Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lap Bomber stories

There are a number of stories from passengers about the Nigerian kid who tried to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253. There is this from Kurt Haskell of Newport Michigan:
I was on this flight today and am thankful to be alive. My wife and I were returning from an African safari and had this connecting flight through Amsterdam. I sat in row 27, which was 7 rows behind the terrorist. I got to see the whole thing take place and it was very scary. Thanks to a few quick acting people I am still alive today.
For those of you talking about airline security in this thread, I was next to the terrorist when he checked in at the Amsterdam airport early on Christmas. My wife and I were playing cards directly in front of the check in counter. This is what I saw (and I relayed this to the FBI when we were held in customs):

An Indian man in a nicely dressed suit around age 50 approached the check in counter with the terrorist and said "This man needs to get on this flight and he has no passport." The two of them were an odd pair as the terrorist is a short, black man that looked like he was very poor and looks around age 17(Although I think he is 23 he doesn't look it). It did not cross my mind that they were terrorists, only that the two looked weird together. The ticket taker said "you can't board without a passport". The Indian man then replied, "He is from Sudan, we do this all the time". I can only take from this to mean that it is difficult to get passports from Sudan and this was some sort of sympathy ploy. The ticket taker then said "You will have to talk to my manager", and sent the two down a hallway. I never saw the Indian man again as he wasn't on the flight. It was also weird that the terrorist never said a word in this exchange. Anyway, somehow, the terrorist still made it onto the plane. I am not sure if it was a bribe or just sympathy from the security manager.

FBI also arrested a different Indian man while we were held in customs after a bomb sniffing dog detected a bomb in his carry on bag and he was searched after we landed. This was later confirmed while we were in customs when an FBI agent said to us "You are being moved to another area because this area is not safe. Read between the lines. Some of you saw what just happened."(The arrest of the other Indian man). I am not sure why this hasn't made it into any news story, but I stood about 15-20 feet away from the other Indian man when he was cuffed and arrested after his search.
The Dutch are investigating.
Then there is this from Patricia Keepman from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
They were sitting about 20 rows behind Abdulmutallab, in a center aisle with her husband and daughter a row ahead of her and their two new adopted children, a six-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy.

Her daughter said that ahead of them was a man who videotaped the entire flight, including the attempted detonation.

"He sat up and videotaped the entire thing, very calmly," said Patricia. "We do know that the FBI is looking for him intensely. Since then, we've heard nothing about it."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Gaza - a year later

It has been a year. From B'tselem:
Between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, the Israeli military carried out an attack on the Gaza Strip named Operation Cast Lead. The magnitude of the harm to the population was unprecedented: 1,385 Palestinians were killed, 762 of whom did not take part in the hostilities. Of these, 318 were minors under age 18. More than 5,300 Palestinians were wounded, of them over 350 seriously so. Israel also caused enormous damage to residential dwellings, industrial buildings, agriculture and infrastructure for electricity, sanitation, water, and health, which was on the verge of collapse prior to the operation. According to UN figures, Israel destroyed more than 3,500 residential dwellings and 20,000 people were left homeless.

A year after the slaughter of Gaza the misery of the people of Gaza continues. The Telegraph under the rather surreal headline "Gazans still angry one year on from Israeli offensive" describes the heartbreaking tragedy of one family (h/t John Caruso)

In a clearing at the northeast end of the Gaza Strip, amid a sea of drab canvas tents and half-cleared war detritus, a small, carefully tended flowerbed stands out amid dismal surroundings.

For the man who planted it, the blooms represents both an escape from the squalor of forced homelessness and a reminder of his once beloved garden. But it is the straggly red rosebush in the middle that is of special significance.

Until a year ago, Kamal Awaja would often spend the hour before dusk in his garden, teaching his six children the names of the trees and flowers, and encouragiong each one to pick a shrub as their own. Ibrahim, his nine-year-old son, chose the red rosebush.

But a year ago today, everything changed as Israel launched its military offensive against the Hamas militants who run Gaza. After a week of fierce fighting, the gun-barrel of a tank smashed through the family's living room window, forcing them to flee to nearby fields as their house was demolished.

Then, as they crept back at dawn to salvage warm clothes, Israeli soldiers opened fire. Both Awaja parents were wounded, and Ibrahim was hit fatally, dying in his father's arms as he tried to rescue him.

But reliving her son's death a year later, there is another, more harrowing detail that preys on Mrs Awaja's mind. She says that as she hid behind a wall while her husband limped away to find help, Israeli soldiers used Ibrahim's corpse, which was lying in a road, as target practice.

One wonders the level of inhumanity and dehumanization that allows the soldiers of the "most moral army" to use a nine year old child's body for target practice. The slaughter carried out by the Israelis has been followed by an inhuman blockade.

One year after the operation began, extensive areas in the Gaza Strip have yet to be rebuilt. Israel’s sweeping prohibition on the entry of construction materials prevents the rebuilding of houses that were destroyed and damaged, and more than 20,000 persons continue to live in overcrowded conditions in rented apartments, with relatives, or in tent camps. The prohibition also prevents rehabilitation of the infrastructure that was damaged: 90 percent of Gazans suffer electricity black-outs for four to eight hours a day, a result of the damage to infrastructure and of the severe shortage of industrial fuel. Some ten thousand Palestinians in the northern section of the Gaza Strip have no access to running water, and 80 million liters of raw and partially-treated sewage flows daily into open areas. The health system is unable to function properly due to the lack of medical equipment, and seriously ill patients have difficulty receiving necessary medical treatment.

A man who lost two daughters and his home can't visit his surviving 4-year-old girl in a Belgian hospital because Gaza's borders remain sealed. A 15-year-old struggles to walk on her artificial limbs, while dozens of other war amputees still await prostheses.

Couples postpone marriage because not enough apartments survived three weeks of bombing and shelling. Thousands are homeless,and damaged systems mean electricity and water are sporadic. Untreated sewage pours into the Mediterranean.

The UN Relief and Works agency (UNRWA) in Gaza told the BBC that public health was suffering as a result of inadequate and unsanitary water supplies, and there had been a rise in infant mortality.

While the lives of Gazans are mired in misery there are some hopeful signs. The global Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign modeled on the campaign against apartheid South Africa is slowly gaining some momentum. More and more people are becoming aware of the plight of the Gazans and some are doing something about it. Just today the Viva Palestina organized convoy of 99 vehicles carrying supplies has begun entering Gaza. And then there are the (sadly few) brave voices from within Israel itself. Here is Gideon Levy:
One way or another, the year since December 27 was a year of shame for Israel, greater shame than any other time. It is shameful to be Israeli today, much more than it was a year ago. In the final tally of the war, which was not a war but a brutal assault, Israel's international status was dealt a severe blow, in addition to Israeli indifference and public blindness to what happened in Gaza.
Today it is more shameful to be an Israeli because the world, as opposed to Israelis, saw the scenes. It saw thousands of dead and injured taken in the trunks of cars to something between a clinic and a primitive hospital in an imprisoned and weakened region one hour from flourishing Tel Aviv, a region where the helpless had nowhere to run from Israel's arsenal. The world saw schools, hospitals, flour mills and small factories mercilessly bombed and blown up. It saw clouds of white-sulphur bombs billowing over population centers, and it saw burned children.
And then there was the Goldstone report. Ben Gurion said “it is not important what the Goyim say but what the Jews do.” In this case the person making the case against Israel is not a Goy. It is a well respected jurist and a zionist to boot. In spite of the US condemnation of the report, Goldstone is not going away. It has changed international perception about Israel in ways that were inconceivable just a short time ago. So who knows, maybe there will be a better tomorrow. One can always hope.


