End Drone Killing, Drone Surveillance and Global Militarization
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People from Yemen and Pakistan and elsewhere have told me, and have testified in the U.S. Congress, that they have a hard time convincing their neighbors that everyone in the United States doesn't hate them. There are buzzing killer robots flying over their houses night and day and every now and then blowing a bunch of people up with a missile with very little rhyme or reason that anyone nearby can decipher. They don't know where to go or not go, what to do or not do, to be safe or keep their children safe. Their children have instinctively taken to crouching and covering their heads just like U.S. children in the 1950s were taught to do as supposed protection from Soviet nuclear weapons.
The good news is that, of course, we don't all hate Yemenis or Pakistanis or Somalis or Afghans or Libyans or any of the other people who might suspect us of it. The bad news -- and the news that I'm afraid would be almost incomprehensible to many millions of people around the world -- is that most of us have only the vaguest idea where any of those countries are, some of us don't know that they ARE countries at all, and we pay far greater attention to our sports and our pets than to whom exactly our government is killing this Tuesday.
This obliviousness comes into sharpest relief perhaps when we elect the officials who are legally called on to decide on our wars. The extent to which Congress has handed war making over to presidents is also brought out by observing Congressional elections. It is not at all uncommon for U.S. Congressional candidates' platforms to entirely ignore all questions of war and peace, and to win support from either Democrats or Republicans despite this omission -- despite, in particular, taking no position on the area funded by 57% of the dollars they will vote on if elected, namely wars and war preparations.
Here in Virginia's Fifth Congressional District, a man named Lawrence Gaughan recently announced as a Democratic candidate for Congress. I'd never heard of him, so I took a look at the "Issues" section of his website. Not only WAS there such a section (some candidates campaign purely on their biography without taking positions on anything), but Gaughan's site had clear forthright statements on a number of important issues. He backed labor unions despite their virtual nonexistence in his district. He admitted the existence of climate change. He backed Eisenhower era tax rates (!!). And his statements made commitments: "I will not vote for any tax cuts for those making over 250,000 dollars a year." "I support the Dream Act." "I would vote for any legislation that would bring back jobs in construction, manufacturing and production." Either this guy had real principles or he was just too new for anyone to have explained to him how to make his promises vague enough not to commit himself to any specific actions.
All too typically, however, when I scrolled through the "Issues," I noticed a gap. I sent this note off to the candidate's staff:
"Your candidate has some of the best and clearest positions on domestic issues that I've seen, and dramatically superior to Congressman Hurt's, but judging by his website as it stands today he seems to have no position on foreign policy whatsoever, or even on that 57% of discretionary spending that, according to the National Priorities Project, goes to militarism. For people who support domestic social justice AND peace in the world in this district, we are put in a bind by our history. Congressman Perriello voted for every war dollar he could, and has made a career of pushing for new wars since leaving office. Congressman Hurt is a disaster on other issues but listened to us and took a stand against missile strikes on Syria. He even listened to us on lawless imprisonment and voted against a "Defense" Authorization Act on one occasion. Helpful as it is to know what Lawrence Gaughan thinks of 43% of the budget, some of us are really going to have to know what he thinks of the larger part. Would he cut military spending? Would he oppose new wars? Does he oppose drone strikes? Would he repeal the authorization to use military force of '01 and that of '03? Would he support economic conversion to peaceful industries on the model now set up in Connecticut? Would he advance a foreign policy of diplomacy, cooperation, actual aid, and nonviolent conflict resolution? Are there any foreign bases he would close? Does he think having U.S. troops in 175 nations is too many, too few, or just right? Does he support joining the ICC? Thanks for your time!"
A couple of days later, Gaughan called me on the phone. We talked for a while about foreign policies, wars, peace, militarism, the economic advantages of converting to peaceful industries, the danger of handing war powers over to presidents. He said he opposed wars. He said he wanted to take on the influence of the military industrial complex. He didn't seem particularly well informed, but he seemed to be coming from a fairly good place or to at least be willing to get there.
He proposed allowing military veterans to never pay any taxes. That's not exactly the sort of resistance to militarism that President Kennedy had in mind when he wrote that wars would continue until the conscientious objector has the honor and prestige of the soldier. Gaughan offered no tax cuts for conscientious objectors. Still, he said he'd get some good statements on foreign policy added to his website right away. He also said he'd be willing to debate the other candidates, including the incumbent, on foreign relations, should peace groups create such a forum and invite him.
Lo and behold, the next day, this appeared on Gaughan's website:
"We have strayed from our constitution when it comes to the defense of our nation and declaration of war. I was opposed to the war in Iraq for many reasons. The enormous price paid by our brave men and women as well as the huge financial debt that we incurred was not necessary. Republicans in Congress continue to defer those costs on our military personnel and our veterans through the sequester and other austerity measures.
