Archives for January 2010

America’s contract killers

Twelve years ago, after Benjamin Netanyahu personally directed Mossad assassins to try and murder Khalid Meshaal in Amman, Jordan, President Clinton expressed his frustration with the Israeli leader, saying: “I cannot deal with this man. He is impossible.”

In accordance of the diplomatic norms of the era, it was seen as preposterous that Israel would send its agents onto the streets of a neighboring friendly capital to murder one of its enemies and for them to do so while posing as Canadians. Moreover, Israeli agents had been caught in the act and were in custody. The Jordanians had been embarrassed and an antidote to the deadly poison injected into Meshaal would have to be promptly administered if Israel wanted its operatives released. Only under US pressure did Netanyahu yield.

If the murder of Mahmoud al Mabhouh in a hotel in Dubai eleven days ago happens to have been performed by another team of Netanyahu’s hit men, what might President Obama’s response have been?

“Are there any useful lessons for the United States here Mr Prime Minister?”

It turns out that contract killing — something that President George W Bush opened the door to but didn’t pursue with vigor — has been embraced with surprising passion by his successor.

Is it for that proverbial reason that dead men don’t talk or equally that dead al Qaeda operatives don’t present the many legal conundrums as do those caught alive? Is it that detention below rather than above ground has simply become a matter of political expedience?

There are now officers in the CIA who supposedly have the legal authority to sign a death warrant on the basis that an individual is “deemed to be a continuing threat to U.S. persons or interests.”

There is a level of accountability. We’re not told who signs these death warrants but we can rest assured that those who sit on Obama’s death panels must sign their names in ink. These are not a death sentences delivered by email or text message.

As the LA Times reports:

Former officials involved in the program said it was handled with sober awareness of the stakes. All memos are circulated on paper, so those granting approval would “have to write their names in ink,” said one former official. “It was a jarring thing, to sign off on people getting killed.”

Jarring perhaps, yet the greatest human frailty is that moral judgment so easily yields to the legitimizing power that flows from normality. And nothing shapes normality more effectively than bureaucracy.

Set up a bureaucratic process and — as the Nazis proved — anything becomes possible. Through faithfulness to a government-endorsed procedure almost anyone will sooner or later become willing to suspend the timid dictates of their own conscience.

The LA Times describes in clinical terms the process that runs from signature to incineration:

The CIA sequence for a Predator strike ends with a missile but begins with a memo. Usually no more than two or three pages long, it bears the name of a suspected terrorist, the latest intelligence on his activities, and a case for why he should be added to a list of people the agency is trying to kill.

The list typically contains about two dozen names, a number that expands each time a new memo is signed by CIA executives on the seventh floor at agency headquarters, and contracts as targets thousands of miles away, in places including Pakistan and Yemen, seem to spontaneously explode.

No U.S. citizen has ever been on the CIA’s target list, which mainly names Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, according to current and former U.S. officials. But that is expected to change as CIA analysts compile a case against a Muslim cleric who was born in New Mexico but now resides in Yemen.

When America’s contract killers target their first US citizen, will his fellow citizens pay much attention? Probably not. He has an Arabic name and dark skin — he’s suitably other. If Anwar al Awlaki is eliminated, the CIA’s hit list will briefly get shorter.


How Israelis learned to brutalize Palestinian children

Women in the Israeli Defense Forces break their silence:

A female soldier in Sachlav Military Police unit, stationed in Hebron, recalled a Palestinian child that would systematically provoke the soldiers by hurling stones at them and other such actions. One time he even managed to scare a soldier who fell from his post and broke his leg.

Retaliation came soon after: “I don’t know who or how, but I know that two of our soldiers put him in a jeep, and that two weeks later the kid was walking around with casts on both arms and legs…they talked about it in the unit quite a lot – about how they sat him down and put his hand on the chair and simply broke it right there on the chair.”

Even small children did not escape arbitrary acts of violence, said a Border Guard female officer serving near the separation fence: “We caught a five-year-old…can’t remember what he did…we were taking him back to the territories or something, and the officers just picked him up, slapped him around and put him in the jeep. The kid was crying and the officer next to me said ‘don’t cry’ and started laughing at him. Finally the kid cracked a smile – and suddenly the officer gave him a punch in the stomach. Why? ‘Don’t laugh in my face’ he said.”


Israel is very pleased with the cage in which it has trapped Obama

Zvi Bar’el in Haaretz:

Speeches, so it turns out, are an excellent substitute for policy. There’s no solution to the problem of radical Islam? Talk about reaching out in friendship to moderate Islam. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is stuck? Talk about the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. The war on Al-Qaida is not progressing? Speak of building a nation in Afghanistan. Iran is being impudent? Issue an elegant warning. Wait a year. Let it be forgotten and then make another speech. Erase all that did not succeed, bypass the major crises and continue on to the next year.

Indeed, President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address reveals that what stirred the world’s imagination during the past year, what led to his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, what caused sandstorms in Middle Eastern and Muslim states and sowed terror in Israel – simply popped like a bubble. Not a single word on the Middle East peace process. Only a restrained “promise” to Iran’s leaders of “growing consequences.” No new outstretched arm to moderate Islam. A word about human rights? Nothing. Just let us make it through the year in peace.

The great vision came down to local politics. To fighting against tribes, gangs, or, in the case of Israel, nationalist parties. Whoever thought that Obama would fulfill the message of Arab-Israeli peace can, like Obama, kick himself for nurturing lofty expectations. But if Obama can chalk up his meager achievements in the Middle Eastern marketplace to inexperience – as if every U.S. president has to reinvent the wheel – that doesn’t absolve the Israelis from paying the bill.

