INDEX (full text of stories follow Democracy Now headlines)
from Ted Rall’s Rallblog by Ted Rall
Senior White House aide: 1996 Obama gay marriage questionnaire is a fake, even though Obama signed it
- U.S., Rebels Reject Gaddafi Proposal
- Boehner Warns Admin on Libya War Funding
- Wisconsin Senate Approves Public Spending Cuts
- Rep. Weiner Resigns over Online Photo Scandal
- Powerful Assad Cousin Divests of Holdings
- Israel Vows to Block New Gaza Flotilla
- Panel: Nuclear Plants Fail to Account for Japan Scenario
- Arizona Schools Ordered to Cancel Ethnic Studies Program
- Report: TSA Screeners Deliberately Targeted Mexicans, Dominicans at Newark Airport
- Relatives Urge Probe of ATF Program in Border Agent’s Death
- On 40th Anniversary, Carter Calls for End to U.S. Drug War
- Syrian Troops Enter Northern Towns
“Our partnership guarantees there can be no resumption of overt Arab-Israeli war and also provides valuable US military access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace.” Wikileaks document
The fall of Mr. Mubarak has important lessons for Americans concerned about the future of our young democracy.
As events unfolded in Egypt, troubling questions – primarily in independent media sources – were raised closer to home. Why had the US government, across Democratic and Republican administrations, supported a dictator for decades with $1.3 billion of annual military aid? How could the highest ranking US government officials shake hands and pose for pictures with a man who was known to hoard stolen wealth and to govern without regard for human rights?
The facts are clear: In return for support of Israeli apartheid and access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian air space, the US government was a willing accessory to the crimes of the Mubarak regime. This is not the first time the US government has favored dictators over democracy. In a country that has supported authoritarians from General Pinochet in Chile to the royal family of Saudi Arabia, such a trade-off is standard operating procedure.
In the case of Egypt, top US government officials made a calculated policy choice to channel arms to Mr. Mubarak because his regime served the interests of US multinational corporations and the global hegemony of the US military. The power of Israel – an important client state of the US since its founding in 1948 – remained stable with Mr. Mubarak as an ally. Additionally, the Suez Canal was open for US business and Navy warships. And, with US military access to Egyptian airspace, Washington was able to confidently project its interests in the most prolific oil producing region on the face of the Earth. The real politicking is plain as day: The alliance with Mr. Mubarak secured the strategic interests of American Empire: US industry was ensured access to inexpensive energy, a safe environment to invest capital, and advantage over competitors.
At the same time, US arms manufacturers and defense contractors were subsidized with tax-payer money; the nearly $40 billion dollars Mr. Mubarak acquired through Foreign Military Finance over the years of his reign was used to purchase weapons from US suppliers. As Egyptians worried for the safety and well being of their families living under a tyrannical regime, a handful of American investors reaped financial benefit.
Never mind human rights or democracy or the emergent threat of climate crisis. For the US ruling class, all decent human values to protect life – and the basic sanctity of persons – are out the window when short term profit margins and the efficient exploitation of Middle East oil reserves are at stake.
The same cold rationale is applied to domestic affairs. Whether arming dictators like Mr. Mubarak or sending occupying military forces to Southwest Asian nations, politicians have bought Empire at the expense of economic security for working people. The bloated war budget that runs (conservatively) over $700 billion in FY2011 – the United States government spends as much on military research and development as China budgets for its entire defense – is paid for with reductions in funds to educate our children, house our elders, heal the trauma of our veterans, and help ordinary American families through hard times.
In other words, the CEOs of US arms manufacturers got richer while the rest of us saw another thread pulled out of an already tattered social safety net. While millions of people are out of work, Washington remains home to a bipartisan determination to make ever deeper cuts to critical services. While public employees face layoffs, attacks on their unions, and a steep reduction in their standard of living, billions of US tax dollars are consumed to fund weapon purchases by undemocratic governments with ties to the US military and defense contractors.
Using conservative assumptions, the Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard economist Linda Bilmes estimate more than $3 trillion will be spent in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. How can we afford to pour that much scarce public resource into fighting abroad during a deep recession? Apparently Washington has found at least a partial solution: As soldiers continue to labor far from their families in dangerous environments, the Navy Times reports politicians are discussing cuts to military retired pay.
If you happen to have millions of dollars in your bank account, you could probably care less about whether or not there is enough in the public treasury to pledge Social Security, or Medicare, or unemployment compensation for current or future generations. For the rest of us, the trade-off between military and social spending is a matter of life and death.
Weapons for dictators abroad – austerity for poor and working people at home – is the agenda of unaccountable elite who place profits ahead of all other moral principles. While Uncle Sam worries about how to satisfy the greed of the richest people in our county, the rest of humanity struggles to put roof over head, find honest work, and feed hungry mouths. At the end of the day, patriotic Americans have more in common with Egyptians who ventured into the streets for freedom from Mr. Mubarak than the people occupying the halls of the White House and Capitol Hill.
