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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

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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 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.

Obama Declares Combat Mission in Iraq Over: What Nation Will America “Liberate” and “Rebuild” Next?

8:59 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


President Obama appeared before the American people to formally declare the combat mission was officially over in Iraq. Obama discussed what Iraqis must do now that the U.S. has ended combat operations, re-affirmed America’s commitment to the war in Afghanistan, and ended with a focus on the economy and restoring the middle class in America.

In a much more reverential and eloquent manner (with no bombastic stunt like landing on a military aircraft carrier to lead us into the speech), Obama delivered a “Mission Accomplished” speech. It was an address to the troops to assert and assure them, their families, and those who had little stake in this war that this war was a war worth fighting.

Left out was how President Bush sent troops into a war based on the lies that Iraq posed an imminent threat to this country, how his administration falsely claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and how the administration successfully propagandized and convinced a large portion of the population that Saddam Hussein and others in Iraq played a role in the attacks of 9/11. Instead, Obama discussed the beginning of war by stating: “Seven-and-a-half years ago, President Bush announced the beginning of military operations in Iraq. Much has changed since that night. A war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency. Terrorism and sectarian warfare threatened to tear Iraq apart. Thousands of Americans gave their lives; tens of thousands have been wounded. Our relations abroad were strained. Our unity at home was tested.”

Why should it be any surprise that “unity” was tested as a result of an administration that failed to convincingly lie an entire nation into war sell this nation a war because some people used logic, reasoning and asked questions to decide whether to support this military adventure or not and when they discovered the Bush Administration was fabricating a case for war they began to seriously doubt the motives for invading Iraq?

At one point, President Obama appeared to suggest that Americans with grievances toward former President George W. Bush should suspend those grievances. He said he was “mindful that the Iraq war has been a contentious issue at home.” He admitted he disagreed with Bush on the Iraq War but asserted that “Bush’s support for our troops or his love of country and commitment” to American security was unflinching, which essentially meant liberals or progressives should forgive and possibly forget any sort of criminal or negligent activity Bush participated in that took place as a result of the Iraq War (like the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA agent when her husband, Joseph Wilson, failed to come back with “evidence” to promote the idea that Iraq had WMDs).

Obama explained “there were patriots who supported this war and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women and our hopes for Iraqis` future.” What about the patriots who did not support the wars and found that they could not support the troops because if they did they would essentially be supporting the mission and reinforcing the idea that the war should continue? Those people are probably not to be considered; it’s likely they aren’t to be regarded as Real Americans.

And, Obama said, “The greatness of our democracy is grounded in our ability to move beyond our differences and to learn from our experience as we confront the many challenges ahead. And no challenge is more essential to our security than our fight against al Qaeda.”

Americans were reminded that President Obama is just as committed to “taking the fight to the extremists” as President Bush was to “fighting the terrorists over there so we didn’t have to fight them here.” How real is this al-Qaeda “threat” really? Why does it seem like President Obama has continued former Vice President Dick Cheney’s “one-percent doctrine”—the idea that if there is a one-percent chance of something happening, that something has to be treated as it will happen? How many of us still fear the al-Qaeda boogeyman and feel that the Homeland Security-complex in this country isn’t good enough to keep us safe? How many believe continued wars are helping to keep al-Qaeda from striking at this country again?

President Obama said now a “transition to Iraqi responsibility for their own security” in Iraq will take place. Americans should be weary about this transition; it is likely to not be as welcoming to the Iraqi people as President Obama would like Americans to believe.

If you ask Iraqis like Yanar Mohammed, President of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, Iraqis will likely tell you they view the Iraqi security forces to be more oppressive than benevolent. The U.S. trained the Iraqi army to detain Iraqis and carry out many of the tactics U.S. troops used, which consequentially made it difficult to win hearts and minds. 

If you ask Iraqis like Mohammed, freedom of organizing doesn’t exist. Collective bargaining or the privilege to organize and form unions, the freedom to participate in civil society organizations that promote democracy in Iraq—that doesn’t really exist. People who participate in unions or civil society organizations are being harassed, targeted, and, in some cases, banned. And, there is fear of continued repression because, as Human Rights Watch has reported, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki runs a prison in Baghdad where prisoners have been tortured “Abu Ghraib-style.”

