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The usual definition of a ‘terrorist’ is simple: a person who uses violence in the pursuit of a political objective.
By Dave Lindorff
The Nobel Peace Laureate President Barack Obama, the guy who once campaigned claiming one US war -- the one against Iraq -- was a “bad” one, and the other -- against Afghanistan -- was a “good” one, turns out to be a man who, once anointed commander-in-chief, can’t seem to find a war he doesn’t consider to be a “good” idea.
By John Grant
Raed Jarrar is Policy Impact Coordinator at the American Friends Service Committee. He discusses President Obama's proposed budget. See http://www.afsc.org/media-kit/bios/raed-jarrar
Total run time: 29:00
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Sherman statue anchors one southern corner of Central Park (with Columbus on a stick anchoring the other):
Matthew Carr's new book, Sherman's Ghosts: Soldiers, Civilians, and the American Way of War, is presented as "an antimilitarist military history" -- that is, half of it is a history of General William Tecumseh Sherman's conduct during the U.S. Civil War, and half of it is an attempt to trace echoes of Sherman through major U.S. wars up to the present, but without any romance or glorification of murder or any infatuation with technology or tactics. Just as histories of slavery are written nowadays without any particular love for slavery, histories of war ought to be written, like this one, from a perspective that has outgrown it, even if U.S. public policy is not conducted from that perspective yet.
What strikes me most about this history relies on a fact that goes unmentioned: the former South today provides the strongest popular support for U.S. wars. The South has long wanted and still wants done to foreign lands what was -- in a much lesser degree -- done to it by General Sherman.
What disturbs me most about the way this history is presented is the fact that every cruelty inflicted on the South by Sherman was inflicted ten-fold before and after on the Native Americans. Carr falsely suggests that genocidal raids were a feature of Native American wars before the Europeans came, when in fact total war with total destruction was a colonial creation. Carr traces concentration camps to Spanish Cuba, not the U.S. Southwest, and he describes the war on the Philippines as the first U.S. war after the Civil War, following the convention that wars on Native Americans just don't count (not to mention calling Antietam "the single most catastrophic day in all U.S. wars" in a book that includes Hiroshima). But it is, I think, the echo of that belief that natives don't count that leads us to the focus on Sherman's march to the sea, even as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Gaza are destroyed with weapons named for Indian tribes. Sherman not only attacked the general population of Georgia and the Carolinas on his way to Goldsboro -- a spot where the U.S. military would later drop nuclear bombs (that very fortunately didn't explode) -- but he provided articulate justifications in writing, something that had become expected of a general attacking white folks.
What intrigues me most is the possibility that the South today could come to oppose war by recognizing Sherman's victims in the victims of U.S. wars and occupations. It was in the North's occupation of the South that the U.S. military first sought to win hearts and minds, first faced IEDs in the form of mines buried in roads, first gave up on distinguishing combatants from noncombatants, first began widely and officially (in the Lieber Code) claiming that greater cruelty was actually kindness as it would end the war more quickly, and first defended itself against charges of war crimes using language that it (the North) found entirely convincing but its victims (the South) found depraved and sociopathic. Sherman employed collective punishment and the assaults on morale that we think of as "shock and awe." Sherman's assurances to the Mayor of Atlanta that he meant well and was justified in all he did convinced the North but not the South. U.S. explanations of the destruction of Iraq persuade Americans and nobody else.
Sherman believed that his nastiness would turn the South against war. "Thousands of people may perish," he said, "but they now realize that war means something else than vain glory and boasting. If Peace ever falls to their lot they will never again invite War." Some imagine this to be the impact the U.S. military is having on foreign nations today. But have Iraqis grown more peaceful? Does the U.S. South lead the way in peace activism? When Sherman raided homes and his troops employed "enhanced interrogations" -- sometimes to the point of death, sometimes stopping short -- the victims were people long gone from the earth, but people we may be able to "recognize" as people. Can that perhaps help us achieve the same mental feat with the current residents of Western Asia? The U.S. South remains full of monuments to Confederate soldiers. Is an Iraq that celebrates today's resisters 150 years from now what anyone wants?
When the U.S. military was burning Japanese cities to the ground it was an editor of the Atlanta Constitution who, quoted by Carr, wrote "If it is necessary, however, that the cities of Japan are, one by one, burned to black ashes, that we can, and will, do." Robert McNamara said that General Curtis LeMay thought about what he was doing in the same terms as Sherman. Sherman's claim that war is simply hell and cannot be civilized was then and has been ever since used to justify greater cruelty, even while hiding within it a deep truth: that the civilized decision would be to abolish war.
The United States now kills with drones, including killing U.S. citizens, including killing children, including killing U.S. citizen children. It has not perhaps attacked its own citizens in this way since the days of Sherman. Is it time perhaps for the South to rise again, not in revenge but in understanding, to join the side of the victims and say no to any more attacks on families in their homes, and no therefore to any more of what war has become?
Sen. John McCain is ‘low-life scum’: And NPR Is Not Reporting the News on Cuba Much Differently than the Corporate Media
By Dave Lindorff
It is rare for someone of this writer’s acquaintance to enlist in the military, although it has happened. When someone does so, his or her family usually speaks of how proud they are of them, as if the enlistee has done something to which great honor is attached. This attitude is also reflected in public opinion polls, in which much of the populace generally seems to agree that military service is good preparation for elected office.
Let us look at these two myths in a little more detail.
Dr. Brian A. Salvatore is a Professor of Chemistry at Louisiana State University Shreveport, where he has been on the faculty since 2003. Dr. Salvatore has twice served as Chairman of the Northwest Louisiana Section of the American Chemical Society, and he currently represents this section on the National Council of the American Chemical Society. He is also a member of the ACS’s national committee for Project SEED (Scientific Experience for the Economically Disadvantaged).