Adam Horowitz at Mondoweiss has a summary of summaries of the state of Gaza today.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Aftonbladet's "blood libel"

In the summer of 1992, Ehud Olmert, then minister of health, tried to address the issue of organ shortage by launching a big campaign aimed at having the Israeli public register for postmortal organ donation. Half a million pamphlets were spread in local newspapers. Ehud Olmert himself was the first person to sign up. A couple of weeks later the Jerusalem Post reported that the campaign was a success. No fewer than 35 000 people had signed up.
While the campaign was running, young Palestinian men started to disappear from villages in the West Bank and Gaza. After five days Israeli soldiers would bring them back dead, with their bodies ripped open.
Donald Bostrom, Aftonbladet, August 17, 2009 (Translation)
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel urged the Swedish government on Sunday to condemn an article in a Swedish newspaper last week accusing the Israeli Army of harvesting organs from Palestinians wounded or killed by soldiers.
Mr. Netanyahu told ministers at a cabinet meeting on Sunday that the article, published in the Swedish daily newspaper Aftonbladet, was “outrageous” and compared it to a “blood libel,” referring to medieval anti-Semitic accusations that Jews ritually killed gentile children and collected their blood.
Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli finance minister, said: “Whoever does not distance himself from a blood libel such as this may not be so welcome now in Israel. We have a crisis until the government of Sweden understands otherwise.”
“Israel is under assault,” said Daniel Seaman, director of Israel’s Government Press Office. The Aftonbladet article, he said, was part of a “premeditated campaign to vilify the State of Israel.” He added that anti-Semitic blood libels had led in the past to pogroms and attacks against Jews. “We cannot afford to turn the other way.”

Isabel Kershner, New York Times, August 23, 2009
Allegations that Israel plunders and trafficks Palestinians' organs are ugly, false, and harmful to peace efforts. No less dangerous—such libels spread.

Rational and responsible editorial judgment would have discarded Mr. Bostrom's surreal story at the outset. Such judgment would also have considered the real world effects of inciting yet more enmity in a volatile conflict, stoking misconceptions and raising greater hurdles to reconciliation.

But Aftonbladet's view of the parties involved appears strikingly crude, perceiving a realm populated by evil stick-figure Israelis preying mercilessly on romanticized Palestinian "stone-throwers." One cannot in this context forget Aftonbladet's unsavory pro-Nazi sentiments during the Hitler regime. This past seems to have done little to inoculate the paper against related bigotries today.

In an age of diminishing communication barriers, when false images and ideas can mislead hundreds of millions of people in minutes, it is more important than ever to reinforce the tenets of honorable journalism, and to expose malfeasance for all to see.

Behold, Aftonbladet.

Andrea Levin, Wall Street Journal, October 14, 2009

Israel has admitted that pathologists harvested organs from dead Palestinians, and others without the consent of their families – a practice that it said ended in the 1990s, it emerged at the weekend.

The admission, by the former head of the country's forensic institute, followed a furious row prompted by a Swedish newspaper reporting that Israel was killing Palestinians in order to use their organs – a charge that Israel denied and called "antisemitic".


Israel's health ministry said all harvesting was now done with permission. "The guidelines at that time were not clear," it said

Ian Black, Guardian, December 20, 2009

... may I take this opportunity of emphasizing that there is no cannibalism in the British Navy. Absolutely none, and when I say none, I mean there is a certain amount, more than we are prepared to admit, but all new ratings are warned that if they wake up in the morning and find toothmarks at all anywhere on their bodies, they're to tell me immediately so that I can immediately take every measure to hush the whole thing up. And, finally, necrophilia is right out.
Vice Admiral Sir John Cunningham, Monty Python's Flying Circus

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Let the show begin

Asif Ali Zardari is president because the US leaned on Musharraf to grant him and his wife (and many others) amnesty from corruption charges through a presidential directive called the National Reconciliation Ordinance. The legality of the NRO has always been in question. No more it seems as the Pakistan Supreme Court has just declared it unconstitutional.
Pakistan's Supreme Court declared on Wednesday that an amnesty that had protected politicians, including President Asif Ali Zardari, from corruption and criminal charges, was unconstitutional.

The 17-judge court invalidated the National Reconciliation Order, saying in its ruling that the amnesty "seems to be against the national interest" and "violates various provisions of the Constitution."


The supreme court said its ruling revived all cases that had been suspended or withdrawn under the amnesty.

Zardari still has immunity due to his role as president. But many of his supporters do not. Look for lots of negotiations.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blackwater's assasination list

Given that the Pakistani Taliban have begun blaming the worst civilian bombings on Blackwater, this is not going to help.
In a stunning revelation, US private security service agency, Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, has claimed that the Central Intelligence Agency had asked the agency to kill Pakistani nuclear scientist, A Q Khan.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Prince said the CIA had asked the Blackwater to eliminate Khan, however, authorities in Washington “chose not to pull the trigger.”

"Dr Khan’s inclusion in the target list would suggest that the assassination effort was broader than has previously been acknowledged," Prince said.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

War is Peace

Whatever it is I am against it listens to Obama's speech so you don't have to. A true humanitarian is WIIIAAI.

We’re getting to the end, so let’s bring out some of that ol’ Obama inspirational magic: “So let us reach for the world that ought to be — that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. Somewhere today, in the here and now, a soldier sees he’s outgunned but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.” And then the soldier who sees he’s outgunned calls in an air strike and blows her and her child to pieces.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sebastian Rotella - "journalist"

I just watched Sebastian Rotella being interviewed by Lehrer on the News Hour. (I had a bunch of scare quotes in the previous sentence but it seemed like I would have to put scare quotes around everything). The interview was about the charging of David Coleman Headley in connection with the Mumbai attacks. Rotella said that Headley had been trained in Afghanistan and as proof that he received extensive training in Afghanistan/Pakistan Rotella pointed to Headley's "ability" to walk into a Danish newspaper under the pretense of buying advertisement for his business. Why an American businessman needs to be trained to walk into a newspaper to purchase advertisement for his business, and why this training needed to be provided in Afghanistan or Pakistan, were questions whose answer only Rotella knows - and which Lehrer did not care to ask. I don't know what Headley is - he seems to have a rather checkered past - but I think I have a very good idea of what Rotella and Lehrer are not.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Murder at Guantanamo

When the Bush administration and the Pentagon, in the person of Rear Admiral Harry Harris, classified the apparent suicide of three prisoners at Guantanamo as asymmetrical warfare they were justifiably ridiculed. It turns out the truth is much more disturbing. A group at Seton Hall studied the report generated after two years by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and exposed the ridiculousness of the idea that these three committed suicide.

The new study exposes how the NCIS report purports that all three prisoners on the prison's Alpha Block did the following to commit suicide:

• Braided a noose by tearing up their sheets and/or clothing.
• Made mannequins of themselves so it would appear to the guards they were asleep in their cells.
• Hung sheets to block the view into the cells.
• Stuffed rags down their own throats well past a point which would have induced involuntary gagging.
• Tied their own feet together.
• Tied their own hands together.
• Hung the noose from the metal mesh of the cell wall and/or ceiling.
• Climbed up on to the sink, put the noose around their necks and release their weight, resulting in death by strangulation.

The study also notes that there has never been any explanation of how the three bodies could have hung in the cells, undiscovered, for at least two hours, when the cells were supposed to be under constant supervision by roving guards and video cameras.


It is not even clear that it would be physically possible for the prisoners to commit suicide consistent with these facts. One of the Seton Hall study's authors, law student and former sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division Paul W. Taylor, stated: "We have three bodies and no explanation. How is it possible that all three detainees had shoved rags so far down their own throats that medical personnel could not remove them?

