'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki 

UPDATE: Was there a deal that enabled Saleh to return to Yemen in return for assistance in killing al-Awlaki? Here was some of the reaction in Yemen:

Fayza Sulieman, a protest leader, said: We always question the timing of these announcements from our government, Saleh is on the backfoot and on the verge of stepping down and suddenly Anwar Awlaki is killed. We all know that Saleh's fight against Al-Qaida is the only thread of support keeping him in office. We pray that this news does not distract the world from our struggle against this tyrannical regime.

Walid al-Matari, an opposition protester at Sana'a's Change Square: They told us about his death in Friday prayer sermons, so what, as revolutionaries it's none our business. Saleh wants to cause problems, position himself as saviour, to get more support. We are not interested in Anwar Awlaki, this is just one man. Our fight is against the corrupt regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh.

INITIAL POST: The US has killed Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Intelligence officials provided the following justification:

Following the strike, a U.S. official outlined new details of al-Awlaki's involvement in anti-U.S. operation, including the attempted 2009 Christmas Day bombing of a U.S.-bound aircraft. The official said that al-Awlaki specifically directed the men accused of trying to bomb the Detroit-bound plane to detonate an explosive device over U.S. airspace to maximize casualties.

The official also said al-Awlaki had a direct role in supervising and directing a failed attempt to bring down two U.S. cargo aircraft by detonating explosives concealed inside two packages mailed to the U.S. The U.S. also believes Awlaki had sought to use poisons, including cyanide and ricin, to attack Westerners.

The U.S. and counterterrorism officials all spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence matters.

And, then, there was this exchange between Jake Tapper of ABC and White House press secretary Jay Carney:

Tapper: You said that al-Awlaki was demonstrably and provably involved in operations. Do you plan on demonstrating or proving –

Carney: I — Jake, you know, I should step back. I — he is clearly — I mean, provably may be a legal term. I think it has been well established, and it has certainly been the position of this administration and the previous administration, that he is a leader in — was a leader in AQAP; that AQAP was a definite threat, was operational, planned and carried out terrorist attacks that, fortunately, did not succeed but were extremely serious, including the ones specifically that I mentioned in terms of the would-be Christmas Day bombing in 2009 and the attempt to bomb numerous cargo planes headed for the United States; and that he was obviously also an active recruiter of al-Qaida terrorists. So I don't think anybody in the field would dispute any of those assertions.

Tapper: You don't think anybody else in the government would dispute them.

Carney: I think any — well, I wouldn't know of any credible terrorist expert who dispute the fact that he was a leader in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and that he was operationally involved in terrorist attacks against American interests and citizens.

Tapper: Do you plan on bringing before the public any proof of these charges?

Carney: Again, this is — the question is — makes us – you know, has embedded within it assumptions about the circumstances of his death that I'm just not going to address.

So, the bottom line is that Anwar al-Awlaki was killed because of the President's reliance upon the determinations of unknown credible terrrorist experts who had access to information that is not going to publicized. Hence, we have no idea as to whether he did any of things that have been attributed to him, and the quality of the evidence against him. You may recall that the evidence against the detainees at the Guantanamo hearings wasn't very impressive.

Ron Paul and a few others have expressed alarm about the assassination of al-Awlaki, but, predictably, they place too much emphasis upon the fact that al-Awlaki was an American citizen. Meanwhile, Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights appeared to concede that such killings may be acceptable in war zones. In fact there is no meaningful distinction between the killing of al-Awlaki and the many others who have died as a consequence of drone strikes and night raids around the world. Information is limited, but the US military admits that approximately 1000 people were killed as a consequence of these attacks in 2008, with another 400 to 500 killed in 2009. With the increased reliance upon these methods in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2010 and 2011, the numbers of the dead have probably increased. Not surprisingly, the death of Samir Khan, who was unfortunate enough to be with al-Awlaki at the time of the attack, is drawing little attention.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Sunday Afternoon at the Library 

A couple of weekends ago, I took my young son to an event at the downtown library here in Sacramento. It was an event for children with activities, music and a little drama to celebrate Mark Twain, who, because of his brief time in the Central Valley during the Gold Rush, has been adopted as the city's honorary intellectual and author. Certainly, you could do a lot worse, even if the emphasis is upon the Calaveras frog and Tom Sawyer without any acknowledgement of his hostility to plutocracy and imperialism.

I used to work at the superior court less than a block from the library for many years, so I am familiar with the area. Upon arrival for the event, I was surprised at the number of homeless people that I encountered at the library and the adjacent Cesar Chavez Park. I have never seen so many since I first started work at the courthouse in August 1988, and I was employed there through the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s, frequently spending my lunch break reading in the park. Perhaps, I haven't been around there recently, and exaggerate it, but I doubt it. One commonly encounters homeless people taking cans and bottles out of recycling bins and offering to wash your windows at gas stations. Of course, this isn't unusual except for the increasing pervasiveness of it. Unfortunately, in this era of austerity, Sacramento County is refusing to fund winter shelters, and it will make life difficult for a lot people. Despite the stereotype about the great weather in California, Sacramento can be harsh in the winter because of the combination of rain, wind and temperatures in the 30 to 50 degree Fahrenheit range. Getting wet in mid-40 to mid-50 degree temperatures is, quite literally, life threatening.

It is just one indication that poverty is becoming a ubiquitous presence in Sacramento. Several weeks ago, I went to another Sunday event associated with my son's youth soccer team. It was a day for taking pictures, among other things, and I asked one of the parents of another kid on the team as to what package they were going to purchase. He explained that he was going to merely request the free one, one where you get a couple of pictures, because he couldn't afford more than that. Mind you, the more inexpensive packages cost $11 and $16 dollars. But that's a lot when you don't have anything. I considered this experience an important indication about the extent of poverty in Sacramento because parents will find a way to purchase these sorts of things about their children if at all possible. My guess is that there is a large number of families who can't even pay for the association fee to get their children into the soccer league.

