Top Obama Adviser: Awlaki’s 16-Year-Old Son Should Have Had a More Responsible Father If He Wanted Us Not to Kill Him-AntiWar
November 6, 2012
Robert Gibbs said if US citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki didn’t want to be killed he “should have a far more responsible father”
AntiWar: October 24, 2012
When Robert Gibbs, former White House Press Secretary and a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, was asked why the administration killed the 16-year old son of suspected al-Qaeda member and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki via a drone strike last year, he said it was the boy’s fault for having a father like Awlaki.
Anwar al-Awlaki was killed last year in a drone strike in Yemen ordered by the Obama administration. The killing made headlines particularly because Awlaki was an American citizen, but his constitutional rights to due process were thrown out the window in favor of simply assassinating him.
Awlaki’s 16-year old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was also a US citizen and was killed in a separate drone strike in Yemen weeks after his father’s death. Abdulrahman had not been accused of being a member of al-Qaeda or of any act against the United States that could conceivably motivate a US strike.
When pressed by reporters and independent journalists, Gibbs responded to questions about the Obama administration’s killing of the American boy by dismissing his life as virtually worthless and blaming his father, Anwar, for his son’s death by presidential decree.
“I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children,” Gibbs said. “I don’t think becoming an al Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.”
Gibbs dodged any further questioning on the issue, but in his answer defended the killing of a 16-year old American boy “not by arguing that the kid was a threat,” writes The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf, “or that killing him was an accident, but by saying that his late father irresponsibly joined al Qaeda terrorists.”
“Killing an American citizen without due process on that logic ought to be grounds for impeachment,” Friedersdorf adds.
November 6, 2012
The New York Review of Books: October 22, 2012
It’s a social policy that, many experts agree, has failed miserably since it was introduced more than forty years ago, tearing apart families and communities across the United States, consuming tens of thousands of lives abroad, and squandering huge sums of money. Yet hardly any national politician is willing to challenge it, and it’s been completely ignored during the 2012 presidential campaign.
I’m speaking of the war on drugs. Since 1971, when Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy number one” and stated his intention of waging a “new, all-out offensive” against it, the government has spent an estimated trillion dollars on the war. Much of that money has gone to street-level drug arrests, undercover raids, intelligence taskforces, highway patrols, and—most costly of all—prison beds. Of the 2.3 million people in prison in the United States today, nearly half a million are there for drug offenses, many of them of the low-level, nonviolent variety. In 2010, 1.64 million people were arrested for drug violations—80 percent of them for possession.
In Latin America, the war on drugs has sown misery across a vast swath of territory stretching from the coca fields of Peru to Mexico’s border with the United States. Billions have been spent on crop eradication, commando units, military training, unmanned surveillance drones, and helicopters. The result has been endless bloodshed, widespread corruption, and political instability. In Mexico alone, an estimated 50,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in the nearly six years since Mexican President Felipe Calderón (encouraged by Washington) declared war on his nation’s drug cartels. One result of the crackdown has been to push traffickers into Central America, where they now terrorize Guatemalans and Hondurans. All the while, drugs continue to flow unabated into the United States. In 1981, a pure gram of cocaine cost $669 (adjusted for inflation); today, it goes for $177.
As for consumption, cocaine use has decreased considerably since its peak in the mid-1980s, and methamphetamine use has also subsided after a destructive surge in the 2000s. But the abuse of prescription drugs, especially of opioid painkillers, has grown to what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls “epidemic” levels, and the number of accidental overdose deaths from such substances has soared. This spurt underscores that the real source of our drug problem lies not in Mexico or Colombia but inside our own borders, and that arresting and locking up users is a singularly ineffective way of addressing it.
On taking office four years ago, President Obama consciously retired the war-on-drugs rhetoric, and at every opportunity Gil Kerlikowske, his director of national drug control policy, describes drug abuse as a public-health problem. Nonetheless, the administration has largely continued the policy of its predecessors, devoting around 60 percent of the federal drug budget (now about $25 billion a year) to law enforcement, interdiction, and fighting drug cartels abroad and the remainder to treatment and prevention. In two areas, the administration has shown special zeal: prosecuting medical marijuana providers and extending the drug war to a host of new countries, including not only Honduras and Guatemala but also Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya. The US is now trying to fight drug abuse in America by sending counternarcotics teams to Accra and Lagos.
Exposing the madness of the US drug war is the aim of The House I Live In, a new documentary written and directed by Eugene Jarecki. Like Jarecki’s previous film Why We Fight, a hard-hitting critique of the military-industrial complex, The House I Live In offers a sharp indictment of its subject, in part through frank interviews with several individuals who—once key props in the system—have turned decisively against it. One is Mark Bennett, a federal judge who describes his frustration at having sentenced hundreds of people to prison for fifteen years or more under the nation’s harsh mandatory-minimum laws. Another is a Kentucky prison guard who looks like he could have been Rod Steiger’s sidekick in “In the Heat of the Night” but who bemoans that his prison is largely filled with small-time drug offenders who have no business being there.
The House I Live In is especially effective at capturing the damage the drug war has inflicted on black America. Many of those given long prison sentences are African-American, male, and poor, and the film shows the wrenching effects their incarceration has had on their families and communities. In the film, David Simon, creator of The Wire, ably explains how the lack of economic opportunities in the inner city has pushed many young blacks into drug-dealing. Michelle Alexander, the legal scholar and author of the best-selling The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, describes how the war on drugs has replicated the effects of the Jim Crow laws in the South, subjecting black men to what amounts to discriminatory treatment in the criminal justice system.