Grayson would consider support for Progressive in primary against a corporate Dem. in a winnable race
from AMERICAblog: A great nation deserves the truth by Gaius Publius
Greece was rocked Wednesday by massive street protests and a strike of millions of workers against the government’s austerity plans. In response, embattled Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou announced he will reshuffle his cabinet to try to achieve consensus on how to address the country’s crippling debt crisis. The new austerity package for Greece includes $9.4 billion in tax hikes, doubling past measures agreed to with bailout lenders that have pushed unemployment to a record 16.2 percent and extended a deep recession into its third year. We speak with Hara Kouki, a doctoral student based in Athens who has been writing about the protests, and with Costas Panayotakis, associate professor of sociology at the New York City College of Technology at CUNY. [includes rush transcript]
from The Angry Arab News Service/وكالة أنباء العربي الغاضب by firstname.lastname@example.org (As’ad AbuKhalil)
We spend the hour with legendary independent filmmaker and author, John Sayles. Over the past three decades, he has directed 17 feature films, including Return of the Secaucus Seven, Matewan, Lone Star, and Eight Men Out. He has often used his films to tackle pressing political issues, as well as themes of race, class, labor and sexuality. His newest film, Amigo, which opens in August, is set in the Philippines during the U.S. occupation. Sayles is also a celebrated author. A winner of the O. Henry award, he has just published his first novel in 20 years. It’s called “A Moment in the Sun,” and it’s a sprawling work which takes the turn of the 20th century in its sights—from a white racist coup in Wilmington, North Carolina, to the first stirrings of the motion picture industry, to the bloody dawn of U.S. interventionism in Cuba and the Philippines. We talked with Sayles about his work and career before he left to screen Amigo in the Philippines. “However small your audience is, however frustrating it is to get your version of the world or what you want to talk about out there, it’s part of the conversation. And if you shut up, the conversation is one-sided,” says Sayles. [includes rush transcript]
from Informed Comment by Juan
Senator Diane Feinstein says that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence may open an investigation into allegations that the Bush White House attempted to use the CIA to have my reputation destroyed in 2005-2006. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) refuses to have the House intelligence committee look into it, trying to kick it to Eric Holder at the Department of Justice. If the House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee is not interested in whether the Bush White House and the CIA broke the law by targeting an American author on US soil, then frankly we have an answer to Ben Franklin’s concerns; after the Constitutional Convention he is said to have been asked about the form of the new government and to have replied, “A Republic– if you can keep it.” Guess not so much.
The Boston Globe editorial board differs with Rogers, calling for a full congressional investigation as well as one by the CIA Inspector General. The Globe notes that then Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte’s response to the scandal, that he has no memory of the event but that others in his office may have been approached by the White House about me, is hardly a decisive refutation of the charges. Negroponte is now “a research fellow and lecturer in international affairs at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.”
‘Judging from Senator Feinstein’s quote, the scope and goals of this initial effort to look into the story are unclear, but at a minimum, Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are now taking a first step in that direction. This could also force a public relitigation of the Bush administration’s efforts to sell the Iraq War to the public — a topic that is likely to stir intense passions on both sides.’
Well if all this could be an occasion finally to look into the propaganda campaign whereby we were inveigled into the Iraq War, that would make it all worth it. But actually I don’t know what passions could any longer be stirred about it. Most people know the whole thing was a joint Oil Man/ Neocon get-up job.
Salon.com has put together a reading list of my articles for them in the period during which the Bush White House was interested in having the CIA “get” me.
Below is a transcript of an interview by Eliot Spitzer on CNN’s “In the Arena” with Glenn Carle and Juan Cole concerning the Bush White House/ CIA attempt to destroy Cole’s reputation. I think Carle adds some new details and texture to his account beyond what was in James Risen’s NYT piece.
Let me quote here the passage at the bottom, from me, right up front:
And it’s just impossible for me to believe that the White House asked the CIA to Google me; that they were just passing along publicly available information. There must have been an implication that they should actively dig up some kind of dirt. And that is illegal and it’s extremely troubling, and I believe that the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Intelligence Committee should open investigations, should subpoena documents, should get names, should find out what was going on, who the request came from at the White House, what’s the background of this.
I think Eric Holder, at the Department of Justice, should look into it. And I think that unless we get to the bottom of this story, we can’t be sure that there weren’t others so targeted, that other people were perhaps — their reputation was ruined for political purposes.
And we also — to tell you the truth, we can’t be sure there aren’t black cells inside the CIA that continue to behave in these ways. I mean, I think we really need to shake things up here and get to the bottom of this.
Spitzer at the end notes the CIA’s denial of Carle’s and Risen’s story (Risen has other sources besides Carle who however declined to be named). The denial is clearly dishonest and seems mainly concerned with reassuring other experts that by agreeing to speak to intelligence analysts in DC they are not thereby putting themselves under surveillance! I’d be sorry if this fiasco dried up open sources for the US intelligence community, which is often too stovepiped and inward-looking as it is.
Here is the full transcript:
NYT on Obama’s evolving, and devolving, views on gay marriage, and a new excuse from the White House
The latest explanation from the White House, for why President Obama filed out not one, but two, questionnaires in 1996 claiming he would support same-sex marriage, is that the future President, and constitutional scholar, didn’t understand the difference between “civil unions” and “marriage” when he repeatedly stated that he was in favor of legal same-sex marriages.
I hope this gives folks some sense of why many in the gay community have become so frustrated with the President. There’s a lack of seriousness in the way he treats our community far too often. It’s almost as if he thinks we don’t deserve a real, adult answer.
Senior White House aide: 1996 Obama gay marriage questionnaire is a fake, even though Obama signed it
During a Q&A this morning at the annual Netroots Nation liberal blog conference, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer claimed that Barack Obama never filled out a pair of 1996 questionnaires that show then-Illinois-legislature-candidate Obama supporting gay marriage.
