Archive for the 'terrorism' Category

24
Oct
10

The pathetic case against Omar Khadr

The United States strongly condemns the use of children as well to pursue violent agendas. We call upon all parties to immediately release all children within their ranks, to halt child recruitment, and to provide for the proper reintegration into civilian life of former child soldiers. —Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, September 16, 2010, at a Security Council debate on Somalia

UPDATED BELOW

Which is the most appallingly evil thing about the sad, ridiculous incarceration and trial(s) of Omar Khadr?

That a CHILD of 15, shot twice in the back, and blinded in one eye, is accused of WAR CRIMES for fighting back against an invading army that bombed and rocketed his compound before sending in the Special Forces, chucking grenades and … well, shooting children in the back?

That much of what we know about the firefight comes from the heavily redacted report by one OC-1, the “government employee” who shot Khadr in the back, twice?  And that that report only fell into reporters’ hands by accident, because the prosecution team accidentally left it where journalists could see it? And that there was a standoff worthy of the Keystone Kops where the authorities insisted the report be returned, with the reporters (naturally) refusing?

That OC-1’s testimony makes it clear that no one knew who threw the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer? It might have been his own comrades.

That Khadr was clearly tortured, and that whatever he confessed to must be seen in that light, and dismissed?

That half a dozen military PROSECUTORS have been disgusted enough to quit? “This is neither military, nor justice,” said one.

Another prosecutor’s case is reminiscent of Soviet psychiatric examinations for dissenters:

Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, formerly lead prosecutor in another commissions case against a child soldier—a case that collapsed midway through, with the government dropping all charges. “It would be foolish to expect anything to come out of Guantánamo except decades of failure. There will be no justice there, and Obama has proved to be an almost unmitigated disaster,” he told me. After resigning from the commissions as a matter of ethical principle, Vandeveld was punished with a mandatory psychiatric evaluation and gratuitous hearings into his fitness for remaining in the Army, even though he now has only two months remaining in his term of service. Vandeveld, who has deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia, doubts very much that any more prosecutors will resign after his highly visible reprimand.

That Obama, who vowed to “close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions,” has not gotten around to any of those things yet. What DID he do? He

abruptly barred four of the most knowledgeable reporters from returning to Gitmo, accusing them of violating an order that the identity of Omar Khadr’s primary interrogator be kept secret. It doesn’t matter that “Interrogator Number One,” convicted in a 2005 court martial for prisoner abuse at Bagram prison, had already been interviewed by one of these journalists two years ago and that his identity is available in the public record.

That the prosecution has engaged a shady charlatan who promotes himself as an “expert in evil” as a kind of last half-hearted effort to demonize Khadr?

That Khadr’s options are still ridiculous, to face the farcical military commissions trial, or agree to a plea-bargain that will see him behind bars for eight more years?

As has been argued forcefully elsewhere, the war criminal is not Omar Khadr.

Even if Khadr did everything alleged, none of the five charges as actually lodged describes a criminal violation of the law of armed conflict (LOAC). Two of the charges, conspiracy and providing material support to terrorism, are inherently problematic. The remaining offenses, murder and attempted murder “in violation of the law of war,” and spying, are capable of valid application, but lack legitimacy in Khadr’s factual situation. Essentially the government seeks to distort the fundamental legal equality between opposing belligerents into a unilateral shield for coalition personnel, turning the conflict into a “hunting season” in which U.S. forces can shoot their enemy on sight but their adversaries commit a war crime by fighting back. Because the tribunals’ statutory bases, the Military Commission Acts of 2006 and 2009, were enacted after Khadr was in custody, any charges lacking sound grounding in the LOAC constitute impermissible ex post facto enactments.

It’s Sunday night. The trial is scheduled to resume tomorrow morning and Khadr’s legal team might agree to a plea bargain any minute. Which would be a tragedy. Of course, his going forward with the trial might be even more tragic.