Jarecki also makes clear how the drug war has given rise to interest groups vested in its continuation. These include police officers who rack up many hours of overtime, prison guards who can count on good salaries and benefits, and private prison operators who need to keep their beds filled. For the many Americans who, lulled by the lack of debate about drug war policy in Washington, have not been paying attention to it, such revelations will no doubt prove eye-opening.
The question is, how many of them will actually see the film? Few documentaries manage to gain a wide viewership, and The House I Live In has several shortcomings that, I fear, will limit its audience. At an hour and forty-eight minutes, it feels quite long. It features an extensive cast of characters who, flitting in and out of the film, are hard to keep straight. Though the film forcefully shows the noxious effects of the drug war, it barely takes note of the toxic effects of the drugs themselves. Drugs are seen exclusively as an issue that politicians exploit to show their toughness on crime. Even the crack epidemic is dismissed as a crisis that has been manufactured to justify a crackdown on African-Americans. But that epidemic was real and did incalculable damage to the black community.
Nor is the film helped by its forced effort to liken Washington’s drug policy to Nazi Germany. After an extended look at the disproportionate impact on black America, The House I Live In suddenly pivots to show that blacks have not in fact been its only victims. As a result of the recent surge in methamphetamine abuse, many whites have gotten caught up in the criminal justice system for low-level drug-related offenses. With the Jim Crow analysis inapplicable here, the film turns to Richard Miller, a historian who compares the drug war to, of all things, the Holocaust. Images of people being arrested on America’s streets are intercut with photos of Jews being forced into ghettoes and otherwise persecuted. By engaging in such outlandish hyperbole, The House I Live In seems intent on marginalizing itself.
But the film’s most serious shortcoming is its failure to consider the alternatives to current policy. Among Latin American governments, for example, widespread disillusionment with the drug war has fed growing support for drug legalization, an approach seriously raised at this year’s hemispheric summit meeting in Cartagena. President Obama has predictably demurred: wary of opening up a new avenue of attack for the Republican Party, the administration seems to feel the need to strike a tough law-and-order stance on drugs during this election year. Politics aside, the recent surge in prescription drug abuse shows the terrible human toll that can result when addictive substances are made more widely available.
A more effective—and politically feasible—approach would be to redirect government resources from imprisonment and interdiction to treatment and prevention. Rehab centers, methadone clinics, and after-school programs have been shown to be much sounder, and cost-effective, investments than border agents, narcotics squads, and long prison terms. In an era of shrinking budgets, such money-saving approaches may be the most persuasive. In states like California and New York, the surge in spending on correctional facilities, driven in part by the ever-growing population of non-violent drug offenders, has diverted funds from areas like higher education—a trade-off that seems increasingly indefensible.
Despite the absence of discussion of the issue in Washington, the political climate may be changing: polls show growing support for legalizing marijuana, and on election day Colorado, Oregon, and Washington state will offer ballot initiatives to legalize and regulate the possession of small amounts of pot. Even more striking, Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, in a speech in June, called the drug war “a failure.” Warehousing a prisoner for a year in his state costs $49,000, he said, compared to $24,000 for inpatient treatment. Noting that people who become addicted to drugs are “sick” and “need treatment,” Christie advocated making residential treatment mandatory for all first-time, non-violent drug offenders.
Actually, many courts dealing with drug offenses are already doing this. And making treatment mandatory for all drug offenders would be wasteful, since not all are addicts. But the governor’s recognition that many of those who abuse drugs need help, and that treatment is an effective way of providing it, represents a major step forward. As prisons and courts continue to devour government revenue, perhaps other politicians will take notice.
November 6, 2012
Obama continued George W Bush’s “war on terror” under a different name — extending Bush’s wars to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and elsewhere while greatly expanding the war in Afghanistan.
Jack A. Smith
Counterpunch: October 16, 2012
When Sen. Barack Obama ran for the presidency in 2008 many wishful-thinking Democratic voters viewed him as a peace candidate because he opposed the Iraq war (but voted yes on the war budgets while in the Senate).
Some others assumed his foreign/military policy would be along the lines of Presidents George H. W. Bush (whom Obama admires) or Bill Clinton. Some who identified as progressives actually thought his foreign/military policy might tilt to the left.
Instead, center rightist that he is, Obama’s foreign/military policy amounted to a virtual continuation of George W. Bush’s Global War on Terrorism under a different name.
He extended Bush’s wars to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and elsewhere while greatly expanding the war in Afghanistan, hiking the military budget, encouraging the growth of militarism in US society by repeatedly heaping excessive praise on the armed forces, and tightening the military encirclement of China.
Summing up some of his military accomplishments a few months ago, Obama declared: “We’ve succeeded in defending our nation, taking the fight to our enemies, reducing the number of Americans in harm’s way, and we’ve restored America’s global leadership. That makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that’s an achievement that every American — especially those Americans who are proud to wear the uniform of the United States Armed Forces — should take great pride in.”
Obama actually has little to show for his war policy after nearly four years. Most importantly, Afghanistan — the war he supported with enthusiasm — is predictably blowing up in his face. A symbol of the Bush-Obama 11-year Afghan folly is the recent 2,000th death of an American soldier, not at the hands of the Taliban but a US-trained Afghan police officer, our supposed ally. The truth is that public opinion in Afghanistan has always overwhelmingly opposed the invasion, and rightly so.
Obama hopes to avoid the embarrassment of a takeover by the Taliban or another violent Afghan civil war (as happened in the 1990s) after the bulk of US troops pull out at the end of 2014. He’s made a deal with the Kabul government that allows Washington to keep thousands of American troops — Army, CIA agents with their drones, elite Special Operations forces and pilots — until 2024.