With the exception of the homeless, people conceal their poverty. Given the egalitarian nature of dress in this country, it is hard to distinguish people in regard to their economic security. But there are measures. Consider this article from the Sacramento Bee yesterday:

During panel discussion on the state's shrinking safety net, Bruce Wagstaff, director of the Countywide Services Agency, said the impact of the situation can be seen at the agency's offices on 28th and P streets, where a long line forms outside every morning before the building opens.

He said the challenges are as great as he has experienced in nearly 40 years in government.

People are going to the agency in record numbers for CalFresh (formerly called food stamps), CalWORKS and cash assistance, and Medi-Cal, Wagstaff said. CalWORKS enrollment is up by about 20 percent; CalFresh enrollment has gone up by about 50 percent.

One in four county residents is served by the county's welfare agency, Wagstaff said.

Meanwhile, the federal government is obssessed with the deficit, a deficit that, paradoxically, will grow if the economy is starved of an effective stimulus. The government has been captured by those with an ideological belief that the populace abuses social support programs and need to be encouraged to rely upon them less. The Obama administration's recent Medicare cost containment proposal is a typical example of it:

The proposal would require new beneficiaries to pay higher deductibles before Medicare coverage of doctors’ services and other outpatient care kicks in. The deductible, now $162 a year, is already adjusted for inflation. Mr. Obama would increase it further by $25 in 2017, 2019 and 2021.

In addition, the White House would increase Medicare premiums by about 30 percent for new beneficiaries who buy generous private insurance to help fill gaps in Medicare.

Many beneficiaries choose these private Medigap policies because they want the financial security they get from the extra insurance. But the White House said this protection gives individuals less incentive to consider the costs of health care and thus raises Medicare costs.

This is, of course, neo-Reaganism, a neoliberalism that punishes people for finding a way to obtain necessary medical care without concern for the cost. Many senior citizens live on fixed incomes, as my mother did, and Medigap insurance is necessary to prevent them from going broke when confronted with the urgency for immediate medical care. My mother was billed over $40,000 for an two emergency room visits and subsequent inpatient care. Without Medigap insurance, she would have been required to pay around $8,000 out of pocket. Fortunately, unlike many, she could have done so, at least this one time, but it goes beyond money. The purpose of such a proposal is to encourage people to deprive themselves of medical care because no one can know the cost with certainty prior to requesting it. It places people in the impossible position of diagnosing their condition before seeing a doctor. Just as union members have been maligned by the President because they have Cadillac plans for their health care, and must therefore, over time, be financially penalized in an attempt to coerce them into abandoning them, so must the seniors savvy enough to protect themselves with Medigap insurance. The cruelty of the neoliberal proponents of such policies is masked by the bland, actuarial language of accountancy, a language the privileges the profit and loss statement over people.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

New York's Finest (Part 1) 

An NYPD supervisor maces penned protesters involved in the Occupy Wall Street effort. Just as the so-called war on terror is based upon a policy of preemption, the response to domestic protest is apparently based upon the same principle. Now it is being reported that Anonymous has identified the officer responsible, Anthony Bologna.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Irvine 10 Found Guilty 

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Celebrate Perpetual War on 9/11: Conclusion 

Back in August, I ran into someone who told me that they were planning to go to New York City for the 9/11 memorial. A relative of someone they knew had been killed in the attacks. A few days ago, I ran into him again, and he told me about his vacation. I was surprised when he said that he had travelled around the East Coast and Ohio Valley, but hadn't gone to New York City. He proceeded to explain that the victim's family told him that they had no intention of participating in the public ceremonies, and that they considered their loss a private one. For them, 9/11 was an occasion for personal grief and reflection and not one for public display.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Eurocentrism (Part 3) 

UPDATE: Upon looking into the issue further, I discovered that Feministing provided an excellent explanation of the evils of the ban when it first took effect in April:

I am so tired of having to read the qualifier from mostly white Western feminists before any discussion of the veil ban that the veil is sexist but . . . In the context of global patriarchy doesn’t this qualifier belong in front of, like, everything? It seems to me we have a lot easier seeing -isms in a cultural context different from our own, and a lot harder time seeing agency. To veil or not to veil is a question to be navigated by Muslim women – what kind of feminism supports the imposition of values and behaviors on women by a government?

I’m struck by the timing of the ban going into effect, as France re-engages in colonial violence in places like Libya. There were two major flavors of colonialism: kill everyone who was there and take the land for yourself (dominant in the Americas), and fix the backwards people by making them like us, while using their labor and their land, the preferred method of France. People raced as Muslim or Arab were brought into France to serve its economy with very little personal gain in the first place. I can’t help think about this as France engages in violence where they have clear oil interests at the same time they try to stomp out cultural diversity within the nation. The country claims to be secular, but the veil ban is a reminder leadership still holds white, Catholic values. Women are so often the targets of colonial violence, and I see the ban as part of the continued project to make them like us.

So, it would appear that the problem is, yet again, the insistence that middle class feminists are allowed to speak for women of other cultures, regardless of whether these women accept it or not.

INITIAL POST: Secular misogyny in France remains in place:

Kenza Drider's posters for the French presidential race are ready to go, months before the official campaign begins. There she is, the freedom candidate, pictured standing in front of a line of police — a forbidden veil hiding her face.

Drider declared her longshot candidacy Thursday, the same day that a French court fined two women who refuse to remove their veils. All three are among a group of women mounting an attack on the law that has banned the garments from the streets of France since April, and prompted similar moves in other European countries.

