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By Dave Lindorff
Philadelphians don’t have any problem figuring out what happened to Freddie Gray, the 25-year old black man who died as a result of a severed spine at the neck while being transported in a police van by Baltimore Police.
Chris Woods' excellent new book is called Sudden Justice: America's Secret Drone Wars. The title comes from a claim that then-President George W. Bush made for drone wars. The book actually tells a story of gradual injustice. The path from a U.S. government that condemned as criminal the type of murder that drones are used for to one that treats such killings as perfectly legal and routine has been a very gradual and completely extra-legal process.
Drone murders started in October 2001 and, typically enough, the first strike murdered the wrong people. The blame game involved a struggle for control among the Air Force, CENTCOM, and the CIA. The absurdity of the struggle might be brought out by modifying the "Imagine you're a deer" speech in the movie My Cousin Vinny: Imagine you're an Iraqi. You're walking along, you get thirsty, you stop for a drink of cool clear water... BAM! A fuckin missile rips you to shreds. Your brains are hanging on a tree in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya. Would you give a fuck which agency the son of a bitch who shot you was working for?
Yet much more attention has gone into which agency does what than into how best to pretend it's all legal. CIA team leaders began getting orders to kill rather than capture, and so they did. As of course did the Air Force and the Army. This was novel when it came to the murder of specific, named individuals as opposed to large numbers of unnamed enemies. According to Paul Pillar, deputy chief of the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center in the late 1990s, "There was a sense that the White House did not want to put clearly on paper anything that would be seen as authorization to assassinate, but instead preferred more of a wink-and-nod to killing bin Laden."
In the early months of Bush-Cheney, the Air Force and CIA were each struggling to impose the drone murder program on the other. Neither wanted to end up in a heap of trouble for something so illegal. After September 11, Bush told Tenet the CIA could go ahead and murder people without asking for his permission each time. One model for this was Israel's targeted murder program, which the U.S. government denounced as illegal up until 9-11-2001. Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell was the lead author of an April 2001 U.S. government report that said Israel should cease and desist, and criticized its operation as failing to distinguish protests from terrorism.
How did the U.S. government get from there to a "Homeland Security Department" that trains local police to consider protesters to be terrorists? The answer is: gradually and fundamentally through a change in behavior and culture rather than through legislation or court ruling. By late 2002, the U.S. State Department was being questioned in a press conference as to why it condemned Israeli murders but not similar U.S. murders. Why the double standard? The State Department had no answer whatsoever, and simply stopped criticizing Israel. The U.S. government kept quiet for years, however, about the fact that some of the people it was murdering were U.S. citizens. The groundwork had not yet been prepared sufficiently for the public to swallow that.
Some three-quarters of U.S. drone strikes have been in supposed battlefields. As one weapon among many in an existing war, armed drones have been deemed legal by lawyers and human rights groups across the full spectrum of the tiny percentage of humanity whose governments are engaged in the drone murders -- plus the "United Nations" that serves those governments. What makes the wars legal is never explained, but this sleight of hand was a foot in the door for the acceptance of drone murders. It was only when the drones killed people in other countries where there was no war underway, that any lawyers -- including some of the 750 who've recently signed a petition in support of allowing Harold Koh (who justified drone murders for the State Department) to teach so-called human rights law at New York University -- saw any need to concoct justifications. The UN never authorized the wars on Afghanistan or Iraq or Libya, not that it actually could do so under the Kellogg Briand Pact, and yet the illegal wars were taken as legalizing the bulk of the drone murders. From there, just a little liberal sophistry could "legalize" the rest.
The United Nations Human Rights Council's Asma Jahangir declared non-war drone murders to be murder at the end of 2002. UN investigator (and law partner of Tony Blair's wife) Ben Emmerson noted that in the U.S. view, war could now travel around the world to wherever bad guys went, thus making drone murders anywhere only as illegal as other wars, the legality of which nobody gave a damn about. In fact, the CIA's view, as explained to Congress by CIA General Counsel Caroline Krass in 2013, was that treaties and customary international law could be violated at will, while only domestic U.S. law need be complied with. (And, of course, domestic U.S. laws against murder in the United States might resemble domestic Pakistani or Yemeni laws against murder in Pakistan or Yemen, but resemblance is not identity, and only the U.S. laws matter.)
The growing acceptance of drone murders among Western imperialist lawyers led to all the usual attempts to tweak the crime around the edges: proportionality, careful targeting, etc. But "proportionality" is always in the eye of the killer. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed, along with various innocent people, when Stanley McChrystal declared it "proportionate" to blow up a whole house to murder one man. Was it? Was it not? There is no actual answer. Declaring murders "proportionate" is just rhetoric that lawyers have told politicians and generals to apply to human slaughter. In one drone strike in 2006, the CIA killed some 80 innocent people, most of them children. Ben Emmerson expressed mild displeasure. But the question of "proportionality" wasn't raised, because it wasn't helpful rhetoric in that case. During the occupation of Iraq, U.S. commanders could plan operations in which they expected to kill up to 30 innocent people, but if they expected 31 they needed to get Donald Rumsfeld to sign off on it. That's the sort of legal standard that drone murders fit into just fine, especially once any "military aged male" was redefined as an enemy. The CIA even counts innocent women and children as enemies, according to the New York Times.
As drone murders rapidly spread during the Bush-Cheney years (later to absolutely explode during the Obama years) the rank and file enjoyed sharing the videos around. Commanders tried to halt the practice. Then they began releasing select videos while keeping all the others strictly hidden.
As the practice of murdering people with drones in nations where mass-murder hadn't been somehow sanctioned by the banner of "war" became routine, human rights groups like Amnesty International began stating clearly that the United States was violating the law. But over the years, that clear language faded, replaced by doubt and uncertainty. Nowadays, human rights groups document numerous cases of drone murders of innocents and then declare them possibly illegal depending on whether or not they are part of a war, with the question of whether murders in a given country are part of a war having been opened up as a possibility, and with the answer resting at the discretion of the government launching the drones.
By the end of the Bush-Cheney years, the CIA's rules were supposedly changed from launching murderous drone strikes whenever they had a 90% chance of "success" to whenever they had a 50% chance. And how was this measured? It was in fact eliminated by the practice of "signature strikes" in which people are murdered without actually knowing who they are at all. Britain, for its part, cleared the way for murdering its citizens by stripping them of their citizenship as needed.
All of this went on in official secrecy, meaning it was known to anyone who cared to know, but it wasn't supposed to be talked about. The longest serving member of Germany's oversight committee admitted that Western governments were depending largely on the media to find out what their spies and militaries were doing.
The arrival of Captain Peace Prize in the White House took drone murders to a whole new level, destabilizing nations like Yemen, and targeting innocents in new ways, including by targeting the rescuers just arrived at the bloody scene of an earlier strike. Blow back against the U.S. picked up, as well as blow back against local populations by groups claiming to be acting in retaliation for U.S. drone murders. The damage drones did in places like Libya during the 2011 U.S.-NATO overthrow was not seen as a reason to step back, but as grounds for yet more drone killing. Growing chaos in Yemen, predicted by observers pointing to the counterproductive effects of the drones strikes, was claimed as a success by Obama. Drone pilots were now committing suicide and suffering moral stress in large numbers, but there was no turning back. A 90% majority in Yemen's National Dialogue wanted armed drones criminalized, but the U.S. State Department wanted the world's nations to buy drones too.
Rather than ending or scaling back the drone-murder program, the Obama White House began publicly defending it and advertising the President's role in authorizing the murders. Or at least that was the course after Harold Koh and gang figured out how exactly they wanted to pretend to "legalize" murder. Even Ben Emmerson says it took them so long because they hadn't yet figured out what excuses to use. Will the dozens of nations now acquiring armed drones need any excuse at all?
