Study: CIA drones strikes have killed 168 children August 12, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War.
Tags: cia drones, civilian casualties, collateral damage, drone missiles, justin elliott, pakistan, predator, roger hollander, war
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Roger’s note: I have been re-thinking the Vietnam War lately. Some 60,000 US soldiers lost their lives, and millions of Vietnamese. That is not to mention the destruction rained on that country by the US military and the ruined lives of countless thousands of returning American GIs. Apart from the militaristic quasi-fascist right, common wisdom says that the war was a failure. The naive analysts refer to it as if it were a mistaken policy (and not as the crime that it was). I am thinking that from the perspective of US geo-political objectives, the war was not a failure. It showed the world how much death and destruction the United States government was prepared to wreak on a peoples who oppose the American Empire. Today President Obama is making a big fuss over the deaths of the government’s trained professional assassins know as the Navy Seals. The Lyndon Johnsons, the Robert McNamaras, the George Bushs, the Dick Cheneys, the Donald Rumsfelds, the Barack Obamas, the Bill and Hillary Clintons … they kill and destroy with impunity. They are the front men (Mrs. Clinton included) for the military-industrial complex, about which ex-president Eisenhower warned in his farewell address. I have no doubt that they believed or believe in their cause and consider their actions justifiable. That, however, does not change the fact that they commit crimes against humanity
Based on international and Pakistani news reports and research on the ground, the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has issued a new study on civilians killed by American drones, concluding that at least 385 civilians have been killed in the past seven years, including at least 168 children.
Here’s a taste of the report, which can be read in full here (warning: graphic images):
Pakistani father Din Mohammad had the misfortune to live next door to militants in Danda Darpakhel, North Waziristan. His neighbours were reportedly part of the Haqqani Network, a group fighting US forces in nearby Afghanistan.
On September 8 2010, the CIA’s Reaper drones paid a visit. Hellfire missiles tore into the compound killing six alleged militants.
One of the Hellfires missed its target, and Din Mohammad’s house was hit. He survived. But his son, his two daughters and his nephew all died. His eldest boy had been a student at a Waziristan military cadet college. The other three children were all below school age.
An Obama administration official told ABC that these numbers are “way off the mark” — but, tellingly, did so on the condition of anonymity, meaning he or she will be protected from any accountability.
Meanwhile, the New York Times’ Scott Shane has an important article reviewing the same issue and in particular Obama counterterrorism adviser John Brennan’s claim in June that for the previous year CIA drone strikes hadn’t caused “a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.” Shane finds that basically every outside observer — including those of all ideological stripes — finds this claim to be preposterous:
Others who question the C.I.A. claim include strong supporters of the drone program like Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal, who closely tracks the strikes.
“The Taliban don’t go to a military base to build bombs or do training,” Mr. Roggio said. “There are families and neighbors around. I believe the people conducting the strikes work hard to reduce civilian casualties. They could be 20 percent. They could be 5 percent. But I think the C.I.A.’s claim of zero civilian casualties in a year is absurd.”
Brennan issued a new statement to the Times suggesting that the CIA has merely “not found credible evidence of collateral deaths” from the drone strikes:
“Fortunately, for more than a year, due to our discretion and precision, the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq, and we will continue to do our best to keep it that way,” Mr. Brennan said.
Given that the drones are operated remotely, it’s far from clear how the CIA even knows who is being killed in many of these strikes.
One big bust of a speech May 19, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: 1967 borders, aipac, arab spring, bahrain, israel, israel policy, isreael=palestine, jewish settlements, justin elliott, Middle East, obama speech, Palestine, roger hollander, Syria, two-state solution
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President Obama just finished what was sold as a major speech on the Middle East and the “Arab spring,” and here’s the takeaway: The president managed to use 5,400 words and spend a solid hour speaking without announcing any significant new policy initiatives.
This is the sort of soaring rhetoric that characterized the entire speech, which was being edited right up until he delivered it (starting a half hour late):
“That is the choice that must be made – not simply in this [Israel] conflict, but across the entire region – a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past, and the promise of the future. It’s a choice that must be made by leaders and by people, and it’s a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife.”
In terms of policy, here’s the bottom line from the speech: The Obama administration will continue to get tougher on the Assad regime in Syria, while not doing much (if anything) in response to Bahrain’s violent crackdown on protesters. It wants to see an Israel-Palestine settlement, but U.S. policy remains the same as ever, and there will be no new push for negotiations. The administration supports a set of universal values. But U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, one of the most persistent human rights violators in the region, was not mentioned in a single time in those 5,400 words.