Dr. Salvatore discusses the work he's doing to prevent the largest ever open-air burning of explosives by the U.S. military, proposed for Northern Louisiana. Read this New York Times op-ed, this Truthout report, this open letter, and this report from the Shreveport Times.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
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Where’s the US ‘Syriza’ party?: Greek Voters Have Tossed a Grenade into the Banker/Bureaucrat-Controlled European Establishment
By Dave Lindorff
There is certainly exciting news from Greece today, with confirmation that the leftist coalition party Syriza has won a decisive victory, and, with the help of just one small party, the Greek Independence Party, is assured of a parliamentary majority. That means Syriza’s dynamic marxist leader, the 40-year-old former student radical
Alexis Tsipras, will shortly become Greece’s prime minister, pledged to undo years of crippling austerity and to turn Greece back into a real democracy, instead of a scene of corporate pillage.
It was October 2012. Roei Elkabetz, a brigadier general for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), was explaining his country’s border policing strategies. In his PowerPoint presentation, a photo of the enclosure wall that isolates the Gaza Strip from Israel clicked onscreen. “We have learned lots from Gaza,” he told the audience. “It’s a great laboratory.”
Elkabetz was speaking at a border technology conference and fair surrounded by a dazzling display of technology -- the components of his boundary-building lab. There were surveillance balloons with high-powered cameras floating over a desert-camouflaged armored vehicle made by Lockheed Martin. There were seismic sensor systems used to detect the movement of people and other wonders of the modern border-policing world. Around Elkabetz, you could see vivid examples of where the future of such policing was heading, as imagined not by a dystopian science fiction writer but by some of the top corporate techno-innovators on the planet.
Swimming in a sea of border security, the brigadier general was, however, not surrounded by the Mediterranean but by a parched West Texas landscape. He was in El Paso, a 10-minute walk from the wall that separates the United States from Mexico.
Just a few more minutes on foot and Elkabetz could have watched green-striped U.S. Border Patrol vehicles inching along the trickling Rio Grande in front of Ciudad Juarez, one of Mexico’s largest cities filled with U.S. factories and the dead of that country’s drug wars. The Border Patrol agents whom the general might have spotted were then being up-armored with a lethal combination of surveillance technologies, military hardware, assault rifles, helicopters, and drones. This once-peaceful place was being transformed into what Timothy Dunn, in his book The Militarization of the U.S. Mexico Border, terms a state of “low-intensity warfare.”
By Dave Lindorff
There were two times Republicans broke into fervent applause during this lame duck president's seventh State of the Union speech: the first was when he called for passage of "fast track" authority to negotiate and send to the Senate a Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact -- basically a NAAFTA for the Pacific region; the second was when he noted that he "won't be running for president again."
By John Grant
People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.
Back in 1979, reviewers liked to point out that Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now was so plagued with difficulty and confusion (the star suffered a heart attack during shooting and a devastating typhoon destroyed all the sets) that the making of the film paralleled the reality of the Vietnam War itself.
In the dead of night, they swept in aboard V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. Landing in a remote region of one of the most volatile countries on the planet, they raided a village and soon found themselves in a life-or-death firefight. It was the second time in two weeks that elite U.S. Navy SEALs had attempted to rescue American photojournalist Luke Somers. And it was the second time they failed.
On December 6, 2014, approximately 36 of America’s top commandos, heavily armed, operating with intelligence from satellites, drones, and high-tech eavesdropping, outfitted with night vision goggles, and backed up by elite Yemeni troops, went toe-to-toe with about six militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. When it was over, Somers was dead, along with Pierre Korkie, a South African teacher due to be set free the next day. Eight civilians were also killed by the commandos, according to local reports. Most of the militants escaped.
That blood-soaked episode was, depending on your vantage point, an ignominious end to a year that saw U.S. Special Operations forces deployed at near record levels, or an inauspicious beginning to a new year already on track to reach similar heights, if not exceed them.
During the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2014, U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) deployed to 133 countries -- roughly 70% of the nations on the planet -- according to Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bockholt, a public affairs officer with U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). This capped a three-year span in which the country’s most elite forces were active in more than 150 different countries around the world, conducting missions ranging from kill/capture night raids to training exercises. And this year could be a record-breaker. Only a day before the failed raid that ended Luke Somers life -- just 66 days into fiscal 2015 -- America’s most elite troops had already set foot in 105 nations, approximately 80% of 2014’s total.
Despite its massive scale and scope, this secret global war across much of the planet is unknown to most Americans. Unlike the December debacle in Yemen, the vast majority of special ops missions remain completely in the shadows, hidden from external oversight or press scrutiny. In fact, aside from modest amounts of information disclosed through highly-selective coverage by military media, official White House leaks, SEALs with something to sell, and a few cherry-picked journalists reporting on cherry-picked opportunities, much of what America’s special operators do is never subjected to meaningful examination, which only increases the chances of unforeseen blowback and catastrophic consequences.
The Golden Age
“The command is at its absolute zenith. And it is indeed a golden age for special operations.” Those were the words of Army General Joseph Votel III, a West Point graduate and Army Ranger, as he assumed command of SOCOM last August.
His rhetoric may have been high-flown, but it wasn’t hyperbole. Since September 11, 2001, U.S. Special Operations forces have grown in every conceivable way, including their numbers, their budget, their clout in Washington, and their place in the country’s popular imagination. The command has, for example, more than doubled its personnel from about 33,000 in 2001 to nearly 70,000 today, including a jump of roughly 8,000 during the three-year tenure of recently retired SOCOM chief Admiral William McRaven.
Those numbers, impressive as they are, don’t give a full sense of the nature of the expansion and growing global reach of America’s most elite forces in these years. For that, a rundown of the acronym-ridden structure of the ever-expanding Special Operations Command is in order. The list may be mind-numbing, but there is no other way to fully grasp its scope.