One of the murdered three, Yassar Talal Al Zahrani, was seventeen years old when he was picked up by the US.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A resounding success in the war on architecture

Swiss voters have shown the world that when it comes to stupidity and irrationality they are no laggards. They are getting ready to change their constitution in order to demonstrate their irrational bona fides. Now that is a commitment to pure stupidity that we in the US can well admire. I mean, from time to time we pass moronic laws - DOMA springs to mind - but we don't usually go around changing our constitution to accommodate our most baseless fears. Wow, way to go Switzerland! The Guardian reports:
Swiss voters have approved a proposal to ban the construction of minarets, after a rightwing campaign that labelled the mosque towers as symbols of militant Islam, projections by a respected polling institute show.

The projections based on partial returns indicate that support swung from 37% in favour of the ban a week ago to 59% in today's referendum.

Claude Longchamp, head of the gfs.bern polling institute, said the projection for state-owned DRS television showed approval in more than half the country's 26 cantons, meaning the measure will become a constitutional amendment.
The dreaded Muslims are about to take over the brave and valiant and blond Swiss.
Muslims make up about 6% of Switzerland's 7.5 million people, many of them refugees from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Fewer than 13% practice their religion, the government says, and Swiss mosques do not broadcast the call to prayer outside their buildings.
A whole 0.78% of the Swiss population perhaps praying in these mosques with minarets - clearly something to be really really scared of. And horrors, one might end up with scenes like these. But, no fear, the Swiss are fighting back

... with campaign posters showing white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag and another with brown hands grabbing eagerly for Swiss passports.


On Thursday, Geneva's main mosque was vandalised when a pot of pink paint was thrown at the entrance. Earlier this month a vehicle with a loudspeaker drove through the area imitating a muezzin's call to prayer, and vandals damaged a mosaic when they threw cobblestones at the building.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Muslims disguised as Greeks

From the St. Petersburg Times:
Marine reservist Jasen Bruce was getting clothes out of the trunk of his car Monday evening when a bearded man in a robe approached him.

That man, a Greek Orthodox priest named Father Alexios Marakis, speaks little English and was lost, police said. He wanted directions.

What the priest got instead, police say, was a tire iron to the head. Then he was chased for three blocks and pinned to the ground — as the Marine kept a 911 operator on the phone, saying he had captured a terrorist.

The police keep repeating the "story" that Alexis (or is it AllahKiss) Marakis is a Greek Priest shielding this Jihadi operative. How dangerous this terrorist is can be understood from the lengths he went to construct his "cover."

Father Michael Eaccarino of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs says Marakis, 29, entered a Greek monastery as a teenager and became a priest nine years ago. He is studying theology at Holy Cross, a Greek Orthodox school in Massachusetts, and traveled to Tarpon Springs two months ago to work on his master's thesis. He has taken a vow of celibacy [e:probably preparing for the 72 virgins].

Eaccarino says the visiting priest got lost Monday after ministering to the elderly in a nursing home.

But our hero saw through all this because at the moment of truth the jihadi panicked.

The man yelled "Allahu Akbar," Arabic for "God is great," the same words some witnesses said the Fort Hood shooting suspect uttered last week.

"That's what they tell you right before they blow you up," police say Bruce told them.

It is such deep understanding of terrorist cultures that will help save our Fatherland. Of course the government is trying to smear our hero and have even charged him with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. His lawyer though is having none of this:

In an appearance in court on November 10, Attorney Jeff Brown – who is of counsel to Bruce – said that Bruce was followed into the parking garage of his apartment complex by the priest who allegedly made sexual comments and fondled the Marine’s crotch [e:nix the 72 virgins comment]. Brown claims that the Tampa Police Department’s version of events is “one-sided” and “tainted.” Added Lawyer Brown, "We are confident that the surveillance videos, the long 911 call, the eyewitnesses will all conclusively show that Lance Cpl. Bruce was attacked and was the victim in this case." Brown referred to the priest as a "bearded attacker" six times and used his client's military rank 17 times. The attorney criticized the local police for their handling of the case and suggested that the officer in charge is a “Marine basher”.

Yes, lets not forget the surveillance video

An exterior surveillance video of Tuesday's chase captured the two men in motion, said Tampa Police Department spokeswoman Laura McElroy:

"You see a very short, small man running, and an enormous, large muscular man chasing after him."

The terrorist of course is trying to preserve his tattered cover.

Father Marakis, citing biblical forgiveness, declined to press charges despite the stitches in his head.

Monday, November 9, 2009

License to kill

Israeli rabbi Yitzhak Shapiro, verbalizing the wet dreams of religious fanatics the world over, provides a license to kill the other if you feel threatened by them - or someone like them - or if you might possibly feel threatened by them some time in the future. Here is the reverend in his own words: (h/t Mondoweiss)
"It is permissable to kill the Righteous among Nations even if they are not responsible for the threatening situation,"
But it is all for the good
"If we kill a Gentile who has sinned or has violated one of the seven commandments - because we care about the commandments - there is nothing wrong with the murder."
The good rabbi provides guidelines for who all to kill including
the slaying of "non-Jews who demand the land for themselves," and for, among other transgressions, "hostile blasphemy." Also "Those who, by speech, weaken our sovereignty" .... Even babies and children are fair targets, "if it is clear they will grow up to harm us".

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why are we in Afghanistan?

It used to be that analyzing the whys and wherefores of conflicts was relatively easy. There were two economic models competing against each other. A state controlled model and a quasi free-market model. There were beneficiaries of each of these models and conflicts could be understood by their struggle to keep and increase their share of resources and power. The destruction of the Soviet Union meant that conflicts could no longer be framed in terms of the cold war, but still there seemed to be a logic to conflicts. Globalization was creating huge markets and the battle was on for resources and market share. For a while it even seemed that this struggle between the haves would maybe even benefit the have-nots. For a very short while. With the emergence of rival centers of power in Europe and China the Iraq war could be perhaps explained as an attempt by the US to control access to essential resources. Though the explanation seemed to be incomplete. That the US would want to control the resources of the middle east made sense. That it would chose to do so by occupying Iraq seemed less understandable.

Whatever logic there is for the occupation of Iraq there is even less for the occupation of Afghanistan. The US involvement in the 70's and 80's made sense in the context of the cold war. The US saw an opportunity to trap and then bleed the USSR. Once the Soviets were no longer there, there was no more US interest and the US pulled back. The initial foray into Afghanistan by the US in 2002 could be understood in the context of 9/11. The perpetrators of the attack were dead. However, the leadership of AlQaida was located in Afghanistan hosted by the Taliban. In the context of desire for revenge for the murder of 3000 people the invasion "made sense." After the rout of the Taliban the occupation did not. With the resurgence of the Taliban it still does not. The arguments used by the US President [insert name here] that the war in Afghanistan is essentially to prevent AlQaida from planning another attack on the US have, after almost eight years, become transparently ridiculous. (You can read Stephen Walt's articulate response to the current president's assertions at Foreign Policy.)

The 9/11 hijackers plotted in Hamburg and trained in Florida. The leadership of Al Qaeda, those that are still alive, are probably in the tribal areas of Pakistan. They can just as easily be in Somalia or Yemen. The bottom line is that if people want to plot against the US there is nothing that restricts them to a particular geographical region. Therefore, there is no need for us to be in control of a particular geographic region in order to thwart their planning. These are criminals who have, like many criminal operations, a global scope. And compared to other global criminal operations their capabilities are not very impressive. Hardly a reason to be occupying a country.