"Not withstanding the government shutdown, the Republican budget proposals that my opponent, Robert Hurt, has voted for over the past three years, have forced the Pentagon into reductions that have taken a tremendous toll on enlisted personnel right here in our district. These political policies are also causing reductions to TriCare, active duty health benefits, and to retired military pensions. As the greatest nation on earth, it is unacceptable that we have homeless veterans or military families who struggle to pay the bills.
"We owe so much to the men and women who serve. Instead of laying off soldiers and cutting funding for the VA, we could begin by eliminating the ongoing fraud by military contractors. Fraud committed by dozens of irresponsible military industry corporations have cost taxpayers more than $1.1 trillion. Eliminating this fraud would offset most of the estimated $1.2 trillion in policy savings required over the next decade in order to realize the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated $1.4 trillion in deficit reduction without 'gutting our military'. Furthermore, as a component of tax reform, there should be a tax exemption status for veterans written into the tax code."
His topic, all too typically -- people around the world should understand -- is not how to relate to the 95% of humanity that is not in the United States, but how to treat "The Military."
His first sentence echoes our discussion of the past three-quarters century of undeclared wars, but doesn't spell it out. Will he oppose wars that lack a Congressional declaration or not?
He picks one past war to oppose without stating his position on future wars. He describes the costs of a war that killed some million Iraqis and destroyed a nation as all being paid by the U.S. and its soldiers.
He blames the sequester agreement on only one of the two parties that agreed to it, and buys into the myth that it has resulted in cuts to the military. (True, Democrats in the Senate recently put up a token effort to fund veterans' needs and were blocked by Republicans.) Gaughan claims that we owe "so much" to members of the military who "serve." What exactly do we owe them? Can he name something that we owe them? He doesn't want soldiers to be "laid off," as if employing them is a make-work jobs program.
In my view we owe veterans housing, healthcare, education, a clean environment, and a healthy society because they are human beings -- and we owe it equally to every other human being. But we shouldn't pretend that the military's so-called "service" isn't making us hated around the world. We shouldn't try to produce more veterans as if there were something noble about murdering people.
Gaughan almost closes on an up note. He acknowledges fraud by military contractors. He even calls them "military," rather than using the misleading term "defense." But then he makes clear that he doesn't want to cut the military. He wants to create efficiency to avoid cuts while saving money.
Would he repeal authorizations to use military force? Who knows. Would he back future wars? Who can tell? Does he believe U.S. troops should be in 175 nations? Perhaps. But if they were in 182 would he then think 182 was the right number? Does he favor allowing presidents to murder people with missiles from drones or by any other means? Does he think antagonizing Russia and China and Iran should remain the focus of U.S. foreign policy? Does he want the occupation of Afghanistan ended? Who knows.
He brought up a Department of Peace on our phone call, but it didn't make the website yet. One can hope that Gaughan's website is a work in progress. There's certainly a chance he'll become a far better candidate and Congress member than this district has had in a long time.
But this, dear world, is more or less how the world's largest-ever killing machine operates. It turns its eyes away from the machine's work and, if pushed, debates the care of the machine itself -- maintaining more or less complete obliviousness to the horrors the machine produces in those far away places where you live and die.
Ego trumps principle: Sen. Feinstein Finally Goes after the CIA, but not for Lying to and Spying on Us
By Dave Lindorff
Of all the people to come to the rescue of the Constitution, who would have thought it would be Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA).
Feinstein, after all, as head of the Senate Intelligence Committee since 2009, has yet to see an NSA violation of the Constitution, an invasive spying program or a creative “re-interpretation” of the law that she hasn’t applauded as being lawful and “needed” to “keep people safe.”
If they drop these charges, why not all of them?: Crowd-Sourcing, Crowd Support and Barrett Brown's Partial Victory
By Alfredo Lopez
Federal prosecutors last week dropped several of the most significant charges facing Internet activist and journalist Barrett Brown -- charges that could have drawn a jail sentence of 105 years.
By John Grant
Making political sense out of the events in Ukraine and Crimea has become great sport. Does it mean a new Cold War? Is Vladimir Putin a better, more “potent” man than Barack Obama? Who has bigger balls?
Chris Rickert: Bipartisanship sets sail aboard the USS Defense Spending
CHRIS RICKERT | Wisconsin State Journal | email@example.com | 608-252-6198
Forget about national tragedies, Olympic success or sitting down over a couple of beers.
Nothing brings people together like military spending.