The lion’s share of SOCOM’s troops are Rangers, Green Berets, and other soldiers from the Army, followed by Air Force air commandos, SEALs, Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen and support personnel from the Navy, as well as a smaller contingent of Marines. But you only get a sense of the expansiveness of the command when you consider the full range of “sub-unified commands” that these special ops troops are divided among: the self-explanatory SOCAFRICA; SOCEUR, the European contingent; SOCKOR, which is devoted strictly to Korea; SOCPAC, which covers the rest of the Asia-Pacific region; SOCSOUTH, which conducts missions in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean; SOCCENT, the sub-unified command of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in the Middle East; SOCNORTH, which is devoted to “homeland defense”; and the globe-trotting Joint Special Operations Command or JSOC -- a clandestine sub-command (formerly headed by McRaven and then Votel) made up of personnel from each service branch, including SEALs, Air Force special tactics airmen, and the Army's Delta Force, that specializes in tracking and killing suspected terrorists.
And don’t think that’s the end of it, either. As a result of McRaven’s push to create “a Global SOF network of like-minded interagency allies and partners,” Special Operations liaison officers, or SOLOs, are now embedded in 14 key U.S. embassies to assist in advising the special forces of various allied nations. Already operating in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, France, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Poland, Peru, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, the SOLO program is poised, according to Votel, to expand to 40 countries by 2019. The command, and especially JSOC, has also forged close ties with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Agency, among others.
Special Operations Command’s global reach extends further still, with smaller, more agile elements operating in the shadows from bases in the United States to remote parts of Southeast Asia, from Middle Eastern outposts to austere African camps. Since 2002, SOCOM has also been authorized to create its own Joint Task Forces, a prerogative normally limited to larger combatant commands like CENTCOM. Take, for instance, Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) which, at its peak, had roughly 600 U.S. personnel supporting counterterrorist operations by Filipino allies against insurgent groups like Abu Sayyaf. After more than a decade spent battling that group, its numbers have been diminished, but it continues to be active, while violence in the region remains virtually unaltered.
A phase-out of the task force was actually announced in June 2014. “JSOTF-P will deactivate and the named operation OEF-P [Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines] will conclude in Fiscal Year 2015,” Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee the next month. “A smaller number of U.S. military personnel operating as part of a PACOM [U.S. Pacific Command] Augmentation Team will continue to improve the abilities of the PSF [Philippine Special Forces] to conduct their CT [counterterrorism] missions...” Months later, however, Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines remained up and running. “JSOTF-P is still active although the number of personnel assigned has been reduced,” Army spokesperson Kari McEwen told reporter Joseph Trevithick of War Is Boring.
Another unit, Special Operations Joint Task Force-Bragg, remained in the shadows for years before its first official mention by the Pentagon in early 2014. Its role, according to SOCOM’s Bockholt, is to “train and equip U.S. service members preparing for deployment to Afghanistan to support Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan.” That latter force, in turn, spent more than a decade conducting covert or “black” ops “to prevent insurgent activities from threatening the authority and sovereignty of” the Afghan government. This meant night raids and kill/capture missions -- often in concert with elite Afghan forces -- that led to the deaths of unknown numbers of combatants and civilians. In response to popular outrage against the raids, Afghan President Hamid Karzai largely banned them in 2013.
U.S. Special Operations forces were to move into a support role in 2014, letting elite Afghan troops take charge. “We're trying to let them run the show," Colonel Patrick Roberson of the Afghanistan task force told USA Today. But according to LaDonna Davis, a spokesperson with the task force, America’s special operators were still leading missions last year. The force refuses to say how many missions were led by Americans or even how many operations its commandos were involved in, though Afghan special operations forces reportedly carried out as many as 150 missions each month in 2014. “I will not be able to discuss the specific number of operations that have taken place,” Major Loren Bymer of Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan told TomDispatch. “However, Afghans currently lead 96% of special operations and we continue to train, advise, and assist our partners to ensure their success.”
And lest you think that that’s where the special forces organizational chart ends, Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan has five Special Operations Advisory Groups “focused on mentoring and advising our ASSF [Afghan Special Security Force] partners,” according to Votel. “In order to ensure our ASSF partners continue to take the fight to our enemies, U.S. SOF must be able to continue to do some advising at the tactical level post-2014 with select units in select locations,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Indeed, last November, Karzai’s successor Ashraf Ghani quietly lifted the night raid ban, opening the door once again to missions with U.S. advisors in 2015.
There will, however, be fewer U.S. special ops troops available for tactical missions. According to then Rear-, now Vice-Admiral Sean Pybus, SOCOM’s Deputy Commander, about half the SEAL platoons deployed in Afghanistan were, by the end of last month, to be withdrawn and redeployed to support “the pivot in Asia, or work the Mediterranean, or the Gulf of Guinea, or into the Persian Gulf.” Still, Colonel Christopher Riga, commander of the 7th Special Forces Group, whose troops served with the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan near Kandahar last year, vowed to soldier on. “There’s a lot of fighting that is still going on in Afghanistan that is going to continue,” he said at an awards ceremony late last year. “We’re still going to continue to kill the enemy, until we are told to leave.”
Add to those task forces the Special Operations Command Forward (SOC FWD) elements, small teams which, according to the military, “shape and coordinate special operations forces security cooperation and engagement in support of theater special operations command, geographic combatant command, and country team goals and objectives.” SOCOM declined to confirm the existence of SOC FWDs, even though there has been ample official evidence on the subject and so it would not provide a count of how many teams are currently deployed across the world. But those that are known are clustered in favored black ops stomping grounds, including SOC FWD Pakistan, SOC FWD Yemen, and SOC FWD Lebanon, as well as SOC FWD East Africa, SOC FWD Central Africa, and SOC FWD West Africa.
Africa has, in fact, become a prime locale for shadowy covert missions by America’s special operators. "This particular unit has done impressive things. Whether it's across Europe or Africa taking on a variety of contingencies, you are all contributing in a very significant way," SOCOM’s commander, General Votel, told members of the 352nd Special Operations Group at their base in England last fall.
