Mohamed Soltan — an American citizen abandoned by President Obama

In an open letter to President Obama on his 26th birthday, November 16, 2013, Mohamed Soltan wrote from a cell in Cairo’s infamous Tora Prison:

Dear President Obama,

Last week, I underwent a procedure to remove two 13” metal nails that were placed in my left arm to help support and repair the damage sustained from a gunshot wound I suffered at the hands of Egyptian security forces. The bullet that punctured my arm was paid for by our tax dollars. I was forced to undergo this procedure without any anesthesia or sterilization because the Egyptian authorities refused to transfer me to a hospital for proper surgical care.

Mohamed-SoltanAfter the nails penetrated the skin at my elbow from below, and ripped through my shoulder muscle from above. The doctor who performed this procedure is a cellmate. He used pliers and a straight razor in lieu of a scalpel. I laid on a dirty mat as my other cellmates held me down to ensure I did not jolt from the pain and risk permanent loss of feeling and function in that arm. The pain was so excruciating, it felt like my brain could explode at any given point. I was finally given two aspirin pills almost an hour later when the guards found my cellmates screams for help unbearable.

I share these details here because my mind drifted to 2007 as I stared at the ceiling of my cramped cell after surgery. During your first presidential campaign, I was moved by your message. I was so passionate about everything you represented. Finally, “change we can believe in.” I saw you, as many Americans did then, a true civil servant looking to put the disadvantaged first, and to pioneer a new model of governance. I felt I was part of the making of a great chapter in my country’s history. You were someone I wanted to stand behind, someone I wanted to support, so I volunteered and worked for your campaign in Ohio, a crucial swing state. As an O.S.U. student, I went door-to-door, made phone call after phone call, urged people to join the movement that would revolutionize American politics. It was time to go back to a government “for the people, of the people.”

Now as I sit in this crowded cell, I can’t help but ask myself, was I naïve to think you were a departure from the norm? As domestic and foreign policies I disagreed with passed during your terms, I chalked it up to the negative consequence of bipartisanship, but now after months of being held without cause in Egypt’s infamous prisons and so little [regard for] my Americanness, let alone humanity, shown, I am beginning to think I was just another silly, idealistic college kid who believed the world can look a whole lot different, with a leader such as yourself at the head of it.

Your abandonment of me, an American citizen who worked tirelessly towards your election, and a staunch supporter and defender of your presidency, has left a sting in me that is almost as intense as the sharp pain emanating from my recently sliced arm.

Last weekend Soltan was sentenced to life imprisonment:

An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced an American citizen, Mohamed Soltan, to life imprisonment for supporting an Islamist protest against the military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in the summer of 2013.

The presiding judge, Mohammed Nagi Shehata, sentenced more than 35 other defendants in the case to the same penalty and also confirmed death sentences in the same case for about a dozen defendants, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s top spiritual guide, Mohamed Badie, 71, as well as Mr. Soltan’s father, Salah Soltan.

Gehad el-Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, was also sentenced to life in prison. Members of the Soltan family have said they will appeal the decision, and other defendants are expected to appeal as well.

The verdict is the latest in a long series of similarly harsh sentences handed down at mass trials of dozens or hundreds of defendants accused of participating in violent protests or riots in the aftermath of the military takeover, often based on only police testimony or cursory evidence. Thousands more remain imprisoned without convictions. The sweeping penalties have drawn outraged denunciations from rights groups and milder rebukes from Western diplomats.

But the case of the younger Mr. Soltan, 27, is exceptional because he is an American citizen.

The verdict comes just days after President Obama released hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid for Egypt that had previously been suspended in response to the military takeover and subsequent repression.

The White House released a brief statement:

The United States condemns the life sentence issued today in Egypt against American citizen Mohamed Soltan. We call for Mr. Soltan’s immediate release from prison. We remain deeply concerned about Mr. Soltan’s health, which has suffered during his 20 month-long incarceration. The President is deeply committed to the welfare of all U.S. citizens abroad and we will ensure that Mr. Soltan continues to receive consular support until he can return safely to the United States, per his wishes.