Gideon Levy:

Looking at the way the right acts makes one go green with envy and want to learn from them. Four hundred criminal cases opened against opponents of the 2005 Gaza Strip disengagement, people who threw oil, acid, garbage and stones at soldiers and police, were closed last week and their criminal record expunged. Fifty-one MKs voted in favor of the closure, nine against. That is the true map of Israeli politics (and society). Only about seven percent of the lawmakers believed that this was a worthless and dangerous decision. All the rest agreed with it, or did not bother to vote or take an interest.

Neither did anyone think to apply a similar rule to 800 protesters against Operation Cast Lead, who were arrested and charged, perhaps because they are Arabs, nor to the dozens arrested for protesting in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, perhaps because they are leftists. Left-wing demonstrators never acted as violently as the settlers do, but no one thinks about pardoning them. Not even a semblance of equality before the law, not even the appearance of justice for all – that is unnecessary in a place where public shame no longer exists.

Robert Fisk:

Area C doesn’t sound very ominous. A land of stone-sprinkled grey hills and soft green valleys, it’s part of the wreckage of the equally wrecked Oslo Agreement, accounting for 60 per cent of the Israeli-occupied West Bank that was eventually supposed to be handed over to its Palestinian inhabitants.

But look at the statistics and leaf through the pile of demolition orders lying on the table in front of Abed Kasab, head of the village council in Jiftlik, and it all looks like ethnic cleansing via bureaucracy. Perverse might be the word for the paperwork involved. Obscene appear to be the results.

Palestinian houses that cannot be permitted to stand, roofs that must be taken down, wells closed, sewage systems demolished; in one village, I even saw a primitive electricity system in which Palestinians must sink their electrical poles cemented into concrete blocks standing on the surface of the dirt road. To place the poles in the earth would ensure their destruction – no Palestinian can dig a hole more than 40cm below the ground.

Inside Israeli land grabs, Real News Network:

Uri Avnery:

He hops here and he hops there. Hops to Jerusalem and hops to Ramallah, Damascus, Beirut, Amman (but, God forbid, not to Gaza, because somebody may not like it). Hops, hops, but doesn’t take anything out of his pouch, because the pouch is empty.

So why does he do it? After all, he could stay at home, raise roses or play with his grandchildren.

This compulsive traveling reveals a grain of chutzpah. If he has nothing to offer, why waste the time of politicians and media people? Why burn airplane fuel and damage the environment?


Fear of flying

So now we have what surely sounds like the worst imaginable terrorist threat: the bomber whose weapon is concealed inside their body. Are we going to need MRIs before boarding a plane?

Maybe it’s time to make the inevitable psychological shift from prevention to risk management.

Flying has always entailed risks – just as their are risks in driving a car or eating in a restaurant.

How’s this for what could be universally accepted as an acceptable level of risk: that the danger of being a victim in a catastrophic air flight is such that one is more likely to die because of mechanical problems or pilot error than because of a terrorist act.

At the close of the standard demonstration on how to secure your seat-belt, put on an oxygen mask, hold a flotation devise and find the emergency exits, this is all the flight attendant needs to add: “… Airlines wishes you a pleasant flight and we assure you that if we don’t reach our destination it will most likely be by accident.”

The risk of such an accident is one that we have all already learned to live with.

If, however, the greatest risk in flying turns out to be the risk of getting blown up, then we do indeed have an enormous problem.

As things currently stand, bad weather (an avoidable threat) poses a greater danger than terrorism and the risk from human error vastly exceeds both.


Why the Taliban won’t be bought off

Sun Tzu wrote:

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

When people talk about buying off the Taliban on the principle that every man has his price, they are making what through the centuries has been recognized as the greatest mistake in warfare: to have inadequate respect for your enemy.

There’s no question that the adversary in Afghanistan fights with the conviction that he has God on his side and that an imbalance in military power has been more than compensated for by divine help. Why would such a fighter trade God for gold? To imagine that he would is to treat his faith as a charade.

Representatives from nearly 70 countries showed up in London on Jan. 28 for a one-day conference on how to save Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai was there, gamely offering “peace and reconciliation” to all Afghans, “especially” those “who are not a part of Al Qaeda or other terrorist networks.” He didn’t mention why the Taliban would accept such an offer while they believe they’re winning the war. Others at the conference had what they evidently considered more realistic solutions—such as paying Taliban fighters to quit the insurgency. Participants reportedly pledged some $500 million to support that aim. “You don’t make peace with your friends,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. True enough. But what if your enemies don’t want peace?

My Newsweek colleague Sami Yousafzai laughs at the notion that the Taliban can be bought or bribed. Few journalists, officials, or analysts know the Taliban the way he does. If the leadership, commanders, and subcommanders wanted comfortable lives, he says, they would have made their deals long ago. Instead they stayed committed to their cause even when they were on the run, with barely a hope of survival. Now they’re back in action across much of the south, east, and west, the provinces surrounding Kabul, and chunks of the north. They used to hope they might reach this point in 15 or 20 years. They’ve done it in eight. Many of them see this as proof that God is indeed on their side.


How the US sustains corruption in Afghanistan

How the US sustains corruption in Afghanistan in order combat the insecurity caused by people enraged by the corruption.

The meeting in a muggy tent at Kandahar Airfield was dragging on when a lieutenant colonel with the Army Corps of Engineers broke in with an uncomfortable question.