There are two reasons for this. One is to keep a US-controlled government in Kabul as long as possible. The other is to station American combatants near Afghanistan’s borders with Iran to the west and China to the east for another 10 years, a verdict hardly appreciated in Tehran and Beijing.
The Middle East is in turmoil. Israel is still threatening to attack Iran, an act that would transform turmoil into catastrophe. The Syrian regime refuses to fall, much to Washington’s chagrin. Egypt’s new government has just declared partial independence from Washington’s longstanding domination. The plight of the Palestinians has worsened during Obama’s presidency. Relations with China and Russia have declined.
Very few of Obama’s 2008 foreign/military election promises have come to fruition. He said he would initiate a “new beginning” in relations with the international Muslim community which had reached a low point under Bush. America’s popularity jumped after the president’s promising Cairo speech in 2009. But now, after repeatedly attacking Muslim countries with drone assassins, the rating is only 15% positive, lower than when Bush was in command.
Obama had promised to improve relations with Latin America, get diplomatically closer to Iran and Cuba, settle the Israel-Palestine dispute and close Guantanámo prison, among a number of unrealized intentions.
All the foreign developments the Democrats could really brag about at their convention were ending the war in Iraq “with heads held high” as our legions departed an eight-year stalemated conflict that cost Uncle Sam $4 trillion, and assassinating al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden (which drew the most enthusiastic of those jingoist “USA! USA! USA!” chants from Democratic delegates).
Actually, George W Bush ended the Iraq war by signing an agreement with the Baghdad regime — before the new president took office — to pull out all US troops at the end of 2011. Obama supported the treaty but tried unsuccessfully until the last minute to coerce the Iraqis to keep many thousands of American troops in the country indefinitely. (Antiwar.com reported Oct. 2 that up to 300 US soldiers and security personnel have been training elite Iraqi security forces for months.)
Obama as warrior president discombobulated the Republicans who in past elections always benefited from portraying the Democrats as “weak on defense.” Efforts to do so this year have fallen flat after the president in effect melted down his undeserved Nobel Peace Prize to make more bullets. Obama also obtained a second dividend. He wasn’t besieged by antiwar protests as was his predecessor, because most anti-Bush “peace” Democrats would not publicly oppose Obama’s militarist policies. (This essentially destroyed the mass US antiwar movement, which has been kept going on a much smaller scale by the left and the pacifists.)
Throughout Obama’s election declarations he occasionally speaks of, and exaggerates, increasing threats and hazards confronting the American people that only he can manage. He told the convention that the “new threats and challenges” are facing the country. Romney does the same thing, in spades.
Overstating the threats confronting the US is a perennial practice for Democratic and Republican presidents and candidates. George W. Bush brought this dishonest practice to an apogee, at times sounding as though he was reciting a Halloween ghost story to gullible children — but this year’s candidates are no slackers.
Historian and academic Andrew J. Bacevich, an Army colonel in the Vietnam War and now strongly opposed to America’s wars, mentioned fear-mongering in an article published in the January-February issue of The Atlantic magazine. He writes: “This national-security state derived its raison d’être from — and vigorously promoted a belief in — the existence of looming national peril…. What worked during the Cold War [fear of the 'Communist menace' and nuclear war] still works today: to get Americans on board with your military policy, scare the hell out of them.”
The main purpose of this practice today is to frighten the public into uncomplainingly investing its tax money into the largest military/national security budget in the world — about $1.4 trillion this year (up to $700 billion for the Pentagon and an equal amount for national security).
This accomplishes two objectives for that elite ruling class that actually determines the course of empire: First, it sustains the most powerful military apparatus in history, without which the US could hardly function as world leader (yes it has the biggest economy, but look at the shape it’s in).
Second, it constitutes a huge annual infusion of government cash — a stimulus? — into the economy via the military-industrial complex without the “stigma” of being considered a welfare-like plan to create jobs or benefit the people. (This is wrongly called Military Keynesianism, a notion that was repudiated by the great liberal economist John Maynard Keynes, who helped pull the US out of the Great Depression with his plan to increase government spending to end the crisis.)
The White House and Congress talk about reductions in military spending, and there may be some cuts by eliminating obsolete defense systems — but over the decade the budget will continue to expand. Obama said to the convention, and Romney will pledge the same if elected — “As long as I am Commander-in-Chief we will sustain the strongest military in the world.”
This has been a sine qua non for election to the presidency for decades. It is so familiar and so justified by official scare stories that most Americans don’t think twice about paying an annual national fortune to maintain the most powerful military machine in the world to deal with a few thousand opponents with relatively primitive weapons many thousands of miles away.
The US military, of course, has an entirely different purpose: at a time of gradual US decline and the rise several other countries such as Brazil, India and China, among others — Washington’s military power is intended to keep the United States in charge of the world.
November 6, 2012
Obama lawyers file a breathless, angry appeal against the court ruling that invalidated the NDAA’s chilling 2011 detention law
The Guardian: September 18, 2012
In May, something extremely rare happened: a federal court applied the US constitution to impose some limits on the powers of the president. That happened when federal district court judge Katherine Forrest of the southern district of New York, an Obama appointee, preliminarily barred enforcement of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the statute enacted by Congress in December 2011 with broad bipartisan support and signed into law by President Obama (after he had threatened to veto it).
That 2011 law expressly grants the president the power to indefinitely detain in military custody not only accused terrorists, but also their supporters, all without charges or trial. It does so by empowering the president to indefinitely detain not only al-Qaida members, but also members of so-called “associated forces”, as well as anyone found to “substantially support” such forces – whatever those terms might mean. I wrote about that decision and the background to this case when it was issued.
