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Bin Laden’s death doesn’t end his fear-mongering value May 9, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, War on Terror.
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Monday, May 9, 2011 07:35 ET

By Glenn Greenwald

Bin Laden's death doesn't end his fear-mongering value

AP Photo/File

(updated below)

On Friday, government officials anonymously claimed that “a rushed examination” of the “trove” of documents and computer files taken from the bin Laden home prove — contrary to the widely held view that he “had been relegated to an inspirational figure with little role in current and future Qaeda operations” — that in fact “the chief of Al Qaeda played a direct role for years in plotting terror attacks.”  Specifically, the Government possesses “a handwritten notebook from February 2010 that discusses tampering with tracks to derail a train on a bridge,” and that led “Obama administration officials on Thursday to issue a warning that Al Qaeda last year had considered attacks on American railroads.”  That, in turn, led to headlines around the country like this one, from The Chicago Sun-Times


The reality, as The New York Times noted deep in its article, was that “the information was both dated and vague,” and the official called it merely “aspirational,” acknowledging that “there was no evidence the discussion of rail attacks had moved beyond the conceptual stage”  In other words, these documents contain little more than a vague expression on the part of Al Qaeda to target railroads in major American cities (“focused on striking Washington, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago,” said the Sun-Times):  hardly a surprise and — despite the scary headlines — hardly constituting any sort of substantial, tangible threat.

But no matter.  Even in death, bin Laden continues to serve the valuable role of justifying always-increasing curtailments of liberty and expansions of government power.  From Reuters (h/t Atrios): 

Sen. Schumer proposes “no-ride list” for Amtrak trains

A senator on Sunday called for a “no-ride list” for Amtrak trains after intelligence gleaned from the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound pointed to potential attacks on the nation’s train system.

Sen. Charles Schumer said he would push as well for added funding for rail security and commuter and passenger train track inspections and more monitoring of stations nationwide.

“Circumstances demand we make adjustments by increasing funding to enhance rail safety and monitoring on commuter rail transit and screening who gets on Amtrak passenger trains, so that we can provide a greater level of security to the public,” the New York Democrat said at a news conference.


So Al Qaeda breathes the word “trains” and Schumer jumps and demands the creation of a massive, expensive and oppressive new Security State program to keep thousands and thousands of people off trains.  The “no-fly” list has been nothing short of a Kafkaesque disaster: with thousands of people secretly placed on it without any explanation or real recourse, oftentimes causing them to be stranded in faraway places and unable to return home

To replicate that for trains — all because some documents mentioned them among thousands of other ideas Al Qaeda has undoubtedly considered over the years — is hysteria and ludicrous over-reaction of the highest order.  Trains can obviously be attacked without boarding them (indeed, these documents apparently discussed tampering with the rails, which wouldn’t require boarding the trains at all). And if there’s a “no-ride” list for Amtrak, why not for subways and buses, too?  If Al Qaeda is found to have discussed targeting restaurants, will we have a no-eat list?  If Al Qaeda is found to have discussed targeting large intersections or landmarks, will we have a no-walk list?  How about a no-shop list in response to the targeting of malls?

But this, more or less, encapsulates the U.S. response to Terrorism since 9/11: the minute Al Qaeda utters a peep about anything, the political class collectively jumps to restrict our freedoms, empower the Government, and bankrupt ourselves in self-destructive pursuit of the ultimate illusion: Absolute Security.  Al Qaeda has caused us to do more harm to ourselves than it could have ever dreamed of imposing on its own.  And even in death, Osama bin Laden continues to serve as the pretext for all of this.

Glenn Greenwald’s Unclaimed Territory

I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. I am the author of two New York Times Bestselling books: “How Would a Patriot Act?” (May, 2006), a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, and “A Tragic Legacy” (June, 2007), which examines the Bush legacy. My most recent book, “Great American Hypocrites”, examines the manipulative electoral tactics used by the GOP and propagated by the establishment press, and was released in April, 2008, by Random House/Crown.

Twitter: @ggreenwald
E-mail: GGreenwald@salon.com


Freeman Affair Puts Israel Lobby in Spotlight March 13, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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by Daniel Luban and Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON – Although the successful campaign to keep Amb. Charles “Chas” Freeman out of a top intelligence post marked a surface victory for the pro-Israel hardliners who opposed him, the long-term political implications of the Freeman affair appear far more ambiguous.


[Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair had said he was standing by the appointment of Charles Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council.  (AP PHOTO)]Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair had said he was standing by the appointment of Charles Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council. (AP PHOTO)

Freeman’s withdrawal has provoked growing – if belated – media scrutiny of the operations of the so-called “Israel Lobby”, and aroused protests from a number of prominent mainstream political commentators who allege that he was the target of a dishonest and underhanded smear campaign that, among other things, accused him of shilling for the governments of Saudi Arabia and China. 

For the neo-conservatives who led the charge against Freeman’s appointment, his withdrawal may therefore prove to be both a tactical victory and a strategic defeat.

At the same time, the Freeman affair has highlighted the yawning disconnect between the career professionals in the intelligence and diplomatic communities, from whom Freeman enjoyed strong support, and political leaders in Congress and the White House, none of whom came to his defense publicly.

Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia who has been a vocal critic of Israeli policies in the occupied territories, withdrew from consideration as chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC) on Tuesday. He did not go quietly into the night, however, releasing a statement in which he struck back at his critics.

