Published: Tuesday 8 January 2013
The American System of Suffering, 1965-2014 .

Pham To looked great for 78 years old.  (At least, that’s about how old he thought he was.)  His hair was thin, gray, and receding at the temples, but his eyes were lively and his physique robust -- all the more remarkable given what he had lived through.  I listened intently, as I had so many times before to so many similar stories, but it was still beyond my ability to comprehend.  It’s probably beyond yours, too.

Pham To told me that the planes began their bombing runs in 1965 and that periodic artillery shelling started about the same time.  Nobody will ever know just how many civilians were killed in the years after that.  “The number is uncountable,” he said one spring day a few years ago in a village in the mountains of rural central Vietnam.  “So many people died.”

 

And it only got worse.  Chemical defoliants came next, ravaging the land.  Helicopter machine gunners began firing on locals.  By 1969, bombing and shelling were day-and-night occurrences.  Many villagers fled.  Some headed further into the mountains, trading the terror of imminent death for a daily struggle of hardscrabble privation; others were forced into squalid refugee resettlement areas.  Those who remained in the village suffered more when the troops came through.  Homes were burned as a matter of course.  People were kicked and beaten.  Men were shot when they ran in fear.  Women were raped.  One morning, a massacre by American soldiers wiped out 21 fellow villagers.  This was the Vietnam War for Pham To, as for so many rural Vietnamese. 

Published: Saturday 22 December 2012
“Pakistan continues to face the fallout from the raid that led to the capture and killing of bin Laden in May 2011.”

Today we look at the capture of Osama bin Laden — the focus of the controversial new movie, "Zero Dark Thirty," which was released this week. Billed as "the story of history’s greatest manhunt for the world’s most dangerous man," the film has come under harsh criticism from Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin for its depiction of torture. Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to face the fallout from the raid that led to the capture and killing of bin Laden in May 2011. Eight health workers have been killed this week during a nationwide anti-polio drive, as opposition to such immunization efforts in parts of country has increased after the fake CIA hepatitis vaccination campaign that helped locate bin Laden last year. Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic. Pakistani clerics said medical workers should not pay the price for those who collaborated with the CIA. For more, we’re joined by Matthieu Aikins, who just returned from two months in Pakistan researching what led to the capture and killing of bin Laden. His most recent article for GQ magazine is called "The Doctor, the  READ FULL POST 3 COMMENTS

Published: Monday 26 November 2012
“The average effective tax rate fell for all income groups above $500,000, continuing a drop that has occurred for years.”

 

With debate in Washington focused on the taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans, new data from the Internal Revenue Service shows that the effective tax rates for America’s top earners fell even lower in 2010.

The average effective tax rate fell for all income groups above $500,000, continuing a drop that has occurred for years. For incomes above $10 million, the average rate fell from 22.4 percent in 2009 to 20.7 percent in 2010. The reason for the continual drop is clear: the 2003 high-income Bush tax cuts lowered the rate on investment income, and wealthy Americans are deriving more income from investments than they ever have, the Wall Street Journal reports:

The reason for the drop in average tax rates is no secret: It’s the special 15% top rates for capital gains and dividends that President George W. Bush pushed through. In 2009, taxpayers with incomes exceeding $10 million reported 35.8% of their income as capital gains and dividends. That rose to 48.5% for 2010.

Low capital gains rates have helped the wealthy pay lower and lower tax rates even as their incomes have skyrocketed. And while capital gains income makes up almost half of the incomes of the wealthiest Americans, it accounts for 2.2 percent or less for earners under $200,000. Half of all capital gains income goes to just to the richest 0.1 percent of Americans.

The capital gains rate has been steadily eroded since President Ronald Reagan taxed such income equal to wages in the 1980s, and the result has ...

Published: Thursday 22 November 2012
Published: Tuesday 20 November 2012
The crises are fostering a class war that will dwarf anything imagined by Karl Marx.

 

Gaza is a window on our coming dystopia. The growing divide between the world’s elite and its miserable masses of humanity is maintained through spiraling violence. Many impoverished regions of the world, which have fallen off the economic cliff, are beginning to resemble Gaza, where 1.6 million Palestinians live in the planet’s largest internment camp. These sacrifice zones, filled with seas of pitifully poor people trapped in squalid slums or mud-walled villages, are increasingly hemmed in by electronic fences, monitored by surveillance cameras and drones and surrounded by border guards or military units that shoot to kill. These nightmarish dystopias extend from sub-Saharan Africa to Pakistan to China. They are places where targeted assassinations are carried out, where brutal military assaults are pressed against peoples left defenseless, without an army, navy or air force. All attempts at resistance, however ineffective, are met with the indiscriminate slaughter that characterizes modern industrial warfare.

In the new global landscape, as in Israel’s occupied territories and the United States’ own imperial projects in Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan, massacres of thousands of defenseless innocents are labeled wars. Resistance is called a provocation, terrorism or a crime against humanity. The rule of law, as well as respect for the most basic civil liberties and the right of self-determination, is a public relations fiction used to placate the consciences of those who live in the zones of privilege. Prisoners are routinely tortured and “disappeared.” The severance of food and medical supplies is an accepted tactic of control. Lies permeate the airwaves. Religious, racial ...

Published: Wednesday 14 November 2012
“Education is now recognized as a national priority.”

Official delegations from the world’s nine most populous developing countries just met in New Delhi to discuss a subject vital for their countries’ futures: education. The meeting of ministers and others from Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan, known as the E-9, is the latest in a series of encounters held every two years to fulfill the pledge of “education for all” by 2015.

The E-9 account for 54% of the world’s population, 42.3% of children not in school, 58% of young illiterates (aged 15-24), and 67% of adult illiterates (two-thirds of whom are women). So the challenges are enormous: children, from families too poor to think about education, beyond the reach of schooling and too malnourished to study; and too few schools, classrooms, teaching resources, and adequately trained teachers. Rampant illiteracy underpins other problems, including exploding populations, gender imbalances, and widespread poverty.

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Published: Sunday 11 November 2012
“Under President Barack Obama, the number of drone strikes carried out by the United States has soared, with more than 300 UAV attacks reported in Pakistan alone.”

“Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come,” the American poet Carl Sandburg wrote hopefully in 1936. His sentiment seems more apt than ever nowadays, but not because humanity has turned pacifistic. Rather, wars are increasingly fought remotely, with drones – or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – doing the killing.

 

Under President Barack Obama, the number of drone strikes carried out by the United States has soared, with more than 300 UAV attacks reported in Pakistan alone. In March 2011, the US Air Force for the first time trained more pilots for drones than for any other purpose.

 

Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Barbara Lochbihler, click here.

 

This raises serious ethical questions. With no military personnel risking their lives, UAVs make it easier to kill, and to justify war operations to the public at home. Moreover, a human being’s reticence to kill is inversely related to the distance between attacker and target. In the case of a pilot flying drones over Yemen by operating a joystick in Nevada, the threshold to pulling the trigger is dangerously low. Killing is just a part of the job, to be followed by bowling, perhaps, or a quiet evening at home.

Meanwhile, the mere sound of drones terrorizes whole populations, indicating to enemies and civilians alike that they are being watched and might be attacked at any moment – which could well play into the hands of terrorist recruiters.

From a legal and human-rights point of view, the US drone ...

Published: Saturday 10 November 2012
“In September, as you may be aware, the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law released a landmark report titled Living Under Drones.”

Killing someone because they looked like they were "up to no good" doesn't really pass legal muster.

Under the Obama administration, the CIA drone program uses what they call signature strikes, as you've no doubt heard. Usually, the term "signature" has a positive connotation, as in a characteristic that distinguishes one from others. But, to the CIA, it just means that any military-age males in an area it has decided is a strike zone are combatants. In other words, they look like they're "up to no good" and deserve to die.

In September, as you may be aware, the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law released a landmark report titled Living Under Drones. In one section it reveals the sheer simple-mindedness of dividing individuals under surveillance into either civilians or militants. In fact, most of those labeled militants should be painted in shades of gray. (Emphasis added.)

Major media outlets in the US, Europe, and Pakistan that report on drone strikes tend to divide all those killed by drone strikes into just two categories: civilians or "militants." This reflects and reinforces a widespread assumption and misunderstanding that all "militants" are legitimate targets for the use of lethal force, and that any strike against a "militant" is lawful. This binary distinction. … distinction is extremely problematic, however, from a legal perspective.

[First] use of the word "militant" to describe individuals killed by drones often obscures whether those killed are in fact lawful targets under the international legal regime governing the US operations in Pakistan. It is not necessarily the case that any person who might be described as a ...

Published: Tuesday 6 November 2012
Medea Benjamin interviews John Brennan Counterterrorism Chief.

Having recently returned from Pakistan meeting with drone victims, on November 4 my partner Tighe Barry and I were having a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast. The discussion turned to John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism chief and the key person making decisions about drone strikes. We wondered if Brennan ever had a chance to meet innocent drone victims, as we did, and feel their pain.

 

“Maybe we should go to his house and talk to him,” quipped Tighe. We laughed at the absurdity of the idea but decided to do a little bit of research. Fifteen minutes later, we were out the door, driving to a Virginia suburb an hour south of Washington DC. I had no idea if it was really John’s address, but it was a lovely day for a drive—and Tighe was willing to indulge me.  

 

Exiting the freeway, we came to an area of rolling hills, green grass and private horse farms. As we approached what we thought might be John Brennan’s street, we were sure it was a mistake. How could this be? It was a nondescript upper middle class neighborhood, with children playing in the yards—no security, no government vehicles. The house was in a cul-de-sac sandwiched between two other houses, without so much as a fence surrounding it.

 

I decided to go knock on the door to make sure we were wrong.  A middle-aged, white-haired guy in a casual sweater and jeans opened the door, accompanied by someone who l assumed was his wife.

 

Could this really be John Brennan? The same man who championed "enhanced interrogation techniques” under President Bush? The same man who now decides, on "terror Tuesdays", who will be on the CIA kill list? The guy who developed the Orwellian "disposition matrix"—a blueprint for disposing of terrorist suspects for at least another decade?

 

I hesitated. He looked much younger and thinner than I ...

Published: Friday 2 November 2012
This campaign season teaches us how little has changed since the early Cold War days when Republican stalwarts screamed, “Who lost China?”

 


Who lost Libya? Indeed, who lost the entire Middle East? Those are the questions lurking behind the endless stream of headlines about “Benghazi-gate.” Here’s the question we should really ask, though: How did a tragic but isolated incident at a U.S. consulate, in a place few Americans had ever heard of, get blown up into a pivotal issue in a too-close-to-call presidential contest?

My short answer: the enduring power of a foreign policy myth that will not die, the decades-old idea that America has an inalienable right to “own” the world and control every place in it. I mean, you can’t lose what you never had.

This campaign season teaches us how little has changed since the early Cold War days when Republican stalwarts screamed, “Who lost China?” More than six decades later, it’s still surprisingly easy to fill the political air with anxiety by charging that we’ve “lost” a country or, worse yet, a whole region that we were somehow supposed to “have.”

The “Who lost...?” formula is something like a magic trick.  There’s no way to grasp how it works until you take your eyes away from those who are shouting alarms and look at what’s going on behind the scenes.

Who’s in Charge Here?

The curious case of the incident in Benghazi was full of surprises from the beginning. It was the rare pundit who didn’t assure us that voters wouldn’t care a whit about foreign affairs this year. It was all going to be “the economy, stupid,” ...

Published: Monday 29 October 2012
You can blame it all on greed: the refusal to do anything about climate change, the attempts by the .01% to destroy our democracy, the constant robbing of the poor, the resultant starving children, the war against most of what is beautiful on this Earth.