They are bent on proving that the ban contravenes fundamental rights and that women who hide their faces stand for freedom, not submission.

When a woman wants to maintain her freedom, she must be bold, Drider told The Associated Press in an interview.

President Nicolas Sarkozy strongly disagrees, and says the veil imprisons women.

Drider makes the observation that the law effectively places women who believe that, for religious reasons, they should wear the veil, under home detention, because going out in public subjects them to insults from the populace and possible arrest. Not surprisingly, she has experienced both.

Drider has therefore revealed the true motivations behind the the enactment of the ban on the wearing of the veil. First, it has the effect of segregating these woman from the rest of French society, much in the same way that early Nazi measures against the Jews, such as the requirement that Jewish businesses identify themselves with a Star of David, did in Germany, and secondly, as occurred in Germany to much greater degree, it empowers the populace to abuse them whenever they encounter them in public. The government is relying upon xenophobes, like those who have historically supported Jean Le Pen and his daughters, to enforce the ban and create a climate of intimidation instead of the police.

Upon encountering this, one wonders, where are the feminists? Are there reports of feminist support for women like Driver? I haven't encountered them, so I'd be curious if any readers have run across any. You'd think that feminists would be concerned about a law regulating the dress of women that has the consequence of driving them underground to avoid public harassment. But no, turns out that French feminists are, by and large, characterized as being proponents of it, providing ideological justification for the measure. Nabila Ramdani, a Parisian born free lance journalist and academic of Algerian descent, has stated that very few feminist groups have actually supported these women's freedom to cover-up, arguing that it is men who are invariably forcing them to do so. Beyond the harassment, the willingness of these feminists to embrace a law that legitimizes French xenophobes is particularly alarming. Combined with the enthusiastic support of some publicly prominent American feminists for the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, it is not surprising that feminism is at risk of being trapped in a Eurocentric ghetto because of the cultural biases of its most visible proponents, proponents with more social acceptability and media access than those with a contrary perspective.

Driver herself is a personal refutation of the prevailing French feminist notion that the veil renders a Muslim woman as nothing more than the property of her husband, that it constitutes a form of imprisonment. She wears the veil in public, risking harassment and arrest. She engages in civil disobedience. Even more striking, she is now running for President of France. Of course, she is probably not the norm, but can we really say that there is any norm at all in regard to something so personal as one's religion and one's practice of it? No doubt, there are episodes of domestic violence involving Muslim men and women, but, as As'ad Abukhalil periodically notes, it is highly questionable whether it is more common than domestic violence involving others. Perhaps, if there are feminists who want to liberate the Muslim women of France, it might be a good idea for them to talk to these women without preconditions, and discover what sort of liberation they really need. They don't necessarily believe that banning the veil is part of that process.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Home Invasions 

From CNN yesterday, a story that Anderson Cooper has covered extensively on his show this week:

Witnesses began describing the final moments of and futile attempts to save a Connecticut mother and her two daughters inside their burning home, opening the trial Monday for one of the men who authorities claim is responsible for their murders.

Prosecutors declined to give an opening statement to start the trial of Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, who faces 17 charges in a brutal home invasion in Cheshire. But they did introduce tapes from two 911 calls, a bank teller who claimed the mother tried to withdraw $15,000 as ransom and a police officer who found Dr. William Petit -- the lone survivor -- fighting for life outside his family's burning home.

The first defendant to stand trial in the case, Steven Hayes, was sentenced to the death penalty in December after being convicted on 16 of 17 charges filed against him.

Prosecutors allege that Hayes and Komisarjevsky went into the Petit home, beat and tied up Dr. William Petit, raped and strangled his wife, molested one of their daughters and set the house on fire before attempting to flee.

Gareth Porter, today:

A military officer who had approved night raids told one of the authors that targeting individuals believed to know one of the insurgents is a key factor in planning the raids. If you can’t get the guy you want, said the officer, you get the guy who knows him.

Even when people who are known to be civilians have not been targeted in a given raid, they have been detained when found on the compound of the target, on the ground that a person’s involvement in the insurgency is not always clear until questioned, according to military officer who has been involved in operational questions surrounding the raids interviewed for the report.

Raids prompted by the desire for intelligence can result in the deaths of civilians. The Afghan Analysts Network, a group of independent researchers based in Kabul, investigated a series of night raids in Nangarhar province in October and November 2010 and found that the raids were all targeting people who had met with a local religious cleric who was believed to be the Taliban shadow province governor.

Two civilians were killed in those raids when family members came to the defense of their relatives.

According to Time, the US stages approximately 40 raids every night. Porter states that the number of raids in neighboring Pakistan is kept secret. Beyond this, it is important to remember that US forces have only successfully targeted the right homes, businesses and individuals about 50% of the time, leaving aside the question as to whether they were properly selected at all.

Last year, there was this incident in Afghanistan:

Days after the raid in Surkhrod, the fear and outrage were still palpable — and the bloodstains and bullet holes still much in evidence.

Accounts by villagers, including Kushkaki, the head of the extended family of men, women and children living in the compound, suggested that gunfire had erupted without warning shortly after 1 a.m. Most of those inside, together with farmworkers on rope cots out in the courtyard, were fast asleep, they said.

My brother ran out to see what was happening; he was killed right away, Kushkaki said. My son ran out too and was shot as well. I carried him inside in my arms, but he bled to death, here on this carpet.

The American officials describe a much different scenario: the arriving troops, through Afghan interpreters, making repeated calls through bullhorns for those inside to come outside — a practice they say is always adhered to.

It's literally a script, said one of the task force officials, adding that the call-out was answered with a hail of gunfire from inside the compound.

