Mike Masnick writes: It appears that the heads of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers, are recognizing that their strategy for keeping their co-dependent relationship with the NSA going is failing and that the American public and an increasingly large segment of Congress no longer believes their bogus claims. Perhaps that’s because every time they open their mouths, it takes all of about an hour before many of their claims are completely debunked, if not outright mocked for obviously being bogus. So their latest strategy? To basically yell “Ooga Booga Terrorists!” as loud as they can to try to scare people based on absolutely nothing. [Continue reading...]
In their efforts to deflect criticism of drone warfare, President Obama and senior officials overseeing strikes in Pakistan and Yemen have repeatedly insisted that missiles are only fired when there is minimal risk to civilians and that the primary virtue of this weapons system is its precision.
This week, after Rafiq Rehman and his two children came all the way from Waziristan to testify before Congress on the impact of drone warfare, only five lawmakers bothered to show up. The assumption among campaigners seems to have been that the consciences of ordinary Americans would be stirred if they were to hear children describe what it’s like witnessing your 67-year-old grandmother getting blown up in a drone strike.
The death of Momina Bibi exactly a year ago illustrates how little value precision has if the target is a nameless figure on a computer screen. Yet the testimony of the Rehman family seems unlikely to have much impact on public opinion when Washington finds it so easy to ignore.
Al Jazeera reports:
[E]ven after what his family has been through, Rafiq Rehman said he does not resent the United States. In fact, even after witnessing his first Halloween weekend in the States, he does not believe all that much separates him from Americans.
“It’s very peaceful here. For the most part, there’s a lot of freedom and people get along with each other. They’re nice, they respect each other, and I appreciate that,” Rafiq told Al Jazeera.
“We’re all human beings,” he said. “I knew that Americans would have a heart, that they would be sympathetic to me. That’s why I came here — I thought if they heard my story, they would want to listen to me and influence their politicians.”
The attitude of the Obama administration seems to have been reflected in the decision to prevent the family’s lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, from accompanying them on their visit.
Akbar, a legal fellow with Reprieve, the U.K.-based advocacy organization that helped bring the family to the Washington, believes that his work has something to do with the denial. He only had trouble obtaining a visa after he started to litigate on the behalf of drone victims.
In an interview at his Islamabad office, Akbar told me that he was first denied entry to the United States in 2010, even though he had an open visa at the time. He said that the head of visa services at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad told him his visa could not be processed there because of his history. “And I looked at her and I said what do you mean by history? She just smiled and she said, ‘You know very well what I mean by history.’”
He assumes she was referring to his decision that year to sue the CIA station chief in Islamabad. “It’s very simple,” Akbar said. “You mess with [the] CIA and they mess with you to the extent they can.”
Even if Akbar had been there and even if the hearings had been well attended, I suspect that many lawmakers and other Americans would find it easy to marginalize the Rehman family’s experience.
America never tires of expressing its good intentions. We mean well. Accidents happen. Momina Bibi’s death was a mistake.
This month the Obama administration decided to release more than $1.6 billion in military and economic aid to Pakistan and in what looks like a rather transparent quid pro quo, the Pakistani government today issued a statement drastically reducing its claims about the number of civilians killed in drone attacks.
They now say that since 2008, 2,160 militants and 67 civilians have been killed.
There was no indication why the new data seem to differ so much from past government calculations and outside estimates.
A U.N. expert investigating drone strikes, Ben Emmerson, said this month that the Pakistani Foreign Ministry told him that at least 400 civilians have been killed by drone attacks in the country since they started in 2004.
Emmerson called on the Islamabad government to explain the apparent discrepancy, with the Foreign Ministry figure indicating a much higher percentage of civilian casualties.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based in London, has estimated that drones have killed at least 300 civilians in Pakistan since 2008, while the Washington-based New America Foundation puts the figure at 185 civilians. Such estimates are often compiled from news media reports about the attacks.
Having made drone warfare one of the signatures of his presidency, Barack Obama’s level of comfort in utilizing this form of technology can be seen both through his willingness to joke about it, and his insistence on its judicious use. In his mind, the drone has somehow been turned into a symbol of restraint. Shock and awe has been replaced by carefully calibrated violence — even while it employs the far too infrequently cited brand: Hellfire.
The propaganda campaign the Obama administration has engaged in — now with the collusion of the Pakistani government — has always been a numbers game. It attempts to justify drone warfare on the basis of its supposed efficiency. Through a false equivalence — that drone strikes kill far fewer people and do less damage than air strikes — the drone is cast as the lesser of two evils. (This is a false equivalence because drone strikes are rarely employed as an alternative to an air strike. The 317 drone strikes in Pakistan Obama has authorized could not have been substituted by 317 air strikes.) And the measure of the drones’ success can be reduced to a numerical formula such as the one Pakistan just produced.
