Ryan’s honesty about Trump’s racism provokes criticism from fellow Republicans

The Hill reports: Speaker Paul Ryan’s handling of Donald Trump is coming under criticism from Senate Republicans, many of whom prefer the way their leader, Mitch McConnell, deals with the unconventional candidate.

McConnell, the Senate majority leader from Kentucky, has steadfastly declined to call Trump’s criticism of a federal judge “racist,” a term that Ryan pointedly deployed.

“It sets up journalists to ask, ‘Do you agree with Paul Ryan that it was racist?” said an aide to a vulnerable GOP senator
Trump set off a firestorm last week by claiming that a Mexican-American federal judge handling a lawsuit against Trump University was biased because of his heritage.

Republican lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol swiftly expressed strong disapproval but Ryan ratcheted up the criticism significantly by calling it “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”

Ryan’s remarks quickly became a Democratic talking point used to batter vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents. [Continue reading…]

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William Hartung: How to disappear money, Pentagon-style

Colonel Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), recently made a startling disclosure to Voice of America (VOA)AFRICOM, he said, is currently mulling over 11 possible locations for its second base on the continent.  If, however, there was a frontrunner among them Cheadle wasn’t about to disclose it.  All he would say was that Nigeria isn’t one of the countries in contention.

Writing for VOA, Carla Babb filled in the rest of the picture in terms of U.S. military activities in Africa.  “The United States currently has one military base in the east African nation of Djibouti,” she observed. “U.S. forces are also on the ground in Somalia to assist the regional fight against al-Shabab and in Cameroon to help with the multinational effort against Nigeria-based Boko Haram.”  

A day later, Babb’s story disappeared.  Instead, there was a new article in which she noted that “Cheadle had initially said the U.S. was looking at 11 locations for a second base, but later told VOA he misunderstood the question.”  Babb reiterated that the U.S. had only the lone military base in Djibouti and stated that “[o]ne of the possible new cooperative security locations is in Cameroon, but Cheadle did not identify other locations due to ‘host nation sensitivities.’”

U.S. troops have, indeed, been based at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti since 2002.  In that time, the base has grown from 88 acres to about 600 acres and has seen more than $600 million in construction and upgrades already awarded or allocated.  It’s also true that U.S. troops, as Babb notes, are operating in Somalia — from at least two bases — and the U.S. has indeed set up a base in Cameroon.  As such, the “second” U.S. base in Africa, wherever it’s eventually located, will actually be more like the fifth U.S. base on the continent.  That is, of course, if you don’t count Chabelley Airfield, a hush-hush drone base the U.S. operates elsewhere in Djibouti, or the U.S. staging areas, cooperative security locations, forward operating locations, and other outposts in Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Senegal, the Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda, among other locales.  When I counted late last year, in fact, I came up with 60 such sites in 34 countries.  And just recently, Missy Ryan of the Washington Post added to that number when she disclosed that “American Special Operations troops have been stationed at two outposts in eastern and western Libya since late 2015.”

To be fair, the U.S. doesn’t call any of these bases “bases” — except when officials forget to keep up the fiction.  For example, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 included a $50 million request for the construction of an “airfield and base camp at Agadez, Niger.”  But give Cheadle credit for pushing a fiction that persists despite ample evidence to the contrary.

It isn’t hard, of course, to understand why U.S. Africa Command has set up a sprawling network of off-the-books bases or why it peddles misinformation about its gigantic “small” footprint in Africa.  It’s undoubtedly for the same reason that they stonewall me on even basic information about their operations.  The Department of Defense, from tooth to tail, likes to operate in the dark. 

Today, TomDispatch regular Bill Hartung reveals another kind of Pentagon effort to obscure and obfuscate involving another kind of highly creative accounting: think slush funds, secret programs, dodgy bookkeeping, and the type of financial malfeasance that could only be carried out by an institution that is, by its very nature, too big to fail (inside the Beltway if not on the battlefield).

Rejecting both accurate accounting and actual accountability — from the halls of the Pentagon to austere camps in Africa — the Defense Department has demonstrated a longstanding commitment to keeping Americans in the dark about the activities being carried out with their dollars and in their name.  Luckily, Hartung is willing to shine a bright light on the Pentagon’s shady practices. Nick Turse

The Pentagon’s war on accountability
Slush funds, smoke and mirrors, and funny money equal weapons systems galore
By William D. Hartung

Now you see it, now you don’t. Think of it as the Department of Defense’s version of the street con game, three-card monte, or maybe simply as the Pentagon shuffle.  In any case, the Pentagon’s budget is as close to a work of art as you’re likely to find in the U.S. government — if, that is, by work of art you mean scam.  