What made Judge Forrest’s ruling particularly remarkable is that the lawsuit was brought by eight journalists and activists, such as former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges, Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, and Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who argued that their work, which involves interactions with accused terrorists, could subject them to indefinite detention under the law’s broad and vague authority, even for US citizens on US soil. The court agreed, noting that the plaintiffs presented “evidence of concrete – non-hypothetical – ways in which the presence of the legislation has already impacted those expressive and associational activities”. The court was particularly disturbed by the Obama DOJ’s adamant refusal to say, in response to being asked multiple times, that the law could not be used to indefinitely detain the plaintiffs due to their journalistic and political activities.
Last week, Judge Forrest made her preliminary ruling permanent, issuing a 112-page decision explaining it. Noting that the plaintiffs “testified credibly to having an actual and reasonable fear that their activities will subject them to indefinite military detention”, she emphasized how dangerous this new law is given the extremely broad discretion it vests in the president to order people detained in military custody with no charges:
The court also brushed aside the Obama DOJ’s prime argument, echoing the theories of John Yoo: namely, that courts have no business “interfering” in the president’s conduct of war. After acknowledging that the president is entitled to deference in the national security realm, Judge Forrest dispensed with the Obama DOJ’s claim with this vital observation: one that should be unnecessary but, in the 9/11 era, is all too commonly ignored:
In other words: while the president is entitled to deference in his conduct of war, he’s not entitled to wield the power to order people, including American citizens, indefinitely imprisoned in military detention. Regardless of how he claims he intends to exercise this power, the mere act of vesting it in him so chills the exercise of first amendment and other protected rights that the constitution can have no meaning if courts permit it to stand.
In response to this ruling, the Obama administration not only filed an immediate appeal, but they filed an emergency motion asking the appeals court to lift the injunction pending the appeal. Obama lawyers wrote a breathless attack on the court’s ruling, denouncing it as “vastly troubling” and claiming that it “threatens tangible and dangerous consequences in the conduct of an active military conflict” and “threatens irreparable harm to national security”.
The Obama DOJ also objected that the decision “was entered against the president as commander-in-chief in his conduct of ongoing military operations, is unprecedented and exceeded the court’s authority”: how irreverent. And they argued that the broad detention power claimed by President Obama “has been endorsed by two presidents [meaning him and George W Bush], by the [rightwing] DC circuit in habeas litigation brought by Guantánamo detainees, and by the Congress in Section 1021(b)(2).”
I’ve written at length before about why indefinite detention is so dangerous, and why a statute such as the NDAA – which purposely (as the court here found) leaves open the question of whether it applies to US citizens – is one of the most pernicious laws enacted in some time. I won’t rehash that here, but I do want to make two points about the Obama administration’s new fight in defense of this law.
First, the Obama administration’s unhinged claim that Judge Forrest’s ruling imperils national security gives the lie to the central excuse for the NDAA: namely, that it does not expand the president’s detention powers beyond what is already vested by the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF). Judge Forrest’s ruling leaves the 2001 AUMF in place and did not purport to nullify any prior decisions applying it. Therefore, if the NDAA does nothing that the 2001 AUMF did not already do – as Obama defenders relentlessly claimed to justify his signing of this odious bill – then it cannot possibly be the case that Judge Forrest’s ruling harms national security, since Obama already has all the detention power he claims he needs under the 2001 AUMF.
The reality is that the NDAA did indeed wildly expand the president’s detention powers beyond what the 2001 AUMF provided. In contrast to the 2001 AUMF – which empowered the president to act against a relatively narrow category: those “he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on 11 September 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons” – the NDAA empowers him to act against a much broader range of people: not only those who perpetrated 9/11, but also “associated forces”, and not only those who are members of such groups, but those who “substantially support” them.
While the Bush and Obama DOJs have long absurdly interpreted the 2001 AUMF to apply to this broader range, and while some courts have accepted that interpretation, the law itself vested no such power. The NDAA did. That is why civil liberties groups such as the ACLU denounced Obama’s signing of it so vociferously, and it is why the Obama DOJ is so horrified, obviously, by the prospect that it will be invalidated: precisely because it so drastically expands their detention power. Both the court’s ruling and the Obama DOJ’s reaction to that ruling prove that the NDAA does indeed provide the president with significantly enhanced authority of indefinite detention.
Second, to see the sorry and wretched state of liberties in the US under President Obama, let us look to Afghanistan. The US is currently attempting to turn over to the Afghan government control of the lawless prison system the US has long maintained in Bagram and other parts of that country. But that effort is running into a serious problem: namely, the US wants the prisoners to remain there in cages without charges, but the Afghans are insisting that indefinite detention violates their belief in due process. From an Associated Press article Monday headlined “Afghans reject US-favored administrative detention”:
“An Afghan judicial panel ruled Monday that administrative detention violates Afghan law, potentially thwarting a US plan to hand over Afghan detainees that American officials believe should continue to be held without a trial.
“President Hamid Karzai’s office announced in a statement that a top-level judicial panel met earlier in the day and decided that the detention of Afghan citizens without a court trial ‘has not been foreseen in Afghan laws’ and therefore could not be used.
“The US government has long held Afghans captured in operations inside the country without trial, arguing that they are enemy combatants and therefore can be detained for as long as their release might pose a danger to the international coalition …
“A US official confirmed that the transfer of detainees had paused because of the dispute.”
Is that not amazing? On the very same day that the Obama DOJ fights vigorously in US courts for the right to imprison people without charges, the Afghan government fights just as vigorously for basic due process.