The Air Commandos are hardly alone in their exploits on that continent. Over the last years, for example, SEALs carried out a successful hostage rescue mission in Somalia and a kidnap raid there that went awry. In Libya, Delta Force commandos successfully captured an al-Qaeda militant in an early morning raid, while SEALs commandeered an oil tanker with cargo from Libya that the weak U.S.-backed government there considered stolen. Additionally, SEALs conducted a failed evacuation mission in South Sudan in which its members were wounded when the aircraft in which they were flying was hit by small arms fire. Meanwhile, an elite quick-response force known as Naval Special Warfare Unit 10 (NSWU-10) has been engaged with “strategic countries” such as Uganda, Somalia, and Nigeria.
A clandestine Special Ops training effort in Libya imploded when militia or “terrorist” forces twice raided its camp, guarded by the Libyan military, and looted large quantities of high-tech American equipment, hundreds of weapons -- including Glock pistols, and M4 rifles -- as well as night vision devices and specialized lasers that can only be seen with such equipment. As a result, the mission was scuttled and the camp was abandoned. It was then reportedly taken over by a militia.
In February of last year, elite troops traveled to Niger for three weeks of military drills as part of Flintlock 2014, an annual Special Ops counterterrorism exercise that brought together the forces of the host nation, Canada, Chad, France, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Senegal, the United Kingdom, and Burkina Faso. Several months later, an officer from Burkina Faso, who received counterterrorism training in the U.S. under the auspices of SOCOM’s Joint Special Operations University in 2012, seized power in a coup. Special Ops forces, however, remained undaunted. Late last year, for example, under the auspices of SOC FWD West Africa, members of 5th Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, partnered with elite Moroccan troops for training at a base outside of Marrakech.
A World of Opportunities
Deployments to African nations have, however, been just a part of the rapid growth of the Special Operations Command’s overseas reach. In the waning days of the Bush presidency, under then-SOCOM chief Admiral Eric Olson, Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed in about 60 countries around the world. By 2010, that number had swelled to 75, according to Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post. In 2011, SOCOM spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told TomDispatch that the total would reach 120 by the end of the year. With Admiral William McRaven in charge in 2013, then-Major Robert Bockholt told TomDispatch that the number had jumped to 134. Under the command of McRaven and Votel in 2014, according to Bockholt, the total slipped ever-so-slightly to 133. Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel noted, however, that under McRaven’s command -- which lasted from August 2011 to August 2014 -- special ops forces deployed to more than 150 different countries. “In fact, SOCOM and the entire U.S. military are more engaged internationally than ever before -- in more places and with a wider variety of missions,” he said in an August 2014 speech.
He wasn’t kidding. Just over two months into fiscal 2015, the number of countries with Special Ops deployments has already clocked in at 105, according to Bockholt.
SOCOM refused to comment on the nature of its missions or the benefits of operating in so many nations. The command would not even name a single country where U.S. special operations forces deployed in the last three years. A glance at just some of the operations, exercises, and activities that have come to light, however, paints a picture of a globetrotting command in constant churn with alliances in every corner of the planet.
In January and February, for example, members of the 7th Special Forces Group and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment conducted a month-long Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) with forces from Trinidad and Tobago, while troops from the 353rd Special Operations Group joined members of the Royal Thai Air Force for Exercise Teak Torch in Udon Thani, Thailand. In February and March, Green Berets from the 20th Special Forces Group trained with elite troops in the Dominican Republic as part of a JCET.
In March, members of Marine Special Operations Command and Naval Special Warfare Unit 1 took part in maneuvers aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens as part of Multi-Sail 2014, an annual exercise designed to support “security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.” That same month, elite soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines took part in a training exercise code-named Fused Response with members of the Belizean military. “Exercises like this build rapport and bonds between U.S. forces and Belize,” said Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Heber Toro of Special Operations Command South afterward.
In April, soldiers from the 7th Special Forces Group joined with Honduran airborne troops for jump training -- parachuting over that country’s Soto Cano Air Base. Soldiers from that same unit, serving with the Afghanistan task force, also carried out shadowy ops in the southern part of that country in the spring of 2014. In June, members of the 19th Special Forces Group carried out a JCET in Albania, while operators from Delta Force took part in the mission that secured the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan. That same month, Delta Force commandos helped kidnap Ahmed Abu Khattala, a suspected “ringleader” in the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, while Green Berets deployed to Iraq as advisors in the fight against the Islamic State.
In June and July, 26 members of the 522nd Special Operations Squadron carried out a 28,000-mile, four-week, five-continent mission which took them to Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Japan, among other nations, to escort three “single-engine [Air Force Special Operations Command] aircraft to a destination in the Pacific Area of Responsibility.” In July, U.S. Special Operations forces traveled to Tolemaida, Colombia, to compete against elite troops from 16 other nations -- in events like sniper stalking, shooting, and an obstacle course race -- at the annual Fuerzas Comando competition.
In August, soldiers from the 20th Special Forces Group conducted a JCET with elite units from Suriname. “We’ve made a lot of progress together in a month. If we ever have to operate together in the future, we know we’ve made partners and friends we can depend upon,” said a senior noncommissioned officer from that unit. In Iraq that month, Green Berets conducted a reconnaissance mission on Mount Sinjar as part an effort to protect ethnic Yazidis from Islamic State militants, while Delta Force commandos raided an oil refinery in northern Syria in a bid to save American journalist James Foley and other hostages held by the same group. That mission was a bust and Foley was brutally executed shortly thereafter.
In September, about 1,200 U.S. special operators and support personnel joined with elite troops from the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Finland, Great Britain, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Slovenia for Jackal Stone, a training exercise that focused on everything from close quarters combat and sniper tactics to small boat operations and hostage rescue missions. In September and October, Rangers from the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment deployed to South Korea to practice small unit tactics like clearing trenches and knocking out bunkers. During October, Air Force air commandos also conducted simulated hostage rescue missions at the Stanford Training Area near Thetford, England. Meanwhile, in international waters south of Cyprus, Navy SEALs commandeered that tanker full of oil loaded at a rebel-held port in Libya. In November, U.S. commandos conducted a raid in Yemen that freed eight foreign hostages. The next month, SEALs carried out the blood-soaked mission that left two hostages, including Luke Somers, and eight civilians dead. And these, of course, are only some of the missions that managed to make it into the news or in some other way onto the record.