The effect of claiming that “just” 67 civilians have been killed (leaving aside the issue that this number is implausibly low) is that it masks the wider effect of drone warfare: that it has terrorized the populations in the areas where its use has become prevalent.
A reporter for the Washington Post interviewed a journalist in Pakistan and tried to get a sense of the psychological impact of drones. Was it, she asked, like living somewhere where there are lots of drive-by shootings? (Fear of random acts of violence might usefully offer some common ground, though the comparison might be a bit more realistic if one imagines a neighborhood where the shooters are armed with shoulder-launched missiles rather than handguns.)
Kiran Nazish describes what the presence of drones really means: that the fear of sudden death becomes ever-present.
Along with the few victims that Washington acknowledges, there are thousands more. Facing the risk of missile strikes, these are people afraid to go to market or to leave their own homes. And when the sky is blue, the danger rises, as high above, unseen but constantly heard, drones circle like vultures in search of their prey.
Powerless and with nowhere to flee, for the living victims of drone warfare, America has become an invisible and blind executioner.
Katrin Bennhold writes: From a comfortable couch in his London living room, Sean O’Callaghan had been watching the shaky televised images of terrified people running from militants in an upscale mall in Kenya. Some of those inside had been asked their religion. Muslims were spared, non-Muslims executed.
“God, this is one tough lot of jihadis,” said a friend, a fellow Irishman, shaking his head.
“But we used to do the same thing,” Mr. O’Callaghan replied.
There was the 1976 Kingsmill massacre. Catholic gunmen stopped a van with 12 workmen in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, freed the one Catholic among them and lined up the 11 Protestants and shot them one by one.
Mr. O’Callaghan, a former paramilitary with the Irish Republican Army, has particular insight into such coldblooded killing.
On a sunny August day in 1974, he walked into a bar in Omagh, Northern Ireland, drew a short-barreled pistol and shot a man bent over the racing pages at the end of the counter, a man he had been told was a notorious traitor to the Irish Catholic cause.
Historical parallels are inevitably flawed. But a recent flurry of horrific bloodletting — the attack in Nairobi that left 60 dead, the execution by Syrian jihadis of bound and blindfolded prisoners, an Egyptian soldier peering through his rifle sight and firing on the teenage daughter of a Muslim Brotherhood leader — raises a question as old as Cain and Abel: Do we all have it in us?
Many experts think we do. For Mr. O’Callaghan, it was a matter of focus.
“What you’re seeing in that moment,” he said in an interview last week, “is not a human being.”
It is dangerous to assume that it takes a monster to commit a monstrosity, said Herbert Kelman, professor emeritus of social ethics at Harvard. [Continue reading...]
Michael Meurer writes: One of the most important revelations from the international drama over Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks in May is the exposure of a nearly lunatic disproportion in threat assessment and spending by the US government. This disproportion has been spawned by a fear-based politics of terror that mandates unlimited money and media attention for even the most tendentious terrorism threats, while lethal domestic risks such as contaminated food from our industrialized agribusiness system are all but ignored. A comparison of federal spending on food safety intelligence versus antiterrorism intelligence brings the irrationality of the threat assessment process into stark relief.
In 2011, the year of Osama bin Laden’s death, the State Department reported that 17 Americans were killed in all terrorist incidents worldwide. The same year, a single outbreak of listeriosis from tainted cantaloupe killed 33 people in the United States. Foodborne pathogens also sickened 48.7 million, hospitalized 127,839 and caused a total of 3,037 deaths. This is a typical year, not an aberration.
We have more to fear from contaminated cantaloupe than from al-Qaeda, yet the United States spends $75 billion per year spread across 15 intelligence agencies in a scattershot attempt to prevent terrorism, illegally spying on its own citizens in the process. By comparison, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is struggling to secure $1.1 billion in the 2014 federal budget for its food inspection program, while tougher food processing and inspection regulations passed in 2011 are held up by agribusiness lobbying in Congress. The situation is so dire that Jensen Farms, the company that produced the toxic cantaloupe that killed 33 people in 2011, had never been inspected by the FDA. [Continue reading...]
To note that Americans face more threats related to food safety than terrorism may be a useful way of highlighting the miniscule threat posed by terrorism, but it doesn’t mean we should start getting more afraid of food.
Fear is a bigger problem than food safety.