Then who is the liar who filled out the questionnaires for the poor victimized Barack Obama? Here’s the perp’s signature at the bottom of one of the questionnaires – see for yourself:
Yes, Barack Obama signed Barack Obama’s questionnaire claiming to be in favor of gay marriage in 1996.
Confront Bachmann With Connection to “You Can Run, But You Cannot Hide” Ministry
MINNEAPOLIS, MN — Following a speech in her home state, pro-LGBT activists added Michele Bachmann to the list of Republican presidential candidates who have been “glittered” to draw attention to their grave and hurtful anti-gay rhetoric.
Shortly after a speech at the RightOnline conference, pro-LGBT activist Rachel E. B. Lang approached Bachmann, threw glitter in the air, and said, “You can run, but you cannot hide! Keep your hate out of our Constitution!” — a reference to the “You Can Run But You Cannot Hide” ministry for which Bachmann has helped raise money  and to a proposed ban on same-sex marriage in Minnesota. The ministry, a brainchild of rabidly anti-gay Bradley Dean, charges thousands of dollars to speak at public school assemblies and evangelize young people based on a shocking and offensive anti-gay program.
Bradlee Dean, the ministry’s founder and chief evangelist, was invited to give the opening prayer during the recent Minnesota legislative session that considered putting an anti-gay marriage amendment on the 2012 ballot. The prayer was so offensive that it was denounced by both Republicans and Democrats, and the house chaplain was asked to give another prayer immediately afterward. The ministry often charges thousands of dollars to speak at public school assemblies, which have routinely drawn criticism for its over-the-top evangelism and have even caused school principals to call follow-up assemblies to apologize to students. 
“My response to Michele Bachmann’s hateful and anti-gay rhetoric was light-hearted, but these issues are very serious,” said Minnesota resident Rachel E. B. Lang, today’s glitterer. “Bachmann’s support of groups like You Can Run But You Cannot Hide show exactly how extremist she is — she in no way represents the values of Minnesota and certainly does not represent the values of America.”
Lang is straight and a lawyer in Minneapolis, and has several gay family members, including a 75-year-old uncle who recently married his 75-year-old same-sex partner in Iowa.
“As long as Michele Bachmann and other out-of-touch politicians are attacking my family and limiting my freedom, there will be more and more glitterings across the country,” said Lang. “Today I welcomed Bachmann into the Glitter Hall of Fame and, until these politicians stop their anti-gay attacks on families like mine, people will continue to stand up for equality and the freedom to love whoever they want.”
This statement was put out by the U.S Department of State yesterday June 17, 2011:
Today, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the first ever UN resolution on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. This represents a historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people face around the world based solely on who they are and whom they love.
The United States worked with the main sponsor, South Africa, and a number of other countries from many regions of the world to help pass this resolution, including Brazil, Colombia, members of the European Union, and others. This resolution will commission the first ever UN report on the challenges that LGBT persons face around the globe and will open a broader international discussion on how to best promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.
All over the world, people face human rights abuses and violations because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, including torture, rape, criminal sanctions, and killing. Today’s landmark resolution affirms that human rights are universal. People cannot be excluded from protection simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The United States will continue to stand up for human rights wherever there is inequality and we will seek more commitments from countries to join this important resolution.
South Carolina Workers Tell Gov. Haley, Other Lawmakers to Focus on Creating Good Jobs, Hold Boeing Accountable for Breaking the Law
June 17, 2011
(CHARLESTON, SC) – South Carolina workers called on South Carolina Representatives, Gov. Nikki Haley and other lawmakers to focus on creating good jobs and to stop their political three-ring circus in defense of Boeing lobbyists and CEOs. Workers spoke prior to a politically-motivated hearing – organized by California Rep. Darrell Issa and attended by Gov. Haley and Reps. Gowdy, Scott and Wilson – on Boeing and the NLRB Friday in North Charleston.
“We have heard a lot of talk recently about what is right for South Carolinians from lawmakers, both here in our state and in Washington D.C.,” said Joe Shelling, a mill worker at the Cap Stone paper mill in Charleston. “Well, I am here today, as a South Carolinian, to share my opinion about what we need to create good jobs and a stronger economy and it isn’t the political grandstanding you see here today.”
Workers emphasized that South Carolinians support Boeing bringing jobs to the state but the corporation should not break the law in order to do it. Federal Law Enforcers filed a complaint against Boeing in April and a trial began this week to hold Boeing accountable for its blatant retaliation against Washington State workers for exercising their protected rights (see back for more details on the complaint).
“South Carolinians want good jobs, including the jobs Boeing has to offer, but employers who break the law, like Boeing is doing in Washington State, need to be held accountable and must respect workers’ rights,” said Georgette Carr, a Charleston long shore worker. “As a grandmother, I am very much concerned about our economic future. But we need to make sure that employers who come to South Carolina play by the rules and are willing to respect workers’ rights.”
South Carolina workers also emphasized today’s hearing is part of a broader political assault on working families taking place across the country.
“This is just another example of the extreme political agenda being pushed by politicians around the country to reward corporate CEOs and lobbyists who are rigging the system – not working families,” said James Johnson, a recently laid off construction worker from Summerville. “We have seen it Wisconsin and Ohio, with the attacks on public service workers, in Washington DC with the GOP budget plan to gut Medicare, and now right here in our backyard.”