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: A small reminder that the new title Dispatch Books has just released, Nick Turse’s remarkable and chilling Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, is available through our publisher Haymarket Books at a 40% discount right now. To order it from Haymarket, click here and then, enter the code TBF40 at checkout for that special discount. In addition, in return for a $100 contribution to TomDispatch, you can get a signed, personalized copy of the book from Nick. Check out our donation page for the details. (The next batch of signed books will go out in early May.) Either way, we hope you get your hands on a copy and give Dispatch Books and this website a meaningful little boost. Your support really does make a difference to us. Tom]
A Letter of Apology to My Grandson
A Pox on Twenty-First-Century America
By Tom Engelhardt
Consider my address book -- and yes, the simple fact that I have one already tells you a good deal about me. All the names, street addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers that matter to me are still on paper, not in a computer or on an iPhone, and it’s not complicated to know what that means: I’m an old guy getting older. Going on 71, though I can hardly believe it. And that little book shows all the signs of where I’m headed. It wasn’t true a few years ago, but if I start flipping through the pages now, I can’t help but notice that the dead, with their addresses and phone numbers still beside them, are creeping up on the living, and that my little address book looks increasingly like a mausoleum.
Age has been on my mind of late, especially when I spend time with you. This year, my father, your great-grandfather, who died in 1983, would have been 109 years old. And somehow, I find that moving. I feel him a part of me in ways I wouldn’t have allowed myself to admit in my youth, and so think of myself as more than a century old. Strangely, this leaves me with a modest, very personal sense of hope. Through my children (and perhaps you, too), someday long after I’m gone, I can imagine myself older still. Don’t misunderstand me: I haven’t a spiritual bone in my body, but I do think that, in some fashion, we continue to live inside each other and so carry each other onward.
As happens with someone of my age, the future seems to be foreshortening and yet it remains the remarkable mystery it’s always been. We can’t help ourselves: we dream about, wonder about, and predict what the future might hold in store for us. It's an urge that, I suspect, is hardwired into us. Yet, curiously enough, we’re regularly wrong in the futures we dream up. Every now and then, though, you peer ahead and see something that proves -- thanks to your perceptiveness or pure dumb luck (there’s no way to know which) -- eerily on target.
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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: We have news and a special offer for TomDispatch readers today. As all TD obsessives know, for the last two years award-winning journalist Nick Turse has been covering a striking development tenaciously and practically alone: the “pivot” of U.S. Africa Command to that continent. It’s a major story that, at the moment, simply can’t be found elsewhere and it’s now in book form, thanks to our growing publishing program at Dispatch Books. Its title: Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and it’s that ominous “tomorrow” that catches just why we should all be concerned. Right now, when you think of war, American-style, what comes to mind is Iraq or Afghanistan or maybe Libya or even Yemen, but as Turse makes clear, tomorrow it could be Mali, or Nigeria, or Niger, or dozens of other places on the African continent. This story should be a significant beat for the mainstream media, but as of now almost no one’s paying attention except, of course, the U.S. military -- andTomDispatch. Glenn Greenwald calls Nick's new book “gripping and meticulous... his investigations... reveal a secret war with grave implications for Africans and Americans alike.” Noam Chomsky says, “Nick Turse’s investigative reporting has revealed a remarkable picture of evolving U.S. military operations in Africa that have been concealed from view, but have ominous portent, as he demonstrates vividly and in depth.” That’s why, both for your own information and to support a small operation that does big things, you really should pick up a copy of Nick’s remarkable new book of reportage, available now and officially published in a few days. (If you want to order it directly from our publisher, the stalwart and remarkable Haymarket Books, just click here and then, for a special publication date discount of 40%, enter this code, TBF40, at checkout.)
For those of you who would like to support TomDispatch in a slightly more grandiose way and help keep us atop the latest developments in a roiling world, a contribution of $100 to this site will get you a signed, personalized copy of Tomorrow’s Battlefield. It’s an offer we hope you’ll jump at, giving us the sort of financial boost we always need. Just check out our donation pagefor the details -- and, as ever, many thanks in advance. One small scheduling matter: for those of you who get your contributions to us within 36 hours of the posting of this piece, a signed book will be in the mail to you almost immediately. For the rest of you: be patient. The next batch of books won’t go out until early May. Tom]
There were those secret service agents sent to Colombia to protect the president on a summit trip and the prostitutes they brought back to their hotel rooms. There was the Air Force general on a major bender in Moscow (with more women involved). There were those Drug Enforcement Administration agents and their “sex parties” abroad (possibly in Colombia again) financed by -- no kidding! -- local drug cartels. And there were, of course, the two senior secret service agents who, after a night of drinking, ran their car into a White House security barrier.
That's what we do know from the headlines and news reports, when it comes to sex, drugs, and acting truly badly abroad (as well as at home). And yet there's so much more, as TomDispatch’s intrepid Nick Turse reports today. As you'll see, Turse has unearthed a continent’s worth of bad behavior, even as U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) went out of its way to obstruct his reporting and the documents he obtained under the Freedom of Information Act were so heavily redacted that ink companies must be making a fortune. No one should, of course, be surprised that as AFRICOM has quietly and with almost no attention pivoted to Africa, making inroads in 49 of the 54 countries on that continent, a certain kind of all-American behavior has “pivoted” with it. In a revelatory piece today, Turse -- whose groundbreaking new book, Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, has just been published -- pulls the curtain back on one bit of scandalous and disturbing behavior after another on a continent that Washington is in the process of making its own; in other words (given the pattern of the last 13 years), that it’s helping to destabilize in a major way.
If you want a little bit of light comedy to leaven the news, only a few weeks ago, AFRICOM hosted military lawyers from 17 African nations at its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. The subject of the gathering: “the rule of law.” As Lieutenant General Steven Hummer, AFRICOM deputy to the commander of military operations, said in his opening remarks, “The rule of law is our most important export.” Turse has a slightly different interpretation of what the U.S. is “exporting” to Africa along with destabilization and blowback. Tom
Sex, Drugs, and Dead Soldiers
What U.S. Africa Command Doesn’t Want You to Know
By Nick Turse
Six people lay lifeless in the filthy brown water.
It was 5:09 a.m. when their Toyota Land Cruiser plunged off a bridge in the West African country of Mali. For about two seconds, the SUV sailed through the air, pirouetting 180 degrees as it plunged 70 feet, crashing into the Niger River.
Three of the dead were American commandos. The driver, a captain nicknamed “Whiskey Dan,” was the leader of a shadowy team of operatives never profiled in the media and rarely mentioned even in government publications. One of the passengers was from an even more secretive unit whose work is often integral to Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which conducts clandestine kill-and-capture missions overseas. Three of the others weren’t military personnel at all or even Americans. They were Moroccan women alternately described as barmaids or "prostitutes."
The West Snubs Russia over V-E Day
April 20, 2015
Editor Note: Last year’s U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine – followed by violence and tensions – has soured plans for the May 9 commemoration in Moscow of World War II’s V-E Day, the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany, a war which cost the Russian people nearly 27 million dead.
By Ray McGovern
The controversy over alleged Russian “aggression” in Ukraine is already raining on the Kremlin parade with which Russia will mark the 70th anniversary of the Allies’ victory over Adolf Hitler and the Nazis on May 9. U.S. President Barack Obama set the tone by turning down the Kremlin’s invitation to take part in the celebration, and allies in Western Europe have been equally uncouth in saying No.
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Emails: How Obama Administration Secretly Approved Expanding Piece of Enbridge's "Keystone XL Clone"
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
DeSmogBlog has obtained dozens of emails that lend an inside view of how the U.S. State Department secretly handed Enbridge a permit to expand the capacity of its U.S.-Canada border-crossing Alberta Clipper pipeline, which carries tar sands diluted bitumen ("dilbit") from Alberta to midwest markets.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
After a speech I gave this past weekend, a young woman asked me whether a failure by the United States to properly surround and intimidate China might result in instability. I explained why I thought the opposite was true. Imagine if China had military bases along the Canadian and Mexican borders with the United States and ships in Bermuda and the Bahamas, Nova Scotia and Vancouver. Would you feel stabilized? Or might you feel something else?
The U.S. empire can continue to see itself as a force for good, doing things that would be unacceptable for anyone else but never to be questioned when performed by the global cop -- that is, it can go on not seeing itself at all, expanding, over-reaching, and collapsing from within. Or it can recognize what it's about, shift priorities, scale back militarism, reverse the concentration of wealth and power, invest in green energy and human needs, and undo the empire a bit sooner but far more beneficially. Collapse is not inevitable. Collapse or redirection is inevitable, and thus far the U.S. government is choosing the path toward the former.
Let's look at a few of the indicators.
