Peter Van Buren: Undue process in Washington

What a world we’re in. Thanks to smartphones, iPads, and the like, everyone is now a photographer, but it turns out that, in the public landscape, there’s ever less to photograph. So here are a few tips for living more comfortably in a photographically redacted version of our post-9/11 world.

Even if you’re a professional photographer, don’t try to take a picture of Korita Kent’s “Rainbow Swash.”  It’s “one of the largest copyrighted pieces of art in the world,” painted atop a 140-foot-high liquefied natural gas tower in Dorchester, Massachusetts.  James Prigoff, a former senior vice president of the Sara Lee Corporation and a known photographer, tried to do so and was confronted by two security guards who stopped him.  Later, though he left no information about himself and was in a rented car, he was tracked down by the FBI.  Evidently he had been dumped into the government’s Suspicious Activity Reporting program run by the Bureau and the Department of Homeland Security.  (And when you end up on a list like that, we know that it’s always a living hell to get off it again.)  He sums up his situation this way: “So, consider this: A professional photographer taking a photo of a well-known Boston landmark is now considered to be engaged in suspicious terrorist activity?”

And while you’re at it, don’t photograph the water tower in Farmer’s Branch, Texas (as professional photographer Allison Smith found out), or planes taxiing to takeoff at the Denver airport (if you have a Middle Eastern look to you), or that dangerous “Welcome to Texas City” sign (as Austin photographer Lance Rosenfield discovered when stopped by BP security guards and only let off after “a stern lecture about terrorists and folks wandering around snapping photos”), or even the police handcuffing someone on the street from your own front lawn (as Rochester, New York, neighborhood activist Emily Good was doing when the police cuffed and arrested her for the criminal misdemeanor of “obstructing governmental administration”).

The ACLU has just launched a suit challenging that Suspicious Activity Reporting database, claiming quite correctly — as Linda Lye, one of their lawyers, puts it — that the “problem with the suspicious-activity reporting program is that it sweeps up innocent Americans who have done nothing more than engage in innocent, everyday activity, like buying laptops or playing video games. It encourages racial and religious profiling, and targets constitutionally protected activity like photography.”

You know the old phrase, “it’s a free world?”  Well, don’t overdo it any more, thank you very much.  Your safety, your security, and the well-being of an ever-expanding, ever more aggressive national (and local) security state and its various up-arming and up-armoring policing outfits increasingly trump that freedom.  And let’s face it, when it comes to your safety not from most of the real dangers of our American lives but from “terrorism,” freedom itself really has been oversold.  Remember the famous phrase from the height of the Cold War era, “better dead than red”?  It seems to have been updated without the commies.  Now, it’s something like: “better surveilled than sorry.”  And based on that, all behavior is fast becoming potentially suspicious behavior.

Since 2013, State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren has been covering our new world of constricting freedoms in what he’s termed “Post-Constitutional America” for TomDispatch.  With this look at the government’s newfound “right” to kill an American citizen without due process, he completes a three-part series on the shredding of the Bill of Rights, the previous two parts having focused on the First Amendment and the Fourth AmendmentTom Engelhardt 

Dead is dead
Drone-killing the Fifth Amendment
By Peter Van Buren

You can’t get more serious about protecting the people from their government than the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, specifically in its most critical clause: “No person shall be… deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” In 2011, the White House ordered the drone-killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki without trial. It claimed this was a legal act it is prepared to repeat as necessary. Given the Fifth Amendment, how exactly was this justified? Thanks to a much contested, recently released but significantly redacted — about one-third of the text is missing — Justice Department white paper providing the basis for that extrajudicial killing, we finally know: the president in Post-Constitutional America is now officially judge, jury, and executioner.

Due Process in Constitutional America

Looking back on the violations of justice that characterized British rule in pre-Constitutional America, it is easy to see the Founders’ intent in creating the Fifth Amendment. A government’s ability to inflict harm on its people, whether by taking their lives, imprisoning them, or confiscating their property, was to be checked by due process.

Due process is the only requirement of government that is stated twice in the Constitution, signaling its importance. The Fifth Amendment imposed the due process requirement on the federal government, while the Fourteenth Amendment did the same for the states. Both offer a crucial promise to the people that fair procedures will remain available to challenge government actions. The broader concept of due process goes all the way back to the thirteenth-century Magna Carta.

Due process, as refined over the years by the Supreme Court, came to take two forms in Constitutional America. The first was procedural due process: people threatened by government actions that might potentially take away life, liberty, or possessions would have the right to defend themselves from a power that sought, whether for good reasons or bad, to deprive them of something important. American citizens were guaranteed their proverbial “day in court.”

The second type, substantive due process, was codified in 1938 to protect those rights so fundamental that they are implicit in liberty itself, even when not spelled out explicitly in the Constitution. Had the concept been in place at the time, a ready example would have been slavery. Though not specifically prohibited by the Constitution, it was on its face an affront to democracy. No court process could possibly have made slavery fair. The same held, for instance, for the “right” to an education, to have children, and so forth. Substantive due process is often invoked by supporters of same-sex unions, who assert that there is a fundamental right to marry. The meaning is crystal clear: there is an inherent, moral sense of “due process” applicable to government actions against any citizen and it cannot be done away with legally. Any law that attempts to interfere with such rights is inherently unconstitutional.

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Tom Engelhardt: The future is not ours (and neither is the past)

Requiem for the American Century
By Tom Engelhardt

First Paragraphs on Turning 70 in the American Century That Was

* Seventy-three years ago, on February 17, 1941, as a second devastating global war approached, Henry Luce, the publisher of Time and Life magazines, called on his countrymen to “create the first great American Century.”  Luce died in 1967 at age 69.  Life, the pictorial magazine no home would have been without in my 1950s childhood, ceased to exist as a weekly in 1972 and as a monthly in 2000; Time, which launched his career as a media mogul, is still wobbling on, a shadow of its former self.  No one today could claim that this is Time’s century, or the American Century, or perhaps anyone else’s.  Even the greatest empires now seem to have shortened lifespans.  The Soviet Century, after all, barely lasted seven decades.  Of course, only the rarest among us live to be 100, which means that at 70, like Time, I’m undoubtedly beginning to wobble, too.

* The other day I sat down with an old friend, a law professor who started telling me about his students.  What he said aged me instantly.  They’re so young, he pointed out, that their parents didn’t even come of age during the Vietnam War.  For them, he added, that war is what World War I was to us.  He might as well have mentioned the Mongol conquests or the War of the Roses.  We’re talking about the white-haired guys riding in the open cars in Veteran’s Day parades when I was a boy.  And now, it seems, I’m them.

* In March 1976, accompanied by two friends, my wife and I got married at City Hall in San Francisco, and then adjourned to a Chinese restaurant for a dim sum lunch.  If, while I was settling our bill of perhaps $30, you had told me that, almost half a century in the future, marriage would be an annual $40 billion dollar business, that official couplings would be preceded by elaborate bachelor and bachelorette parties, and that there would be such a thing as destination weddings, I would have assumed you were clueless about the future.  On that score at least, the nature of the world to come was self-evident and elaborate weddings of any sort weren’t going to be part of it.

* From the time I was 20 until I was 65, I was always 40 years old.  Now, I feel my age.  Still, my life at 70 is a luxury.  Across the planet, from Afghanistan to Central America, and in the poverty zones of this country, young people regularly stare death in the face at an age when, so many decades ago, I was wondering whether my life would ever begin.  That’s a crime against humanity.  So consider me lucky (and privileged) to be seven decades in and only now thinking about my death.

* Recently, I had the urge to tell my son something about my mother, who died before he was born.  From my closet, I retrieved an attaché case of my father’s in which I keep various family mementos.  Rummaging around in one of its pockets, I stumbled upon two letters my mother wrote him while he was at war.  (We’re talking about World War II, that ancient conflict of the history books.)  Almost four decades after her death, all I had to do was see my mother’s handwriting on the envelope — “Major C. L. Engelhardt, 1st Air Commando Force, A.P.O. 433, Postmaster, New York 17, N.Y.” — to experience such an upwelling of emotion I could barely contain my tears.  So many years later, her handwriting and my father’s remain etched into my consciousness.  I don’t doubt I could recognize them amid any other set of scribblings on Earth.  What fingerprints were to law enforcement then, handwriting was to family memories.  And that started me wondering: years from now, in an electronic world in which no one is likely to think about picking up a pen to write anyone else, what will those “fingerprints” be?

