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Obama’s Cowardice on Guantanamo Continues, Unites Insurgents Against US

4:33 pm in Uncategorized by Jim White

(photo: Paul Keller on Flickr)

An editorial in Tuesday’s New York Times praises as “A Step Toward Fairness” a ridiculous new proposal from the Obama administration that will keep a number of Guantanamo prisoners in legal limbo with no hope of a real judicial hearing on their status. At the same time, it appears that there will be no effort to close Guantanamo, now approaching more than a year past Obama’s target for closing it. Little wonder, then, that Tuesday’s Times also reports that erstwhile rival insurgent groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area now seem to be setting rivalries aside to attack US interests. Keeping Guantanamo open only feeds such hatred against the US that rivals will team up.

The “step toward fairness” heralded by the Times seems to have no basis in known law to be announced in an Obama executive order:

The proposed order could give these prisoners a form of legal representation and a system to review their cases. It would not remove the tarnish to the American justice system of holding prisoners without trial. But it could represent a significant step forward in dealing with these cases and possibly reducing their number.

The order, which could be signed by the president as early as next month, would require periodic review of each prisoner’s case by a kind of parole board drawn from agencies throughout the executive branch and not just the military.

This board would regularly assess whether a prisoner still represented a danger to public safety or was safe enough to release. The prisoners would have access to an outside lawyer, if they requested one, and would also be allowed an advocate within the system — a change from the Bush administration’s policy of allowing them only a “personal representative,” who was unable to help them make the case for release.

The Times (and the Obama administration) still doesn’t understand the nature of evidence obtained under torture. The editorial laments that some prisoners can’t be tried because the evidence against them “was obtained through torture”, but it omits consideration of the fact that the reason that evidence obtained under torture can’t be used is because torture victims will say anything to make the torture stop. If a prisoner is held only because of evidence obtained under torture, then there would seem to be no reason to hold the prisoner. If there is independent evidence that would indicate a prisoner is a risk, then the prisoner should be tried on that evidence. A real judicial process, with proper rules of evidence, could and should be used to determine whether a prisoner should be held. The proposal to use a “parole board” type process is laughable on its face. And yet, even with this ridiculous substitute for a legal process, the Times editorial notes that Congress will fight even this plan and praises Obama for “the work of bringing fairness to the justice system at Guantánamo”, which they state Congress should not thwart.

The Times also noted on Tuesday that rival insurgent groups are working together in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area:

New intelligence assessments from the region assert that insurgent factions now are setting aside their historic rivalries to behave like “a syndicate,” joining forces in ways not seen before. After one recent attack on a remote base in eastern Afghanistan, a check of the enemy dead found evidence that the fighters were from three different factions, military officials said.

In a bit of blindness, the Times accepts at face value the explanation that this teaming up of rivals is only in response to the “withering attacks” from the recent NATO offensives:

The change reveals the resilience and flexibility of the militant groups. But at the same time, officials say, the unusual and expanding alliances suggest that the factions are feeling new military pressure. American and NATO officials say these decisions by insurgent leaders are the result of operations from American, Afghan and allied forces on one side of the border, and from the Pakistani military — and American drone strikes — on the other.

The article contains no references to the ongoing process of holding many prisoners without charges and on the basis of evidence obtained only under torture. There really is no hope of improving the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan if the only strategy to employed by the US is to keep increasing attacks while never allowing a true legal process for the prisoners held at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

Obama’s Duplicity on Tax Cuts Leads to Booster Club Desertions

6:33 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

I occasionally have the chance to listen to Bill Press’s morning radio show, but had been having trouble listening for very long recently because Press had taken on the mantle of Booster Club member, actively defending Barack Obama as Obama and his team engaged in hippie punching leading up to the midterm elections. That is why it was so surprisingly refreshing to catch a bit of the program this morning and to hear Press and his listeners ranting this morning about how they will completely give up on Obama if he caves in to Republican pressure and extends the Bush tax cuts for the highest income brackets.