So why are we in Afghanistan? I really don't know. There is the pipelineistan scenario of Pepe Escobar. You can read about it here. But that reasoning again seems to me to be about as strong as the control of mideast oil argument was for the invasion of Iraq. Let me take a different view. My argument is weak, without much to back it, but hey, this is a blog.

The US after the first gulf war was the dominant power in the world. The alliance that the US was able to build on short notice was a statement about US power even more stupendous than the ease with which Saddam's army was vanquished. But the short history of humankind is replete with stories of empire, all of which share at least one thing in common: They are no more. It made sense then that there would be those in the US who would want to delay, if not totally avoid, the decline of American power. Hence the Project for a New American Century. The question then becomes how does one perpetuate empire? The US victory over the Soviet Union was in part due to the ability of the US to build multilateral alliances. Alliances are built against enemies, once enemies are vanquished alliances either fall apart or become a vehicle for the dominant partner's hegemony - this has held true from the Delian league to NATO. Therefore, according to this way of thinking the US has to dominate. And the instrument of domination has to be the military because this is an area where the US is so far ahead of anyone else that one can argue that this military superiority can be maintained well into the future. The instrument to be used is clear, but how the instrument is to be used is not clear.

In the 90's the major buzz in military circles was the Revolution in Military Affairs or RMA. The idea behind RMA was that technology developments had now made it possible for relatively small military forces to impose their will throughout the globe. The idea had been around for some time but the requirements of RMA for a highly developed military infrastructure had manifestly become available only now. The success of the US in the first gulf war provided support for the contention that the technological superiority of the US was sufficient for RMA. The further success in Kosovo strengthened this idea. But there really had not been a true test case. In each case, Kuwait, Kosovo, and then Afghanistan one could argue that other factors had contributed to the victory. A test case was needed which could then be used to cow any future opponents. Hence the need for an invasion of Iraq. And the need for keeping the number of troops relatively small. And the dismissal of Shinseki. And all the rest of it. Did we invade Iraq just to provide a test for RMA? There are many different agendas that support a particular policy. The desire to control mideast resources, ensuring the enrichment of Halliburton, the need for the Friedmans of the US to swagger, the paranoia of our Vice President and the psychological issues of our President all played a role. But something has to drive a policy and my contention is that the need for a demonstration project drove the invasion of Iraq. As a demonstration project the invasion of Iraq seemed to work beautifully - the mission was accomplished. Almost. The history of the Iraqi occupation has now put paid to the idea of RMA. It has now become necessary to come up with a different way to use the military instrument.

At this point one might ask why not give up on a military strategy altogether. Why not attempt other means, and surely, the biggest economy in the world can come up with other means. The answer I suppose is that power always tries to perpetuate itself. In the US power belongs to the military industrial complex. The military dominates US foreign policy. Therefore, the US response in the area of foreign policy will necessarily be a military one. RMA has failed, but there are other ideas out there. And these ideas need to be tested. Enter counter-insurgency or COIN. The occupation of Afghanistan is being driven by the need for testing the latest military doctrine (or fad). Again there are multiple factions that find the occupation of Afghanistan in their interest. I am sure the interests that Pepe Escobar refers to are there. The military industrial complex is certainly not unhappy. The billions of dollars that are being spent on the nation building campaign has to go into someone's pockets (and I am pretty sure those pockets do not belong to the Afghan public) and certainly they are not unhappy. But the driver is the military interest in finding something to replace RMA. Afghanistan is a testbed for the various ideas on how to use the US military to preserve the American empire. The poor people of Afghanistan be damned.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's an Onion World

There was the Nobel Peace Prize for the man ordering the killing of innocents in the frontier regions of Pakistan. And now this: (h/t Finkelstein)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed his government on Tuesday to draw up proposals to amend the international laws of war after a damning UN report on its war in Gaza.
But thankfully some options are off the table
The security cabinet did not, however, discuss calls made by ministers for an internal investigation into the 22-day offensive at the turn of the year that killed some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis
The little general also got into the act:
"It is in the interest of anyone fighting terrorism. We must give the IDF (Israeli army) the full backing to have the freedom of action," Barak said.
It would be positively terroristic to restrict the freedom to slaughter caged civilians. Give the man a prize.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A history of the Obama DOJ

Glenn Greenwald has this history of the Obama Department of Justice which pretty much says it all:

In February, the Obama DOJ went to court to block victims of rendition and torture from having a day in court, adopting in full the Bush argument that whatever was done to the victims is a "state secret" and national security would be harmed if the case proceeded. The following week, the Obama DOJ invoked the same "secrecy" argument to insist that victims of illegal warrantless eavesdropping must be barred from a day in court, and when the Obama administration lost that argument, they engaged in a series of extraordinary manuevers to avoid complying with the court's order that the case proceed, to the point where the GOP-appointed federal judge threatened the Government with sanctions for noncompliance. Two weeks later, "the Obama administration, siding with former President George W. Bush, [tried] to kill a lawsuit that seeks to recover what could be millions of missing White House e-mails."

In April, the Obama DOJ, in order to demand dismissal of a lawsuit brought against Bush officials for illegal spying on Americans, not only invoked the Bush/Cheney "state secrets" theory, but also invented a brand new "sovereign immunity" claim to insist Bush officials are immune from consequences for illegal domestic spying. The same month -- in the case brought by torture victims -- an appeals court ruled against the Obama DOJ on its "secrecy" claims, yet the administration vowed to keep appealing to prevent any judicial review of the interrogation program. In responses to these abuses, a handful of Democratic legislators re-introduced Bush-era legislation to restrict the President from asserting "state secrets" claims to dismiss lawsuits, but it stalled in Congress all year. At the end of April and then again in August, the administration did respond to a FOIA lawsuit seeking the release of torture documents by releasing some of those documents, emphasizing that they had no choice in light of clear legal requirements.

In May, after the British High Court ruled that a torture victim had the right to obtain evidence in the possession of British intelligence agencies documeting the CIA's abuse of him, the Obama administration threatened that it would cut off intelligence-sharing with Britain if the court revealed those facts, causing the court to conceal them. Also in May, Obama announced he had changed his mind and would fight-- rather than comply with -- two separate, unanimous court orders compelling the disclosure of Bush-era torture photos, and weeks later, vowed he would do anything (including issue an Executive Order or support a new FISA exemption) to prevent disclosure of those photos in the event he lost yet again, this time in the Supreme Court. In June, the administration "objected to the release of certain Bush-era documents that detail the videotaped interrogations of CIA detainees at secret prisons, arguing to a federal judge that doing so would endanger national security." In August, Obama Attorney General Eric Holder announced that while some rogue torturers may be subject to prosecution, any Bush officials who relied on Bush DOJ torture memos in "good faith" will "be protected from legal jeopardy." And all year long, the Obama DOJ fought (unsuccessfully) to keep encaged at Guantanamo a man whom Bush officials had tortured while knowing he was innocent.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Gaza probe 'fatal blow' to peace

So says Netanyahu. Irony is now officially dead.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Obama "is technically and legally wrong"

Barack Obama should have gone into theater. His delivery is pitch perfect. His dramatic pauses, that somber mien, as he shovels out pile after pile of manure, is just awesome. As John Caruso said of his performance at the UN "if hypocrisy was fatal in large doses, Joe Biden would be president now. " The whole thing would be comical if only the consequences were not fatal for so many.