The United States bombs nations in the name of democracy, yet has one of the least democratic and least functioning of the states calling themselves democracies. The U.S. has the lowest voter turnout among wealthy, and lower even than many poor, countries. An election is looming for next year with leading contenders from two aristocratic dynasties. The United States does not use national public initiatives or referenda in the way that some countries do, so its low voter turnout (with over 60% of eligible voters choosing not to vote in 2014) matters all the more. The U.S. democracy is also less democratic than other wealthy democracies in terms of its internal functioning, with a single individual able to launch wars.
Low public participation is not the result of satisfaction so much as recognition of corruption, combined with antidemocratic barriers to participating. For years now 75% to 85% of the U.S. public has been saying its government is broken. And clearly a big part of that understanding is related to the system of legalized bribery that funds elections. Approval of Congress has been under 20% and sometimes under 10% for years now. Confidence in Congress is at 7% and falling quickly.
Recently a man, expecting to lose his job at the very least, landed a little bicycle-helicopter at the U.S. Capitol to try to deliver requests to clean the money out of elections. He cited as his motivation the "collapse of this country." Another man showed up at the U.S. Capitol with a sign reading "Tax the 1%" and proceeded to shoot himself in the head. Polls suggest those are not the only two people who see the problem -- and, it should be noted, the solution.
Of course, the U.S. "democracy" operates in greater and greater secrecy with ever greater powers of surveillance. The World Justice Project ranks the United States below many other nations in these categories: Publicized laws and government data; Right to information; Civic participation; and Complaint mechanisms.
The U.S. government is currently working on ratifying, in secret, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which empowers corporations to overturn laws enacted by the U.S. government.
A political system dominated by wealth could be democratic if wealth were evenly distributed. Sadly, the United States has a greater disparity of wealth than almost any other nation on earth. Four hundred U.S. billionaires have more money than half the people of the United States combined, and those 400 are celebrated for it rather than shamed. With the United States trailing most nations in income equality, this problem is only getting worse. The 10th wealthiest country on earth per capita doesn't look wealthy when you drive through it. And you do have to drive, with 0 miles of high-speed rail built. And you have to be careful when you drive. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives U.S. infrastructure a D+. Areas of cities like Detroit have become wasteland. Residential areas lack water or are poisoned by environmental pollution -- most often from military operations.
The core of the U.S. sales pitch to itself is that, for all its flaws it provides freedom and opportunity. In fact, it trails most European countries in economic mobility, self-assessment of wellbeing, and ranks 35th in freedom to choose what to do with your life, according to Gallup, 2014.
The United States contains 4.5 percent of the world’s population and spends 42 percent of the world's health care expenses, and yet Americans are less healthy than the residents of nearly every other wealthy nation and a few poor ones as well. The U.S. ranks 36th in life expectancy and 47th in preventing infant mortality.
The U.S. spends more on criminal justice and has more crime, and more gun deaths than most countries, rich or poor. That includes shootings by U.S. police that kill about 1,000 per year, compared to single digits in various Western nations.
The U.S. comes in 57th in employment, stands against the trend of the world by providing no guarantee of paid parental leave or vacation, and trails in education by various measures. The United States, however, leads the way in putting students into debt for their education to the tune of $1.3 trillion, part of a wider problem of personal debt.
The United States is #1 in debt to other countries, including governmental debt, although #3 per capita. As others have pointed out, the U.S. is declining in terms of exports, and the power of the dollar and its use as currency for the globe are in doubt.
DROP IN POPULAR OPINION ABROAD
In early 2014 there were unusual news stories about Gallup's end-of-2013 polling because after polling in 65 countries with the question "Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?" the overwhelming winner had been the United States of America. In fact, the United States is less generous with aid but more profligate with bombs and missiles than other countries and trails generally in how it treats the rest of the world.
The second U.S.-backed dictator in Yemen in the past few years has now fled to Saudi Arabia and requested the bombing of his own country with U.S. weapons, a country in chaos in significant part because a U.S. drone war has given popular support to violent opposition to the U.S. and its servants.
ISIS produced a 60-minute film depicting itself as the leading enemy of the U.S. and essentially asking the U.S. to attack it. The U.S. did and its recruitment soared.
The United States is favored by brutal governments in Egypt and around the region, but not by popular support.
MILITARISM FOR ITS OWN SAKE
The United States is far and away the leading selling and giver of weapons to the world; the leading spender on its own military, with expenses having skyrocketed to now about $1.3 trillion per year, roughly equivalent to the rest of the world put together; the leading occupier of the world with troops in almost every other country; and the leading participant in and instigator of wars.
The United States is also, far and away, the leader in incarceration, with more people and a higher percentage of people locked up than in any other time or place, and with even more people on parole and probation and under the control of the prison system. More African-Americans are locked up than were slaves prior to the U.S. Civil War. The U.S. is likely the first and only place on earth where the majority of sexual assault victims are male.
Civil liberties are eroding rapidly. Surveillance is expanding dramatically. And all in the name of war without end. But the wars are endless defeats, generating enemies rather than any advantage. The wars empower and create enemies, enrich nations engaged in nonviolent investment, and empower the war profiteers to push for more wars. The propaganda for the wars fails to boost military enlistment at home, so the U.S. government turns to mercenaries (creating additional pressure for more wars) and to drones. But the drones boost the creation of hatred and enemies exponentially, generating blowback that sooner or later will include blowback by means of drones -- which the U.S. war profiteers are marketing around the globe.
Resistance to empire does not come only in the form of a replacement empire. It can take the form of violent and nonviolent resistance to militarism, economic resistance to exploitation, and collective agreement to improve the world. When Iran urges India, China, and Russia to oppose NATO's expansion, it is not necessarily dreaming of global empire or even of cold war, but certainly of resistance to NATO. When bankers suggest the Yuan will replace the dollar, that need not mean that China will duplicate the Pentagon.
The current U.S. trajectory threatens to collapse not just the United States but the world in one or both of two ways: nuclear or environmental apocalypse. Green energy models and antimilitarism constitute resistance to this path. The model of Costa Rica with no military, 100% renewable energy, and ranked at the top in happiness is a form of resistance too. At the end of 2014, Gallup of course did not dare ask again what nation was the greatest threat to peace but did ask if people would ever fight in a war. In many nations large majorities said No, never.
The United States is growing isolated in its support for the institution of war. Last year 31 Latin American and Caribbean nations declared that they would never use war. U.S. support for Israeli wars has left it virtually alone and up against a growing campaign for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions. The United States is increasingly understood as rogue, as it remains the lone or nearly lone holdout on the treaty on the rights of the child, the land mines treaty, the covenant on economic, social, and cultural rights, the International Criminal Court, etc.
Latin American nations are standing up to the United States. Some have kicked out its bases and ceased sending students to the School of the Americas. People are protesting at US bases in Italy, South Korea, England, and at US Embassies in Philippines, Czech Republic, Ukraine. German courts are hearing charges that it is illegally participating in US drone wars. Pakistani courts have indicted top CIA officials.
EXCEPTIONALISM ON THE ROPES
The idea of American exceptionalism is not a serious claim so much as an attitude among the U.S. public. While the U.S. trails other nations in various measures of health, happiness, education, sustainable energy, economic security, life expectancy, civil liberties, democratic representation, and peace, and while it sets new records for militarism, incarceration, surveillance, and secrecy, many Americans think of it as so exceptional as to excuse all sorts of actions that are unacceptable in others. Increasingly this requires willful self-deception. Increasingly the self-deception is failing.
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on the military than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death he wasn't warning us. He was warning our parents and grandparents. We're the dead.
Can we be revived?
Our rights are forgotten: The Government/Corporate Encryption Debate is About How Best to Spy on You
By Alfredo Lopez
A debate, going on in the quasi-private and well-catered halls of government-corporate collusion, has reached the post-smoldering stage. It's now a virtual forest fire in full public view.
It pits government spies against corporate cannibals and is about the often misunderstood and somewhat tedious issue of encryption.
VIDEO: Rand Paul criticizes Hillary Clinton over Libya: I think it was a mistake to be in Libya... Jihadists swim in our swimming pool now. It's a disaster. We should have never been there - RealClearPolitics
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Remarks at Physicians for Social Responsibility annual event in Baltimore, Md., April 18, 2015.