Family members acknowledged firing AK-47s at the invaders, but insisted they did not know they were shooting at Afghan and American forces.

We thought they were thieves, raiders, said Kushkaki. Other family members said any warning might have been drowned out by the sound of a storm that night.

Family members said that when the shooting broke out, they called the police, an assertion supported by the district police chief, Said Ghafour. The gun battle was in full swing by the time he and his men arrived, Ghafour said, and they were kept 200 yards away from the scene.

Ghafour said he knew nothing of the raid in advance; the U.S. military said the strike had been coordinated with provincial leaders. When authorities at the district level are not told in advance about a raid, the American officials said, it is generally because of concerns about corruption or insurgent sympathies that will lead to the target being tipped off.

All the deaths — eight by the Americans' count, nine by the family's — occurred in the first 45 minutes of contact, the U.S. officials said.

Kushkaki said he believed his 16-year-old son had run from the house unarmed. The American officials said he would have been shot only if he had a weapon in his hands, but they could not be certain that he did.

And, then, there was this one:

It was two o’clock in the morning on Feb. 15. Mullah Abdul Khaliq, who taught at a local school here in Nawa district, was asleep with his family when the helicopters began circling overhead.

We could not leave our houses, said Abdullah, a neighbor of Mullah Khaliq’s. Everyone understood that the U.S. forces were carrying out a raid somewhere, and we were all afraid. In the morning we found out that something was very wrong at the house of Mullah Khaliq.

U.S. forces had broken into Khaliq’s house and what happened next is an all too familiar scenario to the people of this beleaguered district, which has now been caught for almost two years between the Taliban and the U.S. military.

The wife told me that her son ran out of the house and was shot on the spot, recounted Abdullah. They then asked Mullah Khaliq if he was Taliban. He said ‘no we are not,’ but they searched the house and shot him in the head. His other son is missing. We saw blood, he must have been injured. His nephew, who was visiting, was also killed.

Prosecutable as heinous crimes at home, a preferred counterinsurgency strategy abroad.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

US Approved Content on Al Jazeera 

From a US diplomatic cable released by wikileaks, describing communications between the public affairs office of the US embassy in Doha and then Al Jazeera Managing Editor Wadah Khanifar on October 18, 2005:

¶7. (C) PAO raised the question of an Al Jazeera website piece published in the last week, listed under the heading Special Coverage, and containing Live Testimony Concerning Tal Afar. The site opens to an image of bloody sheets of paper riddled with bullet holes. Viewers click on the bullet holes to access testimony from ten alleged eye witnesses who described recent military operations in Tal Afar.

¶8. (C) Khanfar said that, in accordance with an earlier promise to PAO (Ref B), he had taken a look at the piece and had two images removed (two injured children in hospital beds, and a woman with serious facial injury). PAO pointed out that the testimony of a doctor in the piece also implied that poison gas had been used on residents of Tal Afar and that the appearance of the piece, in particular the bloody bullet hole icons, came across as inflammatory and journalistically questionable. Khanfar appeared to repress a sigh but said he would have the piece removed. Not immediately, because that would be talked about, but over two or three days, he said.

¶9. (C) He said he had told the website staff that in future, when they want to add an item to the Special Coverage section of the website, they should send a draft of the idea over to his office. (Note: The AJ website is located in a separate building across town. End note.) He noted that until two or three months ago, the website staff had enjoyed much more autonomy. Now, however, website director Abdel Aziz Al Mahmoud attends the weekly editorial meetings at the TV channel offices, and the website staff is being pulled under the umbrella of the same editorial standards as the TV channel. I don't say that such things are not going to be repeated on the website, but it is a learning process, said Khanfar.

Khanifar resigned from Al Jazeera earlier this week upon the release of this cable, as well as some other ones, by Al-Akhbar in Lebanon.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

The Hinkiness of Bill Keller (Part 2) 

UPDATE: Was there any doubt that Bill Keller adores Christopher Hitchens? Bullies that give their thuggery an intellectual gloss, like Paul Wolfowitz as well, make him swoon. I'd love to hear what Hitchens privately thinks of Keller. I can't imagine that it's very flattering.

INITIAL POST: Krugman concisely condemns Keller's self-absorbed rationalization for his mistaken support for the invasion of Iraq, and posts it to his New York Times blog on the morning of 9/11:

How many of our professional pundits — people who should have understood very well what was happening — took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?

Within the overall context of the post, which specifically indicts those who exploited 9/11 for the purpose of generating public support for the invasion of Iraq, it is hard to see this statement as anything other than a thinly veiled criticism of those at the New York Times, like Keller, who publicly advocated for the invasion. He may well have decided to post it after reading Keller's evasion of responsibility earlier in the week. Refreshingly, Krugman, unlike Keller, is able to reach his own conclusions about such matters in the absent of manipulative references to his children.

One can certainly quibble about Krugman's statement. He doesn't object to the invasion and ongoing occupation of Afghanistan as well. At the time, he wasn't much of a voice against going forward with either invasion. To quote Patrick Buchanan, he hid out in the tall grass. Regardless, he pissed all over the sentimental, sanctimonious coverage of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 by the Times, and he did it with an extraordinarily timed post as the ceremonial events were taking place: The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Egyptians Storm Israeli Embassy in Cairo (Part 2) 

UPDATE: Anger on the streets of Cairo, and the use of armored personnel carriers to defend the Israeli embassy:

INITIAL POST: The kind of political reform in Egyptian desired by the US, Israel and the military council:

Egypt says it will send those who incited or took part in the violence targeting the Israeli embassy in Cairo to a emergency state security court.

After a meeting of the ministerial crisis group and talks with Egypt's military ruler, Information Minister Osama Hassan Heikal made the announcement in a televised statement after Israel, the US and other countries criticised the storming of the tower that houses the embassy.