Remember: the US, we’re frequently told, is in Afghanistan to bring democracy to the Afghan people and to teach them about freedom. But the Afghan government is refusing the US demand to imprison people without charges on the ground that such lawless detention violates their conceptions of basic freedom. Maybe Afghanistan should invade the US in order to teach Americans about freedom.
This is not the first time this has happened. In 2009, the Obama administration decided that it wanted to target certain Afghan citizens for due process-free assassinations on the ground that the targets to be executed were drug “kingpins”. They were to be killed based solely on US accusations, with no trial, just as the Obama administration does with its own citizens. But again, that plan ran into a roadblock: Afghan leaders were horrified by the notion that their citizens would be extrajudicially executed based on unproven suspicions [my emphasis]:
“A US military hit list of about 50 suspected drug kingpins is drawing fierce opposition from Afghan officials, who say it could undermine their fragile justice system and trigger a backlash against foreign troops.
“The US military and Nato officials have authorized their forces to kill or capture individuals on the list, which was drafted within the past year as part of Nato’s new strategy to combat drug operations that finance the Taliban …
“General Mohammad Daud Daud, Afghanistan’s deputy interior minister for counternarcotics efforts, praised US and British special forces for their help recently in destroying drug labs and stashes of opium. But he said he worried that foreign troops would now act on their own to kill suspected drug lords, based on secret evidence, instead of handing them over for trial.
“‘They should respect our law, our constitution and our legal codes,’ Daud said. ‘We have a commitment to arrest these people on our own’ …
“There is a constitutional problem here. A person is innocent unless proven guilty,” [former Afghan interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali] said. “If you go off to kill or capture them, how do you prove that they are really guilty in terms of legal process?”
In other words, the Obama administration has received far more resistance to its due process-free imprisonments and assassinations from Afghans than it has from its own citizens in the US. If only more Americans, including progressives, were willing to point out the most basic truths in response to these Obama power seizures, such as: “If you go off to kill or capture them, how do you prove that they are really guilty in terms of legal process?”
Instead, many Americans, particularly in the age of Obama, are content to assume that anyone whom the US government accuses of being a terrorist should, for that reason alone, be assumed to be guilty, and as a result, any punishment the president decides to dole out – indefinite imprisonment, summary execution – is warranted and just; no bothersome, obsolete procedures such as “trials” or “indictments” are necessary.
It is that mindset that will ensure that Obama’s vigorous fight to preserve the power of indefinite detention will provoke so little objection: among Americans, that is – though obviously not among Afghans, who seem to have an actual understanding of, and appreciation for, the value of due process.
November 6, 2012
Complete with a newly coined, creepy Orwellian euphemism – ‘disposition matrix’ – the administration institutionalizes the most extremist powers a government can claim
The Guardian: October 24, 2012
The National Counterterrorism Center, the site of a new bureaucracy to institutionalize the ‘kill list’. [FBI]
A primary reason for opposing the acquisition of abusive powers and civil liberties erosions is that they virtually always become permanent, vested not only in current leaders one may love and trust but also future officials who seem more menacing and less benign.
The Washington Post has a crucial and disturbing story this morning by Greg Miller about the concerted efforts by the Obama administration to fully institutionalize – to make officially permanent – the most extremist powers it has exercised in the name of the war on terror.
Based on interviews with “current and former officials from the White House and the Pentagon, as well as intelligence and counterterrorism agencies”, Miller reports that as “the United States‘ conventional wars are winding down”, the Obama administration “expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years” (the “capture” part of that list is little more than symbolic, as the US focus is overwhelmingly on the “kill” part). Specifically, “among senior Obama administration officials, there is broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade.” As Miller puts it: “That timeline suggests that the United States has reached only the midpoint of what was once known as the global war on terrorism.”
In pursuit of this goal, “White House counterterrorism adviser John O Brennan is seeking to codify the administration’s approach to generating capture/kill lists, part of a broader effort to guide future administrations through the counterterrorism processes that Obama has embraced.” All of this, writes Miller, demonstrates “the extent to which Obama has institutionalized the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war.”
The Post article cites numerous recent developments reflecting this Obama effort, including the fact that “CIA Director David H Petraeus is pushing for an expansion of the agency’s fleet of armed drones”, which “reflects the agency’s transformation into a paramilitary force, and makes clear that it does not intend to dismantle its drone program and return to its pre-September 11 focus on gathering intelligence.” The article also describes rapid expansion of commando operations by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and, perhaps most disturbingly, the creation of a permanent bureaucratic infrastructure to allow the president to assassinate at will:
“JSOC also has established a secret targeting center across the Potomac River from Washington, current and former U.S. officials said. The elite command’s targeting cells have traditionally been located near the front lines of its missions, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. But JSOC created a ‘national capital region’ task force that is a 15-minute commute from the White House so it could be more directly involved in deliberations about al-Qaeda lists.”
The creepiest aspect of this development is the christening of a new Orwellian euphemism for due-process-free presidential assassinations: “disposition matrix”. Writes Miller:
“Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the ‘disposition matrix’.
“The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. US officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the ‘disposition’ of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.”
The “disposition matrix” has been developed and will be overseen by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). One of its purposes is “to augment” the “separate but overlapping kill lists” maintained by the CIA and the Pentagon: to serve, in other words, as the centralized clearinghouse for determining who will be executed without due process based upon how one fits into the executive branch’s “matrix”. As Miller describes it, it is “a single, continually evolving database” which includes “biographies, locations, known associates and affiliated organizations” as well as “strategies for taking targets down, including extradition requests, capture operations and drone patrols”. This analytical system that determines people’s “disposition” will undoubtedly be kept completely secret; Marcy Wheeler sardonically said that she was “looking forward to the government’s arguments explaining why it won’t release the disposition matrix to ACLU under FOIA”.