* There are so many futures and so few of them happen.  On the night of October 22, 1962, a college freshman, I listened to John F. Kennedy address the American people and tell us that the Russians were building “a series of offensive missile sites” on the island of Cuba and that “the purposes of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.”  In other words, the president of the United States was telling us that we might be at the edge of the sort of world-ending, monster-mutating nuclear war that, from Godzilla to Them, had run riot in the popular culture (and the nightmares) of my childhood.  At that moment, I looked directly into the future — and there was none.  We were, I believed, toast.  My family, my friends, all of us, from Hudson Bay, Canada, to Lima, Peru, as the president put it.  Yet here I am 52 years later.  As with so many futures we imagine, somehow it didn’t happen and so many years after I’m still wondering when I’ll be toast.

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Dahr Jamail: Incinerating Iraq

Who even knows what to call it?  The Iraq War or the Iraq-Syrian War would be far too orderly for what’s happening, so it remains a no-name conflict that couldn’t be deadlier or more destabilizing — and it’s in the process of internationalizing in unsettling ways.  Think of it as the strangest disaster on the planet right now. After all, when was the last time that the U.S. and Russia ended up on the same side in a conflict? You would have to go back almost three quarters of a century to World War II to answer that one. And how about the U.S. and Iran?  Now, it seems that all three of those countries are sending in military hardware and, in the case of the U.S. and Irandrones, advisers, pilots, and possibly other personnel.

Since World War I, the region that became Iraq and Syria has been a magnet for the meddling of outside powers of every sort, each of which, including France and Britain, the Clinton administration with its brutal sanctions, and the Bush administration with its disastrous invasion and occupation, helped set the stage for the full-scale destabilization and sectarian disintegration of both countries.  And now the outsiders are at it again.

The U.S., Russia, and Iran only start the list.  The Saudis, to give an example, have reportedly been deeply involved in funding the rise of the al-Qaeda-style extremist movement the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  Now, facing that movement’s success — some of its armed followers, including undoubtedly Saudi nationals, have already reached the Iraqi-Saudi frontier — the Saudis are reportedly moving 30,000 troops there, no doubt in fear that their fragile and autocratic land might someday be open to the very violence their petrodollars have stoked.  Turkey, which has wielded an open-border/safe haven policy to support the Syrian rebels fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime, including ISIS and other extremist outfits, is now dealing with kidnapped nationals and chaos on its border, thanks to those same rebels.  Israel entered the fray recently as well, launching airstrikes against nine Syrian “military targets,” and just to add to the violence and confusion, Assad’s planes and helicopters have been attacking ISIS forces across the now-nonexistent border in Iraq.  And I haven’t even mentioned Hezbollah, the Jordanians, or the Europeans, all of whom are involved in their own ways.

Since 2003, Dahr Jamail, a rare and courageous unembedded reporter in Iraq, has observed how this witch’s brew of outside intervention and exploding sectarian violence has played out in the lives of ordinary Iraqis.  It couldn’t be a sadder tale, one he started reporting for TomDispatch in 2005 — even then the subject was “devastation.”  Nine years later, he’s back and the devastation is almost beyond imagining.  As he now works for the website Truthout, this is a joint TomDispatch/Truthout report.Tom Engelhardt

A nation on the brink
How America’s policies sealed Iraq’s fate
By Dahr Jamail

[This essay is a joint TomDispatch/Truthout report.]

For Americans, it was like the news from nowhere.  Years had passed since reporters bothered to head for the country we invaded and blew a hole through back in 2003, the country once known as Iraq that our occupation drove into a never-ending sectarian nightmare.  In 2011, the last U.S. combat troops slipped out of the country, their heads “held high,” as President Obama proclaimed at the time, and Iraq ceased to be news for Americans. 

So the headlines of recent weeks — Iraq Army collapses! Iraq’s second largest city falls to insurgents! Terrorist Caliphate established in Middle East! — couldn’t have seemed more shockingly out of the blue.  Suddenly, reporters flooded back in, the Bush-era neocons who had planned and supported the invasion and occupation were writing op-eds as if it were yesterday, and Iraq was again the story of the moment as the post-post-mortems began to appear and commentators began asking: How in the world could this be happening? 

Iraqis, of course, lacked the luxury of ignoring what had been going on in their land since 2011. For them, whether Sunnis or Shiites, the recent unraveling of the army, the spread of a series of revolts across the Sunni parts of Iraq, the advance of an extremist insurgency on the country’s capital, Baghdad, and the embattled nature of the autocratic government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were, if not predictable, at least expectable. And as the killings ratcheted up, caught in the middle were the vast majority of Iraqis, people who were neither fighters nor directly involved in the corrupt politics of their country, but found themselves, as always, caught in the vice grip of the violence again engulfing it.

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Todd Miller: Bill of Rights rollback in the U.S. borderlands

You’re not in the United States. Oh sure, look around at the fog lifting over the New England countryside or the diamond deserts of Arizona, but this land isn’t your land, not anymore. It’s a place controlled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and your constitutional rights do not apply on their territory. CBP can, and does, detain Americans, search them without warrant, and physically mistreat them in what has become, for our 9/11 sins, a Post-Constitutional legal purgatory. You are neither outside their grasp in a foreign land, nor protected from them by being inside America.

The concept that the Constitution does not apply at America’s borders is not new, particularly in relation to Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure. (In this context, “seizure” often takes the form of detention, as well as the more traditional concept of taking physical possessions away.) Once upon a time, the idea was that the United States should be able to protect itself by examining people entering the country. Thus, routine border seizures and searches without warrants are constitutionally “reasonable.” Fair enough. The basic rules, in fact, go back to 1789.

But the fairness of the old rules no longer applies, particularly in the face of a constantly metastasizing CBP, anxious to expand its place in the already expansive Homeland Security ecosystem. On its website, CBP boasts of making 1,100 arrests a day as, in its own words, the “guardians” of America. Do the math: that’s 401,500 a year, and those arrests are not limited to dangerous foreigners. Americans who hold certain beliefs and affiliations are swept up as well, whether they are prominent journalistsactivists, or simply (as in today’s piece) angry spouses of men beaten nearly to death by CBP agents. The agency now insists that its jurisdiction does not end at the physical border, the line on the map that separates say the United States from Mexico, but extends 100 miles inland.

Building on his successful new book, Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland SecurityTomDispatch regular Todd Miller brings us more examples of CBP lawlessness and brutality, while asking crucial questions about its larger meaning to our nation. Get ready to be scared. If you live near the border, cross the border after a trip abroad, or attract the attention of roving CBP patrols in New England or Arizona within 100 miles of the line, this land belongs not to you and me, but in Post-Constitutional America, increasingly to our so-called guardians. Peter Van Buren

Border wars in the homeland
“Stop stepping on the pictures”
By Todd Miller

Shena Gutierrez was already cuffed and in an inspection room in Nogales, Arizona, when the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent grabbed her purse, opened it, and dumped its contents onto the floor right in front of her. There couldn’t be a sharper image of the Bill of Rights rollback we are experiencing in the U.S. borderlands in the post-9/11 era.

Tumbling out of that purse came Gutierrez’s life: photos of her kids, business cards, credit cards, and other papers, all now open to the official scrutiny of the Department of Homeland Security. There were also photographs of her husband, Jose Gutierrez Guzman, whom CBP agents beat so badly in 2011 that he suffered permanent brain damage. The supervisory agent, whose name badge on his blue uniform read “Gomez,” now began to trample on her life, quite literally, with his black boots.

“Please stop stepping on the pictures,” Shena asked him.

A U.S. citizen, unlike her husband, she had been returning from a 48-hour vigil against Border Patrol violence in Mexico and was wearing a shirt that said “Stop Border Patrol Brutality” when she was aggressively questioned and cuffed at the CBP’s “port of entry” in Nogales on that hot day in May.  She had no doubt that Gomez was stepping all over the contents of her purse in response to her shirt, the evidence of her activism.

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Tom Engelhardt: The age of impunity

An exceptional decline for the exceptional country?
By Tom Engelhardt

For America’s national security state, this is the age of impunity.  Nothing it does — torture, kidnapping, assassination, illegal surveillance, you name it — will ever be brought to court.  For none of its beyond-the-boundaries acts will anyone be held accountable.  The only crimes that can now be committed in official Washington are by those foolish enough to believe that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth.  I’m speaking of the various whistleblowers and leakers who have had an urge to let Americans know what deeds and misdeeds their government is committing in their name but without their knowledge.  They continue to pay a price in accountability for their acts that should, by comparison, stun us all.