“I’m not sure how to put this,” he told some 40 American soldiers and civilians gathered here two weeks ago in the heart of Taliban territory. A commander of the Afghan border police had offered to give the U.S. military prime land at a crossing with Pakistan to build a waiting area for supply vehicles needed for President Obama’s troop increase. The same man, U.S. officials believe, earns tens of millions of dollars a year trafficking opium and extorting cargo trucks.

The lieutenant colonel wanted to know: “Does anyone else see this as a problem?”

The silence that followed revealed a basic dilemma the United States now faces in the war in Afghanistan. After eight years of dropping bombs and killing insurgents, the new American military strategy makes explicit the need to fight corruption to build a more legitimate Afghan government. But corruption is a complicated enemy. American officers may want to remove or marginalize shady local officials such as Col. Abdul Razziq, the 33-year-old police commander in the town of Spin Boldak. Yet, when that goal comes up against other imperatives — maintaining short-term security, gathering intelligence on the Taliban or moving supply trucks over the border — fighting corruption often loses out.


Why the defense and oil industries must be in love with Iran and al Qaeda

The Obama administration is quietly working with Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf allies to speed up arms sales and rapidly upgrade defenses for oil terminals and other key infrastructure in a bid to thwart future military attacks by Iran, according to former and current U.S. and Middle Eastern government officials.

The initiatives, including a U.S.-backed plan to triple the size of a 10,000-man protection force in Saudi Arabia, are part of a broader push that includes unprecedented coordination of air defenses and expanded joint exercises between the U.S. and Arab militaries, the officials said. All appear to be aimed at increasing pressure on Tehran.

The efforts build on commitments by the George W. Bush administration to sell warplanes and antimissile systems to friendly Arab states to counter Iran’s growing conventional arsenal. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are leading a regionwide military buildup that has resulted in more than $25 billion in U.S. arms purchases in the past two years alone.


Hamas to Israel: ‘You may kill us… but we’re going to kill your claimed legitimacy.’

Hamas to Israel: ‘You may kill us… but we’re going to kill your claimed legitimacy.’

The murder of Mahmoud al Mabhouh, a leading member of Hamas’ military wing, the Ezzedine al Qassam Brigades, in Dubai ten days ago, is widely assumed to have been carried out by Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency.

Speaking in Damascus, Hamas’ political leader, Khalid Meshaal said: “You may kill us, you may hurt us, but we’re going to kill your claimed legitimacy and we will tear the false image you’ve painted in recent decades.”

In 1997, Meshaal was himself the target of an Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan which had been personally ordered by then-as-now Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.*

At this moment, when one might expect Hamas to be promising revenge (which it has), it is significant that it also makes a powerful political statement which thrusts right at the heart of the issue: Israel can kill individuals such as al Mabhouh, but it can’t kill the Palestinian cause. And while Israel might consistently overstate the military threats it faces, the threat that will not yield to sheer might — a threat that is indeed magnified by Israel’s bellicose posture — is the threat to its own legitimacy.

As The National reported:

Israel has killed dozens of Hamas leaders and military figures, including its leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, in a helicopter gunship attack in Gaza in 2004.

In the wake of the 1989 murder of the two Israeli soldiers, Avi Sasportas and Ilan Sadon, the Israeli army arrested al Mabhouh’s family members and demolished his home, the family said.

“They tried to kill him six times,” said al Mabhouh’s mother, Fatima. “They tried to kidnap and poison him in Lebanon and in Syria. As soon as I heard the news of his death, I knew it was the Israelis.”

“They even arrested us,” she said, “but we couldn’t tell them anything about where he was or what he was doing.”

The family said they attempted to travel to Syria for al Mabhouh’s funeral, held yesterday in Damascus, but were turned back at Gaza’s Rafah border with Egypt by Egyptian officials.

“We paid the Egyptian border guards money, and they even took our passports,” Abdel Raouf said. “And then when they saw our names, they said: ‘Are you the family of Mahmoud al Mabhouh?’ and we said: ‘Yes, is it a crime? He is a hero for our country.’”

The family also said they hoped Hamas would carry out a “strong retaliation” for al Mabhouh’s death.

Ynet said:

Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar said he believes assassins of senior organization member Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai arrived in the region as part of Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau’s entourage.

Landau recently took part in an environmental convention in Abu-Dhabi. In an interview with Al-Jazeera al-Zahar said it was possible the assassins had come with him and entered Dubai under assumed identities, using false passports.

“A week before the assassination Uzi Landau visited the emirates and he may have had people traveling with him under false names and additional citizenships,” he said.

Izzat Rashaq, a top member of Hamas exiled leadership in Damascus, was asked why his organization had waited nine days to issue a formal announcement of al-Mabhouh’s death. He told the Associated Press that Hamas delayed the announcement because it was trying to “reach the Israeli agents who implemented this operation.”

Clayton Swisher at Al Jazeera commented:

… there is little doubt that Netanyahu would be brazen enough to order the al-Mabhouh hit. It would mean little to him that the Emirates recently hosted on its soil an Israeli Minister, Uzi Landau, even in spite of his hard line stance toward Palestinians (Landau famously likened the PLO to Al Qaeda!).

As Netanyahu demonstrated in 1997, he is not afraid to send intelligence operatives into a friendly Arab guests home, break some china, and have them peace out as if nothing ever happened.

Only in this case, the Dubai police do not have the benefit of a captured operative. They’ll have to rely on whatever witness and forensic evidence they can collect. As a law enforcement agency the Dubai Police are known for mercurial investigative standards.