 

In ancient China, the arrival of a new dynasty was accompanied by “the rectification of names,” a ceremony in which the sloppiness and erosion of meaning that had taken place under the previous dynasty were cleared up and language and its subjects correlated again. It was like a debt jubilee, only for meaning rather than money.

This was part of what made Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign so electrifying: he seemed like a man who spoke our language and called many if not all things by their true names. Whatever caused that season of clarity, once elected, Obama promptly sank into the stale, muffled, parallel-universe language wielded by most politicians, and has remained there ever since. Meanwhile, the far right has gotten as far as it has by mislabeling just about everything in our world -- a phenomenon which went supernova in this year of “legitimate rape,” “the apology tour,” and “job creators.”  Meanwhile, their fantasy version of economics keeps getting more fantastic. (Maybe there should be a rectification of numbers, too.)  

Let’s rectify some names ourselves. We often speak as though the source of so many of our problems is complex and even mysterious. I'm not sure it is. You can blame it all on greed: the refusal to do anything about climate change, the attempts by the .01% to destroy our democracy, the constant robbing of the poor, the resultant starving children, the war against most of what is beautiful on this Earth.

Calling lies "lies" and theft "theft" and violence "violence," loudly, clearly, and consistently, until truth becomes more than a bump in the road, is a powerful aspect of political activism. Much of the work around human rights begins with accurately and aggressively reframing the status quo as an outrage, whether it’s misogyny or racism or ...

Published: Friday 19 October 2012
“At the heart of this acerbic relationship, however, is Pakistan’s arsenal of 110 nuclear bombs which, if the country were to disintegrate, could fall into the hands of Islamist militants, possibly from inside its own security establishment.”

 

 

The United States and Pakistan are by now a classic example of a dysfunctional nuclear family (with an emphasis on “nuclear”). While the two governments and their peoples become more suspicious and resentful of each other with every passing month, Washington and Islamabad are still locked in an awkward post-9/11 embrace that, at this juncture, neither can afford to let go of.

Washington is keeping Pakistan, with its collapsing economy and bloated military, afloat but also cripplingly dependent on its handouts and U.S.-sanctioned International Monetary Fund loans.  Meanwhile, CIA drones unilaterally strike its tribal borderlands.  Islamabad returns the favor. It holds Washington hostage over its Afghan War from which the Pentagon won’t be able to exit in an orderly fashion without its help. By blocking U.S. and NATO supply routes into Afghanistan (after a U.S. cross-border air strike had killed 24 Pakistani soldiers) from November 2011 until last July, Islamabad managed to ratchet up the cost of the war while underscoring its indispensability to the Obama administration.

At the heart of this acerbic relationship, however, is Pakistan’s arsenal of 110 nuclear bombs which, if the country were to disintegrate, could fall into the hands of Islamist militants, possibly from inside its own security establishment. As Barack Obama confided to his aides, this remains his worst foreign-policy nightmare, despite the decision of the U.S. Army to

Published: Thursday 18 October 2012
The American media have been awash in coverage of the attack on the three Pakistani girls, and on the fate of the courageous girl’s education advocate, young Malala.

 

Six children were attacked in Afghanistan and Pakistan this past week. Three of them, teenaged girls on a school bus in Peshawar, in the tribal region of western Pakistan, were shot and gravely wounded by two Taliban gunmen who were after Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old girl who has been bravely demanding the right of girls to an education. After taking a bullet to the head, and facing further death threats, she has been moved to a specialty hospital in Britain. Her two wounded classmates are being treated in Pakistan.

The other three children were not so lucky. They were killed Sunday in an aerial attack by a US aircraft in the the Nawa district of Helmand Province in Afghanistan, not so far from Pakistan. The attack, described by the military as a “precision strike,” was reportedly aimed at several Taliban fighters who were allegedly planting an IED in the road, but the strike also killed three children, Borjan, 12; Sardar Wali, 10; and Khan Bibi, 8, all from one family, who were right nearby collecting dung for fuel.

Initially, as is its standard MO, the US denied that any children had been killed and insisted that the aircraft had targeted three “Taliban” fighters, and had successfully killed them. Only later, as evidence grew indesputable that the three children had also been killed, the US switched to its standard fallback position for atrocities in the Afghanistan War and its other wars: it announced that it was “investigating” the incident and said that it ...

Published: Wednesday 17 October 2012
In the interest of keeping vital global issues in the discussion, Foreign Policy in Focus reached out to scholars at the Institute for Policy Studies—our institutional home—to sketch out progressive perspectives on the world issues we don’t expect to get fair treatment in the debates.

 

There is no other policy arena in which the president of the United States has greater latitude than foreign affairs. With U.S. foreign policy less constrained by Congress and relatively free from the media scrutiny that attends the president’s more domestic endeavors, foreign affairs largely remains the domain of the commander in chief. Indeed, broadcast regularly into living rooms all across the globe, the U.S. president is often the singular face of the United States of America in the world—especially in lands where few Americans tread.

Yet global issues routinely get short thrift in presidential debates, especially in yet another election year characterized by economic malaise and divisive social issues. And with media coverage focused primarily on the performance of the candidates and the debates’ impact on the national horserace, crucial questions about how the United States behaves on the world stage routinely fall between the cracks. This neglect is exacerbated by the fact that, when it comes to foreign policy, there is a tremendous amount of overlap between the major candidates.

In the interest of keeping vital global issues in the discussion, Foreign Policy in Focus reached out to scholars at the Institute for Policy Studies—our institutional home—to sketch out progressive perspectives on the world issues we don’t expect to get fair treatment in the debates. Without an informed citizenry, these crucial topics will always fall by the wayside. So read up, and share widely!

1. Making Global Finance Work
—Sarah Anderson, Director, IPS Global Economy Project

I would love to think that President Obama, in the middle of a debate, will don a green Robin Hood hat and announce his support for a financial transaction tax. Popularly known as a Robin Hood Tax, this is the idea of putting a small, fraction-of-a-percent ...

Published: Friday 12 October 2012
“It seems that the first rule of the debate club now is: no disagreeing on what matters most.”

 

We had a debate club back in high school. Two teams would meet in the auditorium, and Mr. Garrity would tell us the topic, something 1970s-ish like “Resolved: Women Should Get Equal Pay for Equal Work” or “World Communism Will Be Defeated in Vietnam.” Each side would then try, through persuasion and the marshaling of facts, to clinch the argument. There’d be judges and a winner.

Today’s presidential debates are a long way from Mr. Garrity’s club. It seems that the first rule of the debate club now is: no disagreeing on what matters most. In fact, the two candidates rarely interact with each other at all, typically ditching whatever the question might be for some rehashed set of campaign talking points, all with the complicity of the celebrity media moderators preening about democracy in action. Waiting for another quip about Big Bird is about all the content we can expect.

But the joke is on us. Sadly, the two candidates are stand-ins for Washington in general, a “war” capital whose denizens work and argue, sometimes fiercely, from within a remarkably limited range of options.  It was D.C. on autopilot last week for domestic issues; the next two presidential debates are to be in part or fully on foreign policy challenges (of which there are so many). When it comes to foreign -- that is, military -- policy, the gap between Barack and Mitt is slim to the point of nonexistent on many issues, however much they may badger each other on the subject.  That old saw about those who fail to understand history repeating its mistakes applies a little too easily here: the last 11 years have added up to one disaster after another abroad, and without a smidgen of new thinking (guaranteed not to put in an appearance at any of the ...

Published: Thursday 27 September 2012
Published: Thursday 27 September 2012
After four years, tens of thousands of children in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are receiving the polio vaccination.

 

Over thirty thousand children in the remote Tirah area of the Khyber Agency, part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Northern Pakistan, have waited four years for protection from polio, a viral disease that is sometimes referred to as ‘infantile paralysis’ due to its crippling effects on children.

A massive government and civil society effort through the month of September finally began to reverse the trend that had kept the children of Tirah, along with hundreds of thousands in the greater FATA area, under the shadow of polio.

Up until this year, children in all seven FATA agencies have been the worst victims of the Taliban’s ban on the oral polio vaccination (OPV), which the organisation claims was a ploy by the United States to render the recipients impotent and infertile, thus strangling the growth of the Muslim population.

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Published: Thursday 27 September 2012
We want to show Pakistanis that there are Americans calling for an end to the CIA’s killer drone strikes, and insisting that our government apologize and compensate the families of innocent victims.

 

“You’re not really going to Pakistan, are you?” “You’ve seen the State Department travel warning?” “Don’t they hate us over there?”

There are questions our friends and relatives are asking as we embark on a delegation to Pakistan to protest the drone attacks that have killed so many innocent Pakistanis over the past 8 years.

But the Pakistanis have been asking us very different questions. “Why do the American people support these barbaric and cowardly drone attacks?” “How would you like it if foreigners flew death machines into your airspace, murdering innocent men, women and children?” “Don’t you know that these attacks are counterproductive, driving locals into the hands of extremist groups out of a desire for revenge?”

When it comes to drones, Americans and Pakistanis see the world through different lenses. Americans are looking through the eyes of remote-control pilots safely ensconced in bases in the United States, while Pakistanis are at the receiving end of the bull’s eye. Polls show to the two peoples as polar opposites: 83% of Americans support the use of drones against “terrorist suspects overseas”; in Pakistan, among those who say they know something about drones, virtually all—97%—oppose them.

Many Pakistanis who raged against the “Innocence of Muslims” film were venting long-held resentments towards the United States stemming from drone attacks (along with other policies such as the US mishandling of the war in Afghanistan, the disastrous US invasion of Iraq, and the US pro-Israel ...

Published: Wednesday 19 September 2012
“While the candidates themselves occasionally talk about these issues, there’s a number of critical concerns that get no attention, including some of the worst problems (in terms of the harm they cause to people’s lives) in the United States and the world.”

The media focus on political minutiae in the presidential campaign can often crowd out the substantive issues that the winner will have to deal with once taking office. And while the candidates themselves occasionally talk about these issues, there’s a number of critical concerns that get no attention, including some of the worst problems (in terms of the harm they cause to people’s lives) in the United States and the world. To address this lamentable state of affairs, ThinkProgress has compiled a list of eight of the most significant problems being severely underserved by the campaign and American political discourse more broadly. In no particular order:

MASS INCARCERATION AND THE DRUG WAR

Writing in the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik termed “mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history…perhaps the fundamental fact [of American society], as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850.” Indeed, as Gopnik notes, there are more black men are in prison today than were enslaved then and more total people in prison than there were in Stalin’s gulags at their largest. The result of this wave of imprisonment was structural inequality so severe that it was called “the new Jim Crow” by a famous book of the same title, as the strict limitations placed on convicted felons have rendered millions black Americans second-class citizens. One of the principal causes of the rise of mass incarceration is the War on Drugs, which has failed abysmally at limiting the use of dangerous drugs but ...

Published: Monday 17 September 2012
Published: Friday 14 September 2012
“Administration officials regularly celebrate the drone war’s apparent successes— often avoiding details or staying anonymous, but claiming tacit credit for the U.S.”

 

Drones have become the go-to weapon of the U.S.’s counter-terrorism strategy, with strikes in Yemen in particular increasing steadily. U.S. drones reportedly killed twenty-nine people in Yemen recently, including perhaps ten civilians.

Administration officials regularly celebrate the drone war’s apparent successes— often avoiding details or staying anonymous, but claiming tacit credit for the U.S.  

In June, a day after Abu Yahya Al-Libi was killed in Pakistan, White House spokesman Jay Carney trumpeted the death of “Al Qaeda’s Number-Two.”  Unnamed officials confirmed the strike in at least ten media outlets. Similarly, the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki by a CIA drone last September was confirmed in many news outlets by anonymous officials. President Obama called Awlaki’s death “a tribute to our intelligence community."  