In order for America to legitimate the belief that Iraqis “can resolve their differences and police their streets” and “only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders,” there are a number of policies and permissions that the U.S. government granted to corporations and non-governmental organizations that need to be reversed and suspended. There are a number of policies and laws that the U.S. encouraged the Iraqi government to pass that must be repealed and entirely done away with so all Iraqi people can truly enjoy the so-called freedom troops fought to institute in Iraq.

President Obama said in his speech, “We`ve persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people, a belief that, out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization. Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibilities. Now it`s time to turn the page.”

The stunning aspect of this was, as Fareed Zakaria, host of Fareed Zakaria GPS, said on CNN after the speech, “this was President Obama speaking, not candidate Obama and not Senator Obama’ praising the idea of nation-building in Iraq.” He was praising “the idea of spreading democracy in Iraq” and “conditions-based withdrawal,” which were terms “more associated with the more hawkish elements of the Democratic Party and indeed with President George W. Bush.”

Now, America continues to act under the notion that it is capable of building nations even though it’s success in rebuilding countries like Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, etc has been dismal at best. The U.S. military and its leaders continue to fight a war that we are led to believe will end in the next couple of years, but it will likely have an ending similar to the end we have seen here with Iraq. Unless neoconservatives along with a band of rogue generals in the U.S. military win influence over Obama, the war will lack a decisive endpoint like this war did.

The exit of combat brigades from Iraq was, as professor of international relations at Boston University and a retired career officer in the U.S. Army has suggested, an indication that officers came to the conclusion this outcome was likely to be as good as it would get. That’s because, according to Bacevich, the military establishment and foreign policymakers no longer believe in "military solutions." The "officer corps" have resigned themselves to the fact that true victory, in the sense that Americans understand it, is impossible; they accept the fact wars from this point on will be protracted, dirty, costly, and will from now on end in an ambiguous way if they end at all.

Such is the expectation Americans will be asked to have for the Afghanistan War. Americans will be conditioned, as they have been, to accept a permanent presence will remain in Afghanistan after the “combat mission” is over. And why should all troops come home anyway? The military is one of the best jobs programs in the nation. America cannot cut back their use of military forces now or else unemployment in this country would be much worse.

So, the question now is, where to next? How long before another theater of war is opened? The corporations and leaders who run the country will not be content if all of these wars in the “war on terror” have wound down by 2016. They will be tremendously bored. And, if the economy continues to worsen, they will increasingly propose war as a way of rejuvenating the economy.

Iraq should be a lesson not to engage in nation-building. But, it doesn’t appear America will learn it should not attempt to build nations. So, what country will America try to "liberate" and "rebuild" next?

When Will We Take Responsibility for the Obama Presidency’s Failings?

9:57 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Holding Ourselves Responsible for Electing Obama

Another cycle of conversation on the bitter disappointment that is the Obama presidency appears to be taking place once again among liberals or progressives. Writers for prominent progressive media like The Nation and leaders in prominent progressive organizations like Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) are expressing their discontent and offering suggestions to dismayed Americans who had hoped change would actually come from the Obama Administration.

Eric Alterman of The Nation published an article recently calling the Obama presidency "a big disappointment." Katrina vanden Heuvel, also of The Nation, suggested that people aren’t just disappointed in Obama but really wonder where this country is headed. And, Norman Solomon, on the executive board of Progressive Democrats of America, recently told Real News’ Paul Jay, "The Obama Administration is more and more moving towards policies that many who worked to elect Obama have worked to oppose in recent years."

The emerging consensus, which has been present over the past year and a half as more and more progressives confess frustration with President Obama, is that the presidency has taken a turn away from progressivism, a turn that many didn’t expect or hoped would not occur. There are a few progressive minds who are being asked what to do next that appear willing to admit they held their nose and voted for a centrist Democrat, but an overwhelming amount continue to cling to their history of delusions and maintain Obama could have been progressive.

The consensus also religiously clings to the reality that Republicans are becoming increasingly dangerous for the country and hold that reality up as an excuse for why Obama has "failed" progressives tremendously. To them, the power of the minority has made it near impossible for any progressive agenda, any major social reforms to get through. This would be a valid argument if plenty of evidence of Democratic Party leaders allowing or quite often colluding with the toxic talk and agenda of the Republican Party did not exist.

