Friday, May 24, 2013

Obama’s Speech: Tide Turning Against Counterterrorism Secrecy

By Tom Hayden

President Obama speaks about his administration’s drone and counterterrorism policies, as well as the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, at the National Defense University in Washington, May 23, 2013.

President Barack Obama’s speech at the National Defense University on counterterrorism revealed a commander-in-chief increasingly worried about political criticism of his Guantanamo detentions, his penchant for secrecy and his drone warfare policies. Where Obama has shielded his policies on the basis of external terrorist threats, he now is responding to critics who threaten to upset domestic support for those policies abroad.

In past years, Obama has defended himself against attacks from neo-conservative hawks and senators like John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsay Graham, who charged him with being “soft” on terrorism. But today, while defending his military policies as constitutional, the president was promising to wind down the “forever war,” sharply reduce drone attacks, repatriate detainees to Yemen, and move again to close Guantanamo. When disrupted by Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin, Obama spontaneously said that Benjamin was “worth paying attention to,” and was “willing to cut the young lady who interrupted [him] some slack because it’s worth being passionate about.”

Code Pink's Medea Benjamin, center, demonstrates during President Obama's speech at the National Defense University in Washington, May 23, 2013.Such a gesture will hardly pacify Code Pink or the president’s antiwar critics. But their criticisms have become a factor in the national debate. To criticize the president’s speech as “nothing new” is to miss the primary reason for which the speech was given: to explain a careful withdrawal from the Global War on Terrorism paradigm, the heinous impasse at Guantanamo, and the massive secrecy around drones.

The President was cautious in explaining his pivot toward de-escalation, mindful that incidents like Benghazi or the Boston Marathon bombings can block his de-escalation path, or at least complicate it severely. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Novel Idea: Ask an Afghan about Afghanistan

"Now that the SOB is Dead..."
A Novel Idea: Asking an Afghan about Afghanistan

By Greg Palast

Vice Magazine via Beaver County Peace Links

[2] "Now that the sonovabitch is dead, why is the US still angry with us?"

"Us", in this conversation, are the Taliban. The SOB in question is Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban's frustration was relayed to me by Yahya Maroofi, Counsellor to Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai – Karzai's Kissinger, if Kissinger had a soul.

The Silk Road nation of Kazakhstan is an excellent place to encounter the dervishes of the Great Game for control of the camel-and-pipeline routes of the Central Asian steppes. Here we can witness the diplomatic-military idiocies of new empires pathetically attempting to ignore the dried skeletons of the imperial forces that went before them.

Maroofi was spending the day in Kazakhstan's capital on his way to little-noticed peace negotiations – little noticed because neither Uncle Sam nor Great-Uncle Britain were invited. Attendance is limited to those frontline states that will be left holding the grenade when the US and UK pull out the pin with the removal of their troops in 2014. The lineup includes Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan (birthplace of the Boston Bombers) and the big new swinging dick on the block, Turkey, as well as Iran, the nation most feared and despised by the Taliban. The unannounced guests, of course, are the Taliban themselves.

I am moved to recount a bit of my lengthy talk with the Afghan minister after reading reams of meretricious bunkum about Afghanistan from the pens of US propaganda repeaters pretending to be reporters. My favourite is, "[3] Hope Seen for Afghanistan After Coalition Leaves," in the New York Times. To give us an expert view, two American reporters used their 20-column inches to take down the words of General Joseph F Dunford Jr, commander of all "international forces" in Afghanistan.

Dunford just arrived in Afghanistan for the first time about 12 weeks ago. He may not know a Tajik from a camel fart, but he does speak fluent Pashto. (I made that last one up because I'm tired of Europeans making fun of Americans for being ignorant of foreign languages.) Notably, the Times article about the future of Afghanistan includes not one word from an Afghan.

But the General does have lots of medals (see?), so I suppose he's as good a source as any.[4]

I did wonder why the Times flew reporters all the way to Kabul to speak to a bewildered US general when they could have saved time and painful immunisations by just copying the Pentagon press releases in Washington. The Times asked "Fighting Joe", as he's called in his official bio, the only question of concern to the US press: "Will the Afghan troops be able to resume lead responsibility" in killing Taliban? "Yes!" asserted the tourist-general.

So I figured, what the hell, let's ask an Afghan about Afghanistan's future. Maroofi, the minister into whose hands this future falls, takes a different tack entirely. He has no time for the American fixation on whether Afghans will fight the Taliban. He makes it clear that Afghans don't want to fight the Taliban at all. And the Taliban don't want to fight fellow Afghans.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Windmills, Not Weapons! Military Keynesianism Need To Shrink Toward Zero, in Order to Grow Productive Jobs

Military spending is not right way to boost America's economic security

By Michael Shank& Elizabeth Kucinich

Beaver County Blue via Fox News Opinion

May 15, 2013 - That Washington is holding defense cuts responsible for slow economic growth is a specious argument at best. War spending is unproductive and inflationary. Modern defense costs are capital intensive, not labor intensive, making the industry inefficient as a job creator.  

The defense industry has a presence in congressional districts across this country, so cuts affect every member. But every district in the U.S. has pressing infrastructure, education, health and environmental needs, and the return on the taxpayer’s dollar is much higher when invested on these areas.
Instead of concentrating money on capital intensive, military hardware purposed for destruction, and causing long term economic drain, our very limited and valuable economic resources should be invested in building the true strength and capacity of our economy, our nation, and her people.

During the heightened banking crisis in 2009, Rep. James Oberstar, then Chair of House Transportation Committee, called for a massive Eisenhower-level of investment in transportation infrastructure. He was right.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the U.S. requires $3.6 trillion in infrastructure investment by 2020 to bring our grade D+ standards to safe standards.  

This is exactly what we need: to put bridge-builders to work rather than funding technology and personnel to destroy bridges, and to take tank-making factories and repurpose them to build high-speed trains.
In prioritizing military spending, Congress is cutting the very programs that can actually strengthen our economy: Cutting federal assistance to the states, forcing them to lay off teachers, firefighters, and social workers; cutting opportunities for job creation, training, and placement programs; and eviscerating funding for children’s programs and assistance for seniors.

These actions make no economic sense.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Congressional Drone Hearings: The Most Compelling Testimony

Organized by the Congressional Progressive Caucus

By George Zornick
Beaver County Peace Links via The Nation
May 9, 2013 - Serious, public explorations of the United States’ drone policy are uncommon in Washington, to say the least—but on Wednesday the Congressional Progressive Caucus held a hearing on Capitol Hill that was remarkable for its breadth and critical approach to current policy. The thrust of the hearing was to ask the administration to both limit the scope of its drone strike policy and be transparent about what it is doing.

Here are four of the most compelling bits of testimony from the proceeding:
(1) In the video above, Yemeni human rights activist Baraa Shiban spoke directly to the very real toll drone strikes are taking in his country. He said:
Another reason strikes are more damaging than the US realizes is that, while the US may not be acknowledging or discussing dead civilians, Yemenis are.…
The farmers from Sabool showed us videos of people pulling charred bodies from the wreckage. They were scarcely recognizable. But besides the horror of it all, one thing struck me about the footage I watched. In it, you could see many Yemeni farmers gathered around the carnage filming exactly the same thing.
This is how stories of US injustice percolate through Yemen. Terrible images like those I saw can take on a life of their own. US aid reaches these areas rarely, if ever.… This is not a pointless popularity contest for America. Every lethal mistake the US makes is kerosene for an insurgency. And it all comes at a critical time for Yemen.

(2) Adam Baron, a freelance journalist based in Yemen, expanded on how civilian casualties from drone strikes are providing a useful recruitment tool for extremist groups, and drew on his reporting there:
For the civilians under the crossfire, anxieties provoked by fears of another ‘mistake’, continue to fuel distrust and resentment against the US and Yemeni governments, rather than against AQAP. In some areas, AQAP has managed to reap the benefits from such sentiments. The situation in al-Baydah is particularly telling. In a recent military offensive, swaths of tribesmen in the area opted to fight the government on the side of Al Qaeda, rather than cooperate with US forces to push the militants out.
“Some tribesmen are fighting the army even more than Al Qaeda is,” a contact from the area told me at the nascence of the winter military push. “People are angry about drone strikes and condemn foreign intervention. Al Qaeda has really been able to build popular sympathy.”
(3) Naureen Shah, the acting director of the Columbia Law School Human Rights clinic, addressed in her testimony the importance of establishing routine investigations of civilian casualties from drone strikes—both to comply with international law but also to dignify the concerns of local communities. She stressed these investigations must be public and transparent:
Moreover, established systems to investigate war crimes and serious violations of the laws of war would build legitimacy into the Administration’s position that drone strikes are conducted in compliance with international humanitarian law. Adequate investigation systems would address some of the concerns of cooperating governments and help allay the international community’s concerns.
Secret or unacknowledged investigations would likely be insufficient to address the moral dimensions I have identified. Secret investigations cannot provide dignity and a sense of justice to communities impacted by drone strikes. Secret investigations do not provide answer to widely publicized reports of particular cases of civilian casualties from drone strikes, which cause the United States to lose credibility on the world stage and appear deaf to criticism. Whereas the results of investigations can ordinarily be aggregated and systematically analyzed to determine the validity of pre-strike estimates and intelligence, secret investigations may not serve this function.
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(4) Eight members of Congress entered into testimony a letter they sent President Barack Obama, demanding further clarification of the legal justifications behind drone strikes. It read, in part:
The information from the Justice Department meme leaked on February 4, 2013, in the context of an increasing devolution of accountability, transparency and Constitutional protections in US counterterrorism operations, leaves us deeply concerned about what appears to constitute overly broad authority language….
These are vague legal boundaries that raise the risk of the executive branch authorizing the deaths of American civilians otherwise protected by the Constitution and appear to effectively vitiate due process of law without meaningful oversight or accountability….
As you state in your recent State of the Union address, “we must enlist our values in the fight.” We ask, therefore, that you follow through with your commitment to engage with Congress to ensure that the ways in which we target, detain, prosecute, and kill suspected terrorist are consistent with the commands of our Constitution, including our system of checks and balances.
We strongly urge you to release the documents requested in this letter for the reasons articulated above.

Read George Zornick on the GOP’s Working Families Act—and why it’s a hoax to attract women voters.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

US Military Expansion in Mali and Syria? A Very Bad Idea…

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Beaver County Peace Links via Atlanta Daily World

The Obama administration is preparing for an expansion of U.S. military involvement into areas from which it should keep its nose clear:  Syria and Mali.  The news reports are unsettling even as there are attempts by the administration to assure the U.S. public that all is well and that there is no intention for a grand military intervention.

In both cases we are witnessing civil wars unfold.  In the case of Syria, it is not only a civil war—that began as peaceful protests—but there has been the active involvement of outside powers, including the states around the Arabian/Persian Gulf such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran.  The brutality being committed by both sides has been widely reported and there remains a grave danger that this conflict will spill over into Lebanon, and perhaps Iraq.

In the case of Mali, an internal ethnic conflict exploded with a combination of a military coup ousting the country’s recognized leadership, along with the active intervention of Muslim jihadists from Algeria and other countries armed to the teeth with weapons that were let loose when the Qaddafi regime collapsed in Libya.  This was compounded by the intervention of French forces to stop the advance of the jihadists.

The Obama administration is suggesting that they will more than likely provide military assistance to the armed opposition in Syria despite the fact that the armed opposition is a mixed bag that includes Al Qaeda elements, and similar such forces.  While it is absolutely the case that the armed opposition are not exclusively jihadists, it is the case that this is a situation that can get very much out of control and is in need of political solution.