It is an honor to be asked to speak to a group of people doing as much strategic and principled good as you, not to mention the good that those of you who are doctors do as doctors and health advocates in your day jobs. The closest I ever came to a respectable profession was when I studied architecture prior to dropping out. I later got a master's degree in philosophy which, combined with a couple of dollars, will get you a bus ride. Anyway, architecture students always read this novel by Ayn Rand called The Fountainhead because the protagonist is an architect. But architecture doesn't really come into it, as the book focuses more on the fact that the guy is also something of a sociopath. But around the time I read that book I also read The Plague by Albert Camus in which the protagonist dedicated himself to cheerfully making the world a better place against overwhelming odds, without any real concern for the likelihood of success, and without any particular mythologizing of the good supposedly accomplished by being a superior bastard. Camus' protagonist has stuck with me, though I haven't reread the book. He's always somewhere in the back of my head. And of course he was a doctor.
I've rather given up on every other profession in our society. NYU has hired Harold Koh, legal architect of the drone wars and legal defender of the 2011 war on Libya and of presidential war powers, to teach human rights law. After students circulated a petition protesting, liberal law professors this week created a counter petition defending Koh's record. Our hope right now does not seem to lie with lawyers. I know there are exceptions, thank goodness.
Teaching in U.S. academia now are John Yoo, David Petraeus, and all variety of killers and torturers. Erik Prince, the creator of the mercenary company Blackwater came on a book tour to the University of Virginia this week and was treated like any good academic. After all, the people his company kills aren't usually Americans or Christians or English speakers. A couple of years back professors at the University of Virginia organized a teach-in in favor of war on Syria. The students have not organized an event for, against, or indifferent to war. I don't turn to academia for inspiration at the moment. I know there are rare exceptions.
Do I even have to mention the shortcomings of the hacks we used to call statesmen and women? The Congressional Progressive Caucus produced its progressive budget this month. It stood no chance of passing. It was a rhetorical statement. Yet it made no mention of an item that takes up a majority of the budget, namely militarism. If you hunted through the numbers you could find that they were proposing to cut military spending, which has doubled during the so-called war on terror -- they were proposing to cut it by 1%. I don't look to politicians for salvation. I would say, in this case as well, that I know there are rare exceptions, except that there really aren't, not in the federal government. There are, at best, people who try to mitigate the damage a bit or who plagiarize that parental (or is it medical?) attitude of "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you" as they sorrowfully destroy the planet.
So I don't really mean to put the weight of humanity on your shoulders, but maybe physicians, or at least some significant number of physicians are a group we can look to with respect and appreciation rather than contempt or sadness.
When I was in philosophy school at the University of Virginia near the home of the guy who wrote that we were endowed by a creator with certain inalienable rights, I came across the idea of how ludicrous that might sound to a doctor. You have to picture the scene of a doctor cutting open a human body and trying to locate the right to free speech, for example. Do people really believe political rights are somehow inherent in us anymore, as opposed to being things we create and struggle to defend? I don't know. But I'll tell you what a lot of people believe. They believe that war is inherent in the human body. Now I ask you, as doctors, have you ever looked into a human brain or any other organ and discovered there a massive cultural institution that requires huge organization, planning, preparations, and investment, and has been completely unknown to most humans who have ever lived? Of course you haven't. If there's anything meant by calling a behavior "natural," war is the furthest thing from it. Raise your hand if you've encountered any epidemics of post traumatic stress from war deprivation. The United States would have to cut its military spending by 95% to match the average of the other 95% of humanity, if the spending is taken per-capita, 99.5% if taken per nation. So if you could find war in a human body, would you find it prominent in U.S. bodies? And in U.S. infants? Of course not. That seems pretty easy to figure out even without medical school, but I'm not sure most Americans would go along with it. War, they believe, is built into us somehow.
OK. Here's an even easier question. War has been evolving technologically and in other ways. Who can tell me the number one way in which war kills people today? Just shout it out.
You know, war used to kill more people than it injured, and it used to kill them first and foremost by spreading deadly diseases. Deadly diseases remain the top cause of death in the poor countries of the earth, but the way war contributes to them is primarily through the diversion of resources into war. While tens of billions of dollars per year could provide the earth with clean drinking water and all sorts of hygienic and medical aid, not to mention ending starvation, two TRILLION dollars every year, half of it from the United States alone, is dumped into war. If military spending were redirected into a global marshall plan and a domestic marshall plan and a massive crash investment in green energy aimed at protecting the planet's climate, imagine the lives that could be saved. As already noted, this very idea is basically absent from discussions of the U.S. government's budget.
Of course, war advances disease and starvation through its active destruction, its generation of refugee crises, and the injuries and trauma it inflicts, so drawing a line between deaths caused by war and those caused by other sicknesses seems difficult. Wars have rendered large areas of the earth uninhabitable and generated tens of millions of refugees. War has slowed the eradication of polio, and may have spread HIV/AIDS. Land mines make farmland unusable. Et cetera. War "rivals infectious disease as a global cause of morbidity and mortality," according to Jennifer Leaning of Harvard Medical School. Leaning divides war's environmental impact into four areas: "production and testing of nuclear weapons, aerial and naval bombardment of terrain, dispersal and persistence of land mines and buried ordnance, and use or storage of military despoliants, toxins, and waste."
According to the World Health Organization, "between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress." Of course that prediction could be wildly off in either direction, possibly depending on what we do in the next 15 years. War is not only our top producer of superfund sites and destroyer of islands used as bombing ranges, but it's our top consumer of petroleum. The U.S. military burns more oil and gas than does each of the majority of nations on earth. The military obsession with oil began as a way to fuel the British Navy. The British Navy wasn't created to fight over the oil. The idea that keeping the wars far away, where they only kill people who don't look like us, the idea that that will keep us safe -- well that idea falls apart if you even glance at it from all different angles, but one story that might stick with people and make the point is the story of John Wayne's death. Raise your hand if you know how John Wayne died.
He died filming pro-war movies and avoiding war himself. He filmed a movie down-wind from a nuclear test site, and an unusually high percentage of the cast and crew died of cancer, including him. You can run but you cannot hide. The Koch brothers' beach houses will go underwater. There's only one little planet and no planet B.
Here's another question. Does the United States spend more money fighting wars or preparing to fight wars?
That's right. We hear loud lamentations over war spending. We read comparisons of war spending and what we could have purchased instead. But war preparations spending, normalized routine "base" military spending is ten times greater. It would stun President Eisenhower in its size, in its profitability, in its privatized nature, and in the degree to which chunks of it are recycled back into the system through bribes we call campaign contributions, just as the people involved spin through a revolving door between public and private sector employment. Opposing a war in order to save money and keep the military prepared for supposedly better wars is a self-defeating argument. It is the preparation for wars that spends most of the money, and that generates the wars.
So, militarism by the greatest purveyor of violence kills first by sucking up all the money, and most of it is for maintaining the military. Actually using the military becomes an excuse for extra funding. But there's another major problem with militarism before even arriving at actual U.S. wars, and that is weapons sales. The United States is far and away the leading seller and donor of military weaponry to the rest of the earth. A good patriotic weapons factory job is a job producing weapons for dictatorships and so-called democracies around the globe. We're trained to think of Western Asia, the Middle East, as inherently violent. But the vast majority of the weapons are from the United States. The U.S. backed dictatorship in Saudi Arabia uses U.S. weapons to support the U.S. backed dictatorships in Bahrain and Yemen, and is currently bombing U.S. weapons in Yemen using other U.S. weapons, which the U.S. is rushing to replenish.
Imagine a prison experiment like the famous one at Stanford where you give some students power over others and wait for cruelty to begin. Only imagine that whenever you use Muslim students you provide each guard and prisoner with tasers, grenades, and automatic assault rifles. A conclusion that Muslims are more violent would be ridiculous. But if you watch a political talk show tomorrow morning, that's what they'll tell you.
Coming finally to war itself, an article in the June 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Healthsaid, "Since the end of World War II, there have been 248 armed conflicts in 153 locations around the world. The United States launched 201 overseas military operations between the end of World War II and 2001, and since then, others, including Afghanistan and Iraq. During the 20th century, 190 million deaths could be directly and indirectly related to war -- more than in the previous 4 centuries."
