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A Congress Unwilling to Exercise Its War Powers

10:09 am in Government by Kevin Gosztola

Dueling resolutions from Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and Democratic House Representative Dennis Kucinich sparked a debate in Congress. The debate centered around the War Powers Act, the US Constitution and whether President Obama had violated the law by taking the United States into a war in Libya.

The Kucinich Resolution (H.R. Con. Res. 251) aimed to direct the president, pursuant to the War Powers Act, to remove all troops from Libya within fifteen days after the resolution was adopted. It was an attempt to force Congress to exercise the authority that it has under the Constitution to decide when and where troops are deployed for wars and whether or not wars should be launched.

In contrast, the Boehner Resolution (H.R. Con. Res. 292) was offered by Speaker Boehner to take the wind out of the sails of the growing bipartisan movement, consisting of anti-war Democrats and anti-interventionist Republicans, who were ready to assert Congress’ legislative authority and oppose the further expansion of the Executive by the Obama Administration that has taken place as a result of the Libya War.

The resolution brought by Rep. Kucinich failed 148-265. Speaker Boehner’s resolution passed 268-145.

The passage effectively stymied Rep. Kucinich’s genuine attempt to bring an end to the shirking of constitutional responsibilities in matters of war and peace in Congress. It aimed to halt the operations that had been initiated by the Obama Administration without congressional approval. But, as evidenced by the debate, despite the near unanimous recognition that seventy-seven days into the war the Obama Administration has the US embroiled in an illegal war and Congress has abdicated its responsibility, the majority of representatives in the House were reluctant to actually exercise the authority, which the Constitution grants them.

Representatives, who understood the weight of the moment, attempted to reason and convince a servile and overwhelmingly deferential majority that there needed to be action. They called out Speaker Boehner for offering a resolution that sidestepped the responsibility Congress is supposed to uphold.
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Memorial Day in America: What the Government Wants Americans to Remember Vs. What WikiLeaks Thinks Should Be Remembered

8:04 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Citizens of the United States today join in celebration of Memorial Day and honor those who have served and died in American wars from now all the way back to the American Civil War. It is the ninth consecutive Memorial Day during the “war on terrorism,” which was the Bush Administration’s response to the September 11 attacks. The “war on terror,” as the world knows, led to the Afghanistan and Iraq War and countless other covert military operations all aimed at rooting out terrorism.

The memories of war shared with veterans in communities are, of course, sanitized. Communities do not really tell the stories of war. Members of squads like the “Kill Teams” of Afghanistan do not share photos or cell phone videos they captured when they shot innocent civilians and posed with them. They do not talk about the glory of employing “enhanced interrogation techniques” or torture to gain, often, false information from detainees at Guantanamo or “black” prison sites to better prosecute the war against global terrorism. And probably few could be said to be telling real war stories, like the ones that can be found in the pages of the American literary classic by Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried.

WikiLeaks has released military reports from both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. What those sets of documents reveal along with the contents of the few thousand US State Embassy cables released indicates there is a reality that society and government would like to suppress. The contents may be useful to the US government, as decisions are made in future wars, but much of the contents might lead a society to hesitate to engage in future wars of choice especially wars that appear to be authorized illegally (e.g. the Libya war, etc).

When US President Barack Obama finally began to withdraw some troops from Iraq, this is how he reflected on the past years of war:

The Americans who have served in Iraq completed every mission they were given.  They defeated a regime that had terrorized its people.  Together with Iraqis and coalition partners who made huge sacrifices of their own, our troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future.  They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people, trained Iraqi Security Forces, and took out terrorist leaders.  Because of our troops and civilians — and because of the resilience of the Iraqi people — Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.

This is how people wish to remember war. This is what they hope veterans accomplished. This story and not the truth of war is what they prefer to think about if they think of the “reality” of war on Memorial Day at all.

Unfortunately, for a population insulated from daily reports of the horrors of war, WikiLeaks came along and released the Iraq war logs and a “Collateral Murder” video and threatened to pierce the bubble the press and government has let form around the American population.

Unlawful killings of civilians, indiscriminate attacks or the unjustified use of lethal force against civilians, horrendous abuse and torture of Iraqis by the Iraqi National Guard or the Iraqi Police Service, and torture of Iraqis whilst in UK custody (presumably, whilst in the custody of US and other coalition forces custody as well) were each revealed in detail.