“The right-wing attacks on the NLRB have nothing to do with the facts of the case or the economy, and everything to do with politics,” said Erin McKee, Charleston Labor Council president. “Working people play by the rules, and so should businesses. But corporate lobbyists and Republicans in Congress are attacking the National Labor Relations Board—a neutral, independent agency—for asking Boeing to play by the rules. The fact is that retaliating against workers—as Boeing’s own statements indicate it may have—is against the law.”
The economy was the issue in 2008 and it’s likely to be important in 2012. Unfortunately, Obama has not done much to impress the public on this issue.
The nation’s gloom over economic conditions poses a serious threat to President Obama’s re-election chances, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
The survey shows that nearly half of all Americans, and two-thirds of Republicans, believe the country is headed back into recession. A 54 percent majority disapproves of Obama’s handling of the economy.
“The public is incredibly pessimistic about the future,” said Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster who conducts the NBC/WSJ poll with his Republican counterpart Bill McInturff.
It’s never good to see anyone lose their job but really, Wall Street needs to feel a lot more of the pain that they caused the rest of the country. It’s unrealistic for Wall Street to expected pre-crisis profits and really, the rest of the country should not even tolerate seeing those profits. We all know they were false so more of the same is not what we need. NY Times:
Wall Street plans to get smaller this summer. Faced with weak markets and uncertainty over regulations, many of the biggest firms are preparing for deep cuts in jobs and other costs.
The cutback plans are emerging even as Wall Street firms have mostly recovered from the financial crisis and are reporting substantial profits again. But those profits are not as big as they were before the crisis, and it is expected that in the coming months it will be even more difficult for firms to make money. Worries about debt in Europe and the shape that the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul rules will ultimately take, combined with the usual summer doldrums, are prompting banks to act.
How the National Security Complex Grows on Terrorism Fears
By Tom Engelhardt
Here’s a scenario to chill you to the bone:
Without warning, the network — a set of terrorist super cells — struck in northern Germany and Germans began to fall by the hundreds, then thousands. As panic spread, hospitals were overwhelmed with the severely wounded. More than 20 of the victims died.
No one doubted that it was al-Qaeda, but where the terrorists had come from was unknown. Initially, German officials accused Spain of harboring them (and the Spanish economy promptly took a hit); then, confusingly, they retracted the charge. Alerts went off across Europe as fears spread. Russia closed its borders to the European Union, which its outraged leaders denounced as a “disproportionate” response. Even a small number of Americans visiting Germany ended up hospitalized.
In Washington, there was panic, though no evidence existed that the terrorists were specifically targeting Americans or that any of them had slipped into this country. Still, at a hastily called news conference, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano raised the new terror alert system for the first time from its always “elevated“ status to “imminent” (that is, “ a credible, specific, and impending threat”). Soon after, a Pentagon spokesman announced that the U.S. military had been placed on high alert across Europe.
Commentators on Fox News, quoting unnamed FBI sources, began warning that this might be the start of the “next 9/11” — and that the Obama administration was unprepared for it. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, in a rare public appearance at the American Enterprise Institute, denounced the president for “heedlessly putting this country at risk from the terrorists.” In Congress, members of both parties rallied behind calls for hundreds of millions of dollars of supplementary emergency funding for the Department of Homeland Security to strengthen airport safety. (“In such difficult economic times,” said House Speaker John Boehner, “Congress will have to find cuts from non-military discretionary spending at least equal to these necessary supplementary funds.”)
Finally, as the noise in the media echo chamber grew, President Obama called a prime-time news conference and addressed the rising sense of hysteria in Washington and the country, saying: “Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies will stop at nothing in their efforts to kill Americans. And we are determined not only to thwart those plans, but to disrupt, dismantle and defeat their networks once and for all.” He then ordered a full review of U.S. security and intelligence capabilities and promised a series of “concrete steps to protect the American people: new screening and security for all flights, domestic and international;… more air marshals on flights; and deepening cooperation with international partners.”
Terrorism Tops Shark Attacks
The first part of this scenario is, of course, a “terrorist” version of the still ongoing E. coli outbreak in Germany — the discovery of an all-new antibiotic-resistant “super toxic variant” of the bacteria that has caused death and panic in Europe. Although al-Qaeda and E. coli do sound a bit alike, German officials initially (and evidently incorrectly) accused Spanish cucumbers, not terrorists in Spain or German bean sprouts, of causing the crisis. And the “disproportionate” Russian response was not to close its borders to the European Union, but to ban E.U. vegetables until the source of the outbreak is discovered.
Above all, the American over-reaction was pure fiction. In fact, scientists here have been urging calm and mid-level government officials have been issuing statements of reassurance on the safety of the country’s food supply system. No one attacked the government for inaction; Cheney did not excoriate the president, nor did Napolitano raise the terror alert level, and Obama’s statement, quoted above, was given on January 5, 2010, in the panicky wake of the “underwear bomber’s”failed attempt to blow a hole in a Christmas day plane headed from Amsterdam to Detroit.
Ironically, non-super-toxic versions of E. coli now cause almost as much damage yearly in the U.S. as the recent super-toxic strain has in Europe. A child recently died in an outbreak in Tennessee. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have estimated that earlier in the decade about 60 Americans died annually from E. coli infections and ensuing complications, and another 2,000 were hospitalized. More recently, the figure for E. coli deaths has dropped to about 20 a year. For food-borne disease more generally, the CDC estimates that 48 million (or one of every six) Americans get sick yearly, 128,000 are hospitalized, and about 3,000 die.