The more we learn about the ecology of the human body, the more apparent it becomes that a significant number of modern health problems are a result of excessive cleanliness. In our effort to produce pathogen-free environments we are destroying the bacteria upon which good health depends.
Shortly after 9/11, Osama bin Laden appeared on the cover of Time magazine. What later became an iconic image — the embodiment of evil, global terrorist #1, the face of Islamic extremism, or however else Americans came to view this face — did at the time show a man with an indisputable look of serenity.
Since the icons of terrorism were at that juncture still in the process of being manufactured, America’s first glimpses of Public Enemy Number One portrayed — dare I say it — a rather Christ-like figure.
Even though this was still a nation very much in shock, the appearance of a flattering image of the prime suspect behind the attacks was apparently something that America could handle.
Michelle Malkin, outraged that the magazine’s choice of cover image shows that its “editors are as muddle headed as ever about our war with Islam,” suggests that Rolling Stone is telling America’s youth that Tsarnaev “is just like you!”
And she’s probably right — not on the issue of her war with Islam, but on the idea that Tsarnaev should be seen as an American youth.
He’s just turned 19, he’s a U.S. citizen, he likes hip hop, he’s smoked a lot of weed and he obviously thinks it’s cool to look cool.
This isn’t a land of saints and to belong to the ranks of American youth does not preclude the possibility of doing some awful things before even reaching adulthood. Does ‘cool’ connote any particular virtues? Not that I’ve noticed.
If there’s one thing worth highlighting more than anything else about Tsarnaev, it is precisely his normality. He doesn’t seem to have been unhinged like James Eagan Holmes, Jared Lee Loughner, or Adam Lanza.
Is it disturbing that an ordinary American kid could be involved in a bombing that killed three people and injured many more? Sure.
But that doesn’t mean we now have to plunge into denial and pretend that he wasn’t really an American kid or that there are horns concealed under his locks of hair or that his name or religion makes him foreign.
Osama bin Laden had some Christ-like features and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev looks a bit like Jim Morrison.
Maybe the problem isn’t the images — it’s the simplistic ideas we have about terrorism.
Albany Times Union reports: An industrial mechanic with General Electric Co., who is also allegedly a member of the Ku Klux Klan, designed a deadly mobile radiation device that he intended to sell to Jewish groups or a southern branch of the Ku Klux Klan, according to a federal complaint unsealed Wednesday in Albany.
The device was intended to be a truck-mounted radiation particle weapon that could be remotely controlled and capable of silently aiming a lethal beam of radioactivity at its human targets. The concept was that victims would eventually die from radiation sickness.
Glendon Scott Crawford, 49, of Galway, is accused in a federal complaint of developing “a radiation emitting device that could be placed in the back of a van to covertly emit ionizing radiation strong enough to bring about radiation sickness or death against Crawford’s enemies,” states the complaint attributed to an FBI agent.
Eric J. Feight, 54, of Hudson, also is identified as a co-conspirator and listed in the complaint as Crawford’s acquaintance. Feight works for an electronics company in Columbia County. He is accused in a federal complaint of agreeing to help Crawford construct the electronic controls for the device.
Crawford never actually obtained a radiation source and the device was not fully constructed, officials said. During the past year, the complaint indicates he was dealing with an undercover FBI agent pretending to be a supplier of radiation equipment, such as x-ray tubes used in construction projects or medical devices. At one point, the undercover agent sent an email to Crawford showing different x-ray systems that could be supplied.
The investigation broke open in April 2012 when Crawford allegedly went into an Albany-area synagogue and “asked to speak with a person who might be willing to help him with a type of technology that could be used by Israel to defeat its enemies, specifically, by killing Israel’s enemies while they slept,” the complaint says. He referred to Muslims and enemies of the United States as “medical waste,” according to court records. [Continue reading...]
Orlando Weekly: On Wednesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations requested a private investigation of last week’s deadly shooting of an Orlando man by an FBI agent who was questioning his connection to Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamarlan Tsarnaev.
CAIR-Tampa executive director Hassan Shibly announced that, through anonymous “intermediary” sources, he learned that Ibragim Todashev was unarmed when he was shot by the agent.
“We confirmed today with our sources that he was unarmed,” Shibly said. “He was shot seven times, and once in the head.”
After the news conference, Khusen Taramov – a friend of Todashev’s – showed photos of Todashev’s body. The photos were taken at an Orlando funeral home after the Orange-Osceola County Medical Examiner released the body to Todashev’s family.
Mehdi Hasan writes: Did you know that the alleged ringleader in the 11 September 2001 attacks had originally planned to land one of the hijacked US airliners and give a speech to the assembled press corps? Can you guess what he wanted to rant about, live on Fox News? Seventy-two virgins in heaven? Nope. The need for sharia law? Guess again. According to the report of the official 9/11 commission, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had intended to “deliver a speech excoriating US support for Israel… and repressive governments in the Arab world”.
In the vexed discussion about extremism and radicalisation, foreign policy is the issue that dare not speak its name. Our leaders zealously police the parameters of the debate, pre-emptively warning off those who might dare connect the dots between wars abroad and terror at home. It would be “wrong”, said the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, on the morning after the attack in Woolwich, “to try to draw any link between this murder and British foreign policy”.
Really? The problem for Johnson is that the “link” was made by none other than one of the suspects in the barbaric killing of Drummer Lee Rigby, Michael Adebolajo. Straight after the murder. On camera. “The only reason we killed this man… is because Muslims are dying daily,” he said. “This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Are we expected to ignore such statements? Or notice only the references to “Muslims”?
To highlight this is to invite inevitable and hysterical criticism; I will be accused of apologising for acts of terror, or condoning them. So permit me to issue a pre-buttal: there is no moral justification for the deliberate killing of non-combatants. Nothing – no cause, no war, no grievance – justifies the murder of innocents. Yet establishment figures continue to denounce those of us who cite the radicalising role of foreign policy as (to quote the former US state department spokesman James Rubin) “excuse-makers” for al-Qaeda. To explain is not to excuse. The inconvenient truth for Rubin, Johnson et al is that Muslim extremists usually cite political, not theological, justifications for their horrendous crimes. [Continue reading...]
The Washington Post reports: A Chechen man who was fatally shot by an FBI agent last week during an interview about one of the Boston bombing suspects was unarmed, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
An air of mystery has surrounded the FBI shooting of Ibragim Todashev, 27, since it occurred in Todashev’s apartment early on the morning of May 22. The FBI said in a news release that day that Todashev, a former Boston resident who knew bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed during an interview with several law enforcement officers.
The FBI has provided few other details, saying that the matter is being investigated by an FBI review team that may not finish its probe for several months.
“The FBI takes very seriously any shooting incidents involving our agents and as such we have an effective, time-tested process for addressing them internally,” FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said in a statement Wednesday. “The review process is thorough and objective and conducted as expeditiously as possible under the circumstances.”
Seumas Milne writes: Eight years on, nothing has been learned. In the week since a British soldier was horrifically stabbed to death by London jihadists on the streets of Woolwich, it’s July 2005 all over again. David Cameron immediately rushed to set up a task force and vowed to ban “hate clerics”. Now the home secretary wants to outlaw “nonviolent extremist” organisations, censor broadcasters and websites and revive plans to put the whole country’s phone and web records under surveillance.
“Kneejerk” barely does it justice. As for the impact on Muslims, the backlash has if anything been worse than in 2005, when 52 Londoners were killed by suicide bombers. As the police and a BBC reporter described the alleged killers as of “Muslim appearance” (in other words, non-white), Islamophobic attacks spiked across the country. In the first five days 10 mosques were attacked, culminating in a triple petrol bombing in Grimsby.
As politicians and the media congratulated themselves that Britain was “calmly carrying on as usual”, it won’t have felt like that to the Muslim woman who had her veil ripped off and was knocked unconscious in Bolton. Nor, presumably, to the family of 75-year-old Mohammed Saleem, stabbed to death in Birmingham in what had all the hallmarks of an Islamophobic attack last month – or, for that matter, the nearly two-thirds of the population who think there will be a “clash of civilisations” between white Britons and Muslims, up 9% since the Woolwich atrocity. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: The murder of a soldier in south London on Wednesday has prompted fears of a backlash against British Muslims after the English Defence League staged an impromptu rally in the capital and two mosques were attacked.
The BNP leader, Nick Griffin, has also reacted to the killing with provocative tweets calling for a protest in Woolwich and claiming the crime is the result of “mass immigration”.
Farooq Murad of the Muslim Council of Britain said the EDL’s rally in London on Wednesday night was cause for concern.
“When attacks like these happen there’s always the danger of far-right extremism also raising its head,” he told the BBC.
“I think any form of extremism, any form of encouragement or incitement to violence, is something we stand firmly against.”
The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, stressed that the murder should not be viewed as a religiously motivated crime, saying: “I want to make one obvious point that is that it is completely wrong to blame this killing on the religion of Islam and it is also equally wrong to link this murder to the actions of British foreign policy.” [Continue reading...]
The Independent reports: One of the two men involved in the Woolwich terror attack was known to a banned Islamist organisation and went by the name of Mujahid, The Independent has learned.
Anjem Choudary, the former leader of the group, Al Muhajiroun, confirmed that he had known the man who was seen on video in the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s horrific killing waving a cleaver with bloodied hands and making political statements.
Details began to emerge as Prime Minister David Cameron chaired a meeting of the Government emergency committee Cobra at 10 Downing Street.
Mr Choudary said Mujahid, who he said had converted to Islam in 2003 and was a British-born Nigerian, had stopped attending meetings of Al Muhajiroun and its successor organisations two years ago. The former solicitor said he had also known “Mujahid” as Michael.
Sources today named one of the suspects as 28-year-old Michael Adebolajo.
He told The Independent: “I knew him as Mujahid. He attended our meetings and my lectures. I wouldn’t describe him as a member [of Al Muhajiroun]. There were lots of people who came to our activities who weren’t necessarily members.
“He was a pleasant, quiet guy. He reverted to Islam in about 2003. He was just a completely normal guy. He was interested in Islam, in memorising the Koran. He disappeared about two years ago. I don’t know what influences he has been under since then.”
Founded in 1983 by Islamist Omar Bakri Muhammad, Al Muhajiroun became notorious for attempting to justify the 9/11 attacks and fomenting Islamist rhetoric in Britain.
Mr Choudary, who has long been a controversial figures in Britain’s Islamist circles, has been an outspoken critic of British military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But he insisted that he had never preached that attacks on British troops or security personnel in Britain were justified.
Mr Choudary said: “My position is clear. There is a covenant which says that in return for Muslims being allowed to live peacefully and practice their faith in Britain, then it is forbidden to attack the British authorities, soldiers, in the UK.
“When people go abroad then the inhabitants of those countries have a right to defend themselves. The biggest aggravating factor we have today is British foreign policy.” [Continue reading...]
The Daily Mail reports: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sent a written warning about accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2012, long before pressure-cooker blasts killed three and injured hundreds, according to a senior Saudi government official with direct knowledge of the document.
The Saudi warning, the official told MailOnline, was separate from the multiple red flags raised by Russian intelligence in 2011, and was based on human intelligence developed independently in Yemen.
Citing security concerns, the Saudi government also denied an entry visa to the elder Tsarnaev brother in December 2011, when he hoped to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the source said. Tsarnaev’s plans to visit Saudi Arabia have not been previously disclosed.
John Cassidy writes: Here’s a little mental experiment. Imagine, for a moment, that the Tsarnaev brothers, instead of packing a couple of pressure cookers loaded with nails and explosives into their backpacks a week ago Monday, had stuffed inside their coats two assault rifles — Bushmaster AR-15s, say, of the type that Adam Lanza used in Newtown. What would have been different?
Well, for one thing, the brothers would probably have killed a lot more than three people at the marathon. AR-15s can fire up to forty-five rounds a minute, and at close range they can tear apart a human body. If the Tsarnaevs had started firing near the finish line, they might easily have killed dozens of spectators and runners before fleeing or being shot by the police.
The second thing that would have been different is the initial public reaction. Most Americans associate bomb attacks with terrorists. When they hear of mass shootings, they tend to think of sociopaths and unbalanced post-adolescents. If the Tsarnaevs had managed to carry out a gun massacre unharmed and escaped, their identities unknown, would the first presumption have been that the shooters were Islamic extremists? Or would people have looked in another direction?
Third, had the attack been carried out with assault rifles rather than explosives and nails, the gun-control bills that perished on Capitol Hill just two days after the Boston bombings may have met a different fate. After yet another gun massacre, this one on the streets of Boston, it’s hard to imagine the White House wouldn’t have been able to summon up sixty votes in the Senate for expanded background checks. The proposed ban on assault weapons would surely have gotten the support of more than forty senators, too, and the proposal to ban multi-round magazines would also have gained more support — that’s if the gun lobby hadn’t managed to postpone the votes until emotions had cooled, which it would certainly have tried to do.
Finally, there’s the question of what would have happened to the Tsarnaevs after they had been caught — that’s assuming one or both of them had survived the attack. Just for the sake of argument, let’s say things had developed pretty much as they did, with Tamerlan, the elder brother, being killed, and Dzhokhar, the younger brother, being wounded and captured. Would the government have charged him with conspiring to use “weapons of mass destruction,” a count that could lead to the death penalty? And if they had done this, what would it have meant for the future of assault weapons? Once they’d been classified as W.M.D.s, would that have not made a difference to the public debate about how freely available they should be? [Continue reading...]