This was all motivated by Obama’s refusal to arrest or detain terrorist suspects, and his resulting commitment simply to killing them at will (his will). Miller quotes “a former US counterterrorism official involved in developing the matrix” as explaining the impetus behind the program this way: “We had a disposition problem.”
The central role played by the NCTC in determining who should be killed – “It is the keeper of the criteria,” says one official to the Post – is, by itself, rather odious. As Kade Crockford of the ACLU of Massachusetts noted in response to this story, the ACLU has long warned that the real purpose of the NCTC – despite its nominal focus on terrorism – is the “massive, secretive data collection and mining of trillions of points of data about most people in the United States”.
In particular, the NCTC operates a gigantic data-mining operation, in which all sorts of information about innocent Americans is systematically monitored, stored, and analyzed. This includes “records from law enforcement investigations, health information, employment history, travel and student records” – “literally anything the government collects would be fair game”. In other words, the NCTC – now vested with the power to determine the proper “disposition” of terrorist suspects – is the same agency that is at the center of the ubiquitous, unaccountable surveillance state aimed at American citizens.
Worse still, as the ACLU’s legislative counsel Chris Calabrese documented back in July in a must-read analysis, Obama officials very recently abolished safeguards on how this information can be used. Whereas the agency, during the Bush years, was barred from storing non-terrorist-related information about innocent Americans for more than 180 days – a limit which “meant that NCTC was dissuaded from collecting large databases filled with information on innocent Americans” – it is now free to do so. Obama officials eliminated this constraint by authorizing the NCTC “to collect and ‘continually assess’ information on innocent Americans for up to five years”.
And, as usual, this agency engages in these incredibly powerful and invasive processes with virtually no democratic accountability:
“All of this is happening with very little oversight. Controls over the NCTC are mostly internal to the DNI’s office, and important oversight bodies such as Congress and the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board aren’t notified even of ‘significant’ failures to comply with the Guidelines. Fundamental legal protections are being sidestepped. For example, under the new guidelines, Privacy Act notices (legal requirements to describe how databases are used) must be completed by the agency that collected the information. This is in spite of the fact that those agencies have no idea what NCTC is actually doing with the information once it collects it.
“All of this amounts to a reboot of the Total Information Awareness Program that Americans rejected so vigorously right after 9/11.”
It doesn’t require any conspiracy theorizing to see what’s happening here. Indeed, it takes extreme naiveté, or wilful blindness, not to see it.
What has been created here – permanently institutionalized – is a highly secretive executive branch agency that simultaneously engages in two functions: (1) it collects and analyzes massive amounts of surveillance data about all Americans without any judicial review let alone search warrants, and (2) creates and implements a “matrix” that determines the “disposition” of suspects, up to and including execution, without a whiff of due process or oversight. It is simultaneously a surveillance state and a secretive, unaccountable judicial body that analyzes who you are and then decrees what should be done with you, how you should be “disposed” of, beyond the reach of any minimal accountability or transparency.
The Post’s Miller recognizes the watershed moment this represents: “The creation of the matrix and the institutionalization of kill/capture lists reflect a shift that is as psychological as it is strategic.” As he explains, extra-judicial assassination was once deemed so extremist that very extensive deliberations were required before Bill Clinton could target even Osama bin Laden for death by lobbing cruise missiles in East Africa. But:
Targeted killing is now so routine that the Obama administration has spent much of the past year codifying and streamlining the processes that sustain it.
To understand the Obama legacy, please re-read that sentence. As Murtaza Hussain put it when reacting to the Post story: “The US agonized over the targeted killing Bin Laden at Tarnak Farms in 1998; now it kills people it barely suspects of anything on a regular basis.”
The pragmatic inanity of the mentality driving this is self-evident: as I discussed yesterday (and many other times), continuous killing does not eliminate violence aimed at the US but rather guarantees its permanent expansion. As a result, wrote Miller, “officials said no clear end is in sight” when it comes to the war against “terrorists” because, said one official, “we can’t possibly kill everyone who wants to harm us” but trying is “a necessary part of what we do”. Of course, the more the US kills and kills and kills, the more people there are who “want to harm us”. That’s the logic that has resulted in a permanent war on terror.
But even more significant is the truly radical vision of government in which this is all grounded. The core guarantee of western justice since the Magna Carta was codified in the US by the fifth amendment to the constitution: “No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” You simply cannot have a free society, a worthwhile political system, without that guarantee, that constraint on the ultimate abusive state power, being honored.
And yet what the Post is describing, what we have had for years, is a system of government that – without hyperbole – is the very antithesis of that liberty. It is literally impossible to imagine a more violent repudiation of the basic blueprint of the republic than the development of a secretive, totally unaccountable executive branch agency that simultaneously collects information about all citizens and then applies a “disposition matrix” to determine what punishment should be meted out. This is classic political dystopia brought to reality (despite how compelled such a conclusion is by these indisputable facts, many Americans will view such a claim as an exaggeration, paranoia, or worse because of this psychological dynamic I described here which leads many good passive westerners to believe that true oppression, by definition, is something that happens only elsewhere).
In response to the Post story, Chris Hayes asked: “If you have a ‘kill list’, but the list keeps growing, are you succeeding?” The answer all depends upon what the objective is.
As the Founders all recognized, nothing vests elites with power – and profit – more than a state of war. That is why there were supposed to be substantial barriers to having them start and continue – the need for a Congressional declaration, the constitutional bar on funding the military for more than two years at a time, the prohibition on standing armies, etc. Here is how John Jay put it in Federalist No 4:
“It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people.”