By comparison, in the near decade since 9/11, while hundreds of Americans died from E. coli, and at least 30,000 from food-borne illnesses generally, only a handful of Americans, perhaps fewer than 25, have died from anything that might be considered a terror attack in this country, even if you include the assassination attempt against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the Piper Cherokee PA-28 that a disgruntled software engineer flew into a building containing an IRS office in Austin, Texas, killing himself and an IRS manager. (“Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well” went his final note.)
In other words, in terms of damage since 9/11, terror attacks have ranked above shark attacks but below just about anything else that could possibly be dangerous to Americans, including car crashes which haveracked up between 33,800 and 43,500 deaths a year since 2001.
While E. coli deaths have dropped in recent years, no one expects them to get to zero, nor have the steps been taken that might bring us closer to the 100% safety mark. As Gardiner Harris of the New York Timeswrote recently, “A law passed by Congress last year gave the Food and Drug Administration new powers to mandate that companies undertake preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of such outbreaks, and the law called for increased inspections to ensure compliance. The agency requested additional financing to implement the new law, including hiring more inspectors next year. Republicans in the House have instead proposed cutting the agency’s budget.”
Doctrines from One to 100
Here, then, is one of the strange, if less explored, phenomena of our post-9/11 American age: in only one area of life are Americans officially considered 100% scared, and so 100% in need of protection, and that’s when it comes to terrorism.
For an E. coli strain that could pose serious dangers, were it to arrive here, there is no uproar. No screaming headlines highlight special demands that more money be poured into food safety; no instant plans have been rushed into place to review meat and vegetable security procedures; no one has been urging that a Global War on Food-Borne Illnesses be launched.
In fact, at this moment, six strains of E. coli that do cause illness in this country remain unregulated. Department of Agriculture proposals to deal with them are “stalled” at the Office of Management and Budget. Meanwhile, the super-toxic E. coli strain that appeared in Europe remains officially unregulated here.
On the other hand, send any goofus America-bound on a plane with any kind of idiotic device, and the politicians, the media, and the public promptly act as if — and it’s you I’m addressing, Chicken Little — the sky were falling or civilization itself were at risk.
This might be of only moderate interest, if it weren’t for the U.S. national security state. Having lost its communist super-enemy in 1991, it now lives, breathes, and grows on its self-proclaimed responsibility to protect Americans 100% of the time, 100% of the way, from any imaginable terror threat.
The National Security Complex has, in fact, grown fat by relentlessly pursuing the promise of making the country totally secure from terrorism, even as life grows ever less secure for so many Americans when it comes to jobs, homes, finances, and other crucial matters. It is on this pledge of protection that the Complex has managed to extort the tidal flow of funds that have allowed it to bloat to monumental proportions, end up with a yearly national security budget of more than $1.2 trillion, find itself encased in a cocoon of self-protective secrecy, and be 100% assured that its officials will never be brought to justice for any potential crimes they may commit in their “war” on terrorism.
Right now, even in the worst of economic times, the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon, and the sprawling labyrinth of competing bureaucracies that likes to call itself the U.S. Intelligence Community are all still expanding. And around them have grown up, or grown ever stronger, various complexes (à la “military-industrial complex”) with their associated lobbyists, alliedformer politicians, and retired national security state officials, as well as retired generals and admirals, in an atmosphere that, since 2001, can only be described as boomtown-like, the modern equivalent of a gold rush.
Think of it this way: in the days after 9/11, Vice President Cheney proposed a new formula for American war policy. Its essence was this: even a 1% chance of an attack on the United States, especially involving weapons of mass destruction, must be dealt with as if it were a certainty. Journalist Ron Suskind dubbed it “the one percent doctrine.” It may have been the rashest formula for “preventive” or “aggressive” war offered in the modern era and, along with the drumbeat of bogus information that Cheney and crew dished out about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it was the basis for the Bush administration’s disastrous attempt to occupy that country and build aPax Americana in the Greater Middle East.
There was, it turns out, a “homeland” equivalent, never quite formulated or given a name, but remarkably successful nonetheless at feeding an increasingly all-encompassing domestic war state. Call it the 100% doctrine (for total safety from terrorism). While the 1% version never quite caught on, the 100% doctrine has already become part of the American credo.
Thanks to it, the National Security Complex of 2011 is a self-reinforcing, self-perpetuating mechanism. Any potential act of terrorism simply feeds the system, creating new opportunities to add yet more layers to one bureaucracy or another, or to promote new programs of surveillance, control, and war-making — and the technology that goes with them. Every minor deviation from terror safety, even involving plots that failed dismally or never had the slightest chance of success, is but an excuse for further funding.
Meanwhile, the Complex continually “mans up” (or drones up) and, from Pakistan to Yemen,launches attacks officially meant to put terrorists out of action, but that have the effect of creating them in the process. In other words, consider it a terrorist-creating machine that needs — what else? — repeated evidence of or signs of terrorism to survive and thrive.
Though few here seem to notice, none of this bears much relationship to actual American security. But if the National Security Complex doesn’t make you secure, its 100% doctrine is by no means a failure. On the basis of ensuring your security from terror, it has managed to make itself secure from bad times, the dangers of downsizing, job loss, most forms of accountability, or prosecution for acts that once would have been considered crimes.