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Release the Dead bin Laden Photos

12:27 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Celebration Photos Just as Likely to Inflame ‘Terrorists’ as Bin Laden Death Photos

The decision to not release photos of a dead and fatally wounded Osama bin Laden rests on at tenuous set of reasons that rest purely on Beltway conventional wisdom.

The argument that the release of photos could inflame the Middle East has been made before (recall the Obama Administration blocked the release of “torture photos” in May 2009 that the ACLU was seeking to obtain through a Freedom of Information Act request). Greg Mitchell with The Nation reminds Americans of the debate that surrounded the decision to release photos of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi after his death.

Jon Stewart made a good point last night on “The Daily Show”:

We’ve been fighting this war for nearly ten years. Thousands of US deaths, tens of thousands of Iraqis have died and we’ve seen nearly zero photographic evidence of it. Member how long the media had to fight to show military coffins returning from overseas? Maybe not because you saw pictures of it the day they won the case and not since. Maybe we should always show pictures. Bin Laden, pictures of our wounded service people, pictures of maimed innocent civilians. We can only make decisions about war if we see what war actually is and not as a video game where bodies quickly disappear leaving behind a shiny gold coin.

Essentially, the key argument should not be that the photos should be released to debunk conspiracy theories (which the White House has helped fuel by not really getting all the details straight on the bin Laden killing). It shouldn’t be don’t release the photos because it will hand Republicans a victory and they won’t be satisfied and will just ask for more like Donald Trump wants to know more even though he got the president to release his long-form birth certificate.

The argument should be that Americans see the photo so they can see what they have been celebrating. They should see the image of brutality, which so many vehemently believe is justified.

What makes anyone think photos of celebration at Ground Zero or the White House on the day bin Laden was killed won’t inflame the Middle East or haven’t already provoked some cell of terrorists to plan a new scheme for attacking America?

This guy with “Rest In Hell Osama” scrawled on his body could be on a recruiting poster for al Qaeda (if they use recruiting posters).

This guy could be on a recruiting poster too. Not because he looks like he lusts for blood but because he looks like a dopey Westerner whose ideals those in al Qaeda likely despise vehemently.

Even this seemingly benign photo could inflame those who would support al Qaeda’s mission against the West. The flag-waving in celebration of the execution of a human being on their side is enough to move them to organize an attack.

The front pages of the editions of The Daily News and the New York Post that ran the day after bin Laden was killed are enough to inflame those sympathetic to al Qaeda’s cause too. The Daily News’ front page said, “Rot in Hell!” The Post’s front page cried, “Vengeance at last! US nails the bastard!” The first sentence in the Post read, “We finally got the miserable son of a bitch.”

This irresponsible tabloid journalism was being gobbled up by New Yorkers as a reasonable characterization of what went down. People hung the front pages up nearby Ground Zero and took photos of the front pages posted on a wall.

This photo of university students should have the US national security establishment frightened not because students shouldn’t be allowed to go to spontaneous and patriotic Spring Break-type events, where they act like they are at a pep rally for an upcoming football game. The photo should have those in government worried because that girl with the cigar in her mouth could easily remind the terrorists of this girl with the cigar(ette) in her mouth.

The point is not that people shouldn’t be able to go out and celebrate and mark the deaths of America’s with American flags and signs that express satisfaction. The point is, if the photos of a dead bin Laden could be a potential threat to America if released, what about the photos of people celebrating his death?

Jeremy Scahill of The Nation appeared on “The Tavis Smiley Show” to discuss how he really thinks the death of bin Laden is a “somber occasion.” He thinks Americans should reflect on the destruction that has taken place since 9/11 and those who have died in wars instead of simply treating the killing like a “sporting event.” And, he finds the celebrations give off an image of a “culture that celebrates execution.”

Additionally, Donna Marsh O’Connor, who lost her pregnant daughter on 9/11 writes:

As a family member of a young woman killed in the attacks, I want the response to the death of bin Laden to be one of somber reflection, one that marks how far we have come from the days of that attack and accounts for all we have lost—our civil rights, our trust in our government to act ethically. I want our civil liberties back, our reliance on the Constitution and the rule of law. I want, again, for my children to feel free.

Let’s take that energy and reclaim our land as the land of the free, the civilized and the just. There are dire costs to shirking this duty. We’ve just seen it in our streets.