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Gregoire Chamayou: Hunting humans by remote control

Drones seemed to come out of nowhere, sexy as the latest iPhones and armed to kill. They were all-seeing eyes in the sky (“a constant stare,” as drone promoters liked to say) and surgically precise in their ability to deliver death to evildoers. Above all, without pilots in their cockpits, they were, in terms of the human price of war (at least when it came to the lives that mattered to us), cost free. They transformed battle into a video-game experience, leaving the “warriors” — from pilots to generals — staring at screens. What could possibly go wrong?

As it happened, so much went wrong. It often proved hard for the drone operators to tell what exactly they were seeing on those video feeds of theirs and mistakes were regularly made. In addition, drones turned out to kill with a remarkable lack of discrimination, while putting whole rural populations that fell under Washington’s robotic gaze into a state of what, if they had been American soldiers, we would have called PTSD. Worse yet, as recent events in Yemen indicate, drones proved remarkably effective weapons not in staunching terror outfits but in spreading terror, and so became powerful recruitment tools for extremist groups.  In rural societies repeatedly attacked by the grimly named Predators and Reapers, the urge for revenge was apparent.

Drones were, that is, terror instigators.  Everywhere they were sent by the last two administrations to pursue campaigns of “targeted killing” (i.e. assassination) and “signature strikes” (on suspicious patterns of “behavior” on the ground below, as judged by video from thousands of miles away), extremist groups have grown, societies have fragmented, and things have, from Washington’s point of view, gotten worse. In the process, they turned the White House with its secret “kill list” and its “terror Tuesday” meetings into a den of assassins, the CIA into assassination central, and the president into an assassin-in-chief. The drones even took an unexpected toll on their pilots waging a theoretically cost-free war.

From the point of view of drone proponents, one curious thing did go right, however — not in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Iraq or Yemen or Somalia, but here at home. Even though Americans in multiplexes had for years sided with human rebels against the inhuman gaze of robots on the prowl, they now backed the robots, as opinion polls showed, in part because their reputation here remained remarkably untarnished by their dismal and destructive track record in the distant backlands of the planet.

Now, another kind of “gaze,” another form of “constant stare,” has fallen on the drone and it comes from the least robotic of places.  In his new book, A Theory of the Drone, French philosopher Grégoire Chamayou has taken a fresh look at the radically new form of warfare wreaking havoc on fundamental human categories, whether of war, legality, or sovereignty. It’s a fascinating effort to deal with a weapons and surveillance system that turns out not to have arrived out of the blue at all. Today, TomDispatch offers a taste of Chamayou’s original approach, presenting two early chapters from his book on how the drone entered our world and transformed the classic “duel” between warriors into a “hunt” in which an all-seeing, lidless eye-in-the-sky searches out distant humans below as its “prey.” In the meantime, the warriors of the past are, as Chamayou writes, morphing into the executioners of the twenty-first century. It couldn’t be a grimmer tale of post-modernity. Tom Engelhardt

Manhunters, Inc.
How the Predator and extra-judicial execution became Washington’s calling cards
By Grégoire Chamayou

[The following is slightly adapted from chapters two and three of Grégoire Chamayou’s new book, A Theory of the Drone, with special thanks to his publisher, the New Press.]

Initially, the English word “drone” meant both an insect and a sound. It was not until the outbreak of World War II that it began to take on another meaning. At that time, American artillery apprentices used the expression “target drones” to designate the small remotely controlled planes at which they aimed in training. The metaphor did not refer solely to the size of those machines or the brm-brm of their motors. Drones are male bees, without stingers, and eventually the other bees kill them. Classical tradition regarded them as emblems of all that is nongenuine and dispensable. That was precisely what a target drone was: just a dummy, made to be shot down.