Everywhere They Want to Be
To America’s black ops chiefs, the globe is as unstable as it is interconnected. “I guarantee you what happens in Latin America affects what happens in West Africa, which affects what happens in Southern Europe, which affects what happens in Southwest Asia,” McRaven told last year’s Geolnt, an annual gathering of surveillance-industry executives and military personnel. Their solution to interlocked instability? More missions in more nations -- in more than three-quarters of the world’s countries, in fact -- during McRaven’s tenure. And the stage appears set for yet more of the same in the years ahead. "We want to be everywhere,” said Votel at Geolnt. His forces are already well on their way in 2015.
“Our nation has very high expectations of SOF,” he told special operators in England last fall. “They look to us to do the very hard missions in very difficult conditions.” The nature and whereabouts of most of those “hard missions,” however, remain unknown to Americans. And Votel apparently isn’t interested in shedding light on them. “Sorry, but no,” was SOCOM’s response to TomDispatch’s request for an interview with the special ops chief about current and future operations. In fact, the command refused to make any personnel available for a discussion of what it’s doing in America’s name and with taxpayer dollars. It’s not hard to guess why.
Votel now sits atop one of the major success stories of a post-9/11 military that has been mired in winless wars, intervention blowback, rampant criminal activity, repeated leaks of embarrassing secrets, and all manner of shocking scandals. Through a deft combination of bravado and secrecy, well-placed leaks, adroit marketing and public relations efforts, the skillful cultivation of a superman mystique (with a dollop of tortured fragility on the side), and one extremely popular, high-profile, targeted killing, Special Operations forces have become the darlings of American popular culture, while the command has been a consistent winner in Washington’s bare-knuckled budget battles.
This is particularly striking given what’s actually occurred in the field: in Africa, the arming and outfitting of militants and the training of a coup leader; in Iraq, America’s most elite forces were implicated in torture, the destruction of homes, and the killing and wounding of innocents; in Afghanistan, it was a similar story, with repeated reports of civilian deaths; while in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia it’s been more of the same. And this only scratches the surface of special ops miscues.
In 2001, before U.S. black ops forces began their massive, multi-front clandestine war against terrorism, there were 33,000 members of Special Operations Command and about 1,800 members of the elite of the elite, the Joint Special Operations Command. There were then also 23 terrorist groups -- from Hamas to the Real Irish Republican Army -- as recognized by the State Department, including al-Qaeda, whose membership was estimated at anywhere from 200 to 1,000. That group was primarily based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, although small cells had operated in numerous countries including Germany and the United States.
After more than a decade of secret wars, massive surveillance, untold numbers of night raids, detentions, and assassinations, not to mention billions upon billions of dollars spent, the results speak for themselves. SOCOM has more than doubled in size and the secretive JSOC may be almost as large as SOCOM was in 2001. Since September of that year, 36 new terror groups have sprung up, including multiple al-Qaeda franchises, offshoots, and allies. Today, these groups still operate in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- there are now 11 recognized al-Qaeda affiliates in the latter nation, five in the former -- as well as in Mali and Tunisia, Libya and Morocco, Nigeria and Somalia, Lebanon and Yemen, among other countries. One offshoot was born of the American invasion of Iraq, was nurtured in a U.S. prison camp, and, now known as the Islamic State, controls a wide swath of that country and neighboring Syria, a proto-caliphate in the heart of the Middle East that was only the stuff of jihadi dreams back in 2001. That group, alone, has an estimated strength of around 30,000 and managed to take over a huge swath of territory, including Iraq’s second largest city, despite being relentlessly targeted in its infancy by JSOC.
“We need to continue to synchronize the deployment of SOF throughout the globe,” says Votel. “We all need to be synched up, coordinated, and prepared throughout the command.” Left out of sync are the American people who have consistently been kept in the dark about what America’s special operators are doing and where they’re doing it, not to mention the checkered results of, and blowback from, what they’ve done. But if history is any guide, the black ops blackout will help ensure that this continues to be a “golden age” for U.S. Special Operations Command.
Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute. A 2014 Izzy Award winner, he has reported from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa and his pieces have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. His New York Times bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam received a 2014 American Book Award.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2015 Nick Turse
By Dave Lindorff
If you’re planning to commit an act of terror in the US and want to be left alone by the FBI, make sure your target is something, or someone, that the US government doesn’t like or care about.
A scholarly study has found that the U.S. public believes that whenever the U.S. government proposes a war, it has already exhausted all other possibilities. When a sample group was asked if they supported a particular war, and a second group was asked if they supported that particular war after being told that all alternatives were no good, and a third group was asked if they supported that war even though there were good alternatives, the first two groups registered the same level of support, while support for war dropped off significantly in the third group. This led the researchers to the conclusion that if alternatives are not mentioned, people don’t assume they exist — rather, people assume they’ve already been tried.
The evidence is, of course, extensive that the U.S. government, among others, often uses war as a first, second, or third resort, not a last resort. Congress is busily sabotaging diplomacy with Iran, while James Sterling is on trial in Alexandria for exposing a CIA scheme to gin up supposed grounds for a war with Iran. Then-Vice President Dick Cheney once pondered the option of having U.S. troops shoot at U.S. troops dressed up as Iranians. Moments before a White House press conference at which then-President George W. Bush and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed they were trying to avoid war in Iraq, Bush had proposed to Blair that they paint planes with UN colors and fly them low trying to get them shot at. Hussein was willing to walk away with $1 billion. The Taliban was willing to put bin Laden on trial in a third country. Gadaffi didn’t really threaten a slaughter, but Libya’s seen one now. The stories of chemical weapons attacks by Syria, invasions by Russia into Ukraine, and so forth, that fade away when a war fails to begin — these are not efforts to avoid war, to hold war off as a last resort. These are what Eisenhower warned would happen, and what he had already seen happen, when huge financial interests are stacked up behind the need for more wars.