“I do not believe the National Intelligence Council could function effectively while its chair was under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country,” Freeman wrote.

“There is a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government – in this case, the government of Israel.”

The motives for the anti-Freeman campaign are themselves a matter of debate. Virtually all of his chief attackers were neo-conservatives, whose views generally reflect those of the Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, and other reflexive defenders of Israeli government policies. Many observers viewed it as self-evident that their hostility to him was based on his often bluntly-spoken belief that U.S. and Israel’s interests in the Middle East were not necessarily convergent.

In the media, the campaign against Freeman was waged mainly by neo-conservative organs, such as the Weekly Standard and the National Review, and by The New Republic, a generally liberal weekly that, however, routinely attacks Israel’s critics.

In Congress, it was led by politicians such as Sen. Chuck Schumer, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, and Rep. Mark Kirk, all of whom have strong ties to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful lobby group whose members range from far-right supporters of the militant settlement movement in Israel to more moderate factions sympathetic to the relatively centrist Kadima and Labor Parties.

Freeman’s critics sought to portray their attacks on him as rooted not in his criticisms of Israel but in his allegedly compromising ties to Saudi Arabia and China, including his leadership of a think tank that was partially funded by a member of the Saudi royal family and his service on an advisory board of China’s largest oil company.

In the mainstream media, however, few seemed to buy into these claims. The most widely read U.S. newspapers, which had all but ignored the controversy as it raged in the “blogosphere”, attributed his withdrawal to the unacceptability of his views on Israel policy – in the process going further than ever before in putting the Israel lobby in the national spotlight.

The New York Times headlined its story “Israel Stance Was Undoing of Nominee for Intelligence Post”, while the Washington Post confirmed that AIPAC, which had insisted it had no position on Freeman’s appointment, had indeed quietly provided critical material about him to inquiring reporters.

A Los Angeles Times editorial explicitly referenced “the Israel lobby” as the force behind Freeman’s withdrawal, adding, “We do not believe that Israel should be immune from criticism or that there is room for only one point of view in our government.”

And while the Post’s editorial page, like the neo-conservative Wall Street Journal, had hosted anti-Freeman op-eds early in the campaign against him, its veteran political columnist, David Broder – long viewed as the embodiment of Washington centrism – praised the former ambassador as “an able public servant” and wrote that “[t]he Obama administration has just suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the lobbyists the president vowed to keep in their place.”

Broder was not the only prominent centrist to react harshly to the anti-Freeman campaign. Others included the Broder’s fellow Post columnist, David Ignatius, The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan (who called the campaign “repulsive”), Time’s Joe Klein (“assassination”), and Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf (“lynching-by-blog”). Freeman has also been invited as the guest of Fareed Zakaria, a regular columnist for Newsweek and the Post, on his regular Sunday CNN program on foreign policy, “GPS.”

In the end, the attempts by Freeman’s critics to make the story about anything but Israel may have backfired. Instead, discussion of the role of the Israel lobby in forming U.S. foreign policy appears to have acquired more mainstream legitimacy than ever before.

The long-taboo subject became a matter of public debate in 2006, when two prominent political scientists, the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer and Harvard University’s Stephen Walt, published their article “The Israel Lobby”, later expanded into a book. The two argued that a powerful lobby, centered on but not limited to AIPAC, exerts a “stranglehold” on U.S. foreign policy debates and stifles any criticism of Israeli policies, to the detriment of both the U.S. and Israel.

Mearsheimer and Walt’s thesis was instantly controversial. Critics accused them of perpetuating age-old anti-Semitic tropes about the covert Jewish domination of politics. Mainstream critics of Israel have been reluctant to align themselves with the two, even when they have reached some of the same conclusions.

In the wake of the Freeman affair, however, Mearsheimer and Walt appear to be getting a new hearing. The Los Angeles Times went so far as to suggest that the attacks on them may have been overstated.

“[T]he battle over Freeman…seems to have exposed more sympathy for a Walt/Mearsheimer view of U.S.-Israel relations than one might have expected to be out there,” wrote Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard, one of Freeman’s harshest critics. “People like Joe Klein and Andrew Sullivan are now fairly indistinguishable from Stephen Walt.”

Goldfarb intended the comment as an insult, but it may nonetheless have contained a kernel of truth.

While the Freeman affair may have shifted the parameters of debate on Israel policy, it has also exposed fissures and resentments between the national security bureaucracy and the U.S. political leadership.

Some veteran observers, such as the “Nelson Report”, an influential private newsletter, compared Freeman’s treatment to the McCarthy era when long-time government Asia experts were deemed responsible for “losing China” to the Communists and hounded out of the foreign service by the so-called “China Lobby”.

Col. Pat Lang, the former top Middle East analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency who signed a letter of support for Freeman, told IPS that the saga had caused a “tentative feeling of disappointment” about the new administration within the intelligence community.

“It’s very disheartening for people who viewed Freeman’s appointment as the return to some standard of intellectual excellence or integrity”, he said, adding that Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Adm. Dennis Blair, who went to the Senate and strongly defended his appointee, may be the next target for Freeman’s antagonists as they push for alarmist intelligence on Iran.

“I’m concerned about what these characters are going to do about Blair, because Blair really stood up to them, and their general reaction to that is to wage a war of annihilation against people who do that,” Lang said.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.