[Read more…]

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The Obama Doctrine and Iran

Tom Friedman writes: President Obama invited me to the Oval Office Saturday afternoon to lay out exactly how he was trying to balance these risks and opportunities in the framework accord reached with Iran last week in Switzerland. What struck me most was what I’d call an “Obama doctrine” embedded in the president’s remarks. It emerged when I asked if there was a common denominator to his decisions to break free from longstanding United States policies isolating Burma, Cuba and now Iran. Obama said his view was that “engagement,” combined with meeting core strategic needs, could serve American interests vis-à-vis these three countries far better than endless sanctions and isolation. He added that America, with its overwhelming power, needs to have the self-confidence to take some calculated risks to open important new possibilities — like trying to forge a diplomatic deal with Iran that, while permitting it to keep some of its nuclear infrastructure, forestalls its ability to build a nuclear bomb for at least a decade, if not longer.

“We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing … people don’t seem to understand,” the president said. “You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies. The same is true with respect to Iran, a larger country, a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. … You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.”

The notion that Iran is undeterrable — “it’s simply not the case,” he added. “And so for us to say, ‘Let’s try’ — understanding that we’re preserving all our options, that we’re not naïve — but if in fact we can resolve these issues diplomatically, we are more likely to be safe, more likely to be secure, in a better position to protect our allies, and who knows? Iran may change. If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place. … We’re not relinquishing our capacity to defend ourselves or our allies. In that situation, why wouldn’t we test it?”

Obviously, Israel is in a different situation, he added. “Now, what you might hear from Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, which I respect, is the notion, ‘Look, Israel is more vulnerable. We don’t have the luxury of testing these propositions the way you do,’ and I completely understand that. And further, I completely understand Israel’s belief that given the tragic history of the Jewish people, they can’t be dependent solely on us for their own security. But what I would say to them is that not only am I absolutely committed to making sure that they maintain their qualitative military edge, and that they can deter any potential future attacks, but what I’m willing to do is to make the kinds of commitments that would give everybody in the neighborhood, including Iran, a clarity that if Israel were to be attacked by any state, that we would stand by them. And that, I think, should be … sufficient to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see whether or not we can at least take the nuclear issue off the table.”

He added: “What I would say to the Israeli people is … that there is no formula, there is no option, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon that will be more effective than the diplomatic initiative and framework that we put forward — and that’s demonstrable.” [Continue reading…]

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How Barack Obama has undermined freedom of the press

Joel Simon writes: President Obama took office in 2009 promising to make his administration the most transparent in American history. New York Times national security correspondent David Sanger, for one, says he’s failed.

“This is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered,” said Sanger in a 2013 CPJ report, “The Obama Administration and the Press.” The report’s author, former Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie, Jr., declared, “The administration’s war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration.” As journalists often note, the Obama administration has prosecuted more leakers under the 1917 Espionage Act than all former presidents combined.

With less than two years remaining in his administration, there are still actions the president can take to strengthen transparency at home and increase US influence abroad, particularly advocacy on behalf of journalists facing persecution and violence as a result of their reporting.

According to the CPJ report, the Obama administration’s policies have undermined the role of the press in three fundamental ways. [Continue reading…]

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As F-16s trump democracy for Egypt, Sisi becomes the latest Middle East leader to outmaneuver Obama

Joyce Karam writes: The “free and fair elections” and the “inclusive government” that the Obama administration once called for in Egypt is now part of a long wishful list for the 44th U.S. President in the Middle East. The “rule of law” and the “transition to democracy” did not transpire in Cairo, prompting Washington to reverse its punitive path and resume the military aid to Egypt, being withheld since 2013.

Obama’s reversal this week of his own decision concludes this administration’s failed experiment in Egypt. The Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi joins the club of many Middle East leaders who outmaneuvered Obama and forced a change in U.S. calculus instead of the changing theirs. Sisi did so through a strategy that challenged Obama regionally and on his own turf in Washington, while clamping down on the Muslim Brotherhood, and executing a new power grab.