In sum, there are factions in many governments that crave a state of endless war because that is when power is least constrained and profit most abundant. What the Post is reporting is yet another significant step toward that state, and it is undoubtedly driven, at least on the part of some, by a self-interested desire to ensure the continuation of endless war and the powers and benefits it vests. So to answer Hayes’ question: the endless expansion of a kill list and the unaccountable, always-expanding powers needed to implement it does indeed represent a great success for many. Read what John Jay wrote in the above passage to see why that is, and why few, if any, political developments should be regarded as more pernicious.
Assuming the Post’s estimates are correct – that “among senior Obama administration officials, there is broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade” – this means that the war on terror will last for more than 20 years, far longer than any other American war. This is what has always made the rationale for indefinite detention – that it is permissible to detain people without due process until the “end of hostilities” – so warped in this context. Those who are advocating that are endorsing nothing less than life imprisonment – permanent incarceration – without any charges or opportunities to contest the accusations.
That people are now dying at Guantanamo after almost a decade in a cage with no charges highlights just how repressive that power is. Extend that mentality to secret, due-process-free assassinations – something the US government clearly intends to convert into a permanent fixture of American political life – and it is not difficult to see just how truly extremist and anti-democratic “war on terror” proponents in both political parties have become.
As I noted yesterday, Afghan officials reported that three Afghan children were killed on Saturday by NATO operations. Today, reports CNN, “missiles blew up part of a compound Wednesday in northwest Pakistan, killing three people – including one woman” and added: “the latest suspected U.S. drone strike also injured two children.” Meanwhile, former Obama press secretary and current campaign adviser Robert Gibbs this week justified the US killing of 16-year-old American Abdulrahaman Awlaki, killed by a US drone in Yemen two weeks after his father was, on the ground that he “should have a far more responsible father”.
Also yesterday, CNN profiled Abu Sufyan Said al-Shihri, alleged to be a top al-Qaida official in Yemen. He pointed out “that U.S. drone strikes are helping al-Qaida in Yemen because of the number of civilian deaths they cause.” Ample evidence supports his observation.
To summarize all this: the US does not interfere in the Muslim world and maintain an endless war on terror because of the terrorist threat. It has a terrorist threat because of its interference in the Muslim world and its endless war on terror.
The Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko, writing today about the Post article, reports:
“Recently, I spoke to a military official with extensive and wide-ranging experience in the special operations world, and who has had direct exposure to the targeted killing program. To emphasize how easy targeted killings by special operations forces or drones has become, this official flicked his hand back over and over, stating: ‘It really is like swatting flies. We can do it forever easily and you feel nothing. But how often do you really think about killing a fly?'”
That is disturbingly consistent with prior reports that the military’s term for drone victims is “bug splat”. This – this warped power and the accompanying dehumanizing mindset – is what is being institutionalized as a permanent fixture in American political life by the current president.
At Wired, Spencer Ackerman reacts to the Post article with an analysis entitled “President Romney Can Thank Obama for His Permanent Robotic Death List”. Here is his concluding paragraph:
“Obama did not run for president to preside over the codification of a global war fought in secret. But that’s his legacy. . . . Micah Zenko at the Council on Foreign Relations writes that Obama’s predecessors in the Bush administration ‘were actually much more conscious and thoughtful about the long-term implications of targeted killings’, because they feared the political consequences that might come when the U.S. embraces something at least superficially similar to assassination. Whoever follows Obama in the Oval Office can thank him for proving those consequences don’t meaningfully exist — as he or she reviews the backlog of names on the Disposition Matrix.”
It’s worth devoting a moment to letting that sink in.
October 31, 2012
Thailand’s first blocklist was created by the Ministry of Information and Communication [sic] Technology in January 2004 during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration. It blocked 1,247 URLs by name.
Thailand’s first blocklist marked the first and only attempt at transparency by Thailand’s Internet censors. Every subsequent blocklist, the webpages blocked, the reasons for blocking and even the number of pages blocked is held in secret by Thai government.
Thailand’s first blocklist concentrated on the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), a banned group of separatists from Thailand’s deep Muslim south. In subsequent years, we’ve seen how well that censorship strategy worked out. It created an enormous militant insurgency which has resulted in more than 5,000 murders.
Following Thailand’s military coup d’etat on September 19, 2006, the military’s fifth official order on its first day in power was to block the Internet. Under the coup regime, tens of thousands of webpages were blocked.
Most famously, Thailand ramped up its censorship with a complete block of popular video sharing site, YouTube, for seven months in 2007. It appeared Thai censors didn’t have the capacity to block individual videos.
Thailand was the first country to block YouTube, claiming a handful juvenile videos insulting Thailand’s monarchy were a ‘threat to national security’. Following this stand-off, Google, YouTube’s parent company, created a system of geolocational blocking which is now used to block YouTube videos in dozens of repressive regimes.
However, the coup government’s first legislative action was to promulgate the Computer Crimes Act 2007. In its first drafts, the CCA prescribed the death penalty for computer crimes; this was modified in the final law to ‘only’ 20 years in prison.
The CCA contains full censorship powers but also a provision that MICT must seek court orders for blocking. Revealing these court orders would also make blocking information public so all the court orders, paid for by Thai taxpayers, are sealed in secrecy.
An appointed Democrat administration followed the military junta. However, when mass demonstrations in 2010 threatened its power, the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration declared martial law decreeing a state of emergency. The Emergency Decree suspended all normal rule of law, as well as constitutional and international treaty protections for freedom of expression.
The Dems created two military agencies with Orwellian names and even acronyms. The Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES) and the Centre for the Administration of Public Order (CAPO) were given complete extralegal power to censor the Internet.