Obama's latest venture into drama was his breathless announcement of the "secret" Iranian nuclear facility. Iran had informed the IAEA about this "secret" facility and the IAEA had in turn informed the US. Those Iranians need to borrow Dick Cheney's man safe and learn how to do secret. Scott Ritter in the Guardian (h/t Finkelstein) has shredded any argument that what the Iranians did was, in Obamaspeak "breaking rules that all nations must follow":

The "rules" Iran is accused of breaking are not vague, but rather spelled out in clear terms. In accordance with Article 42 of Iran's Safeguards Agreement, and Code 3.1 of the General Part of the Subsidiary Arrangements (also known as the "additional protocol") to that agreement, Iran is obliged to inform the IAEA of any decision to construct a facility which would house operational centrifuges, and to provide preliminary design information about that facility, even if nuclear material had not been introduced. This would initiate a process of complementary access and design verification inspections by the IAEA.

This agreement was signed by Iran in December 2004. However, since the "additional protocol" has not been ratified by the Iranian parliament, and as such is not legally binding, Iran had viewed its implementation as being voluntary, and as such agreed to comply with these new measures as a confidence building measure more so than a mandated obligation.

In March 2007, Iran suspended the implementation of the modified text of Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements General Part concerning the early provisions of design information. As such, Iran was reverting back to its legally-binding requirements of the original safeguards agreement, which did not require early declaration of nuclear-capable facilities prior to the introduction of nuclear material.

While this action is understandably vexing for the IAEA and those member states who are desirous of full transparency on the part of Iran, one cannot speak in absolute terms about Iran violating its obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. So when Obama announced that "Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow", he is technically and legally wrong.
The media as well as the "liberal" interventionists who so fervently supported Obama are backing the Iran-is-the-new-evil theme with the same enthusiasm that their brethren the neocons (and the media of course) supported George W. Bush's many glorious adventures. Glenn Greenwald who seems increasingly isolated among the liberals tries to inject some sanity into the conversation

I think the number of his invitations to speak at "progressive" venues is about to take a nosedive.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Obama - A man of many words

we are committed to demonstrating that international law is not an empty promise; that obligations must be kept; and that treaties will be enforced.

Barack Obama the man of law

Article 1

1. For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
2. This article is without prejudice to any international instrument or national legislation which does or may contain provisions of wider application.

Article 2

1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

Article 4

1. Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.
2. Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.

The Convention Against Torture signed by the United State of America on 18th February 1984, ratified 21st October 1994.

In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.

Barack Obama on release of the torture memos.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rethinking Afghanistan

A documentary from Brave New Films tries to point out again and again and again the stupidity of occupying Afghanistan if the objective is to combat terrorism (h/t Steve Hynd at Newshoggers).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

RIP Public Option

The Associated Press is reporting that the Obama administration is getting ready to bid the public option bye bye. While I think the public option in the form the Obama administration was pushing it was to little, too late, Obama himself viewed the option differently. Barak Obama had this to say about the public option:
one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest.

But that is so one month ago!

The AP reporter provides the justification for the U turn:
Such a concession probably would enrage Obama's liberal supporters but could deliver a much-needed victory on a top domestic priority opposed by GOP lawmakers.

So that's all right then. No health care reform, but our President will be victorious. Yay!


Ian Welsh at Open Left explains the "problem" with the public option and how it could be "cured." It is so succinct I am lifting it wholesale:
To put it really simply, if you don't need a profit, and if you are only as efficient as your competitors, you will drive them out of business if you are not constrained in some fashion from doing so (capital is the usual fashion, since non profits have trouble raising it. In the health care context, arranging it so the public option takes on more unhealthy people is the more likely way to do it.)

Since a real public option properly created to not be constrained from doing so WILL drive private insurers out of business, it will not be allowed to happen. It may be called a "public option", but it won't actually be allowed to operate as a public option should. A public option which won't destroy the insurers in time, is also a public option which can't drive down prices effectively.

All else is shadow play.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

That was then, this is now (health care edition)

You have to admit though, he sounds so sincere (h/t Cannonfire).

Saturday, August 8, 2009

After Baitullah

While Baitullah Mehsud's death will provide a breathing space to the Pakistani establishment, it is a minor victory given the extent of the challenges facing the government in this region. Jason Burke of the Guardian details some of the deep rooted structural problems for which the TTP is simply a part of the response. He notes the marginalization of the FATA population which will continue to give rise to many more Baitullahs:
The Pashtun tribes of the FATA have the lowest levels of literacy, economic development and infrastructural development of anywhere in Pakistan. They are not considered full citizens. Pushed to the margins, they are, in one sense, trying to fight their way into the centre of national political and economic life.
... this marginalisation is reflected within the society of the North-West frontier too. The militants are often men who would normally be consigned to the edges of a tribe in terms of status, wealth and power. Mangal Bagh, a major militant leader in the Khyber Agency, is a former truck driver. Mullah Fazlullah, who masterminded the recent Taliban take over of Swat, worked as a labourer on Pakistan's only ski lift. In Bajaur and Mohmand agencies, the pattern is repeated with senior militants including mechanics, small shopkeepers, itinerant religious teachers.
Under different circumstance such marginalization would lead to spontaneous uprisings which would quickly be quelled by authorities. But now, Burke points out, there is an ideological and logistical support which provides the uprisings with staying power. This support is from what Burke calls the Deobandi complex.
There is religious homogeneity: the conservative southwest Asian Deobandi strand of Sunni Islam that has established itself with its system of mosques and free schools across the region. There is ethnic homogeneity: the Pashtuns. There is a commercial sector of big businessmen involved in smuggling, transport, timber, drugs and a range of legitimate businesses. There is political representation: parties such as Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islami. There is diplomacy with connections to the Gulf and elsewhere in the Islamic world. There are significant flows of cash in and out, often through remittances from overseas workers. There is a broadly accepted culture: the conservative, rural, religiously-infused values of the Pashun hill tribes. And there is a military: the various Taliban groups.
Musharraf's government allowed these marginalized people to feel power. Not just in FATA but throughout the NWFP and even (through the Lal Majid) in the heart of the capital. The memory of power does not fade easily. This is not something that will disappear anytime soon.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Prince of Darkness

Jeremy Scahill is reporting that Eric Prince the founder of the company formerly known as Blackwater has been accused of murder of individuals cooperating with a federal probe into its activities. (As opposed to the slaughter of innocent Iraqi civilians which is of course not hat big a deal)
A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia. The two men claim that the company's owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee also alleges that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life."
Don't forget, this guy was, effectively, acting in the name of the American people in Iraq.


Here is a followup interview of Jeremy Scahill on Countdown:

Scahill points out that investigation into Blackwaters gun smuggling operation was blocked by the government. One of the results of the gun-running operation was the delivery of US weapons to the PKK which many in Turkey still point to as proof that the US is out to destabilize Turkey. Scahill finishes with "We can talk about Blackwater until we are blue in the face but who deployed Blackwater? Who hired Blackwater? Who, unfortunately President Obama, continues to pay Blackwater millions of dollars from the Federal payroll?" As Olbermann said "The mind reels."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Granai Massacre

This is a somewhat low quality video of a talk by Photojournalist Guy Smallman on the massacre in the village of Granai in the Farah province of Afghanistan on May 4, 2009. (h/t the-sauce.org) A US airstrike killed a 140 villagers, 93 of them children.

Near the end of the video Smallman says "Somebody somewhere gave the order ..." I wonder how much of their humanity is left to them.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Torture Photos

David Swanson reports at AfterDowningStreet (h/t A Tiny Revolution) that he has seen more than 1200 photos and several videos that the Obama administration is keeping "secret," presumably so as not to upset the delicate sensibilities of the American people. Swanson points out that this is only a small proportion of a much larger collection of photos.
The Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) of Australia revealed several of these photographs, video of the head slamming, and video of prisoners forced to masturbate, as part of a news report broadcast in 2006. But the full collection has not been made available to the public or to a special prosecutor, although it was shown to members of Congress in 2004. When these photos are eventually made public, I encourage you to take a good look at them. After you get over feeling ill, it might be appropriate to consider Congress' past 5 years of inaction. You'll be able to feel sick all over again.