The full resumption of military aid to Egypt, and this time with no strings attached is an admission that the policy of the last two years fell flat. The U.S. administration is practically meeting all Sisi’s demands without Egypt’s strongman giving an inch, not even promising parliamentary elections or the release of political prisoners. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s newly harsh tone on Keystone seen signaling rejection

Bloomberg reports: Facing re-election and $4 a gallon gasoline, President Barack Obama sounded like an enthusiastic supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline at a March 2012 campaign rally.

“I’m directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority,” he said in a speech in Cushing, Oklahoma, referring to a southern leg of the long-delayed project.

Those days are gone. Now when Obama describes the next proposed Keystone segment he says it will only create about 300 jobs. He calls the Calgary-based pipeline builder TransCanada Corp. a “foreign company” and says the oil won’t benefit American motorists.

And last week, he even said the process of extracting crude from the Alberta oil sands is “extraordinarily dirty.”

After years of review, Obama may be finally nearing a decision on the $8 billion project. The State Department has restarted a review it had paused while a challenge to the pipeline’s route worked its way through Nebraska’s high court. And by vetoing Republican-backed legislation last month to force approval, Obama preserved for himself the final say. [Continue reading…]

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Anti-terrorism summit reinforces ‘fear and hate’ towards Muslims, critics warn

The Guardian reports: As Barack Obama prepares to host a summit on preventing homegrown terrorism, he faces a backlash from those he says he wants to empower: American Muslim community leaders, who warn that the summit risks stigmatizing and even endangering them.

Hanging over the “countering violent extremism” (CVE) summit, to be held Tuesday through Thursday at the White House and State Department, is Wednesday’s brutal murder of three Muslim students in North Carolina.

In the wake of the killings, Muslim leaders, some of whom met with Obama recently, say that whatever the summit’s intentions, it will reinforce a message that American Muslims are to be hated and feared, a spark in what they consider to be a powder-keg of Islamophobia in the media and online.

The killing of Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, “really underscores how dangerous it is for the US government, including the White House, to focus its countering violent extremism initiatives primarily on American Muslims”, said Farhana Khera, the executive director of civil rights law firm Muslim Advocates.

“We’ve long said to the administration, to those in government, that directing the bulk of CVE resources to US Muslims undermines the safety of all of us and endangers US Muslims, because it sends the message our community is to be viewed with fear, suspicion and even hate.” [Continue reading…]

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Iran’s Supreme Leader sends new letter to Obama amid nuclear talks

The Wall Street Journal reports: Iran’s paramount political figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has responded to overtures from President Barack Obama seeking better relations by sending secret communications of his own to the White House.

The Iranian cleric wrote to Mr. Obama in recent weeks in response to an October presidential letter that raised the possibility of U.S.-Iranian cooperation in fighting Islamic State if a nuclear deal is secured, according to an Iranian diplomat. The supreme leader’s response was “respectful” but noncommittal, the diplomat said.

A senior White House official declined to confirm the existence of that letter. But it comes as the first details emerge about another letter Mr. Khamenei sent to the president early in his first term. [Continue reading…]

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FBI opens inquiry into Chapel Hill shootings; Obama calls killings ‘brutal and outrageous’

In a conversation recorded by the storytelling project StoryCorps just last summer, Yusor Abu-Salha, a victim from the recent Chapel Hill shooting, described her experience of being an American.

The Washington Post reports: The FBI is opening an inquiry into the shootings of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., a move that followed multiple calls this week for authorities to investigate the violence as a hate crime.

On Friday, President Obama issued a statement on “the brutal and outrageous murders,” saying that the FBI would look to see if federal laws were broken during the shooting.

“No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship,” Obama said.

Police are investigating the shootings of three people — newlyweds Deah Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19 — on Tuesday afternoon at a housing complex near the University of North Carolina.

As the shooting has attracted global attention, Obama has been criticized for not speaking out about it sooner.