What else could get the thumbs-up from a tea party debt hawk, a cheerleader for “new politics,” one of the most liberal Democrats in the Senate, and a massive, left-leaning educational bureaucracy?
Last month, three Wisconsin members of Congress criticized plans from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to curtail production of the Navy’s littoral combat ship, which is made in Alabama and Wisconsin’s own Marinette Marine.
Then last week, UW-Madison backed a bill in the state Legislature that would end a ban on federally funded classified research - including military research - in the UW System and make UW-Madison one of only three Big Ten universities to allow it.
When not proposing $1.4 trillion in federal spending cuts and producing episodes in his “victims of government” series, Sen. Ron Johnson seeks to explain his support for the LCS program as a matter of military readiness, not love of the government contract.
“Sen. Johnson supports the building of the ships and the LCS program,” spokeswoman Melinda Schnell said, “but he by no means feels it is within his role as a U.S. senator to tell the Navy how many of these ships it needs.”
U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, whose district includes Marinette, takes a similar tack. His chief of staff said the ship is needed, wanted and comparatively cheap.
Ribble, incidentally, is part of a bipartisan effort called No Labels, which touts itself as “dedicated to a new politics of problem solving.” I guess “new politics” still includes the military-industrial complex.
Speaking of which, in a Feb. 4 statement, Sen. Tammy Baldwin - “a long-time supporter of the LCS program in Wisconsin” -says the LCS program has a “ripple effect across the state, boosting our Made in Wisconsin economy.” No word on whether her support will cause waves among her many peacenik supporters.
In Madison - where college students once rioted against recruiters from napalm-making Dow Chemical - a spokeswoman for today’s student government said the organization is not taking a position on the possible return of classified national security research some 40 years after opposition to the Vietnam War led the UW System to ban it.
The university and the lobbying arm of its Faculty Senate are behind the effort, though, which I suppose is no surprise given the university’s soft spot for secrecy.
Under the original version of the classified research bill, the university lobbied for a provision that would have exempted a broader swath of research from the state’s open records law. That idea was ultimately dropped.
For, well, obvious reasons, peace-minded, military-wary liberals should support curbs to the LCS program and oppose academic research on waging war.
You’d think conservatives would support calls to reduce spending. And secret military research is a little too reminiscent of black helicopters and jackbooted government thugs not to give libertarian-minded conservatives pause.
But principles stand little chance when federal largesse is on the line.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
The U.S. Department of Defense released the 2014 version of its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) yesterday, declaring the threat of climate change impacts a very serious national security vulnerability that, among other things, could enable further terrorist activity.
Released every four years, the QDR is a broad outline of U.S. military strategy discussing how to maintain global U.S. military hegemony. Like the 2010 document, the 64-page 2014 QDR again highlights the threats posed to national security by ever-worsening global climate disruption.
Not funny, but it’s still hard not to laugh: How Can the US Accuse Russia of Violating International Law?
By Dave Lindorff
If you want to make moral or legal pronouncements, or to condemn bad behavior, you have to be a moral, law-abiding person yourself. It is laughable when we see someone like Rush Limbaugh criticizing drug addicts or a corrupt politician like former Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) voting for more prisons, more cops, and tougher rules against appeals of sentences.
The same thing goes for nations.
Criticizing repression of protest abroad, practicing it at home: What if Americans Demanded the Ouster of This Government?
By Dave Lindorff
Ukraine’s new rulers, in one of their first acts, have disbanded that country’s riot police.
Secretary of War Chuck Hagel yesterday announced the Obama administration's Pentagon budget proposal for the coming year. Despite mandates for cuts in military spending after agreements with Congress under sequestration, Hagel actually calls for an increase of more than $115 billion for war making.
The Hagel budget basically calls for cuts in Army ground forces and cutbacks in military pay, housing and commissary facilities on bases. Life for the enlisted will become more difficult. The Pentagon is also calling for the closing of a few National Guard posts in some states.
Hagel calls for 'sustaining' the Pentagon's nuclear triad - air, ground, and sea delivery systems of nuclear weapons. Also called for is an increase in drones and robotic forces as well as significant expansion in cyber warfare capabilities.
Wall Street immediately reacted by joyfully giving Lockheed-Martin all-time high stock gains. The writing on the wall is clear - cuts in troop levels and increase in high-tech space directed war-making capability.
We will see an expansion of US "hidden" wars in the near future and the Obama budget reflects this reality. While Hagel wants to pare back the size of the active-duty military by 13% and the reserves by 5% in coming years he would boost the size of Special Operations forces by about 6%. The plan is to add more than 3,000 personnel to the kinds of special ops forces teams that reportedly killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
These same clandestine forces now operate in more than 75 countries around the world. In his film “Dirty Wars” investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill reports on the largely unaccountable Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that is now doing targeted assassinations, destabilization, and training of right-wing and terrorist forces used by the US in places like Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and beyond. The corporate oligarchy is moving rapidly to consolidate their total control of the people around the world and the US is playing its role of "security export" rather well.