The over 1,200 images that I've seen add to some stories we've seen sketched out before. We've seen the body of murdered prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi packed in ice. We've seen Spc. Charles Graner posing with it, and Spc. Sabrina Harman doing the same. But the fuller collection shows the process of cleaning the body up. A giant gash in the top of the man's head is stitched up, his eye patched, etc. Photos, some of which have been made public, show floors covered with the blood of this victim.

We've also seen a few images (one, two, three) of a man attacked and bitten by dogs. But the larger series of photos shows us much more of the wounds on his legs and arms, as well as his identification number: 153863.

Another prisoner with an ID (153399) is shown missing a good portion of his head. This is one of a number of dead bodies shown in the photographs. SBS (the Australian news outlet) found an Army report on his death and concluded that these dead prisoners had likely been shot by guards during a riot or murdered by guards in other circumstances. Others have claimed mortar attacks from outside the prison are to blame.


There are three photos of a little boy, naked, in a robe, and fully dressed. While it is very disturbing to see this little child's photos in the middle of this revolting collection, I have no idea what they are doing there or whether he was mistreated, or whether anyone was threatened with his mistreatment. But I do know that the leading lawyer who facilitated our national torture campaign and famously said that a U.S. president has the right to crush a child's testicles is a professor at a prestigious university, while his boss is sitting as a life-time judge in the Ninth Circuit because Congress refuses to impeach him. The current excuse for delay is that the Justice Department plans to release its internal report (from the Office of Professional Responsibility) very soon, just as it has been promising for many months.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fed with no oversight

It is late in the financial crisis, do you know where your money is?(h/t A Tiny Revolution)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Amira Hass

This is one impressive lady (h/t Pulse).

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Abbas Barzegar has a sensible commentary on the happenings in Iran (and the media coverage thereof) in the Guardian (h/t Pulse) which is a relief from the many hyped "purple finger" columns that have dominated the news.

Our fantastic political analyses spring from idealistic liberal hopes and are symptomatic of the larger problem we have in understanding political Islam. That this crisis has been presented as one between the "Iranian people" and its government is among the greatest errors of the media coverage this week. The competing crowds of millions for and against Ahmadinejad should have been enough to indicate that the conflict was as much a social issue as it was a political one. But phrases such as "a lot of Iranians" or "Mousavi's broad constituency" make weaker soundbites than "the Iranian people." So, from Sarkozy to Sky News, the only "Iranian people" that seemingly exist this week are those wearing green.

But bias is not my gripe; the good Muslim v bad Muslim game is an old one. I care about misrepresentation. By ignoring the millions of Ahmadinejad supporters (even after counting for mass fraud) journalists and pundits have mistaken Iranian Islamists as communist bureaucrats on a payroll that might easily fold when forced to attack other Iranians. Instead, we have seen Basiji volunteers jump at the opportunity to smash their batons across the faces of men, women, and anyone else in their way.

Iranian Islamists' allegiances do not lie with saffron rice and Hafez's poems. They love God, then country, grind through life as factory workers and farmhands in addition to getting PhDs in engineering and medicine. Iranians loyal to their Islamic project recite prayers for their president, relish the martyrdom of Hussein, and wait for the return of their messiah. So did anyone really think that his terrestrial representative would allow more than a week of bank burnings and highway closures? Are we really shocked that the military would close rank, dissidents would be arrested, and political threats be neutralised as 250,000 US troops sit on the country's borders and Cheney's $400m support for regime subversion gets stamped by Obama?

Instead of trying to understand the complexity of Iranian Islamism and its fusion into the international political system, intellectuals in the west have dismissed its architects and supporters as brainwashed fanatics controlled by wicked priests. We have lived vicariously through its dissidents and exiles. We have cherished stories such as Reading Lolita in Tehran and recommended films such as Not Without My Daughter and Persepolis to our closest family and friends. It was only a matter of time, we so desperately believed.

What is happening in Iran is fascinating, exciting, heartwarming, because it shows the willingness of people to stand up for what they want. But just because this set of people put a higher priority on things we might feel are most desirable does not mean that there is not another set of people that have a different set of priorities. A set of priorities best articulated by Ahmedinejad. In the US, the only things we know about Ahmedinejad are that he thinks Iran has rights to nuclear power and that he, at the very least, minimizes the holocaust. In Iran, he is probably known and liked, or disliked, for much more. A system is confronting the dissatisfaction of a portion of the populace. In times of such confrontation nations develop if the ruling establishment is willing to accept compromises to satisfy, or at least mollify, the disaffected elements of the society, or the crisis deepens further. The rulers of Iran are not immature in their understanding of power so I would be surprised if they went with the latter option.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An analysis

Writing in the Guardian Pankaj Mishra provides a sensible analysis of the situation in Pakistan. In particular his response to the view of many western pundits is refreshingly sane. He comments on this statement from Joe Klein in Time about a meeting Holbrooke had with students in Peshawar:

But the most telling meeting was with young adults, many of them students, from the northwest tribal areas. A young man said he had known one of those killed in a Predator drone strike. "You killed 10 members of his family," he said. Another said the refugees created by the Predator strikes had destabilized his village. "Are many of them Taliban?" Holbrooke asked.

"We are all Taliban," the young man replied. It seemed a statement of solidarity, not affiliation, but as a way of revealing how mixed loyalties and deep resentments make Pakistan so difficult to handle, it was shocking all the same.

To which Mishra says:

One wishes Klein had paused to wonder if people anywhere else would wholeheartedly support a foreign power that "collaterally" murders 50 relatives and friends from the air for every militant killed.

And in reference to a comment by India's answer to Thomas Friedman:

But this does not amount to popular endorsement of drone attacks. Last month Fareed Zakaria informed Jon Stewart on the Daily Show that Pakistan is emerging from its state of denial since his Pakistani friends, who previously opposed the drone attacks, now tell him: "You know what? If that's the only thing that will work, kill those guys." Some members of Pakistan's tiny elite, where Zakaria's native informants come from, may long to exterminate the brutes: they fear, often correctly, Islamic extremists as embodying the rage and frustration of the country's underprivileged majority. But as the suffering of civilians in Swat becomes known, the highly qualified public support for military action will wane quickly.

It is an interesting article and well worth a read.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The speech to the Muslim world

A thoughtful appreciation of the President's approach to the Middle East from a former skeptic.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Some accountability

There are moments that become etched into your mind. The day Ken Saro-Wiwa was killed is one of those. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I had not really believed that they would actually go through and kill him. But they did. And now, fourteen years later, finally some small measure of accountability. Royal Dutch Shell, which had found Saro-Wiwa a turbulent irritant, settled rather than face a trial over complicity in Saro-Wiwa's death.

New York– After legal battles lasting nearly fourteen years, oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has been forced to pay a $15.5 million out-of-court settlement. Plaintiffs from the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta have successfully held Shell accountable for complicity in human rights atrocities committed against the Ogoni people in the 1990s, including the execution of writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. The legal action is one of the few cases brought under the U.S. Alien Tort Statute that have been resolved in favor of the plaintiffs. The settlement includes establishment of a $5 million trust to benefit local communities in Ogoni.

“We congratulate the plaintiffs on their victory. Let there be no doubt that Shell has emerged guilty. With this settlement, Shell is seeking to keep the overwhelming evidence of its crimes away from the scrutiny of a jury trial,” said Ben Amunwa from the UK-based remember saro-wiwa project. “Shell could not stand the damage of bad publicity around this human rights case. Global campaigners have helped to highlight Shell’s abuses and we share in this historic victory.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Our leaders and us

If ever proof was needed that our leaders see us as gullible fools, here is Senator Reid . (h/t Arthur Silber)

REID: I’m saying that the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans, do not want terrorists to be released in the United States. That’s very clear.