Just last week President Obama spoke about drone warfare on CNN, saying the decision to target individuals for killing rather than capture involves “an extensive process with a lot of checks.”  

But when it comes to details of that process, the administration clams up.

The government

Published: Thursday 13 September 2012
What America Knows How to Do Best

 

It’s pop-quiz time when it comes to the American way of war: three questions, torn from the latest news, just for you.  Here’s the first of them, and good luck!

Two weeks ago, 200 U.S. Marines began armed operations in…?:

a) Afghanistan

b) Pakistan

c) Iran

d) Somalia

e) Yemen

f) Central Africa

READ FULL POST DISCUSS

Published: Friday 7 September 2012
“His opponent in the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton, tried to turn this hesitation to use hard power into a sign of a man too inexperienced to be entrusted with the presidency.”

 

Barack Obama is a smart guy. So why has he spent the last four years executing such a dumb foreign policy? True, his reliance on “smart power” -- a euphemism for giving the Pentagon a stake in all things global -- has been a smart move politically at home.  It has largely prevented the Republicans from playing the national security card in this election year. But “smart power” has been a disaster for the world at large and, ultimately, for the United States itself.

Power was not always Obama’s strong suit. When he ran for president in 2008, he appeared to friend and foe alike as Mr. Softy. He wanted out of the war in Iraq. He was no fan of nuclear weapons. He favored carrots over sticks when approaching America’s adversaries.

His opponent in the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton, tried to turn this hesitation to use hard power into a sign of a man too inexperienced to be entrusted with the presidency. In 2007, when Obama offered to meet without preconditions with the leaders of Cuba, North Korea, and Iran, Clinton fired back that such a policy was “irresponsible and frankly naïve.” In February 2008, she went further with a TV ad that asked voters who should answer the White House phone at 3 a.m. Obama, she implied, lacked the requisite body parts -- muscle, backbone, cojones-- to make the hard presidential decisions in a crisis.

Obama didn’t take the bait. “When that call gets answered, shouldn’t the president be the one -- the only one -- who had judgment and courage to oppose the Iraq war from the start,” his response ad intoned. “Who understood the real threat to America was al-Qaeda, in Afghanistan, not Iraq. Who led the effort to secure loose nuclear weapons ...

Published: Wednesday 5 September 2012
Since most of the examination of our President comes from either the daily hypocrasies of Mitt and friends or the coddling progressive left, I thought I would examine “our guy” on a few issues with a bit more scrutiny and fairness.

 

I wrote this a while back after Romney got the nom, and, in light of the blizzard of bullshit that will be coming at us in the next few months, I thought I would put it out now.

Now that the Republican primary circus is over, I began to think about what a vote for Obama would mean.

Since most of the examination of our President comes from either the daily hypocrasies of Mitt and friends or the coddling progressive left, I thought I would examine “our guy” on a few issues with a bit more scrutiny and fairness.

The typical arguments in favor of another Obama presidency are centered around avoiding a fantical rightwing take over of the Oval Office. Obama is perceived as the last line of defense from the corporate barbarians--and, of course, the Supreme Court. There is a cynical logic behind this view, and I tend to agree with Garry Wills' description of the Republican primaries as  “a revolting combination of con men & fanatics, and agree proundly that “the current primary race has become a demonstration that the Republican party does not deserve serious consideration for public office.”

However, there are certain Rubicon lines, as constituational law professor Jon Turley calls them, that Obama has crossed that should not be ignored.

All political questions are not equal no matter how much you pivot. When people die or lose their physical freedom to feed certain economic sectors or ideologies, it becomes a zero sum game for me.

This is not an exercise in bemoaning regrettable policy choices or cheering favorable ones, but rather to ask a couple fundimental questions: Who are we? What are we voting for? And what does it mean?

Three markers — the Nobel prize acceptance speech, the escalation speech at West Point, and the recent speech by Eric Holder — crossed that Rubicon line for me.


During his 2008 campaign, ...

Published: Saturday 1 September 2012
“The suspects targeted include Sajid Mir, who was indicted by U.S. prosecutors last year for allegedly working with Pakistan's spy agency to direct the 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai that killed 166 people, including six Americans.”

 

The Obama administration's decision to designate the leadership of Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Taiba group as terrorists this week sends a pointed, if largely symbolic, message to a Pakistani government that remains unable or unwilling to crack down on the extremist organization.

On Thursday, the Treasury Department issued an order against eight Lashkar leaders that prohibits Americans from doing business with them and freezes any of their assets under U.S. jurisdiction. The suspects targeted include Sajid Mir, who was indicted by U.S. prosecutors last year for allegedly working with Pakistan's spy agency to direct the 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai that killed 166 people, including six Americans.

ProPublica has reported extensively on the attacks and the ties between Lashkar and Pakistani intelligence. The other Laskhar chiefs named Thursday by Treasury are accused of running finances, propaganda and military operations against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, where Lashkar cooperates with the Taliban and al Qaeda.

"Today's action against LET (Lashkar-e-Taiba) is Treasury's most comprehensive to date against this group and includes individuals participating in all aspects of Lashkar's operations,” David S. Cohen, the undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a statement. "Attacking LET's facilitation networks is particularly important, since charitable donations LET raises in Pakistan — its primary revenue source — are used to fuel LET's military operations.”

The financial impact on Lashkar will be less than devastating, however. Although donations are a significant source of income, the militant group is also a longtime recipient of funds, arms, training and protection from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence ...

Published: Thursday 23 August 2012
The book’s publication could reignite the controversy surrounding national security leaks and the Washington Post notes that it’s unclear at this point “whether the CIA or Pentagon would take legal steps against the author or attempt to stop publication.”

 

The New York Times reported yesterday that a U.S. Navy SEAL who led the special operations team that raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan last year has written a book describing the events in detail. The existence of the book, which is titled “No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden,” has been a “closely held secret” within Penguin, the publishing house that is planning to release it next month on Sept. 11, and the SEAL is writing anonymously under the pseudonym Mark Owen.

But neither the author, nor Penguin, submitted the book to U.S. government officials for review, a normal process for publications divulging such highly classified ...

Published: Thursday 23 August 2012
“What is concerning about the use of drones is the secrecy surrounding strikes and the way that these strikes change the nature of citizen engagement with the war effort.”

The flurry of reports on the United State’s increased deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles, or ‘drones,’ focus almost exclusively on the process by which targets are selected and the body counts of each strike. Though drones have been reported on by the New York Times, widely debated in the think tank world, condemned by a variety of activist groups, and featured in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum, the means by which drones could distance the public from the war effort and eventually increase our military presence abroad has not been sufficiently discussed.

Let me be clear that I am not distressed by the technological advances that allowed the development and deployment of drones. The military industrial complex develops new weapons technology intrinsically; though the power and nature of such a complex disturbs me, there is little progress to be made by being a Luddite. What is concerning about the use of drones is the secrecy surrounding strikes and the way that these strikes change the nature of citizen engagement with the war effort.

 Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, reported that “Over the past decade, there have been some 300 drone strikes outside the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Of these attacks, 95 percent occurred in Pakistan, with the rest in Yemen and Somalia; cumulatively, they have killed more than 2,000 suspected militants and an unknown number of civilians.” Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, the military action in Pakistan has not been subject to widespread public review in America. Even those who are aware of military involvement in Pakistan, like Zenko, are unable to determine the number of civilians injured in drone strikes. If information about ...

Published: Thursday 5 July 2012
The Lessons Washington Can’t Draw From the Failure of the Military Option.

 

Americans may feel more distant from war than at any time since World War II began.  Certainly, a smaller percentage of us -- less than 1% -- serves in the military in this all-volunteer era of ours and, on the face of it, Washington’s constant warring in distant lands seems barely to touch the lives of most Americans. 

And yet the militarization of the United States and the strengthening of the National Security Complex continues to accelerate.  The Pentagon is, by now, a world unto itself, with a staggering budget at a moment when no other power or combination of powers comes near to challenging this country’s might. 

In the post-9/11 era, the military-industrial  READ FULL POST 7 COMMENTS

Published: Wednesday 20 June 2012
Published: Tuesday 19 June 2012
“A centerpiece of President Obama’s national security strategy, drones strikes in Pakistan are credited by the administration with crippling Al Qaeda but criticized by human rights groups and others for being conducted in secret and killing civilians.”

Last month, a “senior administration official” said the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under President Obama is in the “single digits.” But last year “U.S. officials” said drones in Pakistan killed about 30 civilians in just a yearlong stretch under Obama.

Both claims can’t be true.

A centerpiece of President Obama’s national security strategy, drones strikes in Pakistan are credited by the administration with crippling Al Qaeda but criticized by human rights groups and others for being conducted in secret and killing civiliansThe underlying facts are often in dispute and claims about how many people died and who they were vary widely.

So we decided to narrow it down to just one issue: have the administration’s own claims been consistent?

We collected claims by the administration about deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan and compared each one not to local reports but rather to other administration claims. The numbers sometimes do not add up. (Check out 

Published: Monday 18 June 2012
“The gunmen promptly barricaded themselves inside with their hostages, including women and small children, and refused to let anyone leave.”

 

"Do you do this in the United States? There is police action every day in the United States... They don't call in airplanes to bomb the place." -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai denouncing U.S. air strikes on homes in his country, June 12, 2012

It was almost closing time when the siege began at a small Wells Fargo Bank branch in a suburb of San Diego, and it was a nightmare.  The three gunmen entered with the intent to rob, but as they herded the 18 customers and bank employees toward a back room, they were spotted by a pedestrian outside who promptly called 911.  Within minutes, police cars were pulling up, the bank was surrounded, and back-up was being called in from neighboring communities.  The gunmen promptly barricaded themselves inside with their hostages, including women and small children, and refused to let anyone leave.

The police called on the gunmen to surrender, but before negotiations could even begin, shots were fired from within the bank, wounding a police officer.  The events that followed -- now known to everyone, thanks to 24/7 news coverage -- shocked the nation.  Declaring the bank robbers “terrorist suspects,” the police requested air support from the Pentagon and, soon after, an F-15 from Vandenberg Air Force Base dropped two GBU-38 bombs on the bank, leaving the building a pile of rubble.

All three gunmen died.  Initially, a Pentagon spokesman, who took over messaging from the local police, insisted that “the incident” had ended “successfully” and that all the dead were “suspected terrorists.”  The Pentagon press office issued a statement on other casualties, noting only that, “while conducting a ...

Published: Sunday 17 June 2012
“With a persistent economic crisis putting cost-cutting pressure on the Pentagon budget, drones have become a low-cost method of preserving U.S. military dominance and thus the status of the United States as the single global superpower.”

They are unpopular all over the world, with one exception. According to a new Pew Research Center poll, the only country where a majority of citizens support drone strikes is the country that uses the new technology most regularly: the United States.

Only 28 percent of U.S. citizens oppose drone strikes, compared to 62 percent who approve of their use. Once again, they prove the exception to the rule.

As Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt write in alternating chapters in their terrifying new book “Terminator Planet”, drones have been part of U.S. exceptionalism from their very beginning. They were introduced in the late 1990s to conduct surveillance during the Kosovo conflict, and they soon became a major element of the U.S. dominance of airspace.

As the two authors point out, even before the introduction of drones, U.S. pilots had such overwhelming air superiority that Pentagon chief Robert Gates, in a 2011 speech, could declare that the United States hadn’t lost a plane during air combat or a soldier from enemy aircraft attack in 40 years.