As June ended, the New York Times front-paged an account of an act of corporate impunity that may, however, be unique in the post-9/11 era (though potentially a harbinger of things to come).  In 2007, as journalist James Risen tells it, Daniel Carroll, the top manager in Iraq for the rent-a-gun company Blackwater, one of the warrior corporations that accompanied the U.S. military to war in the twenty-first century, threatened Jean Richter, a government investigator sent to Baghdad to look into accounts of corporate wrongdoing.

Here, according to Risen, is Richter’s version of what happened when he, another government investigator, and Carroll met to discuss Blackwater’s potential misdeeds in that war zone:

“Mr. Carroll said ‘that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,’ Mr. Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington. He noted that Mr. Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite unit. ‘Mr. Carroll’s statement was made in a low, even tone of voice, his head was slightly lowered; his eyes were fixed on mine,’ Mr. Richter stated in his memo. ‘I took Mr. Carroll’s threat seriously. We were in a combat zone where things can happen quite unexpectedly, especially when issues involve potentially negative impacts on a lucrative security contract.’”

When officials at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the largest in the world, heard what had happened, they acted promptly.  They sided with the Blackwater manager, ordering Richter and the investigator who witnessed the scene out of the country (with their inquiry incomplete).  And though a death threat against an American official might, under other circumstances, have led a CIA team or a set of special ops guys to snatch the culprit off the streets of Baghdad, deposit him on a Navy ship for interrogation, and then leave him idling in Guantanamo or in jail in the United States awaiting trial, in this case no further action was taken.

Power Centers But No Power to Act

Think of the response of those embassy officials as a get-out-of-jail-free pass in honor of a new age.  For the various rent-a-gun companies, construction and supply outfits, and weapons makers that have been the beneficiaries of the wholesale privatization of American war since 9/11, impunity has become the new reality.  Pull back the lens further and the same might be said more generally about America’s corporate sector and its financial outfits.  There was, after all, no accountability for the economic meltdown of 2007-2008.  Not a single significant figure went to jail for bringing the American economy to its knees. (And many such figures made out like proverbial bandits in the government bailout and revival of their businesses that followed.)

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Rebecca Gordon: A nation of cowards?

It sounded like the beginning of a bad joke: a CIA agent and a U.S. Special Operations commando walked into a barbershop in Sana…

That’s the capital of Yemen in case you didn’t remember and not the sort of place where armed Americans usually wander out alone just to get a haircut.  Here’s what we know about the rest of this mysterious tale that surfaced in the U.S. media in early May (only to disappear again shortly thereafter): according to unnamed “American officials,” two armed Yemeni civilians entered that barbershop with the intention of “kidnapping” the Americans, who shot and killed them and were then “whisked” out of the country with the approval of the Yemeni government.

For today, set aside the mystery of what in the world was actually going on in that barbershop and just consider the fact that when “they” do it to “us,” there’s no question about what word to use.  It’s kidnapping, plain and simple.  When we do it to “them” (even when the they turn out to be innocent of any terror crimes), it’s got a far fancier and more comfortable name: “rendition” or “extraordinary rendition.”  When they bust into a barbershop in a tony district in the capital city of Yemen, no question what they have in mind.  When we do it in MilanBenghaziTripoli, or other major cities, sometimes with the collusion of the local police, sometimes with the help of the local government, sometimes with no locals at all, we’re just “rendering” our victims to “justice.”

The CIA in particular and more recently U.S. special operators have made global kidnappings — oops, renditions — a regular beat since 9/11.  A kind of rampage, actually.  As it happens, whatever itcan’t do these days, the “sole superpower” still has the ability to make the global rules to its own liking.  So when we wield the “R” word, it couldn’t be more “legal” or at least, as U.S. experts will testify, the only reasonable way to go.  Of course, when others wield the “K” word, can there be any question of the nastiness or illegality of their acts?  Here’s a guarantee: not a chance.  Any judge-jury-and-executioner-rolled-into-one approach to the world (as with, for instance, the CIA’s drone assassination campaigns) is an ugly way to go and will look even uglier when other countries adopt the latest version of the American Way.  As with torture (oops, sorry again, “enhanced interrogation techniques”), making global kidnapping your loud and proud way of life is a dangerous path to take, long term, no matter how bad the bad guys are that you may be rendering to justice.

Rebecca Gordon, author of Mainstreaming Torture, a new book on the American way of enhanced interrogation techniques, is here to remind us not only of those facts, but of an even uglier one.  While the Obama administration washed its hands of torture (global assassination campaigns being its claim to fame), its top officials didn’t think it worth the bother to dismantle the elaborate torture system created in the Bush years, which means that, with another flick of the switch somewhere down the line, off we’ll go again. Tom Engelhardt

The 25th hour
Still living with Jack Bauer in a terrified new American world
By Rebecca Gordon

Once upon a time, if a character on TV or in a movie tortured someone, it was a sure sign that he was a bad guy. Now, the torturers are the all-American heroes. From 24 to Zero Dark Thirty, it’s been the good guys who wielded the pliers and the waterboards. We’re not only living in a post-9/11 world, we’re stuck with Jack Bauer in the 25th hour.

In 2002, Cofer Black, the former Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, told a Senate committee, “All I want to say is that there was ‘before’ 9/11 and ‘after’ 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.” He wanted them to understand that Americans now live in a changed world, where, from the point of view of the national security state, anything goes. It was, as he and various top officials in the Bush administration saw it, a dangerous place in which terrorists might be lurking in any airport security line and who knew where else.

Dark-skinned foreigners promoting disturbing religions were driven to destroy us because, as President George W. Bush said more than once, “they hate our freedoms.” It was “them or us.” In such a frightening new world, we were assured, our survival depended in part on brave men and women willing to break precedent and torture some of our enemies for information that would save civilization itself. As part of a new American creed, we learned that torture was the price of security.

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Michael Klare: Fighting for oil

Call it a double whammy for the planet or simply irony with a capital “I.”  As the invaluable Michael Klare, TomDispatch regular and author of The Race for What’s Left, points out today, if you scan the planet for conflict, what you’ll find from Syria and Iraq to the South China Sea are a series of energy wars — fossil-fuel conflicts to be exact.  At present, despite some hopeful signs, this crazed planet of ours is still a ravenous beast that only fossil fuels can sate.  No question that conflicts and wars are terrible things.  Just consider the million new refugees being generated by the disintegration of Iraq in a blaze of warfare and sectarian killings.  But oil wars add a grim twist to the mix, because when they’re settled, however miserably or bloodily, the winners take to the oil rigs and the refineries and pump out yet more of the stuff that puts carbon dioxide and methane, both greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere and, as in the Middle East today, creates the basis for yet more conflict.

That region has been going through a period of heightened dryness and drought that researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believe to be caused, at least in part, by global warming.  This winter, the driest in decades, Syria and Iraq in particular have experienced a severe lack of rainfall in what should be the wettest part of the year and record heat as well.  These are factors the Pentagon lists in its recent Quadrennial Defense Review as “threat multipliers.”  According to meteorologist Eric Holthaus, “As in neighboring Syria, it’s increasingly clear that Iraq is drying out, an effect that’s long been predicted as a result of the human-caused build up of heat-trapping gases like CO2. Since 1973… parts of Iraq and Syria have seen ‘some of the most dramatic precipitation declines in the world.’ Citing projected stark declines in rainfall and continued population pressure and upstream dam building, a study released earlier this year made the case that the Tigris and Euphrates rivers may no longer reach the sea by 2040.”

The weather destabilization of Syria and the rise of ISIS seem to be connected.  In the Mobius Strip of life, the more desperate you are — thank you, global warming — the more you’re likely to fight over what resources, from water to oil, you can command, and then when you’re done, you’ll use those resources to heat the planet further.  It’s a closed system, a simple formula for the production of violent emotions, dead bodies, and a particularly nasty world. Tom Engelhardt

Twenty-first-century energy wars
Global conflicts are increasingly fueled by the desire for oil and natural gas — and the funds they generate
By Michael T. Klare

Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, South Sudan, Ukraine, the East and South China Seas: wherever you look, the world is aflame with new or intensifying conflicts.  At first glance, these upheavals appear to be independent events, driven by their own unique and idiosyncratic circumstances.  But look more closely and they share several key characteristics — notably, a witch’s brew of ethnic, religious, and national antagonisms that have been stirred to the boiling point by a fixation on energy.

In each of these conflicts, the fighting is driven in large part by the eruption of long-standing historic antagonisms among neighboring (often intermingled) tribes, sects, and peoples.  In Iraq and Syria, it is a clash among Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Turkmen, and others; in Nigeria, among Muslims, Christians, and assorted tribal groupings; in South Sudan, between the Dinka and Nuer; in Ukraine, between Ukrainian loyalists and Russian-speakers aligned with Moscow; in the East and South China Sea, among the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipinos, and others.  It would be easy to attribute all this to age-old hatreds, as suggested by many analysts; but while such hostilities do help drive these conflicts, they are fueled by a most modern impulse as well: the desire to control valuable oil and natural gas assets.  Make no mistake about it, these are twenty-first-century energy wars.

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Noam Chomsky: America’s real foreign policy

It goes without saying that the honchos of the national security state weren’t exactly happy with Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations.  Still, over the last year, the comments of such figures, politicians associated with them, and retirees from their world clearly channeling their feelings have had a striking quality: over-the-top vituperation.  About the nicest thing anyone in that crew has had to say about Snowden is that he’s a “traitor” or — shades of the Cold War era (and of absurdity, since the State Department trapped him in the transit lounge of a Moscow airport by taking his passport away) — a “Russian spy.”  And that’s the mild stuff.  Such figures have also regularly called for his execution, for quite literally stringing him up from the old oak tree and letting him dangle in the breeze.  Theirs has been a bloodcurdling collective performance that gives the word “visceral” new meaning.

Such a response to the way Snowden released batches of NSA documents to Glenn Greenwald, filmmaker Laura Poitras, and the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman calls for explanation.  Here’s mine: the NSA’s goal in creating a global surveillance state was either utopian or dystopian (depending on your point of view), but in either case, breathtakingly totalistic.  Its top officials meant to sweep up every electronic or online way one human being can communicate with others, and to develop the capability to surveil and track every inhabitant of the planet.  From German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to peasants with cell phones in the backlands of Afghanistan (not to speak of American citizens anywhere), no one was to be off the hook.  Conceptually, there would be no exceptions.  And the remarkable thing is how close the agency came to achieving this.

Whether consciously or not, however, the officials of the U.S. Intelligence Community did imagine one giant exception: themselves.  No one outside the loop was supposed to know what they were doing.  They alone on the planet were supposed to be unheard, unspied upon, and unsurveilled.  The shock of Snowden’s revelations, I suspect, and the visceral reactions came, in part, from the discovery that such a system really did have no exceptions, not even them.  In releasing the blueprint of their world, Snowden endangered nothing in the normal sense of the term, but that made him no less of a traitor to their exceptional world as they imagined it.  What he ensured was that, as they surveil us, we can now in some sense track them.  His act, in other words, dumped them in with the hoi polloi — with us — which, under the circumstances, was the ultimate insult and they responded accordingly.

An allied explanation lurks in Noam Chomsky’s latest TomDispatch post.  If the “security” in national security means not the security of the American people but, as he suggests, of those who run the national security state, and if secrecy is the attribute of power, then Edward Snowden broke their code of secrecy and exposed power itself to the light in a devastating and deflating way.  No wonder the reaction to him was so bloodthirsty and vitriolic.  Chomsky himself has an unsettling way of exposing various worlds of power, especially American power, to the light with similarly deflating results.  He’s been doing it for half a century and only gets better. Tom Engelhardt

Whose security?
How Washington protects itself and the corporate sector
By Noam Chomsky

The question of how foreign policy is determined is a crucial one in world affairs.  In these comments, I can only provide a few hints as to how I think the subject can be productively explored, keeping to the United States for several reasons.  First, the U.S. is unmatched in its global significance and impact.  Second, it is an unusually open society, possibly uniquely so, which means we know more about it.  Finally, it is plainly the most important case for Americans, who are able to influence policy choices in the U.S. — and indeed for others, insofar as their actions can influence such choices.  The general principles, however, extend to the other major powers, and well beyond.

There is a “received standard version,” common to academic scholarship, government pronouncements, and public discourse.  It holds that the prime commitment of governments is to ensure security, and that the primary concern of the U.S. and its allies since 1945 was the Russian threat.

There are a number of ways to evaluate the doctrine.  One obvious question to ask is: What happened when the Russian threat disappeared in 1989?  Answer: everything continued much as before.

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Juan Cole: Waiting for the Arab Summer

When it comes to pure ineptness, it’s been quite a performance — and I’m sure you’ve already guessed that I’m referring to our secretary of state’s recent jaunt to the Middle East.  You remember the old quip about jokes and timing.  (It’s all in the…)  In this case, John Kerry turned the first stop on his Middle Eastern tour into a farce, thanks to impeccably poor timing.  He landed in President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s Egypt to put the Obama stamp of approval on the former general’s new government and what he called “a historic election.”  This was a reference to the way Sisi became president, with a mind-boggling 97% of the votes (or so the official story went).  Kerry also promised to release $575 million in military aid frozen by Congress and threw in 10 Apache attack helicopters in what can only be seen as a pathetic attempt to bribe the Egyptian military.  Having delivered the goods, he evidently went into negotiations with Sisi without the leverage they might have offered him.

And then there was the timing.  The day after Kerry’s visit, verdicts were to come down in an already infamous case of media persecution.  Three Al Jazeera reporters were to hear their fate.  Charged with “aiding” the Muslim Brotherhood, they were clearly going to get severe sentences (as indeed they did) in a court system that had already given “hanging judge” a new meaning.  (While Kerry was in Cairo, death sentences were confirmed against 183 members of the Muslim Brotherhood.)  He reportedly discussed the case with Sisi — there wasn’t a shred of evidence against the reporters — and was assumedly convinced that he had wielded American power in an effective way.  Hence, when the verdicts were announced the next day and, as the Guardian put it, “delivered a humiliating, public slap in the face to Kerry,” he reportedly “appeared stunned.”  He must have been even more stunned a day later when Sisi assured the world that he would never think of “interfering” with Egyptian justice.

The strangeness of all this is hard to take in, though Kerry has a record of not delivering big time.  At the moment, allies and client states around the region — from Afghanistan (where President Hamid Karzai still refuses to sign a security pact with the U.S.) to Israel (where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government regularly announces new building plans in the occupied territories) — seem to ignore Washington’s will.  This is by now both fascinating and predictable.  If, having provided an embarrassingly full-throated defense of the Bush administration project in Iraq at a Cairo news conference, the secretary of state promptly flew into Baghdad to put an American stamp on the Iraqi government, he failed.  His mission: to get the country’s politicians to form a “unity government,” essentially deposing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  Even with his military in a state of near collapse and his own position desperately weakened, however, Maliki swept Kerry’s proposals aside.  If the secretary of state then flew on to Irbil to “implore” the president of the Kurdish autonomous region, Masoud Barzani, not to move toward an independent Kurdistan… well, do I even have to finish that sentence for you?

Here, then, is a mystery highlighted by the crisis in disintegrating Iraq and Syria: What kind of world are we in when the most powerful nation on the planet is incapable of convincing anyone, even allies significantly dependent on it, of anything?

Into this increasingly grim situation steps a TomDispatch favorite, Juan Cole, the man who runs the invaluable Informed Comment website.  Unlike the secretary of state, who, while in Cairo, definitively turned his back on the Arab Spring and the young protesters who made it happen, Cole embraces it and them.  In doing so, he offers us a ray of sunshine, hope amid the gloom.  Today, he considers the fate of the Arab Spring, suggesting that those, Kerry included, who have already consigned it to the trash heap of history don’t understand history at all.  His piece catches the spirit of a remarkable new book he’s written that is just about to come out: The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East.  It’s a must-read from an expert who has a perspective Washington sadly lacks. Tom Engelhardt

The Arab millennials will be back
Three ways the youth rebellions are still shaping the Middle East
By Juan Cole

Three and a half years ago, the world was riveted by the massive crowds of youths mobilizing in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand an end to Egypt’s dreary police state.  We stared in horror as, at one point, the Interior Ministry mobilized camel drivers to attack the demonstrators.  We watched transfixed as the protests spread from one part of Egypt to another and then from country to country across the region.  Before it was over, four presidents-for-life would be toppled and others besieged in their palaces.

Some 42 months later, in most of the Middle East and North Africa, the bright hopes for more personal liberties and an end to political and economic stagnation championed by those young people have been dashed.  Instead, a number of Arab countries have seen counter-revolutions, while others are engulfed in internecine conflicts and civil wars, creating Mad Max-like scenes of post-apocalyptic horror.  But keep one thing in mind: the rebellions of the past three years were led by Arab millennials, twentysomethings who have decades left to come into their own.  Don’t count them out yet.  They have only begun the work of transforming the region.

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Peter Van Buren: What we’ve lost since 9/11 (part 2)

When it comes to spying, surveillance, and privacy, a simple rule applies to our world: however bad you think it is, it’s worse.  Thanks to Edward Snowden, we’ve learned an enormous amount about the global surveillance regime that one of America’s 17 intelligence outfits has created to suck into its maw (and its storage facilities) all communications on the planet, no matter their form.  We certainly know a lot more than we did a year ago about what the government is capable of knowing about us.  We’ve also recently learned a good deal about “big data” and what corporations can now know about us, as well as how much more they may know once your house is filled with “smart” technology.

Less is understood about how corporate surveillance is coming to the workplace, but sooner or later — count on it — the company or business you work for will be capable, via intelligent software, of monitoring every move you make, not to speak of everyone you may be in touch with while on the clock.  The truth is, whatever the euphemisms, just about every imaginable way of knowing and surveilling you is here or on its way.  In Oakland, California, for instance, you could mistake the anodyne name of “the Domain Awareness Center” for the latest in New Age spiritualism.  In fact, as CNN recently reported, it’s a “proposed central surveillance facility where authorities can monitor the Port of Oakland and the city’s airport to protect against potential terrorism.”  Someday, it may integrate “live, 24/7 data streams from closed circuit traffic cameras, police license plate readers, gunshot detectors, and other sources from all over the entire city of Oakland.”  This means that, despite theoretically being on the lookout for terrorists (how many of those are there in Oakland?), it will be able to track you anywhere in the area.

It’s no exaggeration to say that in our developing brave new world of surveillance, inside or outside your house, there will be nowhere that you aren’t potentially trackable and surveillable, no space that is just yours and no one else’s.  This also means that, however bad you think it is, government and corporate employees somewhere are already creating the next set of processes, technologies, and facilities to monitor you in yet more vivid detail.

Now, let’s add rule two: however bad you think it is, you don’t know the half of it.  Yes, you’ve been following the Snowden NSA revelations, but no Snowden has stepped forward (yet) to reveal what the CIA or FBI or Defense Intelligence Agency or Department of Homeland Security or National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is doing.  And as far as the national security state is concerned, the less you know, the better.  Take, for example, a recent Associated Press story with this revelation: citing “security reasons” (as always), the Obama administration “has been quietly advising local police not to disclose details about surveillance technology they are using to sweep up basic cellphone data from entire neighborhoods.”

It might even be your neighborhood. In such a situation, it will be easy enough perhaps to forget the value of the sense of privacy in your life, whether you feel you have something to hide or not. Just yesterday, the Supreme Court put a rare brake on the loss of privacy, ruling that the police must have a warrant to search your cell phone after your arrest. In the second of a three-part series on the shredding of the Bill of Rights (amendment by amendment), State Department whistleblower and TomDispatch regular Peter Van Buren takes on the destruction of the protections for American privacy in the Fourth Amendment — destruction that, if we’re not careful, could soon seem as American as apple pie. Tom Engelhardt  

Shredding the Fourth Amendment in post-constitutional America
Four ways it no longer applies
By Peter Van Buren

Here’s a bit of history from another America: the Bill of Rights was designed to protect the people from their government. If the First Amendment’s right to speak out publicly was the people’s wall of security, then the Fourth Amendment’s right to privacy was its buttress. It was once thought that the government should neither be able to stop citizens from speaking nor peer into their lives. Think of that as the essence of the Constitutional era that ended when those towers came down on September 11, 2001. Consider how privacy worked before 9/11 and how it works now in Post-Constitutional America.

The Fourth Amendment

A response to British King George’s excessive invasions of privacy in colonial America, the Fourth Amendment pulls no punches: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In Post-Constitutional America, the government might as well have taken scissors to the original copy of the Constitution stored in the National Archives, then crumpled up the Fourth Amendment and tossed it in the garbage can. The NSA revelations of Edward Snowden are, in that sense, not just a shock to the conscience but to the Fourth Amendment itself: our government spies on us. All of us. Without suspicion. Without warrants. Without probable cause. Without restraint. This would qualify as “unreasonable” in our old constitutional world, but no more.

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Michael Schwartz: The new oil wars in Iraq

Imagine the president, speaking on Iraq from the White House Press Briefing Room last Thursday, as the proverbial deer in the headlights — and it’s not difficult to guess just what those headlights were.  Think of them as Benghazi on steroids.  If the killing of an American ambassador, a Foreign Service officer, and two CIA private security contractors could cause almost two years of domestic political uproar, unending Republican criticism, and potential damage to the president’s “legacy,” consider what an Iraq in shambles and a terrorist state stretching across “the Levant” might do.  It’s hardly surprising, then, that a president regularly described as “reluctant” nonetheless stepped before the press corps and began the slow march back into Iraq and toward disaster.

It was a moment of remarkable contradictions.  Obama managed, for example, to warn against “mission creep” even as he was laying out what could only be described as mission creep.  Earlier that week, he had notified Congress that 275 troops would be sent to Iraq, largely to defend the vast U.S. embassy in Baghdad, once an almost three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar symbol of imperial hubris, now a white elephant of the first order.  A hundred more military personnel were to be moved into the region for backup.

Then on Thursday, the president added 300 “military advisers” drawn from Special Operations forces and evidently meant to staff new “joint operation centers in Baghdad and northern Iraq to share intelligence and coordinate planning to confront the terrorist threat.” (If you are of a certain age, that word “adviser” will ring an eerie Vietnam-ish bell.  You should, in fact, already be hearing a giant sucking sound somewhere in the distance.)  He also spoke vaguely of positioning “additional U.S. military assets in the region” into which the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, accompanied by a guided-missile cruiser and destroyer, had already sailed.  And mind you, this was only the reasonably public part of whatever build-up is underway.  While the president spoke of being “prepared to take targeted and precise military action” in Iraq, at least one unnamed “senior administration official” was already at work opening up the possibility of air strikes in Syria.  “We don’t restrict potential U.S. action to a specific geographic space,” was the ominous way that official put it.

In other words, short of combat troops on the ground in significant numbers, that table on which “all options” are always kept open was visibly moved into Washington’s War Room of the Levant.  It’s quite a development for a president who took special pride in getting us out of Iraq (even though that departure was engineered by the Bush administration, while Obama’s officials tried to negotiate leaving a force behind, only to be thwarted by the Iraqi government).  In tandem with the military moves, the president and his national security team, perhaps reflecting through a glass darkly the “democracy agenda” of the Bush era, also seemed to have dipped their fingers in purple ink.  They were reportedly pressuring Iraqi politicians to dump Prime Minister Maliki and appoint a “unity” government to fight the war they want.  (Adding to the farcical nature of the moment, one name raised for Maliki’s position was Ahmed Chalabi, once the darling of Bush-era officials and their choice for that same post.)

There is, however, no way that an American intervention won’t be viewed as a move to back the Shia side in an incipient set of civil wars, as even retired general and former CIA director David Petraeus warned last week. In fact, in opinion polls Americans overwhelmingly reject military intervention of any sort, just as every experience in the post-9/11 era should signal one simple lesson: Don’t do it!  But Obama and his top officials evidently can’t help themselves.  The rising tide of criticism-to-come is undoubtedly already pre-echoing in their heads — previewed by the endless media appearances of Senator John McCain and a stream of op-eds from former vice president Dick Cheney, former occupation proconsul L. Paul Bremer III, and others from the crowd of “experts” who created the Iraq disaster and for whom being wrong about that country is a badge of honor.

We are clearly in the early stages of the intervention sweepstakes.  The initial moves may even be greeted as auspicious, but watch out for the long-run destabilizing effects in an already chaotic region.  Washington only imagines it can control such combustible situations.  In reality, it hasn’t in the past and it won’t be able to this time either, which means unexpected ugliness will ensue.  (And just wait until, in one of those joint operation centers or elsewhere, the first Iraqi soldier, like his Afghan counterparts, turns his gun on one of those special ops advisers.)