The laws and treaties that bind the United States are clear. Omar Khadr should not have served a single day in any prison. He was 15, a child, when captured. In a just world, he should be paid massive restitution from both the United States and Canadian governments. I know. Fat chance of that.

UPDATE: Omar Khadr has plead guilty to all charges against him.

Not at all surprising, just very very sad.

Pithiest comment so far: “Well, it’s official now. Anyone fights a U.S. attacker, s/he’s committed a war crime. Even if s/he didn’t, even if s/he was a child.”

05
Feb
10

Current age compared (unfavorably) to Salem Witch Era

Glenn Greenwald’s The Lynch Mob Mentality observes that we have gotten to a very bad place, in fact a certifiable crazy-place, to use Dahlia Lithwick’s phrase, where the government’s claim that someone is a terrorist is reason enough for said person (along with anyone nearby) to be vaporized anywhere on the planet, even if that person is an American citizen.

Terrorists have no rights, and being accused is the same as being convicted.

Greenwald compares our current the irrational blood lust of our age to that of the Salem Witch Era, and finds it compares unfavorably to what had been the paradigm of superstitious arbitrary lawlessness.

[I]n fairness to the 17th Century Puritans, at least the Salem witches received pretenses of due process and even trials (albeit with coerced confessions and speculative hearsay).  Even when it comes to our fellow citizens, we don’t even bother with those.  For us, the mere accusation by our leaders is sufficient:  Kill that American Terrorist with a drone!

04
Feb
10

“Terrorism-derangement syndrome,” a phrase that should be forever enshrined in our cultural vocabulary…

… but won’t be.

Because we are all deranged. Duh.

Dahlia Lithwick , in yesteday’s typically despair-inducing and yet still somehow sparklingly witty essay in Slate, has really put her finger on one of the many bizzarro maladies afflicting the American psyche.

The real problem is that too many people tend to follow GOP cues about how hopelessly unsafe America is, and they’ve yet again convinced themselves that we are mere seconds away from an attack. Moreover, each time Republicans go to their terrorism crazy-place, they go just a little bit farther than they did the last time, so that things that made us feel safe last year make us feel vulnerable today.

“Terrorism crazy-place” is a pretty good turn of phrase too, I must say. Dang, she’s good.

Partisan Democrats might be tempted to play their favorite game and say, “See? It’s them!” but Dahlia is not pinning TDS all on the Republicans. “[W]hat was once tough on terror is now soft on terror. And each time the Republicans move their own crazy-place goal posts, the Obama administration moves right along with them.” Yes, the Repugs take the lead, but who’s making the party in control of everything follow along?

No, TSD afflicts both parties, and the general public as well. Definitely this piece must be read in full, but I hope I’ll be forgiven for quoting such a large chunk of it:

But it’s not just the establishment that opposes closing Guantanamo, trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or reading Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights. Polls show most Americans want Abdulmutallab tried by military commission, want Gitmo to remain open, and want KSM tried in a military commission, too. For those of us who are horrified by the latest Republican assault on basic legal principles, it’s time to reckon with the fact that the American people are terrified enough to go along.

We’re terrified when a terror attack happens, and we’re also terrified when it’s thwarted. We’re terrified when we give terrorists trials, and we’re terrified when we warehouse them at Guantanamo without trials. If a terrorist cooperates without being tortured we complain about how much more he would have cooperated if he hadn’t been read his rights. No matter how tough we’ve been on terror, we will never feel safe enough to ask for fewer safeguards.

Now I grant that it’s awfully hard to feel safe when the New York Times is publishing stories about a possible terrorist attack by July. So long as there are young men in the world willing to stick a bomb in their pants, we will never be perfectly safe. And what that means is that every time there’s an attack, or a near-attack, or a new Bin Laden tape, or a new episode of 24, we’ll always be willing to go one notch more beyond the rules than we were willing to go last time.