With a persistent economic crisis putting cost-cutting pressure on the Pentagon budget, drones have become a low-cost method of preserving U.S. military dominance and thus the status of the United States as the single global superpower. As Engelhardt points out, drones are an integral part of “guarding the empire on the cheap as well as on the sly, via the CIA.”

But drones have played another key role in extending the tradition of U.S. exceptionalism. The Barack Obama administration, inheriting the counter-terrorism program from its predecessor, expanded the use of drones to kill top Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

“No more poison-dart-tipped umbrellas, as in past KGB operations, or toxic cigars as in CIA ones – not now that ...

Published: Thursday 14 June 2012
“What looks today like a formula for easy power projection that will further U.S. imperial interests on the cheap could soon prove to be an unmitigated disaster -- one that likely won’t be apparent until it’s too late.”

It looked like a scene out of a Hollywood movie.  In the inky darkness, men in full combat gear, armed with automatic weapons and wearing night-vision goggles, grabbed hold of a thick, woven cable hanging from a MH-47 Chinook helicopter.  Then, in a flash, each “fast-roped” down onto a ship below.  Afterward, “Mike,” a Navy SEAL who would not give his last name, bragged to an Army public affairs sergeant that, when they were on their game, the SEALs could put 15 men on a ship this way in 30 seconds or less.

 

Once on the aft deck, the special ops troops broke into squads and methodically searched the ship as it bobbed in Jinhae Harbor, South Korea.  Below deck and on the bridge, the commandos located several men and trained their weapons on them, but nobody fired a shot.  It was, after all, a training exercise.

All of those ship-searchers were SEALs, but not all of them were American.  Some were from Naval Special Warfare Group 1 out of Coronado, California; others hailed from South Korea’s Naval Special Brigade.  The drill was part of Foal Eagle 2012, a multinational, joint-service exercise.  It was also a model for -- and one small part of -- a much publicized U.S. military “pivot” from the Greater Middle East to Asia, a move that includes sending an initial contingent of 250 Marines to Darwin, Australia, basing littoral combat ships in Singapore, strengthening military ties with Vietnam and India, ...

Published: Tuesday 12 June 2012
Six weeks of talks between Pakistan and the United States have been halted, a Defence Department official stated on Monday.

“A decision was reached that it was time to bring the (negotiations) team home,” Pentagon spokesperson George Little said, noting that the move was based on a U.S. decision. 

Little suggested that the negotiators were simply in need of a rest, and added that they “are prepared to return to Islamabad at any moment to continue discussions in person”. 

The news comes just days after the U.S. assistant secretary of defence, Peter Lavoy, arrived in Islamabad in an attempt to shore up the flagging talks process, aimed at re-opening critical supply routes for international military forces in Afghanistan. According to reports, the head of the Pakistan Army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, refused to meet Lavoy. 

The supply routes have been closed since November, when a U.S. missile killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at Salala, along the Pakistan- Afghanistan border. 

Since that time, the Islamabad government, backed by a unanimous Parliament resolution, has called for an unconditional apology for the attack as well as a cessation of U.S.-controlled drone strikes within Pakistani territory. While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed regret for the soldiers' deaths, the United States has refused apologise. 

Prior to November, some 5,000 NATO trucks used the Pakistan route every month. ...

Published: Sunday 10 June 2012
Published: Wednesday 6 June 2012
“But speaking on condition of anonymity, an administration official acknowledged that the administration does not always know the names or identities of everyone in a location marked for a drone strike.”

 

In a lengthy front-page story last week exploring President Obama's use of drone strikes in countries including Pakistan and Yemen, the New York Times reported that the president had "embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in."

Citing "several administration officials," the Times reported that this method "in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants ... unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent." The Times reported that this standard allowed counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to claim in June 2011 that for nearly a year "there hasn't been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we've been able to develop."

Human rights groups and others have expressed outrage at the reported counting method. And in the last few days alone, 27 "suspected militants" have been killed in three drone strikes in Pakistan, including the reported No. 2 of al Qaeda.

We wanted to lay out exactly what's known (not much) about the apparent policy, what's not (a lot), and what the White House is saying in response to the Times report.

Crucially, the White House has done nothing to knock the story down. I gave the White House a chance to respond, and it declined to comment on the record. But speaking on condition of anonymity, an administration official acknowledged that the administration does not always know the names or identities of everyone in a ...

Published: Tuesday 5 June 2012
“At least 27 people have been killed in three consecutive days of U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan, part of a new wave of attacks over the past two weeks.”

At least 27 people have been killed in three consecutive days of U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan, part of a new wave of attacks over the past two weeks. The surge in drone strikes comes just a week after the New York Times revealed that President Obama personally oversees a “secret kill list” containing the names and photos of individuals targeted for assassination in the U.S. drone war. We go to London to speak with Chris Woods, award-winning reporter with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, who heads the Bureau’s drones investigation team. Under the Obama administration’s rules, “any adult male killed in effectively a defined kill zone is a terrorist, unless posthumously proven otherwise,” Woods says. “We think this goes a long way to explaining the gulf between our reporting of civilian casualties in Pakistan and Yemen and the reporting of credible international news organizations, and the CIA’s repeated claims that it isn’t killing [civilians], or rather, is killing small numbers. ... If you keep assuring yourself that you’re not killing civilians, by a sleight of hand, effectively, by a redrafting of the term of 'civilian,' than that starts to influence the policy and to encourage you to carry out more drone strikes.” Woods adds that the latest attacks “indicate not just a significant rise in the number of CIA strikes in Pakistan, but an aggression for those strikes that we really haven’t seen for over a year.”

 

Published: Tuesday 5 June 2012
“The last two presidents may not have been emperors or kings, but they -- and the vast national-security structure that continues to be built-up and institutionalized around the presidential self -- are certainly one of the nightmares the founding fathers of this country warned us against.”

 

Be assured of one thing: whichever candidate you choose at the polls in November, you aren’t just electing a president of the United States; you are also electing an assassin-in-chief.  The last two presidents may not have been emperors or kings, but they -- and the vast national-security structure that continues to be built-up and institutionalized around the presidential self -- are certainly one of the nightmares the founding fathers of this country warned us against.  They are one of the reasons those founders put significant war powers in the hands of Congress, which they knew would be a slow, recalcitrant, deliberative body.

Thanks to a long New York Times piece by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” we now know that the president has spent startling amounts of time overseeing the “nomination” of terrorist suspects for assassination via the remotely piloted drone program he inherited from President George W. Bush and which he has expanded 

Published: Sunday 3 June 2012
This February, Congress cleared the way for far more widespread use of drones by businesses, scientists, police and still unknown others.

 

Everyone is talking about drones. Also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs, remote-piloted aircrafts have become a controversial centerpiece of the Obama administration's counter-terrorism strategy. Domestically, their surveillance power is being hyped for everything from fighting crime to monitoring hurricanes or spawning salmon. Meanwhile, concerns are cropping up about privacy, ethics and safety. We've rounded up some of the best coverage of drones to get you oriented. Did we miss anything? Let us know.

A Little History

The idea of unmanned flight had been around for decades, but it was in the 1990s, thanks to advances in GPS and computing, that the possibilities for drones really took off, as the New Yorker recently recounted. While hobbyists and researchers looked for uses for automated, airborne cameras, the military became the driving force behind drone developments. (This history from the Washington Post has more details) According to the Congressional Research Service, the military's cache of U.A.V.'s has grown from just a handful in 2001 to

Published: Thursday 31 May 2012
“Even the New York Times article acknowledges that Pakistan and Yemen are less stable and more hostile to the United States since Mr. Obama became president, that drones have become a provocative symbol of American power running roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents.”

On May 29, The New York Times published an extraordinarily in-depth look at the intimate role President Obama has played in authorizing US drone attacks overseas, particularly in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. It is chilling to read the cold, macabre ease with which the President and his staff decide who will live or die. The fate of people living thousands of miles away is decided by a group of Americans, elected and unelected, who don’t speak their language, don’t know their culture, don’t understand their motives or values. While purporting to represent the world’s greatest democracy, US leaders are putting people on a hit list who are as young as 17, people who are given no chance to surrender, and certainly no chance to be tried in a court of law.

Who is furnishing the President and his aides with this list of terrorist suspects to choose from, like baseball cards? The kind of intelligence used to put people on drone hit lists is the same kind of intelligence that put people in Guantanamo. Remember how the American public was assured that the prisoners locked up in Guantanamo were the “worst of the worst,” only to find out that hundreds were innocent people who had been sold to the US military by bounty hunters?

Why should the public believe what the Obama administration says about the people being assassinated by drones? Especially since, as we learn in the New York Times, the administration came up with a semantic solution to keep the civilian death toll to a minimum: simply count all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants. The rationale, reminiscent of George Zimmerman’s justification for shooting Trayvon Martin, is that “people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.” Talk about profiling! At least when George Bush threw suspected militants into Guantanamo their ...

Published: Wednesday 30 May 2012
“The President of the United States believes he has the power to order people killed -- in total secrecy, without any due process, without transparency or oversight of any kind.”

The New York Times revealed this week that President Obama personally oversees a "secret kill list" containing the names and photos of individuals targeted for assassination in the U.S. drone war. According to the Times, Obama signs off on every targeted killing in Yemen and Somalia and the more complex or risky strikes in Pakistan. Individuals on the list include U.S. citizens, as well teenage girls as young as 17 years old. "The President of the United States believes he has the power to order people killed -- in total secrecy, without any due process, without transparency or oversight of any kind," says Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon.com. "I really do believe it's literally the most radical power that a government and president can seize, and yet the Obama administration has seized it and exercised it aggressively with little controversy."

Published: Friday 18 May 2012
The U.S. has used drones to kill thousands of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. But the government routinely refuses to provide any official information on local reports of civilian deaths or the identities of most of those killed.

US civilian and military employees regularly target and fire lethal unmanned drone guided missiles at people across the world.  Thousands of people have been assassinated.   Hundreds of those killed were civilians. Some of those killed were rescuers and mourners.   

 

These killings would be criminal acts if they occurred inside the US.  Does it make legal sense that these killings would be legal outside the US?

 

Some Facts about Drone Assassinations

 

The US has used drones to kill thousands of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.   But the government routinely refuses to provide any official information on local reports of civilian deaths or the identities of most of those killed.

 

In Pakistan alone, the New America Foundation reports US forces have launched 297 drone strikes killing at least 1800 people, three to four hundred of whom were not even combatants.   Other investigative journalists report four to eight hundred civilians killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan.

 

Very few of these drone strikes kill high level leaders of terror groups.  A recent article in FOREIGN AFFAIRS estimated “only one out of every seven drone attacks in Pakistan kills a militant leader.  The majority of those killed in such strikes are not important insurgent commanders but rather low level fighters, together with a small number of civilians.”

 

An investigation by the Wall Street Journal in November 2011 revealed that most of the time the US did not even know the identities of the people being killed by drones in Pakistan.  The WSJ reported there are two types of drone strikes.  Personality strikes target known terrorist leaders.  Signature strikes target groups of men believed to be militants but are people whose identities are not known.  Most of the drone ...

Published: Monday 14 May 2012
“Placed in the hands of evildoers, those weapons and powers could create a living nightmare; controlled by the best of people, they lead to measured, thoughtful, precise decisions in which bad things are (with rare and understandable exceptions) done only to truly terrible types.”

Here’s the essence of it: you can trust America’s crème de la crème, the most elevated, responsible people, no matter what weapons, what powers, you put in their hands.  No need to constantly look over their shoulders.

Placed in the hands of evildoers, those weapons and powers could create a living nightmare; controlled by the best of people, they lead to measured, thoughtful, precise decisions in which bad things are (with rare and understandable exceptions) done only to truly terrible types.  In the process, you simply couldn’t be better protected.