All that’s missing at the moment is the final touch on the Obama version of mission creep.  I’m talking about the signature gesture for this administration in its conflicts across the Greater Middle East (and increasingly Africa).  If you listen carefully, you can already hear the theme music for the era rising in the background and — with apologies to Stephen Sondheim for mangling his beautiful elegy to a lost relationship — it’s clearly “Send in the Drones.”

In the meantime, whatever the president is saying, he never mentioned oil.  No one does.  Nor, generally, did the Bush administration when it invaded and occupied Iraq.  If you paid attention to our media, you would never know that it sits on one of the great, easily accessible fossil-fuel reserves on the planet, though that should never be far from anyone’s mind.  Fortunately, sociologist Michael Schwartz, an old-time TomDispatch regular, is back after a long absence to remind us of The One Fact in Iraq, the one we should never forget. Tom Engelhardt

It’s the oil, stupid!
Insurgency and war on a sea of oil
By Michael Schwartz

Events in Iraq are headline news everywhere, and once again, there is no mention of the issue that underlies much of the violence: control of Iraqi oil. Instead, the media is flooded with debate about, horror over, and extensive analysis of a not-exactly-brand-new terrorist threat, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). There are, in addition, elaborate discussions about the possibility of a civil war that threatens both a new round of ethnic cleansing and the collapse of the embattled government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Underway are, in fact, “a series of urban revolts against the government,” as Middle Eastern expert Juan Cole has called them. They are currently restricted to Sunni areas of the country and have a distinctly sectarian character, which is why groups like ISIS can thrive and even take a leadership role in various locales. These revolts have, however, neither been created nor are they controlled by ISIS and its several thousand fighters. They also involve former Baathists and Saddam Hussein loyalists, tribal militias, and many others. And at least in incipient form they may not, in the end, be restricted to Sunni areas. As the New York Times reported last week, the oil industry is “worried that the unrest could spread” to the southern Shia-dominated city of Basra, where “Iraq’s main oil fields and export facilities are clustered.”

Under the seething ocean of Sunni discontent lies a factor that is being ignored. The insurgents are not only in a struggle against what they see as oppression by a largely Shiite government in Baghdad and its security forces, but also over who will control and benefit from what Maliki — speaking for most of his constituents — told the Wall Street Journal is Iraq’s “national patrimony.”

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Laura Gottesdiener: Security vs. securities

I live in Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. I can more or less roll out of bed into the House of Representatives or the Senate; the majestic Library of Congress doubles as my local branch. (If you visit, spend a sunset on the steps of the library’s Jefferson Building. Trust me.) You can’t miss my place, three stories of brick painted Big Bird yellow. It’s a charming little corner of the city. Each fall, the trees outside my window shake their leaves and carpet the street in gold. Nora Ephron, if she were alive, might’ve shot a scene for her latest movie in one of the lush green parks that bookend my block.

The neighborhood wasn’t always so nice. A few years back, during a reporting trip to China, I met an American consultant who had known Capitol Hill in a darker era. “I was driving up the street one time,” he told me, “and walking in the opposite direction was this huge guy carrying an assault rifle. Broad daylight, no one even noticed. That’s what kind of neighborhood it was.” Nowadays, row houses around me sell for $1 million or more. I rent.

Washington’s a fun place to live if you’re young and employed. But as a recent Washington Post story pointed out, the nation’s capital is slowly pricing out even its yuppies who, in their late-twenties and early-thirties, want to start families but can’t afford it. “I hate to say it, but the facts show that the D.C. market is for people who are single and relatively affluent,” a real estate researcher told the Post. The District’s housing boom just won’t stop; off go those new and expecting parents to the suburbs.

And we’re talking about the lucky ones. Elsewhere in the country, vulnerability in the housing market isn’t a trend story; it’s the norm. The Cedillo family, as Laura Gottesdiener writes today, went looking for their version of the American housing dream and thought they found it in Chandler, Arizona. They didn’t know that the house they chose to rent rested on a shaky foundation — not physically but financially. It had been one of thousands snapped up and rented out by massive investment firms making a killing in the wake of the housing collapse. As Gottesdiener — who has put the new rental empires of private equity firms on the map for TomDispatch — shows, the goal of such companies is to squeeze every dime of profit from their properties, from homes like the Cedillos’, and that can lead to tragedy. Andy Kroll

Drowning in profits
A private equity firm, a missing pool fence, and the price of a child’s death
By Laura Gottesdiener

Security is a slippery idea these days — especially when it comes to homes and neighborhoods.

Perhaps the most controversial development in America’s housing “recovery” is the role played by large private equity firms. In recent years, they have bought up more than 200,000 mostly foreclosed houses nationwide and turned them into rental empires. In the finance and real estate worlds, this development has won praise for helping to raise home values and creating a new financial product known as a “rental-backed security.” Many economists and housing advocates, however, have blasted this new model as a way for Wall Street to capitalize on an economic crisis by essentially pushing families out of their homes, then turning around and renting those houses back to them.

Caught in the crosshairs are tens of thousands of families now living in these private equity-owned homes. For them, it’s not a question of economic debate, but of daily safety and stability. Among them are the Cedillos of Chandler, Arizona, a tight-knit family in which the men work in construction and the oil fields, while the strong-willed women balance their studies with work and children, and toddlers learn to dance as early as they learn to walk. Their story of a private equity firm, a missing pool fence, and the death of a two-year-old child raises troubling questions about how, as a nation, we define security in housing and why, in the midst of what’s regularly termed a “recovery,” many neighborhoods may actually be growing increasingly vulnerable.

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Tom Engelhardt: The guns of folly

Who won Iraq?
By Tom Engelhardt

As Iraq was unraveling last week and the possible outlines of the first jihadist state in modern history were coming into view, I remembered this nugget from the summer of 2002.  At the time, journalist Ron Suskind had a meeting with “a senior advisor” to President George W. Bush (later identified as Karl Rove).  Here’s how he described part of their conversation:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off.  ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued.  ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”

As events unfold increasingly chaotically across the region that officials of the Bush years liked to call the Greater Middle East, consider the eerie accuracy of that statement.  The president, his vice president Dick Cheney, his defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and his national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, among others, were indeed “history’s actors.”  They did create “new realities” and, just as Rove suggested, the rest of us are now left to “study” what they did. 

And oh, what they did!  Their geopolitical dreams couldn’t have been grander or more global.  (Let’s avoid the word “megalomaniacal.”)  They expected to pacify the Greater Middle East, garrison Iraq for generations, make Syria and Iran bow down before American power, “drain” the global “swamp” of terrorists, and create a global Pax Americana based on a military so dominant that no other country or bloc of countries would ever challenge it.

It was quite a dream and none of it, not one smidgen, came true.  Just as Rove suggested they would — just as in the summer of 2002, he already knew they would — they acted to create a world in their image, a world they imagined controlling like no imperial power in history.  Using that unchallengeable military, they launched an invasion that blew a hole through the oil heartlands of the Middle East.  They took a major capital, Baghdad, while “decapitating” (as the phrase then went) the regime that was running Iraq and had, in a particularly brutal fashion, kept the lid on internecine tensions.

They lacked nothing when it came to confidence.  Among the first moves of L. Paul Bremer III, the proconsul they appointed to run their occupation, was an order demobilizing Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein’s 350,000-man army and the rest of his military as well.  Their plan: to replace it with a lightly armed border protection force — initially of 12,000 troops and in the end perhaps 40,000 — armed and trained by Washington.  Given their vision of the world, it made total sense.  Why would Iraq need more than that with the U.S. military hanging around for, well, ever, on a series of permanent bases the Pentagon’s contractors were building?  What dangers could there be in the neighborhood with that kind of force on hand?  Soon enough, it became clear that what they had really done was turn the Iraqi officer corps and most of the country’s troops out onto unemployment lines, creating the basis for a militarily skilled Sunni insurgency.  A brilliant start!

Note that these days the news is filled with commentary on the lack of a functional Iraqi air force.  That’s why, in recent months, Prime Minister Maliki has been calling on the Obama administration to send American air power back into the breach.  Saddam Hussein did have an air force.  Once it had been one of the biggest in the Middle East.  The Bush administration, however, came to the conclusion that the new Iraqi military would have no need for fighter planes, helicopters, or much of anything else, not when the U.S. Air Force would be in the neighborhood on bases like Balad in Central Iraq.  Who needed two air forces?

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Ariel Dorfman: A tale of torture and forgiveness

I’ll bet you didn’t know that June is “torture awareness month” thanks to the fact that, on June 26, 1987, the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment went into effect internationally.  In this country, however, as a recent Amnesty International survey indicated, Americans are essentially living in Torture Unawareness Month, or perhaps even Torture Approval Month, and not just in June 2014 but every month of the year.

One simple fact of the post-9/11 era should make this clear and also boggle the mind, but has had almost no impact here.  But for this you need a little background from the early years of what was once called the Global War on Terror.  In addition to a stream of international kidnappings (euphemistically called “renditions”) of terror suspects, including completely innocent people the CIA snatched off the streets of global cities, as well as from the backlands of the planet and “rendered” into the hands of well-known torturing regimes (with the help of 54 other countries) and the setting up of a network of “black sites” or offshore prisons where anything went, the CIA tortured up a storm.  And it did so at the behest of the top officials of the Bush administration, including the president and vice president who were convinced that it was time for Washington to “take the gloves off.”  In those years, torture techniques were reportedly demonstrated in the White House to some of those officials, including the vice president and national security advisor.  At the time, they went by the euphemistic, administration-approved term “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which was quickly picked up and used in the U.S. mainstream media in place of the word “torture” — though only when the enhanced interrogators were American, of course.  The bad guys out there continued to “torture” in the usual fashion.

In the Obama years, torture was (at least officially) tossed out as a useful tactic.  But the torturers themselves were given a pass, every last one of them, by the Justice Department, even two cases in which the CIA’s acts of enhancement had led to death.  No charge was ever brought against anyone, including the Justice Department lawyers who wrote the tortured memos endorsing those techniques and redefining torture as only happening when the torturer meant it to, or the officials who green-lighted them.  Think of the Obama administration then as Amnesty National.  That administration did, however, have the guts to go after one man connected to the torture program, forced a plea deal from him, and sent him to jail for two years.  I’m talking about former CIA agent John Kiriakou, the only person since 9/11 convicted of a torture-related crime.  To be specific, his criminal act was to blow the whistle on his former employer’s torture program to a journalist, revealing in the process the name of a CIA agent.  That was considered such an indefensible act — in effect, an act of torture against the American security state — that justice, American-style, was done.

It’s quite a tortuous record when you think about it, not that anyone here does anymore, which is why we need TomDispatch regular Ariel Dorfman, author most recently of Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile, to remind us of what’s really at stake when one human being tortures another. Tom Engelhardt

How to forgive your torturer
The River Kwai passes through Latin America and Washington
By Ariel Dorfman

What a way to celebrate Torture Awareness Month!

According to an Amnesty International Poll released in May, 45% of Americans believe that torture is “sometimes necessary and acceptable” in order to “gain information that may protect the public.” Twenty-nine percent of Britons “strongly or somewhat agreed” that torture was justified when asked the same question.

For someone like me, who has been haunted by the daily existence of torture since the September 11, 1973 coup that overthrew Chilean President Salvador Allende, such percentages couldn’t be more depressing, but perhaps not that surprising. I now live, after all, in the America where Dick Cheney, instead of being indicted as a war criminal, sneeringly (and falsely) claims to anyone who asks him — and he is trotted out over and over again as the resident expert on the subject — that  “enhanced interrogations” have been and still are absolutely necessary to keep Americans safe.

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Peter Van Buren: RIP, the Bill of Rights

Here’s what passes for good news when it comes to a free press these days: two weeks ago, the Supreme Court refused without comment to hear a case involving New York Times reporter James Risen.  It concerned his unwillingness to testify before a grand jury under subpoena and reveal a confidential source of information in his book State of War on the secret U.S. campaign against the Iranian nuclear program.  The case will now go back to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which has already ordered him to testify.  He says he will instead go to jail, if necessary.

That’s the bad news, right?  Really bad news!  The Supremes, the highest court in the land, refused to protect a reporter protecting a source at a moment when the Obama administration is in the midst of a wide-ranging crackdown on leakers and whistleblowers of all sorts (and those in the media considered to be aiding and abetting them).  Actually, in a world in which Congress has not yet managed to pass a federal shield law that would protect reporters, it turns out that that’s actually the good news — or so at least various media commentators say.  Follow the logic here (and it is logic of a sort).  Right now the Richmond, Virginia-based Appeals court decision applies only to courts in states under its jurisdiction.  Had the Supremes agreed to take on the case, given their conservative and generally government-friendly bent on matters of executive power and what passes for national security, they would likely have ruled against Risen and that ruling would have applied nationally.

So, phew!  Their rejection was a “blessing” (in disguise).  The only harm they did, after all, was to confirm the atmospherics of a moment in which the Obama administration has been eager to shut down the leaking of unauthorized government information in a big way — oh yes, and drive another modest nail into the coffin of a free-to-report-what-our-government-actually-does media.  That’s the minimal, not the maximal damage claim; so say various relieved commentators.  As for Risen, he now has to depend on the kindness of strangers, of in fact Attorney General Eric Holder, who may briefly declare a truce in the administration’s “war on the press” and not jail him.

Best news we’ve had in a while!  And should Congress pass that shield law (even if it leaves national security out), uncork the champagne!  And we’ll all toast the Supreme Court and the attorney general and the president and his top officials for their grace under pressure.  Or rather, hold on just a sec there.  Maybe that isn’t quite the classic American way of preserving our freedoms — i.e, allowing our government free rein to preserve them for us, if its officials happen to be in the mood.  In fact, as State Department whistleblower and TomDispatch regular Peter Van Buren suggests, we may be entering a grim new era when it comes to our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Tom Engelhardt

What we’ve lost since 9/11
Taking down the First Amendment in post-constitutional America
By Peter Van Buren

America has entered its third great era: the post-constitutional one. In the first, in the colonial years, a unitary executive, the King of England, ruled without checks and balances, allowing no freedom of speech, due process, or privacy when it came to protecting his power.

In the second, the principles of the Enlightenment and an armed rebellion were used to push back the king’s abuses. The result was a new country and a new constitution with a Bill of Rights expressly meant to check the government’s power. Now, we are wading into the shallow waters of a third era, a time when that government is abandoning the basic ideas that saw our nation through centuries of challenges far more daunting than terrorism. Those ideas — enshrined in the Bill of Rights — are disarmingly concise. Think of them as the haiku of a genuine people’s government.

Deeper, darker waters lie ahead and we seem drawn down into them. For here there be monsters.

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William Astore: Drafted by the national security state

On the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, Brian Williams led off NBC Nightly News this way: “On our broadcast tonight, the salute to the warriors who stormed the beaches here in Normandy…”  It’s such a commonplace of our American world, that word “warriors” for those in the U.S. military or, as is said time and again, our “wounded warriors” for those hurt in one of our many wars.  This time, however, because it was applied to the vets of World War II, my father’s war, it stopped me in my tracks.  For just a moment, I couldn’t help imagining what my father would have said, had anyone called him — or any of the air commandos in Burma for whom he was “operations officer” — a warrior.  Though he’s been dead now for three decades, I don’t have a moment’s doubt that he would have thought it ridiculous.  In World War I, America’s soldiers had been known as “doughboys.”  In World War II, they were regularly (and proudly) called “dogfaces” or G.I. (for “government issue”) Joes, and their citizen-soldier likenesses were reflected in the tough but bedraggled figures of Willy and Joe, Bill Mauldin’s much beloved wartime cartoon foot soldiers on the long slog to Berlin.

And that was fitting for a civilian military, a draft military.  It was down to earth.  It was how you described people who had left civilian life with every intention of returning to it as soon as humanly possible, who thought the military a grim necessity of a terrible moment in history and that war, a terrible but necessary way to go.  In those days, warriors would have been an alien term, the sort you associated with, say, Prussians.

My father volunteered just after the attack on Pearl Harbor and wasn’t demobilized until the war ended, but — I remember it well in the years after — while he took pride in his service, he maintained a typical and healthy American dislike (to put it politely) for what he called “the regular army” and George Washington would have called a “standing army.”  He would have been amazed by the present American way of war and the propaganda universe we now live in when it comes to praising and elevating the U.S. military above the rest of society.  He would have found it inconceivable that a president’s wife would go on a popular TV show — I’m talking about Michelle Obama on “Nashville” — and mix it up with fictional characters to laud for the umpteenth time America’s warriors and their service to the nation.

In Vietnam, of course, the term still wasn’t warrior, it was “grunt.”  The elevation of the American soldier to the heavens of praise and bombast came significantly after the end of the citizen army, particularly with what retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore calls the new Fortress America mindset of the post-9/11 years and the ever more militarized world of constant war that went with it.

If only I could have picked up the phone, called my father, and heard the choice words he would have had for his newly elevated status as an American “warrior,” seven decades after Normandy.  But not being able to, on that D-Day anniversary I did the next best thing and called a 90-year-old friend, who was on a ship off one of those blood-soaked beaches as the invasion began.  Thinking back those 70 years with a certain pride, he remembered that the thing the foot soldiers of World War II resented most was saluting or saying “sir” to officers.  No warriors they — and no love for an eternal wartime either.  Put another way, the farther we’ve come from our last great military victory, symbolized by the events of June 6, 1944, the more elevated the language for describing, or perhaps whitewashing, a new American way of war that, for pure failure, may have few matches. Tom Engelhardt

Uncle Sam doesn’t want you — he already has you
The militarized realities of fortress America
By William J. Astore

I spent four college years in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and then served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force.  In the military, especially in basic training, you have no privacy.  The government owns you.  You’re “government issue,” just another G.I., a number on a dogtag that has your blood type and religion in case you need a transfusion or last rites.  You get used to it.  That sacrifice of individual privacy and personal autonomy is the price you pay for joining the military.  Heck, I got a good career and a pension out of it, so don’t cry for me, America.

But this country has changed a lot since I joined ROTC in 1981, was fingerprinted, typed for blood, and otherwise poked and prodded. (I needed a medical waiver for myopia.)  Nowadays, in Fortress America, every one of us is, in some sense, government issue in a surveillance state gone mad.

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Tom Engelhardt: A record of unparalleled failure

Don’t walk away from war
By Tom Engelhardt

The United States has been at war — major boots-on-the-ground conflicts and minor interventions, firefights, air strikes, drone assassination campaigns, occupations, special ops raids, proxy conflicts, and covert actions — nearly nonstop since the Vietnam War began.  That’s more than half a century of experience with war, American-style, and yet few in our world bother to draw the obvious conclusions.

Given the historical record, those conclusions should be staring us in the face.  They are, however, the words that can’t be said in a country committed to a military-first approach to the world, a continual build-up of its forces, an emphasis on pioneering work in the development and deployment of the latest destructive technology, and a repetitious cycling through styles of war from full-scale invasions and occupations to counterinsurgency, proxy wars, and back again.

So here are five straightforward lessons — none acceptable in what passes for discussion and debate in this country — that could be drawn from that last half century of every kind of American warfare:

1. No matter how you define American-style war or its goals, it doesn’t work. Ever.

2. No matter how you pose the problems of our world, it doesn’t solve them. Never.

3. No matter how often you cite the use of military force to “stabilize” or “protect” or “liberate” countries or regions, it is a destabilizing force.

4. No matter how regularly you praise the American way of war and its “warriors,” the U.S. military is incapable of winning its wars.

5. No matter how often American presidents claim that the U.S. military is “the finest fighting force in history,” the evidence is in: it isn’t.

And here’s a bonus lesson: if as a polity we were to take these five no-brainers to heart and stop fighting endless wars, which drain us of national treasure, we would also have a long-term solution to the Veterans Administration health-care crisis.  It’s not the sort of thing said in our world, but the VA is in a crisis of financing and caregiving that, in the present context, cannot be solved, no matter whom you hire or fire.  The only long-term solution would be to stop fighting losing wars that the American people will pay for decades into the future, as the cost in broken bodies and broken lives is translated into medical care and dumped on the VA.

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Eduardo Galeano: The World Cup and the corporatization of soccer

Over the next few weeks, we will see all that is beautiful and all that is damned in soccer at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Hundreds of millions will swoon at the sight of the gods of the global game — Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, Italy’s Andrea Pirlo, England’s Wayne Rooney — plying their exquisite trade across the newly built or expensively refurbished stadiums on which Brazil, according to the Wall Street Journal, has spent $3.6 billion over the last few years.

The 32 national teams arriving in that country will, however, be confronted with another, far more sobering reality.  Soccer-crazy Brazil has been in revolt over the World Cup — over, in particular, the staggering sums that have been siphoned from the public purse into a string of gargantuan, desperately-behind-schedule construction projects for the competition. Last year, there were protests, some of which were violently suppressed, in more than 120 Brazilian cities during the somewhat pointless warm-up tournament that the governing body of world soccer, FIFA, runs a year before the World Cup begins.

For lovers of the game, in his celebrated masterpiece Soccer in Sun and Shadow, the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano long ago caught the way the spectacle of soccer and the spectacle of reality intertwined.  Of the Brazilian protests, he recently observed: “Brazilians, who are the most soccer-mad of all, have decided not to allow their sport to be used any more as an excuse for humiliating the many and enriching the few. The fiesta of soccer, a feast for the legs that play and the eyes that watch, is much more than a big business run by overlords from Switzerland. The most popular sport in the world wants to serve the people who embrace it. That is a fire police violence will never put out.”

Huge global sporting contests, their boosters promise, will transform the nature of the host country. The billions South Africa poured into hosting the World Cup were touted by some as a form of development. The result? The month-long euphoria of the contests was followed by the hangover of dealing with an expensive unused or underused stadium infrastructure scattered across that developing country. (Host countries pay FIFA for the privilege of hosting the competition, then foot the bill for most of the tournament, while FIFA takes most of the revenues.) Today, something similar is happening in Brazil where, as Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanksi have noted, there has been “a transfer of wealth from Brazil as a whole to various interest groups inside and outside the country. This is not an economic bonanza. Brazil is sacrificing a little bit of its future to host the World Cup.”

This is just one symptom of a corporate takeover of “the beautiful game” that has reached the saturation point. Since the neoliberal 1980s, Brazil, like many other South American countries, has been in the business of exporting its soccer talent to the rest of the world. As Galeano once noted of his own country’s leg drain, “In Uruguay… soccer is an export industry that scorns the domestic market. The continuous outflow of good players means mediocre professional leagues and ever fewer, ever less fervent fans.”

Corporate sponsorship is officially prohibited from team shirts during the World Cup, but elsewhere, from the T-shirts on their chests to the laces on their shoes, even in one controversial case their underpants, the players are advertisements for the multinational apparel companies who make their uniforms. And the elite among them are employed as brand ambassadors by corporations during the tournament; so expect to see Messi and Ronaldo advertising soft drinks and airlines during gamebreaks.

We all need an antidote to soccer as big business; if you can’t take to the streets of Brazil to offer your own comment on the ways in which international sports leave misery in their wake, you must, at least, pick up Eduardo Galeano’s witty and rebellious history of the game, Soccer in Sun and Shadow.  It already has a cult readership in the English-speaking world, but in the Spanish-speaking one it is considered a bible of soccer by ordinary readers and professional players alike. In the run-up to the games, TomDispatch offers you just a taste of that classic: five pieces that capture the marvel and melancholy of the world’s most popular sport. Carl Bromley

“The world turns around a spinning Ball”
Choreographed war and other aspects of the world’s greatest game
By Eduardo Galeano

[The following passages are excerpted at TomDispatch from Eduardo Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow (Nation Books, Open Road Media ebooks).]

The Stadium

Have you ever entered an empty stadium? Try it. Stand in the middle of the field and listen. There is nothing less empty than an empty stadium. There is nothing less mute than stands bereft of spectators.

At Wembley, shouts from the 1966 World Cup, which England won, still resound, and if you listen very closely you can hear groans from 1953 when England fell to the Hungarians. Montevideo’s Centenario Stadium sighs with nostalgia for the glory days of Uruguayan soccer. Maracanã is still crying over Brazil’s 1950 World Cup defeat. At Bombonera in Buenos Aires, drums boom from half a century ago. From the depths of Azteca Stadium, you can hear the ceremonial chants of the ancient Mexican ball game. The concrete terraces of Camp Nou in Barcelona speak Catalan, and the stands of San Mamés in Bilbao talk in Basque. In Milan, the ghost of Giuseppe Meazza scores goals that shake the stadium bearing his name. The final match of the 1974 World Cup, won by Germany, is played day after day and night after night at Munich’s Olympic Stadium. King Fahd Stadium in Saudi Arabia has marble and gold boxes and carpeted stands, but it has no memory or much of anything to say.

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