In short, Obama felt he needed to play the role of world leader by delivering a big response to the popular Arab protests, but he doesn’t want to actually do much.
In one section early in the speech, Obama waxed poetic about those crying for freedom in the region:
A new generation has emerged. And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied.
In Cairo, we heard the voice of the young mother who said, “It’s like I can finally breathe fresh air for the first time.”
In Sanaa, we heard the students who chanted, “The night must come to an end.”
In Benghazi, we heard the engineer who said, “Our words are free now. It’s a feeling you can’t explain.”
In Damascus, we heard the young man who said, “After the first yelling, the first shout, you feel dignity.”
What’s conspicuously missing from that list? Yup, Bahrain. The pass given on Bahrain’s continuing crackdown on protesters (the latest from the Gulf kingdom is the prosecution of newspaper editors) has been a consistent policy.
But later in the speech, Obama did swing back to Bahrain and address the situation head on:
Bahrain is a long-standing partner, and we are committed to its security. We recognize that Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there, and that the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law. Nevertheless, we have insisted publically and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.
What about on Israel-Palestine, what Obama referred to as “another cornerstone of our approach to the region.” Here’s the key statement of policy:
So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
And it will certainly be interesting to compare Obama’s rhetoric today to his remarks before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Sunday.
Obama mimics Bush on the border fence May 14, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Immigration, Racism.
Tags: border, border security, border wall, Free Trade, human rights, illegal immigrant, Immigration, justin elliott, mexico-us, NAFTA, Obama, roger hollander, u.s-mexico border, u.s.-mexico, undocumented, virtual fence
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Roger’s comment: the “Berlin Wall” constructed along the US/Mexican border is a perfect metaphor for the capitalist economic model, where capital rules and human labor is its servant. Under the NAFTA (free trade) agreement between the US, Mexico, and Canada, the free movement of capital across international borders was facilitated. This allowed capital to make use of cheaper unorganized and unprotected labor in Mexico and to evade environmental restrictions. One of the major consequences for Mexican farming was that thousands of small farmers were wiped out by the influx of US agribusiness. These are the very same campesinos who are desperate to cross the border into the US in search of economic salvation. The Wall is the other side of the coin of the free trade agreement, designed to keep them out.
Saturday, May 14, 2011 11:01 ET
President Obama traveled to El Paso, Texas, this week and delivered an immigration speech that was widely viewed as an appeal to Hispanic voters.
While there’s virtually no prospect of comprehensive immigration reform getting through the current Congress, the Obama administration has been emphasizing enforcement and border security. One under-examined aspect of the administration’s policy is the continuation of Clinton- and Bush-era efforts to build a physical — and virtual — fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. In El Paso, Obama actually touted the fact that his administration had completed the fence. So we thought it was a good time to check in on the status of the fence, whether it’s working, and what’s planned for the future.
Billions of dollars have been spent in recent years on a physical wall and the so-called virtual fence, and the efforts have been criticized by some who live on the border on human rights and environmental grounds.
Lee Maril, professor of sociology at East Carolina University, recently published “The Fence,” a study of U.S. policy on the border going back to the Clinton administration. Obama, Maril told me in an interview this week, has largely followed the policy conceptions of the Bush administration when it comes to the border fence. The administration is poised to plunk down hundreds of millions of dollars on high-tech sensors and the like, in the latest costly iteration of the virtual fence. What follows is a transcript of our conversation edited for length and clarity.
I think a lot of people assume there already is a fence or wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. What actually exists on the border right now?
Most people who haven’t been to the border imagine it as sort of a straight line. But it’s 2,000 miles, much of which is very rough terrain, including high-elevation areas, the Rio Grande River delta, and canyons. There are two kinds of fences that have been built. One is nuts-and-bolts, concrete and rebar. It’s in pieces and covers about 650 miles of the border. The rest of the border is not covered by any fence that would stop anyone. Geography does the stopping. In places it’s barbed wire, and in places there is no fence at all.
The virtual fence is the second kind of fence that is sometimes discussed. That began with ISIS [“Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System”] in 1998 and ended with a project by Boeing that was recently killed. The virtual fence is an attempt to use high technology to interdict drug loads, catch alleged terrorists, and catch undocumented immigrants. The virtual fence never worked. It didn’t work when it was started in 1998 under the Clinton administration, and the company that originally worked on it, L-3 Communications, wasted about $250 million. It didn’t work under Boeing either. They walked away with about $1 billion.