And in case you were wondering, there is no question who among us are the best, most lawful, moral, ethical, considerate, and judicious people: the officials of our national security state.  Trust them implicitly.  They will never give you a bum steer.

You may be paying a fortune to maintain their world -- the 30,000 people hired to listen in on conversations and other communications in this country, the 230,000 employees of the Department of Homeland Security, the 854,000 people with top-secret clearances, the 4.2 million with security clearances of one sort or another, the $2 billion, one-million-square-foot data center that the National Security Agency is constructing in Utah, the gigantic billion headquarters the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency recently built for its 16,000 employees in the Washington area -- but there’s a good reason.  That’s what’s needed to make truly ...

Published: Monday 7 May 2012
Published: Tuesday 1 May 2012
“Sending Debt Peonage, Poverty, and Freaky Weather Into the Arena”

When I was growing up, I ate books for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and since I was constantly running out of reading material, I read everyone else’s -- which for a girl with older brothers meant science fiction. The books were supposed to be about the future, but they always turned out to be very much about this very moment.

Some of them -- Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land -- were comically of their time: that novel’s vision of the good life seemed to owe an awful lot to the Playboy Mansion in its prime, only with telepathy and being nice added in. Frank Herbert’s Dune had similarly sixties social mores, but its vision of an intergalactic world of disciplined desert jihadis and a great game for the substance that made all long-distance transit possible is even more relevant now. Think: drug cartels meet the oil industry in the deep desert.

We now live in a world that is wilder than a lot of science fiction from my youth. My phone is 58 times faster than IBM’s fastest mainframe computer in 1964 (calculates my older brother Steve) and more powerful than the computers on the Apollo spaceship we landed on the moon in 1969 (adds my nephew Jason). Though we never got the promised jetpacks and the Martians were a bust, we do live in a time when genetic engineers use jellyfish genes to make mammals glow in the dark and nerds in southern Nevada kill people in Pakistan and Afghanistan with unmanned drones. Anyone who time-traveled from the sixties would be astonished by our age, for its wonders and its horrors and its profound social changes. But science fiction is about the present more than the future, and we do have a new science fiction trilogy that’s perfect for this very moment.

Sacrificing the Young in the Arenas of Capital ...

Published: Sunday 29 April 2012
U.S. drone strikes have killed an estimated 3,000 people, including hundreds of civilians, in covert drone missions in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.

Today, CODEPINK, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Reprieve hosted the International Drone Summit in Washington, DC. The Summit consisted of multiple panels dealing with issues ranging from the expanding use of surveillance drones to the Obama administration’s targeted killing program. Participants had the opportunity to listen to the personal stories of Pakistanis who had survived drone strikes or had their loved ones killed in them.

“We’re dragging this secretive drone program out of the shadows and into the light of day,” said Medea Benjamin, one of the Summit organizers and author of the new book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. “It’s time for the American public to know the true extent—and consequences—of the killing and spying being done in our name.”

 

Lawyers representing Pakistani drone-strike victims and journalists investigating the attacks shared their experiences of these events in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. New footage of interviews with victims was aired.

 

U.S. drone strikes have killed an estimated 3,000 people, including hundreds of civilians, in covert drone missions in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. While drones were primarily used by the U.S. military and CIA for surveillance prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks, in the last ten years drones have become routinely used to launch missiles against human beings in countries where the United States is not at war, including Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

 

“As the Obama Administration expands its use of killer drones around the world, so must we increase our demands for transparency and accountability” said Maria LaHood, a Senior Staff Attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights who spoke at the Drone Summit and who has litigated against the Obama administration’s targeted ...

Published: Friday 27 April 2012
Published: Thursday 19 April 2012
How Pakistan Makes Washington Pay for the Afghan War

The following ingredients should go a long way to produce a political thriller. Mr. M, a jihadist in an Asian state, has emerged as the mastermind of a terrorist attack in a neighboring country, which killed six Americans. After sifting through a vast cache of intelligence and obtaining a legal clearance, the State Department announces a $10 million bounty for information leading to his arrest and conviction. Mr. M promptly appears at a press conference and says, “I am here. America should give that reward money to me.”

A State Department spokesperson explains lamely that the reward is meant for incriminating evidence against Mr. M that would stand up in court. The prime minister of M’s home state condemns foreign interference in his country’s internal affairs. In the midst of this imbroglio, the United States decides to release $1.18 billion in aid to the cash-strapped government of the defiant prime minister to persuade him to reopen supply lines for U.S. and NATO forces bogged down in the hapless neighboring Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Alarmingly, this is anything but fiction or a plot for an upcoming international sitcom. It is a brief summary of the latest development in the fraught relations between the United States and Pakistan, two countries locked into an uneasy embrace since September 12, 2001.

Mr. M. is Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, a 62-year-old former academic with a tapering, hennaed beard, and the founder of the Lashkar-e Taiba (the Army of the Pure, or LeT), widely linked to several outrageously audacious terrorist attacks in India. The LeT was formed in 1987 as the military wing of the ...

Published: Tuesday 10 April 2012
“The U.S. government will not even acknowledge the existence of the covert drone program, much less account for those who are killed and maimed.”

When is the last time you heard from a civilian victim of the CIA’s secret drone strikes? Sure, most of them can’t speak because they’re deceased. But many leave behind bereaved and angry family members ready to proclaim their innocence and denounce the absence of due process, the lack of accountability, the utter impunity with which the U.S. government decides who will live and die.

 

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government has increasingly deployed unmanned drones in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. While drones were initially used for surveillance, these remotely controlled aerial vehicles are now routinely used to launch missiles against human targets in countries where the United States is not at war, including Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. As many as 3,000 people, including hundreds of civilians and even American citizens, have been killed in such covert missions.

 

The U.S. government will not even acknowledge the existence of the covert drone program, much less account for those who are killed and maimed. And you don’t hear their stories on FOX News, or even MSNBC. The U.S. media has little interest in airing the stories of dirt poor people in faraway lands who contradict the convenient narrative that drone strikes only kill “militants.”

 

But in Pakistan, where most strikes have occurred, the victims do have someone speaking out on their behalf. Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who co-founded the human rights organization Foundation for Fundamental Right, filed the first case in Pakistan on behalf of family members of civilian victims and has become a critical force in litigating and advocating for drone victims.

 

Akbar is by no means anti-American. He has traveled to the United States in the past, and has even worked for the U.S. government. He was a consultant with the U.S. Agency for International Development, and helped the ...

Published: Monday 9 April 2012
Published: Friday 30 March 2012
“The movement they and their fellow activists spearheaded, called the Global March to Jerusalem (GMJ), is now in its final stages.”

On March 30th a ground-breaking event will take place. I had not expected it would ever happen when I first heard about it. While teaching at the Summer University of Palestine last July in Beirut, I met a group of Indian Muslims taking the course. They told me they were organising a people’s march to Jerusalem to bring to the world’s attention to Israel’s assault on the city’s history and culture, and its impending loss as a centre for Islam and Christianity. They explained how they and their friends would set out from India, drawing in others to join them as they passed through the various countries on their way overland to Israel’s borders. 

 

They seemed fired up and determined, and I could not but admire their zeal and dedication to try and rescue this orphan city which has been abandoned by all who should have defended her. But I thought their ambitions would be thwarted by the harsh reality of trying to implement their dreams. It would never succeed, I thought, but I was quite wrong. The movement they and their fellow activists spearheaded, called the Global March to Jerusalem (GMJ), is now in its final stages. A distinguished group of 400 advisers, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nobel Laureate, Mairead Maguire, are promoting the GMJ. The marchers will head for Jerusalem or the nearest point possible on March 30th

 

This date also commemorates Land Day, a significant anniversary for Palestinians. On that day in 1976 six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed by Israeli forces. They had participated in a peaceable general strike to protest against Israeli confiscations of privately owned Palestinian land, and paid with their lives for this act of non-violent resistance. Since then this tragic event has been commemorated annually by Palestinians everywhere. Today, it is a fitting reminder of Israel’s other confiscation of ...

Published: Thursday 29 March 2012
“World Health Organization states that Pakistan, despite the large percentage of prescribed vaccination, had the highest number of polio cases in a decade.”

Despite powerful mainstream evidence showing that 78% of polio cases in Pakistan are among those vaccinated with the polio vaccine, and even the fact that the polio vaccine is now the leading cause of polio paralysis, Pakistan is now moving to slam parents of non-vaccinated children with fees and school bans. The country has been battling the disease, which has been running rampant among those vaccinated against the condition for quite some time, even prompting potential travel restrictions until the epidemic is dealt with.

While attributing the spread and outbreak to unvaccinated children, and demonizing their parents for making such an ‘irresponsible’ choice, mainstream public statistics have shown that even those who have been administered polio drops on several occasions were still developing the disease. According to the National Institute of Health, whose polio action group compiled the data in the report, 107 polio-affected children out of the 136 total patients had been given the polio drops under a prescribed schedule — doctor approved.

What’s more, World Health Organization states that Pakistan — despite the large percentage of prescribed vaccination — had the highest number of polio cases in a decade. But perhaps most shocking of them all is a report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that shows it is possible that these children are developing polio from the vaccine itself. The

Published: Sunday 19 February 2012
“The United States is now in the business of using missile-armed drones and special operations forces to eliminate anyone (not excluding U.S. citizens) the president of the United States decides has become an intolerable annoyance.”

With the United States now well into the second decade of what the Pentagon has styled an “era of persistent conflict,” the war formerly known as the global war on terrorism (unofficial acronym WFKATGWOT) appears increasingly fragmented and diffuse.  Without achieving victory, yet unwilling to acknowledge failure, the United States military has withdrawn from Iraq.  It is trying to leave Afghanistan, where events seem equally unlikely to yield a happy outcome. 

Elsewhere -- in Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, for example -- U.S. forces are busily opening up new fronts.  Published reports that the United States is establishing “a constellation of secret drone bases” in or near the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula suggest that the scope of operations will only widen further.  In a front-page story, the New York Times described plans for “thickening” the global presence of U.S. special operations forces.  Rushed Navy plans to convert an aging amphibious landing ship into an “afloat forward staging base” -- a mobile launch platform for either commando raids or 

Published: Monday 30 January 2012
The doctor has turned into a bargaining chip within the failing U.S-Pakistan alliance.

A senior American official has for the first time admitted that a Pakistani doctor played a key role in tracking Osama bin Laden to his hideout in northern Pakistan and called for his release.

The comments by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta were the first public confirmation of a part of the bin Laden operation revealed by McClatchy Newspapers in July last year, about how the CIA used Shakil Afridi to try to establish whether the al Qaida leader was really living in a large house in Abbottabad, northern Pakistan.

Afridi has been in Pakistani custody since the country's own spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), discovered the secret task performed by the doctor, who set up a fake vaccination program in Abbottabad in a bid to gain DNA samples from those staying at the suspect compound.

The CIA was never certain that bin Laden was present in the house. Afridi worked for the American intelligence agency in the weeks leading up to the May 2 U.S. special forces raid, setting up an elaborate scheme that was supposedly going house to house to vaccinate residents in Abbottabad.

Panetta, speaking to CBS' "60 Minutes" in an interview to be broadcast Sunday night, also voiced his belief that elements within Pakistan must have known that bin Laden, or at least someone significant, was ...

Published: Sunday 29 January 2012
The fate of the doctor has become another source of tension between Islamabad and Washington, with American officials pressing Pakistan to free him so he and his family can be resettled in the United States.

A senior American official has for the first time admitted that a Pakistani doctor played a key role in tracking Osama bin Laden to his hideout in northern Pakistan and called for his release.