Not extending unemployment benefits and not raising more of a fuss as Republicans obstruct the renewal of these jobless benefits, appointing Petraeus to replace McChrystal in Afghanistan and continuing a war in a country often regarded as "the graveyard of empires," maintaining a permanent troop presence in Iraq, contributing to culture which led to the BP oil disaster by indicating renewed support for offshore drilling one month before the disaster, keeping the option of a national public-financed healthcare system off the table as Republicans cried foul about a socialist takeover of healthcare and talked death panels, refusal to advance the minor reform that labor unions have desired, the Employee Free Choice Act (pretty much the only real demand they have had for Obama), the continued use of rendition, believing the truth will endanger soldiers and lead to increased deaths and instability in the Middle East and refusing to investigate torture or release photos of the abuse that soldiers inflicted on detainees— These are just some of the victories Republicans have won from Obama. These are just some of the many examples of continuity that Republicans have enjoyed.

Obama on Inauguration Day

Progressives have gradually woken up from their hope-induced coma and begun to realize more and more the folly that they have been engaging in. They had been dithering on what to do as social movements stumbled (e.g. the antiwar movement, which Cindy Sheehan has tried to re-ignite without much success). That’s why more and more editorial writers and more and more leaders and organizers are being critical.

The questions must be asked: What level of responsibility should progressives take for the fact that they were swept up in Hope-a-Palooza ’08? How much are progressive writers, media makers, organizers, and leaders to blame for the current impact the Obama presidency has had on society, if any?

While it is uncomfortable and in some respects unreasonable to take to task the people who should be the biggest allies of social movements and, in fact, an ally of this writer (who considers himself to be progressive), the cycle with which progressives have the Left going in is incredibly destructive to the future of this country, the world and in fact the whole of humanity. The strategy and tactics of progressives increasingly look like the definition of insanity–doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.

Norman Solomon and Jeff Cohen each appear in two different series produced by Real News on progressives and the Democratic Party. One set particularly addresses the dynamics between progressives and Obama and the other addresses the corporatism of the Democratic Party, which has made it about impossible for real change to occur.

Both offer a further understanding of what the role of progressives is in society. Solomon reminds progressives "the Democratic Party base is appreciably more progressive than those who get elected and that needs to be rectified. Primaries exist for a reason, they’re rarely utilized to the extent they could and should be." Cohen expresses his belief in the idea that progressives can "take over" the Democratic Party "through social action and grassroots politics and money" just like the Republican Party did after the Eisenhower Administration.

Solomon and Cohen display faith in the tying of social movements and independent political action to electoral activity. Fundamentally, there is little wrong with this concept. The best movements understood they had to have a presence in the street and had to have an electoral arm of the struggle. But, all too often, those movements, which had presences in elections, were running on a single issue as a candidate for a smaller party that was not Democrat or Republican, an electoral strategy that Solomon and Cohen do not support.

Given the massive shortcomings of the past four decades, it is time for those who speak for progressives and who purport to know ideas on how to best move forward toward a more egalitarian, more socially responsible and less corporate-controlled country to explain why not just progressives but Americans are to believe that their so-called "inside-outside strategy" can work or should work.

Why should we who have visions of a world that the Democratic Party is not willing to push for, why should we support the efforts of groups like Progressive Democrats of America to keep all concerned, socially-minded and oftentimes left-leaning people in one big tent?

Lance Selfa takes a close look in his book, Democrats: A Critical History, at what groups like PDA and examines whether the left can take over the Democratic Party. He quotes PDA founder Kevin Spidel who told writer William Rivers Pitt, "The most important thing we do is that inside-outside strategy. Pulling together members of the Green Party, the Independent Progressive Politics Network, the hip-hop community, the civil rights community, our allies in Congress, the anti-war community. We are bringing together all the social movements within the Democratic Party under on effective tent, and we will do it better if people can contribute to our cause."

Essentially, Spidel (and I imagine anyone who celebrates the "potential" of PDA) would like all those discontent to not let their discontent create alternatives to working with the Democratic Party. In fact, they would like people to help deter creations of alternatives; PDA did not do anything to denounce or deter the Democratic Party’s funded campaign to force Nader/Camejo off the ballots in the 2004 Election.