Despite population growth, this sounds like it might be at odds with the Western academic pretense that war is going away. In fact, that pretense is based largely on the fact that some other forms of violence have declined, combined with a Western view of war that miscounts the dead, attributes many of the dead to other causes, and weighs the dead in places wars occur against the population of the globe or of the distant war power that attacked a poorer country.
The same article goes on to say that "civilian war deaths constitute 85% to 90% of casualties caused by war," including delayed casualties. For example, "seventy percent to 90% of the victims of the 110 million landmines planted since 1960 in 70 countries were civilians." Of course these numbers also indicate something else about war victims: most of them are on one side. When the U.S. attacks Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan and most of the deaths are civilian, those include very few if any U.S. civilians. The civilians killed are all in the place where the war is. And to them can be added most of the non-civilians, as also being residents of the country under attack. When we hear about U.S. war dead, and the suffering of U.S. military families, the suffering can be absolutely heartbreaking. But it is hardly a drop in the bucket of all the damage done. And when U.S. newspapers tell us that the deadliest U.S. war was . . . What? What do they say was the deadliest U.S. war?
Right, the U.S. Civil War, which killed perhaps 750,000 people, compared to a million and a half out of a population of 6 or 7 million in the Philippines, or perhaps 2 million in Korea, 4 million in Vietnam, or something over a million in Iraq. When the U.S. media says that the U.S. Civil War was the deadliest U.S. war without specifying that it is only considering U.S. lives, it keeps the U.S. public misinformed about its largest public investment.
Some of the worst wars in recent years have been in places like the Congo and Sudan that we hear less about, but that our government plays a part in. The United States backed an invasion of Rwanda on October 1, 1990, by a Ugandan army led by U.S.-trained killers, and supported their attack on Rwanda for three-and-a-half years. People fled the invaders, creating a huge refugee crisis, ruined agriculture, wrecked economy, and shattered society. The United States and the West armed the warmakers and applied additional pressure through the World Bank, IMF, and USAID. And among the results of the war was increased hostility between Hutus and Tutsis. Eventually the government would topple. First would come the mass slaughter known as the Rwandan Genocide. And before that would come the murder of two presidents. At that point, in April 1994, Rwanda was in chaos almost on the level of post-liberation Iraq or Libya. The assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was likely done by the U.S.-backed and U.S.-trained war-maker Paul Kagame, now president of Rwanda. The West did not send in peaceworkers or negotiators, but allowed the crisis to develop. The killing of civilians in Rwanda has continued ever since, although the killing has been much more heavy in neighboring Congo, where Kagame's government took the war -- with U.S. aid and weapons and troops -- and bombed refugee camps killing some million people. The excuse for going into the Congo has been the hunt for Rwandan war criminals. A real motivation has been Western control and profitsfrom resources, including materials used in the NSA tracking devices we call smart phones. War in the Congo has continued to this day, leaving as many as 6 million dead.
But the worst major war led by U.S. troops in recent years has of course been Iraq, a true sociocide, the killing of a society. I've seen polling suggesting that Americans believe their nation suffered and Iraq benefitted from that war, with a plurality in the U.S. believing Iraqis are grateful. It is on these sorts of lies that arguments for future humanitarian wars rest. In March, Physicians for Social Responsibility co-authored a report called "Body Count" that looks at deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan over a 12-year period, finding 1.3 million people killed by U.S.-led warmaking, of whom 1 million were Iraqi. Some have placed the figures much higher, especially in the case of Afghanistan. Others have looked at Iraq from 1991 forward and found a total of 3 million Iraqis killed by U.S.-led wars and sanctions over that longer period. The deaths in recent U.S. wars in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and elsewhere add to the total, as do the death and suffering of refugees abroad following wars of so-called liberation. One estimate finds 4 million people in Muslim countries killed by U.S.-led wars since 1990.
How does the war on Iraq compare to historical horrors? Well, let's see. The worst single, relatively short event in world history, the worst thing we've done to ourselves, was World War II. One can ignore the decades of decisions that led up to it, from the Treaty of Versailles to the Wall Street funding of Nazis to the rejection of Jewish refugees to the antagonization of Japan. One can ignore the vicious brutality of its conduct including the completely unjustifiable development and use of nuclear weapons. One can claim it was a good war, but one can hardly dispute the vast extent of the death and misery.
The impact of World War II on particular nations varied dramatically, ranging from 16% of the population of Poland killed, all the way down to 0.01% of the population of Iraq killed. That compares to 5% of Iraq's population killed by Operation Iraqi Liberation (the original name in 2003 with the acronym OIL). (That's 1.4 million killed out of 27 million.) Or 11% of the Iraqi population killed by U.S. militarism since 1991. (That's 3 million killed out of 27 million.) In World War II, Poland, Lithuania, and the Soviet Union suffered a higher percentage of deaths than Iraq has from its recent U.S.-led wars. Most nations did not. Japan lost 3% to 4%. France and Italy lost 1% each. The U.K. lost less than 1%. The United States lost 0.3%. Nine nations in World War II lost a million or more lives. Five or six lost over 3 million. Of course the Soviet Union and China lost a LOT more. But among those that did not lose a million were France, Italy, the U.K., and the United States.
So the United States imposed a level of killing on Iraq that it has not experienced, not even in the U.S. Civil War in which it may have lost 2% of its population. And the damage continues to spread. A group like ISIS has a long ways to go to reach total U.S. murders, or even total Saudi beheadings, but ISIS would not exist without the U.S. attack of 2003. A comprehensive calculation of U.S. killing in Iraq might include some share of ISIS's killings. Of course in saying that, I am aware of the necessity to add the obvious disclaimer that contrary to popular conception blame is not a finite quantity. When you blame someone for something you don't unblame anybody else. ISIS remains 100% guilty of its killings even though it would not have come into existence without the U.S. war machine that is now trying to fix the problem with yet more war.
The second-strangest thing about war is that, unlike other evils that hardly compare to it in evilness, we aren't by and large trying to get rid of it. Instead rules are constantly being devised to distinguish good wars from the bad small wars known as terrorism. The strangest thing about war is that the efforts to devise good wars are making it much easier to start more wars. Drones are still only killing half as many people as U.S. police officers kill, but they are serving to stir up much greater violence. A report by the United Nations special rapporteur, also known as Tony Blair's wife's law partner (remember what I said about lawyers, with apologies to the good ones), maintains that drones have now made war the norm. This is an institution, the U.N., supposedly established to abolish war, albeit by using war to abolish war, that is now declaring war the normal state of affairs. How is such a development, directly related to our biggest public program, not news? A law professor named Rosa Brooks, whose mother I consider something of a genius and a hero who speaks at War Resisters League and other peace events, has herself now advocated for legally establishing permanent war time, doing away with any distinction between peace and war, in order to apply the same laws everywhere all the time.
In her defense there was something unsustainable about the U.S. liberal lawyerly notion that murdering someone with a drone is either murder if not part of a war, or just fine if part of a war, with the determination as to whether or not its part of a war being left up to the people firing the missile, and the answer as to what makes the war legal being left unanswered. But the solution is not to throw in the towel on civilization and declare war eternal and limitless. The solution is to ban weaponized drones, which even by the standards of the civilizers of war, should be no more acceptable, because no more targeted and discriminate, than poison gas. Of the thousands of men, women, and children murdered by drones (and "murder" is the charge brought against the CIA station chief by courts in Pakistan, "murder" is in fact the term used by the U.S. government in its own memo justifying drone murders) -- of the thousands killed, most have been so-called collateral damage, and most of the rest have been profiled, with living-while-Muslim serving as the equivalent of driving-while-black. Many of those actually targeted could easily have been arrested if charged with any crime. And the vast majority of the drone victims are not the dead, and not the wounded, but the traumatized -- the children who dare not go out of doors and who spend days and weeks wondering at what moment everything will be pulverized. Banning fully automated drones but keeping other armed drones legal -- and selling them to dozens of nations -- grossly overestimates the distinction between a drone pilot and a machine. By the accounts of a former drone pilot, there is very little thought involved in the following of illegal orders that constitutes the job of piloting drones.
Unless we end drone wars, the next president will walk into the power to murder at whim, as well as greater war powers and secrecy powers and spying powers than ever before held by anyone on earth. The idea that it matters which individual walks into those powers, choosing between two war mongers, is ridiculous. But let me come back to that.