Mainstream media reports of the Hagel announcement also tag two key places on the planet that will receive special emphasis from this new budget. Those are the African continent and the Asia-Pacific. This is where the long-range military operations planning and funding are heading.
Our organizing (no matter whether it is local, regional, national or international) needs to take into account this very fundamental direction the Obama supported military complex is tacking toward.
On Monday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gave a speech at the Pentagon that announced cutbacks in a number of military programs:
- Reductions in military personnel in the active-duty Army, Army National Guard, Army Reserve, and Marine Corps
- A pay freeze for flag officers and generals
- A reduction in benefits for active-duty personnel and their families
- Elimination of some weapons systems, including the Air Force A-10 Attack Jet and U-2 spy plane fleet, and reduction in the number of Navy littoral combat ships
However, despite all of these changes, the new Pentagon budget does not project a commensurate decline in spending.
The president is expected to propose an additional $26 billion for the Pentagon in 2015, on top of the spending limits agreed to in the Bipartisan Budget Agreement. In addition, the Pentagon receives many tens of billions in additional funding to operate wars overseas, officially known as "Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)," and that money isn't subject to caps.
"Five-year spending projections at the Pentagon show that it plans to exceed the spending caps of sequestration by $115 billion over the next five years," said Jo Comerford, NPP Executive Director. "We must hold Secretary Hagel to his promise to make tough choices in Pentagon spending, including examining the OCO 'slush fund.' As a nation, we must redefine what we mean by security and listen to the people's priorities for how to spend our tax dollars."
National Priorities Project has the cost per hour of Pentagon spending by city, county, state, and Congressional districts.
National Priorities Project (NPP) is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that makes our complex federal budget transparent and accessible so people can exercise their right and responsibility to shape our nation's budget. We are the people's guide to the federal budget. In 2014, NPP was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of our pioneering work to track federal spending on the military and promote a U.S. federal budget that represents Americans' priorities, including funding for people's issues such as inequality, unemployment, education, health and the need to build a green economy. Learn more at nationalpriorities.org.
Michael Hadfield is a Professor of Zoology and Principal Investigator at the Kewalo Marine Laboratory, University of Hawaii, and at the Pacific Biosciences Research Center. He discusses the need to save Pagan Island, its people and other species, from the U.S. military. See http://savepaganisland.org
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By Dave Lindorff
(This article originally ran in WhoWhatWhy News)
If you’re a small-town police chief, or perhaps the chief of a university security department, the US Department of Defense has got a deal for you!
Thanks to the ending of the Iraq War, and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has 11,000 heavily armored vehicles that it has no use for. Called MRAPs—Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected—they are designed to protect against AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and IEDs. And as pitchman Paul Richards used to say of the ’69 Pontiac Firebird, “They’re practically giving them away!”
Correction, they are giving them away.
All a local police department has to do to get itself an 18-ton MRAP—which originally cost taxpayers between $400,000-$700,000 complete with gun turret and bullet-proof windows—is send a few cops to pick it up and pay for the gas.
There are a few downsides: the things get only five miles to the gallon, can’t go over most bridges (or under them), and have a nasty habit of tipping over on rough terrain.
New weekly ThisCantBeHappening! radio show Climate change: Washington and the Oil Companies Know but Won’t Act to Stop It
ThisCantBeHappening! has a new radio program of the same name. TCBH founder Dave Lindotff will be hosting the show every Wednesday at 5 pm Eastern Time on theProgressive Radio Network.
Originally published by the Times Record
Polls showed a large percentage of us in this country supporting the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and even — though somewhat reduced — the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But not long after, and ever since, a majority of us have said those were mistakes.
We’ve opposed attacking Iran whenever that idea has entered the news. We opposed bombing Libya in 2011 and were ignored, as was Congress. And, by the way, advocates of that happy little war are rather quiet about the chaos it created.
But last September, the word on our televisions was that missiles must be sent to strike Syria. President Barack Obama and the leaders of both big political parties said they favored it. Wall Street believed it would happen, judging by Raytheon’s stock. When U.S. intelligence agencies declined to make the president’s case, he released a “government” assessment without them.
Remarkably, we didn’t accept that choice. A majority of us favored humanitarian aid, but no missiles, and no arming of one side in the war. We had the benefit of many people within the government and the military agreeing with us. And when Congress was pressured to demand approval power, Obama granted it.