But try telling the U.S. public. The Journal of Conflict Resolution has just published an article titled “Norms, Diplomatic Alternatives, and the Social Psychology of War Support,” by Aaron M. Hoffman, Christopher R. Agnew, Laura E. VanderDrift, and Robert Kulzick. The authors discuss various factors in public support for or opposition to wars, including the prominent place held by the question of “success” — now generally believed to matter more than body counts (meaning U.S. body counts, the massively larger foreign body counts never even coming into consideration in any study I’ve heard of). “Success” is a bizarre factor because of its lack of a hard definition and because by any definition the United States military just doesn’t have successes once it moves beyond destroying things to attempts at occupation, control, and long-term exploitation — er, excuse me, democracy promotion.
The authors’ own research finds that even when “success” is believed likely, even the muddle-headed people holding that belief tend to prefer diplomatic options (unless, of course, they are members of the United States Congress). The journal article offers some recent examples beyond the new research to back up its idea: “In 2002–2003, for instance, 60 percent of Americans believed that a US military victory in Iraq was likely (CNN/Time poll, November 13–14, 2002). Nevertheless, 63 percent of the public said they preferred a diplomatic solution to the crisis over a military one (CBS News poll, January 4–6, 2003).”
But if nobody mentions nonviolent alternatives, people aren’t uninterested in them or dismissive of them or opposed to them. No, in large numbers people actually believe that all diplomatic solutions have already been attempted. What a fantastic fact! Of course, it’s not that shocking given that war supporters habitually claim to be pursuing war as a last resort and to be fighting war reluctantly in the name of peace. But it’s an insane belief to hold if you’re living in the real world in which the State Department has become a minor unpaid intern to the Pentagon master. Diplomacy with some countries, like Iran, has actually been forbidden during periods in in which the U.S. public apparently thought it was being thoroughly pursued. And what in the world would it mean for ALL nonviolent solutions to have been tried? Could one not always think of another? Or try the same one again? Unless a looming emergency like the fictional threat to Benghazi can impose a deadline, the mad rush to war is unjustified by anything rational at all.
The role that the researchers attribute to a belief that diplomacy has already been tried could also be played by a belief that diplomacy is impossible with irrational subhuman monsters like ________ (fill in the government or residents of a targeted nation or region). The difference made by informing someone that alternatives exist would then include in it the transformation of monsters into people capable of speech.
The same transformation might be played by the revelation that, for example, people accused of building nuclear weapons aren’t actually doing so. The authors note that: “average support for the use of force by the U.S. military against Iran between 2003 and 2012 appears to be sensitive to information about the quality of available alternative courses of action. Although the use of force was never sup- ported by a majority of Americans during George W. Bush’s presidency (2001– 2009), it is notable that a significant drop in support for military action against Iran occurs in 2007. At that time, the Bush administration was seen as committed to war with Iran and pursuing diplomatic action half-heartedly. Seymour M. Hersh’s article in The New Yorker (2006) reporting that the administration was devising an aerial bombing campaign of suspected nuclear sites in Iran helped confirm this sense. Yet, a release of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 because of international pressure, undercut the argument for war. As an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney told The Wall Street Journal, the authors of the NIE ‘knew how to pull the rug out from under us’.”
But the lesson learned never seems to be that the government wants war and will lie to get it. “While public support for military operations against Iran declined during the Bush administration, it generally increased during President Barack Obama’s first term (2009–2012). Obama came to office more optimistic than his predecessor about the ability of diplomacy to get Iran to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. [You notice that even these scholars simply assume such pursuit was underway, despite their inclusion of the above NIE in the article.] Obama, for example, opened the door to direct talks with Iran over its nuclear program ‘without preconditions,’ a position George Bush rejected. Nevertheless, the inefficacy of diplomacy during Obama’s first term appears to be associated with gradual acceptance that military action might be the last viable option capable of getting Iran to change course. Paraphrasing former CIA director Michael Hayden, military action against Iran is an increasingly attractive option because ‘no matter what the U.S. does diplomatically, Tehran keeps pushing ahead with its suspected nuclear program’ (Haaretz, July 25, 2010).”
Now how does one keep pushing ahead with something that a foreign government persists in wrongly suspecting or pretending that one is doing? That’s never made clear. The point is that if you declare, Bushlike, that you have no use for diplomacy, people will oppose your war initiative. If, on the other hand, you claim, Obamalike, to be pursuing diplomacy, yet you persist, also Obamalike, in promoting the lies about what the targeted nation is up to, then people will apparently feel that they can support mass murder with a clear conscience.
The lesson for opponents of war seems to be this: point out the alternatives. Name the 86 good ideas you have for what to do about ISIS. Hammer away at what should be done. And some people, though generally accepting of war, will withhold their approval.
*Thanks to Patrick Hiller for letting me know about this article.
GIVE BACK THE BEARCAT RALLY
Santa Cruz community members call of the City Council to return the Armored Military Vehicle and make the grant process transparent.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 13, 2015
Santa Cruz City Council, 809 Center Street, Santa Cruz
Concerned community members will hold a rally to stop the increased militarization of the police force and growing threats to the civil
liberties of all who make Santa Cruz their home. A coalition of community groups are asking that the BearCat grant be returned to Homeland Security and that police and other agencies notify the council and the public before applying for grants using a law modeled on the ACLU's Surveillance and Community Safety Ordinance.