Some of the very worst excesses of the Bush years can be laid squarely at the doorstep of a fictional construct: The “ticking time bomb scenario.” Within minutes, any debate about terrorists and the law arrives at the question of what we’d be willing to do to a terrorist if we thought he had knowledge of an imminent terror plot that would kill hundreds of innocent citizens. The ticking time bomb metaphor is the reason we get bluster like this from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, complaining that “5-6 weeks of ‘time-sensitive information’ was lost” because Abdulmutallab wasn’t interrogated against his will upon capture.

But here’s the paradox: It’s not a terrorist’s time bomb that’s ticking. It’s us. Since 9/11, we have become ever more willing to suspend basic protections and more contemptuous of American traditions and institutions. The failed Christmas bombing and its political aftermath have revealed that the terrorists have changed very little in the eight-plus years since the World Trade Center fell. What’s changing—what’s slowly ticking its way down to zero—is our own certainty that we can never be safe enough and our own confidence in the rule of law.

26
Jan
10

“No one was cheered and nothing was discussed”

Scott Horton’s The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle should by rights have shamed the nation into demanding 1. an investigation all the way up the command chain,  and 2. that Obama keep his promise to close Guantanamo.  But it didn’t, of course, because this is the age we live in.

Here is a brief summary, from the Guardian, of what Horton’s investigation turned up:

US government officials may have conspired to conceal evidence that three Guantánamo Bay inmates could have been murdered during interrogations, according to a six-month investigation by American journalists.

All three may have been suffocated during questioning on the same evening and their deaths passed off as suicides by hanging, the joint investigation for Harper’s Magazine and NBC News has concluded.

The magazine also suggests the cover-up may explain why the US government is reluctant to allow the release of Shaker Aamer, the last former British resident held at Guantánamo, as he is said to have alleged that he was part-suffocated while being tortured on the same evening.

“The cover-up is amazing in its audacity, and it is continuing into the Obama administration,” said Scott Horton, the contributing editor for Harper’s who conducted the investigation.

When the three men – Salah Ahmed al-Salami, 37, a Yemeni, and two Saudis, Talal al-Zahrani, 22, and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, 30 – died in June 2006, the camp’s commander declared that they had committed suicide and that this had been “an act of asymmetrical warfare”, rather than one of desperation.

According to an official inquiry by the US navy, whose report was heavily censored before release, each man was found in his cell, hanging from bedsheets, with their hands bound and rags stuffed down their throats.

However, Horton spoke to four camp guards who alleged that when the bodies were taken to the camp’s medical clinic they had definitely not come from their cell block, which they were guarding, and appeared to have been transfered from a “black site”, known as Camp No, within Guantánamo, operated by either the CIA or a Pentagon intelligence agency.

The men said that the following day, a senior officer assembled the guards and told them that the three men had committed suicide by stuffing rags down their throats, that the media would report that they had hanged themselves, and ordered that they must not seek to contradict those reports.

Harper’s says that when the bodies of the three men were repatriated, pathologists who conducted postmortem examinations found that each man’s larynx, hyoid bone and thyroid cartilage – which could have helped determine cause of death – had been removed and retained by US authorities.

Horton has a follow-up to his investigative piece in Harper’s, one in which he muses on the frightening relevance of  W.H. Auden’s “The Sword of Achilles” to the dark period in our history we appear to have entered:

Auden’s poem is a work of beauty and power. It has prophetic vision, but that vision is a nightmare. It is born from the horrors of World War II. The barbed wire of concentration camps and death camps brings the Homeric epoch up to date. Auden is not portraying the tragedies of the last war as such. He is warning of a world to come in which totalitarian societies dominate and the worth and dignity of the individual human being are lost. He warns those who stand by, decent though they may seemingly be, and say nothing–perhaps because political calculus or the chimera of national glory have blinded them to the greater moral imperatives against homicide, torture and the dissemination of lies in the cause of war. Auden’s admonitions here are not necessarily those of a pacifist, though he unmistakably chides Homer for his glorification of a warrior culture. Is this, he seems to ask, where the Homeric vision of the warrior-hero has led our species?