“If you stay silent when faced with an incident like this, and don’t make a statement, the world will stay silent towards you,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said during a visit to Mexico on Thursday, according to Reuters.

The Embassy of Jordan in Washington said Friday that Alia Bouran, the country’s ambassador to the United States, went to North Carolina on Friday. Jordan’s foreign ministry issued a statement a day earlier saying that the sisters killed in Chapel Hill also had Jordanian citizenship.

While in North Carolina, Bouran met with the families of the victims and expressed the sympathies of Jordanian King Abdullah II. The embassy said Friday that it was “closely following the ongoing investigation” in North Carolina.

The FBI probe announced on Thursday stops short of being a full investigation, as had been reported in multiple media outlets since the inquiry was announced. Rather, it is a review that could ultimately become an investigation down the line. It was opened by the FBI, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle district of North Carolina. [Continue reading…]

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Why even a Republican-controlled Congress will give President Obama the authority to wage war

Fred Kaplan writes: President Obama asked Congress on Wednesday for authorization to use military force against ISIS, and smart money gives long odds he’ll get it. The fact is, legislators have only rarely asserted their constitutional prerogative to block a president from going to war, and there’s a reason why: They don’t want the responsibility or — more to the point — blame if all hell breaks loose as a result of their saying no.

The practice (usually, the charade) of presidents asking the Hill for permission dates back to 1973, with passage of the War Powers Act. A whiff of revolt was in the air. Richard Nixon’s presidency was collapsing, with the Senate Watergate hearings (he would resign, to avoid impeachment, the following year); his war in Vietnam was siring massive protests, and news reports had just revealed his secret bombing of Cambodia (which prompted Congress to draft the act). The same year saw publication of Arthur Schlesinger’s 500-page tome, The Imperial Presidency, which won critical acclaim, climbed the best-sellers list, and supplied scholarly heft to the mood of disenchantment.

Nixon vetoed the War Powers Act, which ordinarily would have been the end of it, but Congress actually mustered a two-thirds majority in both houses to override the veto. [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu’s invitation to address Congress raises eyebrows among some U.S. generals

Mark Perry writes: The uniformed leaders of the U.S. military have had a testy relationship with President Barack Obama since he took office in 2009, with a number of relatively public spats revealing discord over how his administration has approached the use of military force. So it might be assumed that when a politician confronts Obama, portraying his policies on threats overseas as naive, many in the senior uniformed ranks would nod in silent affirmation. But that’s not what has happened since House Speaker John Boehner invited Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Obama’s Iran policy in Congress. Instead the speech, planned for next month, has rallied senior military figures behind the president, with some warning that there’s a limit to what U.S. military officers consider acceptable criticism of the commander in chief.

Obama and his generals have clashed privately and publicly since 2009 over his plans to draw down troops and exit from Afghanistan, and a number of respected recently retired top commanders told Congress that what they called the administration’s piecemeal strategy against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria is destined to fail. Some have also publicly recorded misgivings about Obama’s Iran strategy. Still, Netanyahu’s planned speech has prompted a number of senior military men to rally around the office of a president whose policies they regularly, if privately, question.

Serving uniformed officers are loath to comment on an inflammatory political question — “You’re inviting me to end my career,” one senior Pentagon officer told me when asked to comment on Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu, “but, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not.” But a senior Joint Chiefs of Staff officer who regularly briefs the U.S. high command was willing to speak bluntly in exchange for anonymity. “There’s always been a lot of support for Israel in the military,” the officer said, “but that’s significantly eroded over the last few years. This caps it. It’s one thing for Americans to criticize their president and another entirely for a foreign leader to do it. Netanyahu doesn’t get it. We’re not going to side with him against the commander in chief. Not ever.” [Continue reading…]

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Obama orders minor changes to surveillance on Americans and foreigners

The New York Times reports: A year after President Obama ordered modest changes in how the nation’s intelligence agencies collect and hold data on Americans and foreigners, the administration will announce new rules requiring intelligence analysts to delete private information they may incidentally collect about Americans that has no intelligence purpose, and to delete similar information about foreigners within five years.