Santa Cruz City Council rushed a vote to except a $251,293.00 Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck or BearCat on December 9, 2014. This follows the acceptance of grants for License Plate Reading Cameras, also rushed without public input. The council is also passing a number of laws criminalizing the poor including this Tuesday's vote on the expansion of a stay-away order for minor infractions at city parks and beaches.
By John Grant
By all means let’s mourn together; but let’s not be stupid together.
The costly debacle known as the Iraq War put the US government in a tough spot that's now exacerbated by the rise of the Islamic State in Anbar Province and western Syria.
Cops prove they aren't really needed: NY's Mayor Should Fire All Protesting Cops and Apply Payroll Savings to Better Things
By Dave Lindorff
A huge number of entitled, mostly white cops in New York City, who have apparently been engaging in a two-week job action to protest their boss's (that's Mayor Bill deBlasio's) support for protesters against the police killing of Eric Garner, a black man busted for selling "loosie" cigarettes on the street on Staten Island, may be unintentionally offering the public a demonstration of their own irrelevance.
By Dave Lindorff
When I was starting out as a reporter back in 1972, working for a little family-owned daily, the Middletown Press in central Connecticut, I had editors and a publisher who demanded the best from us. If I was covering a story -- whether it was a police blotter report, a town meeting, or a controversial decision by a local zoning board -- and I failed to ask an important question, I inevitably got a call from the editor telling me to get it answered and inserted into my article.
The cover of the January-February 2015 The Atlantic asks "Why Do The Best Soldiers in the World Keep Losing?" which leads to this article, which fails to answer the question.
The main focus of the article is the by now endlessly familiar discovery that most U.S.-Americans are not in the military. The article is accompanied by another advocating a draft. The claim in the main article is that because most people are disconnected from the military they are more willing to send it off into unwinnable wars.
Nowhere does the author, James Fallows, attempt to so much as hint at what makes the wars unwinnable. He does claim that the last war that was in any way victorious for the United States was the Gulf War. But he can't mean that it resolved a crisis. It was a war followed by bombings and sanctions and, in fact, the repeated revival of the war, ongoing and escalating even now.
What Fallows must mean is that once the U.S. military had done what it can do -- namely, blow stuff up -- in the Gulf War, it more or less stopped. The early days in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq 2003 saw very similar "victories," as did Libya 2011 and numerous other U.S. wars. Why Fallows ignores Libya I don't know, but Iraq and Afghanistan go down as losses in his book, I think, not because there's no draft or because the military and Congress are corrupt and build the wrong weapons, but because after blowing everything up, the military stuck around for years trying to make people like it by murdering their friends and family members. Such occupations are virtually unwinnable, as in Vietnam and numerous other places, because people will not accept them, and because military attempts to create acceptance are counterproductive. A better military with more self-criticism, a draft, and an audited budget would not alter this fact in the slightest.
Fallows' contention that nobody pays any attention to wars and militarism misses the point, but it is also overstated. "I'm not aware," he writes, "of any midterm race for the House or Senate in which matters of war and peace . . . were first-tier campaign issues." He's forgotten 2006 when exit polls showed ending the war on Iraq as the number one motivator of voters after numerous candidates opposed the war they would escalate as soon as they were in office.
Fallows also overstates the impact of public separation from the military. He believes it was possible to make fun of the military in popular culture when, and because, more of the public was closer to the military through family and friends. But this avoids the general downward slide of the U.S. media and the militarization of U.S. culture which he has not shown to be completely attributable to disconnection.
Fallows thinks that Obama would not have been able to make everyone "look forward" and avoid contemplating military disasters if "Americans had felt effected by the wars' outcome." No doubt, but is the answer to that problem a draft or a bit of education? It doesn't take much to point out to U.S. college students that student debt is unheard of in some nations that fight fewer wars. The U.S. has killed huge numbers of men, women, and children, made itself hated, made the world more dangerous, destroyed the environment, discarded civil liberties, and wasted trillions of dollars that could have done a world of good spent otherwise. A draft would do nothing to make people aware of that situation. And Fallows' focus only on the financial cost of a war -- and not on the 10-times-greater cost of the military justified by the wars -- encourages acceptance of what Eisenhower warned would generate more warfare.
Fallows' effort to look backwards also seems to miss the robotization of U.S. wars. No draft is going to turn us into drones, the pilots of which death machines are themselves disconnected from the wars.
Still, Fallows has a point. It is utterly bizarre that the least successful, most wasteful, most expensive, most destructive public program is largely unquestioned and generally trusted and revered by most of the public. This is the operation that coined the term SNAFU for godsake, and people are ready to believe its every wild tale. Gareth Porter explains the knowingly doomed decision to re-launch the Iraq war in 2014 as a political calculation, not as a means of pleasing profiteers, and of course not as a means of accomplishing anything. Of course, war profiteers work very hard to manufacture the sort of public that insists on or tolerates lots of wars, and the political calculation may be related to pleasing elites more than the general public. It is still worth framing as the greatest cultural crisis before us -- alongside climate denial -- that too many people are willing to cheer for wars and even more to accept the permanent war economy. Anything that shakes up that situation is to be applauded.
By Buddy Bell
In 2002, at a time when insurance providers were unwilling to provide coverage for losses resulting from acts of terrorism, and when construction and utility companies were stalling in their development projects, Congress passed the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA). They decided to socialize some of the financial risk, giving a federal government guarantee on insurance payouts exceeding 100 million dollars.
Over the next 12 years, Presidents Bush and Obama and six different Congresses made countless decisions to increase the risk of terrorism (and of a bailout under TRIA). Of course, the most brutally profound effects of those decisions were imposed on children, women, and men in other parts of the world. Likely the least affected people were the ones complaining in the business sections of major papers last month.
They are worried because TRIA expired Jan. 1. An unexpected fluke on the last day of the last congressional session is to blame. “Everybody expected this would get done,” fumed Manhattan developer Douglas Durst, to New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman.