But given the embarrassment al-Mabhouh’s murder is causing, and the fact that other hits have taken place in the Emirates, they’ll likely up their game in this case to try and salvage some prestige.

Meanwhile, The National reported:

As a senior member of Hamas’ military faction, the Ezzedine al Qassam Brigades, al Mabhouh would typically be accompanied by security guards, Mr Nasser said, but had failed to do so on this occasion because no reservations had been made for them with the airline. “Everywhere he goes he takes bodyguards but there was no booking for them on this flight, so he travelled alone,” Mr Nasser explained. “The guards were due to follow him on the next available flight the following day.”

Al Mabhouh, who lived with his family in Damascus, flew to Dubai on January 19. He was murdered in the Al Bustan Rotana on January 20.

According to Hamas, citing information it said it received from Dubai authorities, he was electrocuted while walking in the hotel corridor, dragged into his room, and then strangled.

“We are now very carefully studying our security plans for all senior figures, we are reviewing all our measures to make sure that we are as well protected as possible,” Mr Nasser said.

“We do not have all of the details yet but maybe he [al Mabhouh] made a telephone call about his plans from a mobile that was intercepted.”

Mr Nasser added: “It is also standard for airlines to fax advance notice of their passengers, so that may have given the assassins a chance.”

Dubai’s police chief, Lt Gen Dahu Khalfan Tamim, confirmed that al Mabhouh had entered the country on a passport bearing his real name.

While involvement of Mossad, Israel’s overseas security agency, had not been ruled out as part of the ongoing investigation, Lt Gen Tamim said his officers were “pursuing individual suspects, not an organisation”.

“We know everything about the suspects’ identity due to the strong evidence they left behind, and we will contact several countries which are connected to the suspects to provide us with all the necessary information,” he said.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Dubai authorities said the suspects were mostly European passport holders and members of an “experienced criminal gang” who had been monitoring al Mabhouh’s movements.

* Consider how much the world has changed in the last decade. In 1997, Netanyahu was widely criticized for sending assassins into a neighboring friendly state. Canada recalled its ambassador from Israel in protest at the use of Canadian passports by Mossad operatives. President Clinton was quoted as saying of Netanyahu: “I cannot deal with this man. He is impossible.”

This time around, if it is proved that Israeli assassins are on the loose, will there be even a murmur from the State Department? Will a president who prefers the much blunter tool of a Hellfire missile when ordering an assassination have anything to say about how Israeli hit men conduct their operations?

No, because we now live in an age where politically-sanctioned murder has been legitimized by a press corp that kowtows to political norms however questionable might be their legality or moral legitimacy.


Obama’s secret prisons

Obama’s secret prisons

One quiet, wintry night last year in the eastern Afghan town of Khost, a young government employee named Ismatullah simply vanished. He had last been seen in the town’s bazaar with a group of friends. Family members scoured Khost’s dust-doused streets for days. Village elders contacted Taliban commanders in the area who were wont to kidnap government workers, but they had never heard of the young man. Even the governor got involved, ordering his police to round up nettlesome criminal gangs that sometimes preyed on young bazaar-goers for ransom.

But the hunt turned up nothing. Spring and summer came and went with no sign of Ismatullah. Then one day, long after the police and village elders had abandoned their search, a courier delivered a neat, handwritten note on Red Cross stationary to the family. In it, Ismatullah informed them that he was in Bagram, an American prison more than 200 miles away. U.S. forces had picked him up while he was on his way home from the bazaar, the terse letter stated, and he didn’t know when he would be freed.

Sometime in the last few years, Pashtun villagers in Afghanistan’s rugged heartland began to lose faith in the American project. Many of them can point to the precise moment of this transformation, and it usually took place in the dead of the night, when most of the country was fast asleep. In the secretive U.S. detentions process, suspects are usually nabbed in the darkness and then sent to one of a number of detention areas on military bases, often on the slightest suspicion and without the knowledge of their families.

This process has become even more feared and hated in Afghanistan than coalition airstrikes. The night raids and detentions, little known or understood outside of these Pashtun villages, are slowly turning Afghans against the very forces they greeted as liberators just a few years ago. [continued…]


Segregation blues

Segregation blues

I spent the day in Nazareth recently, doing a story about Israeli Arabs in hi-tech, and when I got in the car with the (Jewish) photographer to leave, I said to him, “Isn’t it a relief to talk to Arabs as regular people?” He smiled in agreement.

I had the same feeling when I was doing a story on B’Tselem, the anti-occupation NGO in Jerusalem, and found myself making coffee in the kitchen next to an Arab woman who was getting a glass from the cupboard or something. We were together for about a minute, I don’t remember any conversation, any particular notice we took of each other. It was only afterward that I felt this revelation: For a minute, I wasn’t living in a segregated country. For a minute, the sharing of space with an Arab, as equals, was unremarkable.

This is a vision of life in this country as most Jews and Arabs, I think, wish it could be – and it’s so amazingly rare. We cross paths, but usually on opposite sides of a counter or standing next to each other in line. With few exceptions, we live in segregated neighborhoods, our kids go to segregated public schools, they play in segregated parks.

Nearly 25 years ago, not long after I moved to Israel, I rented an apartment in the Kababir neighborhood of Haifa, right on the informal border between the Jewish section and Arab section. The building had two Arab families along with about 10 Jewish families. I’d see one of the Jews talking with one of the Arabs in front of the building, griping about the plumbing, about the noise – the things neighbors talk about. I got to know one of the Arab families, and once they invited me in to their apartment.