And, here's another example:

Information Minister Osama Heikal said in a televised message that Egyptian authorities will apply all articles of the emergency law to ensure safety following the embassy attack.

Egypt affirms its total commitment to respecting international conventions, including the protection of all [diplomatic] missions.

Apparently, the defense of the Camp David accords requires the imposition of a state of emergency on the streets of Cairo.

Meanwhile, the nationalistic mood may be accurately captured by the following:

As reported by Reuters news agency, Mustafa Yahya's mother wailed and tore her robe in the Cairo hospital where her son's body lay in the morgue, accusing her own country's troops of killing him as they defended Israel's embassy from protesters overnight.

To hell with Israel. Why is the army protecting Israel and killing my children? she screamed, voicing the popular anger that has been well and truly unleashed since six Egyptian border guards were killed last month in an Israeli operation against a cross-border militant raid.

The global response borders on the hysterical. A perusal of the Guardian blog reveals a parade of countries and political figures rushing to issue public statements condemning the attack. At least 3 people were killed and over 1,000 injured during street clashes.

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Friday, September 09, 2011

Egyptians Storm Israeli Embassy in Cairo (Part 1) 

UPDATE 4: As'ad Abukhalil:

I can't relay the excitement and jubilation that was expressed by Arabs from around the world on twitter and Facebook all day yesterday, regarding the storming of the Israeli occupation embassy in Cairo. I had told you that it will be a different Middle East. The sinister intelligence apparatus that was put in place by the Camp David regime crumbled. I will say more on this in my next post for Al-Akhbar English.

UPDATE 3: A more general Al Jazeera English report:

UPDATE 2: According to Al Jazeera English, the police have been involved in clashes with protesters, firing tear gas, with the Egyptian health ministry reporting 300 injuries. Here is an interview with one of the protesters:

No one should be surprised by this. Israel supported Mubarak unequivocally, despite his creation of a police state that oppressed millions of Egyptians. As noted by the protester interviewed in the video, the construction of a wall around the Israeli embassy in Cairo was a inflammatory provocation, the symbolic incorporation of Egypt within the occupied territories.

UPDATE 1: From the Guardian:

Egypt declared a state of alert early this morning after a group of 30 protesters broke into the Israeli embassy in Cairo last night and dumped hundreds of documents out of the windows.

The storming of the building came after a day of demonstrations outside where crowds swinging sledgehammers and using their bare hands tore apart the embassy's security wall. Hundreds of people converged on the embassy throughout the afternoon and into the night, tearing down large sections of the graffiti-covered security wall outside the 21-storey building. For hours, security forces made no attempt to intervene.

A security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because not authorised to speak to the media, said that one group of protesters reached a room on one of the embassy's floors at the top of the building just before midnight and began dumping Hebrew-language documents from the windows.

The prime minister, Essam Sharif, summoned a crisis cabinet meeting to discuss the situation. In Jerusalem, an Israeli official confirmed the embassy had been broken into, saying it appeared that the group reached a waiting room. In Cairo, officials at the capital's airport said the Israeli ambassador was there waiting for a military plane to evacuate him, and other Israelis were also waiting for the flight to take them back to Israel.

INITIAL POST: This is an important story, with marginal coverage in US and European media. Protests have been ongoing for several weeks now. The Egyptian military responded to the removal of the flag from the embassy by constructing a wall around it, but Egyptians in Cairo have damaged it today during renewed protests. The protests are apparently interwined within larger disputes between the governing military council and secular left groups within Egypt over the nature of political reform. From afar, it appears that the military council and the Muslim Brotherhood are trying to protect their privileged political status by permitting some confrontational protests against the Israelis, while preserving the relationship created by the Camp David accords. But what happens if the military is forced to choose between the preservation of its economic power, the profits that high ranking officers receive from industries controlled by the military, and the continuation of its pro-Israel policy? Is anti-Zionism the means by which the class struggle in Egypt will be intensified?

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Enduring Sadness of 9/11 

As described by Robert Jensen:

We should take time on 9/11 to remember the nearly 3,000 victims who died that day, but as responsible citizens, we also should face a harsh reality: While the terrorism of fanatical individuals and groups is a serious threat, much greater damage has been done by our nation-state caught up in its own fanatical notions of imperial greatness.

That’s why I feel no satisfaction in being part of the anti-war/anti-empire movement. Being right means nothing if we failed to create a more just foreign policy conducted by a more humble nation.

Ten years later, I feel the same thing that I felt on 9/11 — an indescribable grief over the senseless death of that day and of days to come.

And, then, there is this statement by Tom Englehart, who passionately, and, correctly, asserts that there should be no public commemoration of 9/11:

It’s commonplace, even today, to speak of Ground Zero as hallowed ground. How untrue. Ten years later, it is defiled ground and it’s we who have defiled it. It could have been different. The 9/11 attacks could have been like the Blitz in London in World War II. Something to remember forever with grim pride, stiff upper lip and all.

And if it were only the reactions of those in New York City that we had to remember, both the dead and the living, the first responders and the last responders, the people who created impromptu memorials to the dead and message centers for the missing in Manhattan, we might recall 9/11 with similar pride. Generally speaking, New Yorkers were respectful, heartfelt, thoughtful, and not vengeful. They didn’t have prior plans that, on September 12, 2001, they were ready to rally those nearly 3,000 dead to support. They weren’t prepared at the moment of the catastrophe to -- as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld so classically said -- Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.

Unfortunately, they were not the measure of the moment. As a result, the uses of 9/11 in the decade since have added up to a profile in cowardice, not courage, and if we let it be used that way in the next decade, we will go down in history as a nation of cowards.