QUESTION: No one’s talking about releasing them. We’re talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.

REID: Can’t put them in prison unless you release them.

QUESTION: Sir, are you going to clarify that a little bit? I mean (OFF-MIKE).

REID: I can’t -- I can’t -- I can’t make it any more clear than the statement I have given to you. We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States. I think the majority -- I speak for the majority of the Senate.

QUESTION: But you don’t want to (OFF-MIKE).

REID: Only until we get the plan.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) of your position (OFF-MIKE)

REID: We’ll wait until we get the plan.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) mean that Guantanamo will remain open indefinitely (OFF-MIKE)

REID: I repeat: I agree with McCain, Bush and Obama: Guantanamo should be closed because it makes us less safe and it will be closed. We’re waiting for a plan from the president and (OFF- MIKE).


REID: Can’t say anything but what I’ve said, and re-said it three times. Can’t say it four times. That’s how I feel.


QUESTION: But Senator, Senator, it’s not that you’re not being clear when you say you don’t want them released. But could you say -- would you be all right with them being transferred to an American prison?

REID: Not in the United States.


REID: I think I’ve had about enough of this.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

And so it goes

It seems TARP (the Taliban Recruitment Program) is working as predicted.

A banned jihadi charity accused of links to November's Mumbai attacks has resurfaced in north-western Pakistan, where it is running an extensive aid programme for people fleeing fighting in Swat.

The Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) offers food, medical care and transport to villagers fleeing into Mardan district, where authorities are struggling to cope with an influx of more than 500,000 people.

But the charity, according to experts, officials and some of its own members, is the renamed relief wing of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a group the Pakistani government banned last December after the UN declared it a terrorist organisation.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa is considered to be the public face of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group accused of orchestrating the Mumbai attack on hotels and cafes that killed at least 173 people.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What to do?

Philip Giraldi makes some sensible recommendations.

Again, as in Afghanistan, what should Obama do? Providing technical support to help secure the Pakistani missiles is a good step that is already taking place and is indisputably in America’s national interest, but a halt to drone strikes and disengagement from Pakistan’s fractious internal politics would send a welcome message that the United States will cease its interference. President Zardari is seen as a U.S. puppet, precisely the same perception that first weakened and then brought down his predecessor, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Removing the heavy U.S. footprint from a highly volatile situation would increase the president’s authority, not weaken it. Pakistan has an interest in curbing both terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and its own domestic Taliban. It should be encouraged to do so on its own terms, not given marching orders and then rebuked when the orders prove impossible to execute. The more Washington interferes, the worse the situation will inevitably become, an axiom that has been true almost everywhere in the world of late, the poisonous fruit of the "Bush Doctrine."

Leaving Central Asia alone might seem like a radical step to some, but it could be the only option that would actually improve the situation, forcing the people of the region to come up with their own answers and solutions. It would also be better than turning on the nightly news and watching wave after wave of U.S. helicopters evacuating staff from the roofs of the embassies in Kabul and Islamabad. We Americans have been there before.


Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: "Beheadings and use of human shields by Taleban forces are not a blank cheque for the Pakistani army.

"Winning the war, but also the peace, in Swat can only be achieved by minimising civilian suffering."

Monday, May 11, 2009

The greatest threats

The threats to Pakistan's stability are the problems of incompetent governance, an unequal distribution of wealth and resources, and a reluctance by the feudal elites and the military to share power. A recent poll seems to indicate that, regardless of what Ms. Clinton says, the Pakistanis do not view the threats to themselves the same way as the US.

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The prospect of Islamist militants destabilizing nuclear-armed Pakistan is a global fear, but only 10 percent of Pakistanis saw terrorism as their biggest worry, according to an opinion poll released on Monday.

For the vast majority economic issues such as inflation, unemployment and poverty were a greater problem, according to a survey by the International Republican Institute (IRI), a Washington-based organization chaired by Senator John McCain.

The Taleban are a symptom, not only of the desperation of a people facing grinding poverty and incompetent governance, but also of the lack of viable alternatives to express their despair. As long as the Taleban were a distant threat the people did not pay them much attention. In fact, many in Pakistan saw them as a legitimate resistance to occupation. As long as that was the case, the Pakistan army was reluctant to openly move against them, in spite of the tremendous pressure coming from the US. The shift of public opinion after the flogging video surfaced and, more importantly, after the Taleban expansion into Buner, gave them an opening which they have taken. But the opening is limited. The plight of the refugees is going to move public opinion against the military as will the tales of the civilians who will die because of this offensive. As opposed to the somewhat simplistic view of the military in the west, the Pakistan military derives much of its legitimacy from popular opinion. Musharraf's opening of the media means they can no longer rely on state propaganda to cover up for their shortcomings. If they see a major shift in public opinion against them they will respond accordingly. For the military to accomplish what they want to do in the short period they have will require real leadership. They will have to move quickly to complete the offensive portion of their action and take the lead in rebuilding efforts which will have to be conducted with transparency and efficiency. It remains to be seen whether Kayani can provide this leadership

Saturday, May 9, 2009


The flood of refugees escaping from the Pakistani army assault on the Taleban in Swat will soon increase as the military tries to take what it should have secured before their assault on Buner. This does not bode well for the future of Pakistan. This is clearly a situation where the military is attacking the citizens of its own country. This is not East Pakistan redux, but the parallels are there. The military attacking the citizens has never redounded in favor of the military. And there will be consequences, both short term and long term, for the status of the military, and hence its ability to wield power. This increased flux of refugees, apart from being tragic by its very existence will weaken the government both directly and indirectly. Directly, by exposing their incompetence and their lack of empathy for the people they supposedly represent. This will leave the door open to those who present themselves as an alternative.
However, the Government’s inability to cope with the flood of refugees is now angering many people — and opening another window for Islamist political parties and illegal militant groups. Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s largest Islamic political party, which has openly opposed the army operation against the militants, is most active in all the camps, providing the refugees with all kinds of help. Members of banned radical groups are also reported to have been seen working there.
And indirectly by exacerbating the existing tensions within the country. The economic impact of a million displaced people trying to find some way of replacing their likelihood is going to be another hit on a fragile economy. The NWFP and the economic center of Karachi will be further destabilized by the influx of refugees. The danger is not exactly lost on the Pakistanis. This from an editorial in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn.
PEOPLE are pouring out of Swat and they must be housed and fed without delay. Refugees who have fled other conflict zones in the country’s northwest also need to be provided with basic necessities such as tents, food, water and healthcare. At the risk of repeating ourselves, we urge the government to help the displaced who have been scarred for life by both the Taliban and the security establishment’s response to militant activities. Having a home is something one takes for granted, and it is perhaps impossible from this remove to relate to the plight of people running for their lives clutching a few possessions. The agonies suffered by a trader, farmer or labourer who may now have to beg for bread can never be fully comprehended by analysts tapping on keyboards, however furiously. The internally displaced have paid a heavy price for the policy failures of successive governments. They have seen the brutality of the Taliban from close range. Practical measures are needed now to assure the dispossessed that the state is on their side and will not let them down, come what may. If the refugees are not afforded a semblance of dignity, the battle for hearts and minds is as good as lost. A hungry child, if he or she lives, may one day be a bitter adult willing to lend an ear to the voice of obscurantism.
The problem though will not wait until that hungry child grows up. And the likelihood of the government responding with any level of competence is remote. The President is widely seen as a crook who is willing to sell out the country to the US in exchange for their support of his criminal enterprise. The columnist Ayaz Amir in the News:
With the skeletons in his closet, Zardari can be expected only to look out for himself. He is already indebted to the Americans for helping him to come to power. He knows that if the US pulls the rug from under his feet he is lost. He mumbles rehearsed words which sound worse than platitudes. It is too much to expect that he can stand up against the odds and court, where necessary, American displeasure.
The Dawn editorial writer is a bit, (but only a bit) more circumspect.
Given the track record of a bureaucracy known for its incompetence, lethargy and dishonesty, the government should perhaps consider the option of channelling at least a portion of relief funds through reputable private-sector organisations.
The refugees are a harbinger of much instability. If, as seems very likely, the Pakistani army's assault on Swat was in response to our pressure, we really did not do ourselves a favor.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Short term and long term