It’s only in the decades since then that I’ve realized how rare an experience that was for an Israeli Jew. [continued…]

Holocaust remembrance is a boon for Israeli propaganda

Israel’s bigwigs attacked at dawn on a wide front. The president in Germany, the prime minister with a giant entourage in Poland, the foreign minister in Hungary, his deputy in Slovakia, the culture minister in France, the information minister at the United Nations, and even the Likud party’s Druze Knesset member, Ayoob Kara, in Italy. They were all out there to make florid speeches about the Holocaust.

Wednesday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and an Israeli public relations drive like this hasn’t been seen for ages. The timing of the unusual effort – never have so many ministers deployed across the globe – is not coincidental: When the world is talking Goldstone, we talk Holocaust, as if out to blur the impression. When the world talks occupation, we’ll talk Iran as if we wanted them to forget.

It won’t help much. International Holocaust Remembrance Day has passed, the speeches will soon be forgotten, and the depressing everyday reality will remain. Israel will not come out looking good, even after the PR campaign. [continued…]


Haiti’s children adrift in world of chaos

Haiti’s children adrift in world of chaos

Haiti’s children, 45 percent of the population, are among the most disoriented and vulnerable of the survivors of the earthquake. By the many tens of thousands, they have lost their parents, their homes, their schools and their bearings. They have sustained head injuries and undergone amputations. They have slept on the street, foraged for food and suffered nightmares.

Two weeks after the earthquake, with the smell of death still fouling the air, children can be seen in every devastated corner resiliently kicking soccer balls, flying handmade kites, singing pop songs and ferreting out textbooks from the rubble of their schools. But as Haitian and international groups begin tending to the neediest among them, many children are clearly traumatized and at risk.

“There are health concerns, malnutrition concerns, psychosocial issues and, of course, we are concerned that unaccompanied children will be exploited by unscrupulous people who may wish to traffic them for adoption, for the sex trade or for domestic servitude,” said Kent Page, a spokesman for Unicef. [continued…]


Remember the illegal destruction of Iraq?

Remember the illegal destruction of Iraq?

British political news has been consumed for the last several weeks by a formal inquiry into the illegality and deceit behind Tony Blair’s decision to join the U.S. in invading Iraq. Today, Blair himself is publicly testifying before the investigative commission and is being grilled about numerous false claims he made in the run-up to the war, not only about Iraqi weapons programs (his taxi-cab-derived “45-minutes-to-launch!!” warning) and Saddam’s ties to Al Qaeda, but also about secret commitments he made to join the U.S. at a time when he and Bush were still pretending that they were undecided and awaiting the outcome of the U.N. negotiations and the inspection process.

A major focus of the investigation is the illegality of the war. Some of the most embarrassing details that have emerged concern the conclusions by the British Government’s own legal advisers that the invasion of Iraq would be illegal without U.N. approval. The top British legal officer had concluded that the war would be illegal, only to change his mind under substantial pressure shortly before the invasion. Several weeks ago, a formal investigation in the Netherlands — whose government had supported the invasion — produced the first official adjudication of the legality of the war, and found it illegal, with “no basis in international law.”

As Digby notes, all of this stands in stark and shameful contrast to the U.S., which pointedly refuses to “look back” or concern itself with whether it waged an illegal (and horribly destructive) war. The British inquiry has been widely criticized for being too passive and deferential and lacking any credible threat of accountability (other than disclosure of facts). Still, one can barely even imagine George Bush and Dick Cheney being hauled before an investigative body and forced, under oath, to testify publicly about what they did as a means of determining the legality or illegality of that war. [continued…]


Goodbye Howard Zinn

Goodbye Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist who was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam and the author of the seminal A People’s History of the United States, died today at the age of 87 of a heart attack in Santa Monica, California. He was in a swimming pool doing laps and was spotted immediately by lifeguards but died instantly.

Zinn’s brand of history put common citizens at the center of the story and inspired generations of young activists and academics to remember that change is possible. As he wrote in his autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train (1994), “From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than ‘objectivity’; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.”

Watch these videos to get a sense of what we’ve lost.



If I were Jewish…

If I were Jewish…

We live with the feeling that death is always with us. Whether that feeling is good or not, I don’t know. It is always hanging over us, and here in Auschwitz you see how it became an industry, an industry of death. The Germans started it all and we are perpetuating it.

I thought a lot about whether this March of the Living is good or bad, this death industry…

We perpetuate death, and that’s why we will never become a normal people, because we emphasize death and what happened. We have to remember, no doubt, but we live too much in it, and it is preventing us from being normal people.
~ An Israeli assistant class teacher accompanying a party of Israeli teenagers on a March of the Living trip Poland.

There’s a kind of pathological narcisism, navel contemplation, when you are the richest, wealthiest, most successful ethnic group in the United States — you’ve got the world on a platter — and you sit around and you’re talking about anti-Semitism, it’s just kind of shameful I think.
~ Norman Finkelstein

If I were Jewish…

There will no doubt be some Jewish readers who see that line and instantly take offense.

You cannot know, cannot understand, cannot truly grasp what it means to have the experience of being Jewish. Why? Because of the Holocaust. Because this happened to my people, not yours.

To a degree I have to respect that point of view. Indeed, my response to the Holocaust is one that centers on a dread of human brutality rather than what it would mean to identify myself as belonging to a persecuted people.