Press and his listeners were doing a tremendous job of parsing Obama’s language in his attempt to claim that he doesn’t want to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Watch the video, and you will note that what Obama really says is that he doesn’t want to permanently extend those cuts. Press correctly points out that this means Obama is planning a “compromise” in which the cuts will be “temporarily” extended. And of course, when those temporary extensions are about to expire, say in 2012, they will just be extended again and again. Also note that CNN’s Ed Henry is incapable of seeing the duplicity, as he headlines his article accompanying the video with “Obama says he’s not caving on tax cuts”.

So I would like to take this opportunity to extend a hearty welcome to former Booster Clubbers. Yes, we DFH’s get punched now and then, but we at least know that we are adhering to our principles and not selling out to the continued transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich. For a bit of remedial reading on this topic, today’s column by Paul Krugman is a must, where he completely destroys Obama’s Catfood Commission:

It seemed obvious, as soon as the commission’s membership was announced, that “bipartisanship” would mean what it so often does in Washington: a compromise between the center-right and the hard-right.


It will take time to crunch the numbers here, but this proposal clearly represents a major transfer of income upward, from the middle class to a small minority of wealthy Americans. And what does any of this have to do with deficit reduction?


It’s no mystery what has happened on the deficit commission: as so often happens in modern Washington, a process meant to deal with real problems has been hijacked on behalf of an ideological agenda. Under the guise of facing our fiscal problems, Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson are trying to smuggle in the same old, same old — tax cuts for the rich and erosion of the social safety net.

So, welcome former Booster Clubbers, one and all. We have no dress code here, and the only requirement is a desire to make our country better by promoting an economic playing field that is no longer tilted in favor of large corporations and the ultra-wealthy.

Thanks for listening. I’ll be here all week.

And stay away from the veal.

Do German Authorities Believe Ahmad Sidiqi Is Being Tortured at Bagram?

6:37 am in Afghanistan, Pakistan by Jim White

In an article published Monday by Der Spiegel, we learn that German authorities remain skeptical regarding information being obtained by US interrogation of Ahmad Sidiqi, a German citizen of Afghan heritage currently held at Bagram Air Base. Since there are accusations that US torture continues at this facility (which appears to be under the control of the Defense Intelligence Agency outside normal detention practices) and since it is known that torture produces notoriously unreliable information, then the question must be asked whether the German skepticism is based on a presumption that Sidiqi is being tortured.

Here is Der Spiegel:

The CIA and American military are currently interrogating a German jihadist at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan. His warnings of impending attacks in Europe, apparently financed by Osama bin Laden, have alarmed US authorities — but the German intelligence community is more skeptical.

The article goes on to discuss the skepticism a bit later:

His statements apparently alarmed Sidiqi’s American interrogators. Still, it remains unclear whether the reports can be considered reliable or whether Sidiqi’s claims are the typical al-Qaida brew, consisting of one-third truth, one-third lies and one-third omission. Although the CIA is taking Sidiqi seriously, German authorities are more reserved in their analysis.

That description makes it sound as though the German authorities reject information from Sidiqi merely because al Qaeda lies. However, the final paragraphs of the article go in a very interesting direction. Immediately after a mention of the recent travel advisory issued for Europe, which is believed to rely on information from the Sidiqi interrogation, we have this:

So far, most warnings of this type have proven to be false. For their part, German investigators will soon have the opportunity to decide for themselves whether Sidiqi’s statements are credible or not.

On Sunday, a German diplomat met with Sidiqi at Bagram, a development that has been confirmed by the Foreign Ministry, although officials provided no further details. And a delegation from Germany’s intelligence agencies is currently preparing to travel to Afghanistan, where they will interrogate Sidiqi themselves.

It seems very interesting that the article would speak of "warnings of this type" at the same time as mentioning that German intelligence agents intend to conduct their own interrogation of Sidiqi and to make their own judgment on the reliability of his information. If they suspect he is being tortured, that would add substance to the "of this type" part of their concerns, since information produced under torture is unreliable. Also, if they suspect torture, they would want direct access to him to assess his current condition. What was the nature of Sidiqi’s meeting with the diplomat? Did he accuse his US captors of torture?