The damage of all types of war has to include the injuries and the trauma as well as the deaths. It also has to include war's status as top cause of homelessness. Forty-three million people have been driven out of their homes and remain in a precarious state as internally displaced persons (24 million), refugees (12 million), and those struggling to return to their homes. The U.N.'s figures for the end of 2013 list Syria as the origin of 9 million such exiles. Colombia comes in second place following years of war, Congo third, Afghanistan fourth. Also in the top of the list: Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, and Palestine. Humanitarian wars have a homelessness problem. Honduran children aren't bringing Ebola-infected Korans. They're fleeing a U.S.-backed coup and Fort Benning-trained torturers.
The case that we're trying to make at World Beyond War for the ending of all war is that war has no upside. It makes us less safe. It robs us of resources. It kills, injures, and harms like nothing else. It drains an economy. It erodes civil liberties. It perverts morality. It damages the natural environment. And it increasingly risks nuclear holocaust. Increasingly -- because of the proliferation of nuclear weaponry and nuclear energy, and because of the lack of interest in preventing disaster.
The Soviet and U.S. occupations of Afghanistan have destroyed or damaged thousands of villages and sources of water. The Taliban has illegally traded timber to Pakistan, resulting in significant deforestation. U.S. bombs and refugees in need of firewood have added to the damage. Afghanistan's forests are almost gone. Most of the migratory birds that used to pass through Afghanistan no longer do so. Its air and water have been poisoned with explosives and rocket propellants.
The movements resisting U.S. base construction and presence in South Korea, Okinawa, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Sicily, Sardinia, Italy, England, the Marianas, and even in the United States are focused on preventing environmental damage as well as on preventing war.
Despite the huge catalog of health impacts from war and militarism, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health provide zero grants for work on war prevention. And war prevention is not taught in most schools of public health. The NRA is trying to stop doctors from advising kids on the dangers of guns. What about the dangers of enlistment? I've never seen a good argument that we can survive continuing to make war like this, and yet there is just a universal assumption that we will continue it -- just as there was the assumption that plantation slavery would always continue up until just before it ended.
On fossil fuel consumption there is a growing assumption that we will end it, with most people assuming that we will end it at a pace that is probably too slow. And yet somehow this seems to cheer them up.
This week on TomDispatch.com, Michael Klare wrote that a shift to renewable energy is underway and that "perhaps the most impressive indication of this shift can be found in the carbon-reduction plans major nations are now submitting to U.N. authorities in preparation for a global climate summit to be held this December in Paris. . . . These plans, for the most part, have proven to be impressively tough and ambitious. More important yet, the numbers being offered when it comes to carbon reduction would have been inconceivable only a few years ago. The U.S. plan, for example, promises that national carbon emissions will drop 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, which represents a substantial reduction. . . . No one can predict the outcome of the December climate summit, but few observers expect the measures it may endorse to be tough enough to keep future increases in global temperatures below two degrees Celsius, the maximum amount most scientists believe the planet can absorb without incurring climate disasters far beyond anything seen to date. Nevertheless, implementation of the [plans], or even a significant portion of them, would at least produce a significant reduction in fossil fuel consumption and point the way to a different future."
Think about that a minute. The author is predicting a future of disasters far beyond what we've known, and yet a somehow encouraging future because we will have slowed the pace at which we are worsening those disasters for the still more distant future -- even though the new low U.S. consumption in 2025 will still be much higher than current European (or anywhere else) consumption in 2015. This is something like how many Americans think of war. It's become the norm, it's become the main thing we do, we have an economy built around it, we've empowered the president and secret agencies to engage in it no questions asked, polls of the world find the United States overwhelmingly seen as the greatest threat to peace on earth, and yet Steven Pinker and some other imperialist professors say war is going away, so it must be. And that's nice, because we're all for peace, especially the Pentagon. Erik Prince said he was in favor of peace when he spoke at UVA this week.
Today is a day of action everywhere against the Terrible Plutocratic Plan, also known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the TPP, also known as NAFTA on steroids, and as the bestowing of nationhood on corporations. That they've packed everything bad on every issue into a single law and are trying to pass it in secret -- even though we know from leaks much of what's in it, ought to be taken as an opportunity to launch a massive popular movement for change, for shifting our priorities from war profiteers and other oligarchs to human needs. That the next presidential election, already underway, is going to put up one incredibly corrupt corporate warmonger against another, both of them possibly from presidential dynasties, ought to be taken as an opportunity. What if we were to withhold a bit of the resources, the money and time, that we usually invest in an election and invest it instead in policy-based activism for peace, the environment, and election reform that would allow us to elect and unelect who we want? The results could be dramatic.
I'm not against elections. I think we should start having elections. In 2016 we will not have a legitimate election with any chance of doing anyone any good in its choice of president. Here's what I think we need:
- No private election spending.
- Free media air time on our air waves for candidates qualified by signature gathering.
- Public financing, ballot access, and debate access for candidates qualified by signature gathering.
- No gerrymandering.
- Hand-counted paper ballots publicly counted in every polling place.
- Election day holiday.
- Limited campaign season.
- Automatic voter registration.
- Full representation for Washington, D.C., and all of the U.S. colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific.
- Voting rights regardless of criminal conviction.
- National popular vote with no electoral college.
- Mandatory voting with an option for "none of the above."
- Abolition of the Senate.
- A larger House of Representatives.
- Direct public vote on important matters (national initiative).
- Ban on war profiteering.
- Ban on secret budgets and agencies.
- Ban on executive power use by vice presidents.
Here's how we could get it: Declare the current system so broken that you will invest not a minute and not a dime in trying to elect anyone president of the United States. Instead, put all that effort and money into a policy-driven nonviolent activist campaign for these reformsand other urgent policy changes (peace, the environment, etc.) at the local, state, and federal levels.
It's a well kept secret that the primary propaganda goal of the government is not to sell us on wars or convince us they care but to persuade us that we are powerless. Why did the government invest such enormous resources in opposing Occupy? Why is the Pentagon working with Facebook to study how emotions can be manipulated and movements stifled? Not because we are powerless! In 2013 the war mongers wanted to bomb Syria. But you had members of Congress reportedly expressing concern that they not become seen as the guy who voted for "another Iraq." Why is Hillary Clinton not already president? Because unlike President Obama she was in the Senate in time to vote for and advocate for and propagandize for the 2003 Iraq invasion. Who made that a badge of shame rather than honor? In large part the peace movement (or I should say the anti-Republican-war movement, which is different from a peace movement).
There are some startling signs that people are ready for actions that require sacrifice. There's a great media outlet here in Baltimore called The Real News Dot Com, and one of their reporters pointed out to me that in the past week, a man has landed his little bicycle-helicopter on the U.S. Capitol Grounds in an attempt to deliver 535 demands to clean the money out of politics, and a man has apparently shot himself to death at the U.S. Capitol after holding up a sign that reportedly said "Tax the 1%." Does that sound like people not ready to organize for action?
We are held back primarily by our accepting and repeating of the propaganda that we have no power. And of course we have a moral duty to try even if there's only the slimmest chance that we have any power. And of course doing so is enjoyable and fulfilling. Read The Plague by Albert Camus. This comes at the end of it:
"It was in the midst of shouts rolling against the terrace wall in massive waves that waxed in volume and duration, while cataracts of fire fell thicker through the darkness, that Dr. Rieux resolved to compile this chronicle, so that he should not be one of those who hold their peace but should bear witness in favor of those plague-stricken people; so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise."
As the 2015 Boston Marathon approaches, the US Department of Justice has not been able to answer one question: why is the backpack that the FBI says killed eight-year-old Richard Martin black, while the backpack Dzhokhar Tsarnaev carried that day, in every item of photographic evidence, white?
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
The Billings Gazette has revealed that coal mining company Cloudpeak Energy ghost wrote protest letters to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) on behalf of allied policymakers and business groups.
Reporter Tom Lutey examined numerous letters written to DOI from Montana-based stakeholders and noticed something unusual: the language in every single letter was exactly the same. That is, the same except for a parenthetical note in one of them instructing the supposed writer of it to "insert name/group/entity."