The new rules to be announced Tuesday will also institutionalize a regular White House-led review of the National Security Agency’s monitoring of foreign leaders. Until the disclosures in the early summer of 2013 by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor whose trove of intelligence documents is still leaking into public view, there was no continuing White House assessment of whether the intelligence garnered from listening to scores of leaders around the world was worth the potential embarrassment if the programs became public.

Mr. Obama publicly ordered the end of the monitoring of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, saying he had known nothing about the effort — an admission that revealed the White House was not reviewing N.S.A. activities the way, for example, it annually reviews covert actions around the world by the C.I.A. The timing of the announcement about the new review process comes the week before Ms. Merkel is scheduled to visit the White House, where a long-debated arrangement for greater intelligence sharing between the countries is expected to be discussed.

Mr. Obama has never said whom, beyond Ms. Merkel, he took off the list of foreign leaders whose conversations are monitored, but it appeared that programs in Mexico and Brazil continued, while several dozen leaders have been removed. [Continue reading…]

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Obama will not meet Netanyahu in March

BBC News: Barack Obama will not meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he visits in March to speak to Congress, the White House says.

Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan cited a “long-standing practice” of not meeting heads of state close to elections, which Israel will hold in mid-March.

Mr Netanyahu was invited by House Speaker John Boehner in what is seen as a rebuke to Mr Obama’s Iran policy.

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NSA on and off the trail of the Sony hackers

After cybersleuth Barack Obama saw the evidence pointing at North Korea’s responsibility for the cyberattacks against Sony, “he had no doubt,” the New York Times melodramatically reports.

He had no doubt about what? That his intelligence analysts knew what they were talking about? Or that he too when presented with the same evidence was forced to reach the same conclusion?

I have no doubt that had Obama been told by those same advisers that North Korea was not behind the attacks, he would have accepted that conclusion. In other words, on matters about which he lacks the expertise to reach any conclusion, he relies on the expertise of others.

A journalist who tells us about the president having “no doubt” in such as situation is merely dressing up his narrative with some Hollywood-style commander-in-chief gravitas.

When one of the reporters in this case, David Sanger, is someone whose cozy ties to government extend to being “an old friend of many, many years” of Ashton Carter, whose nomination as the next Secretary of Defense is almost certain to be approved, you have to wonder whose interests he really serves. Those of his readership or those of the government?

Since Obama and the FBI went out on a limb by asserting that they had no doubt about North Korea’s role in the attacks, they have been under considerable pressure to provide some compelling evidence to back up their claim.

That evidence now comes courtesy of anonymous officials briefing the New York Times and another document from the Snowden trove of NSA documents.

Maybe the evidence really is conclusive, but there are still important unanswered questions.

For instance, as Arik Hesseldahl asks:

why, if the NSA had so fully penetrated North Korea’s cyber operations, did it not warn Sony that an attack of this magnitude was underway, one that apparently began as early as September.

Officials with the NSA and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the report. A Sony spokeswoman had no comment.

On the one hand we’re being told that the U.S. knew exactly who was behind the Sony attacks because the hackers were under close surveillance by the NSA, and yet at the same time we’re being told that although the NSA was watching the hackers it didn’t figure out what they were doing.

If Hollywood everyone decides to create a satire out of this, they’ll need to come up with a modern-day reworking of the kind of scene that would come straight out of Get Smart — the kind where Maxwell Smart, Agent 86, would be eavesdropping on conversation between his North Korean counterparts, the only problem being, that he doesn’t understand Korean.

The Times report refers to the North Korean hackers using an “attack base” in Shenyang, in north east China. This has been widely reported with the somewhat less cyber-sexy name of the Chilbosan Hotel whose use for these purposes has been known since 2004.

If the attackers wanted to avoid detection, it’s hard to understand why they would have operated out of a location that had been known about for that long and that could so easily be linked to North Korea.