The comments by U.S. Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, were the first public confirmation of a part of the bin Laden operation revealed by McClatchy Newspapers in July last year, about how the CIA used Dr Shakil Afridi to try to establish whether the al Qaida leader was really living in a large house in Abbottabad, northern Pakistan.

Afridi has been in Pakistani custody since the country’s own spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), discovered the secret task performed by the doctor, who set up a fake vaccination program in Abbottabad, in a bid to gain DNA samples from those staying at the suspect compound.

The CIA was never certain that bin Laden was present in the house. Afridi worked for the American intelligence agency in the weeks leading up to the 2 May U.S. special forces raid, setting up an elaborate scheme that was supposedly going house to house to vaccinate residents in Abbottabad.

Panetta, speaking to CBS show 60 Minutes, in an interview to be broadcast Sunday night, also voiced his belief that elements within Pakistan must have known that bin Laden, or at least someone significant, was ...

Published: Thursday 26 January 2012
“Militants and security analysts said Weinstein might be traded for al Qaida members who were in Pakistani custody, or used as a human shield to prevent security forces from striking its camps in North Waziristan.”

A kidnapped 70-year-old American aid contractor is alive and in good health, being held by a Pakistani al Qaida affiliate that's likely to use him as a bargaining chip, according to militants, security officials and analysts.

Warren Weinstein, who was kidnapped in August from his home in Lahore, Pakistan, is in the custody of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militants in North Waziristan, a ranking Pakistani militant told McClatchy. The militant said he'd seen Weinstein last month and at that point "his health was fine."

"He is being provided all available medical treatment, including regular checkups by a doctor and the medicines prescribed for him before he was plucked," the militant, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said last week in an interview.

Little has been revealed publicly about Weinstein's status since December, when Ayman al Zawahiri, the head of al Qaida, said in a video that the terrorist network was holding him. Weinstein, who's from Rockville, Md., had heart surgery in 2009 and suffers from high blood pressure and asthma.

Weinstein had spent several years as the Pakistan country manager for J.E. Austin Associates, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Reportedly in ill health, he'd packed his bags and was within hours of leaving Pakistan for good on Aug. 13 when militants kidnapped him from his home in the affluent suburb of Model Town.

Mohammed Imran, a security analyst in Islamabad who maintains contact with Pakistani militant groups, said he'd received messages from militants indicating that Weinstein's captors had no plans to harm him, and that he was being provided with medical care.

"Al Qaida won't kill Weinstein. It will keep him as healthy as is possible in the circumstances, and use him as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Pakistani authorities," he ...

Published: Wednesday 18 January 2012
The three men are Nizar Sassi, now 31, Mourad Benchellali, now 30, and Khaled Ben Mustapha, now 40.

A French judge is seeking U.S. permission to visit the prison camps here to investigate claims by former French inmates that they were tortured, the Associated Press reported from Paris on Tuesday.

The AP reported that it saw a formal international request from investigating judge Sophie Clement to U.S. authorities to see the prison here that Tuesday held 171 captives, none of them French citizens. Clement also seeks copies of all documents relating to the arrest and transfer of three Frenchmen who were held there.

The three men are Nizar Sassi, now 31, Mourad Benchellali, now 30, and Khaled Ben Mustapha, now 40. They were arrested on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in late 2001 and transferred to Guantánamo. They were sent back to France in 2004 and 2005, held for a time for trial there, but then released.

The men told the judge during questioning in France that they were subject to violence including torture and rape during their detention.

At Guantánamo, a Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said it was not immediately known whether U.S. officials had received the request.

READ FULL POST 6 COMMENTS

Published: Wednesday 18 January 2012
“Following the Money in the Iran Crisis”

Let's start with red lines. Here it is, Washington’s ultimate red line, straight from the lion’s mouth.  Only last week Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said of the Iranians, “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they're trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that's what concerns us. And our red line to Iran is do not develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line for us.”

How strange, the way those red lines continue to retreat.  Once upon a time, the red line for Washington was “enrichment” of uranium. Now, it’s evidently an actual nuclear weapon that can be brandished. Keep in mind that, since 2005, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has stressed that his country is not seeking to build a nuclear weapon. The most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran from the U.S. Intelligence Community has similarly stressed that Iran is not, in fact, developing a nuclear weapon (as opposed to the breakout capacity to build one someday).

What if, however, there is no “red line,” but something completely different? Call it the ...

Published: Tuesday 17 January 2012
“Security analysts said the selective targeting suggested that Pakistani security authorities had sanctioned the strikes, despite a Foreign Ministry statement Thursday that drone intrusions into Pakistan’s airspace ‘cannot be condoned.’”

Two apparent U.S. drone attacks last week on militant targets in Pakistani tribal areas bordering Afghanistan very likely signal the resumption of joint counterintelligence operations by the CIA and Pakistan's military spy agency, security analysts here said Monday.

The reported strikes would be the first in Pakistan since U.S.-led NATO forces killed 25 Pakistani soldiers in a "friendly fire" incident on the border in November, which drove relations between Washington and Islamabad to a new low.

News reports over the weekend quoted anonymous Pakistani military officials as saying that radio chatter among militants suggested that the chief of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, was among four insurgents who were killed Thursday in the second of the drone strikes in the North Waziristan tribal area.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban denied Mahsud's death, however, saying he wasn't in the area at the time. Members of rival militant factions told McClatchy that they'd received no news of his death.

"The signs are that the U.S. has revisited intelligence cooperation with Pakistan, and the two sides have returned to the early stages, when drone attacks were initiated under a covert joint mandate," said Simbal Khan, the director of research at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, a research center funded by Pakistan's Foreign Ministry.

In the first of the strikes, last Tuesday, four al Qaida fighters from the gas-rich central Asian republic of Turkmenistan were killed, analysts said.

However, the drones didn't target the Haqqani network, an Afghan Taliban faction that draws hundreds of fighters from Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the top militant commander in North Waziristan.

Security analysts said the selective targeting suggested that Pakistani security authorities had sanctioned the strikes, despite a Foreign Ministry statement Thursday that drone intrusions into ...

Published: Friday 13 January 2012
How activists are trying to bring the moral implications of drone warfare to light.

Nearly a third of the aircraft used by the United States military don't carry pilots, according to a new Congressional report. The aircraft are drones, and their pilots are often thousands of miles away, controlling them remotely from bases in the United States.

One such base is the Hancock Air National Guard Base, located near Syracuse, N.Y. Ed Kinane, who lives nearby, says that since strike drones are operated from the base, his home area of New York state is, from a moral perspective, “in the zone of war”—a reality he and other peace activists don't feel they can ignore.

On April 22, at the entrance to the base, Kinane and 37 other activists wrapped themselves in white cloth splattered with red, and staged a die-in. They were protesting the base’s role in operating drones over Afghanistan—the unmanned aerial vehicles are designed to target terrorists and insurgents, but they also take a heavy toll on the peace and safety of unarmed civilians. The protesters attempted to deliver a citizen indictment for war crimes to the base, and were ...

Published: Wednesday 11 January 2012
The army has staged four coups in the past and democracy was only restored by elections in 2008 from the latest period of military rule.

The confrontation between the civilian government and the army in Pakistan turned into a bitter open clash Wednesday, when the military warned that remarks this week by the prime minister had "potentially grievous consequences for the country."

It is thought that the military is maneuvering to remove the president, Asif Zardari, by using the courts. But his determination to hang on could result in another coup, analysts believe. There is speculation that, to head off the military’s plan, the government will try to sack the army chief.

Convulsed by the political crisis, nuclear-armed U.S. ally Pakistan is not focused on the pressing security and economic issues that concern Washington. Pakistan’s help is considered crucial to stabilizing Afghanistan and pushing for peace talks.

The military and the government are at loggerheads over a scandal dubbed "memogate," in which the former ambassador to Washington is accused of making a “treacherous” written offer to the United States, to rein in Pakistan’s military, in return for American support for the civilian government. The case, aimed squarely against Zardari, is before the Supreme Court, which appointed a judicial commission that began hearings this week.

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Published: Tuesday 3 January 2012
Even some traditional conservatives and Tea Party rebels have begun to side with liberal Democrats such as Representative Barney Frank (D.-Mass.) to propose much larger cuts in defense spending than either the Obama administration or Congress as a whole is likely to consider this year.

It’s too much to expect that, before the 2012 election, there will be big cuts to the Department of Defense. The Pentagon’s bloated budget, which has roughly doubled since the late 1990s, not counting the vast sums spent on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, is still a sacred, well, hippopotamus.

 

But, on the other hand, as I reported in The Nation early last year ("Taking Aim at the Pentagon Budget"), the United States is an empire in decline, and it can no longer afford a military budget equal to the rest of the world combined. As that piece showed, even some traditional conservatives and Tea Party rebels have begun to side with liberal Democrats such as Representative Barney Frank (D.-Mass.) to propose much larger cuts in defense spending than either the Obama administration or Congress as a whole is likely to consider this year.


This week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will announce his plans for ...

Published: Monday 26 December 2011
“By trying to play by the old rules, [Zardari] committed several mistakes that may ultimately cost him his job and the Bhutto family its hold on power.”

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari abruptly returned to Karachi on the morning of December 19, following a 13-day absence for medical treatment in Dubai, where he lived while in exile. The government issued no formal statement about Zadari’s health, but his supporters disclosed that he had suffered a mild stroke, which left him unconscious for several minutes.

Zardari’s sudden return fueled speculation about his future, but, more importantly, about the future of civilian rule in Pakistan. His decision followed a three-hour meeting between Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Pakistani army’s chief of the army. His choice of destination – Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and his political base, rather than Islamabad, the county’s capital – suggests the depth of the crisis now bubbling below the surface. 

Zardari has held power since 2008, having been elected eight months after the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto. Even after a constitutional amendment in 2010 made the prime minister the country’s chief executive, Zardari has continued to be the main decision-maker. His political rise is thus in keeping with South Asia’s tradition of quasi-democratic dynastic politics: he assumed leadership of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – founded in 1967 by her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – and appointed his son Bilawal as the party’s co-chairperson, basing his decision on a handwritten will left by his wife. To underscore the link, the son was renamed Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

But, having deftly out-maneuvered his opponents for three years, Zardari seems to have misread the current political environment, for Pakistan is not the same country in which his wife and father-in-law wielded power. By trying to play by the old rules, he committed several mistakes that may ultimately cost him his job and the Bhutto family its ...

Published: Saturday 17 December 2011
Recently, the Obama administration requested a waiver on human rights restrictions in the forthcoming foreign appropriations bill in order to resume arming the Karimov dictatorship in Uzbekistan, which has massacred hundreds of pro-democracy protesters and has literally boiled its opponents alive.

An ad on my Facebook page from barackobama.com reads, "Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich say they would start foreign aid to Israel at zero. Reject their extreme plan now!"

This struck me as odd for two reasons:

First, it is disingenuous and misleading. The actual position taken by these Republican presidential candidates is that all foreign aid should initially start at zero as means of reducing the deficit, to be immediately followed by the resumption of aid on a case-by-case basis. As they themselves have acknowledged, they would immediately resume aid to Israel and perhaps even increase it. Ironically, U.S. "aid for Israel" goes almost exclusively to U.S. arms manufacturers, with which the Republican candidates have a close relationship.

Secondly, millions of Americans—particularly younger voters who are the primary users of Facebook—support zeroing out aid to Israel on human rights grounds. The Obama campaign, therefore, is effectively labeling those of us who oppose the use of our tax dollars to arm the right-wing Netanyahu government, which has repeatedly used U.S. weapons against civilians, as "extreme." Presumably, they feel the same way about those of us who support a cutoff of aid to other governments that violate international humanitarian law as well.

