainty befell the southern town of Garma, home to one of the Iraq War’s most notorious prisons.

The sprawling detention centre called Camp Bucca, which had detained some of the Iraq War’s most radical jihadists, had just freed hundreds of inhabitants. Families rejoiced, anxiously awaiting their sons, brothers and fathers who had been lost to Bucca for years. But a local official fretted.

“These men weren’t planting flowers in a garden,” police chief Saad Abbas Mahmoud told The Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid, estimating 90 per cent of the freed prisoners would soon resume fighting. “They weren’t strolling down the street. This problem is both big and dangerous. And regrettably, the Iraqi government and the authorities don’t know how big the problem has become.”

Mahmoud’s assessment of Camp Bucca, which funnelled 100,000 detainees through its barracks and closed months later, would prove prescient. The camp now represents an opening chapter in the history of Islamic State — many of its leaders, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, were incarcerated and likely met there.

According to former prison commanders, analysts and soldiers, Camp Bucca provided a unique setting for both prisoner radicalization and inmate collaboration — and it was formative in the development today’s most potent jihadist force.

In all, nine members of the Islamic State’s top command did time at Bucca, according to the terrorist analyst organization Soufan Group. Baghdadi spent five years there; the leader’s No. 2, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, as well as senior military leader Haji Bakr, now deceased, and the leader of foreign fighters, Abu Qasim, were also incarcerated at Bucca, Soufan said. Though it’s likely the men were extremists when they entered the detention centre, the group added, it’s certain they were when they left.

“Before their detention, Mr. al-Baghdadi and others were violent radicals, intent on attacking America,” wrote military veteran Andrew Thompson and academic Jeremi Suri in the New York Times last month. “Their time in prison deepened their extremism and gave them opportunities to broaden their following … The prisons became virtual terrorist universities: The hardened radicals were the professors, the other detainees were the students, and the prison authorities played the role of absent custodian.”

It’s a scenario that’s long confounded law enforcement: How do you crack down on extremism without creating more of it? From the radicalization of white supremacists in U.S. prisons to the United Kingdom’s disastrous bid in the 1970s to incarcerate Irish Republican Army members, the problem is nothing new: prisons are pools of explosive extremism awaiting a spark.

And at Camp Bucca, there was no shortage of sparks. As news of al-Baghdadi’s tenure at Bucca emerged, former prison commander James Skylar Gerrond remembered many of them. “Re: Baghdadi,” he wrote on Twitter in July, “Many of us at Camp Bucca were concerned that instead of just holding detainees, we had created a pressure cooker for extremism.” He worked at the prison between 2006 and 2007, when it was glutted with tens of thousands of radicals, including al-Baghdadi.

Many were guilty of attacking American soldiers. But many more were not — “simply being a ‘suspicious looking’ military-aged male in the vicinity of an attack was enough to land one behind bars,” according to the Times opinion piece.

Shadid reported as much in 2009, confirming that many viewed it “as an appalling miscarriage of justice where prisoners were not charged or permitted to see evidence against them (and) freed detainees may end up swelling the ranks of a subdued insurgency.”

That this subdued insurgency eventually caught fire isn’t much of a surprise. At the height of the Iraq surge in 2007, when the prison had 24,000 inmates, it seethed with extremism. Inhabitants were divided along sectarian lines to ameliorate tension, a military report said, and inmates settled their disputes with Islamic law. “Inside the wire at these compounds are Islamic extremists who will maim or kill fellow detainees for behaviour they consider against Islam,” the military report said.

“Sharia courts enforce a lot of rules inside the compounds,” one soldier quoted in the report said. “Anyone who takes part in behaviour which is seen as ‘Western’ is severely punished by the extremist elements of the compound … It’s quite appalling sometimes.”

Prison commanders such as Gerrond observed the growing extremism. “There was a huge amount of collective pressure exerted on detainees to become more radical in their beliefs,” he told Mother Jones. “ … Detainees turn(ed) to each other for support. If there were radical elements within this support network, there was always the potential that detainees would become more radical.”

But the unique setting at Bucca, which thrust together Saddam Hussein’s Baathist secularists and Islamic fundamentalists, set the stage for something perhaps worse: collaboration. At the prison, the two seemingly incongruous groups joined to form a union “more than a marriage of convenience,” Soufan reported.

Soufan found each group offered the other something it lacked. In the ex-Baathists, jihadists found organizational skills and military discipline. In the jihadists, ex-Baathists found purpose. “In Bucca, the math changed as ideologies adopted military and bureaucratic traits and as bureaucrats became violent extremists,” the Soufan report said.

From the ashes of what former inmates called an “Al Qaeda school,” rose the Islamic State. Indeed, when those inhabitants freed in 2009 returned to Baghdad, the Post reported, they spoke of two things: their conversion to radicalism — and revenge.