Another bit of the puzzle German authorities must be taking into their considerations are the claims of torture continuing under the Obama administration at the very facility where Sidiqi is being held. From the Washington Post on November 28, 2009:

Two Afghan teenagers held in U.S. detention north of Kabul this year said they were beaten by American guards, photographed naked, deprived of sleep and held in solitary confinement in concrete cells for at least two weeks while undergoing daily interrogation about their alleged links to the Taliban.

Earlier this year, Marc Ambinder described the command structure for this Bagram facility:

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) runs a classified interrogation facility for high-value detainees inside Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, defense and administration officials said, and prisoners there are sometimes subject to tougher interrogation methods than those used elsewhere.

Both the New York Times and the BBC reported that prisoners who passed through the facility reported abuse, like beatings and sexual humiliation, to the Red Cross, which is not allowed access. The commander in charge of detention operations in Afghanistan, Vice Admiral Robert Harward, has insisted that all detainees under his purview have regular Red Cross access and are not mistreated.

It has been previously reported that the facility, beige on the outside with a green gate, was operated by members of a Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) group, allegedly outside of Harward’s jurisdiction. But JSOC, a component command made up of highly secret special mission units and task forces, does not operate the facility.

Instead, it is manned by intelligence operatives and interrogators who work for the DIA’s Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC). They perform interrogations for a sub-unit of Task Force 714, an elite counter-terrorism brigade.

Returning to the "warnings of this type", the current warning about threats on high visibility targets in Europe sound very much like the "shopping center" warnings that came out during interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. Here is Jason Leopold on whether those warnings may have been a result of information obtained through torture:

A month after Zubaydah’s capture, Newsweek published a story about the alleged "imminent threat information" he gave up to his interrogators. If Zubaydah was tortured as early as April 2002, the so-called actionable intelligence he disclosed is a good example of how torture produces unreliable information.

The April 27, 2002 article, "How Good Is Abu Zubaydah’s Information? Intelligence Officials Say They’re Not Sure Why He’s Talking, But That Some Of His Tips Make Sense," said that the Bush administration "issued two domestic terrorism warnings" based on the information provided to "US interrogators" by Zubaydah, which turned out to be bogus.

"One concerned possible attacks on banks or financial institutions in the Northeastern United States. That warning appears to fit with repeated statements by Al Qaeda leaders about the need to attack the US economy, a mission that Osama bin Laden himself touted in a recently discovered home video. Another tip from Zubaydah warned that Al Qaeda operatives could be planning attacks on US supermarkets and shopping malls," Newsweek reported. "Some US intelligence analysts for months have been quietly warning officials of potential suicide bombings at malls, where federal security experts say anti-terrorism precautions are lax to non-existent. These analysts believe the possibility of suicide attacks on US shopping malls has only been increased by the recent standoff between Israel and the Palestinians, and Abu Zubaydah’s information has bolstered their arguments.

Given the history of US interrogation practices for "high value" detainees such as Sidiqi, it seems natural that German authorities would have questions about Sidiqi’s interrogation and whether torture has been involved. Such questions could certainly account for their skepticism regarding the information obtained.

Separately from the torture question, there also are reports that at least a portion of the increased frequency of drone attacks in Pakistan also relate to interrogation of Sidiqi. See the video above from Rachel Maddow for just how much the frequency of drone attacks has increased.

Also, yesterday’s drone attack is reported to have killed a number of German citizens. It would seem natural that this group was targeted through information obtained from Sidiqi:

A suspected U.S. drone strike killed eight militants of German nationality in northwest Pakistan on Monday, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

They died when two missiles from a suspected CIA pilotless aircraft struck a mosque in Mirali in North Waziristan, the officials added.

[Note that other accounts of this attack, specifically by AP and Financial Times, report that those killed were in a house rather than a mosque. Expect severe anger in Pakistan if they really were killed in a mosque.]

The Reuters article above continues:

The suspect believed to be behind the intelligence was identified by media as Ahmed Sidiqi, a German of Afghan origin. German media said he came from Hamburg and had been held in the U.S. military prison of Bagram in Afghanistan since July.

It will be very interesting to watch for word out of Germany once their own evaluation of Sidiqi has been carried out. How will they respond if they become convinced Sidiqi has been tortured?