The United States is on track to spend more than $600 billion on the military this year — more, that is, than was spent at the height of President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War military buildup, and more than the military budgets of at least the next seven nations in the world combined.  And keep in mind that that’s just a partial total.  As an analysis by the Straus Military Reform Project has shown, if we count related activities like homeland security, veterans’ affairs, nuclear warhead production at the Department of Energy, military aid to other countries, and interest on the military-related national debt, that figure reaches a cool $1 trillion.

The more that’s spent on “defense,” however, the less the Pentagon wants us to know about how those mountains of money are actually being used.  As the only major federal agency that can’t pass an audit, the Department of Defense (DoD) is the poster child for irresponsible budgeting. 

[Read more…]

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CIA internal watchdog ‘accidentally’ destroyed its only copy of Senate torture report

Michael Isikoff reports: The CIA inspector general’s office — the spy agency’s internal watchdog — has acknowledged it “mistakenly” destroyed its only copy of a mammoth Senate torture report at the same time lawyers for the Justice Department were assuring a federal judge that copies of the document were being preserved, Yahoo News has learned.

While another copy of the report exists elsewhere at the CIA, the erasure of the controversial document by the office charged with policing agency conduct has alarmed the U.S. senator who oversaw the torture investigation and reignited a behind-the-scenes battle over whether the full unabridged report should ever be released, according to multiple intelligence community sources familiar with the incident.

The deletion of the document has been portrayed by agency officials to Senate investigators as an “inadvertent” foul-up by the inspector general. In what one intelligence community source described as a series of errors straight “out of the Keystone Cops,” CIA inspector general officials deleted an uploaded computer file with the report and then accidentally destroyed a disk that also contained the document, filled with thousands of secret files about the CIA’s use of “enhanced” interrogation methods. [Continue reading…]

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What happened to billions in U.S. military aid to Egypt?

Julian Pecquet writes: The Egyptian government is hindering Washington’s ability to track billions of dollars worth of anti-aircraft missiles and other US weapons, the US government watchdog said in a blistering report just as Congress gets ready to renew the annual $1.3 billion request.

The United States provided $6.5 billion in military assistance to Cairo between 2011 and 2015 with the understanding that it would be closely monitored and it would serve American interests. Instead, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) asserts that the Obama administration has often failed to meet those requirements due to resistance from their Egyptian counterparts, lack of guidance from Washington and insufficient staffing at the US Embassy in Cairo.

The State Department and the Defense Department (DOD) have established programs “to provide reasonable assurance that military equipment transferred or exported to foreign governments is used for its legitimate intended purposes and does not come into the possession of individuals or groups who pose a threat to the United States or its allies,” the GAO said in its May 12 report. “However, gaps in the implementation of these end-use monitoring programs — in part due to limited cooperation from the Egyptian government — hampers DOD’s and State’s ability to provide such assurances.” [Continue reading…]

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The FBI is keeping 80,000 secret files on the Saudis and 9/11

The Daily Beast reports: The Obama administration may soon release 28 classified pages from a congressional investigation that allegedly links Saudis in the United States to the 9/11 attackers. A former Republican member of the 9/11 Commission alleged Thursday that there was “clear evidence” of support for the hijackers from Saudi officials.

But in Florida, a federal judge is weighing whether to declassify portions of some 80,000 classified pages that could reveal far more about the hijackers’ Saudis connections and their activities in the weeks preceding the worst attack on U.S. soil.

The still-secret files speak to one of the strangest and most enduring mysteries of the 9/11 attacks. Why did the Saudi occupants of a posh house in gated community in Sarasota, Florida, suddenly vanish in the two weeks prior to the attacks? And had they been in touch with the leader of the operation, Mohamed Atta, and two of his co-conspirators?

No way, the FBI says, even though the bureau’s own agents did initially suspect the family was linked to some of the hijackers. On further scrutiny, those connections proved unfounded, officials now say.

But a team of lawyers and investigative journalists has found what they say is hard evidence pointing in the other direction. Atta did visit the family before he led 18 men to their deaths and murdered 3,000 people, they say, and phone records connect the house to members of the 9/11 conspiracy. [Continue reading…]

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Bob Graham: Release the uncensored truth about 9/11

Former senator Bob Graham writes: Nearly 15 years after the horrific events of 9/11, President Obama must decide whether to release 28 pages of information withheld as classified from the publicly released report of the congressional inquiry into the terrorist attacks that killed thousands of Americans.

On April 10, the CBS program “60 Minutes” aired a story about the missing 28 pages. I was one of several former public officials — including former House Intelligence Committee chairman and CIA director Porter Goss (R-Fla.) ; Medal of Honor recipient and former senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.); former Navy secretary John Lehman; and former ambassador and representative Tim Roemer (D-Ind.) — who called on the White House to declassify and release the documents.

Two days after that broadcast, I received a call from a White House staff member who told me that the president would make a decision about the 28 pages no later than June. While that official made no promises as to what Obama would do, I viewed the news as a step in the right direction. [Continue reading…]

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A soldier’s challenge to the president

In an editorial, the New York Times says: Capt. Nathan Michael Smith, who is 28, is helping wage war on the Islamic State as an Army intelligence officer deployed in Kuwait. He is no conscientious objector. Yet he sued President Obama last week, making a persuasive case that the military campaign is illegal unless Congress explicitly authorizes it.

“When President Obama ordered airstrikes in Iraq in August 2014 and in Syria in September 2014, I was ready for action,” he wrote in a statement attached to the lawsuit. “In my opinion, the operation is justified both militarily and morally.” But as his suit makes clear, that does not make it legal.

Constitutional experts and some members of Congress have also challenged the Obama administration’s thin legal rationale for using military force in Iraq and Syria. The Federal District Court for the District of Columbia should allow the suit to move forward to force the White House and Congress to confront an important question both have irresponsibly skirted.

The 1973 War Powers Resolution requires that the president obtain “specific statutory authorization” soon after sending troops to war. Mr. Obama’s war against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, was billed as a short-term humanitarian intervention when it began in August 2014. The president and senior administration officials repeatedly asserted that the United States would not be dragged back into a Middle East quagmire. The mission, they vowed, would not involve “troops on the ground.” Yet the Pentagon now has more than 4,000 troops in Iraq and 300 in Syria. Last week’s combat death of a member of the Navy SEALs, Special Warfare Operator First Class Charles Keating IV, underscored that the conflict has escalated, drawing American troops to the front lines.

“We keep saying it’s supposed to be advising that we’re doing, and yet we’re losing one kid at a time,” Phyllis Holmes, Petty Officer Keating’s grandmother, told The Times.

Asked on Thursday about the lawsuit, the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said it raised “legitimate questions for every American to be asking.” The administration has repeatedly urged Congress to pass a war authorization for the war against the Islamic State. It currently relies on the authorization for the use of military force passed in 2001 for the explicit purpose of targeting the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, which paved the way for the invasion of Afghanistan.

“One thing is abundantly clear: Our men and women in uniform and our coalition partners are on the front lines of our war against ISIL, while Congress has remained on the sidelines,” the White House spokesman Ned Price said in an email.

Yet, the White House has enabled Congress to shirk its responsibility by arguing that a new war authorization would be ideal but not necessary. Administration officials could have forced Congress to act by declaring that it could not rely indefinitely on the Afghanistan war authorization and giving lawmakers a deadline to pass a new law.

By failing to pass a new one, Congress and the administration are setting a dangerous precedent that the next president may be tempted to abuse. That is particularly worrisome given the bellicose temperament of Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee.

It is not too late to act before the presidential election in November. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker Paul Ryan have shown little interest in passing an authorization. They should feel compelled to heed the call of a young deployed soldier who is asking them to do their job.

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An army captain takes Obama to court over war on ISIS

The New York Times reports: A 28-year-old Army officer on Wednesday sued President Obama over the legality of the war against the Islamic State, setting up a test of Mr. Obama’s disputed claim that he needs no new legal authority from Congress to order the military to wage that deepening mission.

The plaintiff, Capt. Nathan Michael Smith, an intelligence officer stationed in Kuwait, voiced strong support for fighting the Islamic State but, citing his “conscience” and his vow to uphold the Constitution, he said he believed that the mission lacked proper authorization from Congress.

“To honor my oath, I am asking the court to tell the president that he must get proper authority from Congress, under the War Powers Resolution, to wage the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” he wrote.

The legal challenge comes after the death of the third American service member fighting the Islamic State and as Mr. Obama has decided to significantly expand the number of Special Operations ground troops he has deployed to Syria aid rebels there. [Continue reading…]

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Don’t abandon America’s Afghan helpers

An editorial in the New York Times says: The House Armed Services Committee approved a version of the 2017 defense spending bill on Thursday that would leave thousands of Afghan interpreters who worked for the American government in Afghanistan in the lurch.

More than 10,000 applicants, many of whom submitted petitions years ago and are now under threat in their country, are waiting for visas to get to the United States. However, the State Department can approve only about 4,000 applications, given the number of visas currently authorized by Congress.

The committee’s bill provides no additional visas and imposes unreasonable eligibility criteria for applications made after next month. Under the bill, only interpreters who worked with military personnel in the field would be eligible for resettlement. That is senseless, since many interpreters who worked on military bases or in government offices are in similar danger. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s last chance to end the ‘forever war’

Jennifer Daskal writes: The United States is fighting an unauthorized war. Over the past 19 months, American forces have launched more than 8,800 strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and hit the group’s affiliate in Libya. The United States continues aerial assaults against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, is going after militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and killed more than 150 suspected Shabab fighters in Somalia just last month.

This war isn’t limited to drone strikes or aerial bombings. It includes Special Operations forces in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan — and possibly elsewhere. This past weekend, President Obama announced that he would send an additional 250 such troops to Syria.

The primary legal authority for these strikes and deployments comes from the 60-word Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed almost a decade and a half ago. In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush asked for an open-ended authorization to fight all future acts of terrorism. Wisely, Congress rejected that request, though it did give the president authority to use force against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda, and those that harbored them, the Taliban.

Today, the Taliban no longer rules Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden has been killed and the other key participants in the Sept. 11 attacks are either locked up or dead. But the old authorization lives on. [Continue reading…]

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House advances Email Privacy Act, setting the stage for vital privacy reform

Electronic Frontier Foundation: The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699) yesterday, which would require the government to get a probable cause warrant from a judge before obtaining private communications and documents stored online with companies such as Google, Facebook, and Dropbox.

The bill provides a long-overdue update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), first passed in 1986. The bill also codifies the Sixth Circuit’s ruling in U.S. v. Warshak, which held that the Fourth Amendment demands that the government first obtain a warrant before accessing emails stored with cloud service providers.

The House vote is historic, given that H.R. 699 has an amazing 315 cosponsors, almost three quarters of the entire House. The House voted unanimously, following a unanimous vote by the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month. [Continue reading…]

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Senator says he may back bill exposing Saudis to 9/11 lawsuits

The New York Times reports: A bill opposed by the Obama administration that would expose Saudi Arabia to legal jeopardy for any role in the Sept. 11 attacks appeared to gain momentum on Tuesday when the senator holding it up said he would be open to supporting it.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said in an interview on Tuesday that he would drop his opposition to the bill — predicting it could pass the Senate next week — if the sponsors of the legislation agreed to changes that he believed were important to protect American interests abroad. He did not specify what changes he was requesting.

“The goal is to bring people to justice who have been involved in terrorism,” Mr. Graham said. But he added, “I don’t want Americans to be held liable because of one bad actor in some embassy somewhere.” [Continue reading…]

The Daily Beast reports: There’s a major push in Congress right now for a bill that could hold the government of Saudi Arabia legally responsible for the 9/11 attacks. U.S. military and counterterrorism officials now leading the fights against al Qaeda and ISIS think that bill is a terrible idea.

“We don’t need this debate right now,” one defense official said, like others speaking on condition of anonymity because they’re not authorized publicly to criticize the bill, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. Saudi officials have lobbied hard against the bill, telling members of the Obama administration, lawmakers, and journalists that the Saudi government has been a stalwart ally with the U.S. and was fighting al Qaeda years before it ever attacked American soil.

That message is resonating inside the Pentagon and in U.S. national security circles. Two former officials, who likewise declined to comment on the record about the bill, said it represented a troubling insertion of politics at a key point in the war against ISIS and would distract from a shared goal of combatting Islamic extremism. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi Arabia threatens economic fallout if Congress passes 9/11 bill

The New York Times reports: Saudi Arabia has told the Obama administration and members of Congress that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Obama administration has lobbied Congress to block the bill’s passage, according to administration officials and congressional aides from both parties, and the Saudi threats have been the subject of intense discussions in recent weeks between lawmakers and officials from the State Department and the Pentagon. The officials have warned senators of diplomatic and economic fallout from the legislation.

Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, delivered the kingdom’s message personally last month during a trip to Washington, telling lawmakers that Saudi Arabia would be forced to sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets in the United States before they could be in danger of being frozen by American courts. [Continue reading…]

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Does it take 8 years to decide whether to declassify 28-pages of 9/11 report?

The Daily Beast reports: By the end of President Obama’s term in office, the administration hopes to decide whether to declassify a controversial portion of Congress’ investigation into the 9/11 attacks, the White House said Tuesday. The so-called “28 pages,” which have never been publicly released, are said to implicate Saudi government officials and civilians in the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil.

The administration had directed a “declassification review” of the material from the Joint Congressional Inquiry into the terrorist attacks in 2014. Former lawmakers who have read the classified pages say they describe a financial and logistical support network for the 19 hijackers, most of them Saudi citizens, while they were in the U.S. The report was released in December 2002.

“That review process remains underway, but every effort is being taken to complete it before the end of the Administration,” Ned Price, the spokesperson for the National Security Council, told The Daily Beast in a statement. [Continue reading…]

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Andrew Bacevich: Presidential wars

It was a large banner and its message was clear.  It read: “Mission Accomplished,” and no, I don’t mean the classic “mission accomplished” banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln under which, on May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush proudly proclaimed (to the derision of critics ever since) that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”  I’m actually referring to a September 1982 banner with those same two words (and an added “farewell” below them) displayed on a landing craft picking up the last Marines sent ashore in Beirut, Lebanon, to be, as President Ronald Reagan put it when they arrived the previous August, “what Marines have been for more than 200 years — peace-makers.”  Of course, when Bush co-piloted an S-3B Viking sub reconnaissance Naval jet onto the deck of the Abraham Lincoln and made his now-classic statement, major combat had barely begun in Iraq (and it has yet to end) — nor was it peace that came to Beirut in September 1982: infamously, the following year 241 Marines would die there in a single day, thanks to a suicide bomber.

“Not for the last time,” writes Andrew Bacevich in his monumental new work, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, “the claim proved to be illusory.”  Indeed, one of the grim and eerie wonders of his book is the way in which just about every wrongheaded thing Washington did in that region in the 14-plus years since 9/11 had its surprising precursor in the two decades of American war there before the World Trade Center towers came down.  U.S. military trainers and advisers, for example, failed (as they later would in Iraq and Afghanistan) to successfully build armies, starting with the Lebanese one; Bush’s “preventive war” had its predecessor in a Reagan directive called (ominously enough given what was to come) “combating terrorism”; Washington’s obsessive belief of recent years that problems in the region could be solved by what Andrew Cockburn has called the “kingpin strategy” — the urge to dismantle terror organizations by taking out their leadership via drones or special operations raids — had its precursor in “decapitation” operations against Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid with similar resulting mayhem.  The belief that “an additional increment of combat power might turn around a failing endeavor” — call it a “surge,” if you will — had its Iraq and Afghan pretrial run in Somalia in 1993.  And above all, of course, there was Washington’s unquenchable post-1980 urge to intervene, military first, in a decisive way throughout the region, which, as Bacevich writes, only “produced conditions conducive to further violence and further disorder,” and if that isn’t the repetitive history of America’s failed post-2001 wars in a nutshell, what is?

As it happened, the effects of such actions from 1980 on were felt not just in the Greater Middle East and Africa, but in the United States, too.  There, as Bacevich writes today, war became a blank-check activity for a White House no longer either checked (in any sense) or balanced by Congress.  Think of it as another sad tale of a surge (or do I mean a decapitation?) that went wrong. Tom Engelhardt

Writing a blank check on war for the president
How the United States became a prisoner of war and Congress went MIA
By Andrew J. Bacevich

Let’s face it: in times of war, the Constitution tends to take a beating. With the safety or survival of the nation said to be at risk, the basic law of the land — otherwise considered sacrosanct — becomes nonbinding, subject to being waived at the whim of government authorities who are impatient, scared, panicky, or just plain pissed off.

The examples are legion.  During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln arbitrarily suspended the writ of habeas corpus and ignored court orders that took issue with his authority to do so. After U.S. entry into World War I, the administration of Woodrow Wilson mounted a comprehensive effort to crush dissent, shutting down anti-war publications in complete disregard of the First Amendment. Amid the hysteria triggered by Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order consigning to concentration camps more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans, many of them native-born citizens. Asked in 1944 to review this gross violation of due process, the Supreme Court endorsed the government’s action by a 6-3 vote. 

More often than not, the passing of the emergency induces second thoughts and even remorse. The further into the past a particular war recedes, the more dubious the wartime arguments for violating the Constitution appear. Americans thereby take comfort in the “lessons learned” that will presumably prohibit any future recurrence of such folly.

[Read more…]

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