The examples of Dennis Kucinich’s campaigns, Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, writer Upton Sinclair’s 1934 primary victory, and Howard Dean’s eventual demise in 2004 are all bitter indications of the shenanigans and uphill battles candidates have to face as they organize and run as a Democrat. And, with Kucinich, candidates not only are forced out of the race but are tasked with the duty of herding progressives into the center of the Democratic Party and inspiring them to support a much less robust progressive agenda and much more corporate Democrat like current President Obama.

This writer is very cognizant of the dismal state of the Left. There currently exists no surefire way for any progressives, Greens, socialists, communists, Marxists, or whatever label members of key social movements anoint themselves with to win state power. Ballot access laws effectively make it a chore for candidates from parties not Democrat or Republican to run. Media corporations effectively refuse to cover politics that is not Democrat or Republican. And, the people of this country are conditioned to believe politics is only Democrat or Republican and, actually, that’s why so many Americans are angry and upset with the state of this country.

Many recognize how similar the Democratic and Republican Parties are in this country. The characterization is no longer simply that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference (as Ralph Nader has said) but much deeper. It’s that what Americans are faced with is a corporate party with a left and right wing. Or, it’s that we have a war party that splits off in a left and right direction (or something similar to these characterizations).

What is the answer? Where do we go? How willing are we to raise our expectations?

At forums all over the world like the World Social Forum, at summits organized by movement leaders all over the world and at conferences held here in the United States, there are people willing to make the cogent analyses necessary to understand the objective reality we face as a people. There are scholars and thinkers and concerned citizens and sharp, energetic organizers willing to develop and work to get this country turned around so it is no longer going in the destructive downward spiraling direction that it had been going in for decades.

But, what has to be done so this can translate into the political arena? When do social movements get to grow up and actually run this country? When leaders from social movements get to lead? And, when do we stop using the Democratic Party as a measuring stick for what’s possible in American politics?

I don’t have the answers to the problems this country faces because of the broken electoral system, the control corporations have over politics in this country, the influence that corporatism and it’s fiendish offspring militarism have over the agenda and policies of America, but I do have the unwavering interest in a better future one that my children, their children and their children and so on and so forth should be able to enjoy–a future where generations won’t have to confront the levels of contempt, exploitation and injustice toward humanity that seem to be increasing because of the policies of an elite few who run this country.

One wonders if a future focus is enough to take on the sharp contradictions of society. But, if that doesn’t push us to mature politically and socially, what will?

Gen. Petraeus’ Directive: Another Example of American Empire’s Fetish for Black Operations

6:17 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Flickr Photo by Kevin Gosztola | You may know Gen. David Petraeus. You may even know Jack Bauer. But, do you know Gen. Jack Petraeus?

Gen. Jack Petraeus favors secret military operations. He is the leading cause of death in Middle Eastern men and, when taking action, he doesn’t need a translator. Torture is the same in every language (except maybe American English which refers to torture as "enhanced interrogation techniques").


The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti reports Gen. David H. Petraeus has signed a "secret directive" that orders a "broad expansion of clandestine military activity in an effort to disrupt militant groups or counter threats in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other countries in the region."

According to Mazzetti, the directive was signed in September and would send "small teams of American troops" to "both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces." More importantly, "the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions escalate."

Gen. Petraeus suggested at the bottom that this would give troops, foreign businessmen, academics and others "persistent situational awareness." This may be something like "total information awareness."Most likely it’s the general’seuphemism for paranoia.

Out of context, it might seem like permission for secret operations is going in a direction that America may want to consider not going in. Secret operations, especially if so-called terrorists knew to expect them, might lead to more destabilization of the world, more deaths and destruction. Do people really want that?

This would be a huge revelation if history didn’t indicate that departments handling foreign and domestic defense or security operations have claimed the authority to engage in covert activity time and time again.

Mazzetti ends the article reminding Americans, "During the Bush administration, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld endorsed clandestine military operations, arguing that Special Operations troops could be as effective as traditional spies, if not more so."

In 2004, The Jerusalem Post reported that Rumsfeld considered provoking Syria by deploying U.S. Special Forces to attack Hezbollah bases near the Syrian border. It outlined how this could satisfy U.S. strategy by pressuring Damascus into ending support for anti-Israel Palestinian groups, persuade Syria to abandon its WMDs and withdraw troops from Lebanon, stimulate a situation where Syrian leader Bashir Assad could be ousted, and crush Hezbollah and end Syria’s connections to al Qaeda.

Such a plan can be linked to those within the Pentagon who believe in order to fight the "war on terror" elite secret armies with permission to use all covert capabilities must be utilized. In 2002, William Arkin reported for the Los Angeles Times on Rumsfeld’s fetish for black ops and a briefing drafted by the Defense Science Board called the "2002 Summer Study on Special Operations and Joint Forces in Support of Countering Terrorism."

The Board recommended, according to Arkin, the "creation of a super-Intelligence Support Activity, an organization it [dubbed] the Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group, (P2OG), to bring together CIA and military covert action, information warfare, intelligence, and cover and deception.

P2OG would "launch secret operations aimed at "stimulating reactions’ among terrorists and states possessing weapons of mass destruction — that is, for instance, prodding terrorist cells into action and exposing themselves to "quick-response’ attacks by U.S. forces."

One might remember news from June 2009 uncovered by Seymour Hersh that an "executive assassination ring reporting directly to Vice President Dick Cheney" existed.

Of the ring, the Guardian reported, "Dick Cheney, the former vice president, ordered a highly classified CIA operation hidden from Congress because it pushed the limits of legality by planning to assassinate al-Qaida operatives in friendly countries without the knowledge of their governments." The "hidden operation [also] involved plans by the CIA and the military to launch operations, similar to those by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, to hunt down and kill al-Qaida activists abroad without informing the governments concerned, even though some were regarded as friendly if unreliable."

The news made headlines for a day or two and then quickly dissipated as everyone went back to viewing their regularly scheduled programming. Most probably assumed that the program was over. No. Glenn Greenwald reported for Salon in January and April of this year that the Obama Administration was claiming the authority to assassinate U.S. citizens without according U.S. citizens who might be terrorists due process.

"No due process is accorded. No charges or trials are necessary. No evidence is offered, nor any opportunity for him to deny these accusations (which he [American-born Anwar al-Awlaki] has done vehemently through his family). None of that.

Instead, in BarackObama’s America, the way guilt is determined for American citizens — and a death penalty imposed — is that thePresident, like the King he thinks he is, secretly decrees someone’s guilt as a Terrorist. He then dispatches his aides to run to America’s newspapers — cowardly hiding behind the shield of anonymity which they’re granted — to proclaim that the Guilty One shall be killed on sight because the Leader has decreed him to be a Terrorist. It is simply asserted that Awlaki has converted from a cleric who expresses anti-American views and advocates attacks on American military targets (advocacy which happens to be Constitutionally protected) to Actual Terrorist"involved in plots." These newspapers then print this ExecutiveVerdict with no questioning, no opposition, no investigation, no refutation as to its truth. And the punishment is thus decreed:this American citizen will now be murdered by the CIA because BarackObama has ordered that it be done.What kind of person could possibly justify this or think that this is a legitimate government power?"

Presumably, the same infrastructure, individuals, and teams that were employed for Cheney’s assassination squads would be used for Obama’s assassination squads. And, this type of activity by government in the name of freedom and preservation of national security has been a feasible option for decades.

ABC News officially reported in 2001 (although it had been known long before 2001) that back in the 1960s, under President Kennedy, "America’s top military leaders reportedly drafted plans to kill innocent people and commit acts of terrorism in U.S. cities to create public support for a war against Cuba."

The plan known as Operation Northwoods "included the possible assassination of Cuban émigrés, sinking boats of Cuban refugees on the high seas, hijacking planes, blowing up a U.S. ship, and even orchestrating violent terrorism in U.S. cities." All of this was to be done "to trick the American public and the international community into supporting a war to oust Cuba’s then new leader, communist Fidel Castro."

Perhaps, thirst for glory, super-patriotism, and the hyper-masculinity of all those involved in the military and defense agencies that put together secret operation plans has something to do with the willful disregard of human life and rule of law.

Members of the Pentagon and CIA probably view themselves as players in a Tom Clancy novel, stars in a Hollywood espionage-action-thriller, or perhaps consider their selves to be Jack Bauer-like heroes. They see themselves as actors who could be thrown into a ticking time bomb scenario at any moment.

Whatever motivations within defense and intelligence departments may be, it’s important to understand that Gen. Petraeus isn’t abruptly taking the Pentagon in a questionable direction; the Pentagon (and other parts of government) have been supportive of murky and illegitimate operations as long as the end justified the means for some time.