Obama Finally Makes a Strategic Move by Replacing McChrystal with Petraeus

2:08 pm in Uncategorized by Jim White

The running joke about Obama defenders says that whenever Obama makes one his horrendous moves or continues yet another terrible policy started under George W. Bush, the defenders will claim that he is a master tactician, working many moves ahead of us, sometimes even in dimensions we can’t possibly perceive. With today’s decision by Obama to accept the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal and to ask General David Petraeus to step down one level to assume command of US forces in Afghanistan, Obama has made what I think finally is a good strategic decision on the political front.

Up front, I work from the historical fact that Afghanistan is the ultimate military quagmire. In their continued pursuit of whatever "victory" might be in Afghanistan, the Obama administration and the US military are fighting against the evidence of repeated failures by virtually every force that ever tried to take it. Putting Petraeus in charge of the final few Friedman units of this failure will spell the political end of a figure who had been seen as possibly Obama’s Republican opponent in 2012.

The political success of Petraeus has always been a mystery to me. Consider Gareth Porter’s recounting of Admiral William Fallon’s first meeting with Petraeus:

In sharp contrast to the lionisation of Gen. David Petraeus by members of the U.S. Congress during his testimony this week, Petraeus’s superior, Admiral William Fallon, chief of the Central Command (CENTCOM), derided Petraeus as a sycophant during their first meeting in Baghdad last March, according to Pentagon sources familiar with reports of the meeting.

Fallon told Petraeus that he considered him to be "an ass-kissing little chickenshit" and added, "I hate people like that", the sources say. That remark reportedly came after Petraeus began the meeting by making remarks that Fallon interpreted as trying to ingratiate himself with a superior.

Further, it is especially important to note that in the context of removing McChrsytal from his command, as noted by Marcy Wheeler, Obama was reinforcing the democratic institutions of strict chain of command and civilian control of the military. Closely related to those concepts is the idea that military figures are not to become engaged in political debates. Petraeus violated that concept in September of 2004, when he published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post touting the terrific progress he was making in Iraq, especially in terms of the training of Iraqis for military and police roles. Coming so close to the 2004 elections, Petraeus’ op-ed was interpreted by many as supporting Bush’s reelection campaign, which was pushing back at the time against charges that the war in Iraq was going badly. Read the rest of this entry →

Afghanistan Panic Escalates: McChrystal Summoned to Washington for Wrong Reason

6:28 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Barack Obama and Stanley McChrystal discussing Afghanistan strategy last May

Panic within the US government and military over the dire state of affairs in Afghanistan continues to escalate. First, in response to a constant drumbeat of failures on the military front, we had the obvious planting of the "discovery" of one three trillion dollars worth of mineral wealth in Afghanistan. Then, General David Petraeus passed out at the beginning of his Senate testimony on Afghanistan, delaying the hearing by a day. Today, however, the panic has hit its highest level yet, as General Stanley McChrystal has been summoned to Washington. The reason for McChrystal’s hurried trip to Washington, however, completely misses the mark, as he is being brought in to defend an upcoming article in Rolling Stone rather than the strategic situation in Afghanistan.

Yes, what McChrystal is reported to have said and done in disrespect to President Obama and Vice President Biden is wrong and likely worthy of his being fired. For example, this article, based on an advance copy of the Rolling Stone article, relates:

In a new magazine profile, the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, and his advisers appear to ridicule Vice President Joe Biden and are portrayed as dismissive of civilian oversight of the war.

The article, in Rolling Stone, says McChrystal’s staff frequently derided top civilian leaders, including special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry. One anonymous aide calls White House national security adviser James Jones a "clown."


The criticism of Biden may prove the most troublesome for McChrystal. The article’s author, Michael Hastings, says that McChrystal and his staff, while preparing for a question-and-answer session in Paris, imagined ways of "dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner."

"Are you asking about Vice President Biden?" McChrystal says, according to the article, trying out a possible answer. "Who’s that?"

Such remarks should not come as any surprise to those who have been paying attention. From my many diaries on McChrystal, a picture emerges in which we see that although McChrystal is going through the motions of a "warm, fuzzy" approach aimed at lowering the number of civilian deaths, the ongoing events assigned to "rogue" elements under his command happen far too frequently to be anything other than what he really wants to occur. Over and over, McChrystal makes public statements attesting to protecting civilians, but civilians still die brutal deaths in night raids.