It’s also hard to fathom that having developed its cyberattack capabilities over such an extended period, North Korea would want to risk so much just to try and prevent the release of The Interview.

Michael Daly claims that the regime “recognizes that Hollywood and American popular culture in general constitute a dire threat” — a threat that has apparently penetrated the Hermit Kingdom in the “especially popular” form of Desperate Housewives.

Daly goes on to assert:

a glimpse of Wisteria Lane is enough to give lie to the regime’s propaganda that North Koreans live in a worker’s paradise while its enemies suffer in grinding poverty, driven by envy to plot against Dear Leader.

Of course, as every American who has watched the show knows, Wisteria Lane represents anytown America and the cast could blend in unnoticed at any Walmart or shopping mall.

OK. I won’t deny that American propaganda is much more sophisticated than North Korea’s, but when an American journalist implies that Desperate Housewives offers ordinary North Koreans a glimpse into the lives of ordinary Americans, you have to ask: which population has been more perfectly been brainwashed?

In reality, the dire threat to the North Korean regime in terms of social impact comes not from American popular culture but from much closer: South Korean soap operas.

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America snubs historic Paris rally

The Daily Mail reports: President Obama was missing in action today when world leaders linked arms to lead an anti-terrorism march of more than a million people in Paris.

While the president’s a busy man, his absence at the show of international solidarity was strange considering his schedule was wide open today.

Vice President Joe Biden often fills in for the president at events like this, but he was no where to be seen either, despite his similarly empty schedule.

In fact, the only recognizable Obama official in the city was Attorney General Eric Holder, who attended a terrorism summit with world leaders on Sunday – but skipped the rally.

CNN’s Jake Tapper said on air: “I’m a little disappointed personally, this is me speaking personally, not as a representative of CNN, as an American that there isn’t more of a display of unity here. Because this is one of the most incredible events I have ever attended and the positivity that these people of France are embracing. This is not a rally — even though there was an ugly racist element in this society, as there is in every society — this is not a rally that is embracing jingoism, or anger, or any sort of hatred. This is a rally that is expressing brotherhood and sisterhood and it is a beautiful thing to behold.”

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James Carroll: The Pentagon as President Obama’s Great White Whale

There’s finally good news when it comes to the renewal of the Faith.  I’m talking, of course, about the nuclear faith.  In case you happen to have forgotten, that’s the Cold War belief that a U.S. arsenal big enough to destroy several Earth-sized planets and on a hair-trigger alert remains crucial to the preservation of the American way of life and, at a more mundane level, that an Air Force career as a “missileer” isn’t a dead-end path in a terrorism obsessed century.  For years, it’s seemed like sitting in a silo in the American West with your proverbial finger on the trigger might be the definition of military meaninglessness.  And it can’t have helped that, early in his first term, President Obama committed himself to banishing from the planet the very weapons the missileers were guarding and preparing to launch one of these days, or that there had even been discussions inside the Pentagon about shrinking the force.  Talk about corrosive or, as one deputy commander of operations and missileer put it, a “rot” in the ranks!  In religious terms, think of this as a loss of confidence among the military priesthood in what had once been the Only True Faith, and a fear that “thinking the unthinkable” — as it was called in the nuclear arsenal’s Cold War heyday — might someday actually become unthinkable.

As a spate of news articles in recent years has indicated, the “rot” has been all too real.  There was that widely reported “cheating” scandal when it came to nuclear “proficiency” exams resulting in the axing of nine Air Force commanders; there were those nuclear weapons flown across the U.S. by mistake, those missile silo blast doors left open while their guards slept soundly, and those suspensions of missileers for “incompetence,” drug problems, and sexual harassment, among other issues.  There was the firing of a general in charge of “three wings of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles with 450 ICBMs” for “misconduct” while in Moscow, including gross and repeated drunkenness, “associating” with two women who might have been spies, offending his hosts, and so on.  There was even a distinctly Biblical “infestation” of rats in a force reputedly “rusting its way to disarmament.”