It was 2003 and the conversation was an intense one between a high ranking Pakistani military officer and a politician from PATA - the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas which include the Swat valley. The politician was arguing that the government needed to move quickly to fully incorporate the PATA region into the political structure of Pakistan - give it all the rights that any other region had. And the officer was mostly in agreement. At least that was what I took away given my less than perfect language skills. Neither the politician nor the officer was at a high enough level to make an agreement. But they were high enough to have an influence. I have often thought of that conversation since then. I knew then that it was not in our short term interest for there to be any change in the political status of the frontier region as that would mean uncertainty. We were engaged in Afghanistan - successfully it seemed at the time - and we really did not need uncertainty on the Pakistan side of the Durand line. I don't know if US influence scuppered the deal. Or even if the Pakistanis had progressed to the point of having a deal to scupper. What I do know is if there was any US involvement it was probably to the detriment of any change in the political status of the PATA. We would have acted for our short term interest and against the long term interest of Pakistan. Looking at the situation in Swat and other PATA regions today it turns out our actions would have also been against the long term interest of the US.

If one, for the most part, accepts the articulation of the reasons behind US foreign policy, it seems our long term interests are mostly hurt when we work against the long term interests of other states. Overthrowing Mosaddegh in 1953 gave us a client state in Iran for a quarter century but planted the seeds for the 1979 revolution. Mosaddegh was not someone hostile to the US and one can envision an alternate history in which we had worked with Mosaddegh and Iran would have become and remained a strong and reliable ally. Giving Zia the green light in Pakistan to overthrow Bhutto probably looked like a good move at the time. Removing a nationalizing politician who had sworn to acquire nuclear weapons must have seemed a no-brainer. But the retardation of the democratic process and the Islamization of the country under Zia has, in the long term, been to the detriment of our interests. Stephen Kinzer noted, I think in his book Overthrow, that we want the governments we put in place in the various countries we intervene in to be democratic and to look after our interests. Unfortunately, these are contradictory aims. Rulers who look after our interests before they look after the interests of their own people can by definition not be democratic.

Looking at our entry into the disastrous adventure called the AfPak strategy it is too much to hope that the US has learned any lessons. The problem in Pakistan is not of an increase in religious fanaticism, it is that of a populace increasingly disillusioned with the various power centers that rule the country. In this situation the Taliban gain strength not because people support them but because they do not support the government. The two power centers in Pakistan are the feudals, represented by the political parties, and the military. For brief periods of time the populace ties their hopes to one or the other, only to seem them dashed in short order. What is needed in Pakistan is the development of reasonably competent governance which at least appears to be responsive to the needs of the people. To ask the US to provide this would be ridiculous. However, in a sane world, it would be reasonable to ask the US not to embark upon policies that aggravate the situation. Unfortunately, it seems we are not living in a sane world.

The Swat agreement was disturbing, to say the least, and the Taliban's move into Buner convinced even those who thought they could buy some time (and the people of Swat some peace) that the Taliban had no intention of halting their advance. But the Pakistan army's heavy handed response in Buner, spurred on it seems by US demands that the Pakistanis take harsh action against the Taleban, is only going to sharpen the contradictions that already exist in society. The abruptness of the Pakistani action at a time of increasing criticism from US government representative, and the lack of any planning all suggest a response to external pressure. Pakistan is in a brittle state and the sharp increase in the number of internally displaced people is going to severely strain the social fabric with the beneficiaries being any group that rises up against the established order. The Taleban are not going to take over the country, or the nukes, regardless of what the fearmongers in Washington say. But the process can put sufficient strain on the country to cause it to fracture among other lines. And there are so many of them

The situation in Baluchistan keeps getting worse and worse. A separation movement which has existed in some form of another since the birth of Pakistan is gaining strength. The death of Akbar Bugti, a cunning old feudal lord who was leading the separatists, has introduced a qualitative change. Akbar Bugti had been through enough twists and turns of Pakistan's history, being at one time the Governor and at another the Chief minister of Balochistan, that he knew when to push and when not to. His death leaves the movement in much more radical hands.

Karachi, the commercial heart of Pakistan, is always simmering with barely contained conflict between ethnic groups that have lived side-by-side for generations without integrating. The dominant ethnic group are the descendants of migrants from India whose ancestors came to Pakistan after the 1947 partition of British India into Pakistan and India. The thuggish MQM which is based in this group is in violent conflict with the ANP which represents one of the other major ethnic group in Karachi, the Pashtuns. Most of this group is descendant of economic migrants from the North West Frontier Province. The activities of the Pakistan army in Buner and Swat is sure to swell this population increasing the .

Pakistan is home to a large Shia minority which is anathema to the more fanatical sunni groups. Under normal conditions they are not a major problem. Increasing instability in the country is sure to provide opportunities for murder and mayhem from this group.

And while the Taleban are not going to be taking over Pakistan any time soon they will be a major problem in the North West. The role of the Taleban as the resistance fighting the foreign occupier also makes them appear more sympathetic than they would otherwise be. The habit of the US army of calling in airstrikes on civilian groups is not helping matters any. Or the brutality and immorality of Bagram. Killing the Taleban will not resolve the problem of the Taleban, however strange that sounds. The Taleban are a symptom. They are a short term problem. By focusing on the short term we are making sure we have a long term problem.

The US has the most powerful military the world has ever known and maybe that is the problem. As Robin Williams said "See, the problem is that God gives men a brain and a penis, and only enough blood to run one at a time.” Maybe that powerful military is draining the US of the sanity needed to think of the long term.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A chink in the armor?

A court has actually refused to play ball with the Obama administration on the state security claim. This is a hopeful sign that perhaps some day the people we tortured will get some measure of justice.

A federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday ruled that five men who say they were detained and tortured as part of the Bush administration's "extraordinary rendition" program can proceed with a lawsuit against a Boeing subsidiary they say was involved in their ill-treatment.

The ruling was a setback to efforts by the Bush and Obama administrations, which both supported throwing out the lawsuit on the grounds that it risked revealing state secrets.The case is shaping up to be a landmark, as it is the first lawsuit filed by former detainees in the rendition program against a private company allegedly implicated in torture and illegal detention.

That firm is Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan, of San Jose, Calif., which the San Francisco Chronicle reports was identified as the CIA's "aviation services provider" in a 2007 Council of Europe report.

Said the court:

"According to the government's theory, the judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law," Judge Michael Hawkins said in the 3-0 ruling.

Allowing the government to shield its conduct from court review simply because classified information is involved "would ... perversely encourage the president to classify politically embarrassing information simply to place it beyond the reach of judicial process," Hawkins said


"As the founders of this nation knew well, arbitrary imprisonment and torture under any circumstances is a 'gross and notorious ... act of despotism,' " Hawkins said, citing language from a 2004 Supreme Court decision.