O’Connor also states, “We should recognize the energy that came from the elimination of this criminal at the hands of the U.S. government and we should try to craft, instead, the end of the terror years.”

Back to the photos themselves, Michael Shaw at HuffingtonPost has this to say:

What the powers-that-be never get is that an erasure is not without it’s own moral baggage and trace. Disappearing the photo, given the reality that an image represents (especially these days, when in Egypt, in Libya and in Syria, we see citizens dying by the day just for the cause of pushing pictures to twitpics), the willful act of suppressing the photo, in our every more visually-mediated and documented society, equates to the intention of keeping the killing in the dark. It’s this signal, by way, this act of omission reinforced by the President’s dismissive and defensive tone, that not just insults the intelligence of the American people but actually reinforces the suspicions of the Muslim street.

By not releasing the photos, we are letting the terrorists win—just as we have been letting them win since 9/11. We are adapting our behavior and applying more restraints to freedom and transparency. Doing this likely empowers terrorists.

Release the photos. They will do the US no harm. Now, continuing the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and continuing to support dictatorial regimes in the Middle East will.

Wikileaks Cables: US Arms to Georgia Keep Tensions Between Russia, Georgia High

10:48 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

President Obama and President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev | Photo by poniblog

Cables from the U.S. embassies in Moscow, Russia and Tbilisi, Georgia reveal ever since a five-day war in Georgia, which erupted between Georgians and Russian-backed separatists in August 2008, the U.S. has been carefully assessing the implications of further arming Georgia. This assessment has required the U.S. to pay extra lip service to the idea that it is not arming Georgia for future provocations against Russia. And, the U.S. has had to show restrain and only make transfers Georgia can claim will be used for defense or to help the U.S. fight in Afghanistan and other parts of Eurasia as part of the “war on terror.”

[*For revelations on the August war, see The Guardian's story using details from WikiLeaks cables sent out during the conflict.]

The geopolitical maneuverings are revealed in a June 18, 2009 cable from Moscow titled, “Implications of Rearming Georgia for U.S.-Russian ‘Reset.” The cable summary explains, “A decision to move towards a more robust military relationship with Georgia will imperil our efforts to re-start relations with Russia, if it is not carefully calibrated and deployed. While Medvedev understands the strategic and personal benefits of crafting a productive partnership with the U.S., this impulse is trumped by the GOR’s ‘absolute’ priority placed on expanding Russian influence in the Eurasian neighborhood, preventing NATO enlargement, and demonstrating Russia’s great power status.”

The cable contends “Georgia’s territorial integrity” could be cost if a “lethal military supply relationship with Tbilisi” continues. The cable proposes a strategy of proving to Abkhaz and South Ossetians that autonomy with Tbilisi is better than submission to Russia.” It suggests Georgia work to establish itself as a “democratically vibrant and economically successful model for the region” instead of relying on military arms to gain advantage over Russia. And, further indicating how central Iran is to U.S. foreign policy, it adds that rearming Georgia openly could “lessen Russian restraint on weapons transfers to Iran.”

The flipside of the geopolitical strategy unfolds in another cable from Tbilisi, sent out the day after the previously mentioned cable from Moscow. It indicates the importance of properly adjusting and defining policy toward Georgia and Russia in the region is a result of a U.S.-Georgia Charter Commission on June 22 that will require a discussion over the future of “military cooperation” with Georgia. The cable titled, “The Importance of Continued Military Engagement with Georgia,” provides suggestions for why Georgia should be provided “a modest, transparent defensive capability” by the U.S.

Contending that Russia’s claims that the U.S. is rearming Georgia are based on propaganda, the cable surmises that Russian objections to arming Georgia would contradict U.S. policy in the region and give “Russian disinformation an undeserved voice in U.S. policy formation.” The cable urges the U.S. to not validate Russia’s objections to arming Georgia because it could be seen as a reward for Russia’s aggression in Georgia, “as well as its violation of international law and commitments, encourage a similar stance in Ukraine; and deal a body blow to [U.S.] credibility in Georgia, other Eurasian states, the [U.S.’] western partners – and ultimately Russia itself.”

It justifies two deliveries of “lethal military equipment” by noting they were purchased before the five-day August war and one in particular was for “coalition operations in Afghanistan.” It reveals that the U.S. has agreed to deploy a Georgian battalion for two years in one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan, RC-South.