Yet the thought, “if I was Jewish…” was triggered by watching a remarkable film: Defamation.

This documentary by the Israeli film-maker Yoav Shamir came out early last year and now it can and should be viewed in its entirety at PULSE.

If I were Jewish and a parent and I had a teenage son or daughter who came and asked me, which of these two films do you think it is most important that I watch: Schindler’s List or Defamation? I’d say: it depends whether you prefer to be told about or to reflect upon who you are.

Yoav Shamir’s film, at turns profound and irreverent, is above all a call for reflection on the meaning of Jewish identity. Among its many insights is that for many secular Jews the Holocaust now serves as a buttress against a loss of identity.

Perhaps most disturbing is to witness young Israelis going through an indoctrination process in which the Holocaust and the specter of anti-Semitism are being used to keep fear and hatred alive.

In the following segment, teenage Israelis are being prepared for a trip to Poland where they are told they will need the protection of secret service agents and should avoid contact with the locals:

Later in the film, Shamir talks to a girl about her reaction to visiting Auschwitz and she describes the hatred it evokes. She says:

When you see it you say: ‘I want to kill the people who did this!’…

Who would you like to kill?

Who would I like to kill? All of them…

Who is all of them?

The Nazis, our enemies who did this.

But you know they are dead…

Yes, but they have heirs, they may be different but they’re there.

Never forgive, never forget — an expression that has been turned into a mantra as though this is the only way of remembering and honoring the dead. In reality it has become a chain of anger, anchored to the past.

Ultimately the question of what it means to be Jewish is a question whose answer matters as much to the non-Jew as it does to the Jew.

If either believes that this identity is circumscribed by an unbridgeable divide then we will indeed have an unending conflict.


Did The American Conservative just get hacked by Zionists?

Did The American Conservative just get hacked by Zionists?

Philip Weiss drew my attention to an article that caught Andrew Sullivan‘s eye: Jihadism, anti-Jihadism and Palestine by Daniel Larison. It appears at Pat Buchanan’s The American Conservative. But if you follow the link at this time (1.20 PM Eastern) you won’t find much — just a placeholder.

TAC got hacked. By who?

This is where it gets interesting. The Google cache page shows this — a statement by an ostensibly Turkish pro-Palestinian hacker/group. Here’s a screenshot:

If that looks familiar it’s probably because you read about the hacking of The Jewish Chronicle in Britain a week ago. The text and image appear to be the same:

There is one difference — the claim of authorship. The hackers of the Chronicle identified themselves as “PALESTINIAN MUJAHEEDS” whereas the TAC hackers used this name: “HaCKeD By CWD@rBe”.

So what can we infer? Some Turkish pro-Palestinians don’t know much about the American media? Perhaps.

The American Conservative is certainly a counter-intuitive target to pick. It’s one of the few American publications that acknowledges the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause and it is by no stretch of the imagination an Israel-friendly publication.

So who might the Palestinian Mujaheeds be? A Google search indicates that the name had never shown up until the Jewish Chronicle attack.

The equation between Palestinians and Mujahadins is a strange one to make — unless that is you happen to be an anti-Jihadist of the type that figures in Daniel Larison’s article. He writes:

The Palestinian cause generates remarkable reactions in Western anti-jihadists. For most of them, it is an article of faith that Palestinians, or at least the organized factions that speak for them, are just about as bad and hostile to “the West” as Al Qaeda itself, and so there is no point in attempting to make any deal with them. As far as they are concerned, the correct response is to back Israeli policies to the hilt, and to throw up as many obstacles to anyone here at home who would attempt to use U.S. influence to change those policies. The Bush-era habit of lumping together every Islamic revolutionary, militant and terrorist group under some catch-all term of “Islamofascism” made it easier to lump all these causes together, which is oddly enough exactly what jihadists would like, and once they were lumped together they could be that much more easily demonized together.

Now is that the kind of statement that a pro-Palestinian Turk believes should be blocked from public viewing? It’s conceivable but rather improbable. Much more plausible is the idea that a pro-Israeli hacker finds the expression of such views particularly unpalatable.

It’s not always possible to judge who you are dealing with simply by seeing the colors on the flag that they choose to waive.

Meanwhile, as TAC deals with the damage done by “HaCKeD By CWD@rBe”, be sure to look at Daniel Larison’s piece which I’ve reposted here. It’s essential reading.


Jihadism, anti-Jihadism and Palestine

Jihadism, anti-Jihadism and Palestine

A lot of ink has been spilled since 9/11 trying to argue that bin Laden doesn’t really care about Palestine. But that’s always been silly — nobody knows what he “really” cares about, and it doesn’t especially matter since he talks about it a lot and presents it as a major part of his case against the United States. An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement surely would not convince bin Laden or al-Qaeda and its affiliated movements to give up their jihad — but it would take away one of their most potent arguments, and one of the few that actually resonates with mass publics. Marc Lynch (via Andrew)

One of the reasons there has been a consistent effort to deny that Bin Laden has any “real” interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that such an interest, sincere or not, suggests jihadist groups are fueled by U.S. and allied policies, or at least that they successfully exploit U.S. and allied policies for propaganda purposes. Washington would then be faced with at least one of two unpalatable truths. Either our policies are correct and necessary, but strategically disastrous in their effects on Arab and Muslim public opinion and jihadist recruiting, or they are and incorrect and unnecessary while also being strategically disastrous. Washington would then have to decide if it wants to live with perpetual, low-level conflict occasionally exploding into major military campaigns every decade, or if it wants to make enough policy changes (and push our allies to make similar changes) to reduce that conflict to a bare minimum.

For most of the last decade, our preference in and out of government has been to deny that U.S. and allied policies had anything to do with jihadist attacks and their ability to recruit and win sympathizers. This acknowledgement would be to “blame the victim,” so that even if it were the correct analysis it was politically incorrect to say it out loud. Instead we have been treated to a whole host of explanations for why jihadist violence exists and why it tends to be directed at the U.S. and our allies. The lamest of these has been rather popular, namely the claim that “they hate us for our freedom,” or modernity or secularism or whatever it is that the person making the argument finds worthwhile about the West and sees lacking in Muslim countries. Then, of course, there is the trusty appeal to the enemy’s insanity. Unlike us, they are not really rational, and so their actions cannot be explained by referring to anything so mundane and normal as political grievances.

Finally, there is the religious essentialist argument that jihadism is what Islam requires at its core, and therefore there is no way to weaken it without some dramatic transformation of the entire religion. This last argument has won more sympathizers because the people trying to challenge it inevitably go to the opposite extreme and simply ignore or dismiss past Islamic conquests as having nothing to do with Islam. If the essentialist argument really held up, however, Algerians would still be attacking France, Central Asian Muslims would still be warring against the Russians, and Saudis would have been attacking American targets long before the 1990s. We do see cases where separatist movements involving Muslim populations’ breaking away from non-Muslim states become intertwined with and dependent on jihadist groups, because these are the groups providing assistance and because they lend an extra religious and ideological veneer to the conflict that wins the separatists more sympathy abroad. As a general rule, when the cause of the political grievances has disappeared, violent resistance also disappears.

Anti-jihadists like to invoke one or more of these arguments. I am reminded again of a quote from George Kennan in which he described the flaws of the popular anticommunism of his day. His words apply to popular anti-jihadism almost perfectly:

They distort and exaggerate the dimensions of the problem with which they profess to deal. They confuse internal and external aspects of the communist threat. They insist on portraying as contemporary things that had their actuality years ago [bold mine-DL]….And having thus incorrectly stated the problem, it is no wonder that these people consistently find the wrong answers.

Even when anti-jihadists are willing to acknowledge that Al Qaeda uses the grievances of Muslim populations in Iraq or Palestine for propaganda purposes, they will usually hold that changing policy or addressing those grievances to minimize the effectiveness of the propaganda is a form of capitulation. We are supposed to be engaged in “global counterinsurgency,” but we must take little or no account of the stated motivations of jihadists and the reasons why many millions more sympathize with their immediate goals while often deploring the means they use.

The Palestinian cause generates remarkable reactions in Western anti-jihadists. For most of them, it is an article of faith that Palestinians, or at least the organized factions that speak for them, are just about as bad and hostile to “the West” as Al Qaeda itself, and so there is no point in attempting to make any deal with them. As far as they are concerned, the correct response is to back Israeli policies to the hilt, and to throw up as many obstacles to anyone here at home who would attempt to use U.S. influence to change those policies. The Bush-era habit of lumping together every Islamic revolutionary, militant and terrorist group under some catch-all term of “Islamofascism” made it easier to lump all these causes together, which is oddly enough exactly what jihadists would like, and once they were lumped together they could be that much more easily demonized together.

On the whole, it seems that the more sympathetic to or at least understanding of Palestinian grievances a Western observer is, the less willing he is to endorse standard anti-jihadist arguments. Likewise, the more one agrees with anti-jihadist arguments, the more reflexively hostile to Palestinian grievances one tends to be. When most Western anti-jihadists hear that Bin Laden has tied the Christmas bomber attack to the cause of Palestine and specifically to the treatment of Gaza, or when they learn that the bomber who killed the seven CIA operatives claimed that the Gaza operation early last year had driven him to jihadism, the conclusion they draw is not that there was and is something wrong with U.S. and Israeli policies with respect to Palestinians. There is no sudden revelation that the inexcusable blockade of Gaza is politically unwise as well as morally wrong.

On the contrary, the support Bin Laden expresses for the Palestinian cause makes that cause seem to most Western anti-jihadists to be that much more indistinguishable from Al Qaeda’s goals and therefore that much more antithetical to Western interests. This might very well be another purpose in Bin Laden’s exploitation of Palestinian grievances: to harden Western audiences against Palestinian claims even more by linking his cause to Palestine, which will make Americans in particular less interested in supporting an administration that tries to exert pressure in support of a peace settlement. Bin Laden would like to appropriate the Palestinian cause, which Palestinians definitely do not want, and most Western anti-jihadists would like nothing more than to let him have it. So while Lynch is right that resolving this conflict would deprive jihadists of one of their great sources of effective propaganda, our own anti-jihadists will do their utmost to thwart all efforts to that end.


The sanctity of military spending

The sanctity of military spending

In sum, as we cite our debtor status to freeze funding for things such as “air traffic control, farm subsidies, education, nutrition and national parks” — all programs included in Obama’s spending freeze — our military and other “security-related” spending habits become more bloated every year, completely shielded from any constraints or reality. This, despite the fact that it is virtually impossible for the U.S. to make meaningful progress in debt reduction without serious reductions in our military programs.