In fact, terrorism is anything but the greatest of our problems or threats, which means that acquiescing to a state dedicated to expansion on the principle of keeping you safe from terror is like making a bargain with the devil.
So suck it up. Nothing is secure. No one is safe. Now, eat your sprouts.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books).
[Note: For a canny analysis of how the National Security Complex’s embrace of the 100% doctrine has enhanced its powers, check out David Bromwich’s “Obama, Bush, and the Patriot Act”; special thanks for research help on this piece goes to that invaluable former TomDispatch intern Erica Hellerstein; and as for Christopher Holmes, this site’s eye-in-the-sky copyeditor, he holds TomDispatch mail down by keeping mistakes readers would otherwise write in about to a miraculous minimum.]
Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt
Every time we get a peek inside Washington’s war on terror, it just couldn’t be uglier. Last week, three little home-grown nightmares from that “war” caught my attention. One you could hardly miss. On the front page of the New York Times, Glenn Carle, a former CIA official, claimed that the Bush administration had wanted “to get” Juan Cole, whose Informed Comment blog devastatingly critiqued the invasion and occupation of Iraq (and who writes regularly for TomDispatch). Not only that, administration officials called on the CIA to dig up the dirt on him.
Keep in mind that, though the Times quotes “experts” as saying “it might not be unlawful for the C.I.A. to provide the White House with open source material [on Cole],” that just shows you where “expertise” has gone in the post-9/11 world. Since the Watergate era, the CIA has been prohibited from domestic spying, putting American citizens off-limits. Period. Of course, been there, done that, right?
In case you think taking down Cole was just a matter of the bad old days of the Bush administration, note that the journalist who revealed this little shocker, James Risen, is being hounded by the Obama administration. He’s been subpoenaed by federal authorities to testify against a CIA agent accused of leaking information to him (on a bungled CIA plan to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program) for his book State of War. It’s worth remembering that no administration, not even Bush’s, has been fiercer than Obama’s in going after government whistle blowers.
In the meantime, in case you didn’t think American law enforcement could sink much lower while investigating “terrorist activity” and generally keeping an eye on Americans, think again. According to Charlie Savage of the Times, a revised FBI operational manual offers its 14,000 agents new leeway in “searching databases,” using “surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention,” and “going through household trash.” Yes, that’s right, if you see somebody at the dumpster out back, it may not be a homeless person but an FBI agent.
And then there was Peter Wallsten’s account in the Washington Post of a nationwide FBI investigation of “prominent peace activists and politically active labor organizers.” According to Wallsten, news leaking out about it hasn’t sat so well with union supporters of President Obama (or, for all we know, with the president himself), since “targets” include “Chicagoans who crossed paths with Obama when he was a young state senator and some who have been active in labor unions that supported his political rise.” All are (shades of Cole in the Bush years) “vocal and visible critics of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and South America.”
Strange are the ways of the American national surveillance state. And lest you think these are simply minor aberrations, consider what TomDispatch regular Karen J. Greenberg, author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First One Hundred Days, has to say about the direction the war on terror is taking in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Greenberg discusses how fear of terrorism increases presidential power, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom
Business as Usual on Steroids
The Obama Administration Doubles Down on the War on Terror
By Karen J. Greenberg
In the seven weeks since the killing of Osama bin Laden, pundits and experts of many stripes have concluded that his death represents a marker of genuine significance in the story of America’s encounter with terrorism. Peter Bergen, a bin Laden expert, was typically blunt the day after the death when he wrote, “Killing bin Laden is the end of the war on terror. We can just sort of announce that right now.”
Yet you wouldn’t know it in Washington where, if anything, the Obama administration and Congress have interpreted the killing of al-Qaeda’s leader as a virtual license to double down on every “front” in the war on terror. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was no less blunt than Bergen, but with quite a different endpoint in mind. “Even as we mark this milestone,” she said on the day Bergen’s comments were published, “we should not forget that the battle to stop al-Qaeda and its syndicate of terror will not end with the death of bin Laden. Indeed, we must take this opportunity to renew our resolve and redouble our efforts.”
National Security Adviser John Brennan concurred. “This is a strategic blow to al-Qaeda,” he commented in a White House press briefing. “It is a necessary but not necessarily sufficient blow to lead to its demise. But we are determined to destroy it.” Similarly, at his confirmation hearings to become Secretary of Defense, CIA Director Leon Panetta called for Washington to expand its shadow wars. “We’ve got to keep the pressure up,” he told the senators.
As if to underscore the policy implications of this commitment to “redoubling our efforts,” drone aircraft were dispatched on escalating post-bin-Laden assassination runs from Yemen (including a May 6th failed attempt on American al-Qaeda follower Anwar al-Awlaki) to Pakistan. There, on May 23rd, a drone failed to take out Taliban leader Mullah Omar, while, on June 2nd, an attempt to kill Ilyas Kashmiri, a militant associated with the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, India, may (or may not) have failed. And those were only the most publicized ofescalating drone attacks, while reports of a major “intensification” of the drone campaign in Yemen are pouring in.
In the meantime, President Obama used the bin Laden moment to push through and sign into law a four-year renewal of the Patriot Act, despite bipartisanresistance in Congress and the reservations of civil liberties groups. They had stalled its passage earlier in the year, hoping to curtail some of its particularlyonerous sections, including the “lone wolf” provision that allows surveillance of non-US citizens in America, even if they have no ties to foreign powers, and the notorious Section 215, which grants the FBI authority to obtain library and business records in the name of national security.