Because the hurried meeting in Washington is to address mere insubordination, there is no reason to believe that the situation will improve through McChrystal being fired or resigning. His replacement, (and I put forward JTF-435 Commander Robert Harward in the betting pool) would likely be someone he trained who would carry on with the same disregard for civilian lives and civilian rights.

The true failure of US policy in Afghanistan is the failure to understand that it is not possible to beat a civilian population into compliance no matter how handily their military has been beaten. Carrying a violent COIN strategy forward to the point where the UN ends its cooperation on reconstruction work because the US militarized its approach to aid is a losing strategy that will not be reviewed amid today’s escalated panic. Sadly, that tragic aspect of US COIN policy will be continued, whether McChrystal or someone else is in charge in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Panic Spreads: Petraeus Falls Ill at Hearing

8:12 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

CSPAN capture
General Petraeus fell ill at a hearing on Capitol Hill this morning.

As I noted yesterday, the attitude in Washington regarding the war in Afghanistan is now at panic level. Articles in this morning’s New York Times and Washington Post reinforce that view, and in a remarkable turn of events, General David Petraeus has fallen ill this morning while testifying on Capitol Hill.

The screen capture above shows the note CSPAN ran when Petraeus fell ill and the hearing was halted. Petreaus did return just a few minutes later to reassure Senator Carl Levin, who was chairing the hearing, that he had been "just a little light-headed", but Levin replied that he and his colleagues were going to "overrule" that decision and postpone resumption of the hearing until Wednesday morning.

The Washington Post article, headlined "Concern on Capitol Hill about Afghanistan war grows", opens in this way:

A series of political and military setbacks in Afghanistan has fed anxiety over the war effort in the past few weeks, shaking supporters of President Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy and confirming the pessimism of those who had doubts about it from the start.

The concerns, fed largely by unease over military operations in southern Afghanistan that are progressing slower than anticipated, spurred lawmakers to schedule last-minute hearings this week to assess progress on the battlefield and within the Afghan government.

The article then goes on to describe the attitude in the White House

Senior military and defense officials, none of whom was authorized to discuss relations with the White House, said congressional questions and a series of negative stories in the media have increased requests for explanations. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen "is certainly aware that there is angst" in the White House, one military official said.

The New York Times article is headlined "Setbacks Cloud U.S. Plans to Get Out of Afghanistan", and opens:

Six months after President Obama decided to send more forces to Afghanistan, the halting progress in the war has crystallized longstanding tensions within the government over the viability of his plan to turn around the country and begin pulling out by July 2011.

Within the administration, the troubles in clearing out the Taliban from a second-tier region and the elusive loyalties of the Afghan president have prompted anxious discussions about whether the policy can work on the timetable the president has set. Even before the recent setbacks, the military was highly skeptical of setting a date to start withdrawing, but Mr. Obama insisted on it as a way to bring to conclusion a war now in its ninth year.

The Times goes on to quote Bruce Riedel:

“Things are not looking good,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a regional specialist at the Brookings Institution who helped formulate the administration’s first Afghan strategy in early 2009. “There’s not much sign of the turnaround that people were hoping for.”

Both articles state that overall Afghanistan progress and strategy will not be reviewed until December. Will the current level of panic allow them to wait that long, or will the timetable for review be accelerated?

Furkan Dogan Is the Best Argument Against Obama’s JSOC Mission Creep

5:54 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

William H. McRaven, head of JSOC.

As Marcy Wheeler discusses this morning, President Barack Obama has significantly expanded the role of troops in the Joint Special Operations Command. We now have over 4,000 Special Operations personnel in 75 foreign countries that are not Iraq or Afghanistan. But even more disturbing is that "Obama is claiming the right to target people not included under the Authorization to Use Military Force passed in response to 9/11."

It now appears that Obama has taken the position that JSOC troops can go anywhere in the world that he wants them to go and he can order them to kill anyone he wants them to kill for whatever reason he decides. What would the world look like if other countries operated in this way?

That is not just a rhetorical question. Just this week, a US citizen was arbitrarily killed by the equivalent of Special Operations forces from another country. From ABC News:

A U.S. citizen who lived in Turkey is among the nine people killed when Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish aid ship heading for the Gaza Strip, officials said today. The victim was identified as Furkan Dogan, 19, a Turkish-American. A forensic report said he was shot at close range, with four bullets in his head and one in his chest, according to the Anatolian news agency.

Dogan was a high school student studying social sciences in the town of Kayseri in central Turkey. He was born in Troy, N.Y., and moved to Turkey at the age of 2. He will be buried in his hometown tomorrow.

Here’s Cenk Uygur, describing Dogan’s killing as an execution:

What else would you call it? The Israeli commandos that boarded the Free Gaza Flotilla shot Furkan Dogan once in the chest and four times in the head at close range. Was he still resisting after the third head shot? Did five different commandos happen to shoot him all at the same time in the middle of the night with stunning accuracy? No, someone shot Dogan at close range and did so enough times to make sure he was dead well after there might have been any resistance. That’s generally known as an execution.

Uygur then goes on to question why there isn’t widespread outrage in the US over Dogan’s death, attributing that to the government and the media protecting Israel. But I want to approach Dogan’s death from a slightly different angle. To me, Dogan’s killing is no different from the killings of innocent civilians by JSOC night raids in Afghanistan or drone attacks (some CIA, some JSOC apparently) in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Like Uygur, I question why there is no outrage over Dogan’s death, but I ask why the outrage isn’t focusing on Israel’s decision that they can execute an American citizen aboard a ship they illegally boarded in international waters. That means that Israel has decided that they can kill any person they wish to kill, at any time, anywhere in the world. Just as Obama now seems to have decided.

That leads to two questions:

1. In claiming the power to kill any person he wishes, any time he wishes, anywhere in the world, has Obama taken the United States into the overly aggressive, paranoia-driven defense stance of Israel?

2. Is Dogan’s death an early example of chickens coming home to roost, where our citizens are just as exposed to extrajudicial killings by other governments as their citizens are to extrajudicial killing by ours?

More Spin on McChrystal’s Command of Special Forces in Afghanistan

6:31 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Obama Eikenberry McChrystal
President Obama meets with Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal at Bagram on March 28. (White House photo)

The remarkable photo above was taken on President Barack Obama’s surprise trip to Afghanistan last month. It seems to reprise the struggle that played out last summer, when Ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s words of warning were not heeded by President Obama when he chose to follow General Stanley McChrystal’s request for a surge of forces in Afghanistan. The photo seems to suggest that both Eikenberry and McChrystal are uncomfortable reporting the current state of affairs to Obama.

The discomfort Eikenberry and McChrystal are feeling could well be a result of the continued pattern of civilian deaths during night raids conducted by Special Forces. These civilian casualties have figured prominently in the ongoing justifications for McChrystal assuming command of Special Forces operating in Afghanistan. The latest entry in this ongoing attempt at spin comes in a statement from McChrystal’s Public Affairs Officer, Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, to the blog Captain’s Journal:

Operational control of Marine or special operations forces is not based on concern about these forces “going rogue” or underperforming in recent operations. It is about unity of command and effort, which has been an enduring concern with the nations and branches supporting operations in Afghanistan and was identified as an area of improvement in General McChrystal’s August 2009 initial assessment.

To use a musical analogy, the best violin and cello and trumpet and drum players in the world don’t make a world-class orchestra until they’re playing under a conductor who can integrate individual talents into the opportunities and challenges of a particular composition. In the case of Afghanistan, those opportunities and challenges are best understood and addressed by the theater commander responsible for integrating localized security efforts into comprehensive improvements in security and Afghan capacity across the country.

Advocates of withholding OPCON from the theater commander will argue that forces can be trusted to be team players under different command arrangements. As you point out, this trust has been justified in the past, although personally I don’t know whether operational success can be attributed to exceptional command arrangements or whether such success occurs despite these arrangements. Nevertheless, what advocates often overlook is that the trust that they expect from theater commanders is a two-way street, and there is no great risk in giving theater commanders the benefit of the doubt in that relationship. Providing OPCON to a theater commander does not mean that that commander will be prone to ignore the lessons of history and misuse uniquely capable forces, any more than withholding OPCON will risk having component commanders use those forces in a doctrinally correct but ultimately counterproductive ways because of the component commander’s relative ignorance of the operational situation.

For details on the question posed to Smith by Captain’s Journal, see this post which was written partially in response to this March 15 article in the New York Times.

It’s really remarkable that Smith would refer to the "lessons of history" that McChrystal might be at risk of ignoring, because many of the worst aspects of that history date to McChrystal’s own command of Special Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan when he hid torture and prisons from the ICRC and human rights groups and operated in a manner that led to many civilian deaths and the imprisonment of many innocent civilians. In fact, just this week, we learned that Iraq had such good training from us on prison operations that they even have their own secret prison.

Further, in responding to this particular question from Captain’s Journal, Smith brings additional attention to his own role in the most sordid story to emerge from Afghanistan this year. In the New York Times article linked above, Smith is quoted about the deaths of two pregnant women in a botched Special Forces raid:

“The regret is that two innocent males died,” Admiral Smith said. “The women, I’m not sure anyone will ever know how they died.” He added, however, “I don’t know that there are any forensics that show bullet penetrations of the women or blood from the women.” He said they showed signs of puncture and slashing wounds from a knife, and appeared to have died several hours before the arrival of the assault force. In respect for Afghan customs, autopsies are not carried out on civilian victims, he said.

Smith didn’t realize at the time that he planted his statement in the New York Times that Jerome Starkey of The Times of London was still digging on the story and would come up with a very different description of those wounds:

A senior Afghan official involved in a government investigation told The Times: “I think the special forces lied to McChrystal.”

“Why did the special forces collect their bullets from the area?” the official said. “They washed the area of the injuries with alcohol and brought out the bullets from the dead bodies. The bodies showed there were big holes.”


Haji Sharabuddin, the head of the family who were attacked, told The Times last month that troops removed bullets from his relatives’ bodies, but his claims were impossible to verify. The hallway where four of the five victims were killed had been repainted and at least two bullet holes had been plastered over.

I doubt, however, that the deception referred to here by the Afghan official was aimed at McChrystal as much as it was intended for the press.

McChrystal himself, in his attempts at public relations, pays lip-service to an understanding that civilian deaths in night raids and widespread imprisonment of innocent civilians fuels the insurgency, and yet, as Gareth Porter recently informed us, the reality is that McChrystal has stepped up the use of night raids and civilian casualties have increased as a result:

Two moves by McChrystal last year reveal his strong commitment to night raids as a tactic. After becoming commander of NATO and U.S. forces last May, he approved a more than fourfold increase in those operations, from 20 in May to 90 in November, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times Dec. 16. One of McChrystal’s spokesmen, Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis, acknowledged to IPS that the level of night raids during that period has reflected McChrystal’s guidance.

Then McChrystal deliberately protected night raids from political pressures to reduce or even stop them altogether. In his "initial assessment" last August, he devoted an entire annex to the subject of civilian casualties and collateral damage, but made no mention night raids as a problem in that regard.

As a result of McChrystal’s decisions, civilian deaths from night raids have spiked, even as those from air strikes were being reduced. According to United Nations and Afghan government estimates, night raids caused more than half of the nearly 600 civilian deaths attributable to coalition forces in 2009.

That would explain the tension seen in the faces of Eikenberry and McChrystal as they speak with Obama in the photo. I would suggest that perhaps Obama should listen just a bit more with his left ear.

Injustice Spreads Through Obama Administration

8:15 am in Uncategorized by Jim White


"I am Merciless Injustice" as seen on the Palazzo Ducale in Venice

via WikiMedia Commons

In comments at Emptywheel’s  Thursday evening post, MadDog alerted us to this article in the Los Angeles Times:

The Obama administration is for the first time drafting classified guidelines to help the government determine whether newly captured terrorism suspects will be prosecuted or held indefinitely without trial, senior U.S. officials said.

The draft document envisions that a small number of suspected terrorists captured in the future could be detained and interrogated in an overseas prison, several of the officials said. At least in the short term, Bagram air base in Afghanistan would be the most likely prison to hold the suspects, they said.