Public opinion is not a legitimate excuse for this utterly irrational conduct, as large percentages of Americans are receptive to reducing — or at least freezing — defense spending. A June, 2009 Pew Research poll asked Americans what they would do about defense spending, and 55% said they would either decrease it (18%) or keep it the same (37%); only 40% wanted it to increase. Even more notably, a 2007 Gallup poll found that “the public’s view that the federal government is spending too much on the military has increased substantially this year, to its highest level in more than 15 years.” In that poll, 58% of Democrats and 47% of Independents said that military spending “is too high” — and the percentages who believe that increased steadily over the last decade for every group.

The clear fact is that, no matter how severe are our budgetary constraints, military spending and all so-called “security-related programs” are off-limits for any freezes, let alone decreases. Moreover, the modest spending freeze to be announced by Obama tomorrow is just the start; the Washington consensus has solidified and is clearly gearing up for major cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, with the dirty work to be done by an independent “deficit commission.” It’s time for “everyone” to sacrifice and suffer some more — as long as “everyone” excludes our vast military industry, the permanent power factions inside the Pentagon and intelligence community, our Surveillance and National Security State, and the imperial policies of perpetual war which feed them while further draining the lifeblood out of the country. [continued…]

Obama liquidates himself

A spending freeze? That’s the brilliant response of the Obama team to their first serious political setback?

It’s appalling on every level.

It’s bad economics, depressing demand when the economy is still suffering from mass unemployment. Jonathan Zasloff writes that Obama seems to have decided to fire Tim Geithner and replace him with “the rotting corpse of Andrew Mellon” (Mellon was Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, who according to Hoover told him to “liquidate the workers, liquidate the farmers, purge the rottenness”.)

It’s bad long-run fiscal policy, shifting attention away from the essential need to reform health care and focusing on small change instead.

And it’s a betrayal of everything Obama’s supporters thought they were working for. Just like that, Obama has embraced and validated the Republican world-view — and more specifically, he has embraced the policy ideas of the man he defeated in 2008. A correspondent writes, “I feel like an idiot for supporting this guy.” [continued…]

Obama would ‘rather be really good one-term president’

President Obama, buffeted by criticism of his massive health care reform bill and election setbacks, said today he remained determined to tackle health care and other big problems despite the political dangers to his presidency.

“I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president,” he told ABC’s “World News” anchor Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview today. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — As though he’s in a men’s store trying out a new suit for size, Obama’s trying on the One-Termer — wants to see if he likes the cut.

If as a bold political choice this president was to make a commitment not to run for re-election, that could be a decisive way of breaking free from the stranglehold of powerful interest groups. But with this statement, as in so many others, there’s nothing bold about what Obama is doing.

Bob Herbert, who is clearly clutching hold of the last straws of hope, sees tomorrow’s State of the Union speech as an slim opportunity for the renewal of faith: “Americans want to know what he stands for, where his line in the sand is, what he’ll really fight for, and where he wants to lead this nation. They want to know who their president really is.”

This really is the most damning statement: that after one year Americans have less of a sense of who occupies the White House than they did before he took office – back when he was perceived as an unknown.

The One-Termer — Obama doesn’t need to decide whether it’s a good fit or he can afford it — they’re giving them away for free. Try it on and it’s yours for keeps.


U.S. mulls legality of killing American al Qaeda “turncoat”

U.S. mulls legality of killing American al Qaeda “turncoat”

White House lawyers are mulling the legality of proposed attempts to kill an American citizen, Anwar al Awlaki, who is believed to be part of the leadership of the al Qaeda group in Yemen behind a series of terror strikes, according to two people briefed by U.S. intelligence officials.

One of the people briefed said opportunities to “take out” Awlaki “may have been missed” because of the legal questions surrounding a lethal attack which would specifically target an American citizen. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — I’m not a lawyer, but isn’t this the way it works? If someone has an Arabic name, then citizenship is secondary. So long as they are “taken out” overseas, preferably in a state or area with a reputation for lawlessness, then legal process fits comfortably into the tip of a Hellfire missile. Extra latitude is of course provided when the “target” is not white.

But maybe the Justice Department could provide a little extra clarity — some new designations in citizenship status just so everyone understands which American citizens can be executed on the basis of a presidential order and which can’t. As for non-Americans, well, America has always reserved the right to kill them as and when it sees fit.

The drone surge

One moment there was the hum of a motor in the sky above. The next, on a recent morning in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a missile blasted a home, killing 13 people. Days later, the same increasingly familiar mechanical whine preceded a two-missile salvo that slammed into a compound in Degan village in the tribal North Waziristan district of Pakistan, killing three.

What were once unacknowledged, relatively infrequent targeted killings of suspected militants or terrorists in the Bush years have become commonplace under the Obama administration. And since a devastating December 30th suicide attack by a Jordanian double agent on a CIA forward operating base in Afghanistan, unmanned aerial drones have been hunting humans in the Af-Pak war zone at a record pace. In Pakistan, an “unprecedented number” of strikes — which have killed armed guerrillas and civilians alike — have led to more fear, anger, and outrage in the tribal areas, as the CIA, with help from the U.S. Air Force, wages the most public “secret” war of modern times.

In neighboring Afghanistan, unmanned aircraft, for years in short supply and tasked primarily with surveillance missions, have increasingly been used to assassinate suspected militants as part of an aerial surge that has significantly outpaced the highly publicized “surge” of ground forces now underway. And yet, unprecedented as it may be in size and scope, the present ramping up of the drone war is only the opening salvo in a planned 40-year Pentagon surge to create fleets of ultra-advanced, heavily-armed, increasingly autonomous, all-seeing, hypersonic unmanned aerial systems (UAS). [continued…]