One thing could not be doubted. The administration was visibly using the bin Laden moment to renew George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror (even if without that moniker). And let’s not forget about the leaders of Congress, who promptly accelerated their efforts to ensure that the apparatus for the war that 9/11 started would never die. Congressman Howard McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was typical. On May 9th, he introduced legislationmeant to embed in law the principle of indefinite detention without trial for suspected terrorists until “the end of hostilities.” What this would mean, in reality, is the perpetuation ad infinitum of that Bush-era creation, our prison complex at Guantanamo (not to speak of our second Guantanamo at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan).
In other words, Washington now seems to be engaged in a wholesale post-bin Laden ratification of business as usual, but this time on steroids.
Perhaps after all these years the nation’s leadership was simply unprepared for bin Laden’s death and hasn’t been able to imagine switching directions readily, or perhaps the war on terror has simply become a way of life. Certainly, the Obama administration has a record of translating potentially propitious moments for change into strategic paralysis.
Remember, for instance, the president’s day-one-in-the-Oval-Office pledge to close Guantanamo within a year? Six months later, the administration had doubled down on the idea of the indefinite detention of terror suspects and so effectively made Obama’s promise meaningless. It’s a pattern that’s repeated itself when it comes to the Afghan War, the trial in New York City of 9/11 “mastermind” Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and other crucial matters.
But think about it for a moment: Should the postmortem to bin Laden be just a continuation of the same-old-same-old? Shouldn’t there be a national pause for reflection as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches? Wouldn’t it make sense to stop and rethink policy in the light of his death and of a visibly tumultuous new moment in the Greater Middle East with its various uprisings and brewing civil wars?
Why has an administration that prides itself on thinking before doing pushed on without a moment’s reflection? Why shouldn’t the president establish a commission filled with at least a few new faces (and so a few new thoughts) to assess what a war on terror might even mean today? And why not insist that, until the findings of such a commission come in, there will be no new expenditures, legislation, or policy decisions to continue — let alone further expand — that war, its detention policies, or for that matter the Patriot Act?
Were the President to establish such a commission, here are five symbolic steps it might recommend — hardly the only ones, but a start — that could help set the U.S. on another path and put the war on terror behind us:
1. Concede that there is no more tangible endpoint for the war on terror than the death of bin Laden: Rather than trying to banish the term “war on terror” (as the Obama administration did in 2009), let’s face it squarely. Practically speaking, at the moment as for the past near-decade, it is little but a catch-all phrase for “endless war.”
Our commission would have to face a basic question: If we are not to commit to war without end, what could the “cessation of hostilities” possibly mean when it comes to American terror policy? Any attempt at a definition would have to grapple with the real meaning of bin Laden’s death. After all, it may be the only tangible victory we’ll ever have. What a moment, then, to announce that the war on terror has now passed out of its “war” phase and entered a phase of risk management.
At present, Congress is considering an expansion of the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) that it passed on September 14, 2001, and that allowed “the use of force against those nations, organizations, or persons [the President] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the attacks of 9/11. Thecurrent version builds upon the previous open-ended war model and actually expands the number of possible targets for the use of force to those who “have engaged in hostilities or have directly supported hostilities in aid of a nation, organization or person” that is engaged in hostilities against the U.S. or its coalition partners.
Nor does it have an end date. How long this overly broad, overly vague policy would remain in effect remains unknown. It would be far better if current and pending revisions of the AUMF were more honest in acknowledging that the counterterrorism policy it promotes is slated to last indefinitely, much like the “wars” on drugs and organized crime. This would, at least, put in front of lawmakers the appropriate question: Are you willing to authorize military force as your perpetual state of risk management against an ever-expanding list of enemies? Perhaps, in the context of an endless state of war (and the expenses that would go with it), Congress might prove more circumspect about granting such broad powers to the president.
2. Release John Walker Lindh: This would be a symbolic act of compassion, a way to turn our attention back to the first moments of the Bush administration’s disastrous Global War on Terror, and perhaps help along the process of heading Washington in new directions. Lindh, you may remember, was the young man captured and turned over to U.S. forces by Afghan allies in the early weeks of the invasion of Afghanistan.
An American who had spent time with the Taliban and was ready to fight for them (but not against the United States), he was the first person against whom the Bush administration, in one of their favored phrases, “took off the gloves.” He was mistreated and abused while wounded. Later, faced with the prospect of never emerging from jail, he provided information to the authorities in exchange for a 20-year sentence in a plea deal.
Even George W. Bush described him as a “poor boy” who had been “misled,” an upper-middle-class American kid whose teenage identity issues sent him deep into the fundamentalist part of the Muslim world, though with no indication on his part of any interest in jihad, nor the slightest idea that the United States would invade Afghanistan and he would find himself on the other side of the lines from his own countrymen.
Lindh’s mistreatment in Afghanistan and subsequent sentencing here were essentially acts of symbolic revenge for the tragic death of CIA agent Mike Spann, the first official American casualty in what was already being called the Global War on Terror. His sentence was also meant as a warning to others who might consider his path.
As it happened, the judge in charge of the case acknowledged that there was absolutely no evidence Lindh had been involved in Spann’s murder. Bewilderingly enough, he nonetheless allowed the prosecutor to tie Lindh inexorably to Spann’s murder through the emotional testimony of Spann’s father at sentencing.