How was the virtual fence supposed to work?
It started under the Clinton administration as an attempt to build a sophisticated system of towers that would be linked with computers, satellite up-links, surface radar, and all kinds of fancy cameras. That ran from 1998 to 2000, and it didn’t work. Then the program changed names several times and wound up in 2005 being called SBInet, or Security Border Initiative network. That’s when Boeing was invited on as the so-called systems integrator. They were supposed to come up with a total solution to plan, design and build the virtual fence for the entire border. They built only about ten sensor towers and fifteen communications towers, but according to the Government Accountability Office reports none of them ever worked. In my opinion they wasted more than $1 billion of taxpayer money.
Where has Obama been on this?
The original policy was clearly defined by the Bush administration and by Congress. It was formed immediately after the immigration field hearings in the summer of 2006. The virtual and physical fences had three justifications under the Bush administration, which were then carried on into the Obama administration. The goals were to decrease the number of undocumented workers, to increase the drug interdictions, and to stop alleged terrorists. They were never refuted by Obama. That plan was wholeheartedly accepted by the Obama administration. Under Obama we saw the completion of the project to build about 650 miles of physical wall that had been funded by Congress. When I heard Obama’s speech in El Paso, what I saw missing was any kind of admittance that the virtual fence was a miserable failure and the taxpayers had lost all this money.
You spent a lot of time on the border, looking at the fence and interviewing residents and border agents. What did you hear?
They tell you a variety of things depending on who you talk to. I can tell you that the concrete fence is not consistent. I went to Cameron County, Texas, where Brownsville is, and there the fence is 20 feet tall with a 5-foot base that goes 8 feet into the ground, with spaced steel bars at the top. Then I went to the University of Texas at Brownsville, and because they litigated against the Department of Homeland Security, they have a fence that is about 9 feet tall, chain link, painted green, and surrounded by shrubbery. That runs for half a mile. What that tells me is that regardless of what DHS wanted to do, it was always buffered by the local political situation.
So after Obama’s speech, are you expecting an extension of the fence?
They just let out bids for $750 million, just for Arizona, to basically do what they said they were going to do with the last virtual wall — for the same kinds of equipment, including sensors, scope trucks, plus some newer hardware. It’s called the Alternative Southwest Border Technology Plan. I wouldn’t call it a “Plan,” I’d call it an approach. What I’ve heard unofficially is that one of the primary contractors who is very interested is Raytheon. So even more money, another $750 million, has now been put into it and already been bid out and the public has not yet been notified of who is getting the bid. It’s very unclear if this equipment is going to be used as part of a virtual wall, or as extra equipment to supplement the concrete wall. This is just for Arizona. What DHS is really saying is that after eleven years, they still haven’t gotten it right.
Has the fence worked?
There are three points. The first is that it has not in any way I can clearly see — based on the border patrol’s own statistics — limited the amount of drugs coming into this country. Obama is correct when he cites the statistic that there have been a third more drugs caught this year than last. But the drug cartels are just taking that as overhead. They’re still bringing in and getting across the same amount of drugs. My informants in law enforcement tell me the best way to assess the volume of drugs is the price on the street. The price on the street suggests there has been no change with respect to cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine. The traffickers have become very innovative in finding ways to cross the wall which at first looks impenetrable. That includes catapults, tunnels and metal ramps that they assemble and disassemble very quickly.
Second, the fence certainly has seemed to affect the number of undocumented workers. It’s much harder to cross the border than it used to be because of the fence, and the increase in border agents. There is no question in that. That said, we’re in the middle of a recession, so it’s very difficult to see what will happen when we come out of the recession when it comes to the economic “pull” factors. We still have a very large number of people in Mexico and south of Mexico who can directly benefit by coming across illegally because they don’t have a lot of other options.
The third part — which Obama didn’t mention in El Paso and has been forgotten in this whole discussion — is terrorism. I can find no known public record of any terrorist ever being stopped since 2005-06 when construction of the wall began. That was one of the three major reasons that the wall was built. What my law enforcement informants tell me is that a terrorist group would be foolish to risk bringing someone in from Mexico when they can come in from so many other places with false documents.
- Justin Elliott is a Salon reporter. Reach him by email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin