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Wars, Torture & Other Aspects of the New Normal Won Big in the Midterm Election

6:55 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

(Photo by Truthout.org)

During the election, the Tea Party received an inordinate amount of coverage. Campaign spending gained a significant amount of attention with some liberals putting a focus on organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and its commitment to spend tens of millions defeating Democratic candidates. Jobs and the economy, Americans were told, was the top issue.

Within the pomp and circumstance of the election, there was little to no talk about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There was little conversation about the torture. And, there was little discussion of how policies, which encourage violations of American civil liberties, have been systematized.

What the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has called “The New Normal” received little attention. In fact, one key senator, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, who earned a reputation for being a stalwart defender of civil liberties and who was the only senator to read the PATRIOT Act and vote against it, lost to Republican Ron Johnson, a man who thinks the PATRIOT Act is a good tool for law enforcement.

President Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan sending at least 30,000 troops to fuel a “surge” or measured cleansing of regions in Afghanistan to “secure” the country. That deepened a commitment to a war, which the WikiLeaks’ “Afghan War Logs,” revealed in July has been rife with war crimes: a Task Force 373 US-assassination squad known as “the Secret Hunters” going around and hunting down “targets for death or detention without trial,” CIA paramilitaries in Afghanistan contributing many unreported civilian deaths, and coverups of the Taliban’s use of portable heat-seeking missiles along with Pakistan’s funneling of military aid to the Taliban.

Night raids continue in Afghanistan. US and Afghan forces terrorize Afghanis as they break into their homes and make them more afraid of pro-government forces than the Taliban. Raids go wrong and wind up killing pregnant women. The forces detain Afghanis only to wind up returning them to the homes they took them from (sometimes). The damage is done; that family is one step closer to being an insurgent or resistance fighter who oppose the US-NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

But, despite all of that, Afghanistan received little attention. Few candidates bothered to mention the ongoing war that can now inarguably be called Obama’s Vietnam. Little attempts were made to even connect the spending on Afghanistan to record deficits in the US. The war in Afghanistan won big.

In Iraq, troops were withdrawn. The charade of moving the combat brigades likely pushed candidates up for election (and voters) to think the Iraq war was over. But, fifty thousand troops remain and so do tens of thousands of mercenary contractors and hundreds of people in Iraq continue to be killed as the country plunges deeper into a sectarian war that the US presence only helps to exacerbate.

WikiLeaks released the Iraq War Logs, the biggest military leak in US history. Put out on a Friday, the timing of the WikiLeaks team’s leak was poorly timed, but not even over the weekend in the immediate aftermath of the leak was there a flurry of discussion in the news. And, in what miniscule coverage the leak had, most news hosts and journalists opted to talk about how the US could combat WikiLeaks and whether there was anything new in the leaked documents or not instead of seriously addressing the contents of the leaks.

The leak revealed the US had been using an “El Salvador Option,” which involved giving Iraqi police or security forces the right to detain, interrogate, and torture detainees in whatever way they deemed fit. The lack of oversight was not necessary because the terrorism of communities would frighten civilians and dissuade insurgency and rebellion. The US would even turn detainees over to battalions like the Wolf Brigade, which were known for torture, and threaten detainees during interrogation with turning them over to the Wolf Brigade if they didn’t provide actionable intelligence that could be used to capture “terrorists.”

An order discovered called “Frago 242″ indicated the US had a procedure for ignoring torture if committed by Iraqi police or security forces. Such revelations spurred the UN and European leaders like Nick Clegg to take the possibility of complicity in torture seriously. Not in America. US leaders brushed the leaked documents aside as if they were of no consequence and they attacked WikiLeaks.

That was nothing to be surprised about because the Obama Administration set a standard of going after whistleblowers. The New York Times reported in June, “In 17 months in office, President Obama has already outdone every previous president in pursuing leak prosecutions. His administration has taken actions that might have provoked sharp political criticism for his predecessor, George W. Bush , who was often in public fights with the press.” The administration has gone after people like James Risen, author of State of War , for leaking “classified information on a bungled attempt to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.”

Not even the idea of funding human needs instead of wars that are wasting blood and treasure entered debates on the campaign trail. Timid or outright spineless Democrats could not be bothered to respond to people who saw the wars as an issue in the election. They didn’t want to say something that would embolden their Republican opponent (or they continue to support the wars and found it to be best to be quiet on the issue). So, the Iraq War won big too.

Guantanamo Bay supporters, people who value the role the prison has played in torture and abuse of detainees which has tarnished America’s image and resulted in routine violations of human rights, won big. The prison, which President Obama pledged to close in January 2009, did not come up for discussion. A show trial involving a detainee, who came to be known as the “Gitmo Child” because he was fifteen when detained, never entered debates during the election either.

Here was a detainee, Omar Khadr, who allegedly threw a grenade during a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. He was captured and detained. When interrogated, he was tortured and abused. One interrogator threatened him with a “fictitious” tale of gang rape, saying this had happened to another Afghan youth who had been sent to another American prison. And, a witness for the prosecution claimed to have seen Khadr “with his arms outstretched above eye level, wrists chained to the walls of a five-foot-square cell, hooded and weeping.”

In a battle, Khadr’s act went before a military jury and was charged with a war crime. The court ruled Khadr’s confessions during interrogations that involved abuse and torture could be admitted into the trial as evidence. The trial progressed and Khadr wound up caving, pleading guilty, and being sentenced to 40 years (he’s expected to only serve 8 years).

And, those who wish to see the Bagram prison remain open, a prison that some have called worse than Guantanamo. The once-secret prison was reported by BBC to have detainees being subjected to sleep deprivation, beatings (one detainee detailed losing a row of teeth), humiliated (one detainee made to dance every time he wanted to use the toilet), subjected to sensory deprivation, and refused the right to a lawyer.

Of course, this practice of detaining, interrogating and torturing does not enter the immediate lives of ninety-nine percent of Americans. They are able to tune it out so easily and, especially in this election when the media never asked about matters of national security and terrorism and what candidates would do about so-called “enemy combatants,” Americans are able to have no conscience or empathy toward what the US has done to captured humans from the Middle East. They were able to be wholly concerned about jobs and their position in the U.S. economy and not have their mind clouded with information about US atrocities committed in the “war on terrorism.”

Plus, if Americans haven’t worried about it by now, they may not have to worry about whether it is worth caring about detentions, interrogations and torture or not. A federal court has determined the government can keep what happens at Bagram secret.

The increased use of drones in Pakistan (where no official declaration of war has been made) was not up for debate, even though one in three killed are believed to be civilians. The abuse of power that comes with asserting that a government has the right to engage in targeted killing of a U.S. citizen without granting that individual due process. (*For more on the legal ramifications, read this previous post from Salon.com writer Glenn Greenwald.)

Matters related to warrantless wiretapping were not up for discussion, even though a New York Times report indicated the Obama Administration will be seeking approval from Congress during the 112th Congress to “expand” wiretapping by “overhauling the law requiring telecommunications companies to ensure their networks can be wiretapped.” The Administration would like the telecommunications companies to strengthen their “compliance” with laws so that government can more easily collect information. Claiming “modernization,” the Administration intends to get away with another “far-reaching alteration” of America’s surveillance laws.

Instances of government spying were of no concern to candidates in the election. For example, Pennsylvania Homeland Security monitored residents’ tweets. The constitutionality of such spying was not up for discussion.

Probably, it’s no wonder these issues weren’t raised. The PATRIOT Act was extended in February of this year. There was no reason to revisit issues of privacy.

Finally, despite evidence of crimes, accountability and justice did not enter the debate. The prospect of a Department of Justice that actually prosecutes criminal activity and reigns in lawlessness was not considered. Rather, the Department of Justice continued to hold to a standard of defending and protecting unlawful behavior.

The UN, which urged the Obama Administration to address the way in which torture was allowed in Iraq after the Iraq War Logs showed the US was complicit, was ignored. The Obama Administration and political leaders haven’t got time to look back and save America from falling deeper into a pit of moral bankruptcy. They believe in moving forward, which means excusing America’s actions no matter what those actions have done to humanity.

And, they don’t want anyone in the press or public to stall efforts to move forward by disseminating information Americans have the right to either. Despite conventional wisdom, federal agencies under the Obama Administration have actually used exemptions to block more Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests than federal agencies under the Bush Administration did in its final year.

Just as the midterm elections ended and Republicans rode a tidal wave of fear that propelled them to victories throughout the US, former president George W. Bush released his memoir. In it, he boasts about having no regrets about waterboarding. His admission of committing what amounts to a war crime when you examine international law should motivate someone to subpoena Bush for an investigation.

Not in this society: violating the law is now a cause of pride, especially if you were President of the United States and did it to save a nation from “terrorism.” Build a library and maybe revitalize or create a think tank that can dedicate itself to the Orwellian venture of rewriting history and creating justifications for activities that used to be prohibited by law. The Washington Consensus needs help from people willing to work for the Ministry of Truth. I mean, former President Bush’s library.

Brace yourself, America. Not discussing wars means the “war on terror” expands in Yemen and has repercussions that could radicalize and create more terrorism for the world. It means craven warmongers like Sen. Lindsay Graham have the opportunity to earn greater legitimacy as they call for war with Iran and some sort of “confrontation with China.” (All Americans should shudder at the thought of what might be going through Graham’s twisted brain when he calls for what one can only assume would be a Gulf of Tonkin-esque provocation.)

Not discussing torture and loss of civil liberties means that more and more aspects of live in American society face control and intrusion from government. Giving this up to halt terrorism may seem acceptable to some, but in a free society, those who give up liberty for safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Americans in favor of torture and PATRIOT Act measures only empower authoritarian forces that could swell and come under the control of, dare I say it, people like Sarah Palin or some other Tea Party Republican leader some day and wreak fascist havoc on this country doing damage far worse than what the Bush Administration did.

Americans have a republic, if they can keep it. And right now, the voice of Americans opposed to the concentration of executive power in government — what could be called the emboldening of the imperial presidency — is horrifically silent. These issues should matter yet, right now, those in power have succeeded in convincing Americans war, torture, violations of civil liberties, etc are of no significance.

The Danger of the Wikileaks’ Leak: You Might Stop Thinking Like an American

7:51 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


Wikileaks leaks Afghanistan War Logs to press by Kevin Gosztola

 

Days after the release of tens of thousands of documents that were once classified information and are now known as the "Afghanistan War Logs," the focus on the documents has shifted from the contents of the incident reports to what the effect or impact of the leak by Wikileaks will be on the war in Afghanistan.

 

The leak of more than 70,000 incident reports (and the news that 15,000 more incident reports are to be released after undergoing what Wikileaks founder Julian Assange calls "a harm minimization process" to protect Afghani civilians) created two direct challenges to what can be considered as two branches of government in the United States: the White House and Pentagon (Executive Branch) and the press (often regarded as the "Fourth Branch" of government).

 

This is part of the official statement released by the White House on Sunday, July 25th:

"We strongly condemn the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organisations, which puts the lives of the US and partner service members at risk and threatens our national security. Wikileaks made no effort to contact the US government about these documents, which may contain information that endanger the lives of Americans, our partners, and local populations who co-operate with us."

 

In a press conference on Monday, July 26th, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs showed their was a small evolution in the White House response to the leak. Similar to the official statement, he said the White House’s reaction to this "breach of federal law" is that it has the "potential to be very harmful to those that are in our military, those that are cooperating with our military, and those that are working to keep us safe."

 

Gibbs also said, "I don’t think that what is being reported hasn’t in many ways been publicly discussed, either by you all or by representatives of the U.S. government, for quite some time," and went on to discuss how the press was fully aware of how Pakistan may have "safe havens" that were aiding the Taliban and the White House had been making progress in addressing this problem.

 

Those who remember the Obama Administration’s blocking the release of photos allegedly showing troops abusing detainees at prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan have likely heard this argument about risks to troops before. In a video posted by The Guardian, Assange responded to the argument and said, "Militaries keep information secret to prosecute their side of a war but also to hide abuse." He noted there is a military argument for information on "where troops are about to deploy" from, but, since the information is all from 2004-2009, none of the information is particularly sensitive.

 

Gibbs’ remarks that there’s nothing new here with Pakistan shows part of the evolution from the initial response released to the press and public. The Obama Administration appears to have made a calculation that the nature of Wikileaks is too remarkable to wholly dismiss solely with an argument that they have used to argue for the protection of government information.

 

Admiral Mike Mullen’s tweet and other remarks show that the Obama Administration has chosen to attempt to curb enthusiasm for the leak and forewarn those who are interested that if they take interest in them they will likely find no new information. If the public thinks there is nothing to be gained from the leak, then it’s possible to push the public to question Wikileaks and possibly convince them that what was done was a kind of publicity stunt.

 

The initial response also demonstrated the White House believed Wikileaks should have consulted them before leaking the classified information to the press. That’s interesting given the fact that the U.S. government has been hunting Julian Assange and displayed a zealous thirst to halt the operations of Wikileaks. Even more interesting is the fact that there was some back and forth prior to the publishing of the documents thanks to two reporters with the New York Times who consulted the White House and asked the White House for permission and guidance on what to publish and what not to publish. The meeting gave the White House time to prepare for the oncoming document dump by Wikileaks.

 

A file circulated to press, which features many of the president’s and the administration’s leaders’ remarks on the role of Pakistan in the Afghanistan War, indicates there was likely a development of a media or public relations strategy between the White House and the New York Times before the "war logs" went public July 25th. This file provided a way for journalists uncomfortable with the ethics of Wikileaks to cover the contents of the documents leaked. It seems like this .PDF file became the basic talking points for critical conversation among the press on the Monday after the leak.

 

The effect was that possibility of war crimes committed was, for the most part, conveniently omitted or glossed over; illumination of the US-assassination squad Task Force 373 was virtually absent from the publication’s analysis of the logs on Sunday. Examine Der Spiegel and The Guardian and compare what is central to the editorials and reports with what is central to the editorials and reports posted by the New York Times. You will likely find media spin that focuses on Pakistan and the Taliban.

 

The New York Times’ decision to take this to the White House and to not further explore possible war crimes committed or even the alarming number of civilian casualties detailed in the logs could have something to do with what Illinois State University Professor Anthony DiMaggio wrote in his book When Media Goes to War on the media’s role in foreign wars:

 

"American journalists see their role in foreign conflicts as dutifully reflecting the range of opinions expressed in Washington. In the case of Afghanistan, both Democrats and Republicans lent their support to escalating war as of early to mid 2009. "Responsible" criticisms were limited to questions of whether the war is unwinnable or too costly. The Obama administration paternalistically denigrated the Afghan government for complicity in corruption, ballot-tampering, collusion with warlords, narcotics dealing, and a lack of democratic responsiveness. These criticisms were echoed in news stories and editorials."

 

 

DiMaggio notes the New York Times has supported this war even when the American and Afghan publics have demonstrated widespread opposition. Reporters supported Obama’s escalation writing, "extra [U.S.] forces" are "vital in defeating Taliban forces and "securing the region.’"

 

The issue of the Taliban and Pakistan provides opportunity for pragmatic criticisms and creates a range of debate germane to the interests of the White House. Such debate does not threaten the geopolitical interests of America or challenge the basic idea that the war must go on.

 

Media critic Jay Rosen concluded, "In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new."

 

Rosen’s conclusion illuminates why Wikileaks is such a direct challenge to the White House and the press. Wikileaks does not care to protect the integrity of the security industrial-complex, which works to keep information properly or, in a number of cases, improperly classified. Wikileaks’ "information activism" is in tune with the core philosophies that have been born from the existence of the Internet and, with the Internet, what does it matter if certain reporters find what Wikileaks did to be unethical or not?

 

The press in America is largely uncomfortable with the practice and ideology of Wikileaks, the credo that information organizations have spent economic effort on to keep secret should be public. No doubt, the press think if such a credo was supported by members of the US press media access to the White House and other institutions would be threatened. The socialization process that the press engages in with government officials in order to form ties so that news stories featuring top-ranked officials would also be inhibited.

 

For example, consider the digital journalism project published last week: "Top Secret America." The Washington Post worked closely with the White House and other agencies. Had it attempted to do this under the radar with help from whistleblowers or anonymous sources, the White House would have condemned the Post. The reporters would likely have been fired from the newspaper and would likely be facing prosecution like James Risen, who wrote a story on NSA wiretapping under the Bush Administration and used anonymous sources.

  

Wikileaks’ commitment to transparency is an affront to the press’ role as an estate that manufactures consent and the federal government’s role as an entity that must protect state interests by crafting an official narrative for why the war must go on in Afghanistan, a narrative that Wikileaks pollutes with information from the government that indicates the official narrative is a constructed reality.

 

Historically, the US does not want the American people involved in deciding what the US does in its foreign policy. Julian Assange and Wikileaks display a belief in the value of citizen participation and interest in the business of governments worldwide. As Assange said of the leak, "People who are around the world who are reading this are able to comment on it and put it in context and understand the full situation."

 

The "bewildered herd" is supposed to be "spectators" and support the troops and trust the motives and actions of government. When the public becomes concerned, things happen like public opposition loud enough to dilute support for a war in Vietnam or civil disobedience against the use of nuclear weapons, etc.

 

The real danger to government here is that Americans might listen to Emmanuel Goldstein, a well-known hacker and editor of the magazine 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, and promote values which support "getting to the truth of the matter, uncovering cover-ups." The real danger is that citizens may become too enchanted by Wikileaks and no longer believe in the "power imaginary" (as Sheldon Wolin might characterize it) that we are in an endless war for our lives with terrorists who hate America for its freedom and Afghanistan is an essential conflict in that battle.

 

The real danger is that the population abandons docility and no longer adheres to a civic culture that has been pushed by generations of political classes in America throughout the past century.

 

Consider the following passage from NSC 68: United States Objectives and Programs for National Security, published in April 1950 and possibly a kind-of "bible" for national security. This excerpt explains how "the democratic way" requires citizens to be less naive, more discriminating (ruling elite speak for politically ignorant and apathetic):

 

[In] the search for truth [the individual] knows when he should commit an act of faith; that he distinguish between the necessity for tolerance and the necessity for just suppression. A free society is vulnerable in that it is easy for people to lapse into excesses–the excesses of a permanently open mind wishfully waiting for evidence that evil design may become noble purpose, the excess of faith becoming prejudice, the excess of tolerance degenerating into indulgence of conspiracy and the excess of suppression when moderate measures are not only more appropriate but more effective.

  

The leak of the Afghanistan war logs creates a risk that an American public may lapse into excesses — may start to challenge the idea that the U.S. troops must stay in Afghanistan and do battle with the Taliban, may start to dispute the arguments against withdrawal of US/coalition forces from Afghanistan, may start to doubt the motives and intentions of American superpower in Afghanistan more openly than before the leak. The danger is the leak might erode a sense of shared purpose in the country.

 

The threat this leak poses is not that it may require an immense overhaul of security apparatuses being utilized by members of the U.S. military on the 800-plus bases America has throughout the world. The Obama Administration can easily dole out another contract to some entity in the security industrial-complex to fine tune the system to prevent future leaks. The threat is that more and more will now grow disenchanted with American foreign policy and challenge the agendas of both neoconservatives and neoliberals who write the policies, craft the theories, and design the power imaginaries that Americans are made to understand in terms of "us vs. them."

 

The Afghanistan war logs challenge the world to do what the information activists at Wikileaks believe people should do. They should desire information and not, as people are trained to think in America, espouse concern about the illegality of the leak. They should read over the documents and make their own conclusions and not let media organizations disembowel the totality of the leak and tell them this is insignificant because much of the incidents detailed were already known. And, they should actively respond to the contents and more openly ask why it’s so essential to continue the Afghanistan War.