He won’t be waiting all that long: House Speaker John Boehner promised the Baltimore Sun to “act very quickly” to renew TRIA on January 3rd, when Congress reconvenes. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, quoted by Weisman, estimated that the act is 95% likely to pass through his chamber.
If rhetorical announcements in the past week turn out to be accurate, the first order of business that day will not actually be TRIA, but a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. A few days ago, activists in United Against Nuclear Iran announced that after Keystone, the next vote will be on a bill to impose tougher sanctions on Iran, which would scuttle any peace deal. This will paradoxically make a “nuclear Iran” much more likely. Presumably, TRIA would be acted on “very quickly” sometime after all that.
Whether the lapse in coverage will last a total of 3 or 4 or more days is probably not an issue that concerns most constituents of U.S. Congress members. People in the U.S. are much more likely to be concerned with how to reduce the threat of terrorism in the first place. Unfortunately, a desire to avert danger to the greater public is not what guides U.S. foreign policy. Policy makers instead insist that people in the U.S. and in other countries subordinate themselves to what U.S. elites claim is the national interest.
In 12 years, the Afghanistan War did not end. The Iraq War was started, ended, and then started again. Torture became commonplace, with prisoners indefinitely held at Bagram, Guantánamo Bay, and a network of secret CIA prisons; some prisoners were rendered to third countries such as Egypt, Libya, and Syria to be tortured there. Israel, Egypt, and many other brutal regimes conducted wars of choice and campaigns of repression while making use of U.S. weaponry, vehicles, and diplomatic support. And then a systematic drone war attacked people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia; the ‘targets’ were chosen by Obama in consultation with the Pentagon or by secret algorithm.
The former commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, in a 2013 interview with Reuters, said that the use of drones is hated on a visceral level and exacerbates a perception of American arrogance. Former General James E. Cartwright, quoted in the New York Times on March 21 of that year, stated an obvious fact: “If you’re trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you’re going to upset people even if they’re not targeted.”
The April 2013 issue of The Atlantic recounts the U.S. Senate testimony of a young man named Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemini. He attended English classes in Yemen before going to high school in Rosamond, California, then college in Beirut--- all funded through U.S. State Department scholarships. One day a drone strike hit his remote home village of Wessab. Seven of his siblings died from injuries they sustained. During his testimony to the Senate, he said he has met dozens of civilians who were injured during drone strikes and other air attacks in Yemen. “The killing of innocent civilians by U.S. missiles in Yemen is helping to destabilize my country and create an environment from which AQAP benefits. [Drone strikes] are the face of America to many Yemenis." (He was quoted using the acronym for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.)
The Rehman family was victim to another U.S. drone strike, this time in Pakistan. The strike appeared to be targeted at a 67-year-old midwife but also injured her two grandchildren. These children and their father came to testify to a Congressional hearing in late October 2013, yet only 5 members of Congress attended. Other Congress members did not attend despite knowing that law enforcement officers had recently investigated a botched car bombing in Times Square and identified U.S. foreign policy in Pakistan as a motive in the perpetrator’s attempt.
Now that TRIA has expired, the horrors inflicted by the United States on human beings abroad have more potential to cut into the bottom lines of insurance brokers and developers. This explains why the business press is paying attention to terrorism, yet the only genuine hedge fund against social decay for the rest of us is to transform the U.S. foreign policy, and quick.
Instead of reauthorizing TRIA, Congress should “act very quickly” to end the wars, ground the drones, stop using torture, and invest in the needs of children and adults through an internationally-administered reparations package. Justice is the only [i]nsurance of real security for everyone in the world.
Buddy Bell is co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Gary Lindorff
My ax is grinding
All by itself!
I can hear it giving itself to the grinding wheel
Every day when I wake up,
Most nights when I go to bed.
I am just grinding it.
What would I use it for?
To cut down my enemies to size?
To swing against the foundations of the NSA?
To destroy the diabolical machinery
That is excavating the tarsands in Alberta?
To obliterate all the missiles and missile silos...
By Linn Washington Jr.
Tinduf, Algeria -- News about the historic change of relations between the United States and Cuba triggered cheers across the five Sahrawi refugee camps located near this Sahara Desert city located 1,100-miles southwest of Algeria’s capital of Algiers on the Mediterranean Sea.
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Last fall an apparently unbalanced survivalist steeped in anti-government paranoia murdered a Pennsylvania State Trooper and seriously wounded another Trooper during a sniper attack. Recently an apparently unbalanced man with a criminal past murdered two New York City policemen as they sat in their patrol car hours after he allegedly shot a former girl friend.
By Dave Lindorff
Let me make it clear from the outset of this article: I’m against violence and killing, and I’m certainly no advocate of killing police officers.
Obama’s Trojan Horse: US Recognition of Cuba after 54 Years of Hostility and War Does't Mean an End to US Subversion
Obama’s Trojan Horse:
US Recognition of Cuba after 54 Years of Hostility and War Does't Mean an End to US Subversion
By Dave Lindorff
By John Grant
CAUTION! To paraphrase Bill O’Reilly, you are now entering a no-censor zone that discusses obscene activity.
The Christmas movie from Sony Pictures I want to see is Seth Rogan and James Franco rectally feeding Dick Cheney at the climax of a movie sequel called The Enhanced Interview: Saving the Homeland One Dick At a Time.
Making a joke of the Supreme Court: Justice Antonin Scalia is a Publicity-Seeking Intellectual Midget
By Dave Lindorff
Sometimes you really don't need to write much to do an article on something. Writing about the inanity of Justice Antonin Scalia, the ethics-challenged, lard-bottomed, right-wing anchor of the Supreme Court, is one of those times.
By Dave Lindorff
In all the media debate about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s release, finally, of a heavily redacted report on officially sanctioned torture by the CIA and the US military during the Bush/Cheney administration and the so-called War on Terror, there has been little said about the reality that torture, as clearly defined in the Geneva Convention against Torture which went into effect in 1987, is flat-out illegal in the US as a signatory of that Convention.