But in the shield of Achilles, described in book 18 of the Iliad, we see Homer hammer a different tableau. Two cities are depicted on this shield. In one there is happiness, marriage, art and material plenty. The city is bound by the Rule of Law and disputes are resolved in the courts. “The other city was beleaguered by two armies, which were shown in their glittering equipment.” It is filled with strife, panic and death, and every disagreement is settled by violence, with victory going to the strongest, not the most righteous. All this potential lies in humankind, Homer tells us. Neither can be entirely stilled. But as Auden warns us, we must be ever watchful in which direction our society moves, whether it follows the dark path or the brilliant promise of the shield’s golden side.

A society that tortures and kills those placed entirely in its power and passes this fact by as a matter of indifference truly is plunging into the dark side of the world which these two poets describe–one at the dawn of man’s recorded history, the other in the crucible of modernity. On the day of these deaths in 2006, the American commander in Guantánamo violated the Homeric rules of decorum by taunting the dead and afflicting their families. The deceased prisoners “have no regard for human life,” he said. But in the end we must ask to whom those words more appropriately attach–the prisoners or those who have orchestrated the tragedy at Guantánamo? Another saying of the Achaean epoch applies to this tragedy. Long associated with the story of the Minotaur on Crete, it was recalled near the end of the nineteenth century by a philosophy professor at the University of Basel who waded deeply into the history of the era. “He who does battle with monsters,” he wrote, “needs to watch out lest he in the process become a monster himself.”

Needless to say, Americans are not holding parades for the brave camp guards who risked all to come forward. Nor are we taking to the street to protest the deaths of three nobodies on Guantanamo—”they were small/And could not hope for help and no help came.” As for the Obama Administration, no help there either:

Sergeant Joe Hickman, one of those who ended his silence about the cover-up, said he did so because of the new Administration’s commitment to right the previous one’s wrongs on civil liberties and detention policy. But Justice Department officials held one or two meetings with Hickman and his colleagues and then closed the investigation without prosecution, with a DoJ official saying to Hickman that his conclusions “appeared” to be unsupported.

I strongly recommend you read the entire exposé here, and Horton’s meditation on Auden here. And then tell me what there is to be done.

10
Jan
10

“You never explain why they want to do us harm”

Glenn Greenwald rightly thinks this exchange reduces the brokenness of our system to its essence. It shows Helen Thomas repeatedly asking a very simple question, and the various ways White House terror expert John Brennan refuses to address  it.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

(I especially love the journalist seated to her left. His supercilious stare over her shoulder, his fidgeting, his frowns. Finally, he just cuts her off and starts talking over her.)

Poor Helen. She looks like an exhausted wraith. I don’t imagine there was ever a time when White House press secretaries actually answered questions, but the mendacity took a turn for the worse not long after the dawn of the 21st century. I can only imagine this deranged, stylized theater of many words and no substance must be something saddening to her.

So back to the question of why. Writes Greenwald:

The evidence of what motivates Terrorism when directed at the U.S. is so overwhelming and undeniable that it takes an extreme propagandist to pretend it doesn’t exist.  What is Brennan so afraid of?  It’s true that religious fanaticism is a part of their collective motivation, but why can’t he just say what’s so obviously true:  “they claim that the U.S. is interfering in, occupying and bringing violence to their part of the world, they cite things like civilian deaths and our support for Israel and Guantanamo and torture, and claim that their terrorism is in retaliation”?

Can you spot the difference between Brennan’s attitude and the previous administration’s contention that “they hate us for our freedoms”? I can’t either.