Allowing Gen. Petraeus to do this isn’t a mistake by President Obama either. This is what conventional wisdom within military and defense deems permissible in the "war on terror." This is what Congress allows to go on without any noticeable objection at all (that is, unless the public becomes aware of it. Then they can’t wait to put a stop to secret operations that have been happening without proper oversight.)

And, Congress wasn’t always this permissive of secret operations. Stephen F. Knott, author of Secret and Sanctioned: Covert Operations and the American Presidency wrote, "in the aftermath of Vietnam, Watergate, and revelations of CIA assassination plots and domestic spying, Congress moved in the mid-1970s to "reassert’ its role in shaping American foreign policy, including the most controversial tool of that policy, covert action."

"Secrecy was seen as antithetical to the American way, and there was widespread agreement that "rogue" agencies such as the CIA were a threat to liberty. Proponents of congressional intelligence oversight argued that openness and accountability were the cornerstone of a legitimate foreign policy, and it was believed that Congress, due to its diversity of opinion, possessed greater wisdom than the executive branch. Spurred on by the sensational revelations of the Church Committee hearings in the Senate and the Pike Committee in the House, both bodies established permanent intelligence committees.

It is still widely believed that the Church and Pike reforms were an attempt to cure a "cancerous" growth on the Constitution that had developed during the Cold War, an era which witnessed an increasing reliance on executive secrecy and the creation of a "private army" for the president in the form of the CIA"

…"On some occasions, members of Congress threatened to leak information in order to derail covert operations they found personally repugnant. Leaks are a recurring problem, as some member of Congress, or some staff member, demonstrated in the aftermath of the September 11th attack. President Bush’s criticism of members of Congress was fully justified, despite the protests from Capitol Hill. Leaks have occurred repeatedly since the mid-1970s, and in very few cases has the offending party been disciplined. One of the Founding Fathers of the new oversight regime, former Representative Leo Ryan, held that leaks were an important tool in checking the "secret government."

Until the "war on terror" comes to an end, any number of fantastical and reprehensible plans will be drafted and implementedin secret until someone like Mazaretti publishes information about the plans. Then, they will be stalled, redrafted, altered, and reformed to seem new and different and unlike anything done before. This will go on and on and on as long as we are fighting "terrorists" over there so we don’t have to fight them over here or as long as we are accepting less liberty for more safety from people above described operations have radicalized.

From where I’m sitting, it looks like America’s going to be fighting this "perpetual war for perpetual peace" for the next century, which means anyone the U.S. wants to target will be put in the crosshairs.

Escalating to End the Afghan War: Invoking Iraq, the Troops, and the Oft-Exploited Tragedy of 9/11

8:27 pm in Foreign Policy, Military by Kevin Gosztola


Flickr photo by

Obama’s speech at West Point Academy made a case for escalating the war in Afghanistan by deploying 30,000 more troops and laid out justifications for escalation that would deflect criticism.

The speech largely avoided the sloganeering and Manichaean flourishes that Americans became used to hearing from President George W. Bush, but it also setup a key paradox —

Isn’t this all being said to convince Americans that their conflicts and reservations with this war need to be sidelined? Aren’t Americans being asked to acquiesce to this president and let him take the lead without citizens creating noise in opposition to his plan for continuing a war Bush started?

Rachel Maddow noted afterward that this was a pretty pragmatic speech and Howard Fineman said during Countdown that there was a “grim realism” to this speech.

Both were hinting that Obama was focused on what was happening in Afghanistan, wanted to focus on the task at hand, and tamp down the criticism from people who are paying close attention to the wars in the Middle East.

A conversation between Ron Suskind and Rachel Maddow revealed on Tuesday night that Obama considered options ranging from a complete drawdown to escalating the war with 30,000 troops. It’s clear he had many reservations and yet military and other interests won this escalation decision.

The interests of American hegemony beat out interests of humanity in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and here at home.

Note what he used to justify the deployment of more troops. Obama cited the Iraq War:

I do not make this decision lightly. I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions. We have been at war for eight years, at enormous cost in lives and resources. Years of debate over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort. And having just experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the American people are understandably focused on rebuilding our economy and putting people to work here at home.

Seemingly, Obama invoked the Iraq War because it is largely regarded as Bush’s War. And, reminding Americans that Bush created that war and that war has negatively impacted this nation’s ability to address the issue of the war in Afghanistan would make it possible to deflect criticism.