To end terrorism by Muslims, end wars on Muslims: Siddiqui November 10, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, ISIS/ISIL, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: It is refreshing, if rare,  to see a main stream media outlet publish an opinion that flies in the face of the official narrative (only war is the solution), one that is sold in the proud tradition of the Big Lie by governments and corporate media alike.  The author of this article himself finishes with this: “The long-term solution to ending terrorism by some Muslims, homegrown or otherwise, is to end Western wars on many Muslims. Yet, curiously, this statement of the obvious is rarely if ever mentioned by our politicians and pundits.”

Syria is the seventh predominantly Muslim country bombed by the U.S. during Barack Obama’s presidency

An explosion follows an air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani on Oct. 28, 2014.

KUTLUHAN CUCEL / GETTY IMAGES

An explosion follows an air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani on Oct. 28, 2014.

Laura Bush was all for saving Afghan women and children from the evil Taliban. So were some feminists, becoming unwitting enablers of America’s long and botched occupation of Afghanistan. So were Stephen Harper and acolytes — until our military mission there came to an end.

Now Harper and Co. are saving Christian, Yazidi and Kurdish minorities from the axes and knives of the evil Islamic State.

But the American-led bombing campaign is already running out of targets, as the jihadists have moved away from open spaces into populated areas. Canadian F-18 jets are bombing trucks and sundry equipment.

Barack Obama, Harper and other allies concede that the caliphate cannot be obliterated without deploying ground troops, which they are unwilling to commit. Instead, they will arm the Iraqi Kurdish militia and train Iraqi forces. The latter will take years, with no guarantee that the newly minted battalions won’t do what the previous batches of American-trained troops did — abandon their posts and cede territory, and their American arms, to the marauding jihadists.

In fact, there’s no military solution. What’s needed is a political settlement in both Iraq and Syria, which is nowhere on the horizon.

An inclusive government in Baghdad would have to entice away two key groups that joined the Islamic State only to protect their interests — several Sunni tribes and former Baathist army officers. The latter have been the brains behind the jihadists’ military strategy of controlling water resources, oil refineries and border posts between Iraq and Syria.

In Syria, a solution is not likely without the help of Russia and Iran. Neither would help without getting something in return — in the case of Iran, a nuclear deal and the lifting of economic sanctions, which Israel, Saudi Arabia and other American allies vociferously oppose.

The longer the current bombing campaign lasts, the more legitimate the Islamic State will become and attract more wannabe jihadists from around the world, including the West.

Why? Not because Muslims are savages and Islam is “a violent religion,” as we are repeatedly told, but because Syria is “the seventh predominantly Muslim country bombed by the U.S. during his (Obama’s) presidency” — Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Iraq — “and he is the fourth consecutive U.S. president to order bombs dropped on Iraq,” writes Glenn Greenwald , well-known American commentator (his italics).

Plus, there have been “the bombing and occupation of still other predominantly Muslim countries by key U.S. allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, carried out with crucial American support. It excludes coups against democratically elected governments, torture, and imprisonment of people with no charges.”

By another measure, the latest bombing is the 14th time the U.S. has attacked a Muslim nation since 1980, writes American military historian Andrew Bacevich in the Washington Post.

He notes that in trying to keep its hold on the Middle East, especially its oil and gas, the U.S. has been good at toppling governments and destroying countries and civilizations, but singularly inept at nation-building — leaving behind chaos and power vacuums.

Bacevich: “By inadvertently sowing instability, the United States has played directly into the hands of anti-Western radical Islamists intent on supplanting the European-imposed post-Ottoman order with something more to their liking. This is the so-called caliphate that Osama bin Laden yearned to create and that now exists in embryonic form in portions of Iraq and Syria.”

Obama seemed to grasp this, which is why he resisted getting entangled in Syria and re-entangled in Iraq. But the gruesome beheading of two Americans and the ethnic cleansing of minorities galvanized public opinion and forced his hand on the eve of the American mid-term elections (which the Democrats have lost, anyway).

Washington is sending mixed signals — Obama’s half-hearted bombing campaign and the Pentagon’s assertions of a multi-year commitment of more American and allied military “advisers.”

Harper used to say that we were in Afghanistan to ensure the Taliban terrorists didn’t come to Canada. Now he says that if we are not in Iraq, the Islamists will come to your neighbourhood. The reverse is more likely. They may come here because we are attacking them there. Or their sympathizers here will do the job for them. This prompts the response, already used by Harper, that we are not going to be frightened off the war we have chosen to wage. Fine — but what’s the end game? That’s what Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau should be demanding of Harper. That’s what all Canadians, regardless of ideology or partisan preference, should be asking.

The long-term solution to ending terrorism by some Muslims, homegrown or otherwise, is to end Western wars on many Muslims. Yet, curiously, this statement of the obvious is rarely if ever mentioned by our politicians and pundits.

Haroon Siddiqui’s column appears on Thursday and Sunday. hsiddiqui@thestar.ca

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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