Quite simply, don’t count on anyone with any clout in the national power structure ever addressing this question. As long as there is an insatiable, irrational, and evil entity out there, the military can’t be mobilized enough. The defense budget can’t be high enough. There is no battleground too distant. If this enemy had real grievances and demands, then maybe we could do something to improve the situation. Like pull our troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq and stop our murderous Predator attacks in Pakistan, Somalia, and now Yemen. Might even save us a little money. A trillion here, a trillion there. Pretty soon, you’re talking real money.

But that ain’t gonna happen. They’re Islamist crazies who will stop at nothing short of world domination.  And the bombs must keep dropping, the supplemental budgets must be rammed through, the money, in short, must keep flowing.

05
Jan
10

All these wars: some questions

old war bond ad

How quaint! We once had to pay for wars

Who among us has the time, or indeed the inclination, to pore over the myriad (and I think deliberately obtuse) reports in the major media outlets about our five, count ’em, FIVE fronts in the glorious global war on terror? Tom Englehardt does, thank God! In The Year of the Assassin, Englehart and Nick Turse ponder ten pretty fricking important questions about the coming year for America and its multiple battle fronts, so bizarrely disconnected from daily life in the homeland.

We, of course, think of ourselves as something like the peaceable kingdom.  After all, the shock of September 11, 2001 was that “war” came to “the homeland,” a mighty blow delivered against the very symbols of our economic, military, and — had Flight 93 not gone down in a field in Pennsylvania — political power.

Since that day, however, war has been a stranger in our land.  With the rarest of exceptions, like Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan’s massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, this country has remained a world without war or any kind of mobilization for war.  No other major terrorist attacks, not even victory gardens, scrap-metal collecting, or rationing.  And certainly no war tax to pay for our post-9/11 trillion-dollar “expeditionary forces” sent into battle abroad….

Although our country delivers war regularly to distant lands in the name of our “safety,” we don’t really consider ourselves at war (despite the endless talk of “supporting our troops”), and the money that has simply poured into Pentagon coffers, and then into weaponry and conflicts is, with rare exceptions, never linked to economic distress in this country.  And yet, if we are no nation of warriors, from the point of view of the rest of the world we are certainly the planet’s foremost war-makers.  If money talks, then war may be what we care most about as a society and fund above all else, with the least possible discussion or debate.

The article really deserves to be read in full, but I’ll just offer an excerpt from the first question, “1. How busted will the largest defense budget in history be in 2010?”:

If you want to put a finger to the winds of war in 2010, keep your eye on something else not included in that budget: the Obama administration’s upcoming supplemental funding request for the Afghan surge. In his West Point speech announcing his surge decision, the president spoke of sending 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan in 2010 at a cost of $30 billion. In news reports, that figure quickly morphed into “$30-$40 billion,” none of it in the just-passed Pentagon budget. To fund his widening war, sometime in the first months of the New Year, the president will have to submit a supplemental budget to Congress — something the Bush administration did repeatedly to pay for George W.’s wars, and something this president, while still a candidate, swore he wouldn’t do. Nonetheless, it will happen. So keep your eye on that $30 billion figure. Even that distinctly low-ball number is going to cause discomfort and opposition in the president’s party — and yet there’s no way it will fully fund this year’s striking escalation of the war. The question is: How high will it go or, if the president doesn’t dare ask this Congress for more all at once, how will the extra funds be found? Keep your eye out, then, for hints of future supplemental budgets, because fighting the Afghan War (forget Iraq) over the next decade could prove a near trillion-dollar prospect.

Ethics, tactics, drones, counterterrorism (“which is just terrorism put in uniform and given an anodyne name”). We should all be up to speed on each of these subjects, and there should be a ferocious debate in our media and Congress. Fat chance.  Last week, a truly horrible story surfaced and was pretty much ignored by our major news outlets. “The occupied government of Afghanistan and the United Nations have both concluded that U.S.-led troops recently dragged eight sleeping children out of their beds, handcuffed some of them, and shot them all dead.”

Really, you’d think there would be more of a fuss…..




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