The cable illustrates Georgia’s desire to “rebuild its native defensive capacity, which is currently insufficient to control its own airspace or hinder an invasion from any of its neighbors.” It says Georgia “needs sufficient anti-armor and air defense capability to stall a ground advance” and the “Georgian operational thinking is that if they can defend Tbilisi from occupation for 72 hours, then international pressure will force” any advance “to pause.”

The rationalization for ultimately going ahead with arming Georgia is as follows:

“…The development of this capacity is not solely equipment-based, but it will require the acquisition of new lethal defensive systems. If Georgia does not procure the equipment from the U.S., it will almost surely seek to procure it elsewhere, as it has done in the past. U.S. involvement would help ensure the transparency of the procurement process itself, as well as increase our control over the amount, type and location of the equipment…”

But, more important to the decision is the fact that ultimately Russia has no credibility when opposing a rearming of Georgia:

“…While Russia, as well as the de facto regimes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, may argue otherwise, it is Russia and its proxy regimes that have dramatically increased the militarization of Georgia over the past year. Russia has introduced at least 3,700 troops into sovereign Georgian territory, as well as heavy military equipment, such as tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft systems, into the area immediately adjacent to the administrative boundaries — in direct violation of the commitments President Medvedev made in the cease-fire agreement. It is Georgia that has lost 14 police officers since the war; kidnappings, cattle thefts, and detentions continue along the boundary, mostly on the Abkhaz and South Ossetian sides. Russian helicopters make regular flights along the boundaries, sometimes crossing them, and Russian forces move large numbers of troops and heavy equipment along the boundaries at will…”

The cable from Tbilisi ends with the suggestion that Georgia make “public and/or written commitments about the exclusively defensive nature of its new military programs” and suggests inviting Russia to sign a “non-use of force agreement.” In contrast, the cable from Moscow concludes the U.S. cannot say “yes” to a “significant military relationship with Tbilisi” because Russia will increase tensions in the region and engage in “more active opposition to critical U.S. strategic interests.”

To further contextualize the two cables, on November 20th of this year President Obama met with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and pledged to contiue U.S. support for Georgia’s bid to join NATO (which Russia opposes). Saakashvili said President Obama explicitly indicated support for Georgia’s “territorial integrity” and the White House press service said, “The two leaders discussed the Georgian government’s efforts to implement political, economic, and defense reforms and our shared interest in securing democracy, stability, and prosperity in Georgia,” which, because of the cables.”

“Defense reforms,” of course, is a euphemism for arming the country to defend its “territorial integrity,” which means being able to function as a democratic and economic model for other countries in Eurasia. (The cables allow people to understand the meaning of all this diplomatic jargon, which normally just flies over most Americans’ heads because they don’t know what the jargon is referencing. Now, one can know what Obama means by “territorial integrity”; it’s very comparable to the idea of a country having a “right to exist.”)

Overall, what this shows is that both ends are on some level being played against the middle. The U.S. knows its arming of Georgia will bring escalated tensions with Russia, but it can use the support from the country in prosecuting the “war on terror.” The U.S. knows respecting Russia’s wishes to not have the U.S. meddling in the region could be a win for Georgia in the long-term, but the U.S. does not want to be seen as letting Russian interests discredit the validity of U.S. interests in the region. So, the U.S. attempts to argue Russia is using propaganda when it suggests the US is arming Georgia, and the US attempts to convince countries that the military cooperation is purely aimed at helping Georgia defend itself and not wage war against its neighbors.

All this assumes Russia will allow Georgia to defend itself and not see an increase in defenses as a threat. If this were Iran, Israel would be allowed to legitimately argue that escalating defense spending was seen as preparing the country for war. After upping defenses, the country would be able to mount attacks and protect itself from repercussions. So, one can see why the U.S. might be suspected of turning Georgia into a country that will just create more trouble in the region; plus, clearly, U.S. is prepared to use Georgia as a proxy to advance its interests and that makes Russia leery of U.S. involvement.

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.

VIDEO: Interview w/ Medea Benjamin on Pushing Hard to Get Peace Message Included in “One Nation” Rally

5:58 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODE PINK and "fair trade" advocacy group Global Exchange, talks about the One Nation Working Together rally. She explains what it took for the peace movement to be a part of the organizing committee and what she thinks progressives should do to get their demands for peace and justice acted upon. She also addresses how CODE PINK has been singled out by Jon Stewart as a group contributing to insanity in politics.

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.

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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.

Civilians Killed During Offensive in Afghanistan: Human Shields or Unfortunate Targets?

10:23 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

 

Flickr Photo by isafmedia

The narrative was set up from the beginning: the U.S.-NATO offensive in Marjah, Afghanistan would be one where not killing civilians would be at the forefront of conversation as major players in the conflict in Afghanistan, news organizations, and the people of Afghanistan and the world paid attention to the offensive. It was only a matter of time before military leaders and politicians began to trumpet a charge commonly heard from occupiers, that the enemy is using civilians as "human shields."

 

BBC News recently reported:

Gen Ghori, the senior commander for Afghan troops in the area, accused the Taliban of taking civilians hostage in Marjah and putting them in the line of fire.

 "Especially in the south of Marjah, the enemy is fighting from compounds where soldiers can very clearly see women or children on the roof or in a second-floor or third-floor window," he is quoted by Associated Press as saying.

"They are trying to get us to fire on them and kill the civilians."

 

As a result, his forces were having to make the choice either not to return fire, he said, or to advance much more slowly in order to distinguish militants from civilians.

 

Forces that were going in to attack Marjah to root out Taliban they believed to be in the region warned civilians ahead of the invasion. NATO told civilians to keep their heads down. Fleeing the area was encouraged so forces could go in and wage a campaign that produced very few civilian casualties. This was all part of plans to ease public outcries against an occupation that many believe has been perpetrating indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

 

Despite calls encouraging civilians to leave, the Christian Science Monitor reported that not too many took "the hint."

 

The US-led force said Tuesday that fewer than 200 families — around 1,200 people — had left the town of Marjah and the surrounding area, which have a population of about 80,000. By Wednesday, the Associated Press reported another 100 families had left.

"Commanders in the area are reporting no significant increase in persons moving out of Nad-e Ali district in the last month," the US-led International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.

"Despite reports of large numbers of civilians fleeing the area, the facts on the ground do not support these assertions"…

…"The presence of a large number of civilians could make the operation much trickier and provide a test of the new coalition military doctrine of protecting the population. A large media contingent from around the world will accompany the troops, recording their progress.

An estimated 2,000 Taliban fighters are dug in and are believed to have planted roadside bombs and booby-trapped buildings. Residents said the insurgents had dug trenches in a traffic circle and mined the roads out of town. It may be too late for those who haven’t escaped by now.

"If (NATO forces) don’t avoid large scale civilian casualties, given the rhetoric about protecting the population, then no matter how many Taliban are routed, the Marjah mission should be considered a failure," said Candace Rondeaux, an Afghanistan-based analyst at the International Crisis Group, an independent research and campaigning organization.

 

Those leading the invasion probably knew embedded journalists and others in the media would note the attempt to be sensitive to the people of Afghanistan.

 

Having tried to clear the region and failed, forces knew there would be a good amount of civilians in Marjah when troops began to fire and attack. After the first shots were fired, reports of civilian casualties would circulate. The next best way to prevent civilian casualties from being a problem would be to discredit these reports and help those monitoring the invasion create a narrative that Taliban were explicitly putting the military in a situation where forces didn’t want to attack by using civilians as "human shields."

This would not only further demonize the enemy and possibly help international public opinion. It also would further narrow the range of discourse on the Afghanistan War and ensure that little discussion on the addition of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan occurred.

 

The term "human shields" is a common term used by those who invade an area and wish to craft a perception that they have entered a region controlled by an "enemy" and, therefore, no civilians should be in this area because it is not safe. The notion leads one to think the enemy is holding innocents against their will, and not only is the enemy evil but the enemy is so evil that the enemy will take an innocent life as he or she is being killed.

 

"Human shield" is part of the language of occupation. The term can easily mask what is going on during occupations.

 

Using local residents as "shields" is a war crime. The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids the use of "protected persons" (inhabitants of an occupied territory) as "shields."

 

In this situation, US and NATO forces would say the Taliban is the occupier. The Taliban is not allowed to use "protected persons."

 

Really, this is a war between two occupiers—the Taliban and all foreign troops (of course, whether the Taliban is or not is negotiable but they are no longer widely accepted by the public, or so we’re told).

 

One might think that civilians would be in just as much danger if Taliban were firing and blowing up explosives, as they are when U.S. and NATO fire and carry out targeted killings of Taliban. Just as many could be "caught in the crossfire" or deliberately killed.

 

We are led to believe that, if foreign forces of occupation wish to conduct a mission, civilians are to clear the way for their occupiers. And, in this scenario, we are to suspect that the Taliban may have prevented them from fleeing to make it more difficult for forces to achieve their objective.

 

Stop and think. Where are these civilians to go? If war is all around, there is no escape.

 

Stop and think. Why would these civilians go? Surely, they have heard the stories of what has been happening to internally displaced persons (IDP), those looking to escape the impacts of occupation.

 

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) reported that, as of winter in 2009, more than 250,000 IDP had been displaced. People in settlements faced lack of food, shelter, healthcare, safe drinking water, and sanitation and children were at risk of cold-related illnesses. Is this really any better than staying put?

 

All wars being waged by occupiers result in reports of enemies using innocents as "human shields." In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers were accused of using "shields" and also shooting innocents fleeing the area. The Palestinians constantly are accused of using "human shields" as they defend themselves against the brutality of Israeli apartheid.

 

Now, military commanders claim civilian deaths are happening because the Taliban are using civilians as "human shields." They are framed as purveyors of evil despite evidence and reports from organizations like Amnesty International which indicate that U.S. and NATO forces engage and have engaged in indiscriminate attacks (which are just as bad as using civilians as "shields").

 

It is uncertain how long this "surge" will last. The U.S. and NATO seem to be taking action to create the illusion that there is, in fact, justification for waging war and occupation in Afghanistan.

No matter how long this lasts, civilians will pay the highest price.

 

They will continue to become what policymakers and military leaders call "collateral damage." Whether these civilians in the way die because of Taliban or not the reality that forces had a choice to not wage war will not be contemplated.

 

Continuation and expansion of war and occupation was inevitable; the illusion that evil was being rooted out of the country had to be further created in order to preserve a future of U.S. dominance in the region.

NATO At War With Civilian Casualties as It Launches Offensive in Afghanistan

2:36 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

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Flickr Photo by isafmedia

 

 

Ahead of the current offensive by U.S. and NATO forces in Marjah, the North-Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an intergovernmental military alliance assisting the U.S. heavily in efforts to control and secure Afghanistan, issued these words for civilians: "Keep your head down." These words along with other messages warning of civilian casualties were effective; many civilians fled the area in and around Marjah.

 

Civilian casualties have become NATO’s worst enemy. Reports of casualties constantly call into question the mission in Afghanistan. Suppressing news of civilian casualties or discrediting reports of civilian casualties has become key to the success of NATO in Afghanistan.

 

It’s not hard to understand why NATO would tell Afghanis to keep their head down. This gives NATO political cover to commit any kind of acts they want to commit. Now, if civilians get killed, NATO can say civilians were warned.

 

But, isn’t informing civilians that they should "keep [their] head down" tantamount to issuing a disclaimer that you might read on a box of food or a bottle of pills? Isn’t it like the "Caution: Hot" warning on McDonald’s coffee cups, a warning printed not because most people are too stupid to understand coffee is hot but because McDonald’s doesn’t want to be sued?

 

Most people know coffee is a hot drink. Most know war and military occupations are violent and produce resistance from those opposed to the war and occupation. So, NATO can tell innocent civilians that they will be hurt or die if they are in the line of fire or areas where air strikes are going to take place but increases in civilian casualties will still occur.

 

Warnings won’t improve how the Afghani people perceive NATO. If the Afghanis continue to reject the presence of NATO and think they are directly responsible for the death of civilians (deaths that could have been prevented), the Afghani people will make NATO work harder to propagandize the world into thinking NATO is in Afghanistan for a good cause.

Recent reports indicate that civilian casualties have steadily increased since 2005, which is why NATO is now publicly warning civilians of attacks. Could increases in casualties be happening because there are less than 100 al Qaeda in Afghanistan or because after eight years the Taliban has really been decimated?

 

In 2009, Reuters reported "civilian deaths caused by pro-government forces, including U.S., NATO and Afghan security forces, rose nearly a third in 2008 from a year earlier to 828."

 

Each report of those killed in attacks increases the uproar from villagers in Afghanistan who claim innocent friends and family were killed. NATO and U.S. leaders react by "pledging" to "investigate" the attack to see if innocent people were killed and to also confirm that they did, in fact, kill some Taliban.

 

Conflict has risen between alliances and organizations monitoring the Afghan War and the Afghani people over how many of those civilian deaths are a result of Taliban insurgents. The UN reported in January of this year that "2,021 civilians were killed in the first 10 months" of 2009 and 1,400 civilians died as a result of insurgents while 465 died as a result "U.S. and other pro-government forces."

 

Military forces have blamed the Taliban for drawing attention to deaths of innocent victims to promote protest against foreign troops in Afghanistan. This should come as no surprise. This is part of NATO’s system for discrediting claims that civilians were killed.

 

A document called, "NATO in Afghanistan: Master Narrative as at 6 October 2008," was leaked a few years ago. It presented justifications and explanations that players in the Afghanistan War and the International Security Assistance (ISAF) mission could use when dealing with the media.

 

On the issue of "Civilian Casualties/Human Rights," the document stated, "ISAF takes all possible measure to protect innocent civilians and their property."

 

Furthermore, it outlined, "the ISAF mission is to support the Afghan Authorities and to provide a secure and stable environment to allow for the expansion of governance and development" and "ISAF serves at the invitation of the GIRoA and the people of Afghanistan." It made clear that "ISAF Troop Contributing Nations (TCNs) do everything possible to minimize the risk of civilian casualties" and also detailed protocol for handling civilian casualty reports: "any credible claim of the death of civilians is to be immediately investigated."

 

While claiming NATO/ISAF will accept responsibility for civilian casualties/property damage, the document made clear: militants deliberately target innocent civilians with suicide attacks and IEDs, forcefully oppose efforts to improve the life of the Afghani people, force civilians into situations where they are either killed or are at risk of being harmed by NATO/ISAF or coalition forces, use tactics that involve launching attacks from civilian areas, retreating to civilian areas, and using civilians as human shields.

 

It also made plain that "Taliban and other insurgents continue to be more responsible for more civilian casualties than US and NATO forces."

 

If one examines news stories involving Afghani villagers crying out in protest against foreign troops who killed women and children, it becomes evident that this master narrative drives NATO’s public relations. The master narrative goes into overdrive whenever civilian deaths are reported and images are broadcast of villagers bringing bodies of innocent civilians like women and children out into the streets. Villagers often appear in these reports voicing their discontent to members of the press or media nearby.

 

In response to accusations of civilian casualties, NATO will issue statements usually claiming there is "no evidence to substantiate the claim." Or, they will claim the dead are all insurgents, at first. Or, they will cite the fact that they were after a Taliban or militant commander in the area and they were fired at and returned fire. Or, in some cases, NATO does all of these things to dampen the intensity of backlashes against killings of civilians; they create confusion, disorder, and doubt that they were responsible for any dead civilians.

 

With a protocol in place to consistently create doubt that civilians were killed by attacks by NATO on "militants," it’s no wonder that the Afghani people protest NATO (and U.S.) troops in Afghanistan.

 

Fortunately for NATO, the Afghani people oppose the Taliban just as much as NATO. The Taliban (or what remains of the Taliban) is finding it has to be just as concerned about civilian casualties as NATO and U.S. forces are, which calls into question any claims by NATO that the Taliban or insurgents are using civilians as human shields into question.

 

Also, NATO commanders can label anyone resisting foreign occupation "Taliban". When NATO suggests insurgents are involved, it’s entirely possible that these "insurgents" are Afghanis who have been radicalized as a result of NATO’s negligence, incompetence, and brutal campaigns in the country.

 

The reality is that NATO (and the U.S.) is waging military occupation. Inevitably civilian casualties will occur. Actions will run counter to what the Afghani people want (in fact, polls often show more than half to two-thirds of the population want foreign troops out of their country now). And, this will all happen under the guise of training Afghan security forces so Afghanis can one day run their own country.

 

Individuals who are the public face of NATO or U.S. involvement will keep the focus off of accusations that foreign troops are bribing Taliban warlords. They will keep discussion of drug trafficking in Afghanistan out of the conversation. And, they will subvert any credible coverage of policies that might indicate that the U.S. endgame is a geopolitical endgame, part of a quest for a permanent presence in Afghanistan that could directly challenge Russia and China.

 

The world should know Afghanis are not a people that will keep their head down. They will only move from village to village trying to avoid being caught up in the wanton destruction of their country for so long before they resist foreign troops they are told to accept as liberators.