It helped more that members of Congress were in their districts with people getting in their faces. It was with Congress indicating its refusal to support a war that Obama and Kerry accepted the pre-existing Russian offer to negotiate. In fact, the day before they made that decision, the State Department had stressed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would never ever give up his chemical weapons, and Kerry’s remarks on that solution had been “rhetorical.”
The war in Syria goes on. Washington sent guns, but refrained from air strikes. Major humanitarian aid would cost far less than missiles and guns, but hasn’t materialized. The children we were supposed to care about enough to bomb their country are still suffering, and most of us still care.
But a U.S. war was prevented.
We’re seeing the same thing play out in Washington right now on the question of whether to impose yet more sanctions on Iran, shred a negotiated agreement with Iran, and commit the United States to joining in any war between Israel and Iran.
In January, a bill to do all of that looked likely to pass through the Senate. Public pressure has been one factor in, thus far, slowing it down.
Are we moving away from war?
The ongoing war in Afghanistan, and White House efforts to extend it beyond this year, might suggest otherwise. The military budget that still eats up, across various departments, roughly half of federal discretionary spending, and which is roughly the size of all other countries’ military spending combined, might suggest otherwise. The failure to repeal the authorizations for war from 2001 and 2003, and the establishment of permanent practices of surveillance and detention and secrecy justified by a permanent state of war, might suggest otherwise. As might the ongoing missile strikes from drones over a number of nations.
But you’ll notice that they don’t ask us before launching drone strikes, and that their assurances that no innocent people are harmed have proven highly misleading.
War may be becoming acceptable only as what its advocates have long claimed it was: a last resort. Of course if we can really make that true, we’ll never have a war again.
DAVID SWANSON will be speaking at 3 p.m. Feb. 15 at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick.
By Dave Lindorff
(This is Part III of a three-part series on climate change by Dave Lindorff that is running in WhoWhatWhy News)
By John Grant
It was to be expected. A famous person’s death by heroin overdose becomes a catalyst for today’s equivalent of the lynch mob. Leading the pack, Bill O’Reilly immediately and aggressively called for heads to roll. Soon, four people were arrested in Manhattan for allegedly selling the drugs to the Academy Award winning actor.
By Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia -- A January 7, 2014 police assault on Darrin Manning that resulted in the 16-year-old honor student's needing emergency surgery to repair a ruptured testicle, is outrageous but hardly unusual in this city.
By Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia -- A January 7, 2014 police assault on Darrin Manning that resulted in the 16-year-old honor student's needing emergency surgery to repair a ruptured testicle, is outrageous but hardly unusual in this city.
By Brian Terrell
The F-16 jets of the Iowa Air National Guard that formerly buzzed the city of Des Moines have disappeared and we are told that their base at the Des Moines International Airport is in the process of refitting into a command center for unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, commonly called drones. The MQ-9 Reaper drones themselves will not be coming to Iowa but will be based in and launched overseas. When airborne, these unmanned planes will be flown by remote control via satellite link from Des Moines. Classified by the military as a “Hunter-Killer platform,” the MQ-9 Reaper is armed with Hellfire missiles and 500 pound bombs that according to plan will be launched by airmen sitting at computer terminals in Des Moines.
President Obama, in an address from the National Defense University last May, described this new technology as more precise and by implication more humane than other weaponry: “By narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.” There is an understandable appeal to the idea of a weapon that can discriminate between the good and the bad people and limit regrettable “collateral damage.” It is understandable too, that a nation weary of sending its sons and daughters to fight on battlefields far away, risking injury, death or the debilitating effects of posttraumatic stress, might look to embrace a new method of war whereby the warriors fights battles from the safe distances. Thousands of miles beyond the reach of the enemy, drone combatants often do not even have to leave their hometowns and are able to return to homes and families at the end of a shift.
All the promises of a new era of better war through technology, however, are proving false. Rather than limiting the scope of war, drones are expanding and proliferating it, killing more civilians both on battlefields and far from them, endangering our soldiers and the safety of our communities. Instead of keeping the horrors of war at a safe distance, drones bring the war home in unprecedented ways. The plan to fly drones out of the Iowa Air Guard Base in Des Moines threatens to make a literal war zone in Central Iowa.
In his National Defense University speech, the president contended that “conventional airpower and missiles are far less precise than drones, and likely to cause more civilian casualties and local outrage.”A few weeks later a study published by the same National Defense University refuted his claim. Drone strikes in Afghanistan, the study found, were “an order of magnitude more likely to result in civilian casualties per engagement.”Despite the president’s assurances to the contrary, drone strikes cause immense “local outrage” in the countries where they happen, turning America’s allies into enemies. "What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world," said former commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal. "The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes ... is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one."