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) was just one website to be censored early by the ‘emergency’.
FACT continues to publish leaked blocklists and court orders as well as providing instructions for circumvention of Thai censorship to readers. FACT teaches its readers how to pressure ISPs and govt censors to unblock URLs. FACT has also published censorship blocklists from 16 foreign countries.
However, research by Thailand’s iLaw Foundation revealed that MICT had quietly continued to use the CCA’s provisions for blocking the Internet using court orders. Thai government was ‘legally’ blocking webpages on a wholesale basis, submitting for court order thousands of URLs each time.
The new elected opposition government has continued the folly of its predecessors. It was further revealed that Thai government censorship was rising at a rate of 690 new pages blocked every single day.
Other than court-ordered censorship, Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act has only served one further purpose. Many of Thailand’s scores of political prisoners have been charged with lèse majesté using the CCA.
This has resulted in prison sentences up to 15 years using multiple charges. Charges have not only been brought against content creators but content providers, page designers, webmasters and other intermediaries, including those overseas who dared to visit ‘the land of smiles’.
Furthermore, Thai judges have decreed that hyperlinking to ‘offensive’ or ‘inappropriate’ content is just as criminal as publishing it. Unspecified delay in removing such commentary is also illegal. And so is clicking ‘Like’ on Facebook.
Thailand’s censorship has shown no signs of abating and almost none of the webpages blocked during the ‘emergency’ have been unblocked. In 2012, more than 90,000 Facebook pages were blocked. So are online pharmacies and gambling sites.
Many observers think Thai government censorship solely targets alleged lèse majesté. However, the fact is, we are not allowed the freedom of expression about anything guaranteed by our Constitution.
Meanwhile, Thai censorship that we know about continues to rise at a rate of 690 new blocked URLs every day. In fact, with complete secrecy by Thai censors, the real number is likely to be far higher.
The cost to society by creating a dumbed-down public not in possession of all the facts is impossible to quantify. The economic costs, however, can be. To block 690 web pages, Thai government spends THB 1.5 million (USD $50,000), or THB 2,174 (USD $71) per URL.
To date, Thailand has spent THB 2,173,913,043—more than two billion baht—(almost USD $71 million) to censor our Internet.
On December 28, 2011, Thailand was blocking 777,286 webpages. Today, November 1, 2012, Thailand blocks ONE MILLION URLs—Happy Halloween.
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)
Bangkok: October 31, 2555
July 21, 2012
[CJ Hinke of FACT comments: Chotisak and Chutima were early signers of FACT’s petition against all censorship. We’re very happy for them. When will the next Thai Rosa Parks just be too damned tired to stand up for the Royal anthem? Not standing is not a crime! We would be curious to know if a law such as the Film Act is used to compel theatre owners to play the anthem before each showing? Or is it just meaninglessly repeated social convention...as is standing?]
Prachatai: July 20, 2012
The public prosecutor has decided to drop a lèse majesté case against Chotisak Onsoong and his friend who did not stand up for the royal anthem in a Bangkok cinema in 2007.
Wisit Sukyukhon, a public prosecutor, sent a letter on 11 April this year to Pathumwan police who first took up the case, to inform them about the decision.
On 20 Sept 2007, at a cinema in the Central World shopping complex in downtown Bangkok, Chotisak, 26, and his female friend, whose name is withheld, had a heated argument with Navamintr Witthayakul, 40, who was among the audience, after the two ignored Navamintr’s demand for them to stand up for the royal anthem which precedes every movie shown in Thailand’s cinemas.
Chotisak called the police and filed complaints at Pathumwan police station against Navamintr for verbal and physical abuse, damage to personal property and coercion, while Navamintr filed a lèse majesté complaint against them.
In April 2008, Chotisak and his friend were charged with lèse majesté by the police.
In Sept 2008, the public prosecutor dropped the physical abuse charges against Navamintr, and in Oct 2008 the police forwarded the lèse majesté case against Chotisak and his friend to the public prosecutor.
According to the letter, the prosecutor believes that by not standing up for the royal anthem, and by saying ‘Why is it necessary to stand up when it is not required by law?’, the actions of the accused did not constitute insults or defamation.
Although the behaviour of the accused was improper and should not be copied by others, their actions cannot be pinpointed as having the intention to insult the King, and there is insufficient evidence to justify their prosecution, the prosecutor says.
In a similar case on the iLaw website, one moviegoer at the Major Cineplex Ratchayothin on 15 Jun 2008 did not stand up for the royal anthem, lifted both her feet onto the next chair, and after the anthem was over, shouted vulgar words.
On 19 Oct 2009, the court found her guilty under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, and sentenced her to three years in prison, but the jail term was reduced by half and suspended for two years as she had pleaded guilty and had a history of mental illness, according to the testimony of doctors from Srithanya and Trang Hospitals.
[FACT comments: BP is quite right in pointing out this anomaly. What exactly is jurisprudence if not for finding out the truth? Unfortunately, defamation conviction worldwide reveal a bitter side effect. For defamation to be criminal, it simply doesn’t matter if the substance of the defamation is a true statement or an outright lie.]
Bangkok Pundit: July 19, 2012
Ekachai’s defence lawyer Arnon Nampha tried to dwell on the facts of some of the information deemed as defamatory – whether it was true or not. But the judges told him they were not out to prove whether the alleged defamatory statements in the video and texts were accurate in reality or not.
“Whether it’s true or not, if you prove it, what will be gained from it?” one of the presiding judges said to Arnon.
BP: Then again, truth is not a defence in a lese majeste case in Thailand so perhaps it is not surprising. Nevertheless, when it comes from a judge it still sounds disconcerting….