The U.S. government was sending a message. If this country would punish one of its own in such a fashion without evidence of a crime or even of theoretical allegiance to the idea of jihad against the West, what wouldn’t it do to its foreign enemies?
In prison, Lindh has since committed himself to the quiet life of a scholar of Islam. Many who have followed this case think that, at age 30, he should be returned to his family.
Lindh’s release would be a signal that the United States was ready to return to an era of calm justice and that the war on terror, with all its excesses, was truly coming to an end.
3. Create a rehabilitation program for releasing Guantanamo detainees currently assigned to indefinite detention: In the same spirit, it’s time to signal that, along with the war on terror, the paroxysm of fears that led us to detain individuals who had not committed crimes, but were otherwise deemed harmful, has come to an end. The Obama administration’s most recent directive on Guantanamo follows its long-hinted-at intention to hold approximately four-dozenGuantanamo detainees in indefinite detention for a variety of reasons. Bottom line: although there is insufficient evidence to convict them, administration officials have determined that each of them could pose a danger to this country, if released.
Under U.S. law, detention without trial poses constitutional problems, which is why Guantanamo detainees were granted habeas corpus rights by the Supreme Court. Similarly, under the laws of war, the detention of prisoners is only justified while hostilities are ongoing. If there really is no “war” on terror, it is hard to justify holding detainees indefinitely without a fair adjudication of their rights in a court of law.
Why not, then, consider creating an American version of the de-radicalization or rehabilitation programs that flourish elsewhere in the world — notably, for example in Indonesia — as a prelude to release for those where the evidence for a trial is absent? A rehabilitation program might steer individuals towards non-violent behavior, whatever their ideological leanings; it might re-educate them on the subject of Islam; it might introduce notions of rights and liberties. Religious leaders, psychologists, and counterterrorism officials could fashion such a program jointly as they do elsewhere in the world. President Obama surprisingly inserted the word “rehabilitation” in his March 2011 directive on the future of Guantánamo (“Executive Order — Periodic Review of Individuals Detained at Guantánamo Bay Naval Station Pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force”). Why not use this milestone moment in the war on terror to follow up in a concrete fashion?
4. Revisit the issue of prosecuting those responsible for America’s offshore torture policies in the Bush years: The Obama administration made a decision not to investigate or prosecute the creators of the torture policy that defined the Bush administration’s interrogation tactics in its war on terror. They did so, its officials claimed, in an effort to focus on the overwhelming issues the new presidency had to confront. They were visibly eager to avoid stoking a bitter partisan battle that they feared might further divide the country.
They banked instead on the idea that the lawyers and politicians responsible for that torture policy and the “black sites” and “extraordinary renditions” that went with it would quietly fade into the woodwork. This has obviously not been the case. On the contrary, in recent months former officials and members of the Bush administration have openly re-embraced those policies. In the aftermath of bin Laden’s death, as if on cue, they immediately flooded the newspapers and air waves with unsupportable claims that torture had led Washington to the al-Qaeda leader and should be a crucial part of the American arsenal in the future.
Forget for a moment that torture has still not been shown to have extracted valuable information (not otherwise available) from terror suspects. We know, in fact, that on a number of occasions it led investigators down the wrong path. More importantly, it was a symptom of the war-on-terror frenzy that gripped this country and led it down the wrong path.
We now have all the proof we need that pretending torture never happened, legally speaking, only helps keep us embroiled in that “war” and the emotions it evokes. If the war on terror is ever to end, then tolerance for the support of torture has to end as well. Nothing would accomplish this better than the actual prosecution of the American crimes of that era — or at the very least, the investigation and official condemnation of those who sidestepped the constitution and diminished the moral standing of the country at home and abroad.
5. Restore permanently to the Department of Justice responsibility for trying terrorists from around the globe: Since the fall of 2001, the Justice Department has been largely deprived of its portfolio for trying terrorists captured outside the United States. With the exception perhaps of cases involving terror attacks on military targets, there is no reason Justice should not prosecute such cases, as in the 1990s it successfully prosecuted the conspirators who first attacked the World Trade Center, as it did in the African embassy bombings cases, and as it has recently done in Chicago in the case of Tahawwur Hussain Rana, who was convicted of providing material support to the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba. (He was acquitted of conspiracy charges in the Mumbai bombing.) Since 9/11, the ability of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to understand terrorism cases and try them responsibly has, if anything, increased immeasurably, while the military commissions system instituted by the Bush administration at Guantanamo and kept in place by President Obama has crashed disastrously and repeatedly on the shoals of politics, misinformation, and faulty procedure.
Whatever a commission might do when it came to bringing the war on terror officially to an end, this is the moment — with the death of bin Laden, the Arab uprisings, and the 10th anniversary of 9/11 — to do it and to begin to seek ways to defend America even while guiding us back to our true self: a country with respect for the law, restraint when it comes to the use of force, and rights for all.
Karen J. Greenberg is the executive director of the New York University Center on Law and Security, author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First One Hundred Days, editor of The Torture Debate in America, and a frequent contributor to TomDispatch.com. Research for this piece was contributed by Susan Quatrone, Gil Shefer, Camilla McFarland, and Dominic Saglibene from the NYU Center on Law and Security. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Greenberg discusses how fear of terrorism increases presidential power, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
Copyright 2011 Karen J. Greenberg