Former defense secretary Robert M. Gates also warns of the seductive power and precision of armed drones that leads many to perceive war as a “bloodless, painless and odorless” affair. “Remarkable advances in precision munitions, sensors, information and satellite technology and more can make us overly enamored with the ability of technology to transform the traditional laws and limits of war. A button is pushed in Nevada and seconds later a pickup truck explodes in Kandahar.”Defense experts and policy makers, Gates warns, have come to view drone warfare as a “kind of video game or action movie. . . . In reality, war is inevitably tragic, inefficient and uncertain.” General Mike Hostage, chief of the US Air Combat Command, claims that while weaponized drones are useful in assassinations of terror suspects, they are impractical in combat. "Predators and Reapers are useless in a contested environment," Hostage said.
Some enlisted personnel are also questioning the use of drones. Heather Linebaugh, a drone operator for the US Air Force for three years says: “Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them a few questions. I'd start with: ‘How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?’ And: ‘How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?’ Or even more pointedly: ‘How many soldiers have you seen die on the side of a road in Afghanistan because our ever-so-accurate UAVs were unable to detect an IED [improvised explosive device] that awaited their convoy?’”
The transformation from fighter planes to drones will be marked by changing the name of the Air Guard unit in Des Moines from the “132nd Fighter Wing” to the “132nd Attack Wing.” This change is more than symbolic- a “fight” by definition has two sides. There is such a thing as a fair fight and a fight has some kind of resolution. An attack, however, is by nature one-sided, something that a perpetrator inflicts on a victim. A fighter might sometimes be justified, an attacker, never. Drone strikes rarely catch a “terrorist” in an act of aggression against the US and often occur in counties where the US is not at war. Their victims are targeted on the basis of questionable intelligence or “patterns of behavior” that look suspicious from a computer screen thousands of miles way. More than once, drone victims have been US citizens living abroad, executed without charges or trial.
Distance from the battlefield does not isolate soldiers from posttraumatic stress or the moral injury of war. Heather Linebaugh speaks of two friends and colleagues who committed suicide and another former drone operator, Brandon Bryant, said that his work had made him into a “heartless sociopath.” While drone pilots are at a greater distance from their victims than other soldiers, he says, the video feed they watch brings them closer: “Artillery doesn’t see the results of their actions. It’s really more intimate for us, because we see everything.”
When the 132nd Attack Wing is up and running, Iowa’s “citizen soldiers” will be engaged in combat in real time from the Des Moines International Airport. “In an F-16, your whole mission was to train to go to war,” said a pilot of an Ohio Air Guard wing that made a similar conversion from fighters to drones. “In this mission, we go to war every day.”Previous foreign postings of the 132nd were always made public, but where in the world the wing will be fighting from now on will be shrouded in secrecy. Reason and the rules of war both suggest that assassinations and acts of war on sovereign nations carried on by the 132nd from its base in Des Moines will make the airport there a military target, putting Iowans at peril.
Drone warfare is based on the lie that war can be made more exact, limited and humane through technology. Our civilian and military authorities, by bringing drones to Des Moines, are acting recklessly and in defiance of domestic and international law. They are acting without regard for the safety and wellbeing of our troops, of the people of Iowa or of people in faraway places who otherwise would mean us no harm. Rather than being an answer, drones perpetuate and multiply the horrors of war and bring them home into our communities.
Brian Terrell lives in Maloy, Iowa, and is a co-coordinator for Voices for Creative Nonviolence.
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By Alfredo Lopez
This past week, the Federal government threw a one-two punch that will effectively destroy the Internet as we know it. Demonstrating, once again, his talent for obfuscation and misdirection, President Obama made a speech about reforming the NSA and controlling surveillance that actually officially recognized, sanctioned and even expanded the NSA's domestic spying and cyber-warfare.
Short-term profits trump survival: Washington and the Oil Industry Know the Truth about Climate Change
By Dave Lindorff
Climate skeptics in Congress, and oil and coal industry lobbyists like the American Petroleum Institute and the American Coal Council may be preventing any significant action in the US on reducing this country’s emissions of carbon into the atmosphere, but at the Pentagon, and in the executive suites of the oil industry giants, there is no doubt about the reality of climate change.
They operate in the green glow of night vision in Southwest Asia and stalk through the jungles of South America. They snatch men from their homes in the Maghreb and shoot it out with heavily armed militants in the Horn of Africa. They feel the salty spray while skimming over the tops of waves from the turquoise Caribbean to the deep blue Pacific. They conduct missions in the oppressive heat of Middle Eastern deserts and the deep freeze of Scandinavia. All over the planet, the Obama administration is waging a secret war whose full extent has never been fully revealed -- until now.