And last but hardly least, there was the loss of crucial funds for equipment highlighted by the single wrench “required to tighten bolts on the warhead end of the Minuteman 3 missile” that had to be FedExed between three ICBM bases in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.  Of course, that problem could have been solved if, in line with the president’s stated thinking, two of those three bases had been closed and their missiles disarmed and destroyed.  But we’re talking about the renewal of a faith here, not anything as utopian as nuclear disarmament, so that wouldn’t do.  Instead, the U.S. nuclear force is to be “modernized,” which means refurbished to the tune of an estimated trillion dollars in the decades to come, and our disarming president has just nominated as his new secretary of defense a man long committed to such a course of action.

If there’s anyone to take the measure of this moment of nuclear “renewal,” it’s Boston Globe columnist James Carroll.  After all, dedicated to exploring the religious roots of violence, he experienced the American cult of violence up close and personal in his own youth.  His father was the founding director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, something he’s described in his memoir American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War That Came Between Us.  He’s written eloquently about the American cult of violence that we like to call the Pentagon in House of War, and about the more traditionally religious roots of violence in his bestseller Constantine’s Sword and in Jerusalem, Jerusalem. His newest book, Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age, focuses on the way in which Jesus has historically been used to justify the very violence he rejected. So Carroll’s look at Washington’s urge to renew America’s waning nuclear faith today couldn’t be more appropriate. Tom Engelhardt

The abolition of abolition
How the president who pledged to banish nuclear weapons is enabling their renewal
By James Carroll

Mark these days. A long-dreaded transformation from hope to doom is taking place as the United States of America ushers the world onto the no-turning-back road of nuclear perdition. Once, we could believe there was another way to go. Indeed, we were invited to take that path by the man who is, even today, overseeing the blocking of it, probably forever.

[Read more…]

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At least 13 killed in failed U.S. bid to rescue hostages in Yemen

Reuters reports: A woman, a 10-year-old boy and a local al Qaeda leader were among at least 11 people killed alongside two Western hostages when U.S.-led forces battled militants in a failed rescue mission in Yemen, residents said on Sunday.

U.S. special forces raided the village of Dafaar in Shabwa province, a militant stronghold in southern Yemen, shortly after midnight on Saturday, killing several members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

American journalist Luke Somers, 33, and South African teacher Pierre Korkie, 56, were shot and killed by their captors during the raid intended to secure the hostages’ freedom, U.S. officials said. [Continue reading…]

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Glaring contradictions in Obama’s ISIS and Syria policies

The New York Times reports: American and Syrian warplanes screamed over the Syrian city of Raqqa in separate raids this week, ostensibly against the same target, the Islamic State militants in control there.

In the first raid, on Sunday, United States warplanes hit an Islamic State building, with no report of civilian casualties. On Tuesday, Syrian jets struck 10 times, killing scores of civilians, according to residents and Islamic State videos.

The back-to-back strikes, coming just days after President Bashar al-Assad of Syria declared that the West needed to side with him in “real and sincere” cooperation to defeat the extremist group, infuriated Syrians who oppose both Mr. Assad and the Islamic State. They see American jets sharing the skies with the Syrians but doing nothing to stop them from indiscriminately bombing rebellious neighborhoods. They conclude, increasingly, that the Obama administration is siding with Mr. Assad, that by training United States firepower solely on the Islamic State it is aiding a president whose ouster is still, at least officially, an American goal.

Their dismay reflects a broader sense on all sides that President Obama’s policies on Syria and the Islamic State remain contradictory, and the longer the fight goes on without the policies being resolved, the more damage is being done to America’s standing in the region.

More than two months after the campaign against the Islamic State plunged the United States into direct military involvement in Syria, something Mr. Obama had long avoided, the group has held its strongholds there and even expanded its reach. That has called into question basic assumptions of American strategy. [Continue reading…]

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