 In 2009, Amnesty International, citing war crimes committed by both Israeli forces and the armed wing of Hamas earlier that year, called on nations to suspend arms shipments to both. The Obama administration categorically rejected the proposal. The administration has also rejected calls by human rights groups to condition military aid and arms transfers to other countries that use U.S. weapons against civilians, including Colombia, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, ...

Published: Tuesday 13 December 2011
The reality is that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, yet many people in the West still believe that killing Taliban fighters keeps up military pressure that might eventually lead to a negotiated outcome.

Ten years ago, a conference in the German city of Bonn agreed on a roadmap – the Bonn Agreement – for the creation of a post-Taliban administration in Afghanistan. Taliban were excluded from participation and subsequent Afghan governments were strongly dominated by Taliban’s former foes. Ten years later, Taliban were once again absent at this week’s second Bonn conference, which was boycotted by Pakistan in protest against an American air strike inside Pakistan that killed twenty-four Pakistani soldiers. All the main speakers emphasized the need for peacemaking with the Taliban.

The reality is that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable. Yet many people in the West still believe that killing Taliban fighters keeps up military pressure that might eventually lead to a negotiated outcome. For their own reasons, the Taliban also see military pressure as sound strategy. Both sides are probably wrong. The escalated military contest is likely to be as unwinnable as the war.

The side that reaches this conclusion first and declares a temporary ceasefire – a ceasefire that becomes permanent if the other side reciprocates – will have a considerable advantage. Not only would it be good strategy for the United States or the Taliban to make the first move, it would also be smart for Pakistan to change course and advocate such a move, regardless of who moves first.

Despair grows in Afghanistan. Obama’s surge increased the killing and capture of Taliban, but killings by the Taliban have surged even more steeply. The 2011 fighting season is the worst the war has seen, especially for civilians. Meanwhile, the government of Afghanistan enjoys less legitimacy than ever and is edging towards becoming a narco-state. Opium production is expected to rise further in 2012 to supply more than 90 per cent of the world’s illicit trade.

It is hard to be sure whether President Hamid Karzai’s administration is ...

Published: Sunday 4 December 2011
“For all the talk of ‘precision weapons’ and ‘surgical strikes,’ drones have inflicted hundreds of civilian deaths and 500 lb. bombs have very little in common with operating rooms.”

In the aftermath of the Nov. 26 NATO attack on two border posts that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, the question being asked is whether the assault was a “fog of war” incident or a calculated hit aimed at torpedoing peace talks in Afghanistan? Given that the incident has plunged relations between Washington and Islamabad to a new low at a critical juncture in the 10-year war, the answer is vitally important.

According to NATO, U.S. and Afghan troops came under fire from the Pakistani side of the border and retaliated in self-defense. American officials have suggested that the Taliban engineered the incident in order to poison U.S.-Pakistani relations. But there are some facts suggesting that the encounter may have been more than a “friendly fire” encounter brought on by a clever foe, an ill-defined border, and the normal chaos of the battlefield.

Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Samiullah Rahmani denies they were even in the area—and the insurgent group is never shy about taking credit for military engagements (of course, if deception was involved that is what the Taliban would say). However, this

Published: Friday 2 December 2011
“He was 22, a corporal in the Marines from Preston, Iowa, a ‘city’ incorporated in 1890 with a present population of 949.”

He was 22, a corporal in the Marines from Preston, Iowa, a “city” incorporated in 1890 with a present population of 949.  He died in a hospital in Germany of “wounds received from an explosive device while on patrol in Helmand province [Afghanistan].”  Of him, his high school principal said, “He was a good kid.” He is survived by his parents.

He was 20, a private in the 10th Mountain Division from Boyne City, population 3,735 souls, which bills itself as “the fastest growing city in Northern Michigan.”  He died of “wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small-arms fire” and is survived by his parents.

These were the last ...

Published: Tuesday 29 November 2011
U.S. officials expressed considerable concern that Pakistan may also decide to boycott a critical international meeting Dec. 5 in Bonn, Germany, on the future of Afghanistan as ISAF prepares to withdraw its forces by 2014.

As the Pentagon scrambled Monday to satisfy Pakistani demands for a full accounting of Saturday's lethal air attack on two border posts, official Washington expressed hope that Islamabad's retaliation will be limited in both time and scope.

So far, Pakistan has closed the two border crossings used by the U.S. and NATO convoys to supply their troops in Afghanistan for the first time this year. It has not indicated when the crossings, over which about 40 percent of total supplies for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) travel, may be reopened, although the interior minister, Rehman Malik, suggested Saturday that the blockade may be permanent.

It also ordered Washington to vacate the Shamsi Air Base in Baluchistan within 15 days. The base has long been used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to launch and maintain armed drone aircraft deployed against suspected Taliban forces on both sides of the border.

U.S. officials expressed considerable concern that Pakistan may also decide to boycott a critical international meeting Dec. 5 in Bonn, Germany, on the future of Afghanistan as ISAF prepares to withdraw its forces by 2014. The decision on whether to attend is said to be under review by the Pakistani authorities.

They are also fearful that Islamabad may revoke over-flight rights by U.S. fighter and bomber aircraft on missions to Afghanistan from the Persian Gulf region and surrounding seas.

"If they were to shut that down, then the rupture would be pretty bad," said Shuja Nawaz, the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council here.

He said the Pakistani government and the upper echelons of the military were under "strong pressure" from both opposition parties and the army's lower ranks to retaliate for the attack in which at least 24 soldiers killed by fire from NATO aircraft at the two border stations Saturday.

Precisely how and why the attacks took place ...

Published: Monday 28 November 2011
The United States has to recognize that when and if the war ends Pakistan will be the dominant player in Afghanistan.

The so-called “friendly fire” incident this weekend, in which U.S. forces killed more than two dozen Pakistani soldiers at a border post near Afghanistan, is only the latest in a long string of incidents that have inflamed U.S.-Pakistan relations. But this one may be the most serious of all. Already, Pakistan has closed two critical border crossing that provide about half of the American and NATO re-supply effort for the war in Afghanistan, and Pakistani officials are saying that the closing is permanent this time. (They’ve closed them previously, only to reopen them after a cooling off period.)

The closing may yet be reversed, but it’s a sign of Pakistan’s ability to undermine or even shut down the U.S. war effort. (It’s not really possible to supply U.S. forces by using the so-called northern route through Russia and the ‘Stans, not is it possible to airlift supplies such as fuel, heavy machinery, and construction equipment in sufficient quantities.) As always, Pakistan has the United States over a barrel.

Worse, the Pakistan government is threatening to boycott the December 5 international conference on Afghanistan, at which 1,000 delegates from 50 countries are scheduled to convene in Germany to discuss plans to wind down the war. As everyone who’s paying attention knows, winding down the war – removing 30,000 American troops in 2012 and taking out the rest by 2014 – means getting Pakistan and its cats-paw, the Taliban, to the bargaining table. If Pakistan doesn’t play, it’s game over.

The most intelligent comment on the crisis comes from Vali Nasr,  a regional expert who served as a consultant to the late ...

Published: Monday 28 November 2011
Pakistan announced Saturday that it would “review” all military, intelligence and diplomatic co-operation with the United States and ISAF forces in response to the incident.

Tension between Pakistan and the United States over a U.S. air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers grew Sunday as the two sides offered widely disparate accounts of what might have taken place.

NATO officials said Afghan and U.S. troops operating inside Afghanistan early Saturday had been fired on from the Pakistani side of the border and had requested close air support to help defend themselves. What happened next is still under investigation, officials said.

But Pakistan's chief military spokesman said he did not believe that there had been any fire directed at the Americans from Pakistan and said he did not believe the attack could have been inadvertent.

Major Gen. Athar Abbas said the military outpost on a mountain top at Salala in the Mohmand part of Pakistan near the Afghan border was well marked on maps that both Pakistan and NATO have and that the U.S. air assault lasted for more than an hour.

"I cannot rule out the possibility that this was a deliberate attack by ISAF," Abbas said, referring to NATO's International Security Assistance Force by its acronym. "If ISAF was receiving fire, then they must tell us what their losses were."

No NATO casualties ...

Published: Sunday 27 November 2011
Pakistan announces retaliation after NATO attack on Pakistani border outpost.

Pakistan on Saturday blocked supply routes for U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan and announced it would end American use of a Pakistani airbase by American forces in retaliation for a NATO attack on a Pakistani border outpost that officials said killed at least 24 soldiers and injured another 13.

American forces were given 15 days to vacate the remote Shamsi airbase, which was secretly turned over to them after the 9/11 attacks. The decision to order the Americans out followed an emergency meeting of Pakistan's top civilian and military leadership late Saturday to decide how to respond to the deaths of the soldiers.

Shamsi was used for launching the war in Afghanistan in late 2001, then later served as the base for the U.S. drone program targeting militants. Set in desert in sparsely populated Baluchistan province in Pakistan's west, the airbase became highly controversial within Pakistan for its association with drone strikes, which Pakistan officially condemns.

The decision to expel the Americans, made by the country's leadership meeting as the Defense Committee of the Cabinet, was an admission that Shamsi remains in American use.

The committee also announced that the government would "revisit and undertake a complete review of all program, activities and cooperative arrangements" with the United States and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, "including diplomatic, political, military and intelligence".

READ FULL POST 7 COMMENTS

Published: Sunday 27 November 2011
“Maybe voters just wonder about a guy who’s willing to tailor everything to please his audience. Even his name.”

Moderator Wolf Blitzer opened Tuesday’s Republican debate by introducing himself and adding, for some reason, “Yes, that’s my real name.” A few moments later, the party’s most plausible nominee for president said the following: “I’m Mitt Romney, and yes, Wolf, that’s also my first name.”

But it’s not. Mitt is the candidate’s middle name. His first name is Willard.

And people wonder why this guy has an authenticity problem?

The debate, held at Washington’s historic DAR Constitution Hall, was focused on foreign policy. The subject matter seemed to offer Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House, the opportunity to highlight his experience and perhaps begin consolidating his sudden front-runner status. But if he expected to dance rings around the others in the minefields of international politics, he was mistaken.

READ FULL POST 6 COMMENTS

Published: Wednesday 23 November 2011
Gingrich said there is a difference between criminals and terrorists, and that they should be treated differently — criminals with all due process of civilian law, but terrorists treated under the rules of war.

Republican presidential candidates grappled Tuesday over how to balance civil liberties and security, as they engaged in a lively and substantive debate over how best to protect Americans from threats around the world.

With the Iowa caucuses, the nation's first political test of 2012, only six weeks away, the eight GOP hopefuls clashed over how to address U.S. trouble spots from Pakistan to the Mexican border.

The debate, co-sponsored by CNN and two conservative policy-research centers, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, was the first in 10 days and the first since former House Speaker Newt Gingrich vaulted to the top in several national polls.

The candidates generally refrained from criticizing one another sharply. Instead, they politely but aggressively clashed over how to restrain Iran, after the United States and its allies Monday increased financial pressure on Iran with new sanctions on that nation's central bank and energy sector.

"We need a strategy of defeating and replacing the current Iranian regime with minimum use of force," Gingrich said.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry insisted the U. S. needs tougher sanctions against the Iranian central bank. ...

Published: Sunday 6 November 2011
Published: Thursday 29 September 2011
In 2007, CIA director Michael Hayden began lobbying the White House for “permission to carry out strikes against houses or cars merely on the basis of behavior that matched a ‘pattern of life’ associated with al-Qaeda or other groups.”