Since September 11, 2001, U.S. Special Operations forces have grown in every conceivable way, from their numbers to their budget. Most telling, however, has been the exponential rise in special ops deployments globally. This presence -- now, in nearly 70% of the world’s nations -- provides new evidence of the size and scope of a secret war being waged from Latin America to the backlands of Afghanistan, from training missions with African allies to information operations launched in cyberspace.
In the waning days of the Bush presidency, 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, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told TomDispatch that the total would reach 120. Today, that figure has risen higher still.
In 2013, elite U.S. forces were deployed in 134 countries around the globe, according to Major Matthew Robert Bockholt of SOCOM Public Affairs. This 123% increase during the Obama years demonstrates how, in addition to conventional wars and a CIA drone campaign, public diplomacy and extensive electronic spying, the U.S. has engaged in still another significant and growing form of overseas power projection. Conducted largely in the shadows by America’s most elite troops, the vast majority of these missions take place far from prying eyes, media scrutiny, or any type of outside oversight, increasing the chances of unforeseen blowback and catastrophic consequences.
Formally established in 1987, Special Operations Command has grown steadily in the post-9/11 era. SOCOM is reportedly on track to reach 72,000 personnel in 2014, up from 33,000 in 2001. Funding for the command has also jumped exponentially as its baseline budget, $2.3 billion in 2001, hit $6.9 billion in 2013 ($10.4 billion, if you add in supplemental funding). Personnel deployments abroad have skyrocketed, too, from 4,900 “man-years” in 2001 to 11,500 in 2013.
A recent investigation by TomDispatch, using open source government documents and news releases as well as press reports, found evidence that U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in or involved with the militaries of 106 nations around the world in 2012-2013. For more than a month during the preparation of that article, however, SOCOM failed to provide accurate statistics on the total number of countries to which special operators -- Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALs and Delta Force commandos, specialized helicopter crews, boat teams, and civil affairs personnel -- were deployed. “We don’t just keep it on hand,” SOCOM’s Bockholt explained in a telephone interview once the article had been filed. “We have to go searching through stuff. It takes a long time to do that.” Hours later, just prior to publication, he provided an answer to a question I first asked in November of last year. “SOF [Special Operations forces] were deployed to 134 countries” during fiscal year 2013, Bockholt explained in an email.
Globalized Special Ops
Last year, Special Operations Command chief Admiral William McRaven explained his vision for special ops globalization. In a statement to the House Armed Services Committee, he said:
“USSOCOM is enhancing its global network of SOF to support our interagency and international partners in order to gain expanded situational awareness of emerging threats and opportunities. The network enables small, persistent presence in critical locations, and facilitates engagement where necessary or appropriate...”
While that “presence” may be small, the reach and influence of those Special Operations forces are another matter. The 12% jump in national deployments -- from 120 to 134 -- during McRaven’s tenure reflects his desire to put boots on the ground just about everywhere on Earth. SOCOM will not name the nations involved, citing host nation sensitivities and the safety of American personnel, but the deployments we do know about shed at least some light on the full range of missions being carried out by America’s secret military.
Last April and May, for instance, Special Ops personnel took part in training exercises in Djibouti, Malawi, and the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean. In June, U.S. Navy SEALs joined Iraqi, Jordanian, Lebanese, and other allied Mideast forces for irregular warfare simulations in Aqaba, Jordan. The next month, Green Berets traveled to Trinidad and Tobago to carry out small unit tactical exercises with local forces. In August, Green Berets conducted explosives training with Honduran sailors. In September, according to media reports, U.S. Special Operations forces joined elite troops from the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and Cambodia -- as well as their counterparts from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, China, India, and Russia for a US-Indonesian joint-funded counterterrorism exercise held at a training center in Sentul, West Java.
In October, elite U.S. troops carried out commando raids in Libya and Somalia, kidnapping a terror suspect in the former nation while SEALs killed at least one militant in the latter before being driven off under fire. In November, Special Ops troops conducted humanitarian operations in the Philippines to aid survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. The next month, members of the 352nd Special Operations Group conducted a training exercise involving approximately 130 airmen and six aircraft at an airbase in England and Navy SEALs were wounded while undertaking an evacuation mission in South Sudan. Green Berets then rang in the new year with a January 1st combat mission alongside elite Afghan troops in Bahlozi village in Kandahar province.