The article goes on to state that the debate over this issue "emerged from the task forces set up by Obama to study detainee issues after he signed executive orders last year abolishing many of the practices instituted during the George W. Bush administration". Note that in this diary, I discussed the actions of Brig. Gen. Mark Martins as Executive Secretary of one such task force, where he shaped the policy in which prisoners in Afghanistan still are denied due process in reviews of whether their detention is proper. Martins now is the number two in command of JTF-435 in Afghanistan, where he is in a position to carry out the injustice he helped put into offical policy.

It seems particularly significant that the LA Times article refers to Bagram air base as the most likely site for imprisonment and interrogation of terrorism suspects. As I pointed out in yesterday’s diary, the main prison at Bagram has now been closed and replaced with the Detention Facilty in Parwan, but BBC confirmed yet again that a secret detention site, run by JSOC, is still in operation at Bagram. This undoubtedly would be the torture site of choice for the program being described by the LA Times.

As the final act on a day in which we saw the spread of injustice throughout the Obama administration, Spencer Ackerman and Marcy Wheeler filled us in on the appearance of Attorney General Eric Holder at the annual dinner for the Constitution Project, where, as Ackerman described it, Holder proceeded to kick civil libertarians in the teeth.

It’s so sad that this administration has lost track of the simple truth that the centuries-old concept of habeas corpus requires that they prove, through the presentation of evidence not obtained through torture, that a prisoner has been properly detained. This bedrock legal principle is not a menu taken from Goldilocks and the Three Bears, where the government may choose the course that is "just right" from among criminal prosecution, "new, improved" military commissions or indefinite detention without charges. The legal principles that existed prior to 9/11 regarding the arrest of criminals and the capture of prisoners of war are entirely adequate for the current situation, but Obama and Holder seem determined to abolish justice and establish injustice.

For even more injustice, see Glenn Greenwald’s post on the prosecution of a whistleblower in NSA.

Obama Quietly Continues Bush’s Disdain for UN

5:45 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

UN logo
UN Logo from Wikimedia Commons

George W. Bush made no secret of his disregard for the United Nations, railing that "we really don’t need anybody’s permission" just prior to the invasion of Iraq. Bush followed that statement by ordering UN weapons inspectors out of Iraq a few days before the invasion, despite the fact that the head of the effort, Mohamed ElBaradei, would subsequently win a Nobel Peace Prize for the work Bush so unceremoniously ended. In his State of the Union speech in 2004, months after the invasion, Bush doubled down on the permission remark and seemed to specifically rebuke the Security Council when he said "America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country".

In addition, Bush continually advocated for reducing US funding of the United Nations and, in a move characterized by David Corn of The Nation as giving the UN "the finger", Bush nominated UN-hater John Bolton as Ambassador to the UN. As Corn pointed out, Bolton was known for his statement that "If the UN Secretariat building in New York lost ten stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference."

Despite the fact that Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for not being George W. Bush, Obama is continuing to disregard the UN on many fronts. Consider the following examples:

– Last October, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions stated that US reliance on missiles fired remotely from drones "may well violate international humanitarian law". Rather than simply ignoring the warning, Obama instead appears to have gone a step further and now even has US citizens on his list for extrajudicial executions.

– When the UN’s Goldstone Report found evidence of both Hamas and Israel committing war crimes, Goldstone openly invited the Obama administration to detail its objections to the report. Instead, Obama did nothing while the US House voted 344 to 36 to reject the report as biased against Israel.

– Despite a report from the UN that the US still maintains secret prisons in Afghanistan and a very dubious denial of them by the US head of detentions in Afghanistan, Obama has put into place a Bush-era denier of prisoners’ rights to head all US policy for prisoners.

– On Wednesday, the UN announced that it would not participate in relief efforts in the Marjeh area because of US "militarization of humanitarian aid".

While not engaging in the openly hostile rhetoric of Bush, Obama has continued Bush’s policy of disregarding UN findings. Are these the actions of an administration pursuing a policy of peace?

The Preamble to the UN Charter seeks "to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained" as a means to preventing "the scourge of war". Obama would do well to read the entire Charter and reflect on the US role in the preamble’s goal "to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours".