Susan Stellin writes: Governments wade into treacherous waters when they compile lists of people who might cause their countries harm. As fears about Japanese-Americans and Communists have demonstrated in the past, predictions about individual behavior are often inaccurate, the motivations for list-making aren’t always noble and concerns about threats are frequently overblown.
So it might seem that current efforts to identify and track potential terrorists would be approached with caution. Yet the federal government’s main terrorist watch list has grown to at least 700,000 people, with little scrutiny over how the determinations are made or the impact on those marked with the terrorist label.
“If you’ve done the paperwork correctly, then you can effectively enter someone onto the watch list,” said Anya Bernstein, an associate professor at the SUNY Buffalo Law School and author of “The Hidden Costs of Terrorist Watch Lists,” published by the Buffalo Law Review in May. “There’s no indication that agencies undertake any kind of regular retrospective review to assess how good they are at predicting the conduct they’re targeting.”
What’s more, the government refuses to confirm or deny whether someone is on the list, officially called the Terrorist Screening Database, or divulge the criteria used to make the decisions — other than to say the database includes “individuals known or suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism and terrorist activities.”
Even less is known about the secondary watch lists that are derived from the main one, including the no-fly list (used to prevent people from boarding aircraft), the selectee and expanded selectee lists (used to flag travelers for extra screening at airport checkpoints), the TECS database (used to vet people entering or leaving the United States), the Consular Lookout and Support System (used to screen visa applications) and the known or suspected terrorists list (used by law enforcement in routine police encounters).
For people who have landed on these lists, the terrorist designation has been difficult to challenge legally — although that may be about to change. On Monday, a lawsuit brought by a traveler seeking removal of her name from the no-fly list, or at least due process to challenge that list, is going to trial in Federal District Court in San Francisco, after almost eight years of legal wrangling. [Continue reading...]
Morris Davis writes: Twelve years ago, on 13 November 2001, President George W Bush signed an order authorizing the detention of suspected al-Qaida members and supporters, and the creation of military commissions. To borrow a line from the Grateful Dead: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
The order was modeled on one issued by President Franklin D Roosevelt on 2 July 1942, authorizing a military commission to try eight Nazi saboteurs apprehended in the United States. The men were captured, convicted and six of the eight executed in a span of 43 days. Roosevelt’s military commission was swift, secret and severe, so some urged President Bush to dust it off and use it again.
A total of seven detainees out of the 779 men ever held at Guantánamo have been convicted and sentenced. Five of the seven are no longer at Guantánamo creating a paradox: you have to lose to win. Those lucky enough to get charged and convicted of a war crime have good odds of getting out of Guantánamo, but those who are never charged could spend the rest of their lives in prison. [Continue reading...]
Andrew Bacevich writes: On the list of U.S. military priorities, Africa has always ranked right smack at the bottom. Now that appears to be changing. As Eric Schmitt recently reported in the New York Times, “thousands of soldiers once bound for Iraq or Afghanistan are now gearing up for missions in Africa.” Before the gearing up proceeds much further, Americans might want to ask a few questions. Chief among them are these: Why the sudden shift in priorities? What’s the aim? Who stands to benefit? What risks does the militarization of U.S. policy in Africa entail?
Among the various services, the U.S. Army in particular finds the prospect of an expanded Africa presence appealing. As Schmitt observed, with U.S. forces out of Iraq and soon scheduled to leave Afghanistan, “the Army is looking for new missions around the world.” For Army leaders, Africa spells opportunity, a chance to demonstrate continuing relevance at a time when the nation’s appetite for sending U.S. troops to invade and occupy countries has pretty much evaporated.
Thus, we have U.S. Army Africa, or USARAF, the latest in the Pentagon’s ever-growing roster of military headquarters. The mission of this command, which describes itself as “America’s premier Army team dedicated to positive change in Africa,” manages to be at once reassuringly bland and ominously ambitious. On the one hand, USARAF “strengthens the land force capabilities of African states and regional organizations.” On the other, it “conducts decisive action in order to establish a secure environment and protect the national security interests of the United States.”
One might hope that successfully accomplishing the first half of that mission — U.S. troops training and equipping African counterparts — will preclude the second. More likely, however, such efforts will pave the way for “decisive action,” a euphemism for war.
Let’s discard the euphemisms. Here is a classic example of bureaucratic interests displacing strategic calculation, not to mention common sense, as a basis for policy. For the Navy and Air Force, the Obama administration’s much-ballyhooed “pivot” toward East Asia has come as something of a godsend. Addressing the putative threat posed by a rising China promises to keep those services busy (and flush with cash) for decades to come. Yet apart from a possible resumption of the long-dormant Korean War, Asian scenarios involving a large-scale commitment of Army forces are difficult to conjure up. So expanding the “global war on terrorism” into the heart of Africa allows the Army to make its own pivot. [Continue reading...]
Al Jazeera has obtained a copy of the secret personal diaries of Abu Zubaydah, one of the highest-profile prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. The six notebooks, which were obtained from a former U.S. government intelligence official who worked with the CIA and FBI on Al-Qaeda’s rise to power, were discovered at a safe house in Pakistan where Abu Zubaydah was captured in 2002. Repeatedly cited by U.S. officials in making the case for holding a number of prisoners at Guantanamo, the diaries, which were never officially released, cast fresh light on Abu Zubaydah and challenge some of the Bush administration’s accounts of its “war on terror.” Below are some of the highlights of the first notebook.
Arriving in Afghanistan in 1991, the young computer-science student Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain Abu Zubaydah had no idea of the fateful journey he was embarking on — a journey that, 10 years later, would land him in a CIA black-site prison and then in Guantanamo Bay, branded by President George W. Bush as “one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States.”
“I am actually scared,” he conceded in his diary. “Not of a bullet or a shell, rather of the future itself. If I decide to settle here, it means that I will cancel my education and there is no harm in that, God willing; jihad is a good thing, and I will stay.”
Abu Zubaydah arrived in Afghanistan from Mysore, India, where he had gone against his father’s wishes to study computer science.
“But,” his diary continues, “I am scared that I’ll be left high and dry in the future, God forbid. At that point, I will have no contingent plan to resort to, a degree or a job to lean on.” His fear was not martyrdom but surviving the war in Afghanistan, particularly if he was wounded. “What would I do if the party is over and there is no more jihad in Afghanistan! Where would I go when I have no job and no college degree?”
He was distrustful of the few friends he had, describing many of them as backstabbers. “Friendship is a fantasy, friendship is false.”
So in the diary — which offers deep insight into a man portrayed by the Bush administration as a seminal figure in the “war on terror” — Abu Zubaydah created a friend he could talk to.
“Dear 30-year-old Hani,” the diary begins, referring to himself by a childhood nickname and making clear that the audience is himself 10 years in the future, “Today I have decided to write my memoirs and these words are to you. So, this will be the letter in which I complain to you, get things off my chest, and cry in your arms whenever I feel the need to share my burden, from this silly world, with someone.”
He states that he intends to reread the diary only after he reaches that age. “So, I will be you; the 30 years old Hani, provided that I get to live to meet you.”
Perhaps mindful of how others might interpret his literary device, Abu Zubaydah writes, “I am not a schizophrenic, which is a split personality disease; rather, I am trying to divide myself into two parts because; I believe that everything changes with time, even human beings. Therefore, it is inevitable that you Hani 2 at 30 years of age are different than Hani 1 … Me… at 20 years old.”
FBI agents who read the diaries said that Abu Zubaydah’s writing to a different version of himself proved that he had a “schizophrenic personality.” The correct term for the exhibition of multiple personalities is dissociative identity disorder, however, not schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a disease often characterized by hallucinations or delusions but not by multiple personalities. [Continue reading...]
Giles Fraser writes: As I am walking out of Temple tube station, past a row of young men in uniform selling poppies – men who look as if they have seen too much bloodshed in places like Afghanistan – I can’t help but speculate to myself about the identity of the person I am about to meet.
Will he really be what he claims to be – an innocent victim of post 9/11 panic? Or is he a “specially designated global terrorist”, previously connected to Osama Bin Laden and a financier of international terrorism, as US law continues to maintain? It feels odd to be meeting him in central London.
And yet, except in the very vaguest of terms, no one has ever told Sheikh Yassin Abdullah Kadi what he is supposed to have done. The US evidence against the Saudi Arabian former architect is classified. His lawyers cannot see it. He cannot see it. And so, for 11 years, Sheikh Kadi has been fighting an invisible charge.
When Franz Kafka wrote The Trial back in 1914/5, he thought his story far-fetched, more an existentialist dystopia than a prophecy of future events. Joseph K is arrested on an unknown charge and brought before a secret court where the charge is never explained. But a century later, this doesn’t feel at all far-fetched. [Continue reading...]
Micah Zenko writes: When National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden first revealed himself in a video interview five months ago as the source of leaked documents exposing the NSA’s collection of phone and data records of U.S. citizens, he noted: “The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change.”
Despite the rapid pace of the NSA revelations, the subsequent claims and counterclaims of U.S. officials (and the fact that nobody possesses the policy, technical, operational, and legal background required to accurately characterize these stories and place them within a proper historical and global context), there’s still one thing that can no longer be denied: The Snowden-supplied documents have instigated a global conversation about U.S. surveillance that will undoubtedly result in changes to the scope and conduct of certain NSA programs. And in fact, it’s happening already.
Within the last week alone we have learned that the Obama administration authorized an internal review that brought to light the existence of a program used to spy on numerous world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (This investigation complements an independent review of U.S. surveillance efforts conducted by former officials and experts, which will present its findings by year’s end.) Even the staunch defender of the NSA, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, announced: “the committee will initiate a major review into all intelligence collection programs.” Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that U.S. electronic surveillance was “on an automatic pilot because the technology is there,” and “in some cases, it has reached too far inappropriately.” And for the first time since the Snowden leaks, White House spokesperson Jay Carney acknowledged the agency’s overreach saying, “We recognize that there need to be additional constraints on how we gather and use intelligence.”
Yet, Snowden’s most meaningful and enduring impact will not be prompting U.S. electronic surveillance policy reform. Rather, what these five post-Snowden months have demonstrated is that inflating terrorist threats to justify expansive and invasive executive branch powers no longer resonates with the general public or most policymakers. That default appeal to 9/11 and vague warnings of terrorism that Bush and Obama administration officials relied upon to shape opinions and silence critics is no longer sufficient or acceptable.
Still, intelligence officials continue to defend the NSA as just another federal agency dedicated solely to protecting American citizens from terrorism. In his opening testimony before the House Permanent Intelligence Committee last week, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander re-used this same old trope:
“First, how did we get here? How did we end up here? 9/11 — 2,996 people were killed in 9/11. We all distinctly remember that. What I remember the most was those firemen running up the stairs to save people, to there themselves lose their lives. We had this great picture that was created afterward of a fireman handing a flag off to the military, and I’d say the intelligence community, and the military and the intelligence community said: ‘We’ve got it from here.’”
Sorry, Keith: the NSA was not created on Sept. 12, 2001, but came into existence on Nov. 4, 1952. [Continue reading...]
David Rohde writes: Three disclosures this week show that the United States is losing its way in the struggle against terrorism. Sweeping government efforts to stop attacks are backfiring abroad and infringing on basic rights at home.
CIA drone strikes are killing scores of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen. The National Security Agency is eavesdropping on tens of millions of phone calls worldwide — including those of 35 foreign leaders — in the name of U.S. security.
And the Department of Homeland Security is using algorithms to “prescreen” travelers before they board domestic flights, reviewing government and private databases that include Americans’ tax identification numbers, car registrations and property records.
Will we create a Minority Report-style Department of Precrime next?
Obama administration officials have a duty to protect Americans from terrorism. But out-of-control NSA surveillance, an ever-expanding culture of secrecy and still-classified rules for how and when foreigners and even Americans can be killed by drone strikes are excessive, unnecessary and destructive.
Twelve years after September 11, 2001, the United States’ obsession with al Qaeda is doing more damage to the nation than the terrorist group itself. [Continue reading...]
Stephan Richter and Jan Philipp Albrecht write: The latest wave of spying scandals should prompt close scrutiny of the often bizarre mechanisms that shape the transatlantic relationship. There are of course numerous European transatlantic apologists. For them, any hint of holding the US accountable as a responsible global power goes out the window. Such lofty talk is reserved for China.
And then there is a group of largely American analysts, diplomats and journalists who make a point of challenging the Europeans on any point of principle. Their mantra goes: everyone spies on everyone – what else did you expect? They regard Europeans collectively as naive, not cut out for the tough world that’s out there.
What gets lost in all this is the root cause of the current scandals. It is decidedly not that Europeans live on Venus. It is the catastrophic lack of effective checks and balances in the US.
In one sense the spying revelations show that other nations have little to complain about. They are, after all, not being treated any worse by US authorities than American citizens themselves.
What the European unease, at both the popular and senior political levels, highlights, however, is the big difference between the US and Europe. Europeans still operate under the assumption that it is critical to uphold the rule of law. The US government is more than flexible with the rule of law by turning any notion of privacy into Swiss cheese. The dangerous implications this holds for the core ideas of democracy are obvious.
But it isn’t just that the US government has undermined the rule of law at home. It is that American citizens themselves, to a stunningly large extent, have bought into the notion that the “war on terror” and “Islamic extremism” justify all means. Their acquiescence, if not active tolerance, is what allows Washington to operate above the law, from drones to routinely spying on the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the Spanish people, to name but a few of the targets. [Continue reading...]
To be blunt, what this boils down to is America’s ill-conceived response to 9/11.
No doubt, the attacks were devastating to those directly affected and had a traumatic effect on the whole nation. Yet the appropriate function of political leadership in a democratic country at such a moment was not to channel and amplify collective fear; neither was it to allow fear to legitimize a desire for revenge; nor was there a need for trumpeting American pride.
The need at that moment was to express grief, clean up the mess, and take stock. The need above all was for an expression of wisdom, not power.
Al Qaeda’s goal was to trigger an over-reaction which would itself then serve as a global rallying cry for jihad. George Bush and Dick Cheney rose straight for the bait without a moment’s hesitation. They delivered a simple-minded response — a war on terrorism — for a nation that had forgotten how to think straight.
The foreign leaders are dropping like flies — to American surveillance. I’m talking about serial revelations that the National Security Agency has been spying on Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, two Mexican presidents, Felipe Calderón (whose office the NSA called “a lucrative source”) and his successor Enrique Peña Nieto, at least while still a candidate, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It’s now evidently part of the weekly news cycle to discover that the NSA has hacked into the emails or listened into the phone conversations of yet another allied leader. Reportedly, that agency has been listening in on the phone calls of at least 35 world leaders. Within 48 hours last week, President Obama was obliged to call an irritated President François Hollande, after Le Monde reported that the NSA was massively collecting French phone calls and emails, including those of politicians and business people, and received a call from an outraged Merkel, whose cell phone conversations were reportedly monitored by the NSA. Of course, when you build a global surveillance state and your activities, thanks to a massive leak of documents, become common knowledge, you have to expect global anger to rise and spread. With 196 countries on the planet, there are a lot of calls assumedly still to come in, even as the president and top Washington officials hem and haw about the necessity of maintaining the security of Americans while respecting the privacy of citizens and allies, refuse to directly apologize, claim that an “exhaustive” review of surveillance practices is underway, and hope that this, too, shall pass.
In the meantime, on a second front, the news is again bad for Washington, as upset and dismay once largely restricted to the tribal backlands of the planet seem to be spreading. I’m talking here about the global assassination campaigns being conducted from the White House, based in part on a “kill list” of terrorist suspects and using the president’s private air force, the growing drone fleets of the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command. In the last week, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have come out with reports on the U.S. drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen debunking White House claims that few civilians are dying in those strikes and raising serious questions about their legality. In two of the six drone strikes it investigated in Yemen, Human Rights Watch reported the killing of “civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths.” In a surprising development, Amnesty brought a powerful, historically resonant term to bear, claiming that some of the cases of civilian drone deaths it investigated in Pakistan might constitute “war crimes” for which those responsible should stand trial. (“Amnesty International has serious concerns that this attack violated the prohibition of the arbitrary deprivation of life and may constitute war crimes or extrajudicial executions.”)
And just arriving, reports from the U.N. special rapporteur on drones, Ben Emmerson, and its special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Christof Heyns. It’s already clear that these will not please the White House, where the usual denials and self-justifications — however lame they may increasingly sound outside the United States — still rule the day. (“U.S. counterterrorism operations are precise, they are lawful, and they are effective.”) After a recent visit to Pakistan, Emmerson said, “The consequence of drone strikes has been to radicalize an entirely new generation.” A former high-level U.S. State Department official in Yemen claims that each U.S. drone strike in that country creates “40 to 60 new enemies of America.” Emmerson and Heyns are now demanding far greater “transparency” from a secretive Washington on the subject of its drone killings.
Call both the blanketing surveillance and the drone revelations symptoms of a larger disease. In the years before 9/11, the U.S. focused its global attentions on what it then called “rogue states.” Devoted since that date to perpetual war across significant parts of the planet and to a surveillance apparatus geared to leave no one anywhere in privacy, the U.S. now resembles a rogue superpower to an increasingly resistant and restless world. No single reporter has done more than Jeremy Scahill to bring us back news of how, in the post-9/11 years, Washington took its wars into the darkness, how it helped create a landscape of blowback abroad, and just how such roguery works when it comes to a superpower — from missile strikes in Yemen to a secret CIA prison in Somalia to kick-down-the-door killings of innocents by Special Operations types in Afghanistan. His bestselling book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, is a revelation, a secret history of twenty-first-century war, American-style.
Today, as the drone story continues to unfold, as ever more countries once considered the sorts of allies that would never say no to a request from Washington, balk at, resist, or ignore Obama administration desires, it’s an honor to have the epilogue to Dirty Wars posted exclusively at TomDispatch for the first time, thanks to the kindness of Scahill’s publisher, Nation Books. Consider it the gripping backstory for what, in time, could become the equivalent of a global uprising against the last superpower of planet Earth. Tom Engelhardt
How does the Global War on Terror ever end?
By Jeremy Scahill
[This epilogue to Scahill’s bestselling book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, is posted with the kind permission of its publisher, Nation Books.]
On January 21, 2013, Barack Obama was inaugurated for his second term as president of the United States. Just as he had promised when he began his first campaign for president six years earlier, he pledged again to turn the page on history and take U.S. foreign policy in a different direction. “A decade of war is now ending,” Obama declared. “We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.”
By Justin Elliott and Theodoric Meyer, ProPublica, October 23, 2013
Two weeks after Edward Snowden’s first revelations about sweeping government surveillance, President Obama shot back. “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States, but, in some cases, threats here in Germany,” Obama said during a visit to Berlin in June. “So lives have been saved.”
In the months since, intelligence officials, media outlets, and members of Congress from both parties all repeated versions of the claim that NSA surveillance has stopped more than 50 terrorist attacks. The figure has become a key talking point in the debate around the spying programs.
“Fifty-four times this and the other program stopped and thwarted terrorist attacks both here and in Europe 2014 saving real lives,” Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said on the House floor in July, referring to programs authorized by a pair of post-9/11 laws. “This isn’t a game. This is real.”
But there’s no evidence that the oft-cited figure is accurate.
Malise Ruthven writes: Tolstoy’s novella Hadji Murad opens with the image of a beautiful thistle flower, wrenched from a ditch, that the narrator seeks to add to his bouquet. His effort to pluck it, however,
proved a very difficult task. Not only did the stalk prick on every side—even through the handkerchief I wrapped round my hand—but it was so tough that I had to struggle with it for nearly five minutes, breaking the fibres one by one; and when I had at last plucked it, the stalk was all frayed, and the flower itself no longer seemed so fresh and beautiful…. But what energy and tenacity! With what determination it defended itself, and how dearly it sold its life!
This late masterpiece, written in 1904 but never published in Tolstoy’s lifetime, was based on a real-life episode. In 1851 the Avar warlord Hajimurad al-Khunzaki, a confederate of the Imam Shamil, who led the resistance to Russia’s annexation of the Caucasus, betrayed his ally and went over to the Russians. In Tolstoy’s story he is driven by ambition, hoping to govern the Caucasian tribes under the “white tsar.”
The most telling portrayals in the story — apart from Hadji Murad himself, with his thistle-like mix of bravery, integrity, cunning, confusion, and childlike candor — are the complementary, almost symmetrical descriptions of Tsar Nicholas I and the Imam Shamil, both of whom are depicted as cold-eyed, ruthless autocrats who represent opposing forces of absolutism. As Tolstoy himself explained:
It is not only Haji Murad and his tragic end that interest me. I am fascinated by the parallel between the two main figures pitted against each other: Shamil and Nicholas I. They represent the two poles of absolutism — Asiatic and European.
The reality, however, was a great deal more complicated than a clash of absolutisms. Far from being the cold and ruthless autocrat depicted by Tolstoy, Shamil, as the murshid, or spiritual guide, of the orthodox Muslim Khalidiyya-Naqshbandiyya order, was a leader who sustained the loyalty of the warring Caucasian tribes by diplomacy rather than force. A Russian source described him as “a man of great tact and a subtle politician.” His charismatic appeal was underpinned by his reputation for piety and evenhandedness in dispensing justice in accordance with Islamic sharia norms. These had been severely tested when the Russians introduced alcohol into the region, corrupting, by sharia standards, the tribal chiefs who became their clients.
As a renowned warlord and tribal leader, Hadji Murad had been a Russian loyalist, defending Avaristan in the eastern part of Daghestan against Shamil’s encroachments. It was only after the Russians had replaced him as their client in Avaristan by a rival who had him arrested and abused that Hadji Murad responded to Shamil’s overtures and joined the jihad.
The result of his defection in January 1841 had been dramatic: by April Shamil ruled an area three times as large as at the beginning of 1840, with a cascade of formerly compliant clans joining the jihad. Hadji Murad’s rift with Shamil was a classic example of hubris. Hoping to be named his successor as imam, he refused to recognize the nomination of Shamil’s eldest son, Ghazi Muhammad. Faced with this challenge to his authority, Shamil convened a secret council that charged Hadji Murad with treason and sentenced him to death. Warned by friends, he redefected to the Russians in November 1851.
As an anthropologist with deep knowledge and direct experience of tribal systems, Akbar Ahmed demonstrates in The Thistle and the Drone how richly Tolstoy’s thistle metaphor applies to contemporary conditions in regions, distant from urban centers, where clans resist the writ of government while also engaging with it. He points to their “love of freedom” to act without external constraints, as well as
egalitarianism, [and] a tribal lineage system defined by common ancestors and clans, a martial tradition, and a highly developed code of honor and revenge — these are the thistle-like characteristics of the tribal societies…. Moreover, as with the thistle, there is a clear correlation between their prickliness, or toughness, and the level of force used by those who wish to subdue these societies, as the Americans discovered after 9/11.
Ahmed is especially troubled by the use of drones against Muslim tribal groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, but his analysis of the nature of the state and its relation with tribal peoples has application far beyond the condition of Muslim tribal societies. [Continue reading...]
David Mizner writes: The U.S. government kills a lot of Muslims. With its war against Afghanistan, its sanctions on and wars against Iraq, its drone campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, it’s probably killed more than a million Muslims in the last quarter century. Let’s say a million. That’s more than a 9/11’s worth of corpses every month. And that doesn’t include the killing done by governments the United States props up and arms. Nor does it account for torture, maiming, poisoning, and terrorization. The brutalization of Muslims might be the defining feature of U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold War era.
Not many Americans care. Their — our — indifference is both cause and effect of the dominant tenor of antiwar advocacy in the United States. Pundits and politicians tell Americans that we should oppose this or that American war or this or that involvement in another country’s war because it would hurt … Americans. It would cost “us” money. Or put “our” soldiers “in harm’s way.” Or threaten our safety. Or subvert our democracy. Or tarnish our reputation. Or violate our constitution. Rarely mentioned are the bodies ripped apart by the U.S. military monster. Rachel Maddow wrote an entire book opposing U.S. war-making and made only fleeting references to non-American victims.
During the debate over the proposed U.S. bombing of Syria, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni set out to remind us of the human toll of war. Justly taking aim at the expression “boots on the ground,” he pointed out that there would be people in those boots — so far, so good — but didn’t think to mention that Syrian footwear would be similarly inhabited. He went on to say that “the toll of our best intentions and tortured interventions” in Iraq and Afghanistan are thousands of dead, injured, and traumatized Americans.
Of the tens of millions of Iraqi and Afghan victims he wrote not a word. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Americans wars have given entire populations PTSD.