Deployments in 134 countries, however, turn out not to be expansive enough for SOCOM. In November 2013, the command announced that it was seeking to identify industry partners who could, under SOCOM’s Trans Regional Web Initiative, potentially “develop new websites tailored to foreign audiences.” These would join an existing global network of 10 propaganda websites, run by various combatant commands and made to look like legitimate news outlets, including CentralAsiaOnline.com, Sabahi which targets the Horn of Africa; an effort aimed at the Middle East known as Al-Shorfa.com; and another targeting Latin America called Infosurhoy.com.
SOCOM’s push into cyberspace is mirrored by a concerted effort of the command to embed itself ever more deeply inside the Beltway. “I have folks in every agency here in Washington, D.C. -- from the CIA, to the FBI, to the National Security Agency, to the National Geospatial Agency, to the Defense Intelligence Agency,” SOCOM chief Admiral McRaven said during a panel discussion at Washington’s Wilson Center last year. Speaking at the Ronald Reagan Library in November, he put the number of departments and agencies where SOCOM is now entrenched at 38.
134 Chances for Blowback
Although elected in 2008 by many who saw him as an antiwar candidate, President Obama has proved to be a decidedly hawkish commander-in-chief whose policies have already produced notable instances of what in CIA trade-speak has long been called blowback. While the Obama administration oversaw a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (negotiated by his predecessor), as well as a drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan (after a major military surge in that country), the president has presided over a ramping up of the U.S. military presence in Africa, a reinvigoration of efforts in Latin America, and tough talk about a rebalancing or “pivot to Asia” (even if it has amounted to little as of yet).
The White House has also overseen an exponential expansion of America’s drone war. While President Bush launched 51 such strikes, President Obama has presided over 330, according to research by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Last year, alone, the U.S. also engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Recent revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden have demonstrated the tremendous breadth and global reach of U.S. electronic surveillance during the Obama years. And deep in the shadows, Special Operations forces are now annually deployed to more than double the number of nations as at the end of Bush’s tenure.
In recent years, however, the unintended consequences of U.S. military operations have helped to sow outrage and discontent, setting whole regions aflame. More than 10 years after America’s “mission accomplished” moment, seven years after its much vaunted surge, the Iraq that America helped make is in flames. A country with no al-Qaeda presence before the U.S. invasion and a government opposed to America’s enemies in Tehran now has a central government aligned with Iran and two cities flying al-Qaeda flags.
A more recent U.S. military intervention to aid the ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi helped send neighboring Mali, a U.S.-supported bulwark against regional terrorism, into a downward spiral, saw a coup there carried out by a U.S.-trained officer, ultimately led to a bloody terror attack on an Algerian gas plant, and helped to unleash nothing short of a terror diaspora in the region.
And today South Sudan -- a nation the U.S. shepherded into being, has supported economically and militarily (despite its reliance on child soldiers), and has used as a hush-hush base for Special Operations forces -- is being torn apart by violence and sliding toward civil war.
The Obama presidency has seen the U.S. military’s elite tactical forces increasingly used in an attempt to achieve strategic goals. But with Special Operations missions kept under tight wraps, Americans have little understanding of where their troops are deployed, what exactly they are doing, or what the consequences might be down the road. As retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, has noted, the utilization of Special Operations forces during the Obama years has decreased military accountability, strengthened the “imperial presidency,” and set the stage for a war without end. “In short,” he wrote at TomDispatch, “handing war to the special operators severs an already too tenuous link between war and politics; it becomes war for its own sake.”
Secret ops by secret forces have a nasty tendency to produce unintended, unforeseen, and completely disastrous consequences. New Yorkers will remember well the end result of clandestine U.S. support for Islamic militants against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980s: 9/11. Strangely enough, those at the other primary attack site that day, the Pentagon, seem not to have learned the obvious lessons from this lethal blowback. Even today in Afghanistan and Pakistan, more than 12 years after the U.S. invaded the former and almost 10 years after it began conducting covert attacks in the latter, the U.S. is still dealing with that Cold War-era fallout: with, for instance, CIA drones conducting missile strikes against an organization (the Haqqani network) that, in the 1980s, the Agency supplied with missiles.
Without a clear picture of where the military’s covert forces are operating and what they are doing, Americans may not even recognize the consequences of and blowback from our expanding secret wars as they wash over the world. But if history is any guide, they will be felt -- from Southwest Asia to the Mahgreb, the Middle East to Central Africa, and, perhaps eventually, in the United States as well.
In his blueprint for the future, SOCOM 2020, Admiral McRaven has touted the globalization of U.S. special ops as a means to “project power, promote stability, and prevent conflict.” Last year, SOCOM may have done just the opposite in 134 places.
Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute. An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, on the BBC and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author most recently of the New York Times bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (just out in paperback). You can catch his conversation with Bill Moyers about that book by clicking here.
Copyright 2014 Nick Turse
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