Getting what’s been stolen by raising employer FICA tax : Time to Recover Productivity Gains Our Bosses Have Expropriating
By Dave Lindorff
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christy, trying to change the subject from his own shabby performance as governor, has called for $ billion in cuts to Social Security and Medicare, claiming it’s time for a “grownup discussion” of the alleged funding crisis facing both critically important programs.
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"It's bad enough to be creating more profit incentive for war," I told former head of Blackwater Erik Prince, "but you recycle part of the profits as bribes for more war in the form of so-called campaign contributions. You yourself have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to political parties and candidates. The three of you," I said, referring to Prince, another guest, and the host of a television show that had just finished filming and was taking questions from the audience, "you seem to agree that we need either mercenaries or a draft, ignoring the option of not having these wars, which kill so many people, make us less safe, drain the economy, destroy the natural environment, and erode our civil liberties, with no upside. But this systemic pressure has been created for more war. Will you, Erik Prince, commit to not spending war profits on elections?"
Prince had hardly been asked a serious question during the past hour of filming, but that of course did not mean he would answer one. The point was to raise the topic and put it in the minds of the people sitting and applauding him. Prince tried to answer by talking about how much the F-35 fighter jet costs, continuing the hour-long pretense that if you oppose mercenaries you favor the rest of the military. I cut him off and told him to answer the question. So he said that he was no longer working with the U.S. government but with other governments around the world. Does that mean he'll stop bribing the U.S. government? Does that mean he doesn't bribe other governments? He didn't say.
The event was held at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, which has a long, long tradition of inviting war makers and war advocates, but has never that I know of asked an opponent of the institution of war to speak. The show, minus the question and answer portion, will air on television on May 3rd. The host, Doug Blackmon, asked challenging questions like, "Do you think contractors should receive medals like other soldiers?" The day before the event he'd emailed me this comment:
"We've featured a lot of people over the past two years, with a lot of objections to the war-making of the United States—as well as a lot of objections to mass incarceration, police violence, and other terrible manifestations of our society. We also have heard from people who would disagree with you—but had nothing to do with making war. In any case, this will be a vigorous dialogue tomorrow. It may not cover everything you would cover if you were organizing the same program, but it's a completely appropriate way for us to explore these hugely important and controversial issues, and to hear two sides in a meaningful way."
At the end of the event I asked him whether Prince would have been invited to speak had most of the people Blackwater killed been Americans. Blackmon refused to answer.
The other guest was Ann Hagedorn, author of The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security. Her book is not bad, but from the first moments of the event it became crystal clear why Prince had agreed to take part. The subject of drones wasn't broached, but there was a lot of droning, and ummming, and slow and deliberate prefacing of . . . nothing. I could have clicked the audio on my little electronic device to have it read sections of Hagedorn's book and made a better debate than she made in person. This was frustrating, of course, because the well-spoken Erik Prince needed somebody to reply to the outrages he was uttering. In an attempt to figure out where, if anywhere, Hagedorn was coming from, or perhaps to expose her as a commie peacenik, a member of the audience asked after the show whether, if mercenaries were eliminated, Hagedorn would move on to opposing the standard military. This was actually a good question, because most of Hagedorn's critique of mercenaries, even more so at the event than in the book, was of their differences from other soldiers. But she didn't answer the question. She said that she was a reporter who had no opinions or positions. Inspiring!
Hagedorn's book is not a bad primer for people just discovering that the U.S. military hires mercenary companies. In Iraq and Afghanistan from 2009 to 2011, she writes, the use of mercenaries and other contractors climbed -- under Obama/Clinton direction -- to the point where there were 10 for every 1 troop, 18 for every 1 state department personnel, and 100 for every 1 USAID worker. She criticizes the lack of accountability for what this huge number of people do. She admits that the majority of deaths in these wars are civilians. I say "admits" because at the show taping she claimed that if Americans knew about the deaths of U.S. mercenaries they would then have a good sense of the deaths in the wars. She points out the fear mongering done by mercenary companies as well as governments to gin up business. She writes that of 195 Blackwater shootings between 2005 and 2007 in 84% Blackwater shot first and left the scene. She even quotes someone proposing we have fewer wars and cites the example of South Africa banning mercenaries.
Hagedorn notes Obama and Clinton's flip to support mercenaries beginning in 2009, and their use of them to extend the occupation of Iraq in 2011 while "ending" it. Hillary Clinton, she writes, also pushed shipping companies to hire mercenaries to fend off pirates. The United Nations, too, is using mercenaries. The U.S. border with Mexico is being armed with mercenaries. Immigrants are being handled by mercenaries. U.S. police are being trained by mercenaries (with horrible results).
But Hagedorn is big on patriotism and the supposed democratic public institution of war (which would never survive a Ludlow Amendment creating a public vote on wars). When she called war an inherently public operation on Wednesday, Prince ignored any hint that private war creates more wars and simply pointed to the long history of mercenaries and to examples of other operations that have been privatized.
Blackmon began Wednesday's show by asking Prince about the sentencing of four of his former employees to prison on Monday. Part of Prince's defense was that "We've asked for cameras. . . . The State Department denied them." This is bizarre because he never asserted that anything other than the intentional murder of civilians would have been filmed had there been cameras. He also claimed that his killers could not get a jury of their peers among civilians 7,000 miles away. So, does he want crimes committed in Iraq to be prosecuted in Iraq then?
Hagedorn explicitly refused to discuss the details of the Nissour Square Massacre but did point out that it was the sort of thing that boosted recruitment of forces against the U.S. military/mercenaries.
Blackmon asked if mercenaries had been scapegoated for an overall disaster, but Hagedorn said no, that that made no sense if you considered the scale of the mercenary involvement. Prince said that during the war on Vietnam peace activists went after troops and now they go after mercenaries. "Nature hates a vacuum," he argued, suggesting apparently that Congressional contracts are produced by "nature." Prince also pointed to the murder of Miriam Carey by the U.S. Capitol Police as if one inexcusable killing justifies others. "There was no hue and cry," over that killing he lied, but imagine the uproar if it had been poor little old mercenaries who had done it. Of course, most killings of civilians by mercenaries in distant U.S. wars produce in fact no hue or cry at all back home.
I should note that Prince claims his mercenaries are (were) not mercenaries because they were U.S. military veterans. What that changes he never explained. Instead he calls them "volunteers" despite paying them. Asked about financial interests in keeping wars going, he said what was needed was oversight, but not from Washington, from empowering the people at the front. Whatever that meant. Prince advocated a smaller military budget, and Hagedorn said that smaller overall budgets always mean more for mercenaries.
Repeatedly Prince claimed to be fighting evil people "who want to destroy the Western world, you know, our way of life." He claimed that mercenaries could be hired to destroy ISIS, no problem! He also claimed that what's going on in the Middle East is an age-old Sunni-Shia conflict that the United States can only tweak around the edges (through such steps, I suppose, as destroying ISIS). That each war creates more problems to be addressed with more wars, that ISIS would never have existed without the 2003 invasion, didn't come up (except through my comments during the Q&A).
One questioner suggested that "if war were the path to peace we'd sure have peace by now," and Prince claimed to be for peace. So Hagedorn asked him, a-t l-e-n-g-t-h, to fund the peace movement (even though she has no opinions as a Journalist), and he declined, suggesting that the mercenary industry association should do it. That's an association, by the way, that changed its name from the International Peace Operations Association to the International Stability Operations Association in response to criticism of being "too Orwellian" -- as if war brings stability any more than it brings peace.
Prince said that rather than funding peace he would focus on "protecting Christians who are being driven out of the Holy Land." He said this during the Q&A section with the filming of the show already stopped. Someone might have asked why people of a particular religion were of more value. But then we were at an event that never would have happened if the people whom Prince's company killed had belonged to that religion.
Legacy of racism and colonialism targeted: Reparations Movements Meet to Make International Connections
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Dignitaries from three continents gathered in New York City recently to sharpen their strategies for confronting some of the world’s most powerful nations over a subject that sizable numbers of citizens support in the nearly two-dozen nations represented: reparations for the legacy of a history of slavery, colonialism and government-sanctioned segregation.