In the world of weaponry, they are the sexiest things around.  Others countries are desperate to have them.  Almost anyone who writes about them becomes a groupie.  Reporters exploring their onrushing future swoon at their potentially wondrous techno-talents.  They are, of course, the pilotless drones, our grimly named Predators and Reapers.

As CIA Director, Leon Panetta called them “the only game in town.”  As Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates pushed hard to up their numbers and increase their funding drastically.  The U.S. Air Force is 

Published: Sunday 11 September 2011
U.S. officials warned that Shukrijumah, 36, is especially dangerous to the nation because of the time he spent in America

Adnan el Shukrijumah left his family's Miramar, Fla., home in 2001 and traveled to Trinidad on business, presumably to buy sunglasses and children's clothes for resale in south Florida flea markets.

Ten years later, Shukrijumah is an elusive, globe-trotting fugitive — sometimes called "the Elvis of al Qaida" — wanted by the FBI as one of the terrorist group's alleged leading operatives and the subject of lingering questions about his possible association with 9/11 hijackers before the attacks.

He's also under indictment on charges of directing an alleged suicide-bomb plot in 2009 against the New York subway system. The reward for his capture: $5 million.

"We are still looking for him," said FBI special agent Michael Leverock, who's based in south Florida.

U.S. officials warned that Shukrijumah, 36, is especially dangerous to the nation because of the time he spent in America. The mystery surrounding his whereabouts — and whether he played a direct role in 9/11 — remains among the key unanswered questions a decade after the attacks.

"They are us. They know us intimately," said Michael Scheuer, a former top analyst in the CIA unit created after 9/11 to track down al Qaida founder Osama bin Laden, whom U.S. forces killed May 2 in a raid on his Pakistan hideout.

Shukrijumah is now a leading member and perhaps the head of al Qaida's foreign operations subcommittee, a post that makes decisions on plans and recruitments, said Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert and author of the book "Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror."

"He has moved up in the ranks because he's very clever and because he knows the main target, the United States," Gunaratna said.

Shukrijumah was born on Aug. 4, 1975, in Saudi Arabia. As the son of two foreigners, he wasn't eligible for Saudi citizenship but obtained citizenship of Guyana, ...

Published: Thursday 8 September 2011
“Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq remain among the poorest, most violent and corrupt countries while such oil companies as Exxon Mobile, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Petronas have signed contracts with Baghdad to ensure themselves humongous rewards for decades to come.”

In the hours immediately after the 9/11 attacks, before so many theories muddied the airwaves, there was the clear sense that the scale of the operation would have had to involve at least one foreign sovereign state.

By mid-afternoon, then-CIA chief George Tenet laid the blame squarely on Al Qaeda. Mohamed Atta and 18 other hijackers were identified within 72 hours.

In November 2001, U.S. forces in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, uncovered a videotape which showed Osama bin Laden gloat about his victory.

End of the story--or so it seemed.

Connecting the dots, and the Bush Administration’s seeming failure to do so, obsessed the media for weeks and months to come. Doing so, however, despite officially touted “complexities,” was in fact exceedingly easy, some of the key events having taken place right under official noses in Washington, D.C.

By October 2001, ABC News, Fox and CNN were reporting a fund transfer of $100,000 in early August of that year from Dubai to two Florida bank accounts held by the 9/11 ringleader Atta. On October 6, CNN identified the man who had sent the money—one Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. Yet, when questioned about him, the White House in its news briefings managed to prevent the story from gaining further traction by creating confusion through usage of aliases and alternate spellings for Sheikh’s name.

In his memoir, “In the Line of Fire,” former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf writes, “Omar Sheikh is a British national born to Pakistani parents in London on December 23, 1973. . . . He … went to the London School of Economics but dropped out before graduation. It is believed . . . that . . . he was recruited by the British intelligence agency MI-6.”

The Bush Administration knew that Sheikh had been sent by MI6 to Pakistan to cooperate with its counterpart, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI). Protecting Britain and Pakistan as two ...

Published: Tuesday 6 September 2011
“The CIA’s institutional interests in continuing the drone war may have become so commanding that no director could afford to override those interests on the basis of his own analysis of how the drone strikes affect U.S. interests.”

When David Petraeus walks into the Central Intelligence Agency Tuesday, he will be taking over an organization whose mission has changed in recent years from gathering and analyzing intelligence to waging military campaigns through drone strikes in Pakistan, as well as in Yemen and Somalia.

But the transformation of the CIA did not simply follow the expansion of the drone war in Pakistan to its present level. CIA Director Michael Hayden lobbied hard for that expansion at a time when drone strikes seemed like a failed experiment.

The reason Hayden pushed for a much bigger drone war, it now appears, is that it had already created a whole bureaucracy in the anticipation of such a war.

During 2010, the CIA "drone war" in Pakistan killed as many as 1,000 people a year, compared with the roughly 2,000 a year officially estimated to have been killed by the SOF "night raids" in Afghanistan, according to a report in the Sep. 1 Washington Post.

A CIA official was quoted by the Post as saying that the CIA had become "one hell of a killing machine", before quickly revising the phrase to "one hell of an operational tool".

The shift in the CIA mission's has been reflected in the spectacular growth of its Counter-terrorism Center (CTC) from 300 employees in September 2001 to about 2,000 people today – 10 percent of the agency's entire workforce, according to the Post report.

The agency's analytical branch, which had been previously devoted entirely to providing intelligence assessments for policymakers, has been profoundly affected.

More than one-third of the personnel in the agency's analytical branch are now engaged wholly or primarily in providing support to CIA operations, according to senior agency officials cited by the Post. And nearly two-thirds of those are analyzing data used by the CTC drone war staff to make decisions on targeting.

Some of that shift of ...

Published: Tuesday 6 September 2011
Mohsin Zaheer, editor of the Urdu weekly Sada-E-Pakistan, said that aside from the economic downturn, the biggest impact on his community since 9/11 has been the establishment of the PATRIOT Act’s National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which required special travel procedures for those coming from more than two dozen countries that raised terrorism concerns

A decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, it’s still common for ethnic media here to encounter stories of hate crimes, racial backlash, immigration raids and interrupted lives in the immigrant communities that they cover on a daily basis.



Antoine Faisal, editor and publisher of Arab-American bilingual weekly Aramica, established his newspaper seven months after 9/11. He says it has served as a platform to inform his community and educate mainstream society about misconceptions of Arabs in a post-9/11 America.
 

“Since 9/11,” he said, “we have been in survival mode.”
 

“For many of you, September 11 is a memorial event once a year. For us, it is what we live every day,” he said at a recent roundtable discussion for New York ethnic media. “We don’t care about having an elected official; we just want to be alive from anti-Arab bashings.”
 

In Chinatown, Rong Xiaoqing, a senior reporter for Chinese-language  READ FULL POST 12 COMMENTS

Published: Monday 5 September 2011
Even if the White House withdraws troops according to its proposed schedule, by 2012 the number of U.S. troops still fighting that war will be higher than when Obama took office

The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is sure to bring televised images of somber reflection. Looking back is, in some ways, easier for commentators and pundits than wrestling with the current state of Washington's so-called "war on terror."

The United States is mired in two major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with undeclared drone bombing campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Launching these wars was fairly easy for the White House, with or without congressional approval. How any of them ends, though, remains unclear. Even the NATO war in Libya, which by many accounts has "ended," could become more chaotic and bloodier in the very near future.

The shift from Washington's time-limited military adventures that followed the Vietnam War — the relatively brief conflicts in Grenada, Panama, Somalia, and Kosovo, for example — to today's seemingly interminable and endlessly multiplying military commitments is one of the most notable, yet little noted, features of the post-9/11 landscape. Regrettably, too many mainstream journalists seem all too willing to encourage Washington's new "permanent war" footing.

The Iraq War, we've been led to believe, is the one that's ending, if it's not already over. Last summer's withdrawal of combat troops was treated in the press as the conclusion of a very long war. But this summer the news tells a different story: Obama administration officials are lobbying the Iraqi government to hammer out an agreement that would allow U.S. troops to stay beyond the end of the year.

One newspaper called this a "vexing problem" for President Barack Obama, since he'll have to explain why he's extending a war he vowed to end. And recent upticks in bombings in Iraq inevitably trigger worry about how dangerous it will be for U.S. troops to leave. This is a strange conclusion, given that this violence is happening while ...

Published: Saturday 27 August 2011
Published: Monday 15 August 2011
“Investigation Finds U.S. Drones Strike Pakistan Every Four Days, Killing 775 Civilians Since 2004.”

A new report from a team of British and Pakistani journalists finds one U.S. drone strike occurs every four days in Pakistan. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have killed as many as 775 civilians, including 168 children, since 2004. The report also challenges a recent claim by President Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, that no civilians have been killed in the drone attacks for nearly a year. According to the Bureau’s researchers, at least 45 civilians were killed in 10 U.S. attacks during the last year. We speak with Chris Woods, an award-winning reporter who leads the drones investigation team for The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London.

Published: Saturday 13 August 2011
Published: Saturday 6 August 2011
Authorities hope that the archaeological sites, trout fishing and other charms of Swat, plus its hardy population of 1.8 million, can restore the status of the valley as a world tourist destination.

Standing in the busy main market place of Mingora, it is hard to think that just two years ago this city in Swat district was under the tyranny of the Taliban.

Men shorn of their beards, which were mandatory under the Taliban rule, are a sure sign that the writ of the Islamic scholars no longer runs in these parts. Even women, draped in simple chadars (shawls), can be seen bustling about the streets.

Memories are still fresh of the days when Swat was a hotbed for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the main Islamist group with its trademark bomb blasts and gruesome public displays of the dead bodies of political enemies and those who violated their codes.

In December 2009, a few months before the Pakistani army cracked down hard on the scholars, they murdered a popular female dancer and strung her body up from an electric pole as a warning.

The Taliban ordered women to quit work and torched some 200 girls’ schools so they would stay home. Music, dance and films were banned and shops selling videos and entertainment material became prime targets for arson.

That video shops have reappeared in Swat is one more sign that normalcy is returning to this valley, once called Udhyana (garden), and likened by modern tourists to Switzerland for its alpine beauty.

Authorities hope that the archaeological sites, trout fishing and other charms of Swat, plus its hardy population of 1.8 million, can restore the status of the valley as a world tourist destination.

That may be a long haul. As the army cracked down on the Taliban some 800,000 people fled to safer places and most businesses shut down.

In 2010, just as people were beginning to return another scourge hit them - the devastating floods that affected a fifth of Pakistan as the Indus river overflowed its banks.

With 338 hotels and restaurants in the valley, 43 percent of all business in Swat has to do with the hospitality sector, according to a survey carried ...

Published: Wednesday 3 August 2011
"Americans have yet to grapple with what it means to have a “special” force this large, this active, and this secret -- and they are unlikely to begin to do so until more information is available."

Somewhere on this planet an American commando is carrying out a mission.  Now, say that 70 times and you’re done... for the day.  Without the knowledge of the American public, a secret force within the U.S. military is undertaking operations in a majority of the world’s countries.  This new Pentagon power elite is waging a global war whose size and scope has never been revealed, until now.

After a U.S. Navy SEAL put a bullet in Osama bin Laden’s chest and another in his head, one of the most secretive black-ops units in the American military suddenly found its mission in the public spotlight.  It was atypical.  While it’s well known that U.S. Special Operations forces are deployed in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, and it’s increasingly apparent that such units operate in murkier conflict zones like Yemen and Somalia, the full extent of their worldwide war has remained deeply in the shadows.

Last year, Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post reported that U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in 75 countries, up from 60 at the end of the Bush presidency.  By the end of this year, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me, that number will likely reach 120.  “We do a lot of traveling -- a lot more than Afghanistan or Iraq,” he said ...

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