There is little on this planet of the living more important, or more human, than the burial and remembrance of the dead. Even Neanderthals buried their dead, possibly with flowers, and tens of thousands of years ago, the earliest humans, the Cro-Magnon, were already burying their dead elaborately, in one case in clothing onto which more than 3,000 ivory beads had been sewn, perhaps as objects of reverence and even remembrance. Much of what we know of human prehistory and the earliest eras of our history comes from graves and tombs where the dead were provided for.

And surely it's our duty in this world of loss to remember the dead, those close to us and those more removed who mattered in our national or even planetary lives. Many of those who loved and were close to the victims of 9/11 are undoubtedly attached to the yearly ceremonies that surround their deceased wives, husbands, lovers, children, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. For the nightmare of 9/11, they deserve a memorial. But we don’t.

If September 11th was indeed a nightmare, 9/11 as a memorial and Ground Zero as a consecrated place have turned out to be a blank check for the American war state, funding an endless trip to hell. They have helped lead us into fields of carnage that put the dead of 9/11 to shame.

It is a statement well worth reading in its entirety as we reflect upon the true extent of the horror of 9/11 and the events that followed.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Hinkiness of Bill Keller (Part 1) 

UPDATE: For those completists among you who want a comprehensive deconstruction of the dishonesty of Bill Keller when it comes to his support for the invasion of Iraq, and his subsequent complicity in the support of the New York Times for it and war on terror more generally, consider this excellent article by Greg Mitchell. Not surprisingly, he thinks much more highly of Paul Wolfowitz than he does Julian Assange:

Keller mentions Paul Wolfowitz in passing but fails to note his lengthy profile of the war architect in the Times magazine from Sept. 22, 2002. Sample quote: Paul Wolfowitz, who is interesting and complicated, has been cast since Sept. 11 in the role of zealot... . The shorthand version of Paul Wolfowitz, however, is inadequate in important ways. It completely misses his style, which relies on patient logic and respectful, soft-spoken engagement rather than on fire-breathing conviction. Keller described three important things Wolfowitz brings to the table, including something of a reputation as a man who sees trouble coming before others do, his long anxiety about Iraq being one example. Another striking thing about Wolfowitz: an optimism about America's ability to build a better world.

There's an old adjective that applies to Keller here, bootlicker. Kiss ass is a contemporary synonym.

INITIAL POST: The self-absorbed mendacity of the people at the New York Times who supported the invasion of Iraq after 9/11 is almost beyond belief, or, at least, it would have been beyond belief pre-9/11. Turn out that Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the Times from July 2003 until June 2011, was partially persuaded to advocate for the invasion of Iraq because of the birth of his second daughter:

But my prudent punditry soon felt inadequate. I remember a mounting protective instinct, heightened by the birth of my second daughter almost exactly nine months after the attacks. Something dreadful was loose in the world, and the urge to stop it, to do something — to prove something — was overriding a career-long schooling in the virtues of caution and skepticism. By the time of Alice’s birth I had already turned my attention to Iraq, a place that had, in the literal sense, almost nothing to do with 9/11, but which would be its most contentious consequence. And I was no longer preaching the real-world vigilance of intelligence and law enforcement.

So, let's get this straight, Keller decided to take a public advocacy role for the invasion of a country that presented no threat to the US so that he could feel more secure about the safety of his daughters. The US just had to go and kill a bunch of Arabs in Iraq, and destabilize the society, so that he could sleep less fitfully. Of course, the fact that many of the children of Iraq, 28% according to one medical estimate, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a consequence of the invasion and subsequent violence goes unmentioned in his rambling, evasive mea culpa.

For Keller, the lives of his daughters, and those of the children of other people like him, are personal, intimate and justify the embrace of irrational violence, while those of the people of Iraq are merely faceless numbers. In the end, Keller can only bring himself to characterize the invasion as a monumental blunder, while seeking mitigation for his role in of promoting it, because, after all . . Whether it was wrong to support the invasion at the time is a harder call . . as he begrudgingly admits his error.

Needless to say, I am angered when I read such self-serving, expedient rationalizations for the embrace of violence in the service of the US empire. I have a four and a half year old son, and, unlike Keller, I have never emotionally responded to global violence, even when experienced within the US, with the urge to advocate for the indiscriminately killing of others. But then, unlike Keller, I don't perceive the people of Iraq, or the rest of the Middle East and Central Asia, for that matter, as quite so otherly as he does. He is, in effect, using his children as rhetorical human shields to defend his depraved response to 9/11. He is so desperate to defend himself that he has put this in print where it will haunt his two daughters, Alice and Molly, for the rest of their lives.

Shockingly, one cannot even describe Keller's response as a desire for retribution, because the people of Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. This is a bloodlust beyond vigilantism, a perverse moral failure beyond that examined in a famous film on the subject, The Ox Bow Incident. Here again, Keller exposes his particularly manipulative form of dishonesty when he describes Iraq as a place that had, in the literal sense, almost nothing to do with 9/11. Having placed himself under the bright klieg lights of his own personal interrogation, he, like many garden variety fraud artists, can't fully admit their culpability. Like, yeah man, I might have co-signed that check when confronted with irrefutable proof of their signature. If Keller was subjected to a real interrogation by the police, the detectives would conclude that there was something hinky about him. Keller just can't come clean.

As you might expect, Keller attempts to recover the sympathy of his audience by complaining about how people frequently confront Times' reporters and condemn them as propagandists for the war on terror. Again, we are subjected to another one of those evasive, hinky mea culpas ineptly crafted to reestablish credibility while ensuring that no one is responsible:

For years, our early stories hyping Iraq’s menace (and to a lesser extent what people like me wrote on the opinion pages) fed a suspicion, especially on the left, that we were not to be trusted.

John F. Burns, a correspondent who chronicled the tyranny of Hussein while the man was still in power and stayed on to cover the invasion and aftermath, recalls the reflexive hostility he encountered as a Times reporter on trips home. We were all liars, warmongers, lapdogs of Bush and Cheney and so forth, he told me.

Whatever we wrote — no matter what it was, and no matter how well documented — was dismissed as Bush propaganda, added Dexter Filkins, who covered the battlefields and politics of Afghanistan and Iraq for The Times before moving last January to The New Yorker. That was probably going to happen anyway, but the paper’s real failings gave those criticisms more credibility — and longer legs — than they deserved. Remember that the right-wingers (and a lot of the military) hated us at the time, too, since the war had started to go badly from the get-go, and we were reporting that.

Poor Bill, John and Dexter, so maligned from all sides while trying to file honest reports and opinions. Predictably, one searches Keller's article in vain for any reference to Judith Miller and Michael Gordon. Nor does he mention that he held up the publication of an article revealing the scope of warrantless domestic wiretapping by the Bush administration for over a year after the 2004 election, and subsequently refused to respond to inquiries initiated by the Times' Public Editor at the time, Byron Calame, relying upon, as here, the issuance of a written public statement. Calame concluded that the explanation of the delay by those involved was woefully inadequate. All in all, Keller comes across as a careerist with little concern for the consequences of his actions with an exaggerated confidence in his ability to talk himself out of trouble when he can insulate himself from public accountability.

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Saturday, September 03, 2011

Celebrate Perpetual War on 9/11 (Part 4) 

The war at home post-9/11, as related by Adama Bah, falsely accused as a suicide bomber at the age of 16 in 2005:

Later I found out why they'd taken my dad. After I'd been reported as a suicide bomber, the FBI started investigating my whole family. That's how they found out about my dad being here without papers.

The FBI drove us to Pennsylvania, across state lines, without my parents' permission. We got to the juvenile detention centre late at night. The female guard told me and Tashnuba we had to get strip-searched.

I was in tears. My own mother doesn't look at me naked. I said, It must be against some law for you to do this to me.

The female guard said, It's not. You no longer have rights.

She said, Lift your breasts.

I lifted my breasts.

She said, Open your legs.

I opened my legs.

She said, Put your hands in there, to see there's nothing.

I said, There's nothing there!

She said, Just do it.

I did it.

She gave me a blue uniform and told me to take a shower in five minutes, and then she left. I sat at the corner of the shower and held myself and cried. I was thinking, I cannot believe what I just went through. When I got to the cell, I could see Tashnuba in the corner, praying. There was one blanket, and it was freezing cold. We stayed up the whole night talking about everything. I don't know how we fell asleep, but I remember at one point we were both crying.

Nobody told me what was going on. I wasn't brought before a judge until probably my fourth week there, and it was via video conference. An article came out in the New York Times about why Tashnuba and I were there, that we were suspected of being suicide bombers. I never saw the article while in prison. After that came out we got extra strip-searches, about three times a day, and the searches got stricter. They would tell us to spread our butt cheeks, and they made racist comments. If I talked back, I would be put into solitary confinement.

Those first three weeks, my family didn't have any idea where I was. They had to do research to find out, and hire a lawyer. The lawyer, Natasha, came to see me. She said, There's a rumour about you being a suicide bomber. I said, Are you serious? If you knew me, you would laugh and say, 'Hell, no.' She said, They're not charging you with anything except overstaying your visa.

My mom came to visit me. It was the worst visit ever because she didn't want to say anything. When I asked about my dad, she just said, He's fine. She knew he was being held in New Jersey.

After a while, my lawyer called. She said she had good news. I have a way to get you out of jail. You're going to have to wear an ankle bracelet.

I said, I'll wear anything.

Of course, Adama's father was deported. She was forced to wear the ankle bracelet for three years until she was granted asylum. On September 11, 2011, you won't hear anything about her, or anyone else victimized by those who exploited the deaths in the Twin Towers in furtherance of their gratification of their bigotry against Muslims. For these people, the attacks upon the Twin Towers were a joyous moment, because they were now free to physically and psychologically torture Muslims without fear of condemnation. 9/11 provided a justification for their immersion in their most extreme sadomasochistic desires associated with their simultaneous attraction and repulsion from the other as personified by Muslims and Islam. Such dehumanization has taken on the qualities of an erotic release, with Abu Ghraib being the most well known notorious instance.

But it wasn't limited to Iraq and Afghanistan, as Adama Bah's story demonstrates. One shudders at the thought of the pleasure that her guards may have experienced as they subjected her to strip searches. For them, it was a legally sanctioned form of child molestation, and one wonders if they volunteered for the duty. Or, perhaps, superiors parceled out the assignment as an incentive for performance. But, understandably, we won't hear much of this during the 9/11 celebrations.

Instead, we will probably will hear the President, or some other prominent dignitaries, praise the Department of Homeland Security for keeping us safe, which is a sort of code hinting at darker, more sinister things, because, as we all know from watching television and film crime dramas, the police cannot keep us safe without participating in the degradation of themselves and those they abuse. General McChrystal was alluding to this when he pondered the rings of sorrow, the emotional consequences experienced by US troops in the Middle East and Central Asia as they kill and torture. 9/11 should therefore be a day for introspection, a day for contemplating how to escape this cycle of irrational, eroticized violence, rather than reinforcing it through a continuing nationalistic expropriation of the lives of the victims.

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Celebrate Perpetual War on 9/11 (Part 3) 

UPDATE 1: A 50% error rate in targeting US enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan is acceptable:

JSOC’s lethality was evident in its body counts: In 2008, in Afghanistan alone, JSOC commandos struck 550 targets and killed roughly a thousand people, officials said. In 2009, they executed 464 operations and killed 400 to 500 enemy forces. As Iraq descended into chaos in the summer of 2005, JSOC conducted 300 raids a month. Over 50 percent of JSOC Army Delta Force commandos now have Purple Hearts.

The most intense Iraqi raids reminded McChrystal of Lawrence of Arabia’s description of rings of sorrow, the emotional toll casualties take on small groups of warriors. Greatly influenced by Lawrence’s life story, McChrystal thought of his JSOC troops as modern-day tribal forces: dependent upon one another for kinship and survival.

If killing were all that winning wars was about, the book on JSOC would be written. But no war in modern times is ever won simply by killing enough of the enemy. Even in an era of precision weaponry, accidents happen that create huge political setbacks.

Every JSOC raid that also wounded or killed civilians, or destroyed a home or someone’s livelihood, became a source of grievance so deep that the counterproductive effects, still unfolding, are difficult to calculate. JSOC’s success in targeting the right homes, businesses and individuals was only ever about 50 percent, according to two senior commanders. They considered this rate a good one.

INITIAL POST: One of the most disturbing aspects of US policy post-9/11 has been the embrace of gangsterism as a preferred counterterrorism strategy. According to Nick Turse:

Born of a failed 1980 raid to rescue American hostages in Iran, in which eight U.S. service members died, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) was established in 1987. Having spent the post-Vietnam years distrusted and starved for money by the regular military, special operations forces suddenly had a single home, a stable budget, and a four-star commander as their advocate. Since then, SOCOM has grown into a combined force of startling proportions. Made up of units from all the service branches, including the Army’s Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALs, Air Force Air Commandos, and Marine Corps Special Operations teams, in addition to specialized helicopter crews, boat teams, civil affairs personnel, para-rescuemen, and even battlefield air-traffic controllers and special operations weathermen, SOCOM carries out the United States’ most specialized and secret missions. These include assassinations, counterterrorist raids, long-range reconnaissance, intelligence analysis, foreign troop training, and weapons of mass destruction counter-proliferation operations.

One of its key components is the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, a clandestine sub-command whose primary mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists. Reporting to the president and acting under his authority, JSOC maintains a global hit list that includes American citizens. It has been operating an extra-legal kill/capture campaign that John Nagl, a past counterinsurgency adviser to four-star general and soon-to-be CIA Director David Petraeus, calls an almost industrial-scale counterterrorism killing machine. This assassination program has been carried out by commando units like the Navy SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force as well as via drone strikes as part of covert wars in which the CIA is also involved in countries like Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen. In addition, the command operates a network of secret prisons, perhaps as many as 20 black sites in Afghanistan alone, used for interrogating high-value targets.

Fred Branfman has provided corroborating details, with an emphasis upon the authorized expansion of the program by President Obama:

. . . A third factor behind the shift to mass assassination is that Petraeus and the U.S. military are also determined to attack jihadi forces in nations where the U.S. is not at war, and which are not prepared to openly invite in U.S. forces. As the N.Y. Times reported on May 24, General Petraeus (has argued) that troops need to operate beyond Iraq and Afghanistan to better fight militant groups.

The most significant aspect of this new and expanded assassination policy is President Obama’s authorizing clandestine U.S. military personnel to conduct it. The N.Y. Times has also reported:

In roughly a dozen countries—from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by ethnic and religious strife—the United States has significantly increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists (Military) Special Operations troops under secret Execute Orders have conducted spying missions that were once the preserve of civilian intelligence agencies.

Particularly extraordinary is the fact that these vastly expanded military assassination teams are not subject to serious civilian control. As the N.Y. Times has also reported, Petraeus in September 2009 secretly expanded a worldwide force of assassins answerable only to the military, without oversight by not only Congress but the president himself:

The top American commander in the Middle East has ordered 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 defense officials and military documents. The secret directive, signed in September by Gen. David H. Petraeus, authorizes the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa. Unlike covert actions undertaken by the C.I.A., such clandestine activity does not require the president’s approval or regular reports to Congress.

Although sold to the American public and Congress as targeted, selective assassination aimed only at a handful of high value insurgent leaders, the program has in fact already expanded far beyond that. As personnel and aircraft devoted to assassination exponentially increase, so too do the numbers of people they murder, both insurgents and civilians.

While it is reasonable to assume that expanding the number of Special Operations commandos to its present worldwide level of 13,000 will result in increasing assassinations, the secrecy of their operations makes it impossible to know how many they have murdered, how many of those are civilians, and the effectiveness of their operations. It is not known, for example, how many people U.S. military assassins murder directly, and how many they kill indirectly by identifying them for drone strikes. Much of their activity is conducted, for example, in North Waziristan in northwest Pakistan which, as the N.Y. Times reported on April 4 is virtually sealed from the outside world.

More information, however, has emerged about the parallel and unprecedented mass mechanized assassinations being carried out by the C.I.A. drone programs. It is clear that they have already expanded far beyond the official cover story of targeting only high-level insurgent leaders, and are killing increasing numbers of people.

So, when President Obama describes 9/11 veterans as a one America team that changed the way their country fights and wins its wars and learned the cultures of the lands in which they had served, you now have a clearer understanding of precisely what he means. Here, within the US military, we have the bowling clubs of J. G. Ballard's super-cannes, groups of corporate executives who revitalize their entrepreneurial creativity through participation in cruel, sadistic assaults upon poor, socially marginalized people, adapted for the infliction of violence on a global scale. Like the Kennedys, Obama has a fondness for covert operations that conceal the ugliness of American foreign policy from the public. And he wants us to celebrate it on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 by associating it with those who died in the Twin Towers.

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