Russia Impinges on Israeli 'Right' to Bomb Iran
Editor Note: American neocons are in a lather over Russia’s decision to go ahead with the sale of anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. The apparent outrage is that Iran thinks it has a right to protect its citizens from Israel’s right to launch airstrikes into Iran’s territory.
By Ray McGovern
The front page of the neocon flagship Washington Post on Tuesday warned that the Russians have decided, despite U.S. objections, “to send an advanced air-defense system to Iran … potentially altering the strategic balance in the Middle East.”
So, at least, says the lede of an article entitled “Putin lifts 5-year hold on missile sale to Iran” by Karoun Demirjian, whose editors apparently took it upon themselves to sex up the first paragraph, which was not at all supported by the rest of her story which was factual and fair – balanced, even.
Sheila Carapico is a Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va. She discusses the state of affairs in Yemen.
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From KCNC, the CBS affiliate in Denver, comes this completely unsurprising “news”: TSA clerks at Denver International Airport deliberately messed with the strip-search scanners to alarm on attractive male passengers so one of the blue-shirted goons could grope them.
Neocon 'Chaos Promotion' in the Mideast
Editor Notoe: After the Persian Gulf War in 1991, America’s neocons thought no country could stand up to the high-tech U.S. military, and they realized the Soviet Union was no longer around to limit U.S. actions. So, the “regime change” strategy was born – and many have died, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.
By Ray McGovern
Former Washington insider and four-star General Wesley Clark spilled the beans several years ago on how Paul Wolfowitz and his neoconservative co-conspirators implemented their sweeping plan to destabilize key Middle Eastern countries once it became clear that post-Soviet Russia “won’t stop us.”
Andreas Schüller is an attorney on the staff of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. He is the lead attorney on a suit being brought by ECCHR and Reprieve against the German government on behalf of three Yemeni survivors of a U.S. drone strike. The case will be heard May 27th in Cologne.
Their suit argues that it is illegal under German law for the German government to allow the U.S. air base at Ramstein to be used for drone murders abroad. The suit comes after the passage of a resolution in the European Parliament in February 2014 urging European nations to "oppose and ban the practice of extrajudicial targeted killings" and to "ensure that the Member States, in conformity with their legal obligations, do not perpetrate unlawful targeted killings or facilitate such killings by other states."
I've always thought of drone murders as illegal under the laws of the countries where the murders happen, as well as under the UN Charter and the Kellogg Briand Pact. I asked Schüller: Is your suit seeking prosecution for murder where (or in one of the places where) the act is committed from a distance?
"The suit," he replied, "is based on constitutional rights in Germany and thus not seeking prosecution, but measures by the German administration to stop the use of German territory for illegal actions by the U.S. in Yemen." The central claim, he said, is that the U.S. air base at Ramstein is involved in drone operations, by transmitting data from and to drones through a satellite relay station as well as transatlantic fiber cables. The suit seeks to stop use of the air base's air operations center for analysis of surveillance images sent by drones as part of combat drone missions.
How, I asked, does this differ from the recent indictment of a former CIA station chief in Pakistan?
"The Pakistani case," Schüller said, "deals with drone strikes in the country where they take place in massive numbers and with high numbers of killed civilians. It's about prosecuting individuals responsible for the strikes set up. Our suit concerns the preemptive protection of our clients that are living in an area with continuing drone operations as well as technical and targeting aspects in drone operations and state collaboration."
In the United States it's common for lawyers to claim that murder is legal if it's part of a war, and to defer to the warmakers to tell them if something is part of a war or not; does it matter in your case whether the act was part of a war?
"It is important to prove that the U.S. practice in conducting drone strikes is illegal in several aspects. On the one hand, strikes in Yemen are conducted outside an armed conflict and thus infringe the right to life without any justification. In line with a legal opinion by the German Federal Prosecutor's Office we don't consider the U.S. to be in a global armed conflict against Al-Qaida and associate forces. Even if there would be the case of an armed conflict, the targeting practice by the U.S. is too broad and includes a large number of targets that do not fall under the category of legitimate military targets in an armed conflict. Attacks against those targets are thus illegal, even in armed conflict."
Is Germany obliged by the European Parliament to end drone murders from its soil? (And does this apply to every EU member country?) And by the German Constitution?
"Politically, the European Parliament made a strong statement against the illegal and expanded use of drone strikes. All EU member states are also bound by laws, such as the European Convention of Human Rights, to respect and protect the right to life. A similar provision is part of the German constitution."
Briefly what is the story of the victims in your case?
"On August 29, 2012, five rockets fired by U.S. drones struck the village of Khashamir in eastern Yemen. The extended family of our clients had gathered in the village to celebrate a wedding. Two members of the family were killed in the strike. Other family members were left with ongoing trauma. The family members killed were outspoken critics of AQAP and active in countering their influence in the region through speeches and social activities."
What do you hope to prove?
"It's about the use of German territory for illegal drone operations and the need for European governments to take a stronger legal and political position against the continuing US practice."
What is the timing?
"The lawsuit has been filed in October 2014 with the administrative court in Cologne. In the end of May 2015 an oral hearing will take place. Further court session as well as rendering of a judgment are not foreseeable, as well as appeals procedures."
What could result if you succeed?
"The result could be that the German government must take a stronger position towards the U.S. government to stop the use of the U.S. airbase in Ramstein for drone operations, including activities to rebuild the relay station or the air operations center."
Any benefit for this movement that I just wrote about?
"In Europe, we need to form a transborder activists network addressing and opposing the use of European allies' soil for drone operations. So the German case will definitely be of interest for Italy and other countries in Europe."
What can people do to help?
"The ultimate political goal is to change the U.S. practice of drone strikes and to conduct them according to human rights standards. People must continue to put pressure on governments worldwide to take a clear position on the legal boundaries of drone strikes as well as the long-term consequences in international relations if such an illegal practice continues in many different places worldwide."
Well let's hope the ultimate goal is not murders by flying robots that meet "human rights standards" whatever in the world those might be! But let's help advance this effort to hold the German government to a higher standard than the abysmal one modeled by the United States.
A key witness in court will be former U.S. drone pilot Brandon Bryant. If you know of any other drone pilots willing to speak about what they've done, please let me know.
© ECCHR / Photo: Nihad Nino Pušija
Tuesday in Union Square NYC & Around U.S.
Cornel West, Carl Dix, Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, Eve Ensler, Arturo O'Farrill Call for National Shut Down Day April 14 to Stop Police Killings of Unarmed People
What: Nationwide Shut-Down Day to Stop Police Killings of Unarmed People
When: Tuesday April 14
Where: Union Square 2:00 pm NYC, other cities
I just did a radio show in South Africa on the topic of Hillary Clinton. Perhaps they won't air it since I told them it was a non-story about something long since underway being "launched," but a story the U.S. media likes because it's substance-free. Yet in South Africa it seems to be a story. They really didn't know she was running until now, and they wanted to know if John McCain was her opponent. And yet they had the sense to ask if she would cause more wars and if there was really any difference between Hillary and the Republicans. If even the places that don't know she's running know that, perhaps there is hope for public awareness of basic facts after all.
Of course I pointed out Hillary Clinton's role in wars in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Ukraine, etc., her profiteering off Boeing while marketing Boeing weapons as Secretary of State, her transformation of the State Department into a fully owned subsidiary of the military, her foundations taking money from Chevron and Exxon-Mobil while she persuades Eastern European countries not to ban fracking. Hillary backs Israel's crimes, opposes the UN and international law. The corruption and nastiness in her hidden emails need hardly be seen to be estimated. She was too corrupt for the Watergate Committee, for godsake, trying to keep Nixon in for Ted Kennedy to run against, just as the Democrats of 2007 kept the war on Iraq going in order to run against it again. See http://WarIsACrime.org/Hillary
Hillary backs the NSA, wants Edward Snowden in prison, gets $2,777 per minute for speeches at which no questioning is allowed, lets her guards beat up Ray McGovern for turning his back on her, and is a candidate from a presidential dynasty in a year (next year, not this!) in which two of them are in play. See http://NoBushesOrClintons.org
And here is our opportunity. It is time for us to dedicate ourselves to fixing a broken system, not working within it. Don't try to elect someone in a system that is clearly broken. Joke about it, sure:
Ideally Hillary Clinton will run with Jeb Bush as her vice president & Bush will run with Clinton as his so they'll both win no matter what