While the overwhelming opposition of Americans to (further) U.S. military intervention in Syria’s civil war was heartening, the rhetoric of some leading opponents was sickening. Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL), warning against intervention from the ostensible left, kept saying that the suffering of Syrians was “none of our business.” In an interview on Democracy Now he wandered into truly dark territory when he seconded the stateswoman from Alaska: “…Palin actually has this right: Let Allah sort it out.”
I’m not suggesting that opponents of war should use only moral arguments; they’re wise to try to appeal to people’s self-interest, and nationalism in pursuit of peace is, if not a virtue, nonetheless preferable to nationalism in pursuit of war. Likewise, antiwar advocates on the Left can’t afford to be finicky about allies: I’d team up with the ideological descendants of Charles Lindberg to try to stop a U.S. military intervention. But nowadays, to listen to the rhetoric of mainstream war opponents is to hear a story in which foreign victims of American wars — almost always people of color — do not appear. The popular way of opposing war draws on the very chauvinism and racism that produce war. [Continue reading...]
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: Last May, a Syrian insurgent told The National’s Phil Sands about a meeting with US intelligence operators in Jordan. The rebel commander was hoping to procure weapons to resist a regime bristling with Russian arms. But he was surprised to learn that the Americans were more interested in the composition and activities of the opposition group Jabhat Al Nusra. Until the regime provoked the US with its use of poison gas, checking its serial atrocities was a secondary concern. The CIA was collecting coordinates of potential targets for its drones.
This hierarchy of concerns might seem at odds with the US rhetorical posture. But Damascus – until recently a preferred destination for CIA rendition flights – has successfully sapped US sympathy for the opposition by deploying the spectre of Al Qaeda. The opposition comprises myriad elements, most of them non-violent; foreign jihadists too have joined its ranks. But the regime and its backers in Tehran and Moscow have consistently exaggerated their strength. Consequently, the US, though not keen to see President Bashar Al Assad triumph, is less keen to see the opposition win and potentially add to the insecurity of Israel.
In the post-9/11 paranoia, many rogues have endeavoured to portray their local adversaries as part of a global terrorist threat. Russia did it with the Chechens; China with Uighurs; Israel with Palestinians – they all claimed to be fighting a “war on terror” against the same Islamist menace that threatened America. Others have followed the template. “Painting their peripheries as associated with Al Qaeda,” writes Akbar Ahmed in his remarkable new book The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam, “many countries have sought to join the terror network because of the extensive benefits that it brings. They use the rhetoric of the war on terror to both justify their oppressive policies and to ingratiate themselves with the United States and the international system”.
This failure to distinguish regional struggles from global militancy allowed many states to harness US power to settle local disputes. The conflict between a centralising, hierarchical state and a recalcitrant, egalitarian periphery is not unique to Pakistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). In the multi-ethnic Orient, geography rarely corresponds with identity. Many tribal societies have been left excluded on the margins. In turn they have resisted modernisation, seeing it as the centre’s tool for expanding its authority. Some of these conflicts, as in Chechnya, have simmered for centuries. But in most places, modus vivendi were evolved guaranteeing the autonomy of tribes while upholding state sovereignty.
The war on terror has disrupted this balance. [Continue reading...]
‘See something, say something’ campaign creates massive database of useless info from citizens spying on each other
TechDirt: The ACLU’s recent release of “Suspicious Activity Reports” from various California law enforcement agencies (working with DHS Fusion Centers) shows that the government has developed a strong culture of paranoia through its increasingly-broad anti-terrorism efforts. The catchphrase, “If you see something, say something,” has resulted in plenty of seeing and saying, but has failed to turn up much in the way of usable counter-terrorism intelligence.
Much in the way that intelligence agencies like gathering data “just in case,” the Fusion Centers are aided and abetted by law enforcement officials who are willing to add to the data piles by approaching anything “suspicious” (very broadly defined) as potentially terrorist-related. This state-approved paranoia has spilled over into the private sector as the documents detail several second-hand reports from concerned citizens.
In both cases (law enforcement and private individuals), much of the “suspicion” seems to be based solely on reported persons being (or appearing to be) Middle Eastern. This term shows up so often it’s often simply abbreviated as ME. For instance, page 21 has a report of some “suspicious” photography occurring on a Metrolink train, involving two people, one dressed in a “‘Middle Eastern’ costume.” [Continue reading...]