But then, he invoked the soldiers and their families:

…Most of all, I know that this decision asks even more of you – a military that, along with your families, has already borne the heaviest of all burdens. As President, I have signed a letter of condolence to the family of each American who gives their life in these wars. I have read the letters from the parents and spouses of those who deployed. I have visited our courageous wounded warriors at Walter Reed. I have travelled to Dover to meet the flag-draped caskets of 18 Americans returning home to their final resting place. I see firsthand the terrible wages of war. If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow…

And 9/11:

…To address these issues, it is important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place. We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, nineteen men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women, and children without regard to their faith or race or station. Were it not for the heroic actions of the passengers on board one of those flights, they could have also struck at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killed many more…

Bush often invoked the troops and their families when giving speeches on Iraq and the "war on terror." (Iraq gave him a unique ability to avoid addressing the problems created by invading Afghanistan.)

By citing the troops, the mission becomes salvaging the war. It becomes something aimed at ensuring Americans did not die in vain.

The invocation of troops and their families sets up a situation where critics fall into the same rut that they fell into when Bush was helming the war in Iraq. Inevitably, one winds up saying I support the war but not the mission.

Unfortunately, liberals and progressives may fall for this and we may see more people buying more yellow ribbons. Quite frankly, supporting the troops does support the mission and the war.

If we find that their will be dire consequences for the expansion and further escalation of this war (even if it may come to a conclusion in 2011), we cannot support the troops because they will be contributing to a mission that does others great harm.

As for the invocation of 9/11, apparently this is Obama’s moment of desperation. 9/11 has been the crutch that political leaders have leaned on in their moments of great political trial.

John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Dick Cheney, Joe Lieberman, countless Republicans, and, of course, George W. Bush invoked the story of 9/11 to martial support for their own unpopular ideas on foreign policy.

In fact, these are words from President Bush’s State of the Union on January 29, 2002:

What we have found in Afghanistan confirms that, far from ending there, our war against terror is only beginning. Most of the 19 men who hijacked planes on September the 11th were trained in Afghanistan’s camps, and so were tens of thousands of others. Thousands of dangerous killers, schooled in the methods of murder, often supported by outlaw regimes, are now spread throughout the world like ticking time bombs, set to go off without warning.

To the American Legion on February 24, 2006 in a speech on violence in Iraq & the “War on Terror”:

We remain a nation at war. The war reached our shores on September the 11th, 2001, when our nation awoke to a sudden attack. Like generations before us, we have accepted new responsibilities, and we will confront these dangers with firm resolve. (Applause.)

And in October 7, 2001 in a speech on Afghanistan he said, “We did not ask for this mission, but we will fulfill it.”

Bush was a warmongering president. He was boisterous and had a realist foreign policy that didn’t hide its aim of global domination. But, truth be told, these words quoted from Bush could have appeared in Obama’s address at West Point.

It’s extremely disturbing that Obama’s second to last paragraph in his speech was the following:

It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united – bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we – as Americans – can still come together behind a common purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment – they are a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, one people.

Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project was meant to conjure the spirit and unity America felt after 9/11. It asked Americans to be the people they were after 9/11 on 9/12.

Most are aware of how successful that initiative has been. More than a year later, we can see how Beck has helped us all grow closer to one another through participation in Tea Party protests meant to promote liberty and freedom in America.

That 9/11 had such a prime role in the speech shows the Obama Administration is still under the same delusion the Bush Administration’s foreign policy suffered from: that 9/11 gives us carte blanche to do as we please in the name of security anywhere in the world.

And so, for those who feel deep down inside their mind, body, and spirit an opposition to the move Obama is making, you are not alone.

Obama’s speech was aimed at the criticism citizens have been leveling against the Afghanistan War, it was designed to bypass even the best arguments laid out by those calling on Obama to “rethink Afghanistan,” and plans for withdrawal in 2011 (that could always change) were made to appease liberal and progressives who have been skeptic.

What’s worse — a president who is an unapologetic warmonger or a president who justifies away and away his actions making it evident he has a conscience but that he will ignore what he knows in his heart to be true and will instead rely on what policymakers and analysts in the Pentagon think instead—policymakers and